More Than Thoughts and Prayers

It’s been a little over a year since I first heard Susan Orfanos tell people to keep their prayers and actually do something about gun control. You see, she had just lost her son in a shooting at a country bar in Thousand Oaks, Calif. He was one of a dozen people mowed down at the bar that day. 

Her words have stayed with me every single day, especially in the aftermath of still more gun violence, whether it be in Pensacola, Pearl Harbor, El Paso, Dayton or anywhere else. I think of Susan Orfanos’s words when some well-meaning person offers “thoughts and prayers” to family and friends of the victims and what might be a more comforting and meaningful promise.

tree-of-life-memorial.jpgThoughts are nice. Prayers are fine. Go ahead, think, pray. But may I suggest doing something else in conjunction with thinking. I’ve decided that if I’m in a position to express support I’m going to change my promise from “thoughts and prayers,” to “thoughts and ACTIONS.”  Actions can be almost anything that addresses the issue. Actions can include having frank discussions with your kids about being watchful and non-violent ways to handle circumstances that may lead to anger, sadness, feelings of isolation.  Actions could include writing to our representatives imploring them to have the courage to stand up to the NRA and to gun companies and pass the type of legislation that might make a difference in reducing crimes involving firearms, snuffing out the ability to buy assault weapons and closing the egregious gun show loophole that makes it easy to pick up a weapon without a background check.  Personalize each communication with the name or names of victims of gun violence and maybe a photo so their once-alive eyes will stare down the cowards, if they even bother to read what we’ve sent.  Work to toss the spineless saps out of office–replaced by those who are committed and brave enough enough to pass legislation with high enough caliber to make a difference.

elpasoshootingEveryone has different levels of what actions might be comfortable for them. Any action is positive action. No one is trying to take firearms appropriate for hunting or self and home defense out of the hands of law-abiding citizens. But actions must be taken to remove them from those with a history of violence. Actions must be taken to eliminate the availability to the general public assault weapons and those designed for the military. They have no other purpose than to kill people.

Really, action can be anything that helps make our world just a little bit safer. It’s the least we can do for all the victims and their survivors like Susan Orfanos.

There are five types of rifle actions: bolt action, level action, pump action, semi-automatic action and break action. There must be at least that many versions of positive action to reduce gun violence. If not, then we don’t have a prayer. Think… and pray about that. Amen.

Caught In The Canadian “Feud”

ffcanadaJust got back home from finding myself in the middle of two feuding Canadian families. It’s ok..no one got hurt but at least a few were embarrassed. Yeah..our family buzzed up Hwy 401 to Toronto for a taping of an episode of Family Feud Canada, as the old game show finally arrives in the Great White North.

My son is a game show aficionado and always wanted to see one live. Since he’s not much of a traveler, flying out to the west coast wasn’t an option, but a four-hour drive was.

It’s been many years since I last attended a game show. It was in the early 1970’s. I grew up in NYC so popping over to 30 Rock in Manhattan was an easy bus and subway trip. My friends and I showed up one morning and they happened to be recording a couple of episodes of “Sale of the Century” host by Joe Garagiola. The whole thing took barely 90 minutes…but Family Feud Canada was a whole different bowl of poutine.

They told us to show up at the CBC building at 11:45am. We showed up at 11:30 and there already was a line to check in. Once we did that, we were told to get in another line. Stood there for an hour. Suddenly the line started moving and we were stuffed into padded elevators in small groups and taken to the 10th floor where, we stood in another line.  Must be about time to enter the studio, eh? Naw…we stood for another hour while, we came to learn, the fun folks at Family Feud Canada were still rehearsing. Do you really need to rehearse, “survey SAID!!!!!” Apparently so.

Finally, we were ushered into a very large studio with a sparkling new, modern set. We lucked out and were seated in the second row on an aisle, but since the seats were angled, it was like scoring front row seats.

