Monday, June 29

"Say It Ain't So, Joe..."

The last couple of weeks have brought the news that several personalities of note have passed from life into the niches of our collective memories. Ed McManhon of "Here's Johnny!" fame, Farah Fawcett, iconic poster babe and one of the trio of Charlie's Angel's, Michael Jackson, the undisputed "King of Pop" and equally undisputed King of Weird, and finally, Billy Mays, "King of the Yell and Sell" infomercials, who passed away this weekend at the age of 50 in his home in Tampa, Florida. As a society compulsively obsessed with the tinsel-tinged lives of celebrity, we make special note of each individual of notoriety not so much for what and who each was in life, but as a milestone to gage where we are in life. When a personality dies, we cannot help but peak over our own shoulders and compare our road to mortality with theirs. It is not unlike checking daily the obituaries in our local newspaper to see if anyone we know has gone on to the great beyond and silently being thankful that the bell with our name on it has yet to be rung.

And then there are the lesser know lights who, upon their final exhaled breath, fail to make even a ripple in the collective conscience of the world audience. One such obscure personality, who just recently cashed in his chips at age 92, is Mr. John Joseph Houghtaling (pronounced "HUFF-tay-ling," (for those of you keeping score). You may not know the name, but if you grew up in the 60's, 70's and 80's you may have some familiarity (some to a larger degree than perhaps others) with his titillating invention...the vibrating bed, otherwise known in the industry of Mom & Pop hoteliers as Magic Fingers.

The initial introduction of Magic Fingers was inauspicious at best, consisting of a too small motor connected to a flimsy wire box spring box mattress, which was at best inconsistent in reliable performance. ("Quit feeding the bed money, Herb! I can't hear the TV!") John Joseph was not to be deterred, however, in his quest to put the Magic Fingers vibrating bed in every hotel and motel room in America. Undaunted, Houghtaling returned to the drawing board to refine his product, determined to cash in on an anticipated avalanche of quarters from curious motel guests. The next iteration turned out to be much more successful, permitting guests to purchase for twenty-five cents 15 minutes of "luxurious shaking." Before selling his company in 1980, Houghtaling had marketed over $1 million of the devices that were consistently generating $2 million dollars in sales a month. That's a lot of quarters and "a whole bunch of shaking goin' on." Alas, over the last couple of decades Magic Fingers has all but disappeared from all but a few obscure motel and hotel rooms. Thieves discovered that the coin boxes were easy targets, and soon thereafter weekly profits began to very steadily decline to the point where maintenance costs over-shadowed profit. Pity...

Imagine the myriad of stories that no doubt could be told by the thousands of patrons who embarked on that first 15 minutes of vibrating luxury...

"Did you feel the earth move, Edwina?" "No, Billy Bob... Put another quarter in the coin box and we'll give it another go!"

A finer man could not have come out of Kansas City, Missouri on November 16, 1916 than one Mr. John Joseph Houghtaling. Inventor, entrepreneur, a man with a dream to give new meaning to the word relaxation. Rest in peace, my good man. It's your turn.

Friday, June 26

"It's Lost It's Meaning..."

I looked it up. The word "Icon." It means "somebody or something widely and uncritically admired, especially somebody or something symbolizing a movement or field of activity." Okay, as far as the far-reaching impact on changing the face of the music industry that he had for the better part of three decades, I'll put a check mark in that category besides Michael Jackson's name. I also looked up the word "bizarre." It means "amusingly or grotesquely odd, strange or unusual." Out of the possible check marks in this category, Michael Jackson gets three out of four.

Unless you've been sequestered under your living room couch for the past couple of days, you are no doubt aware, as is the rest of the civilized world - thanks to the relentless drooling coverage by all the major news media, that Michel Jackson died yesterday at the age of 50 from an apparent heart attack. One would think by the instant and now persistent gnashing of teeth and renting of perfectly functional garments by the thousands of Michael Jackson devotees around the world that someone of major significance had departed this earth. I don't know, I'm thinking of perhaps someone of true iconic stature such as a Abraham Lincoln, or a Gandi, or a Sister Teressa. When it comes to placing an individual on such a lofty pedestal, as has been the immediate reaction with Michael Jackson, I think we are sadly and profoundly missing the mark.

One teary-eyed individual, when asked by a reporter his reaction to the news of Jackson's passing, stated that the event would be so profound in his life that he would "always remember where he as and what he was doing when he first heard the news." This is an individual, in my opinion, who apparently lives a very shallow and meaningless life, if indeed Michael Jackson is to serve as a pivotal moment of reflection in his otherwise hum-drum existence. I clearly remember what I was doing and where I was when the news broke that President John F. Kennedy had been killed by an assassin's bullet in Dallas, Texas. I remember what I was doing and where I was when the space shuttle Challenger exploded soon after liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center on January 28th, 1986, and I certainly can recall precisely where I was and what I was doing on the morning of September 11th, 2001. My guess is that what occurred on yesterday's date will fade into my lost memory bank just as assuredly as what I had for lunch on that same day. Sorry Michael, you just don't measure up in my opinion of what an icon is and should represent.

Make no mistake, Jackson was a true musical genius, who was ahead of his time in innovative showmanship, lyrical inventiveness and generation influence. But his personal life, far too often played out pathetically in the ever glaring and inquisitive public eye, was a travesty. No doubt his music will live on, appreciated and mimicked by those, like myself, who grew up with Michael when he first burst on the stage as the lead singer for the Jackson Five. But this dangerous world in which we tenuously reside needs more individuals who can achieve true iconic status by acts that rise to the necessary level of adoration for living an exemplary life in all aspects of their existence...not merely for having given a good performance.

If I am to morn Michael Jackson's passing at all it is because he lived such an apparently sad and lonely life...a life cut short by his own lifestyle misdeeds. Released now is he from his earthly pain...and that is a blessing. That having been said...let's move on.

Monday, June 22

"May I Take Your Beverage Order?"

We're back... Home again from a quick and very relaxing few days literally soaking in the sun at Ft. Myers Beach...about a two and a half hour drive south of our St. Petersburg home. To say it is unusually hot here in central Florida is like suggesting that McDonalds merely serves hamburgers. The day time high temperatures have been averaging 96 degrees with a heat index of 105! Judi and I can attest, as we spent the better part of three days dividing our time between lathering on copious amounts of sunscreen and washing it off again and again when we sought relief from the oppresive heat in the pool. I was a taxing assignment, but somebody had to do it.

