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Weekly Photo Challenge: Fleeting

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The WordPress weekly photo challenge was to capture pictures that portray the theme “fleeting.” Andrea and I were at the Three Rivers Arts Festival in downtown Pittsburgh and I attempted to capture a few scenes that showed fleeting moments of fun and frolic.

Some were of consumers looking at art; strollers listening to street music; and parents with their children. One showcases the fountain at Point State Park that opened just in time for the festivities.

In all of them, I tried to capture a brief moment showing the pleasures of hanging out on a sunny Saturday surrounded by art, music, food and festivities.

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The Price Isn’t Always Right

A painting painstakingly created by my crippled and mentally retarded brother, Johnny.

A painting painstakingly created by my crippled and mentally retarded brother, Johnny.

The lunchtime debate was a bit more heated than that day’s spicy pasta and peppers special.

Another reporter and I were taking a break from chasing down a story of political corruption when he boasted about a Rolex he had gotten for his birthday. It was so expensive, he said, that he kept it locked away in a safety deposit box.

“Ten grand, minimum,” he said. “Can’t risk wearing something like that. It might get damaged, or stolen.”

I looked at my $29 Timex and said the words that caused him to go off the deep end.

“My watch is more valuable than yours,” I remarked. “I can look at my wrist and see the time. Your Rolex is worthless if you can’t wear it. It has no real value.”

I will spare you the details of the ensuing rant, but suffice it to say he ended up knocking over his Coke, threw his lunch in the garbage, and stormed off in a total disbelief that I wasn’t impressed with his expensive watch hidden in a box.

It took us a while to get back to working together on the story.

The difference between something that is expensive compared to something that has value replayed in my mind recently as I prepared to move from North Carolina to my new digs in Pittsburgh.

I am a firm believer that “less is best” and was determined to fit everything I’d take with me into my mid-size Ford Fusion. To make the grade, the item had to have value, regardless of cost. I either truly needed it or truly wanted it.

Some things were easy to get rid of. The couch, bed, bookcase, coffee table, and dining set wouldn’t fit in the car, so they went on Craigslist. So did a host of other things, including an iron, a wireless speaker, a space heater, some pots and pans, and a bread maker. My fiancée Andrea has many of those household goods and I wanted a few extra bucks for gas.

Some things were easy to deem as necessities, like clothes, a laptop I need for work and a half-filled bottle of detergent that fit nicely in a box of odds and ends. The heavy winter coat, mittens and ski cap are real necessities as I moved to the land of snow and ice.

As I sorted through my stuff, I realized it was the little things that held the most value.

Pleasant memories sparked the serotonin in my brain as I packed up my collection of angels my mom gives me every Christmas. The dopamine kicked in as I played with the rain stick from the Everglades, a gift from my daughter. Other brain chemicals of pleasure kicked in as I flipped through a great book from Andrea, “Lamb – The Gospel According To Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal.”

Yes, she and I have dark senses of humor.

Other must haves: A sticker that says “The System Isn’t Going To Destroy Itself” from activist and award-winning cartoonist Stephanie McMillan; a painting made of tie-dyed coffee filters painstakingly made by my crippled brother; pictures going back to the ’80s when I had blue glasses and my daughter was incredibly cute with her “night night” blanket; and the crock pot she gave me years later for Christmas.

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One thing that didn’t make the cut was a Belgium waffle maker. Don’t get me wrong, I like the occasional waffle with fresh strawberries, particularly on muggy summer nights. But it was a gift from my former mother in-law and hadn’t been used since the marriage broke up five years ago.

Instead of selling it, though, I gave it to my coffee house pal, David, a vegetarian whose always just days away from being evicted as he chases his dreams of enlightening the masses to a more peaceful existence. David found real value in the gift, whereas my former mother in-law believed an expensive gift meant she owned a piece of the recipient’s soul.

I often reminded her the content of your character means more than the wealth of your wallet. She had little of the former and, despite a hefty income, never quite enough of the latter. Fortunately for her, the credit cards were seemingly endless in her quest to buy people like figurines on the mantle from the Home Shopping Network.

She always shook her head in disgust that I didn’t appreciate the intentions of her offerings.

As I decided what to take and what to sell or leave with others, I thought of the scene from the film “Fight Club” where Chuck Palaniuk says, “The things you own end up owning you. It’s only after you lose everything that you’re free to do anything.”

