Too wired ?

Every evening when I get home from work, the first thing I do is plug in my Blackberry, my Kindle, and my iPad. There they sit, one atop the other on the end table, taking up less than half a square foot. I look at my collection of gadgets and think how totally weird it is that so much of my life is contained in such a small space.

I think of all the things they replace: alarm clock, laptop, landline telephone, address book, camera, video camera. All of these things are nearly obsolete now.

One thing they don’t replace is people. Sure, I have met some new “friends that I’ve never met” through social networks, but they aren’t breaking bread with me or telling me a story with expressions that are unique to them and that I can see and smell and touch. No matter how connected I may feel to the world through the constant stream of information that gushes through various portals, it still can’t replace a quiet dinner with friends and loved ones.

Although one can really LOL, it isn’t the same as hearing a guffaw or seeing the twinkle in someone’s eye or the unique laughlines around their mouth.

I’m not saying technology is bad. It has made our lives alot easier. Been inside a bank lately ? The last time I had a paper check I found that I had nearly forgotten how to fill out a deposit slip. It took me two times to get it right. My signature was atrocious. I’m used to a keyboard.

I have always been a techie, ever since the first Radio Shack Tandy with a 5 1/4 inch boot disk. I was a master at Pong. My job is technical, and I am basically wired 24/7. So I guess I’ve kind of grown up with the whole business of computers becoming smaller and smaller and more accessible.

The old and cumbersome familiar things are being replaced by tiny and fast things. Facebook friends become our neighbors, our coffee klatch, and our quilting bee. Farmville becomes our recreation. Blog headlines become our truth. We don’t know how to reflect anymore.

Times change and technology moves on. Overall, I think that is a good thing for society.

But never forget that a snuggle on the couch can never be replaced by the latest text message. A quilting bee isn’t just the sewing, it’s the conversation. You can send all the virtual hugs you want, but they will never replace a true embrace. An electronic book can fit in your purse, but a dog-eared old tome, marked up and read over and over, can be passed to your grandchildren.

Keep reminding yourself of that. I am.



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Spring cleaning of the soul

There is a yearly ritual that people call “spring cleaning”. Today is a good day for that. Personally, I’m still working on my spring cleaning for 2005. It’s a process.

The New Year is traditionally a time when people do the spring cleaning of the soul. There is a whole year looming, new and untried, and they usually make solemn resolutions for the time ahead. A blank slate, a new calendar. Rarely are those resolutions kept. Real-life drudgeries and traumas get in the way. Resolutions are forgotten.

I never make New Year’s resolutions. It is usually too cold and I can’t get inspired. My resolutions come in the Spring, which here in the Mid-Atlantic area is desperately trying, with fits and starts, to reveal its promise. It is this time of year, when the windows can be opened and birds are at the feeder, and small buds are appearing on trees, that one can get a real sense of renewal. Everything is coming back to life, so one thinks, “Well then…so should I.” Spring just seems to me a much more reasonable time to take inventory and make decisions about the time ahead of you. I wouldn’t call them “resolutions”…that word is too final and confining. It is more of a feeling of, “OK! Let’s ger ‘er done”.

So, in the middle of cleaning and dusting and vacuuming, I am also, in the same hesitant way that Spring is coming out, to do that spring cleaning of the soul. There are no grandiose announcements, no fanfare. Just a silent, sometimes sad and sometimes smiling assessment. You need that every once in a while.

I hope that your spring cleaning, both of the home and of the spirit, is rewarding and true.

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The Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians is located in my building in downtown Philly, and until recently were on the same floor as me, so I saw these folk every day.

The purpose of the Center is to help new arrivals to this country get through the interminable hoops of immigration and help them get a start in this country. Check out their website.

The manager of the Center is one of noticeably Irish origin, with an endearing brogue. She would probably kill me to know that I call it endearing, but gosh it sure is. Her story is fascinating. In Ireland, she was a nurse. When she came to America with her husband, she had to go through literally years of red tape in order to get her nursing degree recognized here. Her goal is to help those with similar obstacles get through the mounds of red tape and government inertia. The Center serves as a guide.

A few weeks ago, the Center moved to a different floor in the same building. They were all so excited ! New digs, a new look…better in many ways.

The first week they were there some pipes broke in the building and everything was flooded. Computers, furniture, carpeting…everything ruined. They worked hard to start to get things taken care of, and then a few days later the same thing happened: more water everywhere.

In addition to dealing with this, of course they were concerned about clients they were working with and the new clients coming into the Center evey day. People looking for help, and they barely had a place to sit.

I felt so bad for them…they had been so excited over their new digs.

For the time being, they have relocated back to my floor in their original spot: bare and drab for sure, and no computers, but at least it is dry.

I was walking down the hall with one of the employees of the Center, commisserating with her over their unfortunate string of bad luck.