Aside from just lolling away the hours beside and in the pool, there were a few other incidents that yours truly, the ever careful observer of the human condition, took note of. In this installment I relay what transpired when Judi and I made the decision to go foraging for breakfast late Sunday morning. A couple of other human interest stories (so to speak) I'll relay in an up-coming post.

After about a ten minute drive we happened upon a storefront establishment entitled The Island Pancake Cafe. Consisting of two smallish rooms with perhaps twenty tables and a kitchen so small that you had to go outside in order to change your mind, it was packed to the gills with customers who all appeared to be noticeably irritated at the lack of service they were receiving. Seating ourselves at a vacant table, we soon learned the reason for their peevishness. Sailing into the room where we found an available table came a wisp of a young woman who announced to the patrons seated directly behind us, "Don't ask for anything special or anything quick! I'm it! I'm the only waitress working!" And she turned and disappeared just as quickly as she had appeared, leaving a couple dozen very hungry customers wondering what do think or do next.

As aside before I continue with the story... My wife Judi loves to eat. I don't mean at all that she spends her every waking moment consuming large quantities of food just because its readily accessible. I mean she loves good food and especially the opportunity to do so whenever we eat out. She lives to eat. I, on the other hand, eat to live. This vast difference in approach becomes glaringly apparent when a menu is presented to her for her perusal, an exercise she embraces with a determination not unlike a scientist trying to unlock the DNA secrets of a prehistoric caveman. We could frequent an eating establishment as innocuous as Bert's House Of Toast, where the only two selections are wheat or rye, and Judi is always going to need a few extra minutes in order to make up her mind. Going to any restaurant that offers pages of potentially enticing selections, and we're talking gridlock! I base my selections primarily on the nice pictures. If it looks good presented in a four color, hi-gloss format, I figure it can't kill me. I'll give it a whirl. Judi is still reading the fine print long after I've decided that two eggs. over light with white toast and a side of pancakes will see me nicely through until lunch...probably at the same establishment.

Back to the story... Within two minutes of my having first flipped open the menu, I had made my breakfast food selection (See above...). Judi (try not to be shocked) was once again pouring over the menu with her usual intensity, whereupon I decided, based on the waitress's frantic announcement of exasperation, to leave Judi to her in-depth menu dissection. I retired to the outside to partake of a few additional puffs of my morning cigar. This is where I meet Louis, a gentleman of apparent Cuban decent, who was one of the individuals occupying the table directly behind ours, and who had been the recipient of the waitress's tirade. The first words out of his mouth were, as he exhaled the smoke from his cigarette, "This is Father's day and all that woman does is nag, nag, nag." What is a person suppose to do with that comment? I resorted to my old stand by..."Where you from?" Figured this would get him off on another more palatable track, one that I would hopefully have a ghost of chance of not having to either defend the entire male chauvinistic race, or disparage the other remaining half of the human equation. It worked. We introduced ourselves...said he was from Miami...hated it with a passion there...liked the laid back life style of this neck of the woods...and proceeded to present me with an abridged Reader's Digest version of his family tree...which didn't include the lady to whom he had disparagingly remarked. That was his "girlfriend" of ten years, who he was giving odds would not be so by the time the sun set later that same day. After enduring his unquenchable tirade for 15 minutes, he shook my hand and hoped that I, at least, would have a Happy Father's Day. I assured him that I would give it my best shot.

Re-entering the restaurant and seating myself at our table, Judi was nowhere to be found. I assumed that she had excused herself to visit the lady's room. Hardly... Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Judi in the next room talking with a group of seated, waiting customers. Then she moved on to the next table. Then a third. Knowing and loving Judi, as I most certainly do, I assumed that she was working the room, she being able to easily engage total strangers in conversation that would eventually have that person reveal his or her entire life history, employment status, bank statement and their social security number. That's when I observed that she had a pen and a small slip of paper in her hand and she was writing something down. It turned out that she was taking drink orders for each of the tables she visited. A few moments later, back she came with their orders of water, orange juice and coffee. She worked both rooms and got all of the orders correct, including mine, and then off she dashed to re-visit each table to supply re-fills to all who requested same. Judi, with no prior experience at waiting tables, had assessed a trying situation for this poor, overwhelmed waitress and marched herself up to the cook (also the owner) and asked if she could help. He emphatically said "No!," but she persisted and he relented. A restaurant that had mere minutes before been filled to capacity with very irate customers, now was an oasis of tranquility. A simple act of kindness on Judi's part had hopefully imparted to all who fell under her spell of genuine consideration that the remaining day would be one of promise of good will to follow. I as very proud of her and she, rightfully so, was proud that she had been so bold in not just wanting to help, but to indeed be of help. Some times just a well placed smile will save a day. Some times an unselfish act of kindness will change a person forever. I am sure the little waitress was more than appreciative of Judi's intervention into her day...and she will find a future opportunity to play it forward for some other person in search of a kind word, or in need of a friendly smile, or a random act of unselfish kindness.

As for the cook...he never expressed even a look of appreciation, much less a work of thanks. That's okay. I told him his eggs were too runny!

Next up...the Alpha and Omega, the Yin and the Yang of a few people who populated the pool at our motel. There are just some folks who should not be let out into public without being under close personal supervision.

Friday, June 19

"Taking A Few For The Gipper..."

It's been decided... After many arduous weeks and months of trying to keep our heads above water, Judi and I have decided to give it a rest and check our for a few days. We leave tomorrow for a quick three day weekend in some tropical location further south. We both just need to forget about all the financial matters that have been weighing heavily on us all these many weeks, take a long overdue breather, and engage in nothing more strenuous than watching the sun track across the sky. Sounds like a winner to me...

I've got a good book to read... I've packed my swimsuit... Got our portable radio... A few libations to be chilled... What else is necessary? Can't think of a thing.

So... There's a couple of beach chairs with our names on then waiting for us. We'll take possession of them tomorrow and not relinquish them without a fight until late Monday...maybe Tuesday. Depends on how well the libations hold out. Later...

Friday, June 12

Top Ten Reasons David Letterman Is A Jerk..."

