Friday, November 25, 2016

The smallest amount of kindness



Recently I was helping another Group X fitness instructor add an entry into the work order system at the gym.  For the longest time when a piece of equipment was in need of repair, it was pushed to the side, only to be discovered later that it was broken. The reason for this was word of mouth simply wasn’t getting the equipment repaired. The solution was to write a work request and create a digital paper trail and the instructors were unaware they were the first cog in this process.

I hired in as an instructor at the beginning of the year and with my background in logistics and computers, I rapidly latched on to this maintenance system and decided to share this knowledge. Along the way, we saw a marked improvement in functioning equipment. As I pointed at the computer screen, I told the other instructor what went where and then “in this box, write exactly what is wrong and then add the words thank you.”

“Why do I need to do that?” they asked, referring to the last two words.

“Because you want them to know their work is appreciated?” I queried and I saw the light go on. Now mind you, this person is smart, a quick thinker, a devoted parent, and an overall good person with real values, but for some reason, they missed a simple common courtesy that would turn a demand into a request. The repair person will surely notice and look to see who wrote the request and it will add up in that person’s favor.

I am an aggressive alpha personality who sometimes feels like a coiled spring – well, pretty much all of the time. At red lights, I watch the light and am ready to explode out of the gate and have to slow myself down to the normal response time of people around me. At times it is agonizing and only my advanced age helps me cope with how slowly people react. If I were in ten cars at a left turn lane and the light turned green, on any given day I could most likely get all of them through it before it turned a good yellow. By good, I mean it hasn’t turned red mid-intersection.

But as a victim of other people’s sluggish reaction, I risk running the red light after 3 cars. This is life in a world with so many distractions, it’s a danged wonder we can safely drive at all.  There is nothing I can do to change this behavior, so this is how I give back. I allow traffic to keep moving.

I routinely drive on Massey Tompkins Road and often turn left onto Barkuloo Road. By turning deep into the turn lane, it will trigger the magnetic strip under the road and stop westbound traffic. I doubt if oncoming traffic realizes what I am doing, but if no one is behind me, I’ll deliberately hang back and let all those cars pass before I trigger the light. It’s my way of giving back. Knowing I do it is reward enough for me. I feel good about myself afterward.

I like to shop at Food Town on North Main Street. I routinely push a shopping cart into the store instead of walking past the many that litter the parking lot. I usually pick up a little trash on my way in too and drop it in the cans at the door. Sometimes I push in 2 or more carts. When I push my cart out to my Jeep, I leave it there. I could push it across the lot I guess and put it in one of the spots dedicated for temporary storage, but because I pushed one in, I don’t feel bad about leaving it where I parked. And then there is the trash I picked up as an extra bonus to the store. This also makes me feel good.

What does the Bible say about the little foxes?  Aren’t they the ones who spoil the vines? Yup and inversely, it’s the little acts of kindness that reap the largest overall rewards. Implementing them is the hardest or easiest part. It takes a plan for those of us who are flying through life at a breakneck speed. For others who are so naturally inclined to be a nice person, it is the way they ease through life that makes everything they do a blessing to those around them. I wish I was one of those people, but I’m not. I have to be very deliberate to be mister nice guy. I have to have a plan and make it part of my life to be considerate. One way or the other, we all need to think about our fellow citizens and attempt to stem the tide of anxiety, fear, and hatred.

I think it all starts with being thankful and considerate. If we can keep those two attitudes in front of us, we simply cannot go wrong.

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Friday, November 18, 2016

Being generous should be your decision.



Years ago I watched a black and white movie about a very rich man who took compassion for the homeless in his town. Back then they were simply called bums, but that would be insensitive of me to point that fact out, so maybe I won’t. It implies they don’t or didn’t want to earn something and hence the term “bum something” came about. “Hey, buddy, can I bum a smoke?” or “May I bum a ride?” The implication of the term meant it was a temporary situation, while most times it was perpetual and everyone knew it.

“What do you want to do today?” was a common catchphrase and usually answered like this: “Let’s just bum around.” Or maybe this variation, “I’m just going to sit on my bum all day.” Anyway, back to the movie. It was close to Thanksgiving or maybe Christmas and very cold with snow on the ground. The rich man had a pocket full of hundred dollar bills and began circulating among the downtrodden transients and handing each one, one Benjamin. Now back in the 1920’s, this was a lot of money, enough to get these people off the streets for maybe a couple of months.

This went well for a few moments until they attacked him and after beating him senseless, they relieved him of not only his money, but most of his warm clothing. Were they inherently criminal? Nope; greed took them over and they became a school of sharks and instead of simply feeding, they devoured their savior. Now imagine if this happened once a week. They would never have to work, because a good Samaritan would always rescue them.