Nothing happened for awhile but then this chunky, bouncy, balding guy named Marty popped on stage and did the warmup. You know..get the audience happy and peppy and energized. Told us when to applaud and say “awwww” when a contestant gave a wrong answer and useful stuff like that. He also warned us about games we would be subjected to. Ah..the games. Later.

gerrydee.jpgSo the show finally starts and host, Gerry Dee bounds out and does the shtick. Yeah..I hadn’t heard of Gerry Dee either but came to find out he’s a famous Canadian comedian who does a long-running sitcom about a sort of schmucky teacher. It’s called Mr. D. I found some clips on YouTube and it is pretty funny.

Ever wonder what happens during the breaks? Well…our friend Marty pops out with a million watts of energy and orders us to get up and start dancing and when the music stops we’re supposed to freeze. If you don’t freeze, a woman named Tracie, also nicknamed “Madam X” comes by and slaps an X on you and that means you’re out. I swear I froze but Marty seemed to be appalled by my dancing and declared me out. Madam X was apparently also so disgusted by my personal choreography she didn’t even bother to slap the X on me…just said “sit down!” Yay! This went on for 10 minutes. Isn’t a break usually about two?

Next break, Marty comes out again and insists on annoying us with another game this time we all had to stand again. He would yell out things like, “whose favorite movie is Shawshank Redemption?” If you agreed, you sat down. I figured out pretty fast, it would be personally advantageous to agree to something quickly, so I plopped down when he told anyone who shaved in the last week to sit. That break was another 10-15 minutes. Now game shows usually record 5 in a day. These hosers were gonna be lucky to knock out one.

Finally the show proceeded but the producers wanted to review almost the whole thing before they got to the final, “fast money” round. Out came Marty again making us stand  or dance or yell “woo woo!” or some other nonsense to keep our energy up with Taylor Swift and Katy Perry braying over the PA. Maybe another 10-15 minutes goes by and they do the first half of “fast money.” Then it’s time to bring out the second family member to complete the game.

I was watching the prompter, having had many years of reading off prompters and all Gerry Dee had to say was, “OK, you need 22 points to get to 200 to win 10-thousand dollars!” Easy, right? Poor Gerry Dee. This was only his second show but he made the mistake of trying to put the words on the prompter into his own words. He wasn’t close. Family member #2 has to go backstage and run out again, then Gerry Dee would give it another try. No good. Rewind. Family to backstage, run out again, Gerry botches it again. Gerry Dee finally decides there are too many numbers and orders “200” be deleted. Family member #2 slogs off backstage, and, almost out of breath, runs out on stage again while Gerry Dee attempts the truncated version of the line. Aw..it only too three more times!

Finally nails it, the guy does get 22 points, the family from Yellowknife, Northwest Territories wins 10-grand and the game is over…right? Naw….we’re going to overtime! Marty’s out rousting us from our seats to jump and dance and woo-woo to still one more Taylor Swift song and we’re all trying to shake off what’s now become an ordeal. We find out the producers didn’t like how the show opened so they have to do it over and we have to stand, and clap and woo-woo! with the same energy we had at the start. Meanwhile the losing family is skulking just off camera watching this and while awaiting the cue to record, Gerry Dee cracks to them, “you’re thinking, can we fuckin’ go yet?” Biggest laugh of the day so far.

The open is re-recorded, the show is over and we get to leave, four hours after we first arrived. The actual recording of what will amount to 22 minutes of television took about 90 minutes.

It’ ok! My son had the time of his life, we got to jump up, dance, say woo-woo! a lot and have a cool experience. Survey SAID! “FUN, EH?”

When Push Comes To Blow

snowblowerI never owned a snow blower…until yesterday. That means I lived almost 25-thousand days without one. I never once wished I owned one, because that would mean I’d have to be out in the cold snow…well…blowing it.

For 11 years, when we lived in Arizona and Georgia, there wasn’t really any snow to blow, so that’s more than 4-thousand days right there. When we moved up to Michigan from Georgia back in 1989 the house we lived in for 25 years had a long, straight, double-wide driveway as well as a circle drive. Didn’t need to blow the snow away because the people who sold us the house had employed an excellent plow service and we kept them. They never let us down.

A little over two years ago we moved to a bigger house with a much smaller driveway. So small, we couldn’t get a plow service to accept us. So my wife and I figured we could shovel the stuff. Oh, that worked out until this past Monday night when we got hit with an early blast of snow…about 9 inches of it. We went out after dinner and started shoveling. But it wasn’t as easy as it once seemed. After half the driveway was reasonably cleared, we hung up our shovels for good. We made a solemn pact before turning out the lights that night that we’d finally have to concede to reality and buy a stupid snow blower.