Any long time devotee to late night television will quickly tell you that when Johnny Carson retired after 30 years of hosting the Tonight Show, this unique genre took a perceptible nosedive in entertainment value. Widely acclaimed as "The King of Nighttime Television," Carson left an immediate and largely unfilled void in non-offensive, yet highly creative amusement quotient to be filled across the major networks by the more enduring Carson-wannabes, Jay Leno and David Letterman.

As evidence of his success for 17 years as Johnny's hand-picked replacement, Leno did an admirable job in up-holding the tradition of topical comedy without being overtly offensive, with many of Leno's staple comedy routines becoming just as memorable as were his mentor's. Whether or not Leno's successor, Conan O'Brien (a Ronald McDonald lookalike, stand-in double) will prove just as popular and enduring as Jay remains to be determined. O'Brien's brand of comedy is an acquired taste, and after only a few short weeks as the newly crowned host of the Tonight Show, O'Brien's ratings for palatable consumption have fallen precipitously.

Having endured an initial drop in nightly viewership, Late Night With David Letterman, is again experiencing a rebound in returning viewership now that the blooms on Connan's rose are wilting. Unfortunately the increased television audience had arrived back just in time to partake in the latest in a long and despicable history of Letterman's attack style of comedy. Not being content to merely make disparaging asides about anything morally conservative, Letterman has turned in recent years to pointedly spearing anyone who would dare espouse a philosophy contrary to his own elitist and liberal views. Letterman's nightly segment Great Moments in Presidential Speeches was designed to not only make deliberate jabs at then President, George W. Bush's oft misguided foibles with the English language, but thinly veiled his personal dislike for the President and genuine disdain for anything or anyone associated with the Republican administration. One would be hard pressed to find a bigger cheerleader for regime change prior to the 'o8 election than was Letterman.

Apparently unwilling but more likely unable (he having not written a decent joke since he was a writer for The Tonight Show) to instruct his staff of writers to concoct more timely and topical jokes, Letterman continues to find tasteless fodder in a continuing barrage of crude barbs directed toward recognized conservative personalities, Alaskan Sarah Palin being of late the target most often squared up in his cross hairs. Included in a recent "Top Ten" list, Letterman's classless fair suggested that Governor Palin had shopped at Bloomingdales while on a recent trip to New York for the purpose of purchasing makeup "to up-date her slutty flight attendant look." Not funny...not even mildly so. Although the equally mindless audience dutifully laughed when so instructed to do so by the flashing "laugh" sign. Letterman's monologue included the myopic line, "One awkward moment for Sarah Palin at the Yankee game, during the seventh inning, her daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez." Again, the vapid vacuum of Letterman's audience regaled in unthinking and uncaring laughter. Shame on them and shame on Letterman, although I believe that Letterman possess not one shred of remorse for anything he says or does as long as it suites his short-tempered and self-indulgent ego.

President Obama issued a stern warning to the media during the Presidential campaign that any attempts to malign members of his immediate family was strictly "off limits." Such an admonishment appears to apply only to our Democrat President's family...and all others who willingly march to the liberal drumbeat, including late night pundit comics like Letterman, are left unfettered to spew their vitriolic hatred toward anyone they please, and especially to those who have and will continue to call into serious question the current path that the current administration is pursuing of unrestrained social re-engineering to our system of government and economic stability.

Blind-eyed CBS and Mr. Letterman could care less whether or not I chose to tune into view another Late Night show, which I won't. That makes it official. I could care less also. My personally boycotting Letterman's show or any of his supporting sponsors would be of little consequence to either entities success of failure. Just know that I find David Letterman to be thoroughly repugnant and despicable in ever sense of the two words. So much so that I offer my own "Top Ten" list of why"Letterman Is A Jerk."

Reason Number 10: Has a closet full of designer sweatshirts that read, "I am a despicable human being and proud of it!"

Reason Number 9: After 17 years, still pissed that Leno got Tonight Show gig and he didn't.

Reason Number 8: After only four weeks, really pissed that Conan got Tonight Show gig and he didn't.

Reason Number 7: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences refuses to take his repeated phone call pleas to be permitted to again host the annual awards ceremony.

Reason Number 6: When Letterman calls his mother, she always answers the phone, "David who?! Then hangs up.

Reason Number 5: Finds it perfectly acceptable that it took him five years before he finally decided to marry the mother of his child.

Reason Number 4: His idea of socializing is to stand in front of a mirror for hours on end just admiring his reflection.

Reason Number 3: Only person in the universe who doesn't think his mimicking sidekick Paul Shaffer doesn't look like Warren T. Rat in the animated movie An American Tail.

Reason Number 2: Has a plaque on his desk that says. "If It Weren't For Me The Sun Would Have No Reason To Shine!"

And The Number One Reason David Letterman Is A Jerk: He's An Egomaniacal Ass!!

Wednesday, June 10

"Big Lizards And A Host Of Other Imaginings..."

"Let me tell you about my dreams last night." Thus was I yet once again regaled with a full accounting of Judi's most recent nocturnal exploits. After twenty-six years being married to this wonderful woman, I can pretty much predict that at least a couple of times each week I will be greeted with the above statement. There is no escaping her ardent desire to go into vivid and exhausting detail, excitingly explaining what see saw and did. Some recountings taking as much as twenty minutes to fully come to fruition, and I know better than to prematurely excuse myself before the travelogue has concluded...even if my bladder is screaming out in excruciating pain.

I've read somewhere that men dream in black and white and women in technicolor. I am sure that I occasionally dream, but it is rare that upon awakening do I remember having done so. Judi, on the other hand, appears to dream in high definition and is wired into the latest version of Dolby surround sound. Where she goes while in her dream state no Hollywood script writer could ever come close to duplicating. I am somewhat envious of her ability, as could I produce even a fraction of her escapes, my blog posts would no doubt be far more entertaining.

