Saturday, July 23, 2011

Hell With It - I'm Retiring!

I had it all planned out how I would buy the big ticket items I knew I'd need in the next few years, getting them paid for before retirement reduces my income. I bought a new 42" high definition television (the better for watching NASCAR). I got new glasses. I replaced my old computer last year. I'll be heading into my golden years with a car showing less than 13,000 miles. I was proud of myself for planning ahead, not something I'm known for.

Then the enormous old maple tree in my front yard was struck by lightning. The arborist I called to check it out told me, "if it falls, it's gonna' fall on your house and, trust me, it is going to fall...sooner rather than later". So I shelled out $600 I wasn't expecting to spend to have a tree cut down.

Then in the middle of a monster heat wave, my air conditioner quit. The technician I called to check it out, shook his head. "Dead," he said, "you're gonna' have to replace it".  So, the bit of savings I'd hoarded to ease me into my non-working years took another hit.

Now, I'm paranoid. My refrigerator is about 15 years old. What age is that in refrigerator years? Is it a senior citizen now, like me? And what about my water heater? It's the same one that was here when I moved in in 1989. Will it be the next thing to go?  Is my foundation beginning to buckle? Is my furnace fixing to falter? What about the ancient blue spruce that was the maple's closest neighbor? Will lightning strike twice in almost the same spot?

Retirement is rather like having a baby. Yes, there are people fortunate enough to have everything well in hand before they embark on this new adventure. There is money enough set aside for summer camps and tennis lessons and college costs prior to the child's birth.

Most of us don't have that luxury. If we wait until all systems are go, we'll never become parents. If we think about all that could possibly go wrong and try to prepare for every eventuality, we'll keep putting it off until it's too late. We have to be willing to take a bit of a flyer. Go for it and figure it out later. And usually, it works out just fine.

I have friends who will probably never retire. They have a figure in mind that they have to have to make their old age "safe". But life is never safe. Sometimes you just have to grab your dream and run with it.

My in-laws pinched their pennies before my father-in-law's retirement. They did without. No new television to make their golden years more pleasant. No new car. No vacations. They wanted to add to their nest egg to make their senior citizenship more secure. Shortly into his retirement, my father-in-law was diagnosed with a painful, wasting, ultimately terminal disease. He needed constant care. There was no choice but to enter a skilled care facility. My mother-in-law went too, not wanting to leave the partner with whom she'd spent 50 plus years.

Within months, the dollars they'd spent a decade scrimping to hoard were gone and they were on Medicaid. "If only I'd known what was going to happen," my mother-in-law said after her husband died, "I'd have talked him into buying a camper. I'd have made sure we had some wonderful memories to take into the nursing home with us."

I know if I talked to a financial planner, they'd advise me not to retire so I'm not gonna'....talk to a financial planner, that is. I'm just going to do it. I've spent 50 years going to work on my employer's schedule. Now, I'm going to live life on my schedule - and lightning-struck trees and dead air conditioners and aging refrigerators be damned.

For 5 decades, I've filed reports and talked to clients and kept books and served drinks and kept minutes of meetings. Now I'm going to read and write and watch NASCAR and sit on my front porch watching little kids with ice cream cones go by.

August 15, 2011 - that's it. I'm going to dive off that board and hope like hell that I can keep my head above water. I don't want to look back in regret that I waited to late to enjoy it.

 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Dirty Old Man?

The staid old Republicans fell in lust with their sexy young constituency, Miss Right Wing. They couldn't resist when she cooed sweet promises of passion into their ears but, instead of confining themselves to the guilty delights of an election year romp in the hay, they freaking married her! They promised to love and honor her until death did them part. They promised to give her everything her little heart desired. And with their manhood in her hand, she's holding them to it.

She bewitched them Now, their sensibleness is starting to re-assert itself. "C'mon, Honey, be reasonable. We don't really want the country to default on its debt. That could be disastrous."

So, Speaker Boehner oh-s0-cautiously suggests that there might be some room for compromise with the Democrats. Maybe accept a few small tax hikes on the richest citizens in return for more cuts in spending. And, whoosh, the next thing he knows, he finds his bed made up on the sofa!