What I sold on Craigslist only brought in about $300. What I took with me wouldn’t fetch much more in terms of cold, hard cash.

Yet I feel surprisingly free in mind and spirit. I am not trapped by debt or stressed over moving things I don’t really need or want.

As for the ex mother-in-law and those like her, all I can think of is the insight provided by journalist and author Lionel Shriver from his 1987 novel “Checker and the Derailleurs.”

“A lot of people get so hung up on what they can’t have that they don’t think for a second about whether they really want it.”

Like most people, I will never have all that I want. But I know this for a fact. I want all that I have and, yes, it all does fit in a mid-size sedan.

Craigslist Crazies

The deal was set to go down at 11.

We would meet in the far reaches of a supermarket parking lot, away from the prying eyes of snoops. She would arrive in a nondescript black truck, me in an equally innocuous Ford sedan.  She made sure to let me know her husband would be coming along; the implied message being she would have protection if things didn’t go down as planned.

I arrived early to scope out the scene and spotted her truck pulling in. As I pulled up next to her, a cop cruised by. We stayed in our cars for a minute to let him pass and kept our cool. There no reason to attract unwanted attention.

Her husband hopped out of the truck. “You got it?”

“Yea,” I replied and handed over the goods. He handed me a wad bills, assured me it was all there, got back in the truck and they sped off.

The whole transaction took less than two minutes.

True to his word, the wad of dollar bills totaled the agreed upon asking price of $10. In return, they got a slightly used iron, a Black & Decker Duramaster Pro to be exact.

Welcome to the world of Craigslist, the online Classifieds that took hundreds of millions of dollars away from newspapers, financially crippled that industry, and let bargain hunters across the country sell their stuff for slightly more than garage sale prices.

I find it best to meet people in public places whenever possible because, as you’ll read below, there are some real nut jobs out there.

I’ve been dabbling on Craigslist for years, mostly buying cell phones for far less than the asking price and turning them over to a friend who worked at Verizon. In turn, he would sell them to people unfortunate enough to have lost or broken their phones mid-contract and didn’t want to pay full retail for a new one.

We’d split the profits, usually about $50 a piece.

In the past week, the dabbling has escalated to a part-time job. I am moving and am determined to fit everything I’m taking into to my car.

The Simmons king-sized bed my ex wasted $1,200 on – I pocketed $130.

The glass coffee table that’s impossible to keep clean – another $25.

The dining room set I spent $700 on two decades ago – another $70 in gas money.

The Ronco Rotisserie & BBQ that I got as a gift and has been used once – well, that hasn’t sold yet, even at the rock bottom price of $15. I suspect it will be in the pile that the Salvation Army will haul away.

To date, I’ve made $285 in sales and, even more important to me, I don’t have to haul the stuff away.

As I mentioned earlier, you get some whack job on Craigslist. If I can’t meet the prospective buyer in a public place, I carefully screen them before inviting them over. Couples get more points than single guys. Being polite is essential. Having a truck to haul the merchandise away is a must.

Phil didn’t pass the test by any means. He called to inquire about a $25 bookcase and was adamant I would have to deliver it.

“I don’t have a truck,” I told him.

“That’s OK,” he replied. “You can rent a U-Haul or hire somebody.”

“Um, I would lose money doing that,” I noted.

“Tough, that’s your problem,” he growled back. “You want the 25 bucks or not?”

Um, no. He sent me a text, calling me an asshole, but even he wasn’t the nuttiest of them.

That monicker is reserved for the guy who wanted the battered couch I’m trying to give away for free.

He too didn’t have a truck, but unlike Phil, he didn’t want it delivered.  Turns out he’s homeless.

“Was wondering if I could crash at your place until somebody takes it way,” he asked.

As my fiancée’s daughter noted, “Holy shit! That hobo is weird.”

I do admire his chutzpa. But as much as I respect his creative approach for free housing, I opted not to give him my address, put a mint on the pillow or leave the light on.

Even if I was that dumb, I’m too selfish. With the bed gone, I need the couch to sleep on.

Guns, Booze and the GOP Mindset

Chris and Candace are two bartenders in their 20s who rarely have time for politics – until now that is. Once I told them their safety may be jeopardized in a big way, they suddenly started paying attention.

The news that startled them to such a degree? A significant number of Republican lawmakers here in North Carolina want to let people carry handguns into bars and restaurants that serve alcohol.