I suppose I should have had an inkling of her imaginative skills when she and I were on our honeymoon at Santibel Island, Florida. On one evening we decided to take an excursion to the adjoining Captiva Island in order that we might witness the renowned sunsets from that location. Driving leisurely along the two-lane highway, we were about halfway to our destination traveling through an undeveloped area that was only occasionally dotted with a residence nestled in among the dense, tropical fauna, when Judi suddenly blurted out, "Did you see that big lizard!?! Let's go back and see!" I had not, but dutifully, and admittedly with some measure of personal curiosity, I turned the car around and entered the narrow gravel road where Judi had witnessed her big lizard. "That's the biggest lizard I have ever seen in my life!," she exclaimed as I slowly inched forward until we reached an elevated portion of the roadway that crossed over one of the thousands of narrow canals that crisscross the island. I stopped the car. Off to our right we saw the big lizard. Casually swimming away from us in the middle of the canal was the biggest bull alligator I personally had ever seen in my life. The creature was so big that if provoked it could have easily ripped off the front of our automobile. "They may have big lizards in Ohio" (where Judi hails), said I, "but in Florida we call them alligators." Judi, bless her heart, was noticeably embarrassed, but we both laughed at her missed identification and commented that this would be a memory we would always enjoy. Turns out to be true.

Then there are the many times when she has fallen asleep on the couch in the evenings while I continue to watch television. There must be an internal switch that gets activated the instant she drifts off into never-never land that announces "All Aboard!" and she's off on another one of her sleep state adventures. That's all well and good until she revives to semi-conscientiousness and mingles what she is dreaming about with what she perceives to be reality on the television screen. "Are those cardboard people?," she asked one late evening while I was laughing at the antics of the guests on the Late Night Show. "What?", I asked as I turned to witness the totally perplexed look on her face. "Those are all cardboard people...and they're talking!" I did my best to try and explain the true facts of the matter, but my efforts were futile as she continued to insist, "I know what I'm seeing...and those people are cardboard people!" She actually got perturbed with me. The next morning I recounted the previous evening's dialogue. She looked as perplexed then as she had the evening before. "I guess this will be another of our favorite memories that we will laugh about in the coming years," said she. That too has turned out to be true, as there have been several repeat occasions when the cardboard people have come out of slumber to play.

And as a final example of Judi's rampant imagination (there are dozens of others), there was a time when she came home from work one winter's evening and insisted that she had seen "naked people in a storefront window." Naturally I was intrigued. "Oh really...where did you see these naked people?," I inquired. "As I was taking the office mail to the post office on Central Avenue, I drove by this warehouse, and I swear I saw a half-dozen people standing in front of the window without any clothes on!" I decided to play along... "What do you suppose they were up to?" "I have no idea, but this isn't the first time I've seen them. They're there every time I go by the place on my way to the post office." So insistent was Judi that she suggested that the next time we were by that specific location she would show me. I declared, "There's no time like the present." So, we jumped into the car and drove to the location. There was just enough light being emitted from the street lamp to barely illuminate the large plate glass on the front of the warehouse, and sure enough there was indeed six naked figures posed in the front window. I pulled the car as close as I could to get a better view and off-handedly asked, "How long do you suppose we ought to figure on sitting here before those naked people decide to do more than just stand there and look at each other?" Silence... "Well, they should looked like naked people to me!" As we drove away I said gently, "And to me too, honey. Me too."

I love this woman to pieces...for her exquisite beauty, her intelligence, her quick wit and humor, and, by all means, her innocent propensity to keep me thoroughly entertained with her childlike willingness to freely share with me her real and imagined forays into a fantasy life that enriches us both. Her only admonishment to me has been, "Don't you dare talk about any of this stuff on your blog." If nothing else, I am man of my word. Besides, I never promised her that I wouldn't.

Tuesday, June 9

"Now It's Personal!!"

Let me start off from the "get-go" and announce without reservation that I am thoroughly ticked!! Other than the rampant stupidity and incompetence that marks the alleged leadership ensconced within the Washington, D.C. Beltway, it takes quite a bit of deliberate aggravation to get me riled up. Today, however, is a red letter day that has nothing to do with national politics.

I'm not sure if in a previous post I mentioned the fact that my last employer discovered that his office manager, Jessica, of approximately four years has been embezzling money from his company. Upon the initial discovery my former boss called me to see if I would be willing to come back to work in order to help him determine the extent of the discovered crime. I stated that I was ill equipped for a foray into forensic accounting, but suggested that he inquire of my wife, Judi, to determine if she would be willing to give it a go; she being a stickler for strict accounting practices, having saved every receipt in our family dating back to the founding of the 13 original colonies. Judi agreed and has performed, for the past four weeks a yeoman's task in reconstructing the intertwining paths that the office manager traveled down in order to pocket clandestinely her ill-gotten gains.

Initially I harbored sentiments of sorrow for both parties; my boss for doing all that he can to keep the doors of his company open during these trying economic times when the construction industry as a whole is gasping for existence. And for Jessica, the culprit in all of this; she having two small children and a husband employed as a maintenance man at the local college. Judi's daily briefings to me on the extent of Jessica's illegal exploits soon left me increasingly shocked and decreasingly less understanding of her plight. What initially appeared to be an amount in the neighborhood of approximately $30,000 has, as of yesterday's revised calculations, elevated to the staggering figure of $100,000, with still more discovery to be unearthed.

The issue that has gotten me to the point of angry exasperation is my personal recollection that I had received a few months ago an up-dated statement from Social Security which indicated that my personal wage earning contributions to my Social Security account did not indicate any dollars credited to that account for all of 2006, 2007, and the first eight months of 2008, the last month I was employed before being laid off. When I first discovered that omission, I attributed it to a likely clerical error on Social Security's part. I brought this observation to my former employer's attention and he, in turn, advised Jessica that she was to immediately look into the issue and make sure that my earned wages for the stated period were properly credited. She assured the boss and me that such would be the case. Guess what? Her saying that she would address the issue was as far as it ever got! Judi and I have determined that not only has Jessica been withdrawing monthly thousands of dollars from the company's several operating accounts, but it appears that she has consistently diverted untold thousands of dollars for her personal use by deliberately failing to pay such essential and mandatory stipends as Federal and state payroll taxes, property taxes, and FICA. No wonder the State of Florida and Uncle Sam are screaming their heads off wanting to know what the hell is going on? Now, I am joining that chorus of justified malcontents!

The two years and eight months prior to my departing my former place of employment were among my highest years of wage earning and contributions...a period of time that is now showing zero...and unless corrected, could very well have a decided negative impact on calculating my monthly Social Security check that I am entitled to start receiving in less than a year. In this woeful economy and with little prospects of gainful re-employment in the foreseeable future, every dime I can garner from my monthly social security check could spell the difference between keeping our heads above water or risk losing everything. Hell yes, I'm pissed!

