Here’s Johnny

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Last night Andrea and Kevin wanted to orchestrate a belated birthday dinner for the General. Of course, as part of the entourage, I was also invited. In all truthfulness, I can say it proved to be an exceptional evening.

 

For starters, Andrea and Kevin chose a restaurant where the General and I have never been. Truthfully speaking, I am mostly a stranger to the kind of fine dining that includes something more than a white tablecloth and dinnerware. I am not accustomed to having a myriad of choices for the first course, second course, main course and the grand finale (aka – desert).

 

It was a touching moment when Andrea looked at the menu and said to her mom, “Why don’t we take this and this and this for starters?” She offered several suggestions to include for the second course and pretty much left the third course for our own choosing.

 

Seriously, for the most part, I had looked at the menu and had no idea what was being served. When it comes to culinary choices that include something outside my regular fare or frame of reference, my first reaction is to look for something else on the menu that seems more familiar. I kind of discount the possibility that I will like it if I haven’t already tried it.

 

Andrea has a culinary charm about her where she can get by with promoting a menu selection for consideration. She does a good job of convincing you that you have a treat in store. I had a flashback to the General coaxing Andrea throughout her childhood to try different foods.

 

It was both interesting to observe and experience the role reversal-taking place before my eyes. Andrea was taking on the role of teacher and mentor. Though she’d never suggest that we were her inept students, we were on unfamiliar territory. She was pretty convincing that we would enjoy the taste. Never once did she use the line: “It is good for you”.

 

The waiter was a young man named Johnny. Actually, when he first came to our table, I missed his providing us his name. At least, I didn’t recall his name when he came back around. Consequently, when he came back around I said: “Help me with my memory. I don’t remember your name.” He smiled and said: “It is Johnny. Just like Johnny Cash, except that I don’t have any cash. Okay, so now I had a frame of reference. I would remember his name.

 

As our two-hour-plus dinner took place, I watched Johnny interacting with a host of other folks dining in the restaurant. He was attentive, personable, and had a genuine gregarious nature about him that added to the ambience of the evening.

 

He mentioned early in waiting on our table that he had just returned to work. He had been on vacation. I asked about his vacation and he provided a thumb-nailed sketch. He had gone to Arizona. While he was there, he attended his brother’s wedding. He added: “I also had a great time visiting with my mom. I sprung her from the hospital for a while. She has just finished chemo and radiation treatments”. He mentioned that in four months she has aged about fifteen years.

 

Immediately, I had the thought associated to the complexity of his family’s circumstances. His mother’s health status had to weigh heavily on the family as they rallied around and celebrated a family wedding. I’m sure there were lots of emotions surrounding the celebration.

 

I mentioned that I was sorry he was dealing with that kind of stress. He said, “It comes with life”. Who could argue with that? He went on to say: “It is interesting, but my mother has developed the most magnificent sense of humor. She had never been so funny. I guess she figures, ‘What do I have to lose’?”   He added: “I really enjoyed the time with her. In addition, my brother’s wedding provided an opportunity for me to visit with a lot of old friends I’ve not seen in awhile. It was really nice. I enjoyed my time at home, but it is also good to be back at work.”

 

Through the course of the evening, bits and pieces about his life surfaced in conversation. He mentioned George Straight’s song: “Ocean Front Property In Arizona”. He said he had recorded the song and given it to several friends. His friends had responded with positive reviews.

 

I asked: “So did you come to Austin to get in the music business?” He said he had graduated from high school at the age of seventeen and was ready to advance his career. He had started skateboarding at the age of four and thought he could make it as a professional skateboarder. California was calling his name. He had to go and give that career track a chance”.

 

I doubt that is just the kind of thing every parent wants to hear from his or her seventeen-year-old son? Actually, he told his dad he was going to request court emancipation. The dad countered that he would allow him to go, but that he wasn’t going to be emancipated. The dad wanted to keep him on as an income tax deduction. Did I mention that his dad is a CPA and his mother is an art professor?

 

He had support from his family as he pursued his dreams. In the course of the two hours we shared, he shared several more tidbits about his life. He got a degree in nursing and things began to fall apart with his girlfriend at exactly the same time that he was beginning to see a line of white picket fences.

 

I had the thought: “What a clever way to express where he was in his human pilgrimage.” Romance didn’t work out in California and he made his way to Austin. His story associated to getting into the restaurant business really caught me by surprise. He said, “It was all about the Balloon Animals”. “The what”, I asked?” He said when he was still in high school a friend had showed him a stash of cash in his wallet. He said: “He had twenties and hundred dollar bills.” His friend explained: “I’ve been working at a restaurant making animals out of balloons for children.” He said, “The parents love it and they pay me. Some pay me very well”.

 

“You’ve got to show me how to do that,” was his response to his friend. In short order, he received permission to do the same thing in another restaurant. He said, “I guess it was my gregarious nature, but folks really liked me. When the restaurant decided to stop allowing me to do that, they said I was too valuable to loose. They employed me as a part-time server while I was in high school”.

