Thursday, June 24, 2010

Dabbling Through Life

Having become a NASCAR fan at my advanced age, the quality I see, and envy, most among the top drivers is that they knew practically from the cradle what they wanted from life. They began racing bikes or motorcycles or go-karts or whatever before they ever started school. They loved racing and had an aptitude for it and then spent their entire lives focusing on the goal of achieving success in their sport. And even if they didn't reach the pinnacle of their profession, they found joy in anticipating the next race.

You see this same single-minded devotion in other athletes, as well as actors and artists and writers. You find it in doctors and soldiers and lawyers and in corporate executives - the ones who found their mission.

There's nothing I've ever done that made me say, "this is it, this is what I want to spend my life doing". I dabbled around with various occupations. I liked law enforcement and hated insurance. Sometimes I enjoyed bartending when the place was full and the band was rocking but serving coffee in greasy spoons sucked. I actually got off on the sights and sounds and smells of factories where people produced actual things and not just paperwork but on the other  hand, doing a 1,000 an hour of anything is monotony personified. I got bored with the minutia of selling real estate.

In NASCAR, my driver, Jimmie Johnson, is known as a "closer". He puts himself in position to snag the win even if he might not have had the dominant car that day. He spends 500 patient miles trying to make his way to the front. He works diligently to improve on the tracks that are his weakest. He closes the deal.

I'm not a closer. I'm a starter. I go great guns at the beginning of any endeavor or enthusiasm. I'm creative about coming up with terrific ideas to get any program off the ground but once it's in place and flourishing, my interest wanes and someone else has to take up the load for maintaining it.

I'm a spring personality. My early garden is beautiful. I plant and mulch and fertilize and water clear through May. Maybe even into June. Then my interest fades. The weeds take over. I let God handle the watering. By fall, the garden is an old crone - missing teeth and scraggly hair and too much rouge on her cheeks.

When I was a little kid, you could tell what I was like by the paint-by-number pictures I painted. They were perfect at the top, with every color sharply delineated. By the bottom, when I was hurrying just to get the damn thing finished, the shades of color all melted together in a glob.

Same with painting a room. Each wall becomes a little messier as I go. By the last one, there are flecks of paint on the floor, the woodwork, the light plate and my hair.

When I cook, I mix my ingredients carefully, then burn the finished product because I tend to use "high" more than any other setting.

If there is such a thing as reincarnation (which I tend to believe), if I could wish for anything it would be to find my passion early enough to spend my life living it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dear Facebook Friends

Here are some things I will not share with you:

1) I will not tell you via Facebook that I am in a new relationship. (The odds of my ever actually being in a new relationship are slim to none but in case lightning strikes.....) If we are close enough, I might call you or e-mail you or stop by to see you but I will not bump you (along with the rest of the world) on Facebook.

2) Even if I hated my job (which I don't), I would not confide in you about it because people seem to forget that Facebook isn't private and any number of people who do not have your best interests at heart may be lurking, including co-workers and other moles. In fact, confidantes and Facebook are almost a contradiction in terms.

3) I will not ask you to help me find my baby lamb in Farmville or collect guns in Mafiaburg.

4) I will not tell you about the million points I just scored in Bedazzled or Bejeweled or Be-whatever.

5) I will not send you Love Hearts or virtual flower bouquets or Hugs and Kisses.

6) I will probably not invite you to join any groups or sign any petitions or ask any new friends into your circle. If you want to do any of those things, you're on your own.

Having said all that, I will help you cheer your teams on to victory (as long as they aren't competing against Jimmie in NASCAR). I will celebrate with you when your child excels and sympathize with you when he or she stumbles. I will congratulate you on anniversaries, weddings, engagements and birthdays. I will sometimes click on to the YouTube videos you post, especially the music ones.

I like it when you pop in to let me know what you're up to - how your work day is going, what's up with your family, where you went on vacation. I like seeing your pictures (unless they contain pick up truck beds full of coyote corpses - sorry, guys). I like neighborly news about mutual friends. I enjoy knowing how many mushrooms you found and how many fish you caught (although it makes me drool with envy). I enjoy the occasional heated political discussion.

I think Facebook is a positive development in communication because it helps you keep in touch with people you might lose track of - former co-workers who changed jobs, friends who've moved, new friends with shared interests, like my NASCAR pals. Facebook sometimes help you hook up with people you thought were long lost from your life. It keeps you current with what is going on with your favorite teams, politicians and issues.