Judi departed this morning to deliver this additional fuel to an already roaring fire, knowing that the boss will become even more dejected than he already is...if that is humanly possible. Next on the agenda is to confirm that her failure to pay my FICA taxes also applies to the other employees for the same period of time. My guess is yes. This realization, if and when confirmed, will only serve to push my former employer ever closer to seeking bankruptcy protection.

Waiting in the wings is an arrest warrant for Jessica. So many questions remain unanswered. Could she have possibly squandered away frivolously the thousands upon thousands of dollars she stole from the company without sequestering some of the monies in a yet to be determined personal saving account, and, if they exist, can all or a portion of the stolen monies be returned to their rightful owner? Will she face merely prosecution from the State Attorney's office, which at the moment mostly likely will land her a minimum 10 year prison sentence, or will she also be prosecuted by the Federal authorities for defrauding the Federal government, which carries an even more sever penalty? This sad saga continues to play out and the final chapter has yet to be determined.

In the final analysis, I still harbor feelings of pity for Jessica, trying to decipher why she would place herself, her husband and their two very small children in such dire jeopardy. Her actions have already ruined so many lives and the final devastating fallout has yet to occur. The bumper sticker reads, "Stupidity Should Be Painful." In this sad state of affairs, a truer sentiment has never been spoken.

Excuse me while I go beat my head up against the brick wall...

Monday, June 8

No Shore Too Distant...No Sacrifice Too Small"

A few Sundays ago, one of our pastors, Alberto Bent, presented an impassioned message about personal wealth. It wasn't directed at the congregation's pocketbooks, but more at the wealth that each human being possesses that springs from the depths of our hearts; the types of wealth that is in-born, God breathed through His gifts of the spirit. He used as the basis of his text the word "Chayil," which, if I am correct, is a derivative of the Hebrew word "lyx." Some of the definitions of chayil are highly respected, riches, strength, strong, substance, worthy and wealth.

The point of the spear of his message is that what each of us is willing to give up better defines us than what we would hold onto selfishly. As an illustration he told a story of three men of God; a Rabbi, A Catholic priest, and a protestant minister, all of whom were aboard a merchant ship during World War Two that was transporting troops to fight in the European theater. A German U-Boat was in the immediate vicinity and successfully targeted the ship with a direct torpedo hit, dooming the vessel to a watery grave. Those men who were not instantly killed or mortally wounded by the initial impact of the torpedo, came pouring forth in mass confusion from the decks below, all scrambling to secure a place in the life rafts that were hurriedly being deployed. In their haste, some of the men failed to secure their personal life vests before arriving on deck and were visibly panic stricken at the prospect of having to abandon ship without them, being all but certain that in the freezing waters of the North Atlantic, they would not long survive. Realizing that these men would surely perish in short order without their vest, each of the men of God removed their personal vests and gave their vest to a solider who had none, knowingly assigning themselves to depths of the frigid ocean. As the ship began in earnest to slip beneath the surface, these three men of faith were witnessed holding each other's hands and singing a hymn. To all who witnessed thus heroic act of selfless sacrifice came with it a true definition of the word "chayil."

This past Saturday, June 6th, marked the 65th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, where the 156,000 combined Allied forces of the United State, Britain, and Canada came ashore on the French coast of Normandy. Before the American assigned beachheads of Omaha and Utah had been bloodily secured, approximately 1,465 of our country's youth of promise were killed, 3,184 wounded, 1,928 missing in action and 26 captured as prisoners of war. There are today twenty-seven dedicated cemeteries dotting the picturesque and tranquil French countryside that serve as the final resting place for the remains of the over 110,000 dead from both sides of the conflict.

Just as the three men of God who gave up their lives for their fellow soldiers on the doomed ship had their personal story of worth and value, so did each one of the interred thousands of the forever departed souls in the twenty-seven cemeteries have a personal story that had only begun to unfold. History without consequence is like love without affection. We do each of these souls a grave injustice by being merely content to raise Old Glory and touch the tips of our caps in passing appreciation without taking into account the supreme sacrifice each made in defense of a cause each felt compelled to uphold...a total sacrifice of oneself for the greater good of others. We live today as the beneficiaries of that sacrifice. Our chayil is more than an accumulation of wealth in the traditional sense. Our wealth of freedom springs forth from the strength, strong substance of character and the undiminished worth of each of these souls who gave their last full measure of devotion so that this present generation might count their untold blessings of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. So much is owed to so, so many. In homage for their sacrifice we are compelled to be the better men and women, serving diligently to be the guidepost to those generations who shall yet follow....less these sacrifices be lost to mere words printed on history's impassioned pages.

"No one has shown stronger affection than to give up his life for his friends." - John 15:13

Saturday, June 6

"The Rules Of Marital Engagement...Revisted."

As much as I pride myself on being an attentive husband, I too often find myself on the short end of the stick...usually by omission rather than commission. Last evening was a case in point.

Most evenings, while eating a bite of supper, Judi and I mutually enjoy watching together the national news followed by Squeal Of Fortune. Admittedly, we're rather puritanical in that regard. This week's Squeal is emanating from Hawaii, and in celebration of that fortunate locale, Ms. Vanna was, in last evening's show, wearing a very fetching and brightly colored summer dress. Innocently and, very soon thereafter I learned, mistakenly, I made the comment on how attractive I thought the dress looked on her. Judi agreed. The evening was continuing to progress very amicably. Or so I thought.

Not too much further into the evening, I was greeted with the words, "I'm disappointed." I responded to the verbal clue and asked, "How so?" "Didn't you notice the new dress I'm wearing tonight?," she followed up. I had, but I made the off-handed assumption that it was one she had worn previously. The temperature in the room went up precipitously several degrees. "You noticed and commented on Vanna's dress, but you didn't say a thing about mine." Judi was right and I honestly felt helpless and instantly terrible about it. I had no excuse, but still the nagging belief that she had another dress very similar to the new one that she had worn many times previous. I had off-handedly mistaken that the two were one and the same. Sue me...I'm guilty of being a typical , unobservant male.

"I bought this dress and another one the other night when I went shopping. I wasn't sure which one I wanted to keep. So, I wore this one today. I received very many compliments on it...but not from you." The temperature in the room was now reversing course and was traveling just as precipitously south into the frigid zone. "I knew you went shopping," said I, lamely. "But I didn't know what you had purchased. You had just simply said that you had been 'shopping.'" This is where I was desperately trying to deflect any small portion of guilt off of me and back toward her. She wasn't buying it.