Then, Senator Mitch McConnell oh-so-cautiously posits that the best of both worlds for the Republicans might be to grant a constitutional privilege allowing the president to single-handedly raise the debt ceiling thus placing the consequences squarely on his head while exempting the R's from any responsibility. And, whoosh, the next thing McConnell knows, his pillow has been moved out to the doghouse!

In their heart of hearts, I believe most of the Republican old guard want what they believe is best for their country. Yes, they disagree with the Dems on many issues and yes, they certainly aren't above playing poison politics to win elections but when you get right down to the nitty-gritty, they know that compromise is the way the game is played lest you propel the nation into unchecked chaos. You drive the hardest bargain you can, then accept the results. The old bulls know you win some and you lose some but how you lose determines whether you live to fight another day.

This isn't the first time the old gentleman, in his dotage,  has been beguiled by a sweet young thing. A flash of breast, a shot of leg and he's off and running. The last love of his life convinced him that he'd win the battle of shutting down the government. The people, she told him, would turn against the young president. They didn't. She convinced him that impeachment was a winning issue. It wasn't.

Now this one, a let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may gal if there ever was one,  wants him to sabotage the country's credit rating and renege on its obligations to its citizens. And if he doesn't? She says she'll leave his ass (though it may be an empty threat because where would go to have it as good as with him?)

Meanwhile, the rest of us, who'll all be affected by what he does, wait with bated breath to see whether his brain or his balls will call the shot.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Homosexuality and Hypocrisy

You know how it is always said that it's not the crime that brings you down, it is the cover-up? Well, it's not the philosophy that brings you down, it's the hypocrisy. I don't think most Americans, especially younger ones, much care if you are gay. Now that more homosexuals have found the courage to come out, (making it safer for their brethren and sistren to do the same) and now that almost all of us can say, "some of my best friends and favorite relatives are gay", sexual orientation by itself is a neutral element in what makes up the whole person. Like heterosexuals, homosexuals can be compassionate or cruel, selfish or generous, wise or foolish, outgoing or introverted, fickle or loyal, or maybe a combination of more than one at any given time. Sexual orientation has nothing to do with it. Gays are our most heroic soldiers and our most horrific criminals, just like everyone else.

I have a gay friend whose home could be photographed for House and Garden. He lives up to the generalization that gays are more design-oriented than the rest of us. I have a cousin who is gay who is a total slob.

Even the Republicans seem to be giving up on their prejudice in light of the majority of Americans,especially younger ones, who believe gay marriage is a ho-hum issue. If you've lost your job and your house is going to be foreclosed and your daughter in pregnant and your son is hooked on meth, are you really going to spend much time worrying about whether your gay next door neighbors are married?

Besides that, as time passes, we find out that more and more Republicans are gay. Ken Mehlman just outed himself. Back when he was Ronald Reagan's representative that might have been a huge scandal. In 2011, no one cares.

So, now, our contempt is reserved for those who rant and rail against homosexuality as sinful even as they practice it themselves...right up until they are caught up in their own moral dishonesty. And if we feel contempt for them, imagine how overwhelming their self-contempt must be?

And then there is the Church, of course, but we who are or ever were Catholics have become used to the idea that the lag time between the enlightenment of its followers and its own enlightenment can be counted in centuries. For the foreseeable future, it will hold its condemnation of gay parishioners in one hand even as it tolerates and protects its gay priests with the other in the ultimate act of hypocrisy.

In the meantime, the rest of us have problems of our own.

 

 

 

 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Rafe Vincennes - Is He A Sociopath?

http://www.rafevincennes.com

"From the time he was a toddler, people said Rafe Vincennes reminded them of a black cat. Darkly handsome, he seemed to walk on silent cat’s paws. Rafe’s moral code is similar to a cat’s as well, in that he doesn’t have one. In addition to engaging in adventuresome sex, he has a penchant for meting out extreme justice to those who wrong him. Number one of Rafe’s Rules of Vengeance is the Times Ten Rule – whatever anyone does to him, he does back to them times ten."

