Getting Screwed

“Everyone’s out to screw ya.” That is one of my many mottos, although it’s probably about the only negative one, I have in my repertoire of truisms. “Enjoy the journey” and “It’s all good” are much more positive sounding than the aforementioned adage, but regardless “It is what it is.” That last motto is most-likely my brother’s favorite saying although he has also taken my “Everyone’s out to screw ya” sentiment a step further by adding his own “If anyone’s gonna get screwed…it’s me.” I suspect there’s a vast amount of unsuspecting people out there who’s getting screwed at this very moment, and I’m sure they’re not even aware that it’s happening to them. Don’t care for the word, screwed? Then try using cheated, gipped, duped, swindled, or bamboozled in its place if it’ll make you feel better.

I certainly dislike being so cynical at my tender age (I’m not 50 yet), but I truly believe the deceitful actions of a good portion of the human race warrants such skepticism. It’s admirable to want to see the good in people, and to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, but we should know by now that people are inherently bad. Why else would “People = Sh*t” be one of my favorite Slipknot songs? Okay, I suppose the brutal drumbeats and harsh vocals may have something to do with my fondness for that track as well, but the message still rings true. How do I know? Because I have lived.

Looking back, even as a child my peers obviously were out to screw me, and I probably held the identical mindset towards them; however, I doubt if any of us even realized what we were doing at the time. I’m pretty sure my main objective wasn’t fairness, when trading baseball cards with my friends, but I don’t think I was out to screw them over either. I simply believe it’s in our nature to take advantage of others if it somehow benefits us. Unfortunately, we are born into this world as self-absorbed homo sapiens. The problem is far too many of us never outgrow our selfish ways. Ultimately, it’s up to each and every one of us to choose how we’re going to handle any advantageous situation that may come our way.

The first time I can remember having the inkling that “Everyone’s out to screw ya” was shortly after my lovely wife gave birth to our son in 1989. We were required to pay the estimated cost of our attending physician’s services, minus the anticipated insurance benefits, well before our baby’s due date. We were told at the time we would be reimbursed if we had overpaid, for services rendered, sometime after the delivery. My wife and I eventually learned we were owed over a thousand dollars when all was said and done. We waited, and then waited some more, for our refund check to arrive in our mailbox.

As a young couple caring for a newborn we definitely could’ve used that money (our money). A few months had passed when I decided a phone call on my part was long overdue. I contacted the doctor’s office and was informed I had to request the funds that were owed to us before anyone could issue a refund for the overpayment. Really? About a week later we received the requested check. I believe it was during this time when I added the saying “Why does there always have to be a problem?” to my collection of truisms. I just don’t understand why some businesses seem to think it’s my responsibility to hold them accountable. Somewhere along the way I’ve also discovered it’s sometimes entirely left up to me to make sure everyone else is adequately doing their job.

Another time my “Everyone’s out to screw ya” theory was reinforced was a few years ago when I encountered a business preying upon their customers. They were a bit selective as to who their victims were, but the auto repair franchise was disingenuous nonetheless. I had regularly taken my vehicle to this particular auto shop, for oil changes, without incident. However, the one time I had the missus drop off my car, on my behalf, everything changed. The business opted to upgrade the type of oil used, which was unnecessary and without our permission, so our bill was ten dollars more than usual. I immediately headed to the auto shop, once my wife informed me of the additional charge, and demanded an explanation for their conduct. I was given some pathetic excuse, for their switcheroo, albeit the manager did offer us a free oil change next time. I told the manager I sensed they were deliberately taking advantage of their female customers; therefore, my wife and I would not be back!

More recently, a member of my family experienced a company cleverly “putting the screws” to him during an annual inspection of his 3 year-old air-conditioning (A/C) unit. The heating and cooling specialist took a few pictures of some dust and mold, located in my loved one’s attic, and then warned him of the health risks associated with the growing fungus. The representative offered to take care of the problem, right then and there, and he was even kind enough to offer waiving the $600. mold removal fee if my family member purchased a specific, expensive gadget (that day) which he claimed would eliminate any future health hazards. The scare tactic worked, and my trusting loved one spent assumingly thousands of dollars that day. Subsequently, we were apprised, after a little bit of research, that the mold in the attic could’ve only been caused by one of two things: either the A/C unit was too big for the home’s square footage or the heating and cooling system was not properly fitted when it was installed.

Therefore, we’ve concluded the company’s negligence was solely responsible for my family member’s health threat, and the problem should’ve been rectified at no cost to him. In addition, we discovered the purchased gadget, presented as the solution to any health concerns, was only an air purifier, so eventually the fungus will reappear unless the actual problem is fixed. That’s just another fine example of how ” Everyone’s out to screw ya.” I now actually live my life expecting to be cheated, gipped, duped, swindled, and bamboozled. I find that practice to be the best defense against getting screwed.

