this could have been so much easier

One of the many things I enjoy about working again is that I was able to find something in my field of expertise. That is to say, anything involving the sale of something with wheels and a guy who sells it. I have done it all in the world of wheels from oil changes to repossessions and I love it all. When I began to help out my friend at his Powersports Finance company he soon found that there wasn’t a job in the building I couldn’t do (except accounting). Because I was to be part-time, he started me on some time-consuming projects that were taking too much time from his already overworked full-time crew. These tasks could be as simple as minor dealer issues, customer service calls or as complex as sorting out issues with local and state agencies. After cleaning up some small crises in my first week, he promoted me to a really fun one. I was to have a Motorcycle inspected and have a new Vehicle Identification Number assigned to it.

Having a new VIN# on a vehicle is a major ordeal. The entire history and pedigree of a vehicle are tracked by it. The state requires serious documentation from the owner in order to sign off on this task. As the lienholder, because we repossessed it, it is even harder. So I took my time to learn the exact process, what forms I needed to prove ownership, and what documentation I needed on hand to prove ownership. Over the course of the first week, I was able to gather all paperwork, pay all fees and gather all receipts and call for the appointment. Once the appointment was made at a local inspection station I would begin the process of coordinating how to get the motorcycle to them.

Between the initial attempt at making the appointment and actually completing it would take 2 weeks. It was a giant series of telephone tag and miscommunications (on the State Police’s part)until I was finally able to set the appointment for 10 AM Friday morning. time.

When Mike and I pulled in (Mike was helping me with the bike because it was very heavy) the trooper told us to park the trailer, unload the motorcycle and he would be right back. He then proceeded to get in his cruiser and drove off, after all of the efforts we had made to get there on time. He came back 15 minutes later with a cup of coffee. Mike was visibly pissed, I was containing myself for now.

Trooper Burns was a large, fit man with a grey buzzcut and a blank expression on his face. He began to ask me a series of questions that I had already answered, some of which weren’t even relevant. I kept my composure and explained my case again. Trooper Burns seemed to delight in being difficult but I stayed on point. At one point he told me to start the bike to prove that it runs, I told him there’s no need, it’s not a salvage inspection it’s a reassignment. He knew I had him and moved on. 15 more minutes of explaining our situation, how we came into possession and what we needed to be done he finally agreed to go online and do his due diligence. 30 minutes later he came out and said “This is the wrong bike”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“This is the wrong bike,” he said again.

I took a deep breath and patiently replied: “I heard that, please explain it to me”.Mike was facepalming in the background.

“This engine number is off of a bike recorded stolen in Florida. Can’t let you leave with it”. Now, this was not a completely unexpected turn of events but not ideal. We talked for a while about our options, what he was going to do next and when to contact him again. I went to shake his hand and he caught a glimpse of my Masonic ring. “I didn’t see that before…Good men the Masons. My brother and father both are members. I wish I saw that earlier I wouldn’t have given you such a hard time.”
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I paused, took a deep breath, and said,”Trooper Burns. As a Mason, I wouldn’t have needed to glimpse a ring in order to treat you decently. As a Mason, I would have been decent right out of the gate. This could really have been a whole lot easier”. I studied his face for a reaction, I think he understood me. “Show me the secret handshake,” he said as he smiled for the first time since we had met.

As Mike and I drove out of the lot, empty trailer and all he said “Brass Balls, man. You’ve got Brass Balls.”

“No, he knew I was right. He has a tough job and deals with a lot of assholes. What he didn’t recognize is that I’m not one of them. Now he knows.”

“So, tell me about this ring…”

 

 

 

 

 

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A life of moderation

The other day a dear friend of mine posted on Facebook “thinking that a life of moderation is the way to go this year”. Several “likes” later I commented “Works for me”. Many would go on and agree with she and I. I can’t speak for their reasoning but as for myself, I live the simple life because I was forced into it. A year ago, I had a lot of stuff. Now I don’t. Apart from not having everyone together anymore, I am happier in many ways. I am free of the worry brought on by increasing costs of living and shrinking incomes. I don’t need to work more for a bigger house to find room for more stuff. More stuff that didn’t make me happy, didn’t fulfill me or give me any sense of lingering purpose, other than to live long enough to pay for it all. I never would have voluntarily given up my stuff because my family needed it. But now, I am free of it and looking for the real meaning in, not of, life.