Now imagine this scenario; you’ve been working all your life to get ahead and better your family’s well being. You pay taxes and make the monthly mortgage note on your 2-story house with 4 bedrooms. You struggle at times to have 2 extra cents for entertainment, but manage to pay your insurance, utility bills, and the myriad of other charges that come with owning a home and keeping groceries on the table.

Seeing that you and your mate both work and the kids are busy with extra curricular activities, you don’t realize an uninvited family has moved into your spare bedroom. They live off your lavish abundance, consume your groceries, and pay no utilities or taxes and come to find out; they are getting a stipend each month from your bank account! The sad thing is, you probably would have helped them if it would have been your choice to make.

So, you call a family meeting and bring in your parents and brothers and sisters and their spouses, to help you “rid yourself of these parasites”, as you call them. Imagine your surprise and disgust when half of your family decides the problem is too big and as a solution actually side with the intruders. The other half wants to physically remove them regardless if there is a fight or not. So, a stalemate is reached and you are forced to do nothing and let them stay for the time being. However, the side effect of this is a deep division in your family and you are stuck with the bill as the intruding family keeps growing. On top of everything else, one of the women has a baby and claims it is now part of your family and has legal rights to be there.

Being generous should be a choice we make, not something that should be taken for granted.  The rich man had no idea he was walking into the jaws of a tiger and the homeowner was equally oblivious that his apparent abundance would be taken advantage of. I think both examples are quite obvious that generosity and accumulation can be misconstrued to be a pot of gold there for the taking. However, is it? Of course it is not. How many times have we said that we will give the shirt off our back to those in need, but danged if I will let them steal, rob, or take it without my permission? Generosity is a one way street with a fortunate soul at the end. It is not a slippery slope where those of us with a few pleasures are stripped as we slide past those who don’t.

On the other hand, trolling people for a handout when you can work simply makes you, yes, a bum and in the old sense of the word. We cannot save the world and I’m not saying we shouldn’t have programs to help the down trodden or people seeking a better way of life. They need to come to the front door instead of the back entrance and stand in line. Civilized people stand in lines. Then at this time, we can decide just how generous we can afford to be. There is no other way.
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Friday, November 11, 2016

For those who served



 
Sgt. Bert Marshall  6280th CSG/366th Gunfighter Squadron, Takhli RTAFB
I graduated high school in late May of 1970 and the Vietnam War was still very much in the news. 1968 was the year of the most killed in action, but 1970 recorded over 6000 servicemen KIA. Like most students, Vietnam was as close as Jupiter and I knew about the same amount about both places. It was a time when if you wanted to know anything about anything, you pretty much went to the library to learn about it. At 17 years of age, I was more interested in living day to day then worrying about Vietnam.

I moved down to Pasadena with a friend from St. Louis until my family could relocate here and stayed in an apartment near Southmore Street. A few months later, my parents relocated on Red Bluff and I floated around a bit, like flotsam in the bay. That pretty much describes me too. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t have a job and was basically extra baggage for my parents. I decided I had better enlist in the Air Force, but I would check out the other branches before I signed my life away.  Did you know the military is the one job that they can ask you to sacrifice your life?

The recruiters were pretty busy back in those days, as the war was raging and they needed new talent. I walked right past the Navy recruiters, even though my dad was a sailor and we have a history of the sea in our bloodline. I just couldn’t see the shore from a boat and that made me uneasy. The Army was going to make me what was called a ground-pounder and even I knew that, so why enlist for 3 years when I could simply be drafted for 2? Well, I did not want to be drafted, that is for sure. That was a guaranteed ticket to Vietnam.

Then I saw it!  The standing full-sized Marine display and they were looking for a few good men. Well, I smoked cigarettes and talked like a man, so I stepped inside. There before me were two Marines; a huge black man and a smaller white one and both of them looked at me like they were cannibals and I was a pot-roast. “What do you want?” the shorter one bellowed.

“I, I, uh, I was thinking of joining the Marines and I wondered what they had to offer…sir?” Wrong question, as they both started screaming, foaming at the mouth, and clenching their fists while saying something about what I had to offer the Marine Corps. I barely made it out the door alive.

I pushed open the door of the Air Force recruiter in a cold sweat, which in itself was amazing as it was August and about 100 degrees outside.  “Back here!” I heard a friendly voice call out. The room was empty and I walked down to the first office and there behind the desk, eating a donut and drinking coffee was an Air Force Staff Sergeant in what I would later learn was a 1505 Tropical grade uniform. “Have a seat fella, what can we do for you?” he said and offered me the same fare as he was enjoying. It was love at first sight!