Since I sold my very first article to the Harley Davidson Enthusiast (for $60) back in the early 70's, I have thought of myself as a non-fiction writer.

I currently write a weekly column for the Logansport (Indiana) Pharos Tribune. I blog regularly at NASCAR.com and I write this blog.

I wrote a bi-weekly column for my local newspaper ( the Wabash Indiana Plain Dealer) for over 20 years. I wrote a weekly column of political and social commentary for King Features Syndicate for ten years. My free-lance work has appeared in publications such as Newsweek, McCalls, Sports Illustrated and USA Today, along with many others. All of these were essay-type opinion pieces.

One of my articles in Newsweek won the Indiana Presswoman's award for Social Commentary, then went on to win at the national level. Four of my columns have been published in textbooks as illustrations of superior essay writing.  I have appeared on television and been heard on radio many times, thanks to my political opinions.

I have developed and taught workshops and courses on Column Writing  for such organizations as the International Women's Writing Guild, the Eastern Shore Writer's Club and others.

Essays were my comfort zone - short, punchy, opinionated pieces in which you spent words as if they were dollars. I got so I felt as if I could do that type of writing with one hand tied behind my back. Give me an hour and I'll give you 500 words on the subject of your choice.

A few years ago, I was fired from my position at the Sheriff's Department (by a new sheriff who wanted an administrative assistant who owed her job and her loyalty to him). I decided to make challenging use of my time between jobs by writing a novel. I wasn't at all sure that was something I had the skill set to do. I had spent 3 decades learning to edit my words down to a minimum. Now I would have to try to do the opposite to produce a novel-length manuscript -  at least 350 pages.

When I sat down to begin, Rafe Vincennes came into my head full-blown. He wrote his own story. I've never had to worry about finding length or thinking about "what happens next". I never had to bother with creating an outline. I just put my fingers on the keyboard and go.

When he was in 2nd grade, Rafe's teacher called him a sociopath. I still don't know whether that diagnosis is accurate. He can be a hero at times but some of his behavior makes even me cringe as I write it although I've grown to love him too.

There are now 5 completed novels in the Rafe series and a sixth partly done.  Rafe's story will be over when he decides it's over.

Of course, like all writers, I would like to see my books published. I've learned that marketing fiction is a Catch 22. The big publishing houses want to see only agented manuscripts; agents don't want to take you on until you've proven you can sell your own work (and, non-fiction, I've learned, doesn't count).

I plan to keep trying but, in the meantime, Rafe can be found at http://www.rafevincennes.com. So what do you think? Is he a sociopath?

Disclaimer: If you are easily offended by graphic language and content, you might want to take a pass.

 

 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Caylee Anthony is Dead!

Caylee Anthony is dead! I don't know what happens to children after they die. Heaven or nothingness? Either way, that poor little girl is out of any worldly suffering she may have endured. She doesn't need our moans of anguish nor does she care if a million porch lights across America burn in her honor. It doesn't matter to her how many post their outrage on Facebook or in scathing comments across the world wide web.

As far as I'm concerned, all the howls about the jury verdict are just wasted emotion. Because millions of kids are still alive and in pain. If you want to do something to remember Caylee, then do something for them.

My own pet charity for children is the Barium Springs Home for Children  (http://www.bariumsprings.org/). Barium Springs has been in existence since 1891 providing a place to live for abused and neglected children. I send them a small donation whenever I can afford it. I didn't notate it on the check itself but this last one was sent with a thought for Caylee Anthony.

It doesn't have to be Barium Springs (which is in North Carolina - I got involved with them through NASCAR driver, Bobby LaBonte). There are similar places in your own state and Google will be glad to help you find them. Or you can sign up to be a Big Brother or Big Sister to be a stable presence to a child whose life is beset by the insecurity of poverty and a missing parent. There are other volunteer opportunities as well.

Because I guess I gotta' think that if your concern about Caylee confines itself to blowing off to your buds on Facebook, it is neither very wide nor very deep.