Having said all that, Facebook is only the shallowest of ponds. You can dip your toes in it, that's all. If what you want in the way of friendship or knowledge or communication is deeper and stronger and truer, Facebook isn't that. It's like Headline News. You have to go beyond it for the rest of the story.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Different Kind of Sheriff

Well, I have to say about our Sheriff Striker - he was never deceitful about his intentions. As I recall, he stated in his brochure the first time he ran for Sheriff that the Department was only a steppingstone in what he had planned for his future. He was upfront about acknowledging that one of the advantages of being Sheriff would be being able to organize his time in such a way as to reach his ultimate goal, which was to become a teacher.

I remember railing at people about this at the time. We had two other legitimate candidates, Barry Hicks and Bob Land, who were in the race for what they believed they could do for the Department. It was sort of like President's Kennedy's famous statement: Barry and Bob asked what they could do for the department while Leroy asked what the department could do for him. I thought it was telling that Leroy announced from the git-go that his campaign was all about him and his own goals but people shrugged me off.

Now that attitude has come to fruition. As I am hearing it through the grapevine, Striker has been hired by the school board to become a full-time teacher starting in August. And where does that leave the department for the last 5 months of the year? Who cares? Certainly not Leroy Striker who will receive a full salary from both the school system and the county for five months. And, incidentally, let us not forget that his wife has received her paycheck from the taxpayers since the very beginning, first from Day Reporting and then (onward and upward to better things being the catchphrase of the Striker team) as a Field Officer for Community Corrections.  And even beyond all that, let's also remind ourselves that Leroy successfully negotiated with the county to lower the retirement age for deputies to 50. And furthermore, his pay was renegotiated so that he gave up the meal contract in favor of a higher annual salary. A lot of people boo-hooed for his sake over that since it seemed like a decrease in wages but in the long run, it will be a substantial benefit because his pension is based on his salary. So, for instance, Tim Roberts' salary the last year of his administration was $27,770 and that's the amount is pension was figured on. By contrast, Leroy's will be calculated on  the $80,000 or so that the Council finally gave him, from age 50 until......whenever, possibly 30 years or more. I imagine he was laughing inwardly when he received this so-called pay cut.

Is it illegal for Leroy to leave the Sheriff's Department leaderless for 5 months while collecting that double paycheck? Nope, elected officials have no set amount of time they have to spend on their jobs. Is it ethical. In my book, the answer is definitely not!

Leroy was a different kind of sheriff from the start of his administration. I will give him lots of credit for being a expert at doing whatever he wanted by finding his way though things, around things, under things, over things. He remodeled the basement of the jail in the first few months without receiving permission from the county commissioners, who legally own all county buildings. They were upset at the time about being by-passed but the renovation project was so far along, it wouldn't have been cost effective to order him to desist. That damn-anyone-who-tries-to-stop-me action set the dynamic for the Striker administration.

Leroy not only didn't believe in the letter of any law, rule or regulation, he didn't believe in the spirit either. For instance, he worked outside the Merit Board when he wanted to fire deputies.

He accused his opponent in his second election of wrongdoing and suspended him, an underhanded way of campaigning no one else would have gotten away with.

The man has brass, I'll give him that. He's ferocious about getting what he wants and only a very few have the cojones to take him on.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Prince and the Pauper - 2011 Version

I heard Steve Forbes, erstwhile presidential candidate, talking on Morning Joe yesterday, giving us the benefit of his superior intellect regarding the economy. We need two things to happen to get this country moving forward toward renewed prosperity, declared Steve.

1) lower taxes;

2) control labor.

And I'm thinking, well, gee, have you forgotten we already tried that? Isn't this exactly what we did when George W Bush was president? The economy was humming along under Bill Clinton, racking up a surplus. Unemployment was about as low as realistically possible. Seems to me, everyone was pretty happy then. The rich were getting richer, but so were the poor.

Then, along comes George and the all-Republican congress and we did exactly what the Forbeses of the world recommended. Huge tax decreases, particularly on the un-working segment of our population. The collectors of dividends and interest and capital gains and inheritors of fortunes (much like Steve himself).