“Ah, but we’ll get over it.”, she said. “We’ll get past it.”

With an attitude like that, they cannot possibly fail.

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Escape from the den of iniquity

My very first real job was in the early 70’s. At age 16-17, I ran the concession counter at Grady’s Bowling Alley in the Fairfax Shopping Center on Concord Pike. I flipped burgers, grilled hot dogs, and dispensed the cherry cokes (with real cherry syrup). I worked 6-11 PM on some weeknights, and usually worked weekends.

On weeknights, it was the bowling leagues with their crazy shirts. There were all sorts of people: young and old, fat and skinny, men and women, all sorts of races and religions, and they always had a rip roaring time. Loud and raucous and definitely serious about their bowling, they kept me scurrying behind that counter for sure !

On weeknights the pool tables in the smoky back room were filled with quietly mysterious characters sporting long hair and black leather jackets.

Two of the unadvertised benefits of this job were that I learned how to bowl and learned how to shoot pool.

Minimum wage was about $2.75 back then. It was the best job I ever had.

I wonder how many jobs like this are out there today. It certainly wasn’t politically correct: the owner of the concession stand, Richie, asked me if I would wear hot pants (for those too young to remember hot pants, you’ll have to Google it). I didn’t give it a second thought and faster than you can say “disco queen”, there I was in my red hot pants, grilling my burgers with a smile.

I’m also sure that some well-meaning groups today might have an issue with a 16-year-old girl working in a place where there was a pool hall. Everyone knows that a pool hall is a disreputable place where unsavory characters congregate.

I learned some things in this job:

The customer is always right. If the grill closes at 11 PM and someone orders a hamburger at 10:55, the customer gets their burger. Even if you’ve just finished cleaning the grill.
Don’t judge people by first impressions. A grungy-looking dude with a constant scowl may be the most patient pool teacher. A fat, sweaty, and loud bowler may have a child with cancer at home.
Treat where you work like it was your own business. The owner appreciates it.. Be on time. Don’t whine.

So, I worked on school nights and weekends in a bowling alley/pool hall. I managed to escape this experience without falling into a den of iniquity. It wasn’t the easiest job in the world, but it wasn’t the worst, and to this day I appreciate the friends I made and the lessons I learned.

Do kids today have these kinds of jobs available to them, or are the parents too protective and the safety nannies too zealous to allow it?


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It used to be that way ….. by Chainsaw

I can remember, about 20 years ago, being snowed in, up in West Va., about 1/2 broke from partying away 6 months of shutdown pay, and I had to sell everything I owned except for my car, bike, bike trailer, TV, stereo, coffee maker, alarm clock, my clothes, and moved to Georgia.

The first thing I did was score a job (I’m a welder by trade – 30+ years) and a shack to lay my head down in, and secure the bike.

I had nothing else except for a plastic spoon, fork, and knife that I had saved from a convenience store where I bought a chicken dinner.

I found out where the nearest ABATE chapter was, made the meeting and ponied up my $15 for membership, sat through the meeting, and after it was over, I stood an introduced myself and told the entire membership of what I had just gone through, and asked if anyone could help out.

I told them where I lived.

The following evening my little ol’ 12’x 70′ mobile home was filled with so much stuff, people, beer, grub, and above all, an ever more growing, extinct measure, of Brother and Sisterhood.

Man, I suddenly had furniture, a bed, towels, asswipe, mismatched silverware, crazy plates, grub, and beer in the fridge.

I think back to those times whenever I want to find out where an MRO or a crew of bikers are, in case someone is in dire need and can only turn to their own kind for hope.

This sounds mushy as hell, but it happened that way, and used to be that way.

– Chainsaw

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The economic principle that government does not seem to understand

It is Wednesday, and you have $20 to last you until your Friday payday.  You can buy three gallons of gas and maybe have enough left over for a couple of coffees at WaWa.  Or, you can by two gallons of gas and treat yourself to some Starbucks each morning.  Or, you can buy four gallons of gas and skip the morning coffee.  You could call out sick from work so that you don’t need gas, but then you are using a day that you might need for your summer vacation.

You have choices to make.  You have limited resources and a multitude of needs.

Even those who may seem to live in the lap of luxury have choices to make.  Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt may want a chateau in France, a castle in Greece, a mansion in Florida, a hunting lodge in Wyoming, and a hideaway in Maine.  Even Angelina and Brad have to make a choice as to which ones they can actually realistically afford, given the vagaries of the movie industry and their ever-increasing brood of children.

Yes, even Brad and Angelina have limited resources.

Economics, as Thomas Sowell tells us, is the study of the use of scarce resources which have alternative uses.

You learn this as a child:  a young boy with two lollipops can choose to keep both of them, trade one for an object of more value to him, or give one to his sister in hopes of some reciprocal good will on her part.  There are costs and there are benefits.  It is the boy’s task to decide which is the best use of his limited supply of lollipops.