Good vs. Evil

In the beginning, everything was inherently good until the Garden of Eden incident. Evil entered the world when Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit, and ever since then there has been an ongoing battle between good and evil. That’s rarely more evident to me than during this time of year. ‘Tis the season for all things spooky: monsters, skeletons, cauldrons of witches’ brew, and black cats. (Actually, all cats are creepy all of the time.) I’m well aware that with fall comes colorful foliage, Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice concoctions, and of course football season (both real and fantasy), but most noticeably autumn brings forth Halloween. Thoughts of good vs. evil are always at the forefront of my mind around All Hallows’ Eve.

The season’s cooler temperatures and diminishing hours of sunlight tends to awaken something inside of me that’s typically dormant throughout the rest of the year. I instinctively begin craving the “darker stuff” from my eclectic compact disc collection. I find myself selecting music from artists such as Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson while classics from the likes of Kenny Rogers and Barry Manilow remains on the shelf. I also naturally stray from my normal afternoon routine of watching the abundance of wholesome comedies found on network television. I gravitate from viewing reruns of Leave It To Beaver and Dennis the Menace to watching numerous horror movies of the disturbing kind. I suppose all horror flicks are disturbing in their own right although I’m more of a psychological thriller connoisseur than I am a slasher film fan. One bag of Candy Corn: $2…One large pumpkin for carving: $5…Jack Nicholson in The Shining: priceless.

I certainly wouldn’t recommend dabbling in the things associated with “the dark side” especially if one is not firmly planted in His light. One of my favorite mottos is “if you don’t stand for something…you might fall for anything.” I’m rooted enough in who I am and what I believe to not allow the Devil to have his way with me. Satan has made an art form out of deceiving humanity since he first appeared in the Garden of Eden, but I’m on to him. I do realize the Deceiver has a knack for quietly entering through the backdoor instead of boldly announcing his deceitful intentions at the front. Being aware of the Evil One’s ways is half the battle, so I will not be fooled.

Admittedly, I simply like being scared. Obviously, I’m not speaking of the fear one would have after hearing a doctor’s dire diagnosis. I’m not alluding to the deep concern one might have for a loved one gone astray either. I am referring to the type of fear that stirs up an exhilarating, yet manageable, level of anxiety within: the kind I remember experiencing, as an adolescent, when aimlessly wandering about inside one of those haunted houses exclusively manufactured for Halloween. The anticipation of the unknown, waiting behind every door and lurking in every nook and cranny, was more than enough to arouse the hair on my arms even before setting foot in the makeshift house of horror. I’m sure I’d be just as anxious today as I was back then. Some things never change.

I don’t think trick-or-treating has changed much since I used to hit the streets, during the 70’s, in pursuit of free candy. Some might argue begging for a Snickers has become more dangerous in recent years, but I would have to disagree. I know I’m about to sound like that cranky, old man (every neighborhood has one) who can usually be seen, with raised fists pumping in the air, shooing all of the neighborhood children off of his lawn, but here it goes anyway: (use old man voice here) In my day we had to worry that a “flasher” might answer their door, and parents were compelled to check their children’s goodies, at the end of the evening, for concealed needles and razor blades…and we liked it! (stop old man voice here) I just don’t hear any of those concerns anymore.

Maybe it’s because parents have become too complacent these days, or quite possibly those evil individuals, desiring to do harm, were forced to give up their tampering ways. I imagine their annual unethical practice was severely hampered after so many hospitals began offering free x-rays of every little ghost and goblin’s collected treats. I reckon the final nail in the coffin was when some schools and churches, as well as the hospitals, began providing other alternatives to neighborhood trick-or-treating. My lovely wife and I (at my urging) took advantage of both. We’d take our son to the hospital, for a bag full of candy, and then I’d escort him around numerous neighborhoods for a few bags more. Hey, free candy is free candy.

I’m sure most dentists cringe at that sort of behavior, and most churches oppose Halloween altogether. I understand the depravity associated with All Hallows’ Eve; however, I believe all situations are what you make of them. For instance, one Sunday morning, when my son was around 10 years old, one of our pastors preached a very interesting sermon. The unorthodox message was about the whole “Satan can enter through the backdoor” concept, and he mentioned the beloved Pokémon cartoon as being one of the culprits. My ears instantly perked up because my son absolutely loved the Japanese television series. He boasted Pokémon trading cards, figurines, posters, t-shirts, and a stuffed Pikachu (his favorite character).

The missus labored over constructing a Pikachu cake, for his Pokémon themed birthday party, and we even got him a Pikachu piñata. Looking back, it seems a bit ironic our son was perfectly fine with beating his adored character into pieces with an aluminum baseball bat. I can’t recall exactly why the animated series was supposedly bad for the soul, but after careful consideration (about 13 seconds worth) I concluded my family could responsibly handle Pokémon in our household. My wife and I were just thrilled our son had finally outgrown his Barney stage. I don’t think choosing to celebrate Halloween is much different than the previously mentioned Pokémon example. Life has its good vs. evil battles although a majority of those battles need not even take place if our minds (and our hearts) are right with Christ. We are all assured of this: In the end, good will conquer evil.

