Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Farewell to a Friend

Brigadier General William R. Charbonneau

I got the call the day after Christmas. It explained everything; and raised more questions than I could ever imagine. A friend for the past 40 years had passed away. Father Bill was home. We were blessed with a unique friendship. A Catholic Priest, a reformed Jew, a love of G-d and a desire to understand what we had in common.
Bill Charbonneau and I met accidently, if there is such a thing. I was an “all night” radio personality in Hartford, Connecticut. Occasionally, between songs, I would make brief comments on the politics of the time. Back in 1973, Watergate was the hot topic, and I recall the press attacking then President Nixon with a passion. I simply stated, “on-air,” that everyone, by our law, is innocent until proven guilty. And by that fundamental concept, President Nixon should be given the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise.  With open phones, listeners would call in and choose to agree or disagree. My first caller, clearly inebriated, blurted, “Nixon is as guilty as sin.” Why, I don’t know, but I responded with “you’re a f*ckin’ assh*le” and ended our brief interaction. Obviously, the call never made it on the air. The incident was forgotten.

Several weeks later, our radio station hosted an annual “Bridal Fair” at a local hotel. It was an event all the air personalities hated. We had to be fitted for tuxedos (most of us were single in those days and relatively averse to marriage) and then model the latest styles for the thousands of future brides in attendance. The brides weren’t there to see their favorite dj’s … but to see wedding gowns, florists, honeymoon planners, caterers, photographers, and jewelers.

One of the events at the Bridal Fair was an interfaith wedding panel. One of the panelists was a young priest. Someone introduced him to me as Father Bill, and I identified myself as Ed Mitchell (my air name in those days). A moment of confusion flashed across Bill’s face, then, a smile, a chuckle, and he said, “So you’re the SOB that called me a f*ckin’ assh*le?” My response still stuns me. “Well, Father, evidently I was right!” Father Bill laughed, slapped me on the shoulder, and said, “it must have been the scotch talking.” From that moment on, Father William R. Charbonneau and I were friends.

Bill loved hockey, so every now and then we would go to watch the Hartford Whalers play. He never mentioned he was the official Chaplain of the team. When he could get out of “uniform” Bill would enjoy a drink or two with his friends, and I was proud to be in that group. Father Bill also had a wicked sense of humor. He served as the Chaplain for the Waterbury, CT police department. More than happy to do Bill a favor, I once had a couple of officers show up at my door with a “warrant” and hand-cuffs. “Arrested” for some zoning disturbance for excessive volume on my stereo system, I had to answer questions for about 45 minutes before Bill couldn’t take it anymore and came in the interrogation room laughing hysterically.

On another occasion, my roommate and I hosted a Halloween Party. Bill’s costume? The Pope. Sacrilegious – absolutely. But it came in handy when the Police again arrived at my door to complain about the noise. Only this time, it wasn’t a prank. Bill’s connections helped settle the situation and I’m one of the few people in the world who can claim the “Pope” crashed at my house for a night. Over the next forty years, we kept in touch while my career took me to St. Louis, Los Angeles, Houston, Miami, and San Antonio.  Father Bill became a vicar of St. John of the Cross Church in Middlebury, Connecticut and the Principal of East Catholic High School, the school he attended as a youngster. Father Bill was a bit of a “rebel” in the structured church. In November 1974, Bill was called by his friends Ed & Lorraine Warren to a home in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The Warrens were the Founders of the New England Center for Psychic Research and the lead investigators into the now famous Amityville Horror. Recognized throughout the world as leaders in Psychic Phenomenon and Paranormal Activity, the Warrens called Father Bill to a home where a child was exhibiting supernatural abilities. In January of 1975, the National Enquirer quoted Father Bill as acknowledging poltergeist activity and psychic energy. Father Charbonneau, later told me, rather tactfully, that the Church frowned upon such admissions and he had been officially reprimanded.

Bill and I would often talk about why he joined the Priesthood. He admitted the part of the “job” he liked the least, was parish work. He didn’t feel comfortable working out marital problems, or getting caught in squabbles with church elders. What he loved, was working with the kids. He would say, “I’m not married, I don’t know any other relationship than the one I have with G-d and I question that from time to time, and I’m sure as heck not qualified to be giving advice to couples having problems. But I do know kids. I was one. I am one. And I know I can relate to them.” The Archdiocese put Bill into a school system and both Father Charbonneau and the schools thrived.

But that wasn’t enough for Bill.  In 1979, he was commissioned as a Chaplain for the Connecticut Air National Guard.  Soon, he was promoted to wing Chaplain.  In 1986, the Archdiocese “loaned” Father Bill to the Air National Guard and he moved to Washington, DC.    Bill was not one to wear his faith on his sleeve, his strength was within.  And he was not one to judge you for having doubts about your own faith.  He was the consummate listener; and by listening, he helped you find your own answers.  As part of his responsibilities he would fly to meet with aviators in Antarctica and Germany; and in his later years, meet with veterans of Desert Storm and the Iraqi War.  Rewarded for his good work, Pope John Paul II named Bill as “Monsignor” in 2002, while the Military recognized his efforts with the Meritorious Service Award, The Air Force Commendat5ion Medal, The Air Force Achievement Medal, the Joint Meritorious Unit Award, the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, the Air Force Organizational Force Achievement Medal, the Air Force Organizational Excellence Award, the National Defense Service Medal, and the Humanitarian Service Medal.  This was the guy I called a “f*ckin’ assh*le”.  This was my drinking buddy.  This was the “Pope” who crashed at my house.  This was someone I proudly called friend.
Father Bill with my dog Stash

Over the years, Father Bill and I connected every year around Christmas. He’d ask about my kids and career, and he would play down his adventures and accomplishments when I would ask. When spoke last Christmas he was looking forward to retiring. Bill would return to Connecticut to continue his commitment to the Archdiocese. He had sold his townhouse in Alexandria and purchased a new home in Connecticut. Typical of Bill, he was embarrassed by the address on “Lavender Lane,” so he chose to rent a P.O. Box to receive mail. I was surprised to learn he wouldn’t be released from the Guard until he fully recovered from a lung infection he developed on one of his overseas missions. And he had to complete his counseling program. He was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Bill explained that Chaplains and Psychiatrists/Psychologists hear so many horrific stories from our returning troops that the nightmares are often transferred to the counselors. It had never occurred to me. The caregivers needed care, too.

I was going to call him in April when he would be settled into his new home; but chose to send an email allowing him to respond when he had time. And I reached out to him on Facebook. He must have been busy, he didn’t reply. The call Sunday explained why.

