Monday, June 20, 2011

...and Underway

I’ve always thought that the older I got the wiser I’d become. This is not true. It is a fallacy that I have recently come to accept and understand. Things aren’t simple as I’d once thought.

Hmm… Let me back up here a second and try and sort my thoughts out, maybe even explain what I am trying to convey here… It all started when I was a kid back in Green Bay, and before I hear the collected groans of the internet en-mass let me quash your thoughts, This is NOT another Fish Tale.

You see, when I was a kid in the 1970’s everything was simple to me, as I believe it is for most kids. There was right, and there was wrong. There was good and there was bad. When we played “Cops and Robbers” or “Cowboys and Indians” the cops and cowboys were good and the Indians and the robbers were bad.(I was rarely a cowboy or a cop) Boy, were we naïve. Nowadays, sometimes it’s hard to trust the cops and their motives and some robbers are only doing what they have to do in an attempt to take care of their families. As for the Cowboys and Indians, well, let me just say that the Native American Indians got a pretty raw deal from the Caucasian European invaders from the east.

So yeah, I grew up believing that right was right, wrong was wrong and everything was black and white. But the older I’ve become the less things seem so cut and dry to me. It seems that the lines between good and bad, right and wrong have blurred and faded into one giant sky of hazy grayness with no discernable line on the horizon that separates the heavens above or the earth below. And just what is in all the grayness that seems to fill my vision? Good question. I can identify some of the things in those clouds of disillusionment. Inside lurk the monsters of speculations, fear, remorse, manipulation, good intentions, hopes and dreams. It’s a crazy place to live, the void of nullity that has become a constant vision of my future. It’s hard at times to remember the rightness of life and the wrongness of man and the never ending battle between the two.

Is it right to steal? No. Is it right to steal food for starving children? Yes. See the conundrum? And that is just the easiest example. Life is filled with tougher examples of hard choices between doing what we’ve been taught are right and the consequences of our actions once the right thing is done. I know the comic books/graphic novels are filled with these examples, i.e. Peter Parker/Spiderman not stopping the man who robbed the fight promoter only to then have the robber kill his uncle. Did the promoter deserve to be robbed after not paying Peter Parker his money? Did Peter have a duty to stop the robber? Did Peter’s uncle deserve to be killed for what we are led to believe was just a car-jacking gone wrong? Would Peter have been the same Spiderman if his uncle had not been killed? See… LINES have been BLURRED! (I apologize now to anyone who is reading this part of the blog and has no clue about Peter Parker and his origins of becoming Spiderman.)

Sure, some truths remain constant, the loss of a baby is a tragedy no matter where you are… unless you read speculative fiction and that baby was named Adolf Hitler. But then what would have happened in Germany and Europe in the void of leadership of the early 19th century? Would we have had another plague sweep the world? Another dictator takes Hitler’s place only this one a bit more successful in his military strategies? And what of all the children born that are now known as the Baby Boomer Generation and their impact on not just America but the world itself? Isn’t Bill Gates a boomer? Steve Jobs? And many other of the current world’s innovator’s and designers? The Grayness seems to be sending it’s tendrils of speculation into my mind and blurring my vision of this computer screen.

Here is a funny thought and truth, writers, not me for I believe I am still a hack, make their livings by speculating and saying to themselves “What if…” and I guess that is where I am right now. I’m saying “What if…” to a lot of things. I have several pieces of fiction out for submission; I have a piece getting ready to be published and am working on at least three other pieces just for fun. I guess you could say I’ve not only dipped my toes into the grayness of the horizon but I’ve immersed myself mind, body and soul into it and am treading water in a sea of possibilities. And the more I write, the more I read, and the more I learn, the more I realize the less I know with the exception to the fact that I will never be wise and I will never know as much as I want.

I know there are natural laws and absolute truths out there that dictate the motion of the stars and the flow of atoms through the cosmos, but when it comes to the affairs of man and the institute of relationships between one person and another I know there is no formula or solution that provides definitive answers. Just grayness.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Humanitarian Hope

Hello and welcome back. I took an unannounced week long sabbatical of blogging last week simply because I was working on other projects and my work schedule (I do need to pay my bills) as always has been not just hectic but chaotic as well. Speaking of the insanity of my jobs, I am going to be extremely honest here and tell all of you right now, I almost quit my jobs last week. I know to some of you this is going to come as a shock simply because those closes to me know how much I enjoy my work and have no problem with putting in extra hours when needed to.

