Penniless

If You’ve Been There, You’ll Never Forget It

The other day, I spent some time with my wife, doing one of the things I despise the most. Returning bottles and cans at the Kroger. Well, I don’t really mean returning, I mean crushing and destroying. Like most bottle return departments these days, Kroger’s is self-service. This results in a lot of bugs, sticky hands, jammed machines, and frustration levels going through the roof. I have always said it’s one of the worst-paying part-time jobs ever! However, as I was slogging my way through this thankless task, it reminded me of a time in my life when things weren’t as rosy as they are now.

As I detailed in my article Independence Day, I went through a pretty rough time after being laid off from my job of almost 26 years. After my severance pay and unemployment ran out, I had no money coming in at all. Thankfully, I have a wonderful wife, who supported me during that zero income period. What money I could scrounge up on my own, was usually from loose change and pop can returns. However, the flaw in that financial plan is that you have to have cash, in order to buy pop cans and thereby acquire loose change. A vicious cycle if ever I saw one. It’s really easy to feel sorry for yourself in that kind of situation. Or, you can get off your butt and do something about it.

Driving for Uber and Lyft got me out of the house, but it certainly didn’t do much to improve my financial situation. However, you can’t put a price on having a little jingle in your pocket. This became seed money for my loose change and pop cans income stream. You never appreciate having a steady income, until Friday ceases to be payday, and becomes just another day without money. I will never forget how that felt. Although, occasionally, I still lose sight of it. Usually, while pumping gas on a freezing morning, or when I’m stuck in traffic. However, all I have to do is return some pop cans or drop some loose change in a Coinstar machine, and I’m right back where I was, penniless. Now, I value every single penny I earn. I think if more people felt the same way, there would be a lot more gratitude and generosity in the world. But, that’s just my two cents.

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Becoming a Daytrader

Beats the Heck Out of Paying Retail

I know what you’re thinking. How does this guy, who has a part-time sales gig and writes two blog posts a week, find time to be a daytrader? The short answer is, I don’t. My experience in the financial markets leaves a lot to be desired. It used to be so bad, I would give my buddy a heads up when I was buying a stock, so he could cash out of the market first. He used to call me the One-Man Bear Market. Yep, Warren Buffett definitely has nothing to worry about from me. That said, I’m talking about another form of market altogether. I’m referring to the secondary merchandise market. You can access these products through apps like eBay, Craigslist, or Letgo. While Craigslist used to be the top dog, Letgo has left it in the dust, with ease of use and plenty of photos.

Unlike my experience in the stock market, these apps have helped me become a shrewd buyer. Over the past couple of years, I have purchased many products for a fraction of their retail cost. Stuff like, a Schwinn exercise bike, which the previous owner had only used a few times. It sold new for $500, and I picked it up for $40! The iMac I am using to write this article? Only $125 on Letgo. Yes indeed, there are plenty of bargains to be had at the virtual garage sale. Not only am I a buyer, I am a seller as well. Just yesterday, I sold an older Roku device for $20, and a small Nikon camera for $15. Both of these items were destined for the donate pile if I didn’t sell them quickly. So, I consider it a major score.

My son recently moved out of our house (again), so I am constantly on Letgo, looking for furniture and other accessories for his new place. Just yesterday, we picked up a nice computer desk for only $30. With all of the shopping for his new crib, I am constantly coming across stuff I need as well. Like the oak file cabinet sitting right next to my desk. A steal, at only $20. My friend Don tells me I need help. However, the way I look at it, if it’s stuff you need anyway, why pay full-price? Seems smart to me. I even have my wife using Letgo. Even though she hasn’t bought anything yet, she likes to grab my phone and flip through pictures of stuff for our son’s place. The way I see it, this gets me off the hook for future purchases. Hee, hee! Try out these apps yourself, especially Letgo, and see what you bargains you can find!

Disclaimer: Be Safe Out There! Especially women! Getting abducted for a good deal on an iPad is certainly not worth the risk! For more information, check out these safety tips on Letgo! 

