Friday, July 29, 2016

The End of July

            The end of July is here. Which, for most of my adult life has always been a source of surprise and thankfulness. Why? Because for the most part, July sucks for me. Albeit to say; almost every bad, rotten, terrible, awful and crappy thing that has ever occurred to me in my life has happened in the heat of the summer.
            Now, with only two days left, I’m happy to see it end.
            This should be a time for celebration. A time where I’m excited and happy. Yet history tells me differently and the future is unwritten and unproven. Skepticism is my CODA during this time of year.
            I do have solace though. The cicadas chirping in the trees, the occasional well intentioned card, the good vibes from those close to me and of course you. Yes, you, the person sitting there staring at the screen, reading my words and occasionally leaving comments or sending me a text. Those do make me feel better. Make me feel as if the world is not dead set against me or my intentions and goals.
            Recently I had a conversation with an elderly gentleman and the topic of how people view one another came up, he said something to the fact “How a person views you is not how you view yourself and how you view yourself is not how you are viewed. That is perception. If you really want to know who a person is, their thoughts, dreams, goals, ethics and morals, all you have to do is look at how their family treats them.” Or words to that effect.
            Sounds pretty heavy, doesn’t it? And you’ll never guess what we were talking about… okay, I’ll tell you. Shakespeare. We were talking about the bard and his characters and how he painted different pictures of them in his words.
            I should say, this was my first meeting with this man and it was a great conversation. His words echoed in my mind in light of the recent events of this July. Events that I care not to divulge but I can speak in generalities about.
            There are people in our lives that we get along with no matter what, then there are those who we occasionally get along with and then, there is a group of people that no matter what you do, what you say or how your actions speak to the contrary, you will always be judged and found wanting. People you will never please or become friends with. People who read too much into what you say, what you do and only see ulterior motives.
            I used to care about that third group. But here on the eve of my 49th successful survival of traversing the sun on this spaceship, I am going to give myself the gift of stopping. Not living, but caring about how to win those people over. Of trying tirelessly to say and do the right thing. Of making a concerted effort to express concern about their lives and families when they care little or nothing of me and mine.
            I know, this sounds cold and callous. But it isn’t. I’ve expended exponential amounts of energy on people who’ve never even tried to be polite or grant the benefit of the doubt to me.
            Please don’t read that I don’t care about them. I do. If any of these people ever asked me for help, I’d be more than happy to help them. But I refuse to continue to go out of my way for them. To waste my time on them by beating myself up over any minor infraction of anything they feel I’ve committed towards them.
            Call it… cutting the fat and leaning my life. After all, sometimes, you just have to let people go. If they miss you, or you them, then reassess your decision. I know there is little I can do to change the opinion others have of me and I know there is no way to change their minds in their feelings towards me. So be it.
            This is my birthday gift to myself and them.

            Have a great week.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

For Sale, Not Cheap.

