My Gym Bag

Motivation Comes From Strange Places

My son Jeffrey gave me a new Adidas gym bag for Christmas about five years ago. This bag was destined to replace an old double-zipper gym bag I had been struggling with for years. However, what really frustrated me wasn’t the bag, it was the results I was getting at the gym. But that’s a story for another day. While getting ready to hit the gym on Monday, the importance of that bag hit me. Ever since I began my Fitness Quest when I was 33 years old, I had a goal of being able to get to the gym three days a week. Since my two boys weren’t yet attending elementary school, I tried to work out when I could. My objective was to join a gym with a pool, steam room, jacuzzi, and other amenities that make sweating my butt off on a treadmill worth the effort.

My search for The Perfect Gym ranged far and wide. I tried Bally’s (a giant ripoff), the local YMCA (ironically, no pool), a smaller community center gym (again, no pool) and I finally settled on my wife’s old high school. It had been converted into a state-of-the-art facility. The Warren Community Center checked off every item on my list. Outside of a locker break-in, where I lost two credit cards and a debit card, I always look forward to my weekly M-W-F workouts. As I detailed in my article Living By The Scale, I was eventually able to drop over 50 pounds. Then, the battle to keep it off began. My gym bag is a constant reminder to get off my keister and keep fighting the good fight. Even if it’s just 10 degrees below zero outside, thinking about the steam room helps to keep me motivated.

That’s how life works. You set goals, prioritize them, and sometimes completely forget about them. However, one day you realize you have achieved one of your goals without even consciously working on it. Life gets so busy, it’s difficult to step back and see the big picture. I think that’s why it’s important to view yourself in the third-person from time to time. Just as if you were the main character in a novel. Keeping a journal is an important part of this process. It allows you to step outside your first-person viewpoint and see yourself as just another character in this fascinating Book of Life. This helps you to realize you actually have achieved some of the goals you set months, or even years ago. Sorry, I didn’t mean to get so deep. Anyway, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to get to the gym on a regular basis, and finally, get into shape. And it all began with that gym bag. Funny how life works sometimes, isn’t it?

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Letting Kids Be Idiots

How Else Are They Going to Learn?

Recently, a lot of news has been made about Parkland School shooting survivor, Kyle Kashuv. He lost his future slot at Harvard because of racially insensitive comments he made in some text messages when he was only 16. He has since apologized for those remarks, but Harvard is having none of it. This unfortunate incident illustrates how kids today are going to be haunted for the rest of their lives by every derogatory post, tweet, and photo they ever posted online. In 2010, Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt said today’s youth will eventually have to change their names in an attempt to escape their cyber past.

When did things get so completely out of control? I know we’re living in a digital age, but the problem is that we’ve stopped letting kids be kids. They are going to make blunders when they’re young and stupid. God knows, I did. Part of growing up is making some truly awful decisions and learning how to live with them. How are they ever going to triumph over their bad choices, when somewhere in cyberspace, there is a digital record of every dumb thing they have ever done? If kids aren’t allowed to be idiots, the coping skills they would normally acquire as adolescents will be taken away and replaced by police-state paranoia. They’ll constantly have to self-edit what they’re saying and doing at all times, for fear that Cyber Big Brother is looking over their shoulders.

In this case, the kid from Parkland is a Conservative and a gun rights advocate. Of course, the people on the Left are quick to call him a racist and say he doesn’t deserve to go to Harvard. Naturally, folks on the Right have come to his defense. However, what if the shoe was on the other foot? What if it was discovered that fellow Parkland student and anti-gun advocate David Hogg, had made similar comments when he was only 16? I’m sure the crowd on the Left would find a way to excuse his actions, and the pack on the Right would be calling him a hypocrite. Kids need to be allowed to make mistakes without online trolls cutting them to pieces.

That’s why we have the juvenile justice system. It was set up so crimes committed by little hooligans wouldn’t follow them into adulthood. In the immortal words of Dean Wormer, “Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son”. So what do you say? Let’s give the kids a break. We all did foolish stuff when we were young and we can thank God there isn’t a digital smoking gun of our misdeeds out there, just waiting to be discovered by our kids. We sure would have lots of ‘splainin’ to do. I shudder at the thought. So, let kids be idiots. It’s the only way they’re going to learn.