Whoops, got a bit sidetracked there.

Let’s just say it was a pretty rough week for me but I made it through the trials with little damage. (Physical damage, I’ll be emotionally scarred for years to come.) So, work was tough (what else is new), but I’m sure that is a song that has been played so much the record is broken. What else happened? Hmm… well, I came to a stunning and amazing realization that in my part time job as well as my full time job people are rude, crass, arrogant, impolite and generally speaking idiots (Not you guys, I’m talking about the people who are not reading this. I love each and every one of you and I think you are all amazing!)

Nope, I’m talking about the people who come into the Museum and let their kids run wild, beat on things, tear things up, stesl parts of exhibits, place their kids over an OBVIOUS barricade just so they can get a closer look at something and then act surprised when the kid breaks part of the exhibit. People who, when waiting in a queue line demand front of line privileges for no apparent reason other than the fact they are tired and have a self righteous sense of importance. People who never take responsibility for their actions or inactions, the same people who demand they are entitled to have everything given to them because they are breathing the same air as you.

Of course these are the same people I have to serve food to later in the day. The people who ask for a medium rare steak and send it back to the kitchen saying it’s not cooked enough and when the chef cooks it to a medium they send it back saying it’s too well done. These are People who order me to get them more food while they still have a plate full in front of them and a mouth full of food as they speak, spewing the contents all over the table and expect me to clean it up for them right then. The same folks who only order drinks with free refills and demand fresh glasses of drinks when they backwash the contents of their un-swallowed food into the previous glass. The kind and gentle customers who order extra rolls to take home with them and are quick to complain about you or the food if they don’t get everything they feel they deserve. You know the folks who order water and a BOWL of lemons and then use all the sugar on the table to make a glass of lemonade and get pissed at you when you charge them for it.

It is these self righteous, ignorant, barely literate Americans that have pushed me to my limits. Not the people I work with. Not the insanity of my work schedule. Not the rigorous physical and mental demands on my mind and body. Nope, it’s the public as a whole that has driven me to want to throw in the towel and Go Galt. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. I won’t. And most importantly, right now at least, I can’t.

You see, I have still have hope. Hope in not just Americans but humanity across the globe. I believe, truly BELIEVE, that there is good in all of us and that one day, a day a long ways off. A day so far in the tunnel of the future that there isn’t even a glimmer of it yet, that people will actually become decent, caring, giving, helpful, responsible, respectful and understanding of each other. Wars will be stopped, Peace will reign and all will not be lost. Call me a dreamer, call me naïve, call me a romantic, call me what you will. But right now, I still believe. Even after the craptastic week I had.

I think out there, somewhere, someone(s) have answers and solutions to how to fix the disease of idiocracy that has been coursing through the veins of not just Americans but the entire world populace for so long. I don’t think that solution is going to be an over the counter pill either. I don’t know what it will be or how it will take root in a person who has been taught from a young age that they deserve everything they can get their hands on or that their eyes see and their brain tells them they need. Nope, it is going to have to start small, one person doing one thing for someone else with no expectations of receiving anything in return (Like I said, I’m a dreamer).

No, I’m not talking about random acts of kindness… I’m talking about practicing humanity. Implementing common courtesy and understanding that some folks have bad days. (Like not getting pissed off when someone cuts you off in traffic or comes to a complete stop on the interstate for no apparent reason.) I think what I’m talking about is self control. I know, I know, I’m not one to talk about this stuff too much. Heck, I need to work on my self control skills just as much as everyone else does. And, maybe, just maybe, by writing this down it will help me keep my wits about me when next I get angry, upset, pissed off or just plain fed up. Maybe I won’t blow my top. Maybe I’ll remember what I’ve written here and be able to hold on to the humanity that I’m striving to find not just inside of myself but inside everyone I come into contact with.

Ok, I am going to wrap this up with a simple pledge to myself: I pledge to try and find the humanness inside the folks I come into contact with this week. I will strive to make myself a little more understanding to what others are going through and not expect anything in return. (Pray for me cause I’m gonna need it on this one folks.)