 

When asked about his passion going forward he said: “I am a writer. I was made to write. I can’t stop writing. I haven’t gotten anything published yet, but I will. I write. I can’t stop writing”.

 

Something tells me, he’s got the stuff to reach his dreams. I liked his line: “I was beginning to envision a line of white picket fences”. What an incredible way to say much in a very different way of expressing it!

 

Johnny gave me permission to share his story and reluctantly provided the same regarding his picture. It would serve you well to find him. He is an exceptionally knowledgeable server who works for an incredible restaurant. You’ll enjoy a fantastic meal and an exceptional waiter.

 

All My Best!

Don

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Baby Steps

I’m on a campaign to minimize stress in my life. Call it baby-steps if you want, but I’m figuratively taking the bull by the horns and making some changes.  One of the things I’m doing is reading, responding, deleting and filing emails on a daily basis. I decided a week ago that I couldn’t continue to handle the on-going pressure of scores of emails that continued to be unopened.  Trust me, the quagmire of unopened email on either of my computers makes traffic congestion in Austin look like nothing. Where did all these emails come from?

Sure, on a daily basis, I’ve always quickly scanned my list of incoming emails for “important” communications that needed attention.  I’m not sure I how I found myself subscribed to hundreds of emails from great sources intent on supporting my edification on any number of topics. Bottom line – I simply can’t keep up with it.

I probably could have asked the General for assistance. She loves the concept of de-cluttering. However, I suspect the task could have been the beginning of another lecture series.  I don’t need lectures. I don’t need superfluous emails. I don’t need to stay holed up in my office in front of my computer most of the time.

I need open spaces. I need people contact. I need time for sharing a cup of hot chai tea and conversation with people I value, but don’t have contact with often enough. I have a friend who retired six weeks ago and I have yet to make contact. What kind of friend am I?  In addition, I have a friend from the first grade that I want to visit with soon. I’ve been telling myself that for over a year. I used to do a better job of staying on top of the things that promote a sense of wellbeing. I’ve got to figure out a way to do it differently. Baby steps – one day at a time – one step at a time. I will get there.

Don’t get me wrong. Every day thoughts fill my head with nice things that I could do for people.  When it comes to good intentions, I’m not at a loss. I can think of a thousand and one things worthy of my time.  They are the kind of things that would affirm and support others.  

The problem is my good intentions, far too often, fall by the wayside. What about you?  Do you follow through with the passing thoughts of nice things you could do for other people? I don’t care what they say; it really isn’t the thought that counts. What counts is actually doing something to support someone else.  

Historically, one of the things that has fueled my fire is the content I find in books. I used to find time to devote to reading.  What better way to find yourself in the midst of someone else’s story? Years ago, a friend gave me a copy John Ortberg’s book: “Everybody Is Normal Until You Get To Know Them”.  I suspect it is worthy of a re-read.  

As I recall, the book focuses on the importance of the connections and the reality at some level, we are all a little weird. I guess you could say: “Some more than others”. Ortberg likens most of us (actually all of us) to something you’d find at a sidewalk sale. We look good on the surface, but once you get to know us, a flaw or blemish surfaces that some would think devalues our value and worth.

When my daughter and son-in-law got married, I mentioned in their wedding ceremony that the two of them never looked better than they did on their wedding day.  My daughter had never be happier or more radiant. I suspect the same was true for Kevin. Because of their delight in one another through the bonds of a loving relationship, they were choosing to love for life.  

But the analogy of a sidewalk sale fell into play. I suggested to the bride and goom that they probably wouldn’t find it in the next week or two. However, with the passage of time, eventually they’d have an “aha-moment” and realize there was a blemish or flaw in the person they married.  Damaged goods – don’t we all fall into that category?

I know that to be true, because it is true of all of us. We are broken people living in a broken world. Consequently, the concept of forgiveness, gentle redirection and acceptance and support had to fill the on-going relationship. They were entering into a life-long commitment and the signage was clear: “NO RETURNS”.

In his book, Ortberg states that one of the problems we face is a time management issue. We devote massive amounts of time to things that don’t really satisfy while ignoring the experience for which we were created. Ortberg calls it, “community”.  One of the takeaways he identifies is simple: “If you think you can fit deep community into the cracks of an overloaded schedule – think again. Wise people do no try to microwave friendship, parenting, or marriage”.

Don’t we all fill our calendars with too many scheduled activities?  Maybe I’m selfish, but I like free time. I like to fly by the seat of my pants and live impromptu.  I don’t want to have my calendar serve as a ball and chain that ties me to this and that. Too much stuff one’s calendar precludes spontaneity. I was born free – I’ve got to stay that way.

I can hear the sound of Born Free playing in my head as I write these words: “Born free, as free as the wind blows, As free as the grass grows – Born free to follow you heart”.

I’ve got the email problem tackled for now and I don’t plan to go back to a back-log of emails. I’ve hit the “unsubscribe” button on everything that had an “unsubscribe” button.

The sun will be up shortly and I’m going for a walk. I’m going to embrace balance in my life.  I’m going to look for the two-lane country back roads like my life depends on it. Actually, it does.

