Wednesday, July 4, 2018

A Quick Update

Miles Davis is playing on the radio from the 1954 album “Bags Groove”, I’ve got a nice Gurkha lit, the sun is setting and there is gentle breeze blowing the scent of cooked meat and vegetables throughout the my neighborhood. Life does not suck for me right now.

Sure our country is in turmoil. It seems everyone is pointing fingers at everyone else and blaming everyone for everything and the shouting and name calling reminds me those moments in the fourth grade at recess. You know, where two kids are just about to get into a fight and everyone circles around them and starts yelling and screaming and chanting… yeah, that’s what this time in our history reminds me of… except unlike a fourth grade recess fight, if someone throws a punch, shit is going to be a lot more serious than someones parents getting called and maybe an ass-whooping at home.

But, I digress…

Earlier this year I took a trip to Martha’s Vineyard. No, not for vacation. For work. I went and worked on the “Gay Head Lens” a first order Fresnel lens built in 1854 and retired from lighthouse service in 1950. Now, as of this writing, there are only six authorized Lampists, that is what they call the people who work on these lenses, and I am the seventh, however, I am but a mere apprentice. And I love it. 

It seems I’ve been headed toward this sort of thing all my life. I’ve had a love for history all my life and always seem to be reading about the comings and goings of interesting characters of the past. When it comes to figuring out how things work, mechanically I dig right in and seem to have an innate ability to repair the items or if it is more complex than I first imagined, I figure it out and get it working. If the problem is beyond repair, I’ve been known to come up with an alternative solution and remedy the situation. When it comes time to learn new skills and traits for a job, I’ve always been able to wrap my head around the knowledge being offered to me and absorb it like a sponge. 

Quick side note, the last paragraph is not me being a braggart, these are all things that have been told to me by my teachers and supervisors. 

Now, I’m getting ready to head to California in a couple weeks to work on another Lighthouse job. Which tells me I did something good up in Martha’s Vineyard otherwise I would not have been asked to go on another trip.

More has happened this year, my daughter graduated high school and settled on a film school. It’s local so that’s good although she wants to stay on campus. I’m proud of her. Scared for her. Concerned for her. Happy for her. Damn I’ve so many mixed emotions about that situation it’s almost too difficult to write about. 

Let me just say that I’m happy she’s close to home, sad she’s out of the house, concerned about the money, worried about the influences she will be around and proud she will be stretching her wings and chasing her dreams.

On another note, and this is news I’ve been sitting on for quite some time… it’s a tough pill to swallow and talk about. I’ve turned down some writing offers. For a few reasons. The pay wasn’t good, I didn’t like the subject, and I really didn’t have the time to write what the publishers wanted. Now, I know I’m just a short story writer and I shouldn’t be so picky, but I’ve always maintained that I do my writing as a hobby and that I have a career and other interests. So when I write I write for myself or for something I feel is worth my time. That being said, I am working on a project. It’s in the beginning stages but I am working on something. 

Well, I suppose that is all for now, I hope you all are having a great Independence Day celebration.

Have a great week!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

PNC going Bankrupt?

Is PNC BANK going Bankrupt?

Six year ago my wife suffered a series of six strokes in less then one week. She became paralyzed and was put on disability. This was financial hit for us but we managed to survive. Then the disability checks stopped and we were unable to pay all of our bills. So I called all of our creditors and explained our situation.

None of them wanted to hear about our plight. What "assistance" they offered was really no assistance at all, just lip service and 800 numbers to non-existent voice mail farms. After three weeks of calling these places I gave up on trying to find help from them and decided to concentrate on keeping my house, the power for the house, the water for the house and the food for my family. Gone was the cable, the internet, the air conditioning in the summer, the very comforting warmth in the winter and any outing for any reason for anything. We became prisoners of our house.

We also fell behind in our mortgage.

We almost lost our house.

But, I worked. I worked hard. And my wife went back to work. And we managed to get caught up on all our primary bills. We got managed to get our life back to a semblance of normalcy.

Through all of this I received phone calls from PNC bank about my mortgage payments and I never veered off of what had happened. I told the story of my wife and her strokes and of her paralysis. Of having to take care of her, the never ending pile of medical bills, of being sued by credit card companies, of having my power turned off, of having my water tuned off, of working two and sometimes three jobs just to try and make enough money to make money to feed my family and make money to pay the mortgage.

Their response, "Well, we've reviewed your hardship papers and you don't qualify for hardship, so when do you think you'll be able to make your payment for XXXXXXX dollars to make your account current"?

It's as if they are the modern mafia. Only more polite.

Of course they have to be polite, because all of their calls are recorded. They tell you this at the beginning of each and every call. 

Now, to be honest, I'm am currently all caught up on my mortgage. I have been for months. Yet I continue to get the phone calls from them. For example, not two days ago I received a phone call from them asking me when they will receive my current payment. This disturbed me because like most people these days, I pay my bills online and I paid my mortgage on the first of the month.

