Thursday, September 30, 2010

Carnival mirrors

I accompanied My Beloved on a shopping trip this evening. After dinner we made a trip to one of her favorite spots, the big K store. No, not the blue one, the other one. As we entered I told her I would visit the men's section and she trotted off to hers.

I meandered around through the wonderful aisles of savings and made my way back to men's suits. Now, it has been years since I purchased a new suit, too long actually. I believe it was about the time Baby Sis and Mr. Krinkles said their vows. My Beloved thinks it was the year Beloved Father passed away. Either way, a good suit should last more than ten years, shouldn't it? At least I can still fit in it. (I guess that's not the same as it actually fitting).

I pulled a coat off the rack and slipped it on. It was comfortable. My usual issues involve jackets fitting under the arms and across the shoulders. I popped in front of a mirror and, bam! It hit me. Putting on that coat aged me ten years. Most middle-agers I guess see themselves about ten years younger than they are, but I now looked like my drunken Irish uncles of Sainted Mother's heritage. My face aged like Bill Clinton's and my jowls dropped an inch. Slipped the coat off and there I was again! Me, in my stylish docker style slacks and ribbed V neck shirt! On, off. On, off. Old man, younger man. It was amazing.

This vision was unsettling as I now looked like I could slide into an old Polaroid photo that never truly developed full color. Not the image I'm currently going for as both myself and N of 50 have dropped a few pounds and worked to maintain our awesome physiques. But I guess no matter how hard we try life marches on and the heritage we keep at some time blossoms forward.

But I'm not going down without a fight!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Still the best policy

It is not uncommon in my profession, or anyone who works with the general public on a daily basis to become jaded or leery when dealing with people. Often we need to solve the problem, is this person telling me the truth? I see this on a day in and day out basis where customers simply lie to get what they want. It's as common as "oh I didn't break it, it was that way when I opened it...six months ago; and I want my money back. No, I don't have a receipt.

The previous example may seem to stretch the boundaries to most but that scenario is very common. Many simply don't want to abide by the normal rules of behavior. If you wonder why it is difficult to get your point across to a customer service person, it's situations like these that make us weary. We want to believe you, we really do but we also must make the best decision we can with the information available.

My faith was restored the other day when a customer returned to my store. He had recently purchased a pricey item, over $500 which was ordered for him and was to be shipped his home. I had never met him as I was not involved with the original sale. The transaction didn't happen as it should have but after a series of conversations involving my corp office the money was refunded in cash and the item returned.

After solving this problem he was happy with the result and I was unsure as to why he needed to see me. He walked up and handed me an envelope containing a check for over $500 from our corporate office. They had mistakenly sent him a check for the returned item.

This customer has restored my faith and I made sure to let my staff know what he did. I know this person could use the money, he is not well-off by any means but he chose to do the right thing. There are still those out there worthy of our help and those are the people that keep me in the service business.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

No longer a one-way highway

A statement in today's newspaper stopped me cold this morning. The State of Ohio's governor, whom I don't usually agree with, angered officials from the Indian trade organizations about a ban on outsourcing jobs that have state-funded money. He in effect told them 'too bad'.

I generally believe free trade will work in the long run and lift the lives of those in impoverished countries around the world. The one thing others need to realize as they push for the betterment of conditions is that those conditions will never match those of first-world economies. In some places making five dollars a day is really making it.

But there comes a time when we must take care of ourselves first. In a troubled economy Ohio or any state can't afford to outsource jobs to anywhere. Outsourcing is fine if there are other jobs that can be absorbed by the working/middle/lower classes that pay either equal amounts or better. In this shrinking economy there are few jobs to be absorbed. The other aspect that has to be address is this needs to be a two-way street. If we are outsourcing jobs to India or anywhere else, what is coming back to us in fair market value? Products produced can be an aspect but it is only one possible return. We're giving you jobs when we can least afford it, what are you giving back?