All My Best!

Don

Everyone Has A Story

I’ve said it often, but until last night the words never carried the kind of meaning they now hold for me. The phrase I’ve often repeated is: “Everybody has a story”. I’ve often described myself as an old child-welfare worker and I’d be the first to admit that for many years, I was mistaken by thinking of the “us” and “them” categories of people. 

Sure, there have always been the “haves” and the “have nots”. I’m not talking about the socio-economic lines that divide people by those with discretionary money and those without. When I talked about the “us” and “them” categories, I thought about folks whose lives differ substantially from the kind of childhood I experienced. 

Of course, during the innocence of my childhood years, I was a stranger to the thought that any kid could have a fear of going home. I didn’t know it then, but it had to be true because it has always been true. For some kids, school offered a respite from the dysfunction and emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse that filled their lives with horror and regret.  It all fell under the concept of family secrets.

The chronic level of domestic disturbance and mistreatment was never something of which I had knowledge.  Knowing now, what I didn’t know then, mine was a make-believe world where home always represented nurture and love. Kids mostly had two parents and their families were not riddled with in-and-out strangers that came for a sleep over with one’s single parent mother or dad. Sometimes the strangers stayed for an inordinate period of time, but the landscape of their childhood was never filled with the kind of stability that defined my existence.

Since my book, “More Than Enough” was published, I’ve had two people who thoughtfully shared with me that although they enjoyed the read, the book left them with a sense of sadness.  My description of life differed dramatically from the childhood years or even the current years that defined their experience. Consequently, they found themselves longing for the kind of love and laughter I wrote about in my book. Yet for them, family had never been filled with the kinds of things I described. Realizing what they missed made them sad.

For example, neither of the two people who longingly reflected back on their childhood with a sense of regret had a relationship with their grandparents. For that matter, they didn’t live with a sense of closeness associated to family. As they moved forward into adulthood, they allowed friendships to substitute for the void in their lives that wasn’t filled by family.

I understand now almost with a sense of guilt, that I should have lived with a higher level of gratitude for all I experienced rather than simply think of it as a status quo. Of course, my mother often reminded me that no one would ever love me like my mother. If only everyone could have had that kind of mother, what a different world ours might be.

As a “wet behind the ears” child welfare worker, I was thrust into a world where the innocence of childhood didn’t exist. Consequently, I was mistaken by thinking that most people grew up the way I did. My parents weren’t perfect. They’d be the first to tell you their kids weren’t either, but we made life work for us; perhaps in a way that few people did. 

In the midst of carving out a career track of helping families in crisis, I was thrust in a world where folks struggled with family matters.  The chronic cycle of abuse and neglect seemingly was a difficult cycle to break. Even in today’s world, that continues to be true.  

The “us” and “them” categories in which I put people was the false assumption that there were “normal families” and there were “dysfunctional families”. It was years before I connected the dots to realize that at times fall we all fall into the latter category. 

It was years ago, but late at night while driving, I listened to a radio talk show where the invited guest was Linda Armstrong Kelly. She was promoting her book: “No Mountain Too High:  Raising Lance, Raising Me”. I was puzzled by the title: “Raising Lance, Raising Me”.  There was something about her voice tone and the way she presented herself that you could sense her confidence and innate ability. Yet she talked about her early years of being an impoverished teenager who was kicked out of her home when she became pregnant. For a period of time, she moved from one abusive relationship to another. Seriously, she sounded like a candidate for the Jerry Springer Show. The contrast of her “before” and “after” was eye opening for me. I connected the dots and realized that there really aren’t “us” and “them” categories. We all fall into the same melting pot.

Yesterday in my blog, I mentioned my paternal grandmother. I called her Granny and she was one of the most thoughtful and caring individuals I’ve ever known. During my childhood years, I had ready access to her because she lived next door. It was a package deal. Both Granny and Granddaddy were top notch from a kid’s perspective.  They lived with an open-door policy. They were always available for us to drop in for a hug or cookie or just shared time.  

During the midst of childhood, I thought everyone had the same kind of grandparents that I did. My maternal grandparents were equally loving, nurturing and supportive. Wayne Terry, my life-long friend from the first-grade, also had the privilege of living next door to his grandparents for a period of time.  His grandparents were such incredibly caring and likable people. So, I had Wayne’s frame of reference as well as my own. We obviously were both fortunate in a way that few people were.

Last night I talked to another friend from childhood and I asked for the “back story” on her family of origin.  Although I knew her parents for years, I only knew what was public information. I didn’t know the back story.  I didn’t know the family secrets.  

Actually, my friend didn’t know the family secrets until she was out of college. Even then, the discovery wasn’t voluntarily provided. My friend didn’t grow up with the same frame of reference associated to grandparents that I was privilege to experience.

At most, she only saw her paternal or maternal grandmother once or twice a year. Even then, the visit was very brief. It wasn’t associated with the kind of playful interactions that defined the relationship I shared with my grandparents.

What she discovered at the cemetery when her maternal grandmother was buried was enough to make the hair on the back of my neck stand up when she shared the story. Like I said: “Everyone has a story.”