I went to my bank website, went to the pay bill page and transferred the money and even received the confirmation code and an email with all the information. So, when the young lady called me on the fifth of June questioning me when PNC bank would receive my payment and stating that my payment was late I became concerned. So, as a concerned payee, I brought up my account on my computer and saw my bank had in fact sent the payment out, on the fourth. I offered the PNC rep my confirmation number, she refused.

In the past, I've tried to be joyful, I've tried to be comedic, I've tried to be disassociated and I've tried to be compassionate, today I was just angry.

You see, I'm not behind on my mortgage, by any means. PNC bank has nothing to worry about by missing the transfer of ones and zeros from my bank to theirs. That is, unless... they need the money more than they are letting on... which means they are desperate... which means... they need the money more than they want us to know which means they are...

Have a great week.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Seven Seconds

Seven Seconds

Seven seconds. That’s all it takes. Seven seconds. From the moment I  put my right arm on my desk it take seven seconds for the numbness and the pins and needles to take over. From my shoulder all the way to my finger tips. My hand and fingers along with my forearm get the honor of having the pins and needles. My bicep gets the numbness, my shoulder, well, that just feels like someone is stabbing it with a heated dull spear. This is not the only activity that affects me like this, however; it is the one that has the quickest results.

I have stenosis. In two spots on my spine. One in my neck and one in my lower back. I’ve had it for years and I’ve dealt with it. I’ve put off surgery because I’ve seen people not come out of it in better condition than when they went into it. My condition is getting worse.

Hell, just standing around doing nothing can cause one or both of my arms to go out. I could be walking down the street and boom, my right arm just refuses to be a part of my body. Now, normally this only lasts for a minute or two and then it comes right back. Hell, I can usually tell when an episode is about to hit. Then I start twisting my neck, tapping my fingertips to my thumb back and forth repeatedly, roll my shoulder, you know, fight in the only way I can to try and forestall the inevitable. This sometimes works. Most of the time it does not.

And these are the good days.

The bad days.

Hoo, boy, the bad days… Let me tell you about those.

The pain is constant. Its an ever present being in my life. It is there when I wake up, when I shower, when I dress, when I ride to work, when I work, when I eat, when I watch tv. when I go to sleep, while I sleep, the pain is there. Always. There is no escape from the pain. I can usually deal with it. But on the bad days… on the bad days there is no dealing with the pain.

The best way to describe it is like this;

Imagine you are being hugged, squeezed, hard and there is no escape from it. You can’t run from it. You can’t hide from it, you can’t take enough pills to dull the pain. The pain won’t let you sleep. The pain won’t let you eat. The pain won’t let you think. There  is nothing but pain. It is not overwhelming. It is not excruciating. It is just all penetrative. All encompassing. It is pure misery.

To top it all off, there is limited movement in my arm. I can’t fully rotate it, and if someone offered me a million dollars to throw a football or do a proper jumping jack, just one mind you, I couldn’t do it. 

What are my doctors doing about all this you might ask? Well, I’ll tell you what they told me… “We are going to continue to monitor the situation.”

How’s that for a kick in the teeth?

Well, I’m going to wrap this up, just writing these five hundred plus words has taken a lot longer than it normally would, which is one of the reasons why I have not written a blog in quite some time. Or written much of anything to tell you the truth. In my mind I’ve written volumes. Novels, short stories, blogs and poems. In a few days, I’ll be calling a surgeon, going to have a little chat with him or her. See what sort of life altering options they may have. 

Happy Memorial day to you all.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Give or Take a Memory or Two

            I had pneumonia. I was in the care of the good doctors and nurses of Saint Vincent’s hospital in Green Bay, Wisconsin. I was eleven years old and it was Christmas time. A crappy time to be sick. It was the first time I tried onion flavored cottage cheese and Baby Ruth candy bars. One after the other, which should have made me even sicker but somehow didn’t. This is that story.

            The cause of my right lung filling with bodily fluid was most likely attributed to the fact that I’d walk to school with my hair still wet every morning and on the way home, stop at the ice rink and play hockey or just skate around with my pals. I had a hat, I didn’t wear my hat. I was an idiot. I got sick. So sick that while my family, including the extended family that had come to visit from out of town, all went roller skating, I slept on the recliner in our living room.

            I don’t know which adult drew the short straw to stay home with me, could have been my mom, but by the time everyone came home from a night of disco music, popcorn, cokes and pizza, my breath was shallow and labored. My lips were turning blue and it felt like someone was blowing bubbles inside my chest.

            I was taken to the hospital.

            I want to say I was there for two weeks. I can’t be sure. I do know I had a roommate for a while, two to in fact. I also had visitors. Lots and lots of visitors. Neighbors, classmates and family. One family members visits always stood head and shoulders above the others. Uncle Paul. Or as the family called him… Brother Paul.

            Uncle Paul was my Mothers brother. He might have stood five foot eight inches tall, bald shiny head, a brash orangish-red beard that almost hid his bigger than life smile. He seemed to always be in a good mood and had an inappropriate joke for every occasion. He lived in a farm house, drank Yukon Jack, Heineken beer and smoked Camel non-filter cigarettes. He seemed to love life, women, art and basketball all with the same amount of passion. His house was littered with books.