On May 1st, 2010; Colonel William R. Charbonneau was promoted to Brigadier General in the Connecticut Air National Guard. On May 5th, Father Bill Charbonneau, my friend, died of a heart attack at the age of 61. He served his Faith and his Country with honor. Bill taught me about service, integrity, and commitment.  Most of all, Bill Charbonneau taught me what it meant to be a friend. I would tell Bill to "rest in peace," but I know better.  I have no doubt Father William R. Charbonneau is still serving his Lord and I believe Bill has received the ultimate promotion from his true Commanding Officer.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Star Trek Lessons

To paraphrase Spock’s last words in Star Trek II – The Wrath of Kahn, "I have been and always will be Star Trek’s friend."

Jeri Ryan - 7 of 9

With the exception of Star Trek – Deep Space Nine; I have become, admittedly begrudgingly at times, a fan of every spinoff of the original series. Initially, I had a tough time accepting Captain Picard in Star Trek: Next Generation, although I immediately took to Mr. Data; Star Trek: Voyager’s Kate Mulgrew was fine as Captain Janeway, but the show more than made up for her command with the addition of the spray painted costume of Jeri Ryan as “Seven of Nine.” Scott Bakula, as Captain Archer in Star Trek: Enterprise was perfectly cast. I could never get into Sisko’s character in DS9, or for that matter, the politics of Cardassians, Romulans, or Klingons. I always thought the Vulcans took themselves a bit too seriously and I never cared for cultural lessons in the honor of Klingons; even after they became part of the Federation.

There are those reading this blog and know exactly what I’m talking about; and there are others wondering what the heck I’m talking about. I’d suggest setting your VCR to record a few of the original Star Trek episodes and the second version of the program, Star Trek: Next Generation. More than sci-fi space shoot-outs, these programs always had a moral dilemma to address. The shows’ writers looked for current events and wrote episodes addressing the foolishness of our prejudices, wars, economics, and refusal to accept changes that could benefit mankind. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from the program: in spite of its setting and relatively early stage special effects.

James T. Kirk
Many know the “Mission” of the original Star Trek Enterprise: “To explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.” Unfortunately, Captain Kirk’s five year mission was cancelled after three years. Five years later, Captain Jean-Luc Picard took his Enterprise D “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.”  Women were now in space and the show became politically correct.

Jean-Luc Picard
The given of each Star Trek series was that intelligent life exists in our solar system. In today’s state of the world, we wouldn’t have to leave the planet to search for intelligent beings. A five year mission to Washington, DC should be ample time to find intelligent life. Both Spock and Mr. Data would be challenged to find anything that resembles a thriving species, especially if they concentrated on the House and Senate. And what kind of plot would the writers create if they focused on our election process and political campaign promises. Would they not surmise we’re a species of lying, two faced, unethical, and immoral beings incapable of mutual cooperation? In just the past two weeks, an allegedly “lame duck” session has been remarkably un-duck-like. Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell: repealed. Tax Cuts/Unemployment Extension: Passed. Strategic Arms Treaty: days away from resolution. A 9/11 Health Bill passed. Finally, two sides of our species work together. It’s what the “Federation” of American citizens has urged our counsel (representatives) to achieve.
And yet, the moment a bill is passed, each side retreats to its camp and takes phaser shots at the “enemy” (Republican/Democrat – Klingon/Romulan … you choose, it doesn’t matter).  Mr. Data would no doubt be confused by the lack of logic; Mr. Spock would simply raise an eyebrow and say, “fascinating.”

No-one in government wants wasteful spending, but no-one in government seems willing to stop it. So, to keep their job (something millions of other Americans can’t find), politicians compromise. Not because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s the ultimate Survivor episode decided by the Tribal Counsel. Maybe we should elect Jeff Probst as the Majority Leader.

It’s no wonder little is accomplished in DC; it really doesn’t matter who is at the helm of the Enterprise. The writers of Star Trek would have a field day with this topic, because with phasers set on “stun” little gets done.

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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

DNA - Do Not Annoy

Scientific data to prove otherwise, I’m beginning to think DNA stands for “do not annoy.”
Animation of the structure of a section of DNA...Image via Wikipedia 
Need an example? When was the last time you struck up a conversation with someone in an elevator? Seriously, we’ll stare at our shoes, we’ll stare at the floor indicators, we’ll stare at the control panel; we’ll even stare at other peoples shoes, bags, and coats. We’ll pretty much do anything possible to avoid interaction. I suppose I could understand avoiding strangers during the avian flu pandemic panic; but if you just take a flu shot we should all be fair game for conversation.

Need more? Go stand in the line at the drivers’ license bureau or county tax office. You may very well be standing next to someone for two hours, but hell would freeze over before you would acknowledge that person. Unless, of course, he’s got some form you don’t have and you’re wondering what you’re missing. It seems that in most places it’s rude to strike up a conversation with a total stranger. Except in Texas, where it’s considered rude not to speak to your “stand in line” buddy. There’s no caste system in Texas. A suit will chat with a guy who stands in scuffed work boots. When I stood in line during the last presidential election, we were talking across the lines. White, Black, Hispanic, Asian … we talked. It was a beautiful thing. Texas is such a friendly state; I don’t know why they call it the Lone Star State. They should call it the Friendly State.

Lately I've been spending quite a bit of time flying from one interview from the next. Airports are great for people watching and we put on quite a show. Travelers wheel their bags with reckless abandon, cutting in front of people constantly as they chat on their cell phones. Or, they’re looking up at gate signs and walk into you as though you don’t exist. And I wonder how the airlines allow their employees to speed down concourses in those fancy “golf carts.” If we drove the way they drive; we’d be uninsurable. Another thing I see is travelers using the moving sidewalks to get from one end of the terminal building to the other. Many of these people are in a hurry, many aren’t. The folks who have plenty of time stand to the left and prevent the ones in a hurry from getting past them. Perhaps Samsonite will put a siren in their next model of carry-on so the “laggers” will move to the right. But if you’re in that much of a hurry, why don’t you just walk fast or even do an OJ Simpson and run through the airport using your own legs? And don’t get me started on how loud folks talk on their cell phone. For people who won’t talk to strangers, we seem to have no need for privacy. Some conversations are so personal I almost feel guilty for listening. Almost.

Fact is, airports are really annoying places. Some have terminals have free Wi-Fi; some try to make you pay for a connection. Good luck finding an outlet to charge your laptop prior the flight; and better luck not tripping over someone’s cord. And really, what’s with the PA announcements? Putting a microphone in the hands of a gate agent is a recipe for disaster. Maybe they think they’re paid by the word. Recently, while waiting for a flight out of Atlanta, over a twenty minute span, I heard the flight attendant remind travelers to Canada a dozen times they needed their passport to board. I come from a background in radio broadcasting, believe me, I know repetition, but that was simply ridiculous. After all, if they need their passport to get back to Canada, chances are they needed it to get into the United States. I’m convinced people run out and get the latest gadget just before they fly to show other travelers the latest model of iPad, iPod, and Android. We don’t have to wait for the mail delivery, we just email, get our news online (do we still surf?), update our “status” to tell everyone that we have nothing more important to do than tell friends who we never met where we are and what we’re doing as though somehow it matters. Actually, it does matter. I found out my son broke his ankle on Facebook. He didn’t think to call, because he had updated his status.

