A New Beginning

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Like the immigrants who arrived here many years ago, it’s time for a new beginning.

Anyone who has followed this blog has noticed it’s been a while since I posted here. Two years, in fact.

 

There are many reasons. Life, a part time job, motivation. Whatever the reason, this blog has been bare for since February, 2014.

Never again.

Now is the time to begin anew. New insights, new thoughts, new friends.

The new year promises to be an exciting one. A presidential election and its primaries loom large this year. Excellent fodder for a skeptic like me.

Of course there’s my Mets. I admit it. I’ve been a Mets fan since 1962 and the Polo Grounds in Harlem. This year may be great, may be bad or something in between. Regardless, more stories to choose from.

Then there is life. Our memories, our plans, our hopes, our futures. All great opportunities to share insight with you.

So a new look, a new plan, a new beginning.

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Our Children’s Loss

My daughter Jackie always hands me permission slips of some kind or another. Her classes or clubs go from one place to another. I have to sign them and so does she.

“Can I print?” she asks. 

“Don’t you know cursive writing?”

“What’s that?”

“Your signature. Your name.”

“They never taught us.”

“What do they teach you? I started writing cursive in the fourth grade.”

She’s now a junior in high school.

“We don’t teach that kind of writing anymore. It’s only taught in art classes or if there is time at the end of the year,” my wife Rosa said.

“What about writing a proper letter?”

“No, we don’t teach that either.”

Cursive writing and learning to format a letter is something I’ve taken with me since I was 10 years old. It’s something inherent in me. I use it everyday. I took business writing courses in high school and in college. I practiced writing my signature constantly, carefully making sure the loops in the ‘J’ were clear and concise and finishing with a flourish using the upslope of the ‘m’ to cross the ‘t’ in the middle of ‘Ostram’.

Now something normally taught has become a specialty, relegated to an extracurricular activity in order to teach students how to take and pass tests. A well-crafted and formatted letter is a thing of the past thanks to email and the informality of social media. Too bad.

Whenever I receive a formal letter from any entity I analyze it. I look for a proper heading, salutation, date and formatting. I study the sentences, word choice and usage in order to determine if the writer is successfully conveying the true meaning intended.

I can’t remember the last time I received a personal letter. I’ve written several. Now, like so many others, I’ve succumbed to the allure of the internet and social media. Sadly, it’s not the same.

I’ve never been comfortable using ‘lol’, ‘omg’, ‘bff’, and even ‘wtf’. I still search for words to describe things I find humorous or otherwise. I have a difficult time expressing myself in 140 characters or less on my twitter account.

If I think like a journalist I can accomplish the task with a less degree of difficulty than if I think like a writer. As a writer I constantly attempt to use the appropriate word or language. I think in full sentences not twitter speak. Paring down a post becomes difficult and rarely does it appear or sound as it was intended.

During my long period of unemployment (I’m retired now) I made an effort to draft professional cover letters to include with my resume and applications. With each letter I tried to tailor it to the specific needs of the company. Drawing on what I’d learned and past experience, I made sure each one looked professional with the proper headings, date and salutation. The paragraphs I crafted with care describing my qualifications and how they’d fit with the openings needs.

Many letters succeeded in getting me at least a phone interview if not person-to-person. The point is they worked.

 

Unfortunately our youth is missing this vital weapon in an arsenal of communication. Thought, care and craftsmanship gave way to the here and now. Instead of the anticipation of receiving a letter or card in the mail, we email, skype and twitter. Our photos are posted in our Facebook pages for the world to see. They are no longer private or shown to just our family and friends. What we say is out there for everyone to see.

What suffers is creativity. What suffers is the time it takes to sit and choose the correct word so Grandma and Grandpa are able to understand you. What suffers is the feel of the envelope and the paper the letter is written on. What suffers is the joy of deciphering the handwritten word and enjoying its beauty or its ugliness (some people do have bad handwriting).