A Flat Tire, Religion, And The Worst Idea Ever

The other day my lovely wife got a flat tire while running some errands without me. Thankfully, she was able to safely pull into a nearby service station before any harm was done to her Elantra’s back rim. The missus then called to apprise me of the situation, including telling me there was no spare tire (aka donut) in the Hyundai’s trunk, before purchasing a new tire and having it mounted. The station’s attendant nonchalantly informed my wife that only about 50% of today’s newer vehicles are equipped with some type of tire replacement. A donut is now actually considered to be more of an optional item instead of a standard feature. I found that news to be entirely suspect, so I launched a full-blown investigation into the matter.

Well, maybe full-blown is a bit of an exaggeration: I looked it up on-line, and I read the Elantra’s manual after the missus got home. To my surprise, the newly discovered information was absolutely correct. Supposedly, one of the main reasons why there are no spare tires, in approximately half of the newer models, is because the majority of stranded motorists would much rather whip out a cell phone, to enlist the aid of a tow truck driver, than attempt to change a flat tire. In addition, I was told current government regulations, concerning fuel efficiency, was a major factor as well. Nowadays, parking sensors, rear-mounted cameras, touchscreens, Bluetooth, and even wi-fi comes standard on most vehicles, but I guess having a spare tire included in the purchase price is just asking too much.

I certainly don’t think issuing a marriage license to a same-sex couple is asking too much of Kentucky county clerk, Kim Davis, though. The Rowan County employee recently had her 5 minutes of national fame after refusing a gay couple their newly acquired rights. Mrs. Davis tried to appear non-discriminatory, by refusing to give out marriage licenses to heterosexual couples as well, but to no avail. Her façade eventually became quite transparent, so she was forced to finally admit she was unwilling to perform a portion of her duties based on her religious beliefs. The government official’s refusal to do part of her job earned her several days behind bars on a contempt of court charge. I understand Davis’ duties changed a bit when the United States legalized gay marriage nationwide, but whose job description hasn’t varied at times throughout their employment?

Some people consider Kim Davis to be a martyr for Christ, but I think she handled the entire situation poorly. I can see only two respectable positions to take in this particular matter. The elected official should either perform all of her duties, as a county clerk, or resign. The Apostle Peter says, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.” We are also told to “Honor everyone” and to “be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.” (1st Peter 2: 13-19) My unsolicited advice for Mrs. Davis is as follows: by all means, pray for those your conscience tells you may be on a destructive path, but do not make a spectacle of yourself in the process.

I’m sure those words of wisdom will go unnoticed especially since Pope Francis “secretly” met with Mrs. Davis, at his request, while touring the United States this past week. The Pope supposedly offered Davis his support and encouraged her to continue the fight. I’m not Catholic, although neither is Mrs. Davis, but I must say I’m more than a little disappointed in the Bishop of Rome, in this instance, since the last thing Davis needs is any additional encouragement to do what I think is wrong. The Pope bears no significance in my life, so I really shouldn’t care what he thinks one way or the other. I’m not aspiring to sound harsh, but in my chosen realm of Christianity the Pope simply has no relevance. I have a personal relationship with Christ; therefore, I don’t require anyone intervening on my behalf, or relaying messages to God, because I go straight to the source.

I have no use for religious figures, whether associated with the Vatican or not (the “middleman” if you will), to hear my confessions or to absolve me of my transgressions. Regardless, I still respect the leader of the Catholic Church, and I admire his commitment to God. Pope Francis appears to be a humble man who exudes an abundance of gentleness at all times. He effortlessly spreads a message of all-inclusiveness, compassion, and love, seemingly more so than anybody preceding him, wherever he goes. I think the Bishop of Rome triumphantly advocated for universal responsibility and unity, during his recent visit, without offending either the Democratic or Republican Party. I appreciate that because I don’t think religion should ever be used to promote a political agenda and vice versa.

To the contrary, Kanye West has no qualms about self-promotion, and he tends to have an agenda at all times. The popular rapper recently announced his intent to win the U.S. Presidency in 2018. Of course, the next two presidential elections are to be held in 2016 and 2020, so I think his current confusion already suggests there’ll be some problems with his future campaign. Nevertheless, I’m sure he won’t get discouraged since he has such a high opinion of himself. Anyone who would title an album Yeezus, with “I Am a God” listed as one of his tracks, surely doesn’t possess much humility. The rapper’s ego is so elevated that even Donald Trump seems meek in comparison.

The thought of Kanye West as President only gets worse when adding his wife, Kim Kardashian, into the mix. The enormous following the power couple maintains is quite frightening. Their impact on today’s society is reminiscent of the influence former talk-show queen, Oprah Winfrey, had during her reign on television for well over two decades. The possibility of President West and First Lady Kardashian occupying the White House in the near future is not so far fetched. I’m not too confident the American public, especially the younger generations (sorry!), would denounce a feasible West candidacy.

Kanye and the missus assuredly have the finances to support a sustained campaign; the happily married couple enjoys a combined net worth of approximately $215 million. Enlisting the help of Kim’s mother, Kris Jenner, would be a wise decision and extremely beneficial for Mr. West. Kris Jenner, the mastermind behind the Kardashian empire, is a marketing genius, and she has a knack for successfully promoting any agenda regardless of how absurd or immoral it may be. She is unapologetic for exploiting her daughters’ “mistakes” (and their bodies) in exchange for growing the Kardashian fortune estimated to be around $300 million. Popularity, hoards of money, and a shrewd campaign manager have the makings of an effective campaign.