As young adults we also learn to make choices.  We may opt to keep an old care for a few more years in order to save for a down payment on a house.  Alternatively, we may get the car of our dreams and forego the house, or we may choose to invest in an annuity.  Limited resource….alternative uses.  There is not a “best” way to use these limited resources, there is only the way the makes sense to the individual (or corporation, or small business, or civic organization) at the time.

The fact that resources are limited and one must make decisions on how to use these limited resources seems to be a concept that is obvious to all but is somehow incomprehensible to governments and government-funded programs.  They act in such a way that the resources appear to be limitless, even though they are not.  They seem to not “get it”, but you can’t really blame them.  They don’t have to “get it”.

Let’s say you are head of the Department of Recreation in some small city.  The city budget allocates $200,000 a year to you for city pools.   The first year, you spend money on hiring, fixing up facilities, establishing procedures, etc.  The pools are open and ready for business.

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Forgiveness and grace

Crouched in between the news stories about Charlie Sheen, state budget battles, presidential hopefuls and Dancing With The Stars was a fleeting news item about Sam and Nancy Davis.

The dangers of the drug cartels in Mexico are well known, but Mr. and Mrs. Davis were committed to their mission.  They had been working in Mexico for over thirty years.  While fleeing an illegal roadblock set up by drug dealers near San Fernando, 59-year-old Nancy Davis was shot in the head in front of her husband’s eyes.     He frantically drove 70 miles for help while being pursued by the gunmen, his bleeding wife next to him in the truck.  It was to no avail.  She was declared dead in McAllen, Texas.

You may have missed the story.  In these times where triumphs and tragedies alike are mere blips across the screen I can’t fault you for not knowing about what happened to Sam and Nancy Davis last January.    They were, after all, missionaries.  You know … those kind of crazy people.  So crazy that:

“They came as a package together and I cannot imagine one living without the other. They’re very, very in love,”

I’m sure that most of us cannot imagine having a loved one die violently, let alone be the sole witness to it. All I can see myself doing is howling a prolonged “Noooooooooooo !” and hating the people who so cavalierly dismissed someone from my life. I would plot revenge, hoping to slice their throats and stomp on their hearts.

Mr. Davis apparently thinks differently:

“I miss her terribly, but those people who killed her need to be saved. I pray for them, that God will have mercy on them and help them to know him. “

Whatever your faith may be or not be, you must admit that it takes extraordinary grace to make a statement such as that. I do not think I would be so forgiving. I would wish those that killed my loved one no such grace, only a horrible and slow death.

This got me to thinking about the nature of forgiveness and grace.  I am fortunate that a tragedy of this nature has never (yet) befallen me, but Mr. Davis’ statement can touch everyone in certain ways in their lives.  And even if you are like me and are not a “religious” person, at least in the church-going, Bible-quoting kind of way, chosing instead to hold God closely and privately in your heart, you have ways to feel forgiveness and grace as well.

For me, it comes with the homeless people who travel the streets of Philadelphia where I work.  They tear at my heart.  It is true that some are out to make a buck any way they can, and you have to be wary of the scammers.   I would say that most of them have mental issues:  I had one man grab my arm and try to kiss me once, and there is one particular old man who stands with his cup swaying on the corner in his own little world who makes me wonder:  What went wrong ?  Who failed this man ?  Where is his family ?  What choices did he make that he is here ?  Where does he sleep ?

It is true that you have to be careful.  You never know what demons are in the minds of the people on the streets.  You do not know what battle they fought the previous night while trying to keep warm or get some rest.  They may very well want to continue that battle with you.  They could have a knife or a stick and could lunge at you at any moment.  So you must take care.  For the most part, I find them to be harmless.

There are those that yell at them, telling them loudly to “Go Away !  Get out of here !” and the building superintendent regularly must chase them from the vestibules.  They make us uncomfortable and scared.  They are not like us.

Or are they ?

I look at, talk to, interact with some of the homeless in Philadelphia and all I can think is that old saying, “There, but for the grace of God, go I”.

I was somewhat of an adventurous youth and young adult.  I was in situations where I could have made the wrong choice.  My life could have gone done an entirely different path.  One bad decision and I could have ended up in the streets with the hookers and dealers, or lost my way and just been one of the sad and lonely people who have no where else to go.

Why I didn’t, I cannot say.

So while some may shun and even despise the homeless in Philadelphia, I try to muster some of Mr. Davis’ graciousness.  I look at them and see myself.  I drop some dollars, buy coffee in winter and water in summer.  It is not much, but is what I can do so I do it.  It pains my heart to see their struggle … their whole world in a knapsack on their back.

I doubt if most of us could forgive like Mr. Davis has.  The pain would be too great.  But in our everyday lives, in little ways, if we could just grab onto a tiny bit of his sentiments I think the world would be a better place.

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