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Your Peace Lies Within You

Just Breathe

About a year ago, I had an epiphany. After a good workout at the community center gym, I was attempting to chill out by the pool area. Summer had just begun, and the kid noise level in that enclosed space rivaled that of an F-35 Fighter Jet. The shrieking and yelling were enough to blow out your eardrums. I remember thinking to myself, “What if I had the ability to relax and recuperate, in the midst of all of this screaming and yelling?” Now, that really sounds like an amazing life skill. If I could develop that ability, I could remain calm and relaxed in virtually any situation.

At that point, the phrase, “Your peace lies within you”, jumped into my head. I’m not really sure where it came from. However, I do know it helps me to instantly relax. Many years ago, I read Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz. The main focus of that book is to relax completely and visualize your goals. I never mastered the ability to instantly enter a calm, relaxed state. However, whenever I recite “Your peace lies within you”, I immediately feel a sense of peace wash over me. And who doesn’t need more of that in this crazy world? The next time I was at the pool, I decided to give it another try. Sure enough, I was able to soften the roar of all those screaming kids and yelling parents with just five simple words.

I was interested to see how it would work in a more tranquil environment. Once I was home, nestled comfortably in my recliner, I closed my eyes and repeated the phrase once more. That familiar sense of calm immediately washed over me. Strangely enough, it seems to work better if you repeat the phrase with your palms turned up. Maybe all those yoga instructors are onto something.

Recently, I was in dire need of some calm. My wife and I were in the basement folding laundry when we heard a tremendous crash upstairs. Skittles had managed to knock a glass pan of freshly-baked brownies onto the kitchen floor. I caught her as she was about to dig in. Pieces of glass and chunks of brownie were everywhere. I shooed the crazy hound dog outside and took a deep breath. Then I began chanting the phrase over and over as I got to work cleaning up the mess. If it can work for that disaster, I’m sure it can work for you. Give it a try!

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A Sad Silence

Our Hearts Are Broken

I am writing today with a broken heart. Our beloved hound dog, Skittles, has passed away. It came on suddenly with a case of internal bleeding. After five short hours, we had to put her to sleep. She was only eleven years old and just the day before, I had taken her for a bike ride. She didn’t race around the block like a bat out of hell, but happily trotted alongside as we made our way around the neighborhood. Ironically, a dog trainer named Dawn had come by our house earlier on that dreadful evening, to break Skittles of some of her more annoying habits. However, after seeing her condition, she immediately recommended that we get her to the vet.

We arrived at Serenity Animal Hospital at around 7 pm. After some bloodwork, x-rays, and an ultrasound, Dr. Karen recommended we get her to emergency right away. It was the quietest ride we ever had with our crazy dog. Whenever I drove with her in the past, I always made sure I had earbuds to block out her beagle/basset hound cacophony. Now, it was just silence. I have heard that when animals know their time has come, they respond accordingly. I had to lift her into the car to take her to the emergency room, but when I tried to carry her down from the back seat, she backed away from me in terror. She knew.

After a discussion with the vet on duty, it was determined that there were only two courses of action. Exploratory surgery, or putting Skittles to sleep. Since the best result to be expected from the surgery was a diminished life-span and further medical treatments, we decided to put her down. It was agonizing. Thirteen years ago, we had to put our cat Jewel to sleep. However, she had been living a diminished, but happy life for two and a half years. When her time came, it was sad, but not unexpected. However, with Skittles I kept crying, “It’s not fair!” I had no idea what to do. Watching my companion, who had often journeyed out with me in subzero temperatures, shivering on the floor was just killing me. I prayed hard, and the only answer that kept coming back to me was my wife saying, “She’s in pain”. That did it. I held onto her and sobbed while she left this world.

Just before midnight, we left the emergency vet office, taking with us only her leash and collar. I was a complete wreck and it was a miracle we made it home without injury to the car, or ourselves. The next morning, not seeing her lying in the hallway outside our bedroom was another stab in the heart. A couple of days later, I collected all of her things to donate to Serenity. Skittles was never one for toys. Her spare time was always spent demanding attention from whoever was in the room with her. Bagging up her belongings, I came across the one toy she did play with from time to time. It’s a stuffed rabbit, and I have placed it in her chair across from my recliner.