It was following her graduation from college. She went with her parents to her grandmother’s funeral.  As folks lingered at the cemetery, she noticed an uncle walking over to a different portion of the cemetery.  She followed him to discover a small marker on two graves. It was the burying ground for her great grandparents.  She noticed their dates of death. The two were the same.

Puzzled, she asked the uncle about their deaths. He responded by asking the question: “You don’t know?”  She obviously didn’t. Instead of providing her an answer, he said: “Ask your mother”. His uncle, returning to the crowd at the cemetery, told his sister that she needed to talk with her daughter. He said, “She now knows”.

Actually, she didn’t know anything other than that both great grandparents died on the same day.  What she learned was unsettling in a way that few things are.  Her mother was eighteen years old at the time.  Living in their home was her mother and a sister, her mother’s parents and her grandparents.  

Her mother had driven her parents to work and returned home. The house had a detached garage at the back of the property.  She parked the car and as she headed to the house, she heard a gunshot. Then there was a second, she was the intended target. The third was the great grandfather taking his own life after murdering his wife.

How does one every move beyond the horror of all of that? We all have a story. Some are far more difficult than others.  Since most folks don’t voluntarily share their story, it should heighten our sense of need to be compassionate and loving to everyone. Broken is the only way we come. Sadly, some folks are more broken by life’s circumstances than others. Kindness and compassion could go a long way.

All My Best!

Don

Rigor Mortis – Maybe/Maybe Not

I awakened this morning with thoughts of writing about the gift of childhood.  The thought occurred to me yesterday in yoga class that it would be nice to have the body of a kid again.  As a child, I certainly didn’t fall into the category of having a body that other kids would envy, but the one I had worked for me. 

When it came to athletic prowess, I didn’t fall into the category of having much to offer. It never occurred to me to play the “life isn’t fair” card and complain because Ronnie who looked just like me was more gifted athletically.  On second thought, maybe he wasn’t. Maybe we had the same innate abilities, but he opted to go the distance and excel in areas where I didn’t.

That being said, mine was not an unhappy childhood.  I may have been the kid who was last chosen to be on the team in sandlot baseball, but that didn’t mean that other neighborhood kids shunned me or weren’t friends just because having me on their team didn’t guarantee a win.  In fact, you could anticipate the opposite. If I was on the team, it was a guaranteed loss. On the other hand, if your team can’t win, why play?

Thankfully I had the good fortune of living next door to my paternal grandparents during my childhood years. Granny gifted me with the realization that I was her favorite.  Of course, why wouldn’t I be? I laugh because all five of her grandchildren would tell you that they were Granny’s favorite. I suspect that both Granny and I knew they were wrong, but she never said.

 It didn’t matter to Granny that baseball was not my favorite pastime or that no one particularly wanted me on the team. Actually, baseball wasn’t anything I enjoyed at all.  It was drudgery and a source of humiliation to even try.  Whenever I played, I mostly did it for my mother. She maintained that you couldn’t dislike playing baseball and be normal. After all, what would other people think? She definitely wanted the best for me, but if I had to play ball to make that happen it was a stretch way beyond my ability or longing.

I guess that is the one area where Mother and I opted to disagree.  Actually, that’s probably not true. Mother made a big deal out of a lot of stuff I didn’t get right, but she loved me anyway. However, I suspect it would have created less stress in her life had I done it her way.  I figured that even if I fell into the category of abnormal, it was normal for me.  Isn’t consistent predictability a virtue?  At least you know what to expect. How’s that for making Lemonade out of lemons?

Sometimes I escaped the occasional sense that I wasn’t particularly wanted on the team by going to Granny’s house. She wasn’t going to tolerate self-pity, even from her favorite and she always supported the notion that I was okay just like I am.

She often listened to or watched Art Linkletter’s “House Party” on television or the radio. She did both. Linkletter had a segment called: “Kid’s say the Darndest Things” and I sometimes could see myself in an episode like that.  

Drum roll please – I was a funny kid!  Sometimes I was even surprised by the things I heard coming out of my mouth.  Only once did I almost get my mouth washed out with soap. I thought I was repeating something that was funny that I heard another friend say. My mother didn’t think so. Unfortunately I said it in front of a family friend. That made my verbal act of indiscretion seems doubly inappropriate. My mother placed value on what other people think.

Strange how a talk show host from childhood continues to be a frame of reference. I remember in the midst of young adulthood being saddened with the news that one of Art Linkletter’s children died from jumping out of a six-story window. The anguished father attributed his daughter’s death to a flashback from an LSD trip. Consequently, Linkletter became an advocate who spoke out against drugs in an effort to warn kids to stay away from the harm they cause.

 Linkletter’s record, “We Love You, Call Collect” was recorded before his daughter’s death. The recording featured a discussion about the permissiveness of modern society. The recording also featured a rebuttal by his daughter entitled: “Dear Mom and Dad”. The record won a 1970 Grammy Award for the “Best Spoken Word Recording”.

