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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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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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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Taking Heat For Granted

Waiting On The Whoosh

It happened last year. For about two and a half days, our furnace was out. Of course, it was the middle of January and temperatures were in the 20s. Our house got down to a frosty 56 degrees, and it was NOT pleasant. My poor fish Wolverine was swimming in one place and eyeballing me as if to say, “Heat Dude!” Our hound dog Skittles spent those days curled in a ball with her nose buried in her fur. It was nice to know my wife and I weren’t the only miserable ones.

As it turned out, the controller board on our furnace had gone belly up. Since it was the dead of winter, it took repairmen the aforementioned two and a half days to get our heat up and running again. In order to facilitate some warmth in the living room, I picked up two space heaters with built-in fans that, when properly positioned, actually brought the temperature up to a livable 62 degrees. Once I heard that wonderful click and whoosh of the heat coming back on, I thanked God, and whoever had invented forced-air heating. After that misadventure, I had hoped we were out of the woods for good. Nope.

On Wednesday, January 30th there was a fire at a natural gas pumping station in Armada, MI. That station distributes gas to about half of suburban Detroit. Not good, especially since we were in the middle of a record subzero cold snap. An emergency request popped up on social media, from the CEO of Consumers Energy. She asked everyone to dial down their thermostats to 65 degrees or less for a couple of days. Here we go again! Ironically, after two and a half days, we received the all clear to crank it back up. What I have learned from these two episodes is to NEVER take heat for granted. Keep that in mind, if your power goes out during a sweltering summer. Take it from me, it could always be a LOT worse!

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You Could Always Be A Garbage Man

You Think You’ve Got It Bad?

This morning a garbage truck came by, just like every Monday. However, today was a little different. The guy on the back of the truck was new, or very unlucky. All of a sudden there was a loud crash, followed by “MotherTrucker!” (cleaned up for publication). He had been tossing a particularly large piece of trash into the back of the truck. The item broke halfway into the gaping maw, causing quite a mess. Hence, the swearing. From time to time, we’ve all had jobs we weren’t particularly thrilled with. This made me think about my own job history.

I’ve had many jobs over the years, but I have never had to work in the Sanitation Arts. During my career at Trent car wash, my job was to cram my 6’3” frame into the back seat of 70’s era compact cars and get the windows as squeaky clean as possible. This required using T-Rex arms at times because I could barely move around back there. From the car wash, I moved on to Movie Usher at the Woods Theater. A pretty boring job, but there were a few benefits. The cute girls I worked with and POPCORN! Seeing lots of movies was also an added benefit. However, by my count, I saw Saturday Night Fever about 150 times and Close Encounters of the Third Kind over 300 times! Too much of a good thing. I was hearing The Bee Gees in my sleep.

This was before I began my career in IT. My first IT job was with ABD Federal Credit Union, where I worked as a Teller during the afternoon and a Backup Operator in the evening. I parlayed that experience into over 30 years in the IT field. Now, I work as a Sales Rep for Global Discovery Vacations. Most of these jobs have kept me clean, and relatively odor-free. No matter how bad things got, I never had to worry about a bag of reeking garbage tearing apart in my hands! So, the next time you’re having a bad day at work, just remember, it could be a lot worse. You could always be a Garbage Man (or Woman)! Happy Monday!

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Swimming Between the Raindrops

Learning To Swim In The Sunshine

The other day, my friend Karen posted on Facebook that her grandkids were in the new pool and they were “swimming between the storms”. I know a perfect blog topic when I hear one, so I asked Karen if I could use it. She is a BNAT reader and happily gave me her approval. Karen’s statement is certainly a life lesson. I changed it up a little because it sounded too much like a book by Tony Robbins or Brendon Burchard. I don’t want to get sued!

Many times in life, it seems like we are completely obsessed with the problems raging all around us. The Storms. It seems to me that the key to living a happy life is to swim between the storms or the raindrops, as it were. I don’t want to get too deep here, but it’s an interesting analogy when you look at it from a weather angle. If you look above you, all you can see is your patch of sky. There may be storms in the surrounding area, but in the blue window overhead, your weather is beautiful.

Our recent heat wave illustrates this attitude perfectly. After a week of upper 90-degree weather, we finally got a break and had two beautiful days. I fell for the trap of looking at more 90-degree weather that was on the horizon after those two lovely days. Then it hit me, enjoy the days you have been given! Swim between the Raindrops (or Heat!). Storms will always be there, but you have to learn to Swim in the Sunshine! Thanks for the wise words, Karen!