Have a great week.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Conversation with and Elder.

I initially wrote this blog/story last year, but in light of repeated conversations on this topic and the fact that recently the movie “Atlas Shrugged” was released I’ve decided to revisit this tale once again and actually relay it to you fine folks out in the blue nowhere. I hope you enjoy it and please know it is not my intention to offend anyone.

“A difference of opinion does not mean a difference of principle.” Thomas Jefferson said those words and he has been a hero of mine since as long as I can remember.

“Don’t you think everyone deserves health care?” the grandmotherly lady asked me as she peered over her reading glasses at menu the hostess had given her just moment before.

“Excuse me?”

“Skip, don’t you think everyone deserves to have proper health care and be taken care of when they can’t take care of themselves?”

“That depends.” I answered, only to see a frown form on her face and the glint of hunger that was in her eye fade to a minor peckish annoyance.

“Well, yeah.” I said as I glanced from her to her dining partner, an elderly man in a wheelchair with a plethora of medical issues. She was his caretaker; she’d been escorting him on daily walks/rolls through Olde Town Portsmouth for at least ten years. I’d seen them on just about every street and alley for almost as long as I’d been working and living in Portsmouth. Usually she would hold the control of his battery powered wheel chair as they walked down the cobblestone streets and brick laden sidewalks. In the winter she wore a full length coat and a Russian Sable hat, in the summer it was usually jeans and a loose fitting shirt. He wore slippers, jeans and a t-shirt, the only exception was that when the weather turned cold he donned a goose feather coat and hat.

Almost every Saturday they show up at the restaurant I work part time and order the same food. I could recite if verbatim here, if I wanted to divulge more identifying information about them but I am trying to protect as much of their privacy as I can. I don’t know why either, since I am sure they do not read my blogs, but it is the same respect and courtesy I try to afford to all people in my lives unless they give me permission and as of this writing they have not given me permission.

“You really don’t want to hear my opinion on this topic do you? I mean, I am sure I’m in the minority on this topic and you have clearly stated your opinion. What would you need my perspective for?”

“Skip, please, humor us. I insist. Besides, we both like you and your opinion, while it may be controversial, it needs to be heard.”

I looked around the restaurant, it was pretty empty, and the rush of early birders hadn’t quite made it in yet. I looked down at my watch, 1710 it read, yes, I’m still on military time twenty five years after I was honorably discharged from the United States Navy. I shrugged my shoulders, took my black American Express bi-fold receipt book and tucked it into the back of my dress slack, folded my hands in front of my crotch and recited something to this effect.

“Since you asked, and I tried to politely refuse, but you insisted, I shall give you my opinion on what I believe you are asking me. Which is the topic of Universal Health Care. A topic that is invariably tied to everything in America and a topic that is most likely, in my eyes at least, going to cripple my generation and the generation of my child and grandchildren.” I paused, looked at my customers, she was staring up at me as if I were suddenly speaking a different language, he was looking at me with tears in his eyes and the white whiskers on his beard slowly withering as if I had insulted him.

“Go on.” He rasped “She wants to know how you feel.” And nodded towards his table mate.

“Alright, first, let me state, I am not saying that I am against helping people who NEED help, making sure that proper medical care is given to people that can’t provide for themselves. People that are unable to work, people that have crippling diseases or medical malady’s that prevents them from at least making an attempt at performing a task that not just affords them an income but also makes them feel as if they are doing something for not just the good of society but a task that makes them feel as if they are part of something bigger. A job or career that makes them feel useful in a manner that they can live with themselves and be able to look back on their life and say, “At least I tried! I did something. I was not a burden on my family or society!”

“ I truly believe people, not just Americans’ need to feel useful and that they are contributing to a larger scheme in life. Helping themselves and their neighbors to become better in the overall outlook of mankind as a whole. I believe that in each and every human there is an inherent need to be a part of a community whose goal is to improve the lives of our offspring. Now, with what I have just stated and shared with you, I want you to understand this, I am a person who for the better part of twenty five years has worked a minimum of two jobs at least four days a week just to provide for his family. When I hear a person complain they cannot find a job or have been unable to secure a career position for their future and the future of their family I say to their face “You are not trying hard enough.” I then explain to the complainer that I’ve worked a myriad of jobs all my life. Jobs that include rock picker to machinist to security guard to air conditioner helper to driver to exhibit technician to waiter. I try to explain to this person or persons that as long as they are being paid to perform a duty or task they are on the road to improvement to not just themselves but to their family and how others perceive them.