And, in the meantime, the number of American workers who belonged to unions was dropping precipitously. I think we're down to about 7 per cent now. Companies blackmailed their employees into taking decreases in pay, big ones. They took away benefits. They dropped pension plans and reneged on contracts guaranteeing lifetime health insurance.

You'd have thought, to hear Steve Forbes tell it, the economy should have boomed like never before. The stock market should have soared. New factories should have been built, new jobs created by the millions.

But that's not what happened, is it? I guess we just didn't go far enough. Taxes didn't go down sufficiently to inspire the rich and the corporations to invest in the economy (although the extra profits did propel them to ever more excessive perks, parties and perquisites).

And as for labor, the workers in the factory here in my town, who lost $4 an hour in pay, as well as a significant chunk of their benefits, should obviously be more stand up than their more affluent brethren by being willing to unselfishly make even more sacrifices for the good of the U.S.A.

Why is it that it's always us that has to do the giving? Why do the whining rich always have  to be handed ever more incentive to do the right thing and the working class ever less? I wonder if Mr Forbes acknowledges that there is an end point somewhere in all of this. Does his ideal America consist of the Squires owning the vast estates while the serfs tug their forelock, hoping to be provided a hovel to live in and a crust of bread to eat?

God, how I'd love to see a real-life Prince and the Pauper, circa 2011. It would do my heart good to see Steve Forbes, stripped of his inheritance, working in a foundry for $10, trying to finagle how to pay his bills and take care of his family.

Do that for a few years, Mr Forbes, then come back and report on how you feel. Until, then, don't try to convince me you know what the hell you're talking about.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Does Family Deserve its Reputation?

Some of our beliefs are so firmly rooted, there is no shaking them despite what we see right in front of our eyes. For instance, we keep the collective "Family" on a pedestal, perhaps for the same reason Democracy is there: it is far from perfect but we have nothing better with which to replace it.

Myself, I've often thought it is a wonder that any of us make it through childhood emotionally whole and, of course, most of us don't. We all suffer from our neuroses to a greater or lesser degree, largely determined by whatever fate our early life inflicted upon us. Part of that stems from our very helplessness as children. We have no control, being completely at the mercy of those who are older and stronger, whether those are parents, teachers, siblings, other children or strangers. They use us as they will, then fling us down on the shores of adulthood to lick our wounds and cope as best we can. If we are lucky, our parents try to protect us in so far as they are able. If we are unlucky, it is our parents we need to be protected against, and its damned slow society usually is about making that call, if it ever does.

What brought on these recent thoughts was an incident that happened in this Sunday's NASCAR race. Young Joey Logano, just turned 20, nicknamed Sliced Bread as in "The Greatest Thing Since..." was spun by an older, wilier driver when they were both racing for the same spot on the track. Of course, it's not unusual for age and experience to take advantage of youth and inexperience.

In this particular instance, Joey's father ran over to push Joey toward the other driver's (Kevin Harvick) car, obviously encouraging him to wade through the team members who were blocking him to give Kevin a piece of his mind.....and maybe a punch in the nose.

Tom Logano has groomed Joey to be a champion race car driver since he was a small child, providing him with every possible advantage to excel in a tough sport. And he is excelling. Last year, he moved into NASCAR's top series with one of NASCAR's primo teams, Tony Stewart's old championship team.

Joey loves racing and he's a great little driver....so is Tom a role model parent for giving Joey everything he required to fulfill his dream? Did 8-year-old Joey Logano say, "Dad, I want to be a professional race car driver," or did Tom Logano say it for him? Can a child begin to know what he wants in life when he isn't remotely aware of the endless possibilities?

And now that he's 20, does he still need Dad to rush in as his protector or is it time to untie the apron strings and let Joey grow up? Are the Logano's dysfunctional? Probably, but what is functional? We are all dysfunctional in our own ways.

Other domineering parents - Tiger Woods' father, Michael Jackson's father, JonBenet Ramsey's mother. Well, we could go on forever, couldn't we? We don't know what motivates these people. Is it wanting the best for their child or for themselves or, more likely, some of each? They recognize talent in their child and are determined to drive them to success via that talent.  Doesn't always work out the best for the kid but still, maybe it is better to be a neurotic millionaire than a neurotic hundred-aire. Or a neurotic Gold Medal winner than a neurotic bowler at the local alley.