Like I said earlier, it would be nice to have the body of a kid again. Yesterday in beginning yoga 101, I had the sense that I have long sense passed the time when my  body can move and turn in ways that it seemingly cannot now.  I’m resistive to the description that I’m stiff.  Isn’t that a sign of rigor mortis? Reportedly, rigor mortis generally sets in about three for four hours after death.

I amused myself with the thought that maybe I’m already dead and don’t know it?  After all, my body was not bending in the ways it needed to bend according to the yoga instructor. Of course, she calmly reassured me that I’d eventually get there.  She wisely didn’t say when.

Since I can’t go next door to Granny’s to bake cookies and have my ego stroked, I plan to go the distance. I’m doing this for me.  Just because my body doesn’t bend now the way it did in childhood, I still have a little boy living inside who wants out of the shell of senior citizenry.  After all, everything is hard until it isn’t.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  

All My Best! 

Don

Jail Time or No Time?

This morning I re-read a thoughtful message from a long-term friend.  I had received the message after posting my blog about the book publisher wanting to resurrect my book, “More Than Enough”.  The initial publisher who promised more than he could deliver is now a convicted felon. Both he and his son who were responsible for the business were charged with 38 felonies and six misdemeanors. Reportedly, the charges included embezzlement and racketeering.

Through a plea agreement both avoided jail time. Reportedly, they will be on probation for the next twenty years and have been ordered to pay $820,000 in restitution to victims.  Reportedly, they swindled more than 2,200 individuals out of their property and money they paid to have their music or books published or produced through the companies.

Of course, the court was a little more lenient than I would have been.  I’m not suggesting that the death penalty was in order, but there was a day when horse thieves were hanged for their wrongdoing.  Reportedly, the attorney General said of the publishers: “They use their creativity and artistry to create intellectual property, which was mishandled, misused and converted in many cases…” 

I’ve mentioned on more than one occasion that Oklahoma is a third world country.  Despite the progress, Oklahoma has the notoriety of being the only state allowing for more than two methods of execution in State statutes.  Gas inhalation is primarily the most often means of execution, but other state approved options include lethal injection, electrocution, and a firing squad.

Reportedly, the $820,000 in restitution is being paid out mostly in installment payments of $3,000 a month for the next twenty years. The victim’s restitution account was initially started with $109,000 by the convicted felons who reportedly had taken hundreds of thousands of dollars. Reportedly, since February of this year, a $3,000 payment has been due on the first of the month. 

By the way, I’m not one of the victims who will be receiving restitution.  A day late and a dollar short has been a life-long modus of operandi for me.  I didn’t know until this morning that folks had until July 1, 2019 to file a complaint and supporting documentation with the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Unit. 

Frankly, I’ve had no communication of any kind from the publishing company or the State of Oklahoma who prosecuted the case about any of this.  I learned of the situation from several other publishing companies that reached out to me wanting to handle the book.  

In fact, until this morning when I did a Google search, I didn’t know the case had been resolved by a plea agreement. I also didn’t know of my need to file a complaint if I wanted compensation for the company’s failure to provide what they contractually promised.  

I’d be the last to fault the State of Oklahoma, but at least six book publishers knew how to contact me following the companies closing. I figure the prosecuting attorney had access to the same information.  Okay, so maybe I was less than honest when I suggested that I’d be the last to fault the State of Oklahoma. 

Interestingly, across the years, I’ve received many notifications of lawsuits being filed against General Motors by someone. Since I was the proud owner of a GM vehicle at the time, I might also be a party of the suit or at least benefit from it. In every circumstance when I received one of those notices, I tossed it in the trash.  However, had I been notified of the circumstances with the publishing company, I would have thoughtfully stepped in line and provided information. I am of the opinion that once you pay for something, you should receive the merchandise. 

I guess you could say “the long arm of the law” isn’t always that long. Isn’t it true that it often seems that some people are above the law? My friend who reached out to me this week referred to “wolves in sheep’s clothing” to describe the many in the industry that offer to pick-up where the last publisher left off. 

Figuratively, that is exactly what the publishing company that called last week was offering. The offer for help wasn’t really. The new publisher wanted to take on marketing the book for a three-to-six months selling season.  That would “give my book” a better chance to take hold. Of course, they would have had a pocket full of cash to compensate for their time. 

What the publishing company failed to understand is that my primary motivation has nothing to do with money.  Initially, when I was attempting to market my book, I was attempting to recoup my initial investment. I’m certain the General could provide you a correct accounting, but I think I came close.  Of course, with the General, close only counts in horseshoes.

When I finally figured out that I didn’t have to recoup my investment, I found I immensely enjoyed providing books as a gift. The payback in knowing someone is investing the time to read the book is more than enough. 

You would have thought the book was a best seller by the number of copies I purchased. At one point, the General suggested I sign them all. She figured they’d be worth more following my death if they were signed. I don’t think she anticipated being the conduit for my departure.  Perhaps it was simply wishful thinking on her part that the books would eventually sale. She was smart enough to know that wasn’t going to happen in my lifetime.  Seriously, what were we going to do with all of those books?