I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.” Jim Carrey
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Jim Carrey turned a few heads when he made this comment. Some thought that he was mocking people with his wealth, that he was another rich celeb that wanted us to feel bad for the problems of the rich and famous. He wasn’t. He was simply pointing out that every thing in the world is not enough if you are not at peace with yourself. I am related to a walking and talking example of this.

When I first began dating my wife in the early 90’s I learned that her Aunt was married to a local Real Estate Mogul, nicknamed “The Condo King”. At the time we began dating the “King” had recently fallen from Grace. He was jailed for multiple counts of fraud, influence peddling etc., and sent to prison. Not before, nice guy that he was, he hid all of his money in his girlfriend’s name leaving his wife and 2 kids with little. The oldest son would go to jail soon after for working with Dad. It was a big shock for them but they would survive. They downgraded from living in an actual castle to a modest condo. The Aunt had a Real Estate license also so she could work. Little Suzie, whose Batmitzvah was a $50,000 event starring Debbie Gibson, painted her face white and hid in her room for a whole year in shame.

I met the aunt shortly after at a pool party. I knew the whole story of course but I had promised not to say anything. I was doing pretty well until the Aunt began to openly complain about being forced to drive a *gasp* Camry (a brand new one, mind you). This snotty snippet forced me to blurt out, “hey, tell you what, it’s a lot nicer than my car. Poor you.” I was promptly pinched hard enough to draw blood. Fuck her, I didn’t care. She was a snob, so elite she had no idea what the rest of the world lived like. All she cared about was money and without it, she was lost. For ten years this went on. Fortunately for them, she married another millionaire, the Princess daughter married a guy who owns 10 shopping malls and is part owner of the Miami Heat, and the son is now his own version of the “Condo King”. But are they happy? I think it’s all they know. They know that they were miserable without the money. Maybe that’s their “Happy”.

My favorite episode of The Twilight Zone is “A nice place to visit”. A petty criminal is shot by police while fleeing a crime scene. Visited by a man in a white suit and offered to go to a special place, he assumes he is going to Heaven. When he arrives, he finds that everything goes his way. He wins at gambling every time. When he flirts with a woman she falls for him. He wins at everything. It became so easy it was boring. He approached his friend in the white suit and said “I don’t belong in Heaven, see? I want to go to the other place.” The man in the white suit then delivers the whammy: “Heaven? Whatever gave you the idea you were in Heaven, Mr. Valentine? This is the other place!!”
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All of the stuff in the world is meaningless if it doesn’t provide quality. Only quality can create happiness.

Having everything I want is one thing. Wanting everything I have is entirely another. Sure, there are things that I want that I don’t have. But I don’t need anything. And when I do, the need will be different than before. I will likely want a smaller, more practical and maintainable model of whatever it is. Enough to satisfy the need, but not enough to be a slave to it.

I never reached the pinnacle of success financially, but I did do pretty well for a long time. I recognize that money is a necessity. I don’t fault or in any way resent those that have more than I. I can only speak for myself when I say that the quest for more always created less satisfaction and more aggravation. Once you’ve reached the peak of one mountain, you look for another, higher one. It never ends, that’s what Jim Carrey was speaking of.

I want an endless pile of Real, of Quality, and Genuine. Everything else is just stuff and I’ll take that in moderation. I’ll miss it less when it’s gone.

Spring is coming

 

February is my least favorite month of the year. Despite the days getting a bit longer, it tends to be a cold, grey and boring month. Football is over, and I am a fair-weather Basketball and Hockey fan at best. Fortunately, it’s a short month.

We joke in New England that the first snow falls it is a Glorious occasion when all is white and pure, each flake unique and beautiful. By February the very mention of snow has you hurling F-bombs at the TV. That’s where I’m at right now. I’m just sick of winter.

It snowed again last night. The weather forecast last night called for an inch or two so when I woke up to see about 6 inches of powdery aggravation I wasn’t pleased. I would have “geared myself up” for the shoveling, spreading of rock salt and cleaning off cars. Wanting to get it over with, I skipped my morning coffee and went right to it. It was light snow so I made quick work of it. Stopping to gather my breath, I felt warmth in the air. I looked around and I noticed that melting had already started. I took off my hat and gloves and just stood on the deck, staring at the landscape around me. I could feel it, it’s almost over. Spring will be here soon.