When I look at some of  the people I've known, I see children who were twisted by incest, made to feel inferior due to favoritism within the family, molded into violence by abuse that carried over to the next generation. I have friends who never have managed to totally rebuild egos damaged by criticism and humiliation. I know people who've never gotten beyond the guilt perpetrated by judgmental religious dogma foisted off on them by family.

I may be too cynical because I've tended to work in occupations in which I see more of what can go wrong than what can go right. A Sheriff's Department and Prosecutor's office, both of which exist because of criminal behavior. What causes criminal behavior has been the subject of a million theses and we still don't know - but chances are the roots are somewhere back in childhood. Some family lifestyles almost guarantee it.

I worked as an Advocate in a women's program, dealing with victims of domestic violence, the ultimate in family perversion.

Now, I interview low income clients who need legal assistance with civil cases. Naturally, they don't come to me unless life has turned on them somehow and, almost always, that's due to the judgment calls they've made. Sometimes, their situations involve money but the vast majority have to do with relationships, with the families of their childhood often dictating the negative relationships of their adulthood.

Are there lots of Little House on the Prairie families and Father Knows Best families and Leave it to Beaver families out there that I just never see? Nurturing but not smothering, protective but not over-protective, encouraging but not dominating, providing but not spoiling? Or am I right in thinking those wholesome families the exception rather than the rule?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Odds and Ins

- Is it the Republicans' long-term plan to simply try to impeach every Democratic president who gets elected? Listen, I pretty much couldn't stand your guy either. I believe George W Bush did lots of things that were pretty iffy, maybe even impeachable, if you go by the same standard Republicans set with Clinton, but I hope I'm intelligent enough to know that you can't run a successful democracy by throwing yourself on the floor and holding your breath until you turn blue every time an election doesn't go your way. Grow freakin' up, Republicans!

- I had a friend who worked most of his career for Amoco, then BP bought out his facility. He said they immediately backed off on safety regulations - fewer inspections, cheaper solutions. There was an explosion in which one of his best friends was killed.  Shouldn't have happened. Now BP's bottom line way of doing business has polluted huge areas of the gulf,  and perhaps, beyond, devastating plant, animal, fish and human life. When this is over, they should be bankrupted paying restitution and their assets sold off to more responsible companies. Some massive failures are beyond being allowed to come back and try again.

- Well, it turns out Indiana's own Representative Holier-than-Thou Mark Souder had to resign his House seat due to having an affair with one of his aides. Souder was one of those most outraged by Bill Clinton's fall from grace. Abstinence was one of his pet issues. This is often the difference between Republicans and Democrats - the Dems have their moral failings but they're usually rather tolerant about the imperfection of their fellow man (and woman). Meanwhile, Republicans preach incessantly and judge harshly about the wages of sin....right up until they are caught out themselves.  Don't cry for Indiana though....we still have Dan Burton (he of the unacknowledged, illegitimate son) for comic relief.

- Ironic, isn't it? Bill and Hillary still together despite all their ups and down. Al and Tipper, childhood sweethearts, calling it quits. Outsiders never know what bond holds couple together....or what heartaches drive them apart.

- It seems like my group of friends have been experiencing quite a long spell of misfortune, significant misfortune - like suicides and lost jobs and serious illness and problems with their kids and grandkids. LeAnn e-mailed me the other day. She said she'd reached her last straw. She lives in a very small house so come winter, she puts her winter clothes and blankets in those vacuum bags so they can be stored out of the way under the bed. She bought some new ones this year. Had the last one filled. It was dim in the bedroom. Started to hook the sweeper to the hole but couldn't find it. Turned on the light to investigate, only to discover, as she said, "I'd bought a suck bag without a suck hole". That has become our new code phrase for having reached the very bottom - "how bad is it?" "So bad, I bought a suck bag without a suck hole".

- My friend, Blythe, believes Barack Obama is a Muslim. She declares he will never be her president. She thinks his goal is to destroy America. She is an intelligent, middle-class, basically kind person who will go above and beyond to support a friend.  She forwards me rabidly right-wing e-mails which I delete without reading.  There is just no way you can have a rational discussion with a mindset like that.  She isn't a crazy in any other area of her life. Can't help wondering, though,  just how many of them like her there are? Scary.