In the past, I’ve heard a few impassioned American citizens threaten to actually leave the United States if certain candidates were ever elected into office, but I assumed they weren’t being serious. However, if there does come a day when Kanye West and Kim Kardashian are residing at the White House then I’d have to seriously consider abandoning this country. I cannot imagine living anywhere where its citizens would elect an egotistical rapper as their nation’s leader. That’s the worst idea ever! Suddenly, getting a flat tire and not having a spare doesn’t sound so bad.


As time goes by I realize I’m being discriminated against more and more often, and I’m certain it’s only going to get worse. I’m not being treated unjustly because of my race (that’s another story) or due to my religious beliefs. I suppose I could be considered a victim of age discrimination since I’m singled out and treated differently based on my fondness for “the good old days.” I’m mostly discriminated against though for maintaining a pro-choice attitude pertaining to advanced technology that is obviously running rampant in the world today. I’m not opposed to progress, but I am against forcing it on people.

“The man” (whoever he is) insists we blindly accept change, whether we like it or not, without even considering the consequences. He continuously and vigorously imposes his will on us until ultimately we are either too exhausted to continue resisting or else we’re left feeling inadequate when we don’t succumb. I often think the younger generation, who I’m beginning to suspect may be “the man” (in this instance), is eagerly waiting for those of us a bit leery, of their pursuit of never-ending advancements in technology, to expire. The reason being there would then no longer be any of us left, to challenge the only kind of life they’ve ever known, regardless of how well-intended we were with our warnings.

Fortunately, “the man” has failed a time or two in the past when attempting to get everyone on board with his agenda although not for his lack of trying. We currently continue to have the option of reading books, magazines, and newspapers without the aid of technology. However, I’m positive offering periodicals on-line and books via the Kindle was intended to replace all paper copies of those types of literature. Thank goodness that hasn’t happened (at least not yet). I reckon there is still enough of us on this earth, who prefer perusing a genuine newspaper on Sunday mornings, to halt any inclination publishers may have for offering on-line editions only. The day I lose that choice is the day I become an ignoramus because I refuse to read a book or a newspaper on a computer screen.

I thought compact discs were finally safe from extinction, but now I’m not so sure. I recently discovered, while vacationing in North Carolina with my family, that cd players are no longer prevalent in some of the newer vehicles. Our rented Chrysler 200 came equipped with extensive “bells and whistles,” almost to the point of being too confusing to drive, yet the mid-size car was void of a compact disc player. I can understand omitting the cassette tape player, as a standard feature in newer models, because that format of recorded music is no longer even produced. I can also understand why a manufacturer might provide a way to attach an iPod to the vehicle’s speakers since many people are entrenched in that sort of technology. What I can’t comprehend though is why the cd player is apparently being phased out when approximately 50% of the population continues to fancy purchasing CDs instead of downloading music off of the internet.

I figured the people had already spoken, in regards to preserving compact discs, and I no longer needed to worry, but I guess the verdict is still out. I have well over a thousand CDs in my collection, but my only alternative in North Carolina was listening to a lame radio station while cruising in the rented Chrysler. I experienced another unwanted encounter with advanced technology, during my outing in the Tar Heel State, and once again (as expected) I was not a fan. My family and I went out for an ordinary dinner, but the restaurant’s ordering process was anything but ordinary. We entered the establishment expecting the simplicity of good food and good conversation, but instead we were instantly forced to kowtow to a newly acquired piece of state-of-the-art-technology. We were informed the iPad setting on our table was actually our menu. The waitress explained how convenient the contraption was, for all concerned, but of course to my chagrin.

My anxiety level immediately rose like a launched rocket ship. The young lady tried teaching us (mostly me) how to use the gadget, but I probably would’ve been better off trying to learn Chinese. I did discover that successfully swiping a computer screen with my finger, navigating through numerous food items and over 150 beer options, was extremely difficult, confusing, and tiresome. The waitress’ proclaimed convenience, for using the iPad, was in actuality our inconvenience in disguise. If it weren’t for my tech-savvy son, sitting at our table, we might’ve died from starvation before the evening was through. I don’t think dining out should be that complicated; therefore, I can’t imagine ever going back there in spite of how tasty the food and beer might have been.

Once in a while we’re seemingly given a choice, but when a negative consequence accompanies one of the options, but not the other, is it then really a choice? For instance, some grocery stores now offer their customers additional savings if they download the week’s digital coupons onto their shoppers’ card. We all have a similar card, yet only those who go on-line before shopping gets the luxury of receiving more for their money. Not everyone has a smartphone, and not everyone owns a computer: whether due to modest finances or simply by choice. Regardless, penalizing people based solely on them not embracing technology seems unfair. I think it’s blatant discrimination.