Here’s my favorite travel observation. We’ll sit in an airplane, crammed like olives in a jar, for three or four hours and not say a word to the person next to us. But once we land, somehow relieved, we start asking the traditional questions: “Vacation or business,” “Is this home?” “Where did you start your travels?” “How long have you lived here?” “How long have you been gone?” In essence, as we taxi to the jetway, we learn more about our travel mate in four minutes than we did in the past three hours.

On the other side, once you start a conversation, there’s no way out of it. A few weeks ago, the passenger next to me was playing with her new iPad. I couldn’t resist and broke the “cone of silence.” Next thing I knew, I was getting a product demo and watching home movies, pictures of her grandchildren and a complete family history. After all that conversation, we never exchanged names. To return to my DNA mode, I feigned a few yawns and nodded off. I had a friend who once met a woman on a flight to California. The flight was a red-eye and with lots of empty seats. The woman explained she was going to LA to become an actress. As her story unfolded, she started talking about breast augmentation and before he knew it, the woman lifted her blouse and had him confirm, by touch, how real her breasts felt and looked. As I write this, my fellow passenger is about 6’5”, built like a linebacker, and is snoring like a heard of buffalo.

No-one ever said life is fair. That’s probably in our DNA, too.

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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Oy. The Joy of Travel

Day One:
It was a promising start. That should have been my first concern. There was no panic, no last minute rush; just a calm start to a business trip to the Northeast. I had packed the night before, fit everything I needed into my carry-on, pre-programmed radio stations into my radio, got my addresses loaded into the GPS, and had a solid night’s sleep.

The drive to the airport was uneventful. I parked the car and was immediately shuttled to the terminal building. Since I had checked-in online, I had my boarding pass in hand and walked straight to security. I was almost disappointed when there wasn’t even a hint of a potential pat-down or kinky X-ray. Maybe they should call it HD X-Ray or Blue-Ray X-Ray.  People might be more tolerant of the new technology if they thought they could buy it at Best Buy. I even had my TSA officer picked out and was looking forward to our encounter. No such luck. On the bright side, the boarding process went smoothly, and thankfully, there was room in the overhead right above my seat for my carry-on. Since airlines started charging for checking luggage, I never take that for granted. The flight left Houston on time and we arrived in Atlanta several minutes early. That’s when the trip came unglued.

Perhaps you can explain to me the unwritten rule that when you have a connecting flight, the airline almost always drops you off in Terminal A and has your departure in Terminal D. The airport monitors told me my flight was on time, departing at 3:50pm. I had plenty of time to catch the underground tram, find my gate, and even play a bit on the internet.

Flight information display system at George Bu...Of course, Atlanta doesn’t play nicely and they consider internet access a money maker and charge for access for anything other than flight information. OK, I’ll check on my flight status. Not that I need it. After all, it’s on the screen above my head. Uh, wait a minute. Online, I’m told my 3:50 departure has been moved to 4:10 from a different gate. No worries, I confirm the gate change and move down a few sections, and arrive just in time to hear the flight had been delayed until 8:30. Why did they have to move me to give me that news? I’m good. Now I have plenty of time to walk the shops, get dinner, and call the wife. Jane-Ann tells me there’s a message from the airline telling me my 12:50pm flight left at 1:05. The message was sent around 3pm when I was already in Atlanta.

The next thing I know, its 6:45 and the board tells me my flight is now leaving at 7:10. Now, I’m scrambling to get back to the gate to get on board and catch the flight. All went well, and I arrived at my destination only 3 hours late. The rental car was there, and my GPS helped make my 40 minute ride to the hotel a snap. Grade for the day … a “B.” Delayed flights because of rough weather are forgivable, but I had to take points off for the recorded message updating me hours after I had departed that we would be leaving late.

Day Two
Meetings went well. Again, a good start to the day. After the meetings, I met with a Regional VP for dinner. Unbelievably, we couldn’t find the hotel restaurant. A quick stop at the front desk and we learned the restaurant was a couple of tables to the side of the bar and we just need to give our order to the bartender. If only she could speak English. The VP ordered a tuna steak, with sides of steamed veggies and rice pilaf. I ordered linguini with shrimp diablo in a red sauce (is there any other when the menu says “marinara?” We were served a few minutes later. The tuna steak turned into a fish sandwich with french fries. My shrimp diablo turned into mushroom alfredo. Easy mistake to make. And since the bartender was cute, we didn’t make a big deal out her screw-up. Later, I learned she rarely got her orders right and that the hotel management was ready to say goodbye. End of day two … grade is a “B.” Great meetings, but points deducted because of a cute, but incompetent waitress.

Day Three
The fun day. Straight out, I’ll tell you the grade for the day is an “F.” No sense in keeping it a mystery. Of course, any idiot who books a 6am flight probably deserves to be punished. So, let’s backtime. 6am flight, 5am at the airport to return the car, on the road by 4:15am, set the alarm for 3:45am. Got it. And good night. Until the alarm went off at 1:30. I’m pretty sure I know the difference between 3:45 and 1:30; apparently, I didn’t know the difference between alarm setting 1 and setting 2. Back to sleep and the backup alarm (my phone) wakes me at 3:45. A quick shower and I’m on my way. And this shower was really quick. It seems the hotel turns off their hot water heater overnight to reduce energy costs. Seriously. And I thought the alarm at 1:30 was jarring.

OK, I check out, head to the airport, drop off the car, and catch my flight. All without a hitch. Until Atlanta. My connection is scheduled to leave at 10:50. Veteran traveler that I am, I make my trek from Terminal D to Terminal A and arrive at the gate with time to spare. Of course, the thirty minute delay helped. At 11:20, I’m wondering why we haven’t started boarding. I wasn’t kept in suspense for long, as the agent announced my flight to Hobby Airport has been cancelled. Not delayed. Cancelled. Passengers trying to make connections from Hobby are panicked, the agents are unprepared, and chaos ensues.

Finally, I was told I could get a seat on a 12:05 flight to Bush Intercontinental Airport; for those who don’t know, Intercontinental is about 30 miles north of Hobby and about a 45 minute ride on a good traffic day. More good news. They would put the passengers on a shuttle and transport us from the big airport to Hobby. Put me on the plane. Just not next to the 250 pound gorilla who hadn’t bathed since he left Malaysia two days ago. Damn, that part wasn’t in my itinerary. Neither was the fact that this was a small commuter plane, with passengers crammed 2x2 like sardines without any oil to help them fit in the tin.