Perhaps we should read the letters of John and Abigail Adams or Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Perhaps we should read Abraham Lincoln’s letters or Theodore Roosevelt’s letters or the letters of soldiers and sailors of previous generations. Through them perhaps we can see what our children are missing.

Bearing the Burden

Yesterday, Veteran’s Day, I noticed a headline on the Military.com website. It read, “Hagel Says Cuts to Pay and Benefits are Needed.” Mr. Hagel is this country’s Secretary of Defense.

Now anyone who’s never served in the military might just pass over this particular article with little or no interest. I, on the other hand, got angry as I hope all my military brothers and sisters should.

As an all-volunteer force where’s the incentive to enlist? Where is the incentive to make the military a career? I admit no one joins the military to get rich. Why would a young person walk into a recruiting center?

Pay? No.

Education? The military does train you in your chosen field and it will reimburse you for college tuition.

Benefits? Now, like other businesses, you have to purchase insurance for your family through Tricare, the military’s equivalent of an HMO. You pay for it. When I served (1977-1981) you and your family had access to on-base facilities free of charge. If you served 20 years then retired, you were entitled to care. Now you have to purchase a policy as well.

Advancement? Advancement is predicated on the type of job you do, the military’s needs for that position and an individual’s performance evaluations. If you work in a highly technical job your chances for promotion improves than if you were a journalist or an administrative specialist. In other words, the harder it is to replace you the better your chances of moving up the ladder.

Mr. Hagel announced he wanted to do this at the Global Security Forum sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. In essence he wants to cut military pay and benefits in order to purchase the latest weapons and cyber systems.

Why Mister Secretary? Don’t we already have the best toys money can buy? Aren’t we far ahead of the competition? Can’t we now deploy troops faster than anyone else? Can’t we blast our enemies into oblivion better than anyone else? What else is there?

For newer and better means of destruction and spying, the Secretary is willing to sacrifice the morale of the very people who’ll use these gadgets and gizmos. A military force of men and women who are already underpaid and underappreciated by the very country they serve.

Consider this. Currently the federal minimum wage stands at $7.25 per hour. If you work eight hours a day that’s $58.00 a day in pay or $15,080 per year if you work five days a week. This is what the government says you must be paid.

Now if you join the military as an enlisted person your beginning salary is $1516.20 per month. Your rating is an E-1. If you base it on the minimum wage working just eight hours a day, you’re ahead of the curve. That’s if you work just eight hours. Anyone who’s served in the military will tell you it’s a 24 hour seven day a week job.

If you do the math $7.25 x 24 = $174 per day x 365 days = $63510.00 per year. Now that’s if the military was only paid the minimum wage. Paid monthly that would be $5292.50 per month. In order to reach the minimum wage taken on a 24/7 basis one would have to be the equivalent to an E-8 with over 26 years of service. An E-8 by the way is a Senior Chief Petty Officer in the Navy and a Master Sergeant in the other branches. The majority of enlisted personnel never get close to this rank. The majority of enlisted fall within the E-4 to E-7 range with monthly pay ranging from $2300 to $3200 with more than four years of service.

The military is vastly underpaid. For some military families it means applying for food stamps or taking a second job, if that’s possible, or having a spouse work full-time. The majority of the military don’t complain. We know it’s the nature of the beast. We are the United States first line of defense and we are proud to put ourselves between an enemy and our friends and neighbors.

Yet Mr. Hagel would have you believe the military is overpaid and they receive too many benefits. I find this approach by him very odd. He did serve during Vietnam when pay was even lower. Has he forgotten his experience?

This must be a non-starter in Congress where military pay and benefits are legislated. Every American should feel a sense of outrage that Mr. Hagel and the bean counters in the Department of Defense want their own people to bear the burden of budget cuts. Every American should be expressing their outrage to their representatives and senators that this proposal never shall never see the light of day.