Common sense and headlines across the country tell us that booze and loaded handguns don’t mix. A nationwide study three years ago by the University of California at Davis confirms that.

(Photo From BigDaveAndCompany.com)

(Photo From BigDaveAndCompany.com)

In a survey of 15,000 people, researchers found that gun owners who carry their weapons under their shirts are twice as likely as people without guns to abuse alcohol and engage in risky behavior, such as drunk driving. Binge drinking, chronic alcohol abuse and carrying a loaded firearm are common.

“It’s not surprising that risky behaviors go together,” says Garen Wintemute, author of the study and director of the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program. “This is of particular concern given that alcohol intoxication also impairs a gun user’s accuracy as well as his judgment on whether to shoot.

Well that’s not very comforting. Not only can someone waltz in with a gun in their sock, but if they pull it out, they’re likely too buzzed aim straight, meaning your safety is in jeopardy as much as the intended targets.

Both Chris, a male, and Candace, a woman, are used to seeing drunks getting out of control. They’ve heard the loud arguments, seen fights break out and watched as the occasional late-night drunk pulls out a knife. Letting folks in with guns is a formula for disaster with deadly consequences.

“Even off-duty cops aren’t allowed in here with guns,” Candace says.

“Guns and alcohol just don’t mix,” adds Chris. “I can handle almost anything – and have – but bringing a gun in here is dangerous and could be deadly. Anyone should know that.”

So why do the bill’s  four sponsors feel compelled to let North Carolina become the fifth state in the country to let folks bring concealed weapons into bars? It’s the same old paranoia. If someone else has a gun, they need one too.

“Folks have a right to protect themselves and their families,” one of them, Rep. Justin Burr, told the local daily newspaper.

Rep. Burr - Bet His Wife Isn't Happy With What He's Packing

Rep. Burr – Bet His Wife Isn’t Happy With What He’s Packing

He of course has his supporters. Should a scene straight out of Pulp Fiction ever occur in real life, many here feel it’s their sacred duty to respond in kind. Forget calling the cops, it’s time for a shoot out at the OK Corral Carolina style.

“How long are you supposed to sit in the corner and cower and wonder if police will arrive in time to save you and your family before said crazy shooter makes his way over to you? “ comments one online poster, known on the blogosphere only as “Iowapproach. “

Of course legislators are quick to point out that it is illegal to carry a weapon and consume alcohol. But such technicalities don’t stop people from drinking and driving. As the study from California points out, people who feel so paranoid that they have to carry a loaded weapon at all times also engage in other high risk behaviors.

“The highest levels of alcohol abuse were reported by gun owners who engaged in dangerous behavior with their weapons,” the study says. “For example, gun owners who also drove or rode in motor vehicles with loaded guns were more than four times as likely to drink and drive as were people who did not own guns.  But gun owners who did not travel with loaded guns were still more than twice as likely to drink and drive as were people who did not own guns.”

Here’s a sampling of just a few news items related to guns and booze.

-          An executive returning from a strip club was found in LA to be intoxicated and carrying a loaded and cocked gun on his hip at a DUI checkpoint.

-          An intoxicated police officer in Dallas pulled his revolver out from his ankle holster and accidentally fired off a round.

-          In North Carolina, bars in Raleigh, Wilmington, Rocky Mount and Winston-Salem have been closed by authorities because of shootings in the parking lot. Imagine the likelihood of more shootings if the social norm were to pack heat in any bar you went to.

Even Clayton Cramer, an author and noted gun enthusiast who writes a column for “Shotgun News,” agrees that allowing guns into bars isn’t very bright.

“Alcohol and guns don’t mix well together,” he writes. “Neither do alcohol and cars, alcohol and power tools, alcohol and ladders, alcohol and casual sex—you might say that alcohol doesn’t play well with others.”

As long as there are guns in our society – and 300,000 North Carolinians have concealed weapons permits – there will be violence. But why do our so-called diligent and thoughtful lawmakers wish to compound the problem?

Even if this legislation dies in committee – as such things often do – the fact that it was proposed in the first place is a disturbing revelation about the mindset of those who have wrestled their way into political power. At a time when the country has grown weary of gunfire and massacres, these folks – the four main sponsors and 16 co-sponsors  – actually want to make it easier for someone to get shot.

For Candace, who makes a living serving alcohol and making sure things don’t get out of hand, the mere fact a person in authority would suggest such an idea is beyond belief.