Snow blowers fly off the shelves once the first flakes fly, so I got up early and was the first person at the nearest Menards when it opened at 6:30 a.m. I had already chosen which blower I wanted and confirmed on the store’s app they had a few in stock. It said they had five. When I got there they had two. Whew! After I quickly grabbed the giant box containing the blower they only had one. Another guy was next to me who wanted something more beefy. All they had left was the floor sample. He snatched it off the shelf and hightailed it to the cashier.  We gave each other that knowing look that said, “ha! we’re badass early risers who beat the other losers to the last snow blowers! Shovel THAT!” Yes, men are often morons.

As soon as I got home I couldn’t wait to extract the machine from its box and assemble it. It was easy. No tools required! The operating instructions were also easy. Then…the big moment. I fired up that snow eatin’ machine and commenced to blowin’! Having never before operated such a device, I thought it would be a drag. It wasn’t. I discovered the wonder of the chute that shoots the snow you just blew to somewhere it wasn’t. You could grab this handy rod and rotate the chute in any direction. Suddenly I had created a game where I could imagine aiming the chute at annoying pickup truck drivers and blowing them off the road with SNOW FORCE!  I’d reach the next level by picking off poodles piddling on my lawn and giving door-to-door salesmen snowy face washes. Bam! Whoosh! Freeze! My snow blower had become the most awesome game console this side of my Atari 2600.

Then I came back from my Frigid Fantasy and realized my driveway was clear. I sulked like a six-year with no smartphone as I wheeled the blower back into the garage. For the rest of the day I would check the Weather Channel app in hopes more snow was on the way. It looks like we may get a dusting tomorrow. That’s fine. That’s plenty. That’s more than enough.

This boy’s pumped and ready to blow. That otherwise mundane appliance is now my force, my power, all I need to conquer the coolest and coldest….First Person Chuter.

The Car Brand I Can Never Buy

tellurideI got behind a Kia Telluride the other day and couldn’t help admiring the brand’s new SUV. In fact, I had considered buying one when I was in the market for a new full-size SUV last year and gave it a good look at the Detroit Auto Show. I ultimately chose a Subaru Ascent. You see, even if the Ascent didn’t win me over by a few salient points, I couldn’t have bought the Kia anyway.

The reason had zero to do with the quality, appearance or performance of the Telluride. Indeed, I can’t bring myself to buy any Kia. It’s not what you think. I have no problem with buying a vehicle from a South Korean automaker. It has everything to with the company name–Kia.

dadstars

You see, my father was a World War II veteran. He was actually a hero, awarded the Silver Star for capturing a house of Germans by ordering them in Yiddish, which sounds a lot like German. He passed away in 2007, but something he said to me when we were driving around one day long before that stuck with me.

My father started shaking his head and said to me, “Ed, that car in front of us. It says KIA on it.”

kialogo“Yes,” I told him. “That’s the name of a South Korean automaker that just started doing business here in the U.S.”

“Are you kidding me?” he said. “Do you know what that means? In the Army if you’re designated KIA, you’re dead—killed in action! Who wants to driving around with Killed in Action on their car? Someone made a bad mistake!”

killedinaction.jpgI explained that KIA stood for something in Korean that has nothing to do with the Army designation and that they were pretty good cars.

“Even so,” he said with a little laugh, “I’d be pretty spooked driving around with KIA on my car.”

I hadn’t thought of that day for a long time because I had only bought Jeeps in the years near the end of his life until I retired from Fiat Chrysler in 2016. But when I was ready to consider other brands, I…just…couldn’t…do a Kia.

I did admire that Telluride and almost put it on my list, but I kept hearing my father’s voice–bewildered and bemused at the same time, saying “I just couldn’t drive a car that says “killed in action.”

When I got home from the auto show I told my wife about the Kia Telluride. She flashed a big smile and laughed as she said “Kia? Killed in action? Your father would never let you hear the end of it.” And that ended it.