After a smooth flight to Intercontinental, things got bumpy. We were told a gate agent would give us instructions to find the shuttle to take us to Hobby. Surprise! No-one in a red-jacket by the gate. A gate agent told me to go to the main check-in counter in the terminal lobby. As I approached the counter, a “red-jacket” approached to help me check-in. I explained my situation and she sent me to the counter agent. The counter agent sent me to the “red-jacket” and the shuffle began. I was sure I heard “shuttle” back in Atlanta. Finally, the two representatives decided to relieve themselves of the problem and sent me to baggage claim. Of course, I had no checked baggage, so this made perfect sense.

Actually, it did. The baggage manager knew exactly what to do. Forget the shuttle, they’ve never done that; take a voucher for a cab. “Is the tip included,” I asked? “No” was his reply. “Then how is this a free trip” I wondered? Forty-five minutes and $10 later, I’m dropped off at the departure gate after I had asked to be taken to the arriving passenger level of the airport. Finally, I find the shuttle to the parking lot. It’s now three o’clock, I was supposed to be home by 12:15pm. I’ve been up since 2:45 (Houston time) and I’m tired. Not so tired, that I failed to notice I was welcomed with flat tire.

Now, I’m not a rocket scientist, but I’ve changed a tire or two. I found the jack, the lug wrench, and the wheel key; so far so good. I just couldn’t seem to get the wheel off the axle. I tugged, I pulled, and I kicked to no avail. Maybe I’m doing something wrong. I pulled out the owner’s manual and read the “changing the tire section.” I think I wrote it. OK, I’ll call my automaker’s 800 road service number. The operator informs me she can’t give me any instructions, she’s only authorized to provide emergency service. She suggests I call the dealership. I’m glad I’m not paying for this alleged “concierge” service. To my amazement, my service advisor answered her line. “You’re doing everything right,” she said, “the tire should just pull off. Is there any other way I can be of service?” Yeah. Kiss this.

No worries, I pay some $50 a year for AAA. It pays for itself when I rent a car or book a hotel. Today, it paid for road service. The wrecker arrived within 15 minutes of my call (why didn’t I do this first?). My hero, Chris, took one look … gave one good tug … shrugged and went to his truck. Seconds later he came back with a rubber mallet. He just wacked the crap out of that tire, that had to be very satisfying. I doubt he’ll ever need therapy. The tire came off the axle. Five hours later than expected, I pulled into my driveway.

Oh, did I mention my spare tire had a nail it? Let’s not go there.
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Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat

Things had been looking up. Or, so I thought. The phone was ringing and finally it wasn't an annoying telemarketer. Job leads. A couple of managers actually had read my application materials and were expressing some interest. Maybe the economy really is turning around and hiring will pick up in 2011.

My wife and I have accepted the notion we'll most likely be leaving Texas. We're really not concerned about what part of the country calls us; just so that we can live comfortably and get some help moving there. How two people can accumulate so much stuff in so short a time is beyond me, but somehow we managed to run up a $7500 bill when we moved from San Antonio to Houston.

So the phone was ringing and I felt like I had won the lottery. Like Stuart Smalley used to say, "I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and dog-gone it, people like me." OK, it was a bit for Saturday Night Live, and Al Franken was a bit nerdy. Look where it got him ... all the way to the Senate.

I was giddy. I had three different job prospects at the same time. If you've ever fantasized about how you would spend your millions when you won the lottery, you know how Jane-Ann and I felt. We went through a thousand "what if" scenarios trying to determine which would be the best opportunity. Two were out of state; the other was here in Houston. Although it meant a serious setback in salary and responsibilities, we decided if the local offer was made, we were here to stay.

The local interview was by committee, and I thought I held up to the questioning rather well. We spent more than two hours in the interview, and that was followed by a "test.” Since the "test" was computerized, and I was sitting at a computer with Internet access, I was able to "Google" the answers I needed. They gave me the resources, I utilized them.

The next interview also went well. We talked shop; made jokes, and didn't spill our soup at dinner. I knew an offer would come. And while I waited for that offer, a third interview took place. If I couldn't stay in Houston, this third opening was the one I wanted. Great company, great manager, great team; all that was missing was me. We could fix that.

Now from the "thrill of victory" comes "the agony of defeat.” While traveling back from third interview, I got a call from the local manager. His message was bright, cheerful, and simple. "Hey Ed, please give me a call and let's talk.” Jackpot! No-one ever calls with bad news; least of all with that cheerful sound in their voice. Let the spending begin! I see an iPad in my future! Uh, hold that thought. The manager was actually calling to tell me they had filled the position with an internal candidate. Not the news I wanted to hear, but a classy guy.

After returning from my last interview, I immediately sent my thank you note. I expected a quick response, like: "I enjoyed meeting you, too.” After two days, I received a long, emotional response informing me he put the position on hold. He needed to give his staff a bit more time to respond to his plea to step up. If the timing had been better, I could have mentioned how that worked out for Wade Phillips. Two down-one to go.

The good news was I did get a firm offer from the first interview! But there were items that needed to be negotiated; certainly the earlier mentioned help with moving expenses. The manager was understanding and really wanted to put the deal together. He would go to bat for me and see how much more assistance he could provide. All other interviews took place while I was waiting for him to get back to me. But now that the first two positions had crashed and burned, I reached out for news. You don't need a magnifying glass to see this one coming: "Sorry Ed, the position has been eliminated from the budget.” It would seem I was fired before I was hired! Three down - none to go.

The thrill of victory. The agony of defeat. And still no iPad.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

When Sharks Smell Blood

Vintage Ad #914: Free Milk Mug from the Pillsb...Image by jbcurio via Flickr
It was my bad. I failed to follow my own advice. I routinely warn friends about random clicking on websites, because we rarely know where our information is being received. Worse, many sites track our every move. If I ate all the cookies that websites set, I'd look something like the Michelin Man. It's bad enough I'm challenging the Pillsbury Doughboy.
This past Tuesday, I spent some time researching private health insurance. My COBRA benefits from my most recent employer will expire next month, so it's time to get information for continuing medical coverage. I visited the usual websites, esurance.com; ehealth.com; AARP, Aetna, Cigna, etc. Here's the catch: Before they'll provide an "online" quote, they need to gather some information. Heaven forbid your height and weight don't line up against the charts or you have a rash that requires a prescription ointment. I acknowledge that I'll never make the cover the annual Fireman's Calendar. I am not blessed with a poster child physique. I like to think of myself as vertically challenged. And forget about "neglecting" to mention a pre-existing condition. Good luck getting a prescription covered for that minor lapse of memory.