“That’s just a stupid idea – plain and simple, just stupid,” she says. “I love my job, but I won’t risk my life for it.”

But if some of the state’s GOP has their way, she may have to.

Divorce And The GOP’s ‘Tarheel Taliban’

Quick, someone call the hotline at Stop Torture Now.

The human rights group needs to sound the alarm over two lawmakers who want to inflict cruel and unusual punishment upon every unhappy couple across North Carolina  that wants to divorce and move on with life.

These two high-and-mighty-moralists from the ‘burbs of Bubbabville  have proposed legislation that would force divorcing couples to wait a full two years before they could even file the papers in court.

For you clock watchers, that’s 1.05 million agonizing minutes. And you thought waiting for 5 o’clock to come on a sunny Friday afternoon is  dreadful.

From the law firm of Lennon and Koselke

From the law firm of Lennon and Koselke

To no one’s surprise, state Senators Austin Allran and Warren Daniel are Republicans who think nothing of meddling in your private life. They believe it is their sacred duty under the guidance of God to make miserable couples stay married for as long as possible.

Is your spouse a drunk with a black belt who brandishes a loaded assault rifle after too much liquor? Too bad, you’re stuck for another two years.

Is he a pervert who peeps through the windows of teenagers and cruises adult video stores for random hookups? Hey, you married the bum, now suck it up and make it work.

Being the geniuses that they are, though, Allran and Daniel have thought up a solution to turn spiteful couples into the lovey-dovey pair they used to be. See a shrink and watch your worries disappear.

During their two year legal separation, couples would have to complete classes to improve their communication skills and resolve matrimonial conflict. As if a couple of feel good sessions with a clinical social worker is going to get your lyin’, cheatin’, scoundrel of a spouse to change.

I have my doubts. Most divorcing couples I know already have communicated two essential ideas: He’s an ass, she’s a bitch and they’ve resolved that it’s time to move on.

If approved, this new legislation would create further craziness in the arena of marriage and divorce, which in this state are still shrouded by laws enacted in Victorian times. According to legal history, the “privilege” of marriage here in the Tarheel State is to provide men with “legal access to habitual intercourse,” which in turn forces wives to provide sex whenever their husbands want. The exception, of course is “consensual fellatio and cunnilingus,” which to date are still felonies in this state.

The 'Taheel Taliban'

The ‘Taheel Taliban’

I’ve yet to meet the two senators in question, but I suspect that increasing the penalties for domestic sexual assault isn’t high on their agenda.

As for divorce laws, ours already are among the most onerous in the nation. A couple has to be legally separated “emotionally and physically” for one year before they can file for divorce. Having sex with someone else during this period is adultery, a misdemeanor. The couple even  is barred from privately agreeing  that it’s OK to sleep with others. That would constitute a “conspiracy” to break the law.

They can, however,  have “isolated incidents of sexual intercourse” with each other during the separation. I kid you not. I knew one couple from my own neighborhood where the woman boasted she would “toss him a blowie” every Saturday in exchange for mowing the yard. She’d go all the way if the garbage disposal needed fixing.

Allran and Daniel would end this. Their bill bans sex of any kind between the couple during their two year separation, regardless of how tall the grass is getting. Any violations would result in the judge forcing the couple to resume marital relations or, at the least, restart the two-year clock.

Unfortunately, the ramifications of this bill could prove violent or even deadly.

Beatings, stabbings and shooting among couples do, in fact, happen far too often and the hostilities of divorce proceedings generally inflame already volatile emotions. Children regularly are used as pawns in divorce proceedings and both their physical and mental well-beings are at stake.

“The sanctity of marriage, in their view, is more important than a woman or a man remaining in an abusive situation that could quite possibly end in murder-suicide,” comments Janet Shan for the public policy watchdog group, Hinterland Gazette. “It’s mind boggling that forcing a woman to stay in a failed and toxic relationship is more important than supporting gun control legislation.”

Adding another year to the proceedings would give the mean spirited amongst us more time to manipulate the system and make their spouse’s life a living hell. Such belligerent acts would not surprise me in this state, which is known for its extremes.

For example, North Carolina remains one of only 10 states that still have “crimes against nature” laws on the books. As recently as five years ago, police in the capital city of Raleigh arrested two gay men on felony charges for engaging in sexual relations, even though they were in the privacy of their own homes.