Mr. Hagel don’t cut the Defense budget at the expense of the service people who put their lives on the line for us everyday and don’t reduce the retirement benefits of those who’ve served this country so admirably for many generations. Right now the country doesn’t need any new toys.

Two Years and Counting

My first job in 1968 was a baker’s assistant at a Boy Scout camp. I got my application from my dad. He picked it up from district council headquarters and turned it in for me. There was one interview.

I received for $100 for the entire summer. Yes, the entire summer. It lasted 9 ½ weeks from the last week in June to the last week of August. Oh, room and board included a tent with electricity, fine dining at the mess hall and all the baked goods I could eat. And could I eat.

After the first summer I worked at Alexander’s, a department store two blocks from home. I walked to the store’s personnel office and filed an application. That’s the way you did things before computers.

Looking for work before the new millennium was a matter of buying a newspaper and scanning the ‘Want Ads’ or asking a friend or relative if they knew of any openings where they worked. One time George, a good friend of mine, working at US Steel, asked me if I wanted to work at his factory in Butler, PA. Anyone who knows me knows I am not mechanically inclined. I’m lucky if I can tell you which screwdriver is a regular and which is a Philips head.

I told George this and he told me, “Don’t worry, you’ll be a crane operator. They’ll teach you and you’d be paid $12 an hour.”

In 1973 that was a lot of money.

The point is prior to the internet what we call networking today was an instinctive part of finding a job. One pounded the pavement. You walked into an establishment and asked for the manager or the personnel department and you filled out an application. If you had a resume you brought it with you. You shook a person’s hand and looked them in the eye. You told them what you were looking for and they told you if there was a place for you.

That’s all changed.

In 2010 I resigned my position with a company I’d been with for over six years. I’d been asked to resign because I had several health issues during the past year and my daughter had several epileptic seizures in school, causing me to leave early. I’m sorry when the school calls and tells you your daughter is on her way to the hospital, you leave no matter what the consequences might be.

My health issues resolved themselves and we have my daughter’s seizures under control with proper medication. This past summer I found a job with another company in sales but didn’t meet their probationary standards and was let go in September. Since then my success in finding something has been in one word: frustrating.

Unemployment benefits ran out two weeks before Christmas. It made for an awkward and disquieting holiday season.

I tell you this not for sympathy but in order for you to understand what happens when one spouse is out of work for nearly two years. Don’t think I just sat around. Every week I emailed between five and ten resumes and cover letters. I went back to old jobs. I’m told to apply online now. When you apply for some positions you take an evaluation and that determines whether you might be invited for an interview.

In the past month I’ve sent over 100 resumes and cover letters. For all the effort I’ve been to four interviews. I attended a job fair and was told by one company they were looking for someone with just a year or two of experience. The majority of resumes sent out never get a simple, “Hey we got it, thanks.”

The majority of sales jobs are now commission only. A company’s way of telling you, we’ll take you on but if you don’t succeed we won’t have to pay you and you can’t collect benefits.

At this point I’ll take just about anything that will pay the bills: full-time, part-time, any time. I’m willing to do anything asked of me.

My advice, for what it’s worth, is keep what you have. You’re lucky in this economy. If you have to look, look while you have a job; at least you have money coming in.

I know my struggle is not unique. I know there are more of us out there. Like I said, I’m not looking for sympathy or a handout. This is just my story and maybe it’s a life lesson for someone else.

Auld Lang Syne

In a few hours 2012 will end and 2013 will begin. When the clock strikes midnight, I’ll be another year older as well.

Yes, I’m a New Year’s baby. Not the first one born but a New Year’s baby nevertheless.

In turning 61, I’ve seen a lot of changes. Changes in everything including the way the New Year’s celebration. Traditions I observed are now memories as my parents and grandparents are gone and I spend New Year’s Eve with my wife and her family.

Somehow my early New Year’s celebrations were special. My one and only time all year I stayed up past midnight and waited for my birthday to start. My parents told me the entire world celebrated my birthday. For a child that’s special.