Spring is my favorite season. I thrive on warmth and sunlight. I barely tolerate winter, I accept it as a necessary evil if I am to live in this region but the short days and lack of sunlight take a terrible toll. On the first warm day of Spring, I will be found outside face skyward, soaking in the rays like a desert flower after a terrible drought.
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It is New Years Day for Mother Nature, a new beginning as grass turns green, leaves bud on trees, the little critters poke their heads out of hiding, and the Red Sox are in Fort Myers, Florida gearing up for another long season of glorious Baseball.

I can’t think of Spring without thinking of Baseball, and I can’t think of Baseball without thinking fondly of my Dad. When I was a kid, my father was still working his way up the seniority list at his job and he would be laid off almost every Spring. Dad was a Heating Oil Delivery driver and the warm weather meant slow business. I was thrilled to have him around, he worked almost around the clock during the winter. I never saw him. Spring became an association for me. Warm weather, school vacation, Dad is home and we’re gonna watch the Sox.
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Dad and I didn’t have a whole lot in common, but we loved Baseball. He taught me to play and we loved to talk about it. One of my favorite memories was watching games on our 3 season porch on a 19-inch black and white Emerson TV with “rabbit ears” antennae. Dad and I would make sure all of the yard work was done in time to sit down for the game. I would listen to him attentively as he explained the strategy of baseball, his most and least favorite players and why he rated them so. It was the only time he wasn’t bustling about and trying to keep busy. When a game was on he was in his seat, beer in hand and relaxed. Until the Bullpen blew a lead, which happened often, at which time he was not so relaxed. Those were hard times economically, but they were special to me.

Today I saw a glimmer of my favorite season. I see on my Calendar that there are 10 days left of my least favorite month. While March can often suck weather-wise, it can also be a good month. And it is one month closer to Spring. Even though I still have 6-foot snowbanks all around my house, I can almost smell the fresh-cut grass, hear the crack of the bat, the children excitedly cheering each other on. And I can still see Dad, Tanned and sweaty, in his faded Boston Red Sox Hat and wife-beater T-shirt calling me, telling me to “hurry up” before I miss the first pitch.

What I wouldn’t do to hear that just one more time.
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A life of virtue

I almost had to peel myself out of bed this morning, reeling from fatigue and another inconvenient gout flare-up. This time it’s in my ankle and my right elbow. It’s excruciating. Apparently, the 1000.00 per month medication prescribed to prevent gout is a real winner. I choked down 25mg of Prednisone in hopes that I would be able to support weight on my left foot by noon. I headed out at 9:15 to the local food pantry at the local church, where I volunteer almost every Saturday.

I really enjoy volunteering. There is a real need in my community, there is a large segment of poverty on the fringe of all of the “old money” in town. This need requires volunteers, which are few. In the winter the population is 25% of what it is when the sun is out. Of the remaining 25%, many go to Florida and what is left is some kindly but older volunteers. At 52, as unhealthy and wobbly as I can be I am still the youngest and strongest one to show up. By being there every week in the winter I have ensured that they have enough coverage.

A morning at the food pantry consists of a rotating cast and crew of sweet old ladies. Like a fish, they fall for my line every time. Most of them know my family so it wasn’t hard to blend in. Each week, anywhere between 10-15 families come in and we set them up with a lot of healthy goodies. It’s about 3 hours of steady moving, packing and small talk. Today, as I was checking my email during a break. dear sweet Bonnie said to me, “Bill, how come we never see you at church on Sunday?” Oh boy, here we go. As I began to formulate my answer I realized that all eyes were on me, as if to all say “yea, how come?” Not wanting to get into it, I explained to them that I’m just not a “church guy”. The hymns, responsive readings, symbolism, and idolatry don’t do it for me. I explained that I have a complex relationship with Spirituality that is still in progress. I left them with the Kayak quote:

Religion is sitting in church thinking about Kayaking. Spirituality is sitting in a kayak thinking about God

That seemed to satisfy them. We moved on. I limped out of there on time and went home, hoping the prednisone would kick in enough to force a quick 1/2 hour on the hamster wheel before I run out of spoons for the day.