If you read my article about her attitude issues, you know she wasn’t a well-behaved dog. However, I would gladly cut pieces of candy cane out of the carpet again, if it meant we would have her with us for just a few more years. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. On ride home on the night she passed, my wife brought up a good point. Since Skittles was a rescue dog, we had given her a good life. I take solace in that thought, but I am still at a loss for what to do next. Once I’m done journaling and blogging for the day, our daily routine always began with a quick walk around our L-shaped block. This was followed by a treat hunt in the backyard, or indoors if the weather was crappy. I will take a walk this morning in her memory, and probably have another good cry in the process. Dear God, please take care of our crazy dog until we see her again. Amen.

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School’s Out For Summer

Free At Last

Ah, yes. You can almost hear fellow Detroiter, Alice Cooper, belting out that iconic summer anthem. When I did my time in the Detroit public school system, thermostats had just one setting, Volcano. Yes kids, no Air Conditioning! If summer arrived early, you spent the last days of your educational incarceration sweating your little butts off. In the days leading up to summer vacation, teachers would sense the growing unrest among their savages, so they scheduled as many Field Days and Field Trips as possible. It was an attempt to keep their little monsters under control until that final bell rang. I swear, on the last day of school it seemed like the clock was actually running backwards.

As the peals of that bell faded away, all of us monsters would race into the streets. We all had an ever-expanding itinerary of activities, which would surely keep us busy until Labor Day. The first couple of weeks of summer vacation were always a blur. We tried to check off as many items as possible from our summer to-do list before we ran out of gas. By Independence Day, we usually had settled into our daily routine. Baseball in the morning, followed by a quick lunch, then more baseball, or parks and rec in the afternoon. Followed by a refreshing dip in the pool. We were one of the few families in the neighborhood lucky enough to have a pool. However, you had to be careful you didn’t accumulate a bunch “Pool Pals”, who only showed up on particularly scorching afternoons.

Here in Detroit, last summer was the fifth hottest on record. So, it really wasn’t any surprise that our suburban streets weren’t overflowing with fun-loving kids. However, even during a mild summer, most of the kids in our neighborhood aren’t seen outside during the daylight hours. It’s like they’re all a bunch of pint-sized vampires. Maybe their moms are threatening to slather them up with SPF 5000 if they even think about venturing into the sunshine. Who knows? Get outside kids! Play some baseball, or God-forbid, some life-threatening games like dodgeball or red rover (gasp). Ride your bikes, scrape your knees, get dirty, then eat some ice cream. Summer is finally here! It won’t be long before you might be seeing this classic Staples commercial, featuring Alice Cooper.

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Cottage People

They’re a Special Breed

It’s no secret that Michigan is known for its lakes. And, not just HOMES. If you grew up in Pure Michigan, you know that’s an acronym for The Great Lakes. We actually have 11,000 lakes of 5 acres or more. So, Suck it, Minnesota! However, in addition to all of our alluring lakes, we are also known for something else. What surrounds all those beautiful lochs? Lots and lots of Cottages. Personally, I’ve never felt the need to own a cottage. However, both of my brothers felt the urge and acted upon it. What it all comes down to for me is that you don’t necessarily need to own a cottage, but you really NEED to know someone who does!

Last summer was Detroit’s fifth hottest on record. However, this year hasn’t been even remotely close to that. So far, we’ve had nothing but cold, wet days, and rising waters along the major lakes and rivers. Mother Nature has thrown in a few beautiful warm days, just to tease us a little. Although, when I wrote the first draft of this article, it was 45 freakin’ degrees. It’s June for crying out loud! Anyway, the cottage people are wishing and hoping for temperatures to rise soon. Then they can indulge in such wonderful activities such as swimming, boating, barbecuing, and watching beautiful sunsets by a roaring campfire.

The main reason I’ve never really been drawn to the cottage lifestyle is that I have a hard enough time maintaining one house, let alone two. However, that’s what cottage folks do. On Friday afternoons, they skip out of work early and race north or west to get to their refuge on the lake. Then, they unwind by dusting, cleaning, vacuuming, cutting the grass and tending the garden. Or, by harvesting seaweed like my sister-in-law Lauri (pictured above). Once that’s all done, they grab dinner, kick back with a beer, and enjoy another beautiful sunset. The next morning it seems like they either do it all over again or pack up everything and head back home. Then, the same cycle repeats the next weekend. As I said, I don’t feel drawn to it myself, but I understand it. Here in the LP (Lower Peninsula), we get about three to four months of nice weather before the fall and winter move in. So Carpe S’mores (seize the s’mores) all of you cottage creatures! Have a wonderful summer, but remember the Stark motto. Winter is Coming!