There was a made for TV movie called “Tribes” that I watched and it was informative in one area that I was totally ignorant about. It is or was known as “Recycling” or “getting set back”. In the movie, the main character never assimilates into the Marine Corps mentality and is not graduated with his class.  He is recycled to a motivational platoon to do it all over again. In Boot Camp, this became our greatest fear and one that none of us knew anything about prior to entering the service, despite the movie.

Out of 60 airman basics, or “Rainbows” as we were called, we lost an easy 1/3 to this practice. We picked up that third from other squadrons that were set back. The funny thing is, in the remaining 4 years I was in the Air Force, no one ever admitted to being set back. Now our TI’s or Technical Instructors as the Air Force called them were meaner than rabid Tasmanian Devils and most of them had been to war in the Army or Marine Corps. They were preparing us for war and dangnabit, they were serious as cancer about it. Somehow I graduated to join the war. I do not regret my time in the armed forces and these men helped mold me to the man I am today.

Some of my brothers and sisters went from boot camp to a lifetime of pain and suffering, while I walked away unscathed. The excellent VA hospital in Houston is a testament to their physical and mental suffering and that old demon Agent Orange is still working its poisonous treachery. I was around the stuff for almost 2 years and yet?  Nothing so far.

Friends, November 11th is a day set aside to thank Veterans for their service. The best you can say is a simple, "Thank you for your service," and remember there are thousands of women who served in the armed forces too. Fly your American flag and if you can, attend a Veteran's Day service. As a Veteran, I know that behind each Vet is a whole multitude of people who were affected by their time away while serving and for that, I say thank you!
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Friday, November 04, 2016

Riding the waves



 Back in 1974, after coming back to the USA from the unpleasant conflict in Southeast Asia, I was stationed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Lompoc, California. Vandenberg has 20 miles of coastline that is basically closed to the public and people in residence, regardless if you are in the military or not. This rule didn’t seem to affect my fellow airmen and I from going body surfing on a lonely stretch of beach, far from controlling authorities.
 
There was a submerged shelf that ran out a couple three hundred yards from the beach that was flat and about 6 feet deep.  You could swim way out there and as the ocean waves came in, they would hit that shelf and make 5 feet high waves that white-capped all the way in. Now mind you, this was pre-Jaws and none of us had ever heard of a Great White shark. Year later I read where this stretch of beach was prime habitat and a couple years ago, an airman was killed right there.

We had been in the 65 degree water for about an hour and I was turning blue, but I caught a terrific wave and all but washed up on the shore.  It was amazing and the best ride of the day.  It was akin to catching a big fish after not catching anything for hours. I immediately swam back out, even though we had all decided to come in. Needless to say, I found myself 300 yards off the beach and alone. In between waves, the ocean is very calm and I could see my buddies as they swam in and they were a long way off.

Suddenly, in the calm, I heard a splashing sound and because the salt water had made my vision a bit blurry, I thought it might be a SCUBA diver. It wasn’t.  It was a very large elephant seal and it was about 20 feet from me. I remember looking at it and then at my friends way off in the distance and then swimming for my life. Now, I’m not what you would classify as an elegant swimmer. What I did, looked more like a spastic person imitating a meth head in 6 inches of water. I pretty much attracted everything for 10 miles with my flailing, but made it to shore unscathed.

My buddies, who were all drinking beer by this time thought my exhibition was for them and were laughing when I all but cut a furrow in the beach with my fingers and toes. Now here is the ignorance of people in 1974 concerning Great White sharks.

“Oh, it was a seal? Don’t worry, cause if there are seals present, they scare away the sharks!” To this day I can see that big seal staring at me and now I know the truth. Sharks eat seals.  A few short months later, I was out of the service and the war and I tied my horse in Baytown. My brothers and I went to Galveston to swim in the Gulf and 2 weeks after that? We saw Jaws! I got to relive my experience all over again and one of the fellows in that movie was named Bert of all things! Remember him? He was on the dock that got pulled out and had to swim back! “Swim Bert!”

People forget what this movie did to us in 1975. It was traumatic to put it mildly. I remember a couple of airmen and I went to Universal Studios before I departed the Air Force and there was a mock-up of the Jaws shark hanging from a big structure and we looked at it and laughed.  I think it was about 25 feet long and 6 feet thick. We put it in the same category as King Kong and just as likely. It turns out, according to the record books the record stands at 36 feet.  What?

There’s no moral to this story that I can tell and just a memory that surfaced like that seal did. I know one thing. After watching the movie Jaws, I was so scared of water that for 6 months, I had trouble sitting on the throne!

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Customer service is not what it used to be

I was called by a local business today to pay for a maintenance service on my in-ground pool. My debit card on file had expired. ...