As I was making a quick sandwich, Mom said “Going to Church tomorrow?” I facepalmed dramatically. “What?” she said. I explained to her that I just went through this. Mom has always thought that I don’t like church because of an incident I had in high school with a sanctimonious son-of-a-bitch minister who slapped my cousin. I have spent the last 30 plus years trying to convince her otherwise. In the moment, I decided to have this conversation for hopefully the last time. I looked at her and said,

“Church or no Church, aren’t I living a life of virtue”? I went on to explain that I try always to be nice, courteous, respectful, charitable, etc, isn’t that as good as going to Church for an hour a week and stare at the plaster ceilings, waiting for the cracks to appear? She doesn’t get it, she never will. Even the Kayak quote wasn’t pushing this one over the curb.

When I used the word virtue, it just kinda popped out. It is a lofty word with multiple synonyms that range from purity to righteousness, to morality. I will only go so far as to say that I try to live my life with integrity. I grappled for years with virtue, wondering how I could lead a good life without religion. It wasn’t until I reconciled that good vs evil is the same thing as good vs bad that I made any significant strides. I asked myself, do I need 10 commandments to know not to steal, kill or shag my neighbor’s wife? Any decent person knows this. I always try to do the right thing, that’s all.

I always tried to pay attention to little things like pausing in supermarket aisles to offer to reach items on the top shelf for little old ladies, carrying heavy items for people, opening doors, buying a coffee for the guy ringing the bell outside the WalMart at Christmas. Small, human gestures.

Post-transplant, full of “pay it forward“, I stepped it up and joined a fraternal organization dedicated to self-improvement and community. Blood drives, community breakfasts, an anonymous foundation for charitable giving to school kids with needs that don’t fit traditional programs, working the registration tent at a Down’s Syndrome “Buddy Walk”  became my Saturday mornings. They were all small gestures that helped people and gave me a real sense of purpose in life.

Unfortunately, I got sick again just as I was really starting to get going. It wasn’t long before I found myself as I am now. Weak in body, Spiritually available to what the Universe has in store for me. With this spirit in mind, I have scaled back my goals to just trying to be a good person. It’s all I have. Energy availability aside, I know that I have enough in me to be kind to strangers. I can certainly say please and thank you. I will continue to treat those that serve me with kindness and dignity. I am able to hold a door and grab something off of the top shelf for someone. I can muster the strength to listen to a friend who needs someone to talk to. I can find the energy to not lie, cheat or steal and to be good to my word, shake a man’s hand and look him in the eye.

I found my purpose. Not to be a good Christian or a benevolent Pagan. My purpose is to be nice. It takes almost zero energy to just be nice. So few are willing to take the job and my resume is a mess anyway, so I’ll take the job. If Jesus is real, I’ll let him decide my worth. I don’t know if that is what a “religious” person considers to be a life of Virtue but I would certainly think it will get me a pass to sleep in on Sunday morning. At least until Kayak season.
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Perhaps I will show my mother this post, and put this to bed forever.

 

a day of rest

I’m so tired today. It’s that feeling that kidney patients have difficulty explaining to others. I don’t have a virus, I’ve been washing my hands. Yes, mom I’m taking my meds. I’m just washed out. I woke up as tired as I was when I went to bed last night. Cold, weak and the very thought of doing anything is dismissed as impossible. Carrying my laptop seems a Herculean task.

I am prone to feeling useless on days that I don’t accomplish much. I’m still transitioning to the stage where I openly accept that I’m not capable of doing as much in one day as I once was. I’m getting there. I spared myself the mental beat down today. I actually feel quite accomplished for a refreshing change.

I put in 3 very solid days at work this week. I am starting to feel comfortable in the office. My co-workers seem to have accepted me. I don’t think for a second that they didn’t like me, instead they probably were just curious of my sudden appearance, my lack of a learning curve, and why the owner and I are so comfortable with each other. In addition, I have found a niche. Without getting into detail I recognised a need and tackled it. My ability to dig into the source of issues and resolve them by putting new systems in place has been a contribution. That’s all I ever wanted, to be of use and contribute.

In addition to a productive day, I made a date for last night. An hour after I left work, I was getting a giant hug from a very beautiful, special lady. My youngest daughter. We went to our favorite diner, ordered off of the breakfast menu and just talked. It was so great to just sit, listen (even when I had no idea what she was talking about sometimes) to her prattle on excitedly about everything from boys to school to makeup. She seems to be doing well and I am so relieved.

