Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Rat Race

The "Rat Race" - society's term for the chase of the almighty dollar. From childhood, we (as people, as a culture) are encouraged to do whatever it takes to make the most money we can. Usually this is at the detriment of our personal needs and desires, as well as that of our families and friends. We're taught that work comes first, above all else, because money is the most important thing and you can't have enough of it. Those who have alot of "it" want more of "it." Those who have none of "it" want to get some of "it." Somewhere in the middle are the ones who get a little of "it" and wish they had more of "it".

My brother once brought up a question, in a discussion about working alot versus spending time with your family, that made me stop and think. The question: "In 10 years, will you look back and think, "I'm so glad I worked harder and longer to make an extra $5,000.00 a year. It doesn't bother me that I missed all these important events in my child's life." His point was felt clearly: my daughter, and being there for her through all her first experiences, is more important than an extra $100 a week. Don't get me wrong, if you can't make 2 ends meet, then you probably need to work some extra hours. Maybe you need to cut back on all your unnecessary expenses. I've been there, I know there are ways to work through anything.

At a job I had when I was just 20, I worked with an elderly woman who was nearing retirement. She relayed a particularly telling story to me about her life: she and her husband had spent their entire working lives taking every overtime shift they could get. She figured she had worked six days a week most of her life. Her husband had done the same, taking on side jobs, odd jobs, etc., whenever he could. They did this, and scrimped and saved every penny they could with their eyes on retirement. At the age of 60, at the time just a few short years from retirement, her husband had a heart attack and died. My coworker was distraught; all the years of hard work and planning was destroyed in a matter of moments. As she told me this story, with tears in her eyes, she said to me: "what I wouldn't give to be able to go back in time - instead of working all those extra hours, I would spend that time with my husband."

There are a fair amount of people who could read this and think that I simply don't like to work, and I'm trying to make a case against overtime. That's not true; I enjoy my job, and I do what needs to be done when it needs to be done. I also enjoy making extra money; there are plenty of things I like to have and activities that I like to do that, of course, require money. But I have found that often overtime is just an excuse to pad a paycheck, and not always necessary; and also the best memories usually do not require an extravagant expense. I doubt my daughter will look back on her childhood and think, "wow, I'm so happy that my dad made extra money so that I could have a TV in my bedroom." She will probably remember the times we played with chalk on the front porch or how every night I read a book to her, making up voices for each character and acting out the stories.

As I write this, I'm spending the night out of town in a condo, having a fun weekend. It wasn't very long ago that I wasn't in a financial position to do this, so I do appreciate making some money. But it also wasn't long ago that I could have afforded to do this, but was working so much that I couldn't have made the time to do this. When I started looking for another job, the number one goal I had was a "better work / life balance." I feared that this would prevent me from finding another job; most employers want you to make your job the center of your universe, forsaking all others. To blatantly tell them that I was intending to NOT do this was career suicide. I was very fortunate to find a job that I enjoy and did not expect me to give up a family life.

I realize that not everyone can do this, but I encourage everyone to try. I know that my life has changed completely for the better because of my family. I believe that this is the true meaning of life; never have I felt more complete than now. I wish this for all of you.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


OK, cancer has plagued us as a society for quite a while now. Endless articles, studies, movies, etc., have been created to tell you the story of cancer. The one thing that all of those sources can't do for you: make it REAL for you. Until you've experienced the touch of cancer firsthand, you can't possibly understand that the disease not only destroys the body its infesting, but the emotional and psychological warfare it wages on the family leaves scars that never really fade.

Two years ago my mother in law died from liver & pancreatic cancer. She was in a tremendous amount of pain, but watching her slowly decay into a pale wisp of a person and eventually lose the ability to function in basically any way was far worse. Although I can still place myself in that room, on the day she died, of course I can only imagine the struggle she faced at a point of no return, when all hope finally was lost. My wife still struggles with unresolved issues about it. My father in law has faced the most tremendous sea change of his life; the rest of the family has splintered, my mother in law being the glue that held everyone together.

I write this not to rehash an old, painful memory; on the contrary, two people very close to me have been diagnosed with cancer and my heart is heavy for them and their families tonight. As a selfish human, I wonder if I would be courageous were I on the receiving end of the bad news... they seem to put on the brave face, say all the right things like, "we're going to beat this," and "I'll try every treatment and devote myself to getting healthy," but I know that inside they must be terrified. I know I would be.

I'll close my eyes and think of you both every night.

UPDATE 11/21/14

Both of the people I mentioned above have now passed away. The devastation was no better this time than the last, or the one before that.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Nobody wants regulation, but...

OK, so I'm not interested in a "nanny state" - you know, like Bloomberg's NYC regulating the size of your soft drinks and where you can place cigarettes in the store - but some regulation is necessary. Conservatives and Libertarians will cry about regulation hampering growth in business, stifling innovation, etc., blah, blah. Without regulation though, chemical companies would just dump their waste in the local streams, pay their employees $2 / hr and work you 70 hours without paying overtime. So some regulation is good.

My mind is on a situation wherein a prominent website that sells cheap junk - if you're curious - has been selling counterfeit Lifeproof cases for iPhones. I have seen countless news stories about flea market sellers getting busted for selling counterfeit DVDs, Louis Vitton purses and the like, so why isn't anything done about this? There are a significant number of complaints to prove this claim's legitimacy, and the company has angered the consumers by being slow or hesitant to respond to refund requests. So who steps in on the side of the consumer in this situation?