Unfortunately, Starbucks has recently expanded their love of advanced technology as well by offering a new promotion deemed “Mobile order and pay.” Also a bit unfair. They are literally encouraging customers to “skip the line” by doing everything on their electronic devices. At Starbucks it’s no longer first-come, first-served…it’s first-texted, first-served. It pains me to know my favorite place to write is part of the problem although I’m not willing to sacrifice my grande, dark roast coffee (with free refill) for the sake of fairness. I’m a very weak man when it comes to my Starbucks fix.

I had my first inkling, approximately a dozen years ago, as to where our nation was most-likely headed concerning its admiration for advanced technology. My lovely wife and I were dining out one evening when I noticed a gentleman romancing his cellphone instead of his female companion. I vividly remember how engrossed the man was with his tiny object and how defeated the ignored woman, seated across from him, looked. I pointed out the awkward situation to my wife, and we both agreed it was truly a sad sight to behold. The clueless man continuously ogled and caressed his electronic date for the duration of their stay. Now, the previous scenario has become the rule, not the exception, in today’s society. Spying an assortment of electronics on nearly every table in a restaurant is commonplace nowadays. I assume if people are willing to forgo conversations with their loved ones, while out for dinner, then it’s fairly conceivable they’re probably not sufficiently interacting with one another at home either.

I’m troubled that droves of people have become so attached to their electronic devices even to the point of idolatry. I’m also concerned about what other types of technological discrimination is waiting for us just around the corner. Here’s where I’m suppose to say, “To each his own.” I’m not lobbying to thwart the advancement of technology, but I am adamantly opposed to being forced into a lifestyle I believe is detrimental to relationships. Just because it’s the norm that doesn’t make it right. I presume some of you are guilty of rolling your eyes, at some point while reading this, and mistakenly referring to me as a dinosaur or else making some sort of horse-and-buggy wisecrack. If so, I’m left wondering why. I assuredly have no desire to make the horse-and-buggy my main mode of transportation, but I hold no animosity towards anyone who does. I’m not anti-technology…I’m just pro-choice!


It’s quite interesting, as well as refreshing, how the Holy Spirit intervenes seemingly under even the most trivial of circumstances. I was having a little trouble deciding what to write about when I remembered Christ is interested in every aspect of my life. Once in a while I find myself becoming a bit too complacent, when walking with the Lord, that I sometimes forget He has all of the answers. I made a simple plea for some clarification, during my evening prayers, as to what topic I should be entertaining. The very next morning, while continuing a Bible study I had started in January, I came across 1st Timothy 6:6-8.

The Apostle Paul said, “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” Previously, I had considered offering my thoughts on contentment; however, I had just come up with a clever title pertaining to a different subject altogether, so I figured that ship had already sailed. Obviously, I was wrong. Immediately after reading those verses I no longer had any doubt as to what I was suppose to be writing about at this time. I cannot (and will not) dismiss the Holy Spirit’s intervention as merely a coincidence.

Google defines contentment as “a state of happiness and satisfaction.” I prefer Wikipedia’s definition which states, “Contentment is a mental or emotional state of satisfaction drawn from being at ease in one’s situation, body and mind.” How many people do we know who have the aforementioned abundant supply of food and clothing, as well as many other things, yet they are still discontented? It’s fairly difficult though to rebuke those who are not content since our country actually promotes this type of behavior. We are encouraged to buy into the notion that we must constantly strive to advance in our careers, upgrade to larger homes and more expensive vehicles, and be the first in line when the newest technological device hits the shelves.

What it really boils down to, in today’s society, is we have a misguided admiration of the almighty dollar. The noticeable differences between the haves and have-nots are what tends to divide us as a nation. We are erroneously separated into categories based on our financial status; however, the Bible warns us (again in 1st Timothy) that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” I’m not contending there’s anything wrong with ambition, and I’m certainly not implying there aren’t any fulfilled have-nots living amongst us. In fact, I would venture to say there are probably more individuals with much less money, than those with beaucoup bucks, who are content with their lives. The problem with making accumulating wealth a priority, and striving to obtain more possessions, is that inevitably it becomes a vicious cycle, so there’s rarely a chance of achieving any sort of lasting satisfaction. How much would be enough?

Not so long ago my father was asked what was on his “bucket list.” After pondering the question, for a quick moment, he unexpectedly replied, “Nothing.” My father was born of modest means, did not attend college, and was the sole breadwinner for his family of six. Looking in from the outside it appears as though he hasn’t had too much excitement in his life. He’s rarely traveled, has never been on a cruise, had never purchased a new vehicle until recently, and my father doesn’t even own a computer, yet he is content. He explained how important raising a family had been to him, how he couldn’t think of anything he desired to do (even if money was no object), and how even if he could he still wouldn’t change a thing.

I consider myself content as well although I have many things on my bucket list. I’d like to travel more especially outside of the United States. I also wish to one day partake in bungee jumping, go whitewater rafting, and possibly run a half marathon. Attempting to run a full marathon (26.2 miles) would just be silly. I’ve already tried my hand at waterskiing, snorkeling, and parasailing – and I really don’t even know how to swim. I went skydiving several years ago as well. Some folks think it’s ridiculous to jump out of a perfectly good airplane, but I highly recommend the exhilarating feat.