You can see how the lunatic fringe here can do reprehensible things and, in a very real way, cause harm to others who have done nothing immoral or wrong.

In this case, these two lawmakers have earned the right to be labeled lunatics who unfortunately wield real power and seek to impose a third world culture on the rest of us.

I’m not alone in this assessment. A local political commentator who blogs under the name “Thurman” for the web site BlueNC, agrees  and takes things a step further.

“Forcing adults who are ready to end their relationship to stay married a day longer than necessary only makes a bad situation worse,” Thurman writes, “and if they have children, as my first wife and I do, they are the ones who suffer most.

“If Senators Allran and Daniel want to impose their personal morality on the people they represent I would respectfully suggest that perhaps they should move to Afghanistan. I hear the Taliban is always looking for new recruits.”

Your Package Does Not Compute

You know the saying. To err is human, but to really muck things up, you need a computer.

Such was the case with the post office when my mom tried to send me a package by Priority Mail, which is the frugal person’s two-day delivery alternative to Fed Ex.

But due to a comedy of errors – both of the human and computerized kind –  this was not a usual case and it took 10 days for the box to arrive from my mom’s home in Battle Creek, Michigan,  to my place in Raleigh, North Carolina. By the way, that’s twice as long as the pony express would have taken back in its heyday.

Here’s the story.

As some of you know, I have a painful nerve condition in my feet that no herbal remedy or prescription medication has helped. But earlier this month, my mom found a new supplement that held out the promise of relief.

Being the loving mother she is, and excited at her find, she put the supplements in the first box she came upon, one that originally contained a fresh supply of personal checks from her bank. She wrote my name on an address label, dashed to the post office, and paid the extra couple of dollars to have it sent Priority Mail.

Alas, in her rush, she forgot to do one key thing. She didn’t cross out her address that was imprinted on the other side of the box when it was sent by the Bradford Exchange Checks.

No human being at post office caught the oversight and, as we learned, having two addresses on one box befuddles the post office’s scanning equipment.

The shipment history, courtesy of the post office’s computerized tracking data:

Monday – Mom drops off the box at her local post office, with an expected delivery date of two days later. The package is shipped to a central Sorting Center in nearby Grand Rapids where, by a stroke of luck, the scanner reads the side of the package with my address.

Wednesday – The package arrives as scheduled in Raleigh. But our luck runs out and the scanner reads my mom’s address on the other side of the package. Unable to process the contradictory information, the main frame condemns the box to the postal service’s equivalent of purgatory, better known as “Bin A.” This is where thousands of problem packages are dumped for the nigh shift to sort through.

Thursday – Mom calls the post office and gets nothing more than an automated voice tree, which doesn’t have an option for “Sorry, But You’re Screwed. Should Have Paid Closer Attention.”

Friday – I start a round of calls to various postal service employees. Most have no idea how to help and blame it on the all-powerful “computer system.” One customer service representative, however, takes the time to check the records, discovers the problem of dual addresses, and alerts postal workers Raleigh and Grand Rapids to be on the lookout for the errant package.

Maybe their email system crashed, but the night shift didn’t get the notice in time.

Saturday – The box once again is run through the scanner, which deems my mother’s address to be correct, and orders the package sent back to Michigan.

Sunday – One full week after my mom went to her local post office, our luck returns. The employees at the Grand Rapids Sorting Center get the notice, intercept the package before the scanner can have its way, and ships it back to Raleigh.

But alas, the package is still cursed.

On the following Wednesday, my carrier tried to deliver the package, but I wasn’t home to sign for it. Never mind that Priority Mail doesn’t require a signature, that’s just the nature of this tale, one misfortune leads to another.

That night, with no package in hand, I punched the 16-digit tracking number for about the 50th time into the post office’s web site. I learned of the ill-fated delivery attempt and was instructed to fill out the redelivery form left on my door.

Of course, there was no notice on the door.

The next morning, I called customer service again. The agent was baffled at this turn of events and offered to transfer me to my local post office for further assistance.

Even that didn’t work out. The call was disconnected during the transfer.

I had to get back to work, so I left matters to fate. I decided the package would arrive when the Universe deemed it appropriate. Fortunately, that was just a matter of hours. When I came home that night, the package was in my mailbox, no signature required.

In total, my packaged traveled more than 1,700 miles, the equivalent of sending it to the International Space Station seven times.