So how did a smooth-talking-faith based “snake oil salesman” dupe me? Surely, you remember the term “snake oil salesmen” from old western movies.  They were traveling “doctors” with dubious credentials and fake medicines and the ability to talk the horns off of a goat. They’d often have a partner in the crowd who substantiated their claims. Both the “doctor” and the accomplice would fly the coop before people had time to realize they had been duped.

I got duped because the publisher told me exactly what he knew I wanted to hear.  I guess it really is true, you live and you learn.  The publisher last week told me what I wanted to hear, but I knew they didn’t have incentive to do anything but to collect my cash.  

Jail time or no time doesn’t work equally well for me for white-collar crime. I’m not sure what the answer is, but a lifetime prohibition of the individual working in the same field again seems justified. Snake oil salesman seem to have a knack of peddling something.

All My Best!

Don

Chronic Sadness

I’m not sure at what time this morning I had the faint realization that it was day. It really doesn’t matter because I opted to turn over and go back to sleep.  However, before doing so, I had thoughts associated to the difficulties and heartaches that many silently endure.

Almost everywhere you look, you have the realization that folks are having a difficult time.  You know the kinds of things that weigh heavily on a person’s heart.  Things like a fractured family struggling from the recent unanticipated death of a loved one taken in the prime of life, the call from a doctor’s office rendering the news that the test results are conclusive and the probable outcome isn’t good, the notice from an employer that the company is closing and you are now at the end of the line of the unemployed.

Aren’t those the family members and neighbors that garner our immediate attention and concern? We reach out to folks in those kinds of circumstances and we do all we can to provide encouragement and support.  The growing numbers of friends and family members in that list continues to escalate.

It all makes for a pressure cooker kind of existence.  Add to that list the pitfalls of a recent divorce, the fight for child custody, the quandary of knowing which bills to pay now and which can wait? The discovery that a loved one’s opioid addition is putting their life at risk. Those are also things that one finds unsettling. 

Even the discovery that the young man next door might not prove to be a neighbor you’d hope to have, can add an extra dimension of stress.  In today’s “Daily Briefing”, Nick Pitts, Ph.D., reports there could have been three more mass shootings in different parts of the country this past weekend. 

Pitts writes: “Authorities this weekend announced they had foiled three potential mass shootings after arresting three men in different states who expressed interest in or threatened to carry them out. All three cases were brought to authorities’ attention thanks to tips from the public”.

He goes on to share the details of a 22-year-old who was arrested in Connecticut after he used Facebook to announce his intent to commit a mass-shooting. A man in Daytona Beach was arrested after sending his ex-girlfriend text messages of his intent to commit a mass shooting. In Ohio, a 20-year old was arrested for allegedly threatening to carry out a shooting at a Youngstown Jewish community center.

None of the aforementioned things are the kinds of things I considered this morning when I thought about the difficulties and heartaches that many silently endure.  Who are they? Where do you find them and what can you do to help?  Those were the questions I asked myself before drifting back to sleep.

I picked up a book last night to thumb through the contents. It reportedly is the story of “a quiet, reserved, and loyal confidant and friend of the first family whose tortured career in Washington can be seen as a metaphor for the toll public service exacts today”.  The book was published by Simon & Schuster in 1996.  The book written by James B. Stewart is entitled: “BLOOD SPORT – THE PRESIDENT AND HIS ADVERSARIES”.  The first line of the inside cover of the book was one that I couldn’t shake from my head.  

The line read: “In July 1993, White House Official Vincent Foster wrote an anguished lament: ‘in Washington…ruining people is considered a sport’. Nine days later, Foster was dead”.

Public service or the aftermath of it can be deadly.  Not everything you read on Facebook carries truth, but I sensed the accuracy of what I was reading late last week.  The posting referenced the number of active and former military personnel who have committed suicide in the past seven months. The number is unbelievingly staggering. Reportedly, 20 veterans or active military commit suicide every day in this country.  The article stated that already this calendar year, more active military or veterans have died by suicide than the total number whose lives were lost in Iraq. 

In terms of the general public, death by suicide represents a forfeiture of life at an alarming rate.  In 2011, Dr. Phil Lineberger shared the following information in his eulogy for John Petty, a pastor friend that took his own life:

Depression is a time defying sadness. Depression speaks a language of its own known only to those who are depressed. Currently, some 19,000,000 Americans suffer from chronic depression. That’s 1 out of every 15 people in America. In fact, depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States and abroad for people over 5 years of age. Depression, we’re told, may be the biggest killer on earth. It claims more lives than war, cancer, and AIDS together. Twenty-eight million people in America, 1 out of 3 Americans, are on some kind of medication to try to handle this terrible, terrible darkness, time defying sadness, and confusion of mind and emotion.

Depression speaks a language of its own. A persistent and anxious emptiness. A feeling of hopelessness and pessimism. A sense of guilt and worthlessness and helplessness. A loss of pleasure or interest in things that were once extremely enjoyable. Restlessness, irritability, insomnia, early morning waking or oversleeping.