For me, skydiving on November 26th, 2001, was somewhat of a religious awakening. I would think it’s nearly impossible to fall from the heavens, at 13,000 feet, without considering one’s mortality. I even pondered what could possibly go awry before boarding the compact aircraft; hence, the reason why I quickly penned a short letter to my lovely wife before takeoff. I reminded the missus how much she and our son meant to me, and I apologized for the times, during our then 18 years together, when I wasn’t the perfect mate she deserved. I reckon I was yearning for complete contentment “just in case.” I asked my bride not to read the note unless something went amiss up in the blue sky. Of course, anyone who knows my wife most-likely has already guessed she read my heartfelt words before I even got on the plane.

On this earth we are “a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14). We are here experiencing the lower story (life’s fleeting moment) although the upper story (God’s divine plan) is the only thing that truly matters in the end. Ultimate contentment is surrendering all things to Christ. It is realizing your soul is your greatest asset. Assuredly, I am not against earning a good living, climbing up the company ladder, or having a bucket list as long as those desires are secondary. It’s not important that I once went skydiving, and I’m not too concerned whether or not I’ll have the opportunity to someday experience any of the other adventurous activities on my bucket list. Regardless, I’m content.

A Positive message

With all of the negative rhetoric running rampant in this great country of ours, especially amongst the presidential hopefuls for 2016, I thought it would be refreshing to write something with a positive message. Therefore, I’m not about to mention the ludicrous protesting happening (again) in Ferguson, Missouri. It makes no sense to me why anyone would be against law enforcement protecting law-abiding citizens from people like Michael Brown. Instead, those protesting insist on honoring the deceased delinquent. What’s even worse is combining all White police officer shootings of Black men into one neat little package. Each incident is entirely separate from the others and deserves the respect of being thought of as such. Regardless, all lives matter, yet there are sometimes dire consequences awaiting those who choose to participate in robbery and resisting arrest.

In remaining positive, I also won’t divulge the fact that Donald Trump is constantly applauded as a “self-made” successful businessman, but in reality he came out of his mother’s womb a millionaire, and he has since owned four businesses that have gone bankrupt. Although there’s something to dislike about every candidate, vying for the presidency of the United States of America, I’ll attempt to solely focus on what I actually like about them. Of course, there’s at least one possible foreseeable problem with that; what I might choose to offer as a compliment may indeed be the exact thing someone else despises about the presidential hopeful. However, this blog is about me remaining positive. If a candidate isn’t even mentioned in this piece…I’m sure that speaks volumes as to what I must think of them.

Donald Trump says he’s in favor of repealing America’s birthright citizenship policy. I agree. I’ve been against rewarding newborns (of illegal immigrants) the automatic right to U.S citizenship, simply because they were born here, for a very long time. I am also on the same page as Mr. Trump when it comes to his disdain for America’s incessant pursuit of political correctness. The Donald made headlines recently (what’s new?) after responding to a tasteless line of questioning, apparently in a politically incorrect manner, during the first Republican debate for 2016. The business mogul absolutely was singled out and attacked by Fox News commentator, Megyn Kelly, so I say what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. I’m not about to disagree with Trump’s unflattering comments about Rosie O’Donnell either. I’ve heard the former co-host of The View publically berate and belittle him, as well as many others, so I’m fairly unsympathetic when people tend to treat her in the same fashion.

Similarly, Kelly Osbourne was recently lambasted, while guest-hosting on The View, after she said what many perceived as being a politically incorrect statement. The irony is Ms. Osbourne was trying to put Donald Trump in his place, concerning his take on our nation’s illegal immigration problem, when she blurted, “If you kick every Latino out of this country, then who is going to be cleaning your toilet, Donald Trump?” I’m not a fan of Kelly Osbourne whatsoever, but I think her comment was totally correct. Every “day laborer” I’ve ever seen, at least in Arizona, has appeared to be of Hispanic descent. The majority of housekeepers in hotels, all across the United States, seem to be of the Latina persuasion as well.

It’s apparent to me many illegal immigrants are content working America’s less than glamorous occupations, at extremely low wages, just as long as they have the opportunity to continue living in this country. My point is I strongly doubt if Mr. Trump could find a White, legal citizen to clean his toilet unless he’s willing to pay a decent wage. People simply need to lighten up and cut Ms. Osbourne some slack. The other thing I appreciate about Donald Trump is due to his immense wealth he doesn’t have to pander to special interest groups to run a legitimate campaign. The Donald is his own special interest. Oops…I forgot…maybe that last comment wasn’t too positive.

Dr. Ben Carson has said he is not a fan of political correctness either. I admire his candidness, and I relish the fact he’s not a seasoned politician. Dr. Carson also boldly refutes the theory of evolution which is my sentiment exactly. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton both have been defending Planned Parenthood recently in the wake of the “scandal” involving the family planning center. Videos have surfaced of Planned Parenthood personnel discussing, in a nonchalant manner, the harvesting of babies’ body parts. At a time when most of the other candidates are threatening to defund the agency’s clinics, across the entire nation, Mr. Sanders and Mrs. Clinton are commending the organization’s existence. The released videos are definitely unfortunate, and maybe the government could reduce the institution’s annual funding a bit, but I think Planned Parenthood is a vital agency especially for the younger generation.