There is one silver lining in this story. I double checked with the authorities and confirmed that Santa still relies on elves, not technology. For that, we are lucky because without the elves, one miscue would prevent millions from getting their Christmas presents until well past New Year’s.

That would be a disaster. No one should have to wait past the appointed hour to get their new I-Pad, smart phone, or laptop. As we all know, such pieces of advanced technology are vastly superior to mere humans.

Update: After all that, the supplement, like everything else I’ve tried, did not work. If anyone has any suggestions on how to deal with neuropathy caused by chemo, please dash me a note.

Weekly Photo Challenge:Forward

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This week’s challenge from WordPress is this: Take a photograph that depicts the idea of “forward.”

I took this shot earlier this month  while riding with Andrea in her Chevy Cobalt through downtown Pittsburgh.

Some background: Andrea is my fiancée. She lives in Pittsburgh; I live 506.9 miles away in Raleigh, N.C. Yes, I googled our distance apart before I ever called her 18 months ago.

We met in a private Facebook room for people whose ex-spouses have certain lifestyle characteristics that I shall keep private for now. I will say it leaves us broken in mind and spirit, and very wary of relationships. Even the idea of “trust” became a very distant concept.

Our chance online meeting came shortly after I had recovered with my battle with the Big C. I was about to be laid off. She was one-quarter of the way through studying to become a respiratory therapist after her employer closed shop and moved to Mexico.

We texted. We emailed. We talked.  We had our similarities (we both like John Irving’s obscure novel, “The Water Method Man”) and we had our differences (how anyone can’t love hockey is beyond me). We overcame our hesitancy and reluctance and moved ahead one step at a time.

It didn’t take long for it dawn on us both. We loved each other. Two imperfect people in imperfect situations who are perfect for each other. Together, we put the bruises life had given us in the past and now plan a happy future together.

Andrea graduated a week ago and her job prospects are excellent. I work for a good company with a great owner. The Big C is gone and my strength and energy are coming back.

We see each other once every eight or 10 weeks, but that part of our journey soon will end.

By the end of April, she and I will be living in the same house, enjoying each other’s presence daily. We are getting married this fall when the leaves are as red as the heart on a Valentine’s card. We trust each other with our strengths, our weaknesses, our joys, our sorrows, our hopes, our fears.

We are moving forward, as individuals and as a couple.

Details on The Weekly Photo Challenge can be found here.

Turning North Carolina Into ‘North Cruelina’

An open letter to North Carolina’s new governor.

Dear Governor McCrory,

When you ran for office last fall, you campaigned as moderate conservative who wanted to build a better North Carolina, not destroy it.

You lied. Based on what you’ve done since taking office, it’s time to change our state’s name from North Carolina to what it has become under your authority, “North Cruelina.”

(At least you’re cronies have resolved the controversial issue of nipples and butts. More on that in just a bit)..facebook_627045530

For the moment, it’s become obvious you’re nothing more than a Tea Party puppet whose only interest lies in serving the kingpins who spent millions of dollars to buy you this election.

You made that clear early on when you appointed Art Pope, a billionaire conservative far to the right of Ronald Reagan, to the key post of budget and policy chief after he spent millions to ensure you and others of your bent were elected to office.

The headline “Wealthy Wingnut Art Pope Steps Up To Screw North Carolina” on the watchdog website Crooks & Liars is proving true.

At least you have job security for a few more years, governor. That’s not the case for hundreds of thousands of others.

We have the nation’s fifth highest rate of unemployment, with nearly one of every 10 people looking for a job unable to find one.

Your solution? Job retraining programs?  Convince companies to relocate to the state and create new jobs? Offer small businesses tax breaks so they can afford to hire more employees?

Of course not.  That would make sense. Instead, you cut unemployment benefits by a third, reduced the amount of time the assistance is available by nearly half, and made sure the unemployed aren’t eligible for  extended federal benefits.

From your luxurious lifestyle, I’m sure it’s easy to assume families can make it on $350 or less a week when your job comes with such perks like living for free in a mansion, free food cooked by a state-employed chef and a free car, complete with gas, insurance and chauffeur.

Are you really trying to lower the unemployment rate by encouraging people without jobs to move? Are you sure the official title of your unemployment bill shouldn’t have been “Let ‘Em Become Tennessee’s Problem?”