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The Quiet Place

Giving Yourself the Creeps

It was quiet, too quiet. How many times have you heard those words and felt tension begin to creep up on you? It’s almost like a menacing movie soundtrack starts to play in the background. My wife and son were on vacation for a couple of days, and the quiet was definitely beginning to freak me out. My younger son had recently moved out, so it was the first time I was in our house alone at night, without my crazy canine alarm system. My rule used to be, if it didn’t bother Skittles, it didn’t bother me. Now, every pop and creak had me on high alert. My wife used to talk about this feeling when I worked afternoons for nineteen years. Now I get what she meant.

Working on afternoons, I was the only employee on that shift. Eventually, the night noises of the Renaissance Center took on a familiar rhythm, and I got used to them. Not so much with our house. I don’t like it quiet. If I’m home alone, I usually have some music cranked up while I write a new blog article, or work on some other project. My current position in sales keeps my mouth moving all day, so when I finally shut up, it’s a little eerie. Of course, I’ll have some music or podcast playing as I drive home.

They say that when you lose a loved one, it’s the quiet that gets you. Since our beloved Skittles had passed away, the silence was deafening in that empty house. Every little noise was magnified, and of course, my imagination began to run wild. When my wife and son finally arrived back home, I welcomed the noise. While peace and solitude can help you remain calm and relaxed, it doesn’t do a whole lot for your nerves after a day or two. Maybe that’s the secret. Quiet, in moderation. Makes sense to me. For now, crank up the AC/DC, gotta get some work done!!

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Talk to Somebody

It Goes Next to Your Ear

While taking my morning walk the other day, I noticed a kid in his late teens or early twenties, sitting on a porch smoking a cigarette. A vanishing breed in this world of vaping. He was talking with someone on his phone, using the speaker. My question is, how hard is it to hold it up to your ear? At least he was using his cell phone for its designed purpose. For the life of me, I can’t understand why kids today have such a hard time understanding this concept. They text, snapchat, selfie, shop, binge, and much more on their smartphones. Basically, they do everything that’s technologically possible, except talk to somebody. Which is what the dang thing is for!

Back in the day, parents were led to believe that if they bought a cell phone for Bobby or Susie, they would be in constant contact at all times. How has that worked out? God forbid you ever have to call one of these little ingrates. They NEVER answer the phone. All you can do is leave a message, and maybe they’ll get back to you before the next ice age. Even texting doesn’t merit a response. Unless you are offering food or money, you don’t exist in the digital world. In our case, my youngest son lost his new phone on the school bus. Since he didn’t tell us right away, some little bugger ran up a huge cell phone bill, downloading games and music for his new phone! Argh!

I remember the first time I made a call on a cell phone. It was a Motorola flip phone, with a pull-up antenna, and a battery the size of a 1950’s candy bar. I had truly stepped into the world of science fiction. What’s really frightening is that soon, there will be a whole generation of kids who have never known a world without cell phones. I recently saw a picture of what we would look like in the year 2030 if we continued to let our devices control our lives. It was pretty frightening. This week, we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing. That really happened. Not just once, but six times! A smartphone is a million times more powerful than all the NASA computers that put those men on the moon. Tell that to your kids and maybe they’ll phone a friend. We can only hope.

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Your Heart's Desire

Maybe It’s Not What You Think

There are few things sadder than watching a great TV show reach its peak of popularity, then slowly run out of gas. However, because it’s a cash cow for the network, it continues on and on and on. The term Jump the Shark was originally coined from a Happy Days episode in the fifth season where Fonzie, on water skis, literally jumps a shark. It has become the universally acknowledged sign that a show has started its slow decline into cancellation, and rerun oblivion. Supernatural was originally designed to run only five seasons, and by most accounts, should have stuck to that plan. However, it just finished airing season fourteen, and rumor has it that season fifteen will definitely be it’s last. We’ll see.