            I mean littered. You couldn’t sit anywhere without having to move a stack of books or magazines of some sort. If something peaked his interest he had to devour it. He had to know everything about it. He had to understand the where, why and how of it. Or so it seemed to me. 

            When he came to visit me he always had a present for me. A model. A book. A magazine. A story. 
            However; in this case…

            “Skipper! You awake?” Uncle Paul’s voice called from the hallway outside the half closed door of my hospital room.

            “Uncle Paul?”

            “Yessiree! It’s Me!” he exclaimed as he kicked the door open. His beard looking like he had the sun stuck on his face. 

            I smiled and waved.

            “I brought a snack in CASE you’re hungry.” He said as he raised his arms showing me a large cardboard box.

            “What is it? What is it?” I cried out in adolescent excitement. 

            “Well, it’s something I know you like and it’s something I like as well. So, I figure we could share it together. Like a picnic. We can pretend we’re at the park or on the porch at my house and that it’s summer time. That’d be nice. Right?”

            “It sure would be. But I’m not that hungry, everyone keeps getting me to try and eat but the food here stinks.” I pouted.

            Uncle Paul pulled the bed dolly up to the bed, slid a chair between my bed and the window and placed the box on top of the dolly, pulled out a pocket knife and cut open the box. He reached inside and pulled out a carton of cottage cheese and handed it to me with a goofy grin on his face. “All for you. A whole case of cottage cheese. I know you love it.”

            He was right of course. I reached out pale and shaky hand and took hold of the cool plastic container and read the label aloud “Chive Flavored Cottage Cheese. Uncle Paul, what’s chive flavored cottage cheese?”

            The twinkle in his eyes seemed to falter a bit but not extinguish. “Well Skipper, it’s like onion. You like onions right?”

            “Yeah, I do. Guess I need a spoon.”

            “Got it covered.” My uncle exclaimed and magically produced two spoons from seemingly nowhere. “Care to share?”


            We dug into the first container but after two bites I couldn’t eat anymore. It tasted foul. Sour. Expired. Bad. I wanted to gag. I suppose my uncle picked up on my distaste for his treat because he said he’d had enough and put the container back in the box with the rest of the containers and then put the box on the floor.

            “Excuse me a moment Skipper, I think I forgot something in the hallway.”

            As he walked away I tried to drink as much water as I could to get rid of the rancid taste of chive flavored cottage cheese in my mouth.

            “I’m sure this will be much better.” He exclaimed entering the room for a second time. He was holding a case of Baby Ruth candy bars above his head. The sun on his beard couldn’t hide the beams of light emanating from the smile behind it. 

            He sat down in his chair, produced his knife and we both splurged on chocolate and salty goodness.

            I went home soon after this event. But the gossamer memories of my youth that keep bubbling to the surface of my life seem to make the coarse reality I live easier to swallow.

Have a great week.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Pride and Hope

         I exhaled my cigar smoke into the cool air as I walked across the large grassy park. It’d rained earlier in the week and the moist sod muffled my boot covered footsteps. I looked down at my ever-escaping shadow and saw an odd outline.

         Normally my shadow is reflective of my pants and my leather jacket followed by long, thin wisps of my hair. However; today, in the early afternoon sun, my shadow showed my head looked like some strange box. That’s when I remembered the hat that was lovingly given me by an elderly British lady. And when I put it on she laughed and said I looked great.

         I reached up and pulled the hand-knitted pink wool hat off my head and just stared at it.

         If I’d learned anything from the events of today, it was there is hope. There is love and I was glad to be on the receiving end of those emotions.

         I also learned there is anger. There is frustration. There is grief and there is going to be hell to pay. I’m also glad I’m not on the receiving end of those emotions.

         If you’d asked me a year ago, hell even a month ago about the upcoming generation I’d have laughed and said they were a bunch of self-absorbed, entitled, tide-pod eating idiots.

         Not today.

         They changed my mind.

         And it all started with my daughter.

         She was asked to be on the National Student Council for the “March for our Lives” movement. She eagerly agreed.

         That in of itself made me proud of her.

         Then she organized a school walk-out. She also got the schools administration to wave any punishment for any student who participated in the walk-out.

         Then she made a gun-violence six-minute movie.

         Then she wrote a speech.

         Today she gave that speech in front of three-thousand people. Her anger, her frustration and her distaste for our current administration seeped from every pour of her body.

         Then other students, like my daughter got up and gave empowering speeches. They sang. They danced. They demanded change.

         Then they marched.

         And I walked away with pride for my daughter and her generation. I walked away with hope for their future.

         I walked away grateful that I was not a politician who had to face the angry, unheard, tired and frustrated youth of this new generation.

         If I’ve learned anything from my daughter it is that she is not going to accept being treated like a second-class citizen because of her sex. She’s not going to accept unnecessary violence. She’s not going to accept “No” for an answer. She’s not going to accept any disrespect from elected officials. She’s not going to accept any of that, and neither are her peers.

         My generation dropped the ball on standing up for what is right and what is wrong. Our progeny are suffering from our mistakes. But they forgive us and only ask for our support.

         It’s the least I can do. It’s the least any of us can do.

         Now, let’s change this country for the better.

         Have a great week.