Outsourcing can't just be a one-way highway with outbound lanes. Any company that proposes outsourcing jobs should be required to maintain a job bank for those workers or lose tax breaks or other government sponsored benefits they may have enjoyed in the past. Although I don't believe government should 'punish' companies for behaviors those companies must work for the common good in a time of downturn. In the long run they will be protecting their profits in the future when this slide finally fizzles out.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

I'll give you a quarter

Several years ago as My Beloved and I sold our first home and awaited the completion of the second, all my belongings were shoved into a storage room. That gave me pause to think, at forty this was my life, nearly everything I owned, stuck in a shed no larger than a garage.

Yesterday, I had the 'privilege' of holding a garage sale. It was a community event for my subdivision so that nearly guaranteed a decent turnout assuming the weather cooperated. (It did). Beloved and I decided it was time to pull out all the stuff from the crawl spaces that hadn't seen the light of day in over ten years. I then spent nearly three hours hunched over dragging boxes and assorted stuff to the end of the space. Over the next three/four days we cleaned and sorted, priced and presented all the leftovers from our life. Several friends and family members from nearby also brought items to donate to the cause. By the end of it all, our garage was packed with all manner of trinkets, baubles and bed knobs, not to mention furniture, a wetsuit, old tools and the like.

Then came the fun part. We opened the doors and awaited the fruits of our labors to all that would attend. As we live on a corner lot I assumed we would see a fair amount of traffic, and we did. As I helped our customers and generally strolled around I would look through the items recalling how they came to be with us in the first place. Some were gifts, others mementos of vacations, still others items we worked or played with. Several held special meaning, others not so much.

Then, it started, "I'll give you a dollar!" It occurred to me I was bargaining away what had once been dear to me. I have owned two golden retrievers for nearly thirty years and letting go of a certain figurine I once displayed proudly on our mantle made me feel as I was betraying my furry children.

But as the day wore on, I realized the things are that, just things and it will never diminish the memories I have of either of them. My drafting table sold, less clutter for the basement, the scuba gear gone meant not moving it randomly from one side of the crawl to the other every time My Beloved sent me to search for something. Even the small things that are now useless for Ragin' Cage were easily disposed of. His bouncy saucer doesn't now fit his running lifestyle, but I have the memory.

It's the memories, not the stuff that makes up a life. I'm quite sure I'll gather enough crap to have another sale in ten years, heaven forbid.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A radio play

There is a radio commercial that is running currently on the airwaves that I find fascinating. Fascinating not so much for the content of the spot but for how it is put together, and for whom the spot is targeted. I'm sure you know it, "energy tax, it's a tax on everyone."

Now the spot is targeted at the average American taxpayer and is paid for by the energy pacs and companies. They spout that an energy tax would be paid for by the average citizen at a time we can least afford it. At some level, that may be true but that is not my point here.

The next time you hear this spot, listen to the accents. The voices are very average American, an Asian male voice, an African-American man and woman and a white southern female voice. Although some may say I am being not very 'PC' by identifying the race of the voices, get your head out of the sand. Why do you think those voices were chosen in the first place? Listen also to the lines and cadence. None are grammatically correct or flawless as they would be if spoken by an actor. That is of course if you believe they are not actors playing the role of the average citizen.

At times we are all just standing in lines doing as we are told and when we can we must break through the 'message' and listen to the delivery. This one is a play directed right at our wallets in a time of fiscal uncertainty. Make the call for yourself. Do you want to listen to Act Two?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Your tax dollars at work: Part 3,429

One of the recurring themes in the world of government is how far removed from common sense is the world of the bureaucrat.

A local government entity is often no better than the enormously bloated national government we all get exasperated with, and we can only shake our head in wonderment at how inept and full of red tape a bureaucracy can be.

To wit:

A long-standing local community tradition in Columbus involves the East High School Marching Tiger Band parading through the neighborhood around the school as they make their way from the school to their home football field about a half-mile away prior to every home football game. The community supports and enjoys this tradition by turning out to watch, appreciate, and encourage the band's efforts, which, sadly, are often better than those of the football team.