That said, I recently saw a very special episode of Supernatural. When I realized what was happening, I asked my son Kevin to come and watch it with me. Dean makes a wish on a pearl that’s supposed to grant him his Heart’s Desire. Instead of getting what he expects, it brings his father, John Winchester, back to life. After the initial shock of John’s Lazarus routine, and a tearful family reunion, they eventually realize John has to go back. This makes for a very poignant dinner. Sam, Dean, Mary, and John have a lot of laughs and shed many tears. After all this time they are finally able to say their goodbyes to John. Kevin and I were both teary-eyed as we watched this touching scene. You could tell the actors were enjoying it as well. The episode ended with John in the Impala, speaking with Dean on the phone, back in the 90s.

The theme of that episode made me think of Harry Potter and The Mirror of Erised. The mirror that shows Your Heart’s Desire. Of course, for Harry, it shows his deceased parents who were killed by Voldemort. This got me thinking. Without going all Pet Sematary, what would happen if I could make a wish and receive My Heart’s Desire? Would it bring back my Mom and Dad, or deliver the latest gadget I was dreaming about on Amazon? More than likely, since she is my most recent loss, it would probably bring back my dog Skittles. Maybe that’s how the pearl would work. The loss currently causing you the most pain would be your wish. That sounds about right, and I’m sure Dean would agree.  Regardless, for me the episode was the highlight of the past nine seasons and I’m glad I was able to watch it with my son Kevin.

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Abandoned

Oh No He Didn’t!

When my buddies and I get together, all the old stories start to surface after a few beers. One of the best is The Legend of ZZ Top. Let me set the scene. It was a frigid night in January when that Little Ol’ Band From Texas rolled into town. Since they had been on my concert bucket list for many years, I thought it would be a great idea to catch the show at the Joe Louis Arena in Downtown Detroit. The trio from Texas was in top form, and we weren’t disappointed. However, there were a few snafus that turned the night into one we would never forget.

Jim, Joe, Mike, and I were jazzed about seeing ZZ Top. However, Jim was in the habit of inviting along a third, or in this case, fifth wheel who the rest of us weren’t too crazy about. This time it was another Joe, nicknamed Joe Studly, who joined our group on that fateful night. Joe, Mike, and I had other names for him by the end of the evening. Once the music began, Jim didn’t see much of the concert. Earlier that night, his Irish roots had taken over, and his pre-game festivities got a little out of hand. Since he was in no condition to enjoy, much less even notice the band, Joe Studly offered to take Jim back to the car. This should have set my spider-senses tingling, but I was enjoying the show too much to notice.

After the concert, Joe, Mike, and I tried in vain to locate Jim’s car in the JLA parking garage. However, since we had pre-gamed as well, none of us had taken much notice of where the car was parked, since we assumed we would all be leaving TOGETHER! Nope. We eventually came to the conclusion that Joe Studly had abandoned us and drove Jim home, alone. At this point, Joe Studly’s life expectancy had considerably shortened.

We pooled together our meager resources and hired a cab to take us as far as $14 would go. Turns out it was 10 Mile and Jefferson. It was a cold, clear night and there was a brisk wind blowing in off Lake St. Clair. A bank thermometer said it was a balmy 10 degrees as we began our trek home. Since we were not prepared for an arctic journey, it was not a pleasant stroll. However, we burned with the inner fire of what we would do to Joe Studly when we finally caught up with him. Since Mike was the bodybuilder of our trio, our plan was for Joe and I hold him down, while Mike beat him senseless. We eventually got to my house, and I drove the guys the rest of the way home, cranking up the heat all the way. Needless to say, the next day Jim had some serious ‘splainin’ to do. However, it was Joe Studly who abandoned us, since Jim was barely conscious.

We didn’t see Joe Studly again for about six months. A good thing for him. After the initial tension, we had a good laugh about it. However, we told him he would never be allowed to go anywhere with us again. He readily agreed and was happy to get away from the party without serious damage to his person. ZZ Top is playing at nearby Freedom Hill Amphitheater this September. Since it’s only two miles from my home, I have suggested that we get back together and do it right this time (minus Joe Studly). Worst case scenario, the chance of serious frostbite should be greatly reduced!