After I filled in the information, thinking there were still a few steps remaining, I made my fatal error. Mouse click. Within five minutes my phone started ringing. Endlessly. One call after another with "good news, we found a plan that will take pity on your soul and cover you." The price range came in from $571 to $1600 monthly, depending on whether I wanted band-aid coverage or something more complicated like sterile gauze. At this point, I felt obligated to add another pre-existing condition: spontaneous heart attack. Health care reform? Honestly, I don't give a damn who is right or who is wrong. But Nancy Reagan's "just say no" campaign is not the answer to anything beside the war on drugs. Perhaps we can agree the status quo is not acceptable, and healthcare and the economy are connected at the hip. Or the thigh bone. You can finish it from this point.

Some of these online "brokers" were offering legitimate, if not absurdly priced products. Others were straight out fraud. Prenegotiated fees arranged by the bartering company. It isn't insurance. You pay 100% of their negotiated price. And you have the privilege of paying the barter company $450 a month for their negotiating skills. I'm not a health care expert, but I'm confident many people are being cheated out of their remaining funds.

The irony in this, is that a part of me finds this lead generation fascinating. For three months, I was promised "leads" by an Electrical Energy Provider as I tried to sell this commodity to area businesses. I received four dead-end leads. These leads were provided, not by online pre-qualifying contact, but rather by contractors like myself, who put their feet on the pavement and knocked on doors. Our cold calling goal was to get contract and provider information before we were tossed out of the business. We were developing leads for the big guys in the office and the contractors were pretty much disposable, since few of us would make a living while waiting for the potential client's energy agreement to expire.

Yet, in just a matter of minutes, no less than 30 sales reps had my phone number and basic information. My only consolation, is that at least 29 of them will get the same rejection that I received when knocking on doors. At least they didn't wear out their shoes.
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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Stream without a Theme

While I haven’t written many blogs of late, the few I have written usually have a theme or a point to them. Or at least, I’d like to think they have some kind of open and close with a modicum of logic in the middle. But apparently, I haven’t felt strongly enough to dedicate a brief article to any one thought; so I've used that as my excuse to not post any comments. Today, I’ll pretend I’m McCartney and Lennon and string together a bunch of little things that have been on my mind and see if I end up with a hit record. They were pretty good at this technique.

So, first things first. The old sayings are true: there are some things you should never argue about.

Politics for example. I’m always amazed at how little “gray” there is to someone’s point of view. All in or all out. Right/wrong. Settle? Negotiate? Please. Most of us are terribly ill informed about the truth. We get our news and form our opinions from slanted news delivered by papers, television and political commentators, and radio hosts, who are, by their own admission, entertainers – not politicians. Still, that doesn’t stop them from adding fuel to the fire with opinions that have little bearing on truth. If a candidate makes a simple slip, it’s headline material. Remember Dan Quayle? How many of us would miss a word or two in a spelling bee? Or the witch who isn’t a witch, who doesn’t know any recent Supreme Court decisions (do you?); but she did know the exact wording of the 1st Amendment and got reamed for saying the constitution never says, “Separation and State.” It doesn’t. Those words came from Thomas Jefferson. She’s running for Governor of Delaware. In a viral world, half-truths are disseminated as though they are fact; and spread like an epidemic.

The ugliness of today’s politics is tiring. If it’s your idea, I vote against it. If it’s my idea, you vote against it. What would we do if we both had the same idea? Uh oh. Third party. I had a local candidate come to my door and brag about how he’s going to cut the Texas budget, protect our borders, stop illegal immigration and so on. He hit on all the state and national issues. Of course he’s running for State Representative, so he can pretty much limit his influence on repaving Dairy Ashford and Kirkwood; which would be enough to earn my vote. I asked him how our Governor could say we have a balanced budget in a TV ad, deny an $18 billion deficit, and admit to an $18 billion shortfall. He responded by noting his opponent was a lobbyist for ACORN. I’m still trying to figure out the connection. So in the end, the only good thing coming from this election is all the extra paper I’m getting from junk mail to earn points when I recycle.

Another futile argument? Religion. I still haven’t figured out why someone has to be wrong for someone else to be right. I was enjoying the company of some very religious friends last week. The conversation drifted to our beliefs. I was asked, “What if you’re wrong?” Wouldn’t it be better to just accept our Savior as an insurance policy in case your God isn’t the One?” I just don’t see how having semi-commitments to an Almighty would work. It’s not like a game show where you get a consolation prize when if loose. Besides, most of us know we pay insurance premiums and hope we never have to use them. I don’t know that I could say, “My policy has this covered” Lord … under Section 1, paragraph. The bottom line on religion is that none of us will truly know until we’ve passed. Then, we may find we were all right, some of us were right, none of us were right or; we just fade to black without any answers at all. Some may think I have faith in the wrong God; but I’ll tell you I talk, He listens, and I have peace in my heart. What more could one ask?

Wives. Never, never, argue with them. They are always right. We are never right. Even when we are, we’ll pay a price for being right, so in this case, cover the bet. You know the joke, “if a man is talking to himself in the woods is he still wrong?” Yes. My wife and I don’t argue often. Why bother. She’s usually right. OK, always right.

Next stream of consciousness comes from the job market and unemployment. I have a friend who was recently “laid off” and is learning how to deal with joblessness after being employed for 15 years. He’s discovering the joy of dealing with Unemployment Benefits, COBRA, and packing up and selling his home. He’s learning how difficult it is to find good leads; and when he does, the salary is anemic at best. I can relate. I’m now entering my 17 month of unemployment. I’ve had a few close calls, but they only count in horse shoes and hand grenades. I never wanted to be an expert in how to stay positive during these times, but fate has led me to be an encourager. The most challenging part of staying positive is dealing with disappointment. When I actually get a solid lead and begin to believe it may actually come together into a real job; it’s devastating when it falls apart. There are times I almost wish I didn’t get the hope. But then I see the positive to the disappointment: at least someone saw value in my abilities. I have so many friends and acquaintances that I speak with each week in the same boat, seeking the same life raft and hoping for the same miracle. A friend once told me “Misery is a team sport.” Please. Go play by yourself. I take no solace in my misfortune, let alone anyone else’s.