Maybe they were special because there was a sense of stability. Year after year we tuned the television to CBS. There Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians commanded center stage every New Year’s Eve live from the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

There black, white and gray images flickered, danced and partied across the screen. I never saw Mr. Lombardo and his Canadians in color since my parents didn’t by a color TV until I was away at college.

In the comfort of our living room we watched the festivities. The band played a blend of old standards. No rock ‘n’ roll played here. Men in tuxedos and women dressed in evening gowns with their finest jewelry danced and toasted each other. Occasionally the band played one of my parent’s favorite songs. They would dance.

I’d giggle, laugh and clap. Nanny, my grandmother, would pick me up and dance with me. When they could afford it, my parents bought the same hats I saw the men wearing: cheap colored flimsy cardboard layered in sparkles shaped like a top hat. It seemed all the women had the faux tiaras (although looking back at the women, some tiaras were probably real). No one wore the goofy glasses shaped to announce the year (you can do only so much with the 20th century).

The show started about 10PM. Mr. Lombardo would direct, baton pinched between his thumb and fore and middle fingers. His right hand moved swiftly with staccato movements. The band followed.

Fifteen minutes into the program the cameras would cut to Times Square and the crowd. It waved back and forth like the ocean. Spotlights sent swaths of light over the mass of people.

“Good evening from Times Square in New York City. This is Robert Trout.”

The veteran CBS newsman was the annual reporter from a vantage point overlooking the crowd. Mr. Trout was tall and thin. He sported a pencil-thin mustache accentuated the sharp features that distinguished him from others. He dressed in a suit with, depending on the weather, a trench coat or long overcoat. A fedora adorned the top of his head. The voice, deep and distinctive, pronounced each syllable, each word perfectly.  Mr. Trout earned the respect of his colleagues and the world broadcasting with Edward R. Murrow during the blitz in London during World War II.

“Look at this massive crowd waiting here for the ball to drop.”

He treated the evening as a breaking news story; not entertainment. He was a reporter, not a host. The good time happened at the Waldorf. He introduced the evening’s sponsor and the network would cut to commercial. Once it ended the network was back at the Waldorf for more music and levity. They’d cut between the Waldorf and Times Square until five minutes to midnight.

Then the camera stayed on the throng in Times Square. Mr. Trout speaking as loud as he dared described the crowd, estimated its size; described the ball and the group of men tasked with lowering it beginning precisely at one minute to midnight.

The ball would begin its slow descent. The crowd cheers louder.

“Only a few seconds left till the New Year. Slowly the ball makes its trip to the bottom. 5..4..3..2..1..Happy New Year.”

Immediately the cameras cut to the Waldorf. Balloons and champagne corks pop as people hug and kiss, slap each other on the back and the Royal Canadians strike up ‘Auld Lang Syne’.

I’d struggle to stay awake. Some of those early years I didn’t make it; some I did. When I succeeded I got hugs, kisses and wishes of “Happy Birthday” from my parents and Nanny. Sometimes the bell would ring at midnight and it’d be our neighbor Tony dropping in to wish us a Happy New Year. Other times neighbors set off firecrackers and shouts of “Happy New Year” would echo up and down our block.

Regardless I’ll always remember Guy Lombardo, Robert Trout and the Royal Canadians. It’s not the same anymore. Every channel now has New Year’s Eve shows. They have “entertainers” I’ve never heard of. This morning I watched the New Year being celebrated in Australia.

No, it doesn’t seem the same anymore when New York and Times Square was the center of New Year celebrations. But I’ll always have those memories.

Happy New Year everyone. I hope it’s a good one.

My Top Bucket List Item

Over the past few weeks I have stated publicly (though not here) that I will thru hike the Appalachian Trail, also known as the AT. I haven’t said “I’d like to,” or “I might,” or “I think I will.” I said, “I will.”