What I find most ironic is that it is so often the seriously Christian who are the most bloodthirsty about Casey Anthony. You'd think they'd be the ones most likely to be content to accept the outcome of the trial as God's will, serene in the belief that He will certainly punish Casey in His own time and His own way. But, of course, many of them are not. They want their vengeance and they want it now - forget "vengeance is mine," sayeth the Lord!

I didn't follow the trial with any great attention so I don't know exactly what I think happened but, certainly, whatever it was, the dysfunctional Anthony family failed Caylee on a lot of different levels. Did that mean they didn't love her?  Not necessarily.

I've known many abusive families and almost none of them were all one thing or all another. In most, love and pain are all mixed up together.

But you can bet one thing. Caylee Anthony loved her mother, as even mistreated children do. If you could possibly seek Caylee's opinion, my guess is that she would beg you not to hurt her Mommy. So if you think your desire to punish Casey in some of the horrible ways I've read in your comments on the web, is for Caylee's sake, you're wrong.

If you really care for Caylee, you'll pay your concern forward. You'll try to lessen the suffering in some other child's life...some living child's life. Because, in case you hadn't noticed, Caylee's struggle is over.

 

 

 

Monday, July 4, 2011

Fourth of July

Happy Fourth of July, All!

[caption id="attachment_500" align="alignright" width="225" caption="statue of liberty"][/caption]

To the hard right and the liberal left. To all the Tea Partiers and the N.R.A members. To all the Gay Pride paraders and all the Save the Trees believers. To the Catholics, the Protestants, the Muslims and the Pagans. To all the blacks, whites, browns, yellows and reds and all of those, which is most of us, who are some of each. To NASCAR Nation and followers of other sports.

For this day, maybe we can at least admit that the vast majority of Americans, regardless of race, creed, color or sexual orientation, love their country and want what is best for her even if we don't agree on what that is.

We can fight again tomorrow!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Jimmie Johnson, Twitter, Voice Mails, High Def and Me

"Your voice mail box is full!" my cell phone assistant announces pertly. "Please remove old messages so you may receive new messages!"

Oh, God. I don't want to listen to old messages. The nicest thing about old messages is that they prevent new messages from coming in. This would be on my work cell phone. I know every one of these voices will be from someone who needs my help. They will be panicky, sad, anxious, stressed, frightened or angry. They were served with papers from the court or their court date is drawing near. Their husband wants a divorce. They lost custody of their kids. They need to file for guardianship of their increasingly senile parent. Their landlord has given them an eviction notice.

Now and then, my voice mail will contain a message from an attorney agreeing to take a case pro bono but that doesn't happen nearly enough to meet the demand.

By contrast, I rarely have voice mails on my cell phone....because I have given a total of three people that number. I got a personal cell phone for two reasons:  a) in case of an emergency on the road and b) because I can follow the NASCAR races on it (it is a Sprint phone, sponsor of the NASCAR Sprint Cup series).

I was, therefore, surprised the last time I looked to notice that I had several voice mails on my cell phone. It took me a while to retrieve them because I couldn't remember my password. By the time I did, the voice mails had grown to 7. I listened only to discover that all them came from the same source: someone named John in the correctional facility in Blackford County, Indiana. (Thankfully, I knew it couldn't be my son John since he lives in Florida). The person on the other end sounded progressively more desperate (a lot like the voices on my work cell).

I couldn't let John go on believing that whoever he was calling was simply ignoring his plight so with a sigh, I put my cell phone on my desk and the next time it vibrated, I answered. I told John that he must have the wrong number because I was sure I didn't know anyone incarcerated in Blackford County. He thanked me sadly for letting him know the situation. I haven't had a voice mail (or a phone call) on that phone since.

You probably think since I'm such a Neanderthal about cell phones that I don't have a Twitter account but you'd be wrong. Once my NASCAR driver, Jimmie Johnson, started Tweeting I had no choice but to sign up. As with the cell phones, I engage with Twitter on a very limited basis. I "follow" 6 people, all having to do with NASCAR but, really, only Jimmie actually matters. (My Twitter goal is to someday Tweet Jimmie and get an answering Tweet in return - fat chance when I'm only one of his tens of thousands of followers). Jimmie gives away lots of prizes via Twitter but I don't check in religiously enough to ever get in on any of them.