“You’re throwing your vote away.”
            This was not the first time I heard someone say this to me, nor do I suspect will it be the last time someone says these words to me.
            Look, I get it. I know you want your candidate to win. Everyone does. Hell, I want my candidate to win. Yet, telling me that I’m wasting my vote because the person I will be voting for doesn’t coincide with the person you are casting your vote for does not make me want to vote for your candidate any more, or not vote for my candidate any less.
            I hear these words from my Mother, my Father, my Wife, a good chunk of my friends, more than several acquaintances and even some customers I wait on occasionally. It confounds me. Especially in this day and age and especially with what I believe to be the non-choice we are presented with.
            Because, seriously, neither one of the two candidates that are presented in our two party system I feel are actually looking out for me or my best interests. Of course, I feel that way about most candidates that ask for my vote. Be they local, state or in this case, national politicians. I loathe people who ask you to follow them. I am not a blind follower. Sure, I’ll respect the position they hold but that does not mean I have to respect them as a person. And, since I’ve not voted for a seated candidate in since Ronald Reagan, an achievement I wear as a badge of honor, I know that this year will be no different.
            Truth be told, I haven’t voted for a name with a R or D behind their name in a national election in quite some time. Which is why I suppose everyone says my vote is thrown away, or they tell me that I’m taking votes from their candidate. The first part of their statement is false, the later part is true.
            I can’t in good conscious vote for someone I don’t respect or even believe can do the job they are asking us to give them. Which makes me wonder, why isn’t there some sort of application process. I mean, sure, some could say that stumping for candidacy is a type of application process, but it seems to me that we, the citizens, don’t really have a voice in the process. Hell, we really don’t have a voice when it comes to who is actually elected. If you don’t believe me, just go read up on the “Electoral College” process. It’s quite depressing. I’m serious. Look at it. Or if you don’t want to, let me just tell you this… the electoral college does NOT have to vote for the popular candidate.
            Now, you may wonder what that means… or not… but I’ll tell you anyway.
            Lets say Candidate “A” gets 54% of the popular vote in state “Y”.
            And lets say Candiate “B” gets 45% of the popular vote in state “Y”
            And then with the outstanding 1% going to “Other” candidates.
            You’d think the Electoral college would have to vote for candidate “A”. But you’d be thinking wrong.
            You see our founding fathers, you know, George, John, John, Thomas, Benjamin…et al… didn’t trust the people of our newfound country. So the set up the system of the electoral college, pretty much ensuring that the system didn’t have to be a popularity contest. So even though the popular numbers say candidate “A” is the winner, the electoral college can vote for candidate “B” if they so desire and there is not a damn thing any voting citizen in the united states can do about it. Why? Law, rules, regulations and history.
            Which means overall, it really doesn’t matter who you or I vote for, the people who make up the electoral college can cast their votes the way they see fit. Regardless of what their constituents want. Here’s how it breaks down by votes:
            California gets 55 votes
            Texas gets 38 votes
            Florida and New York get 29 votes each
            Illinois and Pennsylvania get 20 votes each
            Ohio gets 18 votes
            Georgia and Michigan get 16 votes each
            North Carolina gets 15 votes
            New Jersey gets 14 votes
            Virginia gets 13 votes
            Washington gets 12 votes
            Arizona, Indiana, Massachusetts and Tennessee get 11 votes each
            Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin get 10 votes each
            Alabama, Colorado and Arizona get 9 votes each
            Kentucky and Louisiana get 8 votes each
            Connecticut, Oregon and Oklahoma get 7 votes each
            Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, Nevada and Utah all get 6 votes each
            Nebraska, New Mexico and West Virginia get 5 votes each
            Hawaii, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Idaho and Maine get 4 votes each
            Alaska, Washington DC, Montana, Delaware, North and South Dakota, Wyoming and Vermont all get 3 votes each.  
            For a grand total of 538 votes. These votes are completely subjective to their states. Which means, the political parties of each state pick their own electors, so if you are a democrat in a republican state and you are voting for a democrat, chances are, your candidate won’t win that state.  I say chances are because sometimes these 538 people who actually decide who is going to be president, do listen. But for the most part, they follow party lines.
            It is all a simple numbers game that is not even taught in public schools these days.
            Does know this information and more make me tainted, skeptical, disillusioned? Hell yeah it does. It also means that when someone tells me I’m throwing my vote away or that I’m taking a vote away from their candidate I can just shake my head in disbelief of naiveté.
            Also, I want something better for my child. I’ve got less years ahead of me than I do behind me. My daughter and the generation behind her are going to be more affected by what happens in the upcoming elections then I will be. So, if I can help change our system from two non-descript parties to three parties… effectively helping the future generations have more choices than I ever had, then so be it.
            My name is Skip Novak, I’m voting for a third party candidate this coming election year. I’m going back to my principles that were taught to me by the writings of Mr. Thomas Jefferson. (Well, unless some member of some national party want to pay for me to vote for them. And by pay I mean, give me a large enough amount of money where I can quit one of my two jobs, my wife can quit her job and my daughter won’t have to work for her lifetime. And, they will also have to pay off all my debt, including my house. Yeah, I have a price for my vote, but it is by no means small. After all, you’re not just buying my vote, you’re buying my principles and my principles don’t come cheap. In other words, I need the kind of money Bill Gates has.)