I put a time frame on it too. I will hike the Trail in 2 ½ years. My journey will begin at Springer Mountain, Georgia on Wednesday, April 1, 2015.

Rather ambitious, don’t you think?

No?

Take a look at my picture that graces this blog and my Facebook page. I am 60 years old. Now what do you think?

For those of you who don’t know the AT is a 2181 mile trail beginning or ending at Springer Mountain in Georgia passing through 13 states to Mount Katahdin in the state of Maine. It’s not something you hike overnight or in a week or two. Most thru hikes take from four to six months to complete.

According to AppalachianTrail.com “the trail follows the ridgeline of the Appalachian Mountains, crossing many of its highest peaks, and running, with only a few exceptions, almost continuously through wilderness.” I’ve been on the trail before and I’ve studied it. I know this to be true.

You might be asking yourself, “How are you going to do this?”

First and foremost, I must lose weight while getting myself back in shape. I’ve already taken the first steps. I joined Weight Watchers and since July 8th I lost 17.8 lbs. My stamina increased and I walk three miles a day minimum.

I have a hiking plan. I invested in a pedometer and I’m increasing the amount of steps I take daily by 10. I park as far from doors as possible and walk. On my days off I go somewhere and walk. I seek new routes and routines to walk farther. I climb stairs.

Getting into shape doesn’t happen overnight. It takes work and focus. One has to push through the pain of overworked muscles and sore feet, knees, hips and shoulders.

I know and expect this.

A trek of this magnitude takes planning. What to wear? What to eat? What equipment is needed?

I have an idea. I better or my Eagle Scout rank and training won’t mean much. It has been quite while since I’ve camped and hiked but I remember what’s necessary and required. I know I’m up for the challenge.

This blog will serve as a journal of my progress. Besides my usual rants
and rememberances. I’ll keep you updated each step of the way.

I encourage you to make suggestions, offer tips and share this with your friends. If all goes well this journal will turn out to be memoir of my journey.
Till next time,
Jack .

 

Inappropriate Language

Have you ever gone out with family and been embarrassed by the words and actions of others? If you have you’re probably older and brought up by a parent or parents who taught you how to act in public.

In my day if you used any of George Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” Dad would kick your butt from wherever you were all the way home and Mom would wash your mouth with soap. Times have changed. Now you can no longer go into what you might call an inexpensive family restaurant and not hear f-bombs, m-f-bombs and s-bombs; not to mention a couple of offensive epithets thrown in for good measure.

I know there is a time and place for everything. In the company of friends you might throw an occasional s or f-bomb into a conversation. It’s inappropriate in a restaurant of families, especially those with small children. What’s worse the staff said nothing and laughed, thinking the language is funny.

This happened last evening at a certain popular seafood restaurant in Carle Place, NY. My wife, daughter and I stopped there for dinner after an afternoon at the movies. I hate waiting too long for table; 45 minutes is my maximum.

We’d been advised the wait was in the 25 minute range. We took an electronic pager and waited with me inside while my wife and daughter waited outside. A group of young men sat across the lobby from my bench. They were loud, obnoxious and every other word was an f, s, m-f or n-bomb.

The longer they talked, the more embarrassed and angrier I got. My ears and the back of my neck turn red when I get this way. I didn’t say anything since I was outnumbered by five-to-one but I really didn’t want to eat seafood at this point.

We were called and they tried seating us in a booth. My girth prevents me being seated in a booth where the table cannot be moved. The staff informed me it would be another 25 minutes for a table.

“Forget it,” I said and walked out, relieved I would not have to tolerate anymore f-bombs.

We drove to another restaurant. It was a little more expensive but there was no wait, the food was wonderful and best of all it was quiet with no f-bombs to dodge.

Is there a lesson in all this? Perhaps. A younger me would have said something and the conversation might have heated up. But now I realize there are options in life. Besides I don’t think any of the young men could read this post judging from the language.

What a shame.