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Fireflies from Heaven

Gone But Never Forgotten

It’s been a few weeks since I had to say goodbye to my beloved Skittles. As anyone who has ever lost a furry family member will tell you, there are constant reminders that stab you in the heart. It was the main reason I donated all of her stuff to our vet as soon as I could. That ride home was heartbreaking, but I knew it had to be done. The first time I pulled into the garage and suddenly realized she wasn’t on the other side of the door, just about killed me. However, as time goes by, it does get a little easier. Until you get hit with another memory out of the blue. Then it hurts all over again.

It seems to me that the biggest problem is you want to tell everyone about your loss as fast as possible. That way you won’t be constantly reminded of your pain whenever someone sees you without your shadow. The other day, I had a double-dip of misery. First, it was a dog we had met on our walk a couple of times before. Another beagle named Bandit who looked so much like Skittles, I almost lost it right there on the sidewalk. I explained to his owner that we had to put Skittles to sleep, and her kind words just seemed to make it worse. Then, at the end of the street, I ran into an old friend. She asked where Skittles was and the wound ripped open again. As we talked about my puppy, it brought up memories of her beloved Trixie as well. Before long, we were both choking back the tears. Just brutal.

We said our goodbyes and I finished my walk. Twilight fell as I made my last turn home. Then I saw them. Fireflies. Hundreds of them. Last summer, I wrote a story called Firefly Trail. The walk that inspired that story was taken with my crazy dog. Since she was always in tune with how I felt, I’m sure she sent this beautiful message from Heaven, to let me know she was okay and missed me too. This article is dedicated to anyone who has lost a pet suddenly. Please know that it does get better, and that’s okay. Moving on is part of the grieving process. They will always be with you.

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Chernobyl 

Scary Times

I recently watched the HBO mini-series Chernobyl. It immediately took me back to the bad old days of The Cold War. Like me, I think most people back then didn’t dwell on it too much. The possibility of nuclear annihilation was out of your hands anyway, so why worry about it? However, on April 26, 1986, an explosion occurred at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in reactor number four. Most of the world had no idea how bad the situation really was. Initially, the Soviets did a good job of covering it up. However, the truth finally got out when scientists in Sweden started detecting radiation in their atmosphere coming from the Chernobyl reactor. It’s truly terrifying to learn how bad this catastrophe could have been, if not for the actions of some very brave people.

Back then, there were some major differences between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. when it came to dealing with a disaster like Chernobyl. The Russians immediately went into butt-coverage mode and began pointing fingers at each other. The Soviets downplayed the danger of the radiation, instead of trying to figure out how to prevent its spread. On the flip side, Americans as a whole are very solution-oriented. In 2010, when the Deepwater Horizon explosion happened, the focus was immediately on how to save the people on the rig, capping the well, minimizing the spill, and starting the clean up. There would be plenty of time to figure out who was at fault for the accident later. Eventually, the Russians stopped pointing fingers at each other long enough to begin solving the problem.

The real problem soon became clear. For every metaphorical fire they put out, another one sprung up in its place. In an effort to get a handle on the disaster, many heroic acts were performed by brave Soviet citizens. However, is heroism at the point of a gun really heroism? Regardless, these folks stepped up and got the job done when their names were called. Many of them volunteered for particularly hazardous duty. I don’t know if they were chugging the Communist Kool-Aid, or just wanted to save lives. Either way, these men wound up preventing the spread of radiation to more than a million people. They’re all heroes, regardless of their political system.

The iconic exchange of the whole show is when the Director of the KGB asks, “Why worry about something that’s never going to happen?” The head scientist responsible for fixing Chernobyl replies, “Oh, that’s brilliant. They should be print that on our money.” That was the U.S.S.R. in a nutshell. Chernobyl is an extremely scary and well done series. It’s interesting to note that Russia is currently developing its own movie project, claiming that Chernobyl was apparently a very successful CIA operation. Ah, some things never change. However, it’s good to know that even in a system as warped as the U.S.S.R., there were valiant people who helped keep a horrible situation from becoming a continent-wide disaster. Without their bravery, it could be a very different world today.

(Note: Michael Schellenberger’s article shows the many things HBO got wrong.  Follow this link to learn more.)

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