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Being Ebenezer Scrooge

It’s Not Easy Being Scrooge

Hello, and welcome back to The Brown Parachute Club. I know it’s been about 6 months since my last posting. As I mentioned in my last blog, I am working at Global Discovery Vacations. Despite a somewhat rocky start, I appear to be hitting my stride (I hope). The world of sales is very odd, to say the least. But, I am not writing about that today.

Last year, I posted an article called, Being George Bailey. I think it was one of the better ones I have written. You may want to go back and read it before continuing on with this post. The two articles are joined at the hip, as it were, and reading the first will definitely give you an idea of where I am going with this one.

Anyway, as I usually do at this time of year, I like to read (or listen to) two books. The first is Skipping Christmas by John Grisham. The second is A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. The first is a great story about what would happen if you decided to just forgo all the madness surrounding the Christmas Season and just, “Skip it”.

The movie, Christmas with the Kranks, stars Tim Allen (a proud Michigander and the voice of the Pure Michigan commercials), and Jamie Lee Curtis. Given that her dad was Tony Curtis and her mom was Janet Leigh, I’m guessing she’s from California. The movie is a hoot and I highly recommend it if you haven’t seen it.

A Christmas Carol has had many movie adaptations. I am partial to the musical Scrooge (1970), starring Albert Finney. He was a major cranky pants in that version and did an excellent job of portraying the transformation Scrooge undergoes. From a selfish, crusty curmudgeon, to a giving, charitable man who has found the true meaning of Christmas, and lives it every day.

Over the past few years, I have made a concerted effort to become more like the reborn Scrooge (or Scrooge 2.0 for my nerdy friends) and less like Mr. Cranky Pants. I think we all need to make that effort, and NOT just at Christmastime.

It’s easy to be charitable and forgiving during the Christmas season. But how about when it’s July, and some S.O.B. has just stolen your parking spot at Meijer. Plus you are already late for your nephew’s birthday party! Still feeling the love?

I wanted to do a brief analysis of Scrooge and how he managed to make an “overnight transformation”. For most of us, this sort of transformation can take years, if we have the persistence to keep at it. There are several moments that happen in the story that are crucial to the transformation of Scrooge’s character.

The Caroler / Lonely at School: We see the first chink in Scrooge’s armor when he shows remorse for threatening a young caroler with physical harm. This occurs when he sees his younger self, left alone at school over the Christmas holidays. He even goes so far to say, “I should like to have given him something; that’s all.” This is a major admission for Scrooge. To part with money voluntarily is like cutting off a limb for Scrooge!

Little Fan / Fred’s Visit: During this same trip down memory lane, Scrooge sees his younger sister, Fan, come to rescue him from the school. The Spirit of Christmas Past comments that she had children. Scrooge points out that she had one child, his nephew Fred, who he treats with contempt every year when he comes by to invite him to Christmas Dinner. This realization hits Scrooge hard because he realizes by berating Fred, he is treating his deceased little sister’s only child horribly.

Fear of Being Poor / Fiancée Dumping Him: We see Scrooge falling in love, only to see his love for the unnamed fiancée become replaced by his drive for money. Apparently at all cost. He convinces himself he is doing it for both of them, but eventually, she falls away and he becomes consumed by greed. When she drops her engagement ring on the scale, she tells him that she weighs very little compared to his pursuit of wealth. This brings a tear to the eye of Old Scrooge and he begs the Spirit of Christmas Past to take him away.

Treatment of Bob / Tiny Tim: We see early on how Scrooge mistreats Bob Cratchit as well. It’s not until the Spirit of Christmas Present shows Scrooge Bob’s family, specifically Tiny Tim, that it occurs to Scrooge that Bob just might be due for a raise. Scrooge’s concern over the welfare of Tiny Tim shows further cracks in the wall he has put up between himself and society.

Christmas Future / Fear of Hell: Scrooge’s final visitor, the Spirit of Christmas Future, shows him that not only will he not be missed, but many people may actually celebrate his death. The scene in Scrooge the Musical illustrates this with a rousing dance number and the song, “Thank You Very Much!” A classic. His trip to the graveyard and seeing “Ebenezer Scrooge” on the tombstone shakes him up. Plus, remembering what Marley said about the chains Scrooge himself carried, makes him terrified of going to Hell. The thought of lugging those chains around for eternity is too much for him to bear.

Being able to view these past events from a third person perspective really allows Scrooge to see where his life went off the rails. If asked on Christmas Eve before the visitation by Jacob Marley, he would have considered himself a successful and prosperous businessman. On Christmas Day, he awakens realizing what a selfish fool he’s been and is determined to take a different path.

So at this time of year, but really all year, let’s endeavor to give the other person the benefit of the doubt. That jerk who cut you off may have just been fired from a job of 25 years (like someone else I know). Or, there may be a sick child at home who is occupying all of his attention.