- Of course, she thinks I'm crazy too for having become, in my old age, a maniac NASCAR fanatic. My mood is determined by how well my driver did in the weekend race. Jimmie has been having a run of bad luck lately, crashing out in his last several starts, slid from 1st to 7th in points. I wonder if he's at the point of feeling like he bought a suck bag without a suck hole?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Take My Phone....Please

I have a new cell phone. It's a Sprint phone. I chose Sprint for one simple reason: Sprint sponsors the NASCAR Sprint Cup series and I can watch the races on this phone. I can do lots of other things on it too because it features all the latest high-tech bells and whistles. Every time I've bought a new phone, I've upgraded to one that allows me to perform all the new, cool functions although I never learned how to perform the old, cool functions on my previous phones - so now I just have the capability of more things I don't know how to do.

Here are things I've never done on a cell phone -

I've never taken a picture, except once, accidentally, of my car's steering wheel.

I've never texted. First, I'm confounded by a keyboard with keys approximately the size of a molecule. Second, I'm not hip enough to know the texting lingo and third, even if I managed to compose a message I wouldn't know where to send it.  Do you use the same phone number as the cell phone of the party you're texting? What are those 5 digit number they advertise on t.v. to vote for your favorites on Dancing with the Stars or to make a contribution to Haiti Relief (probably soon to be Oil Spill Relief)? I've neither voted nor donated via cell phone.

I've never Twittered (Tweeted? Same thing?)

I've never connected to Facebook. I've not yet thought of a reason why I'd want to.

I've never GPSed to see where I am or where I'm going. Usually, I know where I'm going (although, not always).

I've never changed either the ring tones or the screensaver on my phone. I just live with whatever was programmed at the cell phone factory (which I assume is in China).

I've never checked to see what is happening with the stock market (I don't care because I don't own any stocks).

I've never had any desire to read a book or draw a picture on a screen as big as a postage stamp.

I've never downloaded my e-mail. I have a desk top and a laptop at work. I have a desk top and laptop at home. I use the laptops when I'm on the road. I already have enough options for getting my e-mail. I'm not one of those people who feel lost if they don't receive an alert the second a new e-mail comes in. Hardly any of my messages are urgent. In fact, most of them are eminently ignorable.

I've never made or answered a cell phone call when I'm driving.

I've never played a game. I always have a book with me for those boring times when I'm forced to wait somewhere.

I've never checked weather or traffic conditions. I'm one of those old-fashioned people who prefer a little unpredictability in life. It's more fun not to know everything in advance.

The truth is, I don't even like to talk on a cell phone. They aren't comfortable. The old ones were like talking on a brick. The new ones are like talking on a credit card. They don't nestle comfortably against your ear like "real" phones. And land line phones don't pass on part of their responsibility to you. They don't punish you by sulking if you forget to put them on the charger. They don't require a signal so that they're working fine one mile and casting you in cell hell the next. Land line phones don't limit you to minutes or regions. They don't distinguish between incoming and outgoing. They don't charge you extra if they have to roam.

I know all this is generational. To me, a cell phone is an alien being. I approach it warily, as one would a strange dog who might decide either to lick you or bite you. I use it for passing on necessary information - "I'm going to be late getting home, so don't worry". "I have a flat tire on Dora Road, just past the Bethel Church." "Will you check and see if I unplugged the iron?"

For the younger girls at work, their cell phones are practically extensions of their bodies. They don't so much as go to the bathroom without them. Either the phones are glued to their ears or their fingers are flying on the itsy keyboards. (If I owned a company, I would not allow my employees to use their cell phones at work on the grounds that that's my time and cell phones are immense time-wasters and plus our insurance is going to be paying for mass cases of Carpel Tunnel a decade from now). They text one another jokes, keep in constant touch with their Facebook friends, change their ring tones to reflect their mood that day, feature pictures of their kids as their screensavers.

I have negative feelings about cell phones because of their inconsiderate users too. They hold up the check out line, fumbling with their money because their hands are tied up talking on their phones. They jam up the traffic line because they're so engaged in their phone conversation, they don't notice that the light turned green. Their kids run amuck in the waiting room at the doctor's office while they are pecking away at their baby keyboards. They force everyone else to become a partner in their irritatingly, inane conversations as if they don't realize they aren't in a sound-proof cubicle.

I only plan on giving my new cell phone number to my six closest friends....because I don't want to be bothered getting lots of phone calls. I only want to learn to watch the races. Then I'll probably retire the owner's manual to the file that contains the unread manuals from all my previous phones.