Finally, I never met Tom Land aside from "friending" him on Facebook. I’ve heard he’s a nice guy. He’s a nice guy with a serious health issue and he’s fighting for his life every day. And every day, Tom or his wife, or daughter, post a blog talking about their battle, the treatment, how he feels, how he’s progressing, regressing … fighting to win his war. Tom has a job, I don’t. Tom has a serious illness. I don’t. Would I want to trade places? Not for a minute. Puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?
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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Perfect Strangers – Not Really

To be honest, I can’t think of many worse things than being seated at a party with a bunch of strangers. After all, we have little in common (aside from knowing one of our hosts), the small talk is forced, and the silence is awkward. Besides that, some people hog the bread and never pass the butter. But last night, something magical happened as we attended a wedding dinner hosted by the newly married couple. My wife and I sat at a table with three other couples, some knew the bride, some the groom, and no-one knew each other. Yet, somehow, we ended up being the last table to call it a night.

As a group we were Republicans, we were Democrats, we were conservative, we were liberal, we were Christian and we were Jewish. Basically, we broke every rule of engagement by discussing topics that are viewed as no-win scenarios. Yet, in the words of Rodney King, “we all got along.” Two of our table members were in the Oil & Gas industry, one works for British Petroleum. So, we talked about the disaster in the Gulf. We talked about finger pointing and refusal to share responsibility (note I didn’t say blame). I noted that hindsight, being 20/20 always asks the “why” questions after the fact. The fact is this is probably the first major disaster we’ve had from offshore drilling in decades and it corrupts the entire concept. We take technology for granted until something goes wrong. Want proof? Look at our Shuttle program. Until we had a disaster in space, no-one was paying any attention to our launches and returns. It didn’t dawn on us that astronauts risk their lives on every mission any more than we realize the inherent danger in offshore exploration. One of our conversationalists was inherently familiar with refining and reminisced there were fires at processing plants in Baytown on a daily basis for years, but now that it only happens once or twice a decade, it’s scandalous. It’s been more than thirty years since Three Mile Island, yet should there be another incident at a nuclear power facility the entire industry will be investigated. Accidents happen. That’s why they’re called accidents.

The oil discussion led us to the politics of blame. Again, we were surprised to agree more than disagree. One Republican activist admitted she’s voted for Republicans she can’t stand, but felt compelled because of her party affiliations. Another guest, a political strategist acknowledged what many of us feel, which is we’re sick of all of them. The building backlash for the incumbent is giving opportunity to new challengers. If you’re Republican vote for a different Republican, if you’re a Democrat, vote for a different Democrat. We talked about hypocrisy: how one gubernatorial candidate preached reduced federal spending, only to lose the primary, return to Washington and join the list of the highest pork barrel legislator in America. Good for Texas, not so good for America. Then we talked about how congress worked around the NASA’s Constellation cuts by adding to a war spending bill. Again, it’s good for Texas, but still, more federal spending. Who says we can’t have it both ways? So, our consensus was that we need to have a bill that says a bill can only deal with one subject. If it’s a bill for hearing, you can’t add sight to it. Period.

Part of the problem, we agreed, was the Internet. One person can post an absolutely false accusation, and in moments the message is spread worldwide and has instantly become a “fact.” And we agreed the media has become part of the problem as it seeks to create news rather than be content in reporting the news. Do you think your local I-Team on TV would have reported the JFK/Marilyn Monroe relationship? They would now, ask Bill Clinton. We’ve become lazy. We don’t need all the facts to form an opinion. We glean our information from Internet headlines. Every day I receive emails informing me of my Nigerian inheritance, or warn me of scams and viruses that will melt my computer. None of them true, but still, someone felt the need to forward the message and post it on Facebook to warn their friends. Many of whom they never met. It appears we base our opinion on the little we know about the subject, and usually our information comes from what someone else thinks. Honestly, if Congress doesn’t know what was in the health bill, do we really belief some blogger read the entire document?

Finally, our diverse group of strangers had unity on supporting our troops regardless of our feelings toward conflict. We had a former serviceman at the table, parents of servicemen at the table, people for the Iraqi occupation and those against. But in contrast to our Vietnam veterans, we agreed that supporting our troops was non-negotiable. We sat in awe of the patriotism our children possess for America; and we regretted we didn’t have that same patriotism during Vietnam. We are horrified at the way our Vietnam veterans were treated when they returned home; and we are thrilled at the way our troops are respected now. Truth be told, the moral of the story is that we shouldn’t let our political views cloud our pride in America. Those kids are fighting for our right to argue and protest. We CAN respectfully disagree. We can “all get along.” It’s time again for America to walk with a bit of a swagger and realize that as a melting pot of cultures, we have differences. But our diversity is really our common ground.

All it took was a dinner party with perfect strangers to see how well we knew each other. We were able to reach across the table and pass the bread and butter. So, why can’t our elected officials reach across the aisle?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Just Do It!

{{frUne paire de Nike Air Max IV (Air Classic...Image via Wikipedia

Years ago, Nike created a memorable marketing campaign with “Just Do It.” The concept was “don’t procrastinate,” “don’t find excuses to fail,” - Just Do It. Of course, Nike had the equipment to help you get it done. People were motivated and sales rocketed. Too bad we can’t take this “just do it” concept and move it into our daily lives. But we no longer stop at procrastinating. Now, many of us go out of our way to say it – but not do it. I’m not talking about losing ten pounds and then gaining three; or, putting off a house repair for a variety of excuses, some valid, others not. Although those certainly qualify. I’m referring to things like a friend who says he’ll call and doesn’t. That’s happened to me more times than I can count, but that’s because I usually stop when I run out of fingers. No sense going to the toes, it only adds salt to the wound.

What really bugs me is when I contact the friend and point out he/she failed to call, they dismiss it as no big deal. Not that my schedule is that busy these days, but still, I gave up something to wait for a call that never came. I might have wanted to start some yard work, or go to a movie. Winston, my Yorkie, likes to take me for walks. So, to me, being “stood up” is a big deal. It’s ok if I waste my time; it’s not okay if someone else does.

I attended a sales seminar last week. The speaker was trying to get me to own my own “business.” My very own Travel Club. It could make me rich. He’s a millionaire so I can be, too. After all the claims were delivered, our motivational speaker saw I wasn’t convinced. I noted his math didn’t add up, that my “business” was the same website as everyone else in the club and that while he said no sales would be involved, my income would be dependent on how many friends I signed up for the program and how much travel everyone bought. As a last resort, he suggested I “just do it.” Take a leap of faith and figure it out on the way down. If he had thrown in a Nike parachute I might have given it more thought, but my mother used to ask, “If someone told you to jump off a bridge, would you?” (FYI, the correct answer is no).

For years, Comcast told us how they were “Comcastic.” At least for me, they didn’t live up to the promise. AT&T Uverse promises a better experience. Today, I learned I can’t dial 311 (city services) on my phone, or 411. I have to get regular AT&T phone service for that. I thought I had the “latest and greatest” in communication only to find out the old land line does something the new digital service can’t. Can I dial 911? The customer service representative assured me that will work. I’m not looking forward to finding out – one way or the other.