            Have a great week. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Thanks for the Love

Thanks for the Love.

            After this past week it is amazing to me that I am still existing. If you my dear reader took the time to read last week’s blog and the insanity I went through to keep my home and you were thinking to yourself “Damn, I’m glad I’m not Skip. Can’t get much worse for him.” To which I’d answer “Oh, but wait… there’s more.”
            Yes dear reader, there is more. And I hate to be a downer and if you want to stop reading, that’s cool. I won’t hold it against you. After all, who wants to read about a craptastic week? Not me.
            However; I do have some things to say about what has been going on and I feel you all deserve for me to be as forthright as I can be. So, without further ado… let’s tear into the guts of my life and see what sort of mess is inside of me.
            You see, a while back my wife’s jeep developed a slow leak in one of its tires. When it first started the tire only required me to put air in it once a week. I tried to keep track of the leak, I tried to find extra funds to purchase a new tire, but all my efforts were in vain. Then, finally, the tire was requiring air twice a day. On top of this, the jeep developed an oil leak, the kind of leak where you fill the oil and check the gas level. So, she started to drive my car.
            On Friday of last week, after I spent endless hours on the phone with the mortgage company, the car died. I spent a good amount of time replacing the starter in the car. Three separate starters. The car finally started and then promptly died again. I’m still trying to figure out what is wrong with it. I’m thinking it may be the battery.
            As for the jeep, my pal Brian, who also happens to be my pastor, offered to get tires for the jeep. I tried to refuse. That refusal was not accepted. So I ended up with two new tires. When it came to replacing the tires… well, let me just say, two of the lug bolts, not lug nuts, but lug bolts had broken off the axel. Good news there is that they were both on the same axel. Which means I only have to remove one axel to get the two new lug bolts re-inserted.
            Through all of these car repairs in the one hundred degree weather I’ve had help. People who’ve been by my side physically or emotionally. First off, Barry, my pal and probably the best friend I’ve ever had. Then there was my Mom who spent hours on the phone with me listening to my plight, my anger and my frustration. My wife, who spent hours in person listening to my plight, my anger and my frustration. George, who offered advice and orders on car repair. Lastly, Brian, who refuses to give up on me in any and all occasions.
            It’s funny. Whenever I believe I’m alone, that there is no help, that my life is one deep chasm that I’m plunging down at an alarming rate, someone, some people show up and offer a hand or advice that will calm me and slow my descent into madness down. It is times like this when I wonder what they see in me. Wonder why they would help. Wonder if I’m even worth their time, energy and money.
            Inevitably, when I voice those thoughts, I’m told to shut up and just accept the help. That they care about me. That somehow my life is important to them and others that I don’t even realize.
            “You are family.” Brian told me.
            “You are family.” My wife told me.
            “You are family.” My mom told me.
            “You’re and idiot.” Barry told me. (Which is the same as being family in his book.)
            Others said the same thing or something quite similar. (Not about being an idiot mind you, that is strictly Barry.)
            In light of all that has transpired, the events of the past week and of my blog on family, this shows to me that yes, while there are those in our lives that are blood related, the ones who become family over time through our lives seems to be as important if not more important than the blood relatives that seem to disappear into the horizon of time. This is of no fault of mine, yours or theirs. This is just how life is.
            Our families are the ones that stick with us. Through thick, thin, illness, success and loneliness. They are quick to call you out on your bullshit. They are ready with praise and they help when you don’t want them to or ask them to.
            In other words, you never truly know who your family is until they are in your face not letting you be an idiot.
            So, for all my family members out there…