I know your first reaction is to flip him the bird and string together some colorful adjectives about what you would like to see happen to him, but please keep in mind what he may be going through. Or, maybe he’s just a jerk. Either way, don’t let it steal your Christmas Spirit if you’re lucky enough to have captured it! Please keep in mind that the type of transformation Scrooge went through rarely happens overnight. It may take many years of hard work before your transformation takes place. However, I’m sure it will be worth it. Still working on mine!

I won’t be so cheesy to quote Tiny Tim’s famous last line. However, I will quote a line from the story that has always stuck with me. “He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as the old city ever knew.” This Christmas, as well as every day, let that be your guide and you will truly be embracing the Christmas Spirit (all three of them as a matter of fact) every day of the year. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

If you like what you’re reading on TBPC, please leave a comment and share the website with your friends. Also, if you would like to be notified of new posts to this blog, please click on the “Follow” button in the lower right corner. Until next week, may your parachute fully deploy, and may you have a soft landing!

Being George Bailey

Remembering What’s Important At This Time Of Year

(This is an article I wrote last year on another blog. I thought it was appropriate to repost it. I hope you enjoy it!)

While walking my crazy dog Skittles this morning, I was struck by the character of George Bailey in “It’s A Wonderful Life”. As I’m sure you know, the character of George Bailey was played by the master of understatement, Jimmy Stewart. What I thought about this morning was that George Bailey was a man who always did the selfless, generous thing, and he resented it.

George throws a couple of “Fits” during the movie. The first one is when he confronts his bride-to-be, Mary. He loves her but realizes that life with her will be the end of many of his goals and dreams. This conflict within him results in a rather rough treatment of Mary before he finally breaks down and confesses his love for her.

George’s initial bad attitude that evening stems from the fact that his brother Harry, who George was counting on to take over the Bailey Brothers Building & Loan, has come home from college with a wife, and a job. That, in addition to an embarrassing conversation with Violet Bick, has gotten him into a foul mood before he stops by to see Mary.

George gives up his dreams for others’ benefit. While this results in George wedding Mary and living an exemplary life, it also increases George’s frustration that he was meant for “Bigger Things”. Mr. Potter catches George in a weak moment and offers him a job as his “Right Hand Man”. George considers the idea for a minute, thinking about the money, travel, and fantastic lifestyle that he and Mary would have if he was working for Potter. Then reality hits him and he realizes that “his ship would come in” but everyone else in Bedford Falls, who depend on him, would be destroyed by Potter. This results in George calling Potter a “Scurvy Spider” as he storms out of his office.

As the years go by, George becomes resigned to the fact that he will never see his big dreams come true. He is happy that God has blessed him with a beautiful wife, and four beautiful children. He isn’t happy with his job at the Building & Loan, but he realizes how important it is to the citizens of Bedford Falls.

Everything comes to a head when Uncle Billy accidentally gives Potter $8,000 that was meant for a bank deposit. Uncle Billy and George retrace his steps but to no avail. Even though Uncle Billy was the one who lost the money, George is facing prison, because he is the Executive Secretary of the Building & Loan. He could have tried to throw Uncle Billy under the bus, but he wouldn’t do it. Instead, after hearing Potter say, “You’re worth more dead than alive!” George loses it when he gets home from work. He yells at Mary and the kids and storms out of the house. Then, George is standing on the bridge contemplating suicide. Why was this happening to him? Hasn’t he been selfless and generous his whole life? This is his reward? Realizing the economic and social catastrophe he was about to inflict on his family, George utters the immortal words, “I wish I’d never been born!”

It is only after this statement, that George sees the positive impact that he has made on the lives of his family and friends. This realization hits home as the whole town shows up to rescue him and Uncle Billy from financial ruin and jail. Up until the moment when George has this epiphany, he still has a massive chip on his shoulder. “Why me, God? I’ve lived a good life, put others needs before my own, why am I being tortured like this?” What George had never realized was that God had a different plan for his life. If he embraced that plan, instead of fighting it his whole life, he would have been a whole lot happier.

I guess for me, what it all comes down to is that George was doing the right thing by living a generous, selfless life, but he was resentful of the life that he could have had. Living your life by putting others needs before your own isn’t just a noble pursuit, it is the key to happiness in your own life. This article is entitled, “Being George Bailey”. Not the George Bailey who feels cheated by life, but the George Bailey who realizes that by putting others needs first, he truly has had “A Wonderful Life”.

This Christmas Season, I resolve to be more like George Bailey. How about you? I hope you all have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

[I am taking off a couple of weeks for the Holidays. My next post will be Monday, January 9.]

If you like what you’re reading on TBPC, please leave a comment and share the website with your friends. Until next week, may your parachute fully deploy, and may you have a soft landing!