Last night, my wife was wondering how we can get some of the secondary digital channels we see promoted on the local stations. I took out my channel guide, went through 400+ “channels” and not one was the secondary broadcast from our local stations. Undaunted, I called customer service and asked where I might find these broadcasts. He referred me to the website. He was too lazy to get my answer, so he thought I should just do it. He did, of course, thank me for calling and told me to have a nice day. By the way, the website has no information on local channels, so I thought I’d call a local station to get the information. The switchboard operator understood my question, but apparently no-one in management had the foresight to prepare her for such a question. With Uverse growing so rapidly, one would think that a TV station, with a vested interest in promoting their product, would make sure their programming is available on Uverse. Perhaps it’s a cost vs. reward conundrum.

But “thinking” isn’t always a management strong suit. My latest example is from our beloved City of Houston. Mayor Anise Parker ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility. Who better than her, she asked, is able to control city expenses? I could.

Apparently, effective in April, the city decided that all yard waste must be placed in city approved biodegradable plastic bags. A great idea. I just wish they had told us. In the last several weeks, I’ve received at least four letters from Waste Management Services informing me of pick-up and recycling schedule changes. In not one of those letters did anyone mention the need for special bags. On Sunday evening, I placed my yard waste at the curb in recyclable-biodegradable paper bags for Monday pickup. The bags even say “ideal for composting.” My bags were left behind, with a green sticker informing me of the change to the rules. Channel 13 ran a story last night telling viewers of the new regulations. By then, it was too late for my neighborhood. I guess Dave Ward didn’t consider the story “breaking news.” So, with deference to State Farm, like a good neighbor, I pulled my yard waste bags back to my storage area only to hear the trucks come and pick them up the next morning. By the way, that’s when I learned I couldn’t make a 311 call on Uverse!

I called City Hall (they have a real phone number) and spoke with a very nice City Services Representative. She explained the new law and said that if they left a sticker on your bag they would come back the next day to pick them up. “How was I to know this,” I asked? That information wasn’t on the sticker. It was an “I gotcha” moment. I also asked where I could find these special bags. The representative gave me a list of places such as grocery stores and hardware/home improvement stores. I’ve been in each of them several times over the last month and I have yet to see any display saying “here they are … you must have these.” Clearly, I wasn’t alone, my street was lined with unrecyclable plastic yard bags; and only a few lazy neighbors were rewarded for their lack of effort when the trucks returned the following day.

Now, if I were Mayor, I would have made sure the TV and Radio stations had the information BEFORE the bags were needed, not the day after. I would have made sure the Sunday Chronicle carried the story on the front page of at least the local section. I certainly would have included the message in any of the countless letters that were mailed to every household in the city. And, I would have picked up the yard waste bags and left a note in the mailbox or front door. Instead, they fired up the trucks a second day, drove them around the neighborhoods they had just visited and created unnecessary salary and fuel expenses. Let’s not forget Waste Management is now running late for the Tuesday neighborhoods, because they had to retrace their Monday routes. No doubt, on Wednesday, they’ll retrace their Tuesday route. I’m sure this is logical to someone, but I don’t know why they are in management.

Here’s an odd notion. If you say you’re going to do something … actually do it. Oh, and if you’re going to do something, let someone know. Maybe that’s the next great add campaign: “Let Someone Know.”

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Friday, March 12, 2010

The Name Game

Mister EdImage via Wikipedia
You may have seen the reports where Lindsey Lohan is suing E*TRADE because the name Lindsey was used in a recent commercial featuring babies. The babies in the commercial referred to a "milkaholic, Lindsey." Apparently, Ms. Lohan feels she is in the league of Madonna, Oprah, Cher, Sting, and Bono who have earned the benefit of instant recognition. Maybe it's me, but I don't think Lindsey has earned the right to drop the Lohan.
But in a sense, I'm rooting for her. If Ms. Lohan wins her $100 million lawsuit, the case will serve as precedence for me. I'll never have to work again. And, I'll have enough money for my children's grandchildren. You see, I own the name Ed. And frankly, people have been illegally using my name to their benefit for decades.
Don't believe me? Here are some examples:
  • The TV Show called, "Mr. Ed." That's my name. I didn't make a dime off that show. I should have. For goodness sake, they called me a horse.
  • The motion picture, "EDtv" starring Matthew McConaughey and directed by Ron Howard. They have lots of money and they made it off my name. Add in the other stars in the film, like Ellen DeGeneres, Martin Landau, Rob Reiner, Dennis Hopper, and Elizabeth Hurley and I may have just hit the mother-load.
  • The TV Show, "Ed." Don't remember that one? It aired from 2000-2004. It was about a lawyer who decided to return to his home town and own a bowling alley. While the star of the show Tom Cavanagh hasn't become a big star, cast members Julie Bowen went on to Boston Legal and now Family Matters. And Justin Long has had roles in a Die Hard 4, Dodgeball and a bunch of commercials for Mac. He's dating Drew Barrymore. And here's the real jackpot, the show was produced by David Letterman's company, "Worldwide Pants." Ka-Ching!
  • Let's not forget "Living With Ed," starring Ed Begley, Jr. Not familiar with this one? It's about a nutcase (okay, a very rich nutcase) who spends millions of dollars on energy saving appliances to save 10 cents on his utility bill. This is the same guy the government chose to use in the Census commercials. I wonder if he knows how many trees were killed in the filming of that commercial.
But there's lots more money to be made. Why stop at TV shows and movies? My name has been claimed by a disease. You've heard of ED. This is a double suit waiting to happen. First, the creators of the disease Erectile Dysfunction abbreviated their name to ED. Second, by making a long name into an abbreviation, the makers of Viagra, Cialis, and the other ED drugs are making humor at my personal expense. They shortened the full name of the disease. I'm short. That hurts. I'm a sensitive guy. I'm thinking Class Action for this egregious violation of my name. And don't get me started that the disease is for a body part that should never be shortened (except maybe at a Bris). That should be worth something.
Let's not forget what our learning centers have done at my expense.
  • Higher Education has become Higher Ed. A clear drug reference at my expense.
  • Special Education is now Special Ed. Is that anything like Advanced Placement? I don't think so.
  • Physical Education has become Phys Ed. Another short joke, not to mention my aversion to exercise. I wrestle with my conscience. It's exhausting.
  • The Board of Education has become Board Ed. A simple typo and I'm Bored Ed which is injurious to my personal reputation and snappy personality.
Honestly, I'm not going to stand for this. I'll be watching Lindsey's case very carefully. I'm on her side, because if Ms. Lohan can win her suit, I can win mine. And then, I'm going after the little guys.
So, a word to the wise, if you own an Ed's Plumbing, Ed's Diner, Ed's Exxon, Ed's Butcher Shop, Ed's Dry Cleaner, Ed's Electrical Repair, Ed's Appliances, or Ed's Heating & AC ... I'm coming after you!