            Thank you.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

I Dream

“Please, just take my money.” I pleaded to the disembodied voice on the phone. This wasn’t the first time I’d said these exact words on this day. And, with each passing repetition the desperation in my being grew.
            My heart felt constrained, sharp pains filled my chest cavity and reminded me that it was only a few short months ago that I was lying in a hospital emergency room hooked up to a bunch of machines while a nurse filled my veins with pain killers, muscle relaxers and who knows what else. Acute pericarditis was the diagnosis then, and it wasn’t out of the realm of my thoughts to believe that I had either contracted it again or I was having a heart attack.
            “Mr. Novak, that’s not how it works. You have to be approved…”
            “You don’t understand… I don’t want to move, I don’t want to lose my house, I don’t want my family to have to pack up their belongings and attempt to try and find a new place to live. We love our house. We don’t want to lose it.” The blood in my veins raced and I could feel the heat coming off my body despite the fact I had three fans blowing air onto me. In a last ditch effort I yielded… “Please… help me. Help us. Take my money so we can keep our house.” I said in a weak and defeated voice.
            Thirty seconds of silence. Eternally long silence. So long I felt as if our universe had imploded and respawned giving birth to our entire history up until that very moment where I was pleading once again for help. Then… “Can I place you on hold for a few minutes Mr. Novak?”
            My shoulders dropped low, my chin rested on my chest and as I exhaled I said “Sure.” Knowing I was defeated. That all I’d worked for had come crashing down like a house of cards in a hurricane.
            Five hours, six phone calls, an army of “assistants” and I finally got through to someone who said they could help. That my mortgage company would take the $3500 dollars and cease the foreclosure action on my families’ home.
            I was exhausted. The promises which were made kept repeating themselves in my head. Promises I have every intention of keeping. On the heels of those thoughts was this one outstanding truth “It shouldn’t be this hard. None of this should be this hard.”
            But it is.
            I suppose I should tell you, since my wife had her strokes four years ago, our life has been a financial hell. So much so, that well… shit, you don’t want to know the dirty details… I’ll just say that it has not been easy to do anything. After all, how can life be easy when all you are faced with every day is the cloud of repression and doom? Yet somehow, we’ve made it work and we’ll continue to make it work. Because the choices we have are not choices at all.
            After I calmed down I spoke with my wife. I told her how things went, how we don’t have to move or lose the house and that yes, we are still behind in our mortgage but we are not in foreclosure. That indeed, the company saw fit to take every penny I could scrape together and help us in their own way to catch up.
            Let me say something real quick about “Their own way”, it is not conducive of life. No, it’s more like indentured servitude. They don’t believe in medical catastrophe’s. Well, they do but they send you a sixty page book of paperwork to fill out so that they know you’re telling the truth. And, when they get it, they get a group of people together to decide whether or not to approve whatever sort of miniscule assistance they want to offer you.
            And you know what? We take it. We take whatever pittance they offer us, because the idea of trying to start over, of packing up your life in used cardboard and paying more for a rental than you were paying in mortgage is an unacceptable thought. And we’re grateful. Fucking Grateful. As if they have just breathed new life in our freshly deceased corpses.
            I hate feeling that way. Being thankful and grateful for someone doing the right thing by you when it shouldn’t have been on the table or a question in the first place. It’s downright disgusting. It makes me feel ashamed to be a human being.
            But you know what’s worse… I feel bad for the people that work in those types of institutions. I know they need the job as much as we all need our jobs. I know they spend countless hours on the phone listening to sad tales every day. I know that when they get home at night they have to be exhausted and I know there are some that even question why it is they do what they do. Then they look at their own homes, their own families and realize they really don’t have a choice.
            I can’t help but think there has to be a better way. A way in which is more personal, more empathetic, a way in which the numbers matter less than the lives of the people behind them. But what the hell do I know? I’m a dreamer.
            I dream for a better future every time I see child. I dream that happiness, joy and laughter are a disease from which there is no cure. I dream that the lives of people matter more than the commas in the bank account. I dream where fear of displacement is a footnote in history. I dream that we as a species will wise up and realize that one day, we need each other more than we need the selfish desires in our hearts.