The scriptures refer to depression as “the plague that destroys at midday” Psalm 91:6. Even in those days, in the days of the Old Testament, people would be observed at the height of their career or the greatest time in their life being extremely sad or confused or disengaged. And so the writers would say it is a plague or demon that destroys when the sun is highest at the midday”.

So, how do we become part of the answer for folks who silently struggle?  My first thought is: “Don’t settle for surface relationships”. Instead, really get to know people. Talk about things of more importance than the weather or sports.  Let people know through your actions that you are a friend and trusted confidant. Be alert for signs of depression.  Attempt to keep people engaged and active. Stay in touch.

People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.

All My Best!

Don

Tickets To The Game

Andrea and Kevin stopped by last night to drop off Samson and Charlotte. The grand-dogs are spending the next five or six days with Granddad and Gram.  Kevin and Andrea are headed to New Orleans. 

For Kevin, it is like going back home. He spent most of child childhood years in New Orleans and following graduation from high school, attended LSU for three years before he transferred to the University of Texas in Austin. Consequently, he favors the purple and gold over burnt orange and white.  

Whether he meant to increase my anxiety level, I don’t know. Kevin said that August is the slowest month of the year for tourist in New Orleans.  It is beyond hot and humid and it represents the month of greatest risk for hurricanes.  The Atlantic Hurricane season is officially June 1 through November 30. However, August and September poses the highest risk for hurricanes to hit New Orleans.

Of course, Kevin knows that I’m a sucker for a sale. The upside of their trip this week is the reduced prices and specials that restaurants are offering. Is it worth the risk to save a buck or two? I don’t know the answer to the question. Kevin seems to think so, but he could be homesick even through New Orleans is no longer home for his dad.

When they came over last night, Kevin and Andrea were both figuratively dancing a jig because they have tickets to the LSU/UT football game. Not only were they able to score tickets for themselves, they came up with a couple of extra tickets for some friends that live in Henly. One of Andrea friends from Apple was able to negotiate the transaction for them.  It will be a first for Kevin. Despite the fact that he graduated from UT, he never went to a football game his senior year. 

Reportedly, tickets to the LSU/UT game are the most sought out tickets in the country.  No joke! You probably already knew that. It was news to me. The cost of the tickets they procured was a bargain. When I learned the price they paid, my mouth fell open. Had they lost their ever-loving minds?

For that kind of money, they could get tickets to an Avett Brothers concert and have money left over.  I guess it all gets back to priorities and interests.  I’d have opted for the concert rather than the game.

So we are dog sitting this week.  Somehow, both of my daughter’s labs love Granddad, but favor Gram (aka – the General) over me because she talks baby talk to them and dishes out their meals like a short order cook in a restaurant. 

Actually, they eat raw meat so it is no big deal. I’m probably the only one who holds the opinion that dogs should live outside rather than indoors. 

When Charlotte and Samson come for a stay-over, they get Granddad’s spot in our king size bed. I am not – repeat NOT – sleeping with two Labrador retrievers.  It isn’t going to happen. It is more than crazy, but I’m the only sane person that seems to think so.

Other than a layer of dog hair all over the house, Charlotte and Samson are no real problem. They spend most of their day sleeping on the floor so they can get up and take over my bed at night. Somehow that seems like a definition of insanity to me.

I noticed last night on my rapid rewards account with Southwest Airlines, that I am entitled for a companion pass for the rest of this year. In fact, I also have ample time to rack up enough more points this year to enable the General to fly with me free for all of next year.  That’s not to say she’ll want to go with me on business trips, but she certainly may see more travel in our future.

Travel is one of those things on my bucket list, but finding the time has always been the problem. Back in the day when I worked for an agency in Dallas, I earned lots of free tickets on SWA.  Seldom if ever, did we use them. I gave them away. Time has always been the glitch that is difficult to negotiate.

When we assisted Andrea’s move-in to the dorm at UT, the General and I flew to Seattle the next day and drove to Vancouver, Canada. I guess you could say we were eager for the empty next. We promised ourselves we’d take a long weekend and go somewhere special every three months.  

Did I mention it is hard to do that and show up for church every Sunday? Consequently, it didn’t happen. With a handful of airline tickets that had to be used within 12 months, we missed the window of opportunity.  Of course, we put the tickets to good use by giving them away. Someone else had the privilege of travel that might not have been available otherwise.

Speaking of throwing caution to the wind, I booked tickets for the General and I to take a quick trip to Florida in October. I can weave business in the mix and justify taking a couple of days to walk on the beach.  Of course, I’ll do it all at my expense, but it offers more for the money than the LSU game in Austin.

So, I’m up early this morning and have already let the dogs out. It is going to be a good day.

All My Best!

Don

I Didn’t Win The Reader’s Digest Sweepstakes

Okay, so it wasn’t like receiving notification that I’d won the Reader’s Digest Sweepstakes, but the message from a book publishing company that More Than Enough had been identified by one of their agents as worthy of consideration was something I couldn’t quite let go off.  The email from the publishing company had hit my in-box in June.  