"You know that I like to receive compliments form you on how I look...especially when I wear something really nice. Don't you like it?" "Yes!" (I'm clutching at straws now...) "It hurts my feelings when you don't take the time to pay attention to how I look." That's it! I'm dead in the water...again...and I deserve to be.

Judi always takes a great deal or time and effort to always look her very best, whether she is going out into public or just for my benefit alone. Everyone else in an office could be wearing jeans and a t-shirt, but Judi will always take the time to be dressed very appropriately and professionally. Rightfully, she take a great deal of pride in that practice and I honor her for doing so. But too often I fail to let her know that I recognize her for doing so. My error.

For some this episode of marital discord might seem trivial. But, when it comes to how a person feels about themselves and how they wish to be perceived by others, especially a spouse, there are strong emotional elements at work that need to be recognized and addressed. A husband risks at his own peril if he doesn't take regular inventory of his life's partner's emotional needs and practices conscientiously the daily requirement to meet those needs. My silence on not at least noticing Judi's new dress unfortunately spoke volumes about my inattentiveness. It was an error of omission rather commission, but an error nonetheless.

Most men (I pray) have enough sense to never answer their wife's question, "Do I look fat in this dress?," unless the gentleman in question has a death wish. However, it is best to initiate the conversation oneself by asking, "Is that a new dress? And then being honest in one's answer if the wife in turn asks, "Do you like it?" You're on your own from there. Being oblivious to what your wife is wearing for your benefit is not, I can assure you, a formula for an enjoyable evening or a happy marriage. Pay attention!

While lying in bed last evening, I again began to rethink my reaction to when I did indeed really notice Judi's new dress and my initial thought that it was similar to another dress that she already owns. I remembered... She does have another summer dress that is red, white and blue and in which she looks absolutely stunning. I like it ten times better than I do the one she purchased. She looks much more terrific in bright colors. I considered telling her this when she came to bed, but decided to let sleeping dogs lie. I am going to tell her...just as soon as I can muster enough courage to reopen that subject. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, June 3

"It's A Disease!!"

"I'm hooked!!" Someone invited me, a couple of weeks back, to be their "friend" on the on-line social networking service, Facebook. Very soon thereafter the receipt of that seemingly innocent invitation, I lost all self-control. I'm telling you that the Swine Flu can't possibly spread as quickly as has this Facebook pandemic. A fellow Facebook devotee unflatteringly referred to this WEB phenomena as "Crackbook," because of it's powerfully addictive nature. I agree. I'm mainlining with the best of them.

I now have people coming out of the woodwork that I haven't heard from or seen hide-nor-hair of in decades! "Let's Be Friends" is their introduction. So, with a quick click of the acceptance button, I get to add another scalp to my belt. I think I'm up to well over a hundred friends, and everyone of them (yours truly included) seems bent on making some comment that may or may not make an ounce of sense. Regardless of content, each and all gets published. Some of the stuff appears to me to be in some form of code or in a language that I'm not at all familiar. This predilection seems to be the purview of the younger set, where some short of shorthand is utilized and proper punctuation is of no consequence. If you stay with it long enough, you can watch a whole string of these particular Facebook adherents conduct cryptic conversations with each other, just like I'm talking with to speak. There could be a conspiracy afoot and I wouldn't have a clue!

It is my understanding that Fccebook initially started out as primarily a way for folks to merely exchange brief messages. Kind of like what email and later Instant Messenger is designed to do. Now Facebook has evolved (if that is the right word) into an entirely different and more dynamic method of social interaction, not all of which I am sure has been a plus. As an example, a user can now solicit their other friends to try and collect a bunch of different types and colors of Easter Eggs. It is a quest that rivals, for many, the pursuit of the Holy Grail. I suppose that there's an end game to this, but, as usual, I haven't figured out what. Whatever floats your pontoon, I suppose.

Other's prefer to document their every waking moment (some from birth) with photographs of their worldly possessions, acquaintances, pets, and exploits. I have viewed photos of more dogs, cats, parrots, monkeys and other personal pets than would possibly be treated in a year at a veterinarian's office. I've been an unwitting witness to social gatherings of all types...birthday parties, weddings, births, vacations, sporting events, etc. You name it and there are tons of personal photographs to document every type of social event engaged in by mankind, all shared with unassuming and embarrassment-free enthusiasm.

Then there are the challenges to consider...invitations to become a group fan of certain people, places and things, such as any number of celebrities de jour, the mountains, the beach, the spotted owl, jelly doughnuts, an over-stuffed couch, etc. I purposefully shy away from such group-share invitations. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, "I'm not sure that I would wish to be a part of any organization that would have me as a member."

I did fall prey to one invitation that seems to be a popular past-time on Facebook; inquires that are designed to derive personal information about the respondent. One in particular is entitled, "The ABCS of Me." There are twenty-six questions each beginning with the corresponding letter of the alphabet. "A" equals "Age. Answer: 61. "B" equals Bed Size. "C" equals Chore You Hate. This line of questions continues all the way through to the letter "Z," which asks Zoo Favorites. I answered, "Liberals and Democrats - they play well in the same cage." Since I do not take myself too seriously (and many would say, "Not much of anything else, for that matter."), my selected answers reflect very little about my true character except to affirm confirmation of my self-depreciating nature, which is just fine with me.

I don't know how long Facebook will maintain its gravitational pull on its thousands of adherents before its popularity wanes or it is ultimately replaced with some other more alluring means and methods for soliciting mass self-expression. My guess is that it will be when the theorem is fully proved that there really is only three degrees of separation between each and every human being. That's when we will all finally become "friends" with one another on Facebook.

As for the letter "U" in the ABC's Of Me questionnaire, that corresponds with the question "Underwear?" I responded, "Occasionally." Thought you'd like to know.

"Flittering Away My Day..."

This week is a down week for me employment-wise. Last week I put in a whopping sixteen and a half hours at my "as needed" employer. But this week they've got nothing for me to do, so I'm home taking care of a few domestic chores. Presently I am waiting on the "cable guy," who informed me that he would be at my residence "Promptly between noon and 2 p.m." I just love punctuality!