I know I was thankful for the family planning center, in the mid-eighties, when I was dating my girlfriend (aka lovely wife) and even after we got married. Fortunately, we were allowed to obtain birth control without parental consent. Who wants to hear their parents’ lectures (or worse yet – them saying no) when a young couple thinks they’re doing the right thing? After our wedding we were able to continue purchasing birth control from Planned Parenthood at an affordable rate. The clinic enabled my wife and I to responsibly start a family when we were certain we could afford raising a child without any financial assistance.

Hillary Clinton has a reputation of reaching across the aisle to get things done. The same can be said of Jeb Bush although probably not to the extent of some other compromising Republicans namely John Kasich and Chris Christie. I’m an avid supporter of bipartisanship, so I have high regard for anybody who’s willing to negotiate, with the other party, to do what’s best for the United States. Mr. Bush, believe it or not, has sometimes been criticized, by members of his own party, for being too liberal. I admire how the former Governor of Florida dismantled affirmative action in his state. I also fancy how he’s a proponent of “three-strike” laws. I believe if a lawbreaker hasn’t learned to abide by society’s rules after already being convicted of two felonies then the miscreant will most-likely never learn. Therefore, repeat offenders should be subjected to harsher sentencing, on their third strike, and kept isolated from law-abiding citizens.

Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee both seem to have a major problem with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Mr. Paul desires to, at the very least, minimize the government agency, and Mr. Huckabee insists the stressful annual event, of filing tax returns, could easily be simplified. Both candidates are in favor of dismantling the IRS and implementing a fairer tax system. Mike Huckabee envisions a new tax system where all tax returns could effortlessly be completed and returned on a standard postcard. That sounds phenomenal to a guy who spends an enormous amount of time each year sifting through numerous tax forms. Rand Paul wants to eliminate foreign aid, and his non-interventionist attitude relating to war definitely tugs at my heartstrings.

Mike Huckabee and Scott Walker are adamantly opposed to transgenders serving in the United States Armed Forces. I would assume our nation’s military is busy enough without having to be inconvenienced with figuring out how to make a confusing situation (both literally and figuratively) like that comfortable for all concerned. I wish the former “Don’t ask, don’t tell” U.S policy, instituted by the Clinton Administration in 1994, was still in effect today. I have no problem with homosexuals serving, but I don’t think their sexual preference needs to be identified nor celebrated.

I found out, while researching the presidential hopefuls’ positions, that Mr. Walker returned $60,000. of his annual salary, each year for many years, when he was a Milwaukee county executive. It was a promise he made to his constituents when he first ran for the elected position. He did so because he had previously been an outspoken critic of the pay level for county jobs. I commend the Wisconsin Governor for keeping his selfless campaign promise. Governor Walker and the Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, have their fondness for the old Patriot Act in common.

The Patriot Act was signed into law by George W. Bush in 2001; however, a key provision of the law that allowed for unlimited access to collected phone data (in essence spying), by the National Security Agency (NSA), was sadly buried in June of this year. The three of us would like to see Section 215 of the Patriot Act resurrected for the sake of America’s national security. To the contrary, Mr. Christie and I dislike famed hacker and traitor, Edward Snowden, for his cunning ways. Hacking into our government’s files and releasing private information is unacceptable under any circumstance. Another thing I like about Governor Christie is that he distinctively advocates for Social Security and Medicare “means testing.” That simply means if people do not need the money they’re receiving, from the entitlement programs, then they should stop accepting the benefits.

Martin O’Malley has a novel idea as well. The Democrat would like to see the Electoral College abolished. I too am in favor of our country’s president being determined by the popular vote instead. I’ve never understood why one person’s vote should be more important than another person’s vote, yet that’s the type of inequality the Electoral College election process promotes. Mr. O’Malley not only has a fine Irish name, but the former Governor of Maryland has stated he “proudly” holds an F rating from the National Rifle Association of America (NRA). I can’t help but fancy his sense of humor.

There you have it: a thorough synopsis of the things I like about many of the candidates who are hoping to occupy the Oval Office in early 2017. It wasn’t all that simple either. However, it’s refreshing to know there are others out there who actually think the same way as I do about certain things. I’m quite aware I offer a glimpse of where I stand, on an array of issues, when revealing all of the aforementioned candidates’ viewpoints I truly respect. I’m proud to be an Independent voter. I’m about the person – not their political affiliation. I’m James McCleary, and I approve this positive message.

Whose Chair?

It’s my chair today. That’s definitely not always the case, and it’s all because of Richard. I’m only aware of Richard’s name because that’s what everyone (the staff and customers alike) calls him at the Starbucks I frequent in Sun City, Arizona. The scene there is reminiscent of the Norm from Cheers situation – cue the music- “where everybody knows your name.” I’m one of the few exceptions though; the folks at this particular Starbucks don’t know my name, and I truly hope it remains that way since I prefer to stay “off the grid” as much as possible. Even though Richard doesn’t know my name, or anything about me, I’m sure he thinks of me as “the guy who steals his chair.”