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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

What Have I Done, Lately?

I like to think of myself as a fairly good conversationalist. My wife likes to say I could carry on a conversation with a tree. Honestly, unlimited minutes were invented for people like me. I took a public speaking course in college, and my assignment was to discuss the qualities of a pocket comb. I found so many things to discuss my instructor just gave me an "A" and told me to sit down. I had utilized most of the 50 minute class.

So, imagine my surprise when I was asked a question at a recent job interview that had me stumped. I was asked, "What have you done to improve yourself while you've been out of work?" Thankfully, I avoided my typical smart-ass remark, "what's to improve?" But seriously, what have I done to improve myself over these past several months?

The best I could come up with, at the spur of the moment, was some inane response that I've been taking daily walks with my dog, reading, and playing on Facebook and Twitter. Maybe Proctor and Gamble would call that "New and Improved," but by my standards I fell short. Really, what have I done to improve myself since I've been out of work? The most obvious answer is I've looked for work. Constantly. That's not really improving myself; it's more of a survival project.

But the more I think about it, the more I realized an opportunity to recognize several things that have been happening while I've been sitting at this keyboard each day. I've learned how persistent and determined I am about finding work. I realized how fortunate I am to have a wife, children, and friends who offer constant and uplifting support (not to mention a free meal every now and then). I have a dog that is content to spend the day in my office while I impersonate Sherlock Holmes and search for openings. I have faith. I don't know if I've improved, but I am certainly more aware of the blessings in my life.

I volunteered to help a wonderful group help rebuild homes in Hurricane Ike ravaged Galveston. And yes, I have been reading more. To the point where I'm feeling guilty about the trees I've destroyed with all my hardcover and paperback books. Perhaps we should consider a Kindle, or a new iPad. I have a friend who sells the new "Nook" from Barnes & Noble. Maybe he could get me a deal, so I could read as much as I want and never kill another tree. Except for the one in my yard which I cut down thinking the winter freeze had killed it. But that's another story.

I've learned I really can stick to a schedule when no-one is saying "the work day starts at 8:30." I've learned I can be positive and upbeat when disappointment happens. I've fallen in love with my wife all over again, because I see how hard she works, without the benefit of a support group, to make sure I stay positive. I've been reminded life is too short to be small. I think those are improvements. And, I've learned there are ways to cook besides grilling. While I've avoided the TV talk show queens, I have fallen for the Food Network and Travel Channel. Thankfully, I have the willpower to only succumb to their charm in the evening. Shows like Man vs. Food, Diners and Drive-Ins, & Dives, inspire me. Not to make a twelve pound burger; but to make something besides grilled chicken. Did you know there are other spices and seasonings besides Cavendar's and Accent? At least once a week, I'll go online, or pull out one of my wife's cookbooks and try something different. I've even clipped recipes from the Chronicle! Not necessarily complicated, but different. I made a mango salsa. Ok, I used canned peaches instead of mango, but I did put in parsley and other green things I wouldn't normally touch. I don't know why, but I also added jalapeno, though it wasn't in the recipe. The heat of the pepper, the cool of the peach … no kidding, gives it a try. My wife liked it so much she went and bought a mango and made her own version of the salsa, complete with jalapenos.

Of course, when I get inspired, throw things into a rub or a marinade, and create something wonderful I have no way to duplicate the recipe, because I really have no idea what I'm doing. I'm reminded of when my mother would say "a pinch of this and a pinch of that" when I asked how she made something. When I watch the Food Network, I see great chefs saying "a little of this-a little of that" and they just dump handfuls of spices into their recipes. I doubt anything they make comes out the same way twice. So if my mom could make it up, my wife can make it up, and these chefs can make it up, I can, too. So, I've learned to cook.

Now, ask me again, "what have you done to improve yourself while you've been out of work?"

Nothing. What's to improve?

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Opposites Attract

'CoverCover of Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus

Chicken soupImage via Wikipedia

My wife and I may be proof of the old saying, “opposites attract.” She’s a Texan, I’m a Connecticut Yankee. She’s Christian, I’m Jewish. She’s politically conservative, I lean toward the liberal. We do see eye to eye on some things, but that’s mostly because she’s 5’1” and I’m 5’2”.

Back in 1992, John Gray published his book, “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.” I never read the book. But I suspect he found some empirical evidence that we really do see things differently. For example, my wife loves soup. I like it, too. I just don’t love it. To me, soup is either an appetizer or something to eat when I’m not feeling well. To my wife, soup is an entire dinner.

In fairness, my wife makes great soup. She makes a chicken soup that would do my Bubby proud. She makes a great split pea soup, a delicious beef & barley soup, a knock-out chili (it’s kind of soup) and really good stews. But it’s soup. Liquid. Something I slurp. Loudly. I’d be better off drinking a glass of water. I can do that quietly and I’m far less likely to drip some on my shirt.

Soup is something my wife particularly likes on cold, rainy days. Since I can’t barbeque on those kinds of days, I accept the inevitable potpourri of liquid, vegetables and whatever chicken or beef is in the freezer. But lately, my wife has been working several days a week while I concentrate on finding my next job. She’s the breadwinner. I try to find ways to contribute by running errands, grocery shopping, making dinner, and filing for unemployment.

Yesterday was a particularly wet and cold day and my wife was at work. I thought I’d do something nice and take a stab at making some chicken soup. I found a Jewish cookbook (who knows more about chicken soup) and started the process. I cut up celery, carrots, cabbage, and onions. I found some fresh garlic and ginger. I added some soup stock and bouillon and chicken breast meat. I even found a box of Matzoh Ball mix. Then, I began my witches brew.

I boiled and stirred, I simmered and stirred and to my amazement, the Matzoh Balls came out large and fluffy (my mother would have been jealous); and the soup actually tasted like something my wife would have made. I was very proud of myself. After all, I’d made my wife’s favorite dinner. Soup.

When she came home, my wife’s first words were, “something smells delicious.” I couldn’t have been happier. Until her next sentence. “I hope you’re not making chicken soup.” That’s where “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” comes to play. My wife was upset that I had taken her joy of making soup and that I had made something I had rejected for dinner just the night before when it was cold but not rainy.

And in the words of Claire Boothe Luce, “no good deed goes unpunished.” I thought I was doing something thoughtful. My wife thought differently. And my wife is always right. I learned that early in our courtship. So, I've learned my lesson. I can make dinner for my wife, but not soup. I need to stick to grilling. If anyone can make spaghetti on a Weber grill, please let me know.

Who knew making soup could get me in such hot water?
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