A Coney Encounter With The Late Congressman John Conyers

conyersDuring my 12 years as CNN Detroit Bureau Chief and correspondent I had the opportunity to meet and interview most of the area’s leading politicians, including the late Congressman John Conyers.

One day we were in his Detroit office, located in the Federal courthouse across the street from two of this city’s most well-known restaurants–Lafayette Coney and American Coney. lafayetteamericanconeysThe sit next to each other and are mortal competitors. For those of you unfamiliar with what a coney is, it’s a hot dog with a skin that snaps, topped with chili and mustard and onions. Not my thing–I eat ‘em plain–DON’T JUDGE!  but it’s a huge favorite around here.

coneysThe thing is you’re either a Lafayette person or an American person. You can’t be both. It’s like a Yankee fan also rooting for the Mets. My crew and I have always been Lafayette people. Still am.

What’s this have to do with the late, great Congressman Conyers? It has everything to do with how he always wanted to get things exactly right.

You see, while we chit chatted with him after our interview one of his assistants walked into the office with a brown bag containing a white styrofoam container that had the unmistakable aroma of fresh coneys, destined to be the congressman’s lunch.

Our videographer, who could wolf down three fully loaded coneys as well as a mound of chili cheese fries while driving and never drop one single ort couldn’t help himself and asked the young lady where she got the coneys.

“Um..American Coney,” she replied, suspiciously.

“Congressman Conyers! I hate to tell you this but while well-meaning, your assistant has brought you far inferior coneys! You must always, always get your coneys from Lafayette…they’re far and away the best anywhere and the Congressman should only be fed the best!” our shooter implored the poor lady.

The rest of us backed him up with our full endorsements.

The Congressman listened quietly to this impassioned discourse and turned to his assistant, quietly and respectfully instructing her to heed this advice, adding “this gentleman seems quite upset, which means he’s probably right, so please remember that for next time.”

Sadly, we never encountered Mr. Conyers again, but I trust he lived out his days enjoying only the finest coneys from Lafayette, and only Lafayette, when the taste struck him. 

RIP Congressman John Conyers–a leader, an activist, and late-in-life coney connoisseur.

Bye Bye To Our Personal Best Buy

bbwideMy Best Buy is closing. A lot of Best Buys are closing but this one is mine. Really, it’s my son’s, so it’s ours. But it’s more my son’s because we like to believe he convinced the company to open a store in our neighborhood. During the 1990’s when Best Buy was a pretty cool place to go to buy CDs and DVDs, TV’s, computers and really, anything you could plug in, we’d travel 7 or 8 miles to the nearest one and spend tons of time prowling the aisles…because that’s what men do.

When the first area Best Buy opened in Southfield, Mich. in the early 1990’s we joined the massive crowd that descended on this magic palace of electronics. I even bought an awesome Pioneer rack stereo system which I still use today. I waited forever to get to the checkout and enthusiastically signed up for a Best Buy credit card, which, over the years, I abused mercilessly.

At some point, my son, who was in his late teens at that point, wrote to the Best Buy people telling them they were missing the boat by not locating a store closer to where we live. He carefully laid out the economic data and made the case that there was plenty of money to be made if only they’d open a store in, or near, our town.

They never really responded one way or the other, but then one day as we buzzed by a decaying strip mall on one of our town’s main drags we saw a giant sign shouting that new Best Buy was going in there! Holy crap! Did my son pull off a miracle? I don’t care what you think…I’m going with it that he did.

On the day of the store’s grand opening, 15 years ago, my wife and son were first in line to get in. I was at work. Actually, my son was first and when the doors opened, he was the very first customer to walk through them, smiling wide as the employees lined up along the main aisle and applauded him…as if they knew they owed their jobs to the local kid who convinced the Best Buy corporate poobahs to plunk a store in our hometown.

We were loyal to “our” Best Buy for many years. I bought a few TVs, a couple of computers, GoPro stuff, a bunch of CDs and DVDs, hard drives, assorted parts, cables, a digital Nikon camera..and bag..of course and who knows what else. The cashiers used to laugh at how old my Best Buy credit card was, informing me I could get an updated one. I resisted for a long time since it had some sentimental value but I finally caved.