We do, of course, have a large amount of people fortunate enough to have jobs. Unfortunately, many of them make just enough to pay the bills but can’t afford health insurance. Yet you and your cronies in the Legislature rejected a plan that would have expanded Medicaid to an additional 680,000 residents at no cost to the state.

Penny-wise and pound foolish? Nope, that’s not a wise decision in the slightest. When people are forced to go to the Emergency Room for health care, the costs are much higher, but you seem to hell-bent on making the point that the working-class poor don’t deserve proper medical care.

Meanwhile, your education plan is nothing more than a ploy to create a subservient working class whose only purpose is to make you and your boys even wealthier. I couldn’t believe it when you said over and over that the primary purpose of schools should be changed to training kids for jobs, as if they were any available to begin with.

Did you really believe no one would notice your plan de-emphasizes teaching students the critical thinking needed for them to become leaders in their own right? It seems your goal is to create an enslaved class of workers to serve their corporate masters for years on end. Perhaps you’re afraid that anyone with an IQ above 100 would dare challenge your authority and come up with common sense plans to move this state forward.

Let me conclude with the Republican Legislature’s landmark achievement so far.

With everything going on, they took the time to make sure it is a felony – with real jail time awaiting – for a woman to show her nipples in public, except when breastfeeding.

Apparently butts, though, are OK. A plan to ban the teenage ritual of “mooning” still doesn’t warrant hard time.

Which leads me to only one logical conclusion.

You and your pals don’t mind showing the world what complete asses and total butt-heads you are. Too bad the  rest of us are the ones being dumped on.

The Creepy Photog At Walmart

The hunt was on.

Armed only with a blind email address, I wanted to track down the middle-age creep who approached a friend of mine from the coffee shop while she shopped at Walmart. He asked if she wanted to make a few bucks posing for pictures on adult-oriented web sites.

She didn’t.

As you can imagine, she was unnerved, scared and freaked out. No one goes shopping and expects to be approached by a greasy-haired guy in sweat pants to pose for online sites that cater to whack jobs. Screenshot_2013-02-14-19-46-57_0But he handed her his business card and when she recounted her story, she passed the info on to me.

The encounter only lasted a few seconds and the pervy photog was low key before he moved on to scout for other prey. He had to be subtle. The head of security at Walmart later told me they’d already banned him from the store but he still sneaks in, hidden among the crowd.

His card had little information, just an email address, “moneycanthurt@gmail.com.” No phone number was listed, just a photo of a camera and the phrases “Voluptuous Modeling,” “Sexy Has No Size!!!,” and “You Have Been Scouted.”

“Don’t delay,” the card said, “email us today!”

So I did, but I didn’t want to tip my hand just yet. I didn’t think he’d respond to a pissed off guy offended by his behavior.

Step One: Create a fake hotmail account using a woman’s name.

Step Two: Send an email saying he’d given a card to a friend of mine at Walmart. She wasn’t interested, but I may be.

Step Three: Wait.

In less than an hour, the pervy dude wrote back and was nice enough to give me his name, Bernard Friend, his personal email address, his phone number, and an invite to call anytime between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m.

Before I did, I decided to do a little checking around. His email included the names of some websites he worked with. I sent them emails asking if they’d ever heard of Bernie.

One confirmed he was an independent contractor whose work they used on occasion. Their site featured women in sheer lingerie on the front page. Another said he was a talent scout; if he found a woman suitable for their site, they would fly her down to Florida for a photo session and give Bernie a finder’s fee. That site had topless models and section labeled “Fetishes.”

Another helps models set up their own web sites in exchange for 45 percent of any cash it may generate from online voyeurs with more green than gray matter. Bernie takes another cut for making introductions and taking the pictures.

Now that I had some info, I decided to give him a call.

Question: “What right do you have walking up to strangers at Walmart and asking them to pose for porn?”

He got defensive: “That’s not pornography,” he insisted. “Pornography is people defecating, or animals, or midgets, or children.”

“That’s not the point,” I replied. “What right do you have stalking people at Walmart in the first place? You creeped out my friend.”

“I’m not a stalker. I’m polite,” he replied. “She could have said ‘No thank you’ and handed me back my card.”

“I don’t care how polite you are,” I pressed on. “It’s one thing to advertise on Craigslist, it’s another to walk up to women out of the blue and scare them at Walmart.”

“I go to several Walmarts. I get approached by girl scouts all the time trying to sell me cookies,” he replied. “Is that harassment? No. If I don’t want any, I say ‘No thank you’ and move on. Your friend could have done the same.”