Therein lies the problem with my newfound nemesis. Once or twice a week, for approximately the past year, I’ve been patronizing the Sun City coffee shop mostly on days when I really need to focus on my writing. My words just have a tendency to flow from my pen a little better when seated at that location. However, I assume Richard has also been a faithful customer, of the same establishment, but for a much longer time than I have been. In addition, he visits the store at least 6 days a week (I’m never there on Sundays to know if it’s actually 7). Therefore, apparently Richard (and seemingly most everyone else) thinks he’s entitled to the chair of his choice, which happens to be the exact one I’ve grown fond of, whenever he walks through the front door.

The whole ordeal has added much undesired drama to my life. Whenever Richard shows up, and I have already established position, he’s visibly irritated with the situation. He rarely says anything (at least loud enough for me to hear) about the “injustice” I’ve supposedly done to him. He doesn’t have to because many customers, and even some of the staff, freely mention it nearly every time this scenario occurs. They never say anything to me directly, when relentlessly referring to the chair I’m occupying as being Richard’s, but they don’t lower their voices either when discussing the matter amongst themselves. I pretend not to notice their senseless dialogue.

The most absurd thing I’ve overheard thus far, regarding the seating arrangements, was when my archrival was away on vacation. One Starbucks’ employee was telling another that Richard had called and said he was going to be gone an extra day and to not let anyone take his chair while he was away. To my knowledge, neither Richard’s name nor mine is stitched into the chair’s dark brown leather to suggest any type of ownership. Neither of us purchased the piece of furniture as well, so I would assume becoming the chair’s occupant is on a first-come, first-served basis – as it should be. That is certainly not the case (at least at one time) with a booth located at a rib joint in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota.

In the mid-eighties Rock and Funk legend, Prince, bought the rights to a specific booth, inside Rudolphs Bar-B-Que, during his reign over the music industry. Only the artist’s most devoted fans are aware of this little-known fact about him. Of course, that’s the reason why I know. No one was to ever inhabit his booth, regardless of how crowded the place might be, in case Prince had a sudden hankering for some ribs. His unconventional purchase guaranteed him a reservation at a moment’s notice. Aww…to be disgustingly rich. I still like the entertainer nonetheless.

The funny thing about the Richard saga is that there are three other identical chairs at the Sun City Starbucks, but apparently neither my nemesis nor myself fancies them as much as we fancy the one in the corner. That’s right. There are a total of four indistinguishable chairs, arranged in pairs, at my favorite Starbucks, yet obviously Richard and I are only content, for whatever reason, occupying the same one. I suspect it’s because our chair is snugly positioned, surrounded by windows, and is furthest away from the incoming traffic and all of the noisy regulars. In addition, there are two other Starbucks nearby; however, they have some challenges for a guy such as myself who depends on a little peace and quiet when attempting to write his next masterpiece.

The coffee shop to the east (in Glendale) opens a little later and is usually overrun by as many as seven construction workers. They invade the compact area, with the only comfortable chairs in the store, at the precise time I prefer to tackle my writing for the day. They’re predictably boisterous, and sometimes even obnoxious, while utilizing the stereotypical language of blue-collar workers. It’s no mystery why it’s difficult for me to concentrate in the midst of all of that. The main obstacle I encounter at the Starbucks up north (in Peoria), a mere mile from my home, is that I’m constantly interrupted by people who’ve come to know me there. I sometimes feel like Norm at that location because people tend to want to sit by me and carry on conversations. Not good if your main objective is to be productive. Besides, the chairs up north aren’t nearly as comfy as the one in Sun City.

The real problem, as I see it, is Richard has gone to great lengths recently in preventing me from claiming his chair. He used to mosey into Starbucks around 6:00am, and he’d stay for about an hour and a half. I normally was already there by that time, consistently arriving around 5:00am, since I’m an early riser and that particular store opens at 4:00am. Suddenly, Richard began coming to the coffee shop earlier and earlier until one day he was finally sitting in my chair when I showed up at my usual time. I can’t believe my adversary has decided to rearrange his entire life just for the sake of a piece of furniture.

On second thought, I can somewhat relate because I countered with a minor adjustment myself. I began setting my alarm clock instead of just waking up on my own, as was previously the case, so I’d have a better shot at seizing the all-too elusive chair. I’m fully aware the Bible says, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” but my alpha dog mentality has been too strong for me to resist. Now when I pull into the Sun City Starbucks’ parking lot at 4:15am, many times Richard is there. I’ll be darned if I’m going to resort to standing at the front door of any establishment, waiting for the business to open, just to capture a desired chair.

Whenever I see Richard already relaxing in my chair I don’t even bother stopping anymore; I simply continue on to one of the other two aforementioned Starbucks. I’m positive Richard does the same thing, if I get there first, because we haven’t been inside the same coffee shop at the same time for quite a long while. I only wish to patronize the Starbucks in Sun City once or twice a week, as I mentioned before, so I’m astonished by Richard’s selfish shenanigans especially since he has easy access to our chair the rest of the week. I guess one Starbucks just isn’t big enough for the both of us.


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