We just recently purchased a replacement "All-In-One," printer, scanner, and fax machine to replace the one that started to smoke like it had a piece of toast stuck in it. All the functions on the new piece of equipment works perfectly except the fax. I, being pretty adept at figuring out how a piece of electronic equipment works, unpacked the printer, followed all of the instructions on how to set it up, which included how to configure the fax component. Wouldn't fax. Referred back to the trouble shooting checklist sheet that suggested I check to assure that the phone jack into which the fax is connected is a functioning outlet. In other words, "Does it have a dial tone?" Answer" "No." Action plan: Call phone and cable provider and request customer service.

Placed Call: Rings and rings and rings... (Global warming, world hunger and a half-dozen other catastrophic issues all solved before phone call is finally answered by...)

Electronic Answering Voice: "Hello!" (A cheery female voice proceeds to supply a list of menu items that each may be accessed by pressing the appropriate numbered key.) Ten minutes later I am left with the only choice that made sense, "Other - Press 1.")

Electronic Answering Voice: "Thank you. I will promptly connect you with one of our helpful customer service representatives. And remember, we here at______ are dedicated to providing you with only the very best customer service in the industry. Please hold. Our customer representative will be with you shortly."

Me: While being entertained (?) by obnoxious elevator music , Chrysler and General Motors work their way out of bankruptcy and evolve once again to become the world's leader in motorized rickshaws. Then I hear...

Customer Service Representative: "Hello!" How may I be of service to you?"

Me: I very carefully and succinctly explain my dilemma in great detail, including how I carefully followed the trouble shooting check list that came with the equipment and discovered that the phone jack has no dial tone.

CSR: "How is that possible?"

Me: "You're asking me!?!"

CSR: "Well, Mr. Latchford, our company doesn't supply wall jacks."

Me: "Well CSR, that makes two of us...and when we switched over to your service, your technician installed the present wall jack, which I reiterate, it isn't working now."

CSR: "Are you sure it was one of our technicians?"

Me: "If the fact that he arrived in one of your company's trucks, was wearing one of your company's issued shirts with your company's logo on it is of any consequence, let me hazard a wild-ass guess and say 'Yes!'"

CSR: "Well, Mr. Latchford, we don't have to get snippy!"

Me: "I would prefer to use the word, 'irritated,' but snippy will suffice just as well."

CSR: "I understand your frustration, Mr. Latchford. Let me schedule one of our technicians to swing by your place and see if he can't resolve the problem. Would that be agreeable to you?"

Me: "May I assume that he too will be driving one of your company's trucks and wearing one of your company shirt with your spiffy company logos sewed on it?" I don't want there to be any further confusion in the matter. And the answer to your question is "Yes."

CSR: (Grumbling in the background...) CSR proceeds to provide me with a list of several two-hour blocks of time in which the technician will be available to make a service call, and then says, "Well, you should be informed that should our technician discover that the phone jack is not a piece of our equipment, then there most likely will be an additional labor and material charge."

Me: "Does the phrase 'Over my dead body!' strike a familiar cord with you?"

CSR: "Well, Mr. Latchford, that is a matter that you will have to take up with the technician."

Me: "I'm sure that we can come to some satisfactory conclusion to this matter of disagreement, mono-a-mono."

CSR: "What?"

Me: "Never mind."

The technician arrived about an hour ago. He took one look at the in question wall-mounted phone jack and said, "Who put in this piece of crap?"

Me: "Take a guess. By-the-way, I like your shirt."

Technician: Puzzled look...

Bottom line... The technician acknowledged that the phone jack was indeed initially installed by a previous company technician, and he proceeded to replace the defective wail jack with a new and functioning no charge. Upon his departing, I made the inquiry...

Me: "Do you happen to know your company's customer service representative, _____?"

Technician: "Yes. Why?

Me: "Nothing important... Just give her my best regards."

That now accomplished I can move on to calling the manufacturer of our refrigerator and make inquiry as to why our ice making machine is no longer working. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, June 2

"Make Your Point...And Move On."

A potential firestorm is brewing in the Senate. President Obama has tendered for Senate confirmation his first candidate to serve as a life time appointee to the United States Supreme Court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Controversial in many of her past publicized public statements and possessing a record of having a number of her rulings reversed, Justice Sotomayor provides ample fodder for oppositional candor. The handwriting, however, is clearly illuminated on the wall. Under the presently controlled Democrat Senate, with sixty partisan votes assured, Justice Sotomayor will be confirmed, but most likely not without some vitriolic measure of rancor from the Republican side of the isle. The question, which requires a reflective answer, is whether or not engaging in a anticipated heated debate by the Republicans over the eventual affirmation of Justice Sotomayor will be of benefit to either the Republican party or the country as a whole. My answer, for what it's worth, is "yes," to a limiting degree.

There should be no disagreement among fair minded individuals that any proposed candidate for such a prestigious and powerful position of judicial authority should be fully vetted as to his or her views on judicial process, especially as it applies to the interpretation of our nation's constitution. It cannot be denied that President Obama's selection of Justice Sotomayor has raised some discerning eyebrows by his often stated propensity to equate judicial decision making with the insertion of empathy as an underlying criteria on which to base jurisprudence, and, as documented statements orated by Justice Sotomayor bare out, a view she apparently shares equally.

To quote Washington Post syndicated columnist, Charles Krauthammer, "Empathy is a vital virtue to be exercised in private life and in the legislative life of a society, where consequences of any law matter greatly..." However, when unresolved disputes evolve beyond rational discourse and must be litigated at the judicial level, empathic notions for determining a fair and impartial resolution must be barred at the courthouse door and certainly must hold no personal sway in how a judge interprets the facts of a given case. To do otherwise is to lift perceptively the blindfold on Lady Justice and tip her balanced scales imprudently. Empathic sympathy as justice is not justice. It is blatant favoritism. True justice is no respecter of persons. Each and all who would come before the court must approach with the unwavering expectation that each shall be judged equally under the law, with no partiality requested or received regardless of ethnicity or social standing.