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The Neighborhood Networks

Old Time Technology

Just a minute ago, I was trying to remember the name of a street a couple of blocks down and for the life of me, I couldn’t recall it. I had to cheat and use Google Maps. This illustrates how technology has disabled us to a certain degree. Take away our cell phones, iPads, and computers, and we’re just about helpless. We’d actually have to LISTEN when somebody gave us directions, instead of saying, “Just text me the address.” Now that I think about it, that has the makings of a great Reality TV show. Pick a random group of ten millennials (no oldsters allowed) and take away all of their technology. Then put them in a car in a strange city and hand them a map and an address. The first person to reach the finish line wins one million dollars! Sounds like Must See TV to me!

My inability to recall the name of a street that’s just two blocks away reminded me of being a kid. My buddies and I didn’t need any stinkin’ Google Maps! You surveyed the topography of the neighborhood on foot and stored it in your brain’s geography section. When you were old enough to ride a bike in the street (twelve years old in Detroit), the ‘hood became your oyster. Once you reached that magic age and didn’t have to curb-hop at every intersection, you could really get into some serious mischief. My friends and I knew every street from Rossiter, all the way west to Kelly, then back east to I-94, and beyond. Since my sons grew up at the dawn of the cellular age, they had to develop their street skills as well. To this day, they both have an encyclopedic knowledge of the streets surrounding our house.

However, there was another neighborhood network that we all tried to avoid. The Parental Network. It was designed to keep tabs on us hooligans by turning every parent in the area into a kid-monitoring node in the system. It was almost as if our parents had implanted trackers on us in our sleep. If you went to the movies after your mom said no, busted! If you rode your bike a ridiculous distance to visit a cute girl, your dad knew about it. We couldn’t get away with anything! If we somehow managed to slip by this parental police state, we celebrated like master criminals after a successful heist. However, we knew that any victory was short-lived. When the vulnerability in the parental network was patched, we knew we’d all be back under 24/7 surveillance once again. Oh well, we got away with what we could and had a lot of fun doing it. If today’s kids ever ditch their technology, parents will be helpless without their own parental network as a backup system. A pretty terrifying thought. All those kids running loose. What a blast!

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The Rude Roofer

The Lost Art of Customer Service

It seems like these days, good customer service is hard to come by. Recently, my wife and I decided it was time to get a new roof for our house. The old one was about 25 years old and desperately needed to be replaced. We shopped around and finally settled on a company that had done one of the houses on our street.

Once we picked out our shingles, and the rains finally let up, the owner of the roofing company (who I will call Rob) and his crew got to work. We’re very happy with how the roof turned out. However, there’s a lot to be said for Rob’s bedside manner. Just because our ranch house in Warren isn’t a mansion in Grosse Pointe, there’s no reason to be rude.

I’ve always been very hands-on when it comes to our roof. Over the past year, I installed some foam wedges that keep our gutters debris-free. So naturally, I went up there a couple of times with some questions. Whenever I reached the top of the ladder, Rob would throw a little hissy fit. Pardon me pal, but my wife and I spent a lot of money on that roof and I just wanted to make sure all of our concerns were being addressed.

I knew full well that once our check was written and they had moved onto the next job, odds were good we would never see them again. So, as my wife wrote out the check, I coaxed Rob into walking around the house with me for a final inspection. I pointed out a downspout that had shifted during the roof installation. He huffily grabbed a ladder and straightened it out. Apparently, he had another job to get to. Oh really? Tough!

Whatever happened to customer service? These days, if you walk up to a store counter and the clerk isn’t checking out social media on her phone, consider yourself lucky. Companies like Trader Joe’s, JetBlue, and CVS, pride themselves on their customer service. I can remember exactly when the Customer Service Train went off the rails.

It all began with Dell Computers. For many years, Dell had set the standard for excellence in PC Support. It was part of the reason so many people bought a Dell PC at the beginning of the PC Revolution. However, they eventually realized that U.S.-based customer service was getting expensive. So Dell became one of the first companies to outsource their PC Support to India. Customer service has been sliding downhill ever since.

That said, if you do run across someone who provides you with excellent customer service, please thank them. In a world of ungrateful customers, it could just make their day and yours!

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