We went back and forth for several minutes, but Bernie never did get the point. Not that I expected him to. I’ll confess my real goal was to verbally bitch slap him a few times.

As a final step, I called the head of security at the store. She told me Bernie sounded familiar and that he’d been banned from the store before.

“We are in a Catch-22,” she said. “We don’t want him in the store and have banned him because we don’t allow soliciting. But since there was no physical harm, we can’t call the police.”

She did, however, pull the security tapes of Bernie in action. She made prints and handed them out to the managers with orders to kick him off the property if he shows up again.

Guess what Bernie?

This time you’re on camera.

And no one is smiling.

So, You Think Writing Is Fun Or Romantic? Guess Again

Note: I’ve known Barbara Walsh for nearly 25 years since our days working together as journalists at the “South Florida Sun-Sentinel.” She recently recounted what it was like to write her first book, August Gale: A Father and Daughter’s Journey into the Storm. In this short piece, she describes better than anyone I’ve met on what it’s like to be a writer.

Book-Writing Madness and Mommy Crankiest

By Barbara Walsh

My hair stuck out in five different directions.

Dark circles creased my eyes, my clothes were mismatched, rumpled and a peculiar, sinister gaze settled upon my face.

In the words of my daughters: “You looked like Frankenstein and acted like Crankenstein.” BarbaraWalsh

I do not deny the accusations. While I wrote August Gale: A Father and Daughter’s Journey into the Storm, I transformed into a moody, manic monster. Locking myself in my office for long periods of time, I refused to come out or let anyone in. I lost track of anything but my goal: A March 1, 2011 deadline to do something I had never attempted before − write a book.

The task terrified me. When I first received a publishing contract, I cried. I was both elated and apprehensive. “What if I can’t do this?” I asked my daughter, Nora.

“Of course you can, Mommy,” she reassured, offering me a hug.

In a show of support, Nora and her sister, Emma began building my “writing family,” a collection of trinkets they placed on my desk to cheer me on. The miniature stuffed animals, butterflies, hearts, angels, and a small, plastic smiling monkey kept me company while I wrote.

As the snow fell and fell some more, I struggled to write a book that blends both sea drama and memoir, stories of my Newfoundland sea-faring ancestors and the grandfather who abandoned my dad as a young boy.

The story consumed me. I thought about paragraphs, chapters, characters, and words 24/7. In my head, I rewrote sentences at three and four in the morning, in the grocery store, while I ran, cross-country skied or cooked.

My thousand-yard, vacant stare did not go unnoticed by my daughters, who complained that I threw “like random things” at them for dinner, shrieked instead of talked, and had little tolerance for noise, distractions − or even breathing − outside my office door.

There were moments (very few) that my daughters were allowed in my writing room. They knew the words that would get them through the door.

“I want a hug,” Nora shouted.

“I want to tell you I love you,” Emma hollered.

My husband Eric understood the weight of this book, the emotional angst it stirred deep in my soul. For months, he took the girls away on weekends and vacations to bowling alleys, movies, and basketball games, leaving me alone, lost in my words.

The coonhound comprehended, too, that something was awry with his master. He offered extra dog licks and wisely retreated to his bed, sensing my madness and unease.

august galeTwo weeks before my deadline, my daughters began the countdown, marking the days until their mother returned to their world. “How many more chapters Mommy?” they asked each afternoon.

Fittingly, on Fat Tuesday, just before the end of Mardi Gras, I finished the last chapter. There were many happy dances that evening with my daughters, my husband and the coonhound.

Emma stared at my eyes, recognizing a focus, a reconnection to her.

“I was away for awhile wasn’t I?”

She nodded, “You were somewhere else.”

Nora held me close and agreed. “You were gone for a long time Mommy. I’m glad you’re back.”

Years from now, I hope my girls forget about my manic moods, the locked door and my ever-present pajama top, and remember instead that their mother overcame a challenge that tested her confidence, perseverance, and passion.

And that she returned.

Reprinted with permission. August Gale recently was released in paperback. You can order it here at Amazon and I hope you do. As a journalist, by the way, Barbara won the Pulitzer Prize, journalism’s highest award. On a personal note, her husband, Eric, plays a mean third base in softball.

JulietJeskeblog.com

Comedian, Writer, Not So Bitter Divorcee

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