The school pays $251 for off-duty police officers to supervise the crowd at the games, plus $90 for a police escort for the band's parade. The streets involved are closed off for the duration of the short parade, and there has never been a complaint, problem, or incident during the march.

Nevertheless, despite the presence of the police as escorts for decades, the city has (just) now become aware of the parade, and has informed the school that the band now needs a parade permit for the band to march to the football field. The cost of said permit is $110.

For each game.

The Dept. of Public Safety says that any street closing to accommodate processions of people requires a permit for safety reasons. They say the streets need to be shut down "properly", and that "officer awareness" was another big reason why a permit is needed. Apparently, it takes a bit of money for the police to be "aware" of the parade; you know, the one they have been unaware they have been escorting for decades. Now that they are "aware" of the parade, I certainly hope they are now able to shut down the streets "properly".

A spokeswoman for the Department said she had no answer as to why a permit was never required before. She said, "As far as our part goes, we didn't realize they were actually closing the street down."

Right hand, left hand, anyone?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

It's all about the $$

The recent news that Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush should have his award returned has started a new debate concerning payment for football players. I have always contended they are already paid simply by means of their perks and scholarships. If the average football scholarship is $50,000, that is a lot of money for going to school.

But RT, he's not just going to school, he's playing sports, you say. True, but you can't split the whole in this case. He has to do both. He must attend classes and pass the coursework (depending on what school you go to). The athlete gets his schooling paid for, housing and all his meals and many medical expenses. That is a tremendous expense to cover for any organization or family. Even if you call it something else, a rose by any other name... And guess what, most don't go to school in the summer.

Some point to how much money a school makes off his performance to justify payment. Well, my corporation doesn't pay me based on what the corporation makes. My salary is my salary and is defined by the position I hold. And by the way, that's $50K per year or $200,000 over four years. That is the median income of families in the United States. That's called payment.

How much would you pay a quarterback versus a second string punter? To give an athlete extra money serves no useful purpose for the universities. That type of payment structure is reserved for the NFL. Why not pay the athlete on the swimming team? You already do, you give them a scholarship as well. That's another $50,000 (possibly less depending on the sport) to participate in a sport while you are attending school that generates absolutely no income for the school. It is actually a drain on the athletic departments to fund these sports.

If my corporation paid for my home, utilities and food, I would certainly work for less as all the major expenses would be taken care of. Oh, I guess they already do, it's called my salary.

Monday, September 6, 2010

It's magic!

I recently served a customer in my store who needed some help for a piece of electronics. He was older, likely in his seventies. (Gosh, I wonder how much longer I will be able to say that and still feel young?) The question had a simple answer; he thanked me and was on his way. A few minutes later a thought that had been running around in my head for quite some time had an answer.

Now, this gentleman was one of those who carried himself well and by the tone of his conversation was reasonably educated. He belonged to an era when most did things themselves because they knew how and knew what they were doing. How is it possible then that such a simple answer to an electronics question remained a mystery?

Then it dawned on me. This generation of men especially but women to some extent knew only a world of tangible machines. By that I mean they could see the inner-workings of things. When you turned on a motor you saw metal gears moving, whining and spinning causing things to happen. The only issue most did not understand was the invisible force of electricity that still mystifies most today. Even with a typewriter, when you hit a key it activated a lever that smashed into a piece of paper thus providing the written word. With the advent of circuitry all the mechanical components began to disappear. As more and more tubes and circuits replaced moving parts specialized repair became the norm. One could no longer go to the local store and buy a part you could easily fix. Home repair to automobiles suffered the same fate. They became much too complex for the average person to maintain.

Such as it is with computers and their brethren. The average consumer hits a key on their computer. No lever is raised, no tangible action takes place in a mechanical sense. Humans evolved being able to rationalize the mechanical world and taking advantage of that action. That is no longer available in many instances.

So how does the printed word get to the paper on your printer? It's magic!