If a person stands beside me and says they are unable to perform a task that I, a high school graduate, a Navy Vet, and a man who is willing to take on just about any task no matter how menial. I look at them and ask them to either explain why they are physically unable to perform the task at hand. If they cannot give a viable reason and walk away from me, which most do, I look at their back as they fade from my vision and wipe them from my memory. They are not worthy of my thoughts nor are they worthy of the fruits of my labor. Meaning, they most definitely do NOT deserve any of the money I earn through my sweat, nor do they deserve any of the tax money the government tries to give them. However; if said person IS truly unable to perform a task, is handicapped in such a fashion that prevents them from either assisting me in the job or me assisting them, then THEY do deserve to have as much assistance that not just I can give them but WE as a society can give them.

I am not callous nor am I absent of heart and feelings. I do believe that there are people in our society who need assistance from us. I also believe there are people that will readily take advantage of the generosity which is so freely given. The latter people, the moochers, the hanger ons, the lazy and loop hole driven leeches of society do not deserve anything.

Yes, I agree, there needs to be reform in the medical industry that has machinations in all areas of our lives. There needs to be radical change in not just how medicine is distributed but how a person receives their medical care. There is no easy answer or solution; this is not a mathematical formula which can be solved by the greatest minds on earth. This is problem that requires a well thought out plan which can be implemented at a pace that will not destroy our economical basis. A solution that can be formatted and adjusted to the individual citizen of the United States, on that note, I do not believe an illegal immigrant deserves to be treated to the same health care a person who is actually paying for and working for a living. A person who is an illegal alien is here illegally which to me means they are breaking the law. A law breaker, by my way of thinking, who is not attempting to resolve their illegal status or in a position of restitution for what they’ve done, does not deserve to have the same treatment as someone who is working for fifteen thousand dollars a year. Or for that matter someone who is working for thirty five thousand dollars a year and trying to make a mortgage payment, pay for food, gas, medical insurance, credit card bills and whatever else constitutes life in our country today.

Should we turn these people out? Close the door on them at the hospital? No. But on the other side of that coin, should we write off Billions of dollars in medical expenses each year to treat people who have not assisted in their own health care? No. See, no easy solution. We as a society want to do what we believe is right, even if what we do bankrupts our nation for future generations. If you don’t believe me let me ask you to look at the Social Security Administration. Right now, I know I will never be able to retire because the money I’ve been putting into the SSA will not be available in 30 years when I am ready to retire, nor will any time of economical health care.

So you see, for me at least, there is no easy solution. I do believe that some folks need help but at what cost to not just me but all workers in our society? What happens when there are more folks that either refuse to work or believe they are unable to work? What happens when a person who has the flu or common cold can’t get medicine because it is too expensive or the manufactures of the medicine are out of business because they can’t afford to pay the taxes of doing business? What happens to our society when it is only the politicians who are able to afford a living in this country because they’ve bankrupted the middle class and the wealthy class? What happens when there is no one left to work hard and others able to live off the sweat of that person’s labor?”

“Skip, you’re being a bit ridiculous and defeatists aren’t you?” She asked me.

“Not at all. Everything is connected. The laws of today will affect our children’s children. Just like the laws of Truman, Lincoln and Jefferson affect us today. We are only as strong and successful as our fore-fathers allowed us and as successful as the current administration deems necessary. If the government outlawed fish today then it would cripple the country tomorrow. Just like the Health Care conglomeration is crippling us today.”

“You really believe all that?” She asked. I looked at her table-mate, he was nodding his head with a gleam in his eye.

“Go ahead Skip, tell her.” He said to me.

“Yes, I believe every word I said, and I will believe it until I see proof to the contrary. Now, what would you like to eat?”

She looked at me with a blank stare, shook her head and said “The usual please.”