That having been said, Republican members on the Judiciary Committee must determinedly shy away from any vindictive innuendos that would suggest a deliberate despairing challenge to the Democrat's portrayal of Justice Sotomayor's rags-to-riches story as being equivalent to her walking on water. Her story of overcoming difficult odds as a member of a historically depressed minority to her present position of accomplishment is to be, by all means, applauded. A repeat of a vengeful tit-for-tat attack upon her person, as was so distastefully displayed by Massachusetts' Democrat Senator Ted Kennedy when he publicly disparaged the then Supreme Court nominee, Clarance Thomas, should be avoided at all cost. With the 2010 mid-tern Congressional elections looming, the Republican Party must do all within its power to avoid alienating potential adherents to their banner if they have any realistic hope of winning back control of the halls of Congress. To be labeled in the media and, therefore, most likely perceived in the public's eye as being deliberately vindictive toward a recognized minority would certainly be counterproductive to their desired end goal.

It is certainly within the Republican's purview, if not obligatory responsibility, to require Sotomayor to explain in unvarnished detail under what judicial precedent she holds fast in her assertion that a Latino female would be able to render an impartial ruling better than would a white male. Diversity of any legislative and/or judicial body is, in my opinion, a beneficial consequence. However, to hold to the premise that one ethnic group garners a higher level of mental acumen hearkens back to a time when the black man was considered inferior to his Caucasian counterpart. That ideology is not only prejudicially antiquated, it is a scientific absurdity. Indeed, Justice Sotomayor should be given every reasonable latitude to fully vet her personal reasoning for this proclamation and let the public judge the reasonableness and feasibility of her clarifying arguments.

In the final analysis, the Republicans should come to the realization, if they haven't done so already, that President Obama's replacement pick for the U.S. Supreme Court is going to be confirmed. They should, nevertheless, go carefully forward with the confirmation process, doing so with gentlemanly decorum, to succinctly frame the flaws in Sotomayor's judicial philosophy and letting the country-at-large discern and dissect the factual outcome. To spend time doing otherwise is to joust at tilting windmills and to continue to stalemate the more pressing national concerns for which the majority of Americans have a vital stake in their resolution.

Make your point...and move on. The people's work is languishing.

Monday, June 1

"My Commencement Address...If Asked."

"Time offers no guarantees...just certainty... just consequences; no predictable outcomes...just the privilege to pursue." - Tim Conner

"Count three to your left and three to your right... One out of each three of you will not be here next year." These were the less than encouraging words spoken during the orientation weekend prior to my entering my freshman year in college in the fall of 1966. A nervous laugh permeated the throng of newly graduated high school seniors in attendance, each dubiously embracing this less than encouraging prediction with a renewed infusion of self confidence that we would not be among the poorly motivated individuals who would find themselves permanently beyond the ivy covered halls of this institution of higher learning come the following fall. A year post that previously delivered dire prediction came the realization that our ranks as a sophomore class had thinned considerably, and with that disconcerting realization came a more pronounced nervous respect for John Steinbeck's profound words, "The best laid plans of mice and men oft' go astray." A realization that has continued to prove prophetic to varying degrees throughout my years on this good earth.

Thus again ushers in this renewed season of great expectations, celebrated in mass by thousands of young men and women who, with a well deserved sense of personal accomplishment, stride confidently forward to accept their hard-won diploma for having successfully navigated a required regiment of circular, ready now to write their next individual chapters of conquest, carefully envisioned to encompass any and all measures of future successes. God bless 'em.

But here is, my fair-headed graduate, a hard unvarnished reality. No matter what inspiring words may have emanated from your carefully selected commencement speakers, the fact of the matter is that that plate of worldly oysters you intend to consume in your uncharted tomorrows may most likely turn out to be a heaping helping of sauerkraut. As much as you would prefer to believe that you "can have it all," it is best now to embrace the more realistic prediction that your great expectations for unparalleled accomplishment, monetary wealth and renowned acclaim will come with a series of circumstantial eventualities that shall too often tarnish the luster from your dreams to the contrary. Life is like that...and that's not all that bad.

This not to say that one should not strive with every fiber of one's being to wring forth out of each new day the full potential for which that day holds promise, but to realize that one's success in doing so is not to be measured strictly on the basis of materialistic accumulation. Seeking self-fulfillment in this arena is shallow in lasting reward. In the end it is far better to abstain from striving to live a self-serving life and embrace instead a life that is of self-sacrificing virtue...whether a prince or a pauper. "Do not be true to thine own self, be true to the truth." Life invariably will be froth with choices, wherein compromise is inevitable. Uncompromisingly, choose first to do what is right. Be prepared to accept that some failures may prove eventually to be blessings and that some successes may in the long run be detrimental to your overall happiness and well-being. Life is like that too...and again that's not all that bad.

Borrowing from the editorial I read from this weekend's newspaper by Rod Dreher (Dallas Morning News), who quoted from George Eliot's novel Middlemarch, in which she spoke to the heart of how ordinary goodness consistently lived out by ordinary people can, over time, have a profoundly positive effect: "The growing good of the world is partly dependent on un-historic acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number of who lived faithfully a hidden life, and the rest in unvisited tombs." Hardly, I admit, a ringing endorsement of optimism, but a realistic summation that each of you shall soon discover that you alone are not the captains of your own fate, but indeed you are, for the most part, the creators and moulders of your own character. Therein, I believe, lies a nugget of hope in which each of us can build a meaningful life.

Therefore, go forth, young graduates, with all your enthusiasm to change the world and to be counted among the best of the best, but at base live a life of virtue. Therein lies the capacity for enduring greatness. In the final analysis the world may not long remember that you once strode the highways and by-ways of this earth, but the world was indeed a better place for your having done so.

"Whose hands are these that reach into a secret place?

Whose hands are these that brush across my sleeping face

Like quiet waves on silent shores?

Whose hands are these?

These hands are yours.

Whose name is called to find my soul in need of care?

Whose name is called when that need is there?
A name that sings...who's music soars.

Whose name is called?

That name is yours.

Whose eyes are these that sees into this place I live?

Whose eyes are these?

Show me what I've yet to give, that sees beyond unopened doors.

Whose eyes are these?

These eyes are yours.

Where do I go when not a door is open wide?

What can I know when questions asked are un-replied?

I know of one. One is all I need confide to fill that place inside.

Whose hands are these that touch me when my soul is bare?

Whose hands are these that offer all they've got to share

To show the way and stay the course?

Whose hands are these?

These hands are yours.

Whose hands are these?

These hands are yours."

(From Neil Diamond's - Home Before Dark)