I carefully reviewed the communication. It was their suggestion that the book be reformatted and the price dropped.  In addition, the book needed to be available for a fraction of the cost electronically.  According to the communication, the book was worthy of reading and cutting the price in half was a good way to ensure success. Reportedly, most folks don’t want to pay more than $10 for a book. I set the email aside. Was it a marketing scam for a publishing company or was it a legitimate “we think your book has promise”?

Initially, when I had the book published, it was only after I had explored options and was satisfied that a publisher thought it worthy of printing.  Of course, as it turned out, the $10,000 I invested in publishing and purchasing copies to market myself would have been enough for the publisher to tell me exactly what I wanted to hear. I really do have “STUPID” tattooed on my forehead.

The first publisher I reached out to had more ethics than the “Christian” publishing company I subsequently opted to go with.  The advice they provided me was based on a brief telephone call and their understanding of the network it takes to market a book.  Reportedly, gone were the days when publishing companies paid an author for the privilege of publishing their book unless they had a proven track record and a best seller or two behind them.  

After talking with me and understanding I fell into the category of “John Q. Public” without a network of thousands of folks, the first publisher I talked with said I was throwing money away to pay for publishing. Even without seeing a rough draft of the book, the agent for the publishing company told me I could anticipate spending $10,000.  The publisher suggested instead that I pay him $5,000 and keep $5,000 for myself. That way he benefitted and so did I.  At the end of the day, the result would be the same. Obviously, the man was a prophet. Okay, so that wasn’t exactly what I anticipated hearing.  In retrospect, it was sound advice.

Did I mention in the world of “Christian” publishing you don’t always get what your pay for or were promised? Because of the cautionary warning the previous publisher had provided, I wasn’t easily duped. Okay, so maybe I was, but I thought I was exercising due diligence.

I set up an appointment with the head of the Christian publishing company before I signed a contract to have the book published. I made a request that he personally read the book and honestly tell me what he thought.  Though he didn’t minimize that it would be an uphill climb, he also told me the book was compelling, well written and one that many would find had value. He added caveat: “Your book is really good. I wouldn’t tell you that of it wasn’t. I think it has promise.” Those were just the words I wanted to hear.

I had suggested entitling the book “Random Thoughts” and he suggested there was nothing random about my thought processes. He even shared with me bits and pieces that he had gleaned from my book. Maybe because he told me what I wanted to hear, I signed the deal and was on my way.

Yesterday, I deleted the junk from my computer. In the process, I found an email I had written to myself. I had written: “It doesn’t serve me well to duplicate the jerk-like behavior of others.” I have absolutely no idea what promoted me to send that email to myself.  However, who could argue that it doesn’t represent good advice?

In the course of the day yesterday, I found emails from three publishing companies that reached out to me after the publishing company that published my book went out of business.  Reportedly, the publisher of my book now has lawsuits from many folks who were duped as well as criminal charges. Okay, so it may be jerk-like behavior on my part, but I can’t truthfully say I wish them well. Contractually, they are obligated to have books available for my purchase at discounted prices.

The first year and a half after publishing both “More Than Enough” and “BITTER OR BETTER”, I attempted to market them. The publisher set the price. I had nothing to do with that. As I write this, I’m smiling with the thought of some of the royalties I received from the publisher for my efforts.  I received a couple of checks that were written for under $1.00. Instead of cashing the checks, I set them aside. 

Okay, so was I being passive aggressive?  I’m not sure, but I suspect the person doing their accounting wasn’t happy with me. That, too, puts a smile on my face. Okay, so maybe I need to go back and re-read the message: “It doesn’t serve me well to duplicate the jerk-like behavior of others.”  There is nothing like a check for $.89 to reinforce my  need to stay humble.

It isn’t just the publisher’s failure to live up to their contractual obligations for future purchases. At some point, I wanted hard copies of my two books instead of paperback. Contractually both hard and paper copies could be purchased. Okay, so I’m a book snob.  In the shallowness of my thinking, paperback books are for reading and tossing. Hardbound books are for reading and subsequently occupying space on a book shelf. I wanted the later.

I ordered hardbound copies of both my books. Don’t ask the price. If you knew the answer, you’d refer me for a mental health examination.  Would you believe it took over nine months to receive the hardback books? My books were available online through the publisher and Amazon and Barnes and Noble in both paperback and hardcopy.  I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of response time the publisher was making for other orders.

Many folks graciously purchased copies of both of my books and I am appreciative.  At some point, I stopped selling books and started giving them away.  The good news is, at least my supply is mostly eradicated. Now, my book supply is scrapping the bottom of the barrel.  Very few remain.

Toward the end of the day yesterday, I responded to the publishing company that reached out to me in June. Within fifteen minutes of my sending an email, I received a call. My phone indicated it was a telemarketer calling. I didn’t answer. Would you believe they called twice?  I listened to the voice messages left. It was the publishing company. They telephoned a third time (telemarketer) and I answered the call.

The “telemarketer” prompt was correct. They were selling something. I could count on them to refresh and market More Than Enough.  On the other hand, perhaps I’ve already spent more than enough. I didn’t take the bait.

All My Best!

Don