To think that I once joked that if she were Native American her name would be “Alcohol-related-accident”. She wasn’t planned but today I cannot imagine my life without her. My other children would hate me to hear this but in July the only thing I could come up with for a reason to live was her. It’s not that I don’t love all of them to death, it’s about how much I mean to her. If I had done what I wanted to, it would have destroyed her. As I looked across the table, I wanted to thank her for saving my life.

As tired as I am today, I feel better about things. That things are getting better for everyone. As if my dad was again sitting with me over a beer telling me his favorite, comforting sentiment…

Things always seem to work out.

I didn’t really believe that when he was alive. Now I’m starting to. Tomorrow is a new day and I’ll get as much accomplished as I can. And feel good about it.

Peace my friends

 

The cool dad

The one thing I will never get used to is not seeing my children as often as I used to. I went from every day to a few times a month in one fell swoop. I keep my complaining to a minimum, it’s been hard for all of us. When it all collapsed, we went separate directions, no one’s situation was ideal. My problem was that I never felt right with the world once I was deprived of my nightly conversations with them.

When they were younger I would famously extend bedtime by telling extra stories or watching another show. I was complicit, if not the architect. of some serious bedtime schemes. My oldest daughter came up with her famous “asthma-scam” when she was 7. She has asthma so she would fake a raspy cough, I would get the nebulizer and give her a breathing treatment. Mom never figured it out that she was getting an extra 20 minutes with Dad on the sofa. I had something like this with all of them. I wasn’t home a lot of nights until almost bedtime so, selfish as it was, I found ways to get more. As the kids got older, the books and TV shows became nightly talks. Each kid had that one thing that they liked to discuss with me. Occasionally these talks morphed into conversations that most parents dread, but they happened so organically that it became easy. My kids talked often of their “Dad time” to their friends. We often had a yard full of neighborhood kids. I was the “cool dad”. Even as they got older my kids would tell me how much their friends liked me, that I was different than their own Dads. I was just being me. It wasn’t that difficult, I listened to them. I let them make their mistakes and I gave reasonable advice, not guilt trips. I fostered open communication and a friendly relationship without compromising my role as a father.
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After the collapse, I found myself 100 miles from them. I make the trip down as often as I can but when I do it is a long, carefully planned ordeal because they are all over the place. Two here, one there, one I need to see at his or her work, etc. It sucks but it isn’t going to change anytime soon. I make the most of the time I have with them.

Saturday I got a call from my oldest, asking me when I was going to meet her new boyfriend, who she is apparently semi-living with, and my new Grand-dog Coda. a six-month-old Husky. I told her I would come down Sunday morning. I then called my youngest 2 and found that one was available and one was at a sleepover. I told him when I would pick him up. I then reached out to my oldest son to see if he was working. He was moving into his new apartment that day so he would be available. I called my oldest and informed her that her boyfriend was going to meet all of us except our youngest and my wife, who was working. Her reaction was “John is going to freak out”. I assured her it would be alright. And don’t forget to bring the Dog.

We met at the restaurant at noon. Just by meeting him in the lobby I knew that the boyfriend was exactly as nice as my daughter had described. We got a table for 5 and sat down. John and I got along great. My daughter seemed happy. I caught them smiling at each other and heard her whisper I told you you’d like him. Dinner was great, probably because the one that would have stressed everyone out was at work. I picked up the tab, despite great resistance from John and we parted ways. I would not get to meet the dog that day but I was now off with my oldest boy to see his new apartment.

When we got to the new bachelor pad I parked and told him to lead the way. I grabbed the 30 pack of Bud that was in my trunk and we went in. When we got to the top of the stairs, I handed the 30 pack to them and said “Housewarming gift. I thought of giving you food but I knew you needed this more”. They were pumped. I did my tour and I left.

I dropped the younger boy at his house, bid goodbye and began my 2 hour ride home. I turned my Spotify on and ignored my phone the entire ride. When I pulled into my driveway I opened my text messages. There were 2, one from the oldest daughter and one from my oldest son. They read, respectively.

“John can’t believe how cool you are!”

“Dad, my friends said that I have the coolest dad ever”.

How about that? I’ve still got it!
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