Having been caught up in this myself, I wonder if I will find a letter in my mailbox one day, advising me of my inclusion in a class-action lawsuit. Maybe I'll even get a .14 check once it's settled. Once upon a time, I owned and operated a business, and was the victim of a customer using a stolen credit card. Once the actual card holder discovered the charge and filed a complaint with his card, I was immediately treated like a criminal. My account was garnished, my credit card processing was suspended, and there were threats of lawsuits. This was 1 transaction... I can only imagine if I had sold thousands of fake Iphone cases and faced as many irate customers reversing charges. At some point, VISA and Mastercard would be refusing to process my sales - wouldn't they?

Still, appears to still be humming along, selling their wares and advertising their deals. I wonder if anyone cares anymore.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The movies, childhood, flashbacks

Lately I've talked a bit about growing up, being bored, and general nonsense that makes this blog more like an online diary than anything worth the 5 minutes it takes to read. Today, I'd like to talk about one of my favorite things to do: go to the movies.

I love movies. The format of a complete story in a 2 hour (usually less) bite just sits well with me. I'd rather watch a movie every night than regular serialized television shows, which require a weekly commitment. (Tivo has helped with that quite a bit) In fact, I'd rather go to the movies every night. I've often said that, were I to become independently wealthy, I'd probably go to a movie every day. I would see everything that was out. I love the experience of the theater, from the posters to the smell of popcorn and sitting in a room with 100 complete strangers gazing at a larger-than-life screen and being totally shut out from the world for a brief period of time. The theater is like a hyperbolic chamber of sorts; no external distractions.

Today a friend and I went to see GI Joe: Retaliation, which was better than its predecessor in a "the second piece of crappy pizza isn't hot enough to burn your mouth like the first one did" way. There were still numerous issues with plot, acting, and direction of the film, but it was a distraction from the norm and a welcome change in my routine. While watching the movie, I was reminded of my youth, wherein I played with GI Joe toys, watched the cartoons, and read the comic book. (I just stopped reading the comic book, BTW, so it hasn't all been in my childhood!) When I was a kid, the closest thing to a movie adaptation of something I loved would be a long-form commercial for more toys (GI Joe: The Movie, Transformers: The Movie) or a poorly put together attempt to cash in because the toys were already so popular (Masters of the Universe).

The kids today have it so good. I would have probably committed any crime or performed any service without complaint if I could have had "The Avengers" happen when I was 10. A live GI Joe movie? It would never happen 25 years ago. Transformers in CGI, interacting with real humans in a real setting? You must be crazy to think it would ever come to fruition. Now, it's a reality.

The same thing happens when I peruse the toy aisles of Wal-Mart... today's toys look so good compared to what I had. And the makers don't mind putting out all these obscure variations or third-tier characters because collectors have driven the demand for these things. So when I see a Marvel Captain Britain 3.75" figure, I nearly pass out. Because when I was a kid, I had to buy one of the 7 figures they offered and re-paint it to get a Captain Britain. Today I can get a toy figure of basically any variation of Iron Man ever drawn on paper, less-than-popular characters like Sentry, and one-off specials like Yellow Lantern Batman. What I wouldn't have given to get stuff like that when I was 10 years old. I took a red & blue Spider-Man and painted it black to make "alien costume" Spider-Man. I took another one and made it into Venom.

I'll continue to see movies based on things from my childhood as long as they make them, and they're not too terrible. And I'll love every second of it, and smile knowing that the kid in me has finally seen his dreams come true, even if the adult in me knows it's all bull.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Because I'm Bored

There have been times in my life when I've been incredibly excited about one thing or another. When I was in high school, I desperately wanted to be a comic book artist. I was very devoted to this path, and all my extra energy was channeled in this direction. At some point, my interest faded, and I turned to music. I became consumed with all things musical; eventually, I even owned and operated a musical instrument store. In time, and after the bitter realities of failure, I lost interest in this path as well.

So tonight I ponder: do I lose interest just because I'm bored? Or is it when the going gets tough, I get lost? In both of the scenarios I mentioned above, I reached a point where the next step was inevitably success or failure. After the music store, I worked for a major retailer, and absorbed myself in that until I became manager of one of their stores; the pay was good, the hours were terrible, but within the store I was fairly autonomous, it was near my home, and I could have easily worked there for the next 30 years and made a decent living. I'm not there anymore either... retail quickly lost my interest as well. So with a small taste of success, I still opted for a change.

Is it because I'm bored?

I'm always maintained a fair level of interest in creative ventures, but once I began working full time I lacked the free time to pursue them, or I chose to spend what free time I had doing other things. As a result, I haven't really written or drawn anything in years, (one of the reasons I started this blog) and I still struggle with my own harsh criticism in these areas. I don't play music anymore for this reason: over 18 years of playing I couldn't attain what I felt was a level of proficiency I should have. How I envy the person who can just draw, write or play and enjoy it without critiquing every detail of their work to the point of paralysis.

So am I my own worst enemy? I am already reading this blog entry and thinking about how it should be more focused, etc., and considering re-writing it, or not even publishing it. I made myself a promise that I would just do it, and push through it, and damn the torpedoes, take it warts and all.

I just wish I could get to some answers... :)