            I dream…

Friday, July 1, 2016


            I saw a ghost today. I don’t really believe in ghosts or the supernatural. Matter of fact, I suppose you can say optimistically that I’m a skeptic when it comes to most things earth real. None-the-less; as I stepped out of our administration building around one o’clock this afternoon, made two sharp lefts and felt the bright sunshine on my skin and the weight of the humidity in the air, I came close to walking right into an apparition from my past.
            The ghost was over twenty feet in front of me and walking towards me. She was walking out from under the shadow of an overhang and into the sun. My glasses were in the process of darkening into prescribed sunglasses and all I could make out was this woman’s silhouette. She was thin, short and carried herself with pride. Her back was as straight as a well-made timber and smoke from her cigarette helped obscure the details of her face.
            I slowed my walk, my brain screaming I was seeing a vestige of my past, my eyes, accomplices to my brain, lied at what I was witnessing. The heat vapor rising from the road and sidewalk cast a strange and eerie fog near her feat. I tried in vain to place who this person was and where I’d seen her before. Because I know I had. But my synapsis refused to make the connection.
            Seconds passed like minutes and our distance shortened. Soon, the vapor blew away as did the smoke around her head. The woman’s hair was straight, shoulder length and mousy brown. Her skin was tightly drawn over her bones and her sharp facial features revealed her skeletal features hiding millimeters beneath her flesh.
            “Hello.” Her high pitched voice said to me as she passed by me.
            “Good afternoon.” I managed to stammer as I clumsily passed by her.
            I didn’t turn around to watch her walk away. I couldn’t. Something told me that if I did, she wouldn’t be there. That what I saw was truly my brain or something else at work in my life. So I made my way to my office, sat down at my desk and slowly, methodically and reluctantly went through the back catalog of my life of people I’d known.
            It took only a few minutes and soon I was relieving my 8th grade year. The girls name was Lisa P. She’d been “dating” another boy in our class when her and I met. It was at the end of year picnic and we’d talked and bonded over tether ball. At the end of the day, she stopped by my desk and gave me her phone number.
            The first few weeks of summer, we talked almost every day, but like all things in youth, immediacy of adventure and instant gratification stole my attention away from the budding relationship. In the end, at the beginning of my 9th grade, on the first day of school, when I saw her and tried to talk to her, all I received was cold shoulder and icy glares from her rich light brown eyes.
            It wasn’t until weeks later, when one of her friends explained to me why Lisa wouldn’t talk to me. Because I never tried to communicate with her after those first few weeks. I tried to apologize. But the damage had already been done.
            I moved on with my life. As did she.
            This experience has left me wondering who else I have forgotten in my life who once meant so much to me. And do those I’ve forgotten and remember so rarely ever have thoughts of me? What is their impact on my life and my life on theirs? Lastly, is Lisa still pissed off at the teenage boy who was completely clueless to the ways of romance, love and communication?
            On the heels of all these thoughts I pondered what impact I’ve had on the people in not just my daily or weekly life, but in my monthly and yearly life. I’d like to think it’s a positive one and when people look back at me they feel as if they’ve learned something, shared something, laughed at something or just had a righteous good time. Maybe, in some dark, lonely night they’ll think back and have warm, nostalgic feelings. (Okay, that last one is a stretch.)
            Then I remember a small, hour long interaction I recently had with five children in one of the summer camps at our museum. The camp was on transportation. Things that go if you will. I was asked to talk to them about trains. When I discovered the campers were all under the age of six, I tried to tailor my program to something they would like.
            So, for the first half hour, we assembled and electric train set, put the cars and engine on the track and each child got to operate the train as it raced in circles. They even took turns touching the moving train, answering questions about what they thought each car carried or what its purpose was.
            When everyone had their turn, I took them down to my office and showed them where I worked, where the trains were worked on and how everything operated. They honked the horns, held trains in their hands and asked more questions than I care to even count.
            When they left, they all had smiles on their bright faces and giggles in their hearts. I felt good. I felt like I may have done something right.
            And, after what I experienced today, I hope that maybe, someday, in one of these kids future they will experience a positive apparition of their past. An apparition that will give them a happy memory and realize that maybe they were inspired by some overgrown child with an amazing job who got lucky in more ways than one.
            Okay, I’m going to sign off now before I go on for another thousand words. Here’s hoping you get visited by an apparition, real or imaginary, that brings insight and joy into your life.

Have a great week.