I think I even have a few followers myself on @vdeputy but I don't have a clue why that would be.

And lastly, to make the gap between me and the brave, new world of electronics complete there is my new high definition television set. (I'm retiring in August and decided I should buy any high ticket items before my income is reduced so I purchased new glasses and the t.v.)

I'm ashamed to admit that I can't tell any difference between high definition and low definition and my reflexes have evidently slowed, because I usually don't react quick enough to press o.k. when the message pops up that I can watch in high definition before it disappears again.

"Can you tell when it's on high definition, Mom?" (She's 92).

"No, can you?"

"No." (I'm 65).

So I leave it as it is - which is about as ignored as my cell phone voice mails and my Tweets.

 

 

 

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Be Careful What You Say

The Red Bull Nascar racing team recently fired a crew member for making derogatory comments about gay people. In the scheme of things, it was about a 4 on the Offensiveness Scale, with ten being the highest but, nevertheless, it violated Red Bull's corporate standard.

Lots of NASCAR fans were outraged, believing the Red Bull employee's constitutional right to free speech had been abridged.

Get a grip, people. The Bill of Rights and Terms of Employment have absolutely nothing to do with one another. While it is true that your government can't punish you for exercising your right to say what you think, your boss certainly can. In fact, your employers can pretty well treat you as they please, barring certain EEOC-type discrimination or the stipulations of negotiated union contracts.

This particular situation could have just as easily happened the opposite way. If the employee had worked for, say, a conservative Christian group and tweeted his support of gay marriage, he might have been fired for going against the stated philosophy of the people who write his paycheck.

In Red Bull's case, while they may, in fact, support gay rights as a corporate entity, I'd guess their disapproval of their crew member's conduct stemmed from a more practical root cause. Red Bull is one of the largest of the energy drink producers and marketers. How many of their consumers are gay? Presumably, their market share among gays is the same, proportionally, as their percentage of sales among straight customers.

People buy products for lots of different reasons, not always having to do with pure value. For instance, I buy all my home improvement products from Lowe's. Is Lowe's better than Home Depot? Are they cheaper than Menard's? Are they more convenient than Ace Hardware? Heck, I don't know. I patronize Lowe's for one simple reason: they sponsor Jimmie Johnson's Lowe's Chevrolet in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. My loyalty is to Jimmie more than Lowe's. If he switched sponsors tomorrow, I'd switch right along with him.

To a corporate entity, a consumer is a consumer is a consumer. Their sales receipts don't chart whether customers are black or white, gay or straight, male or female (although they probably do market research that gives them a fair idea of who their target market it).  As long as you have the $$ to buy a Red Bull or a box of Cheerios or a refrigerator, that's all that matters.

If gays get the notion that Red Bull made no effort to reprimand an employee who insulted them, that might be enough in itself to produce a measurable decline in sales. There is no way Red Bull is going to allow that to happen.

Of course, social media enhances all these scenarios. The Red Bull crewman might have shared a laugh in a bar with his buds at the expense of gays in an earlier time. No one would have been the wiser and his job would have been secure.

But we now live in a realm where, like it or not, the utterances that may seem amusing or innocent when we post them to Twitter or Facebook are part of the public domain, where they can be judged by everyone in the circles that radiate around the network.

So, if you're independently wealthy or retired or survive as a beach bum, you can probably get away with saying exactly what you think but if you have an employer, you'd better consider them before you engage in provocative speech. (And, of course, if you're self-employed, you might want to give a thought to the customers who are your own ultimate employers - are you sure the guy who is considering hiring you to put a new roof on his house isn't gay....and on Facebook?)

It may seem like in this brave new world, we have to walk on eggs, considering each comment before we post but it isn't that hard, really. Like so much else, the answer is in the Golden Rule. How would you feel if someone said the same about you or someone you care about? If there is any possibility that it would be hurtful, then delete, delete, delete.