But over time we visited the store much less often. We stopped buying CDs and DVDs and the experience became both sad and annoying. We always liked just looking around at all the cool stuff but that became a game of aisle-warfare as one had to avoid the “clipboard people,” from cable or satellite TV companies stalking, then attacking you to pressure you into signing with their service. Screw that. There are no cliipboard people when I shop online.

Then there were the workers who were either not trained well or were chugging muscatel at lunch because they were either slow, apathetic or just ignorant. At times, they were simply absent because you couldn’t find one to unlock a case or get you something from the stock room that wasn’t available on the sales floor.

Of course the selection and prices were better online but I did attempt to patronize our Best Buy when it made sense. Unfortunately, it made sense much less often.

We noticed fewer and fewer people shopping at our Best Buy and started to wonder how they could pay to keep the lights lit and all the demo TVs flickering. It was actually sad to see the long, slow decline of a store that once was a wonderment….a place that represented fun, discovery and man’s constant need to plug in things.

goodbyeBBsignIt had been several months since our last visit when we approached the doors the other day. My son and I were greeted with a sign announcing the store would be closing November 2nd. For a moment we were speechless as a sudden sadness hit us. My son had worked so hard to get us our Best Buy but the store just didn’t work hard enough to survive. We walked around the store…quietly. We knew this was our final visit. The shelves already looked bare, the employees trudged through their day, mostly in silence  and we just took it all in thinking of how much we once loved this place.

Finally, my son made his last purchase–some recording supplies. The young lady who took his money politely asked if he’d like to record the purchase on our Rewards Zone account–you know, so we could earn discounts on future purchases. Sure, we said, why not? She handed him his receipt, smiled a little, sad smile, and said, “thanks for stopping in.” Little did she know my son was the very first person who ever did.

Don’t Tell Me Where To Swim At Work

Swim-Lanes-e1534126955929

I’m not a violent person, but if you tell me to do one thing in particular, I may become surly, to the point of hauling off and throwing inappropriate punctuation at you. That one thing is so obnoxious I immediately forget how much I hate “The Ranch” and instead, visualize you as Ashton Kutcher.

What could be so offensive as to cause me to lose all sense of comity and turn to thoughts as dark as wondering if the late Mister Rogers ever wore that cardigan without a shirt?

I bet you’re with me now. You’ve been there too. If you haven’t, you’ll soon understand and immediately empathize.  Yes..you guessed it. Someone at work has looked you squarely in the eye, and with all seriousness, demanded you stay in your swim lane!

thumb_seahorse-and-i-was-like-i-saw-a-land-horse-62554107The very first time I heard that idiotic term was during my time working for a car company. Someone from another department complained to me that a member of my team was not staying in his swim lane and I needed to do something about it. Realizing I had just heard a grown person say something inane I asked exactly what the problem was? I was very sure the member of my team was an excellent swimmer and regardless of stroke, never strayed beyond his lane. Of course I knew what she meant but I wanted to make it known I thought what she had just said was the daily double of dumb: arrogant and stupid.

Not having much of a sense of humor she went on and on about my excellent team member not sticking to his job description to the letter in his quest to use his imagination and initiative to expand and improve his portfolio to the betterment of the company. What was really going on was this person actually felt threatened and sought to quash the efforts of someone who might earn kudos and maybe even a promotion for being an excellent employee.

Me being a good teammate, I promised I would do something immediately. I called the apparently errant swimmer into my office and related my conversation with the moron upstairs. I told him to learn the backstroke so he couldn’t see where he was going in an effort to further stray from him swim lane. I  left him with the firm directive to continue to be as creative and imaginative as possible, within reason. You don’t want someone straying willy nilly into someone else’s area, but you also don’t want to kill an employee’s creativity, drive or enthusiasm.

Just keep up the communication so you know what your folks are up to and step in if you think it’s not merely a swim lane infraction but a dive into a completely new pool. Who knows? That idea may be an opportunity to work with the person or team who may otherwise feel aggrieved and, if successful, you both win.

But just blatantly ordering someone to stay in their swim lane represents the depths of paranoia, haughtiness and pathetic power play. You tell me that and I’ll not only dunk your ass, I’ll pee in your pool.