Saturday, September 26, 2009

Inside Out

File this one under "Boy, Do I Feel Stupid".

I work a part time job at Target as a stocker. I go to work at 3:00am, three days a week to unload freight from a truck then stock the shelves with merchandise. On Friday, I went to work as normal, by putting on my uniform of tan pants and a red shirt, kissed the wife goodbye, and headed off.

I reached work, clocked in, and unloaded the truck. Then, before starting the stocking part of the job, I went to the restroom to wash my hands (unloading is such a dirty business). After the washing of the hands, I happened to glance in the mirror and noticed that my red shirt was inside out.

Now, this sort of thing has happened to me before. I'm not the most observant person in the world. Especially with the "tagless" shirts they have nowadays. But normally, my wife will point out these little fashion errors to me before I become a public laughingstock. However, this time she did not. Also, the people I work with at Target seemed not to notice. Either that, or they are having a fine laugh at my expense, behind my back. Normally though, these are the type of people who enjoy making fun of you to your face. Often. Constantly, even. So I really think no one noticed that I had my shirt inside out for almost two hours.

At least, that's what I keep telling myself. I'm just glad the store doesn't open until 8:00am. Because, boy, then I would REALLY feel stupid.

A Timely Response

Prompt customer service is a sticking point with me. I am a good tipper, but the service has to be good. I do not reward bad service either in restaurants or retail establishments. I bring this up only because of a response I received recently to an inquiry into a possible vehicle purchase at Courtesy Nissan in Richardson.

You see, I had an auto accident that totaled my Mazda Protege, so I was in the market for a new vehicle. We had used the internet primarily for our auto search and had sent requests for information to several dealers in our area; Courtesy Nissan being among them. My wife received an email from Courtesy stating that they were ready to deal with us and we should contact them forthwith.

Now this all sounds like a smooth, efficient transition until you add in the time line. We received the email from Courtesy on September 25, 2009. My auto accident occurred in September 2008!!! Our inquiry (in the form of an email) to Courtesy was sent on October 14, 2008! If you do the math, that's 346 days for a response; a mere 19 days short of 1 year!

That's what I call a timely response.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

An Oscar Nomination

We used to have a miniature Dachshund named Oscar. We didn't choose the name -- I'd like to think I could come up with something more original -- it just came with him. We got him when he was 3 years old , so instead of trying to teach him a new name and since he was already accustomed to Oscar, we decided to keep it.

We received him from a friend of Mrs. B's mother who had to get rid of the dog. It was a bit of a hard sell for me in the beginning. Not that I don't like dogs, I love 'em. It was just that we lived in an apartment and didn't have a lot of room for a dog. Plus, the inevitable house-training and all. I also didn't want to take the dog, fall in love with having him, then have the previous owner turn around and want him back. After assurances from the owner that he would not, as well as could not, change his mind and cajoling from the wife on how small and easy to take care of he was, I relented.

He was a wonderful dog, as sweet as could be, and great fun to have around. Not to mention, a chick magnet. But, me being married, that was more of a curse than a blessing. We had him from 1992 until the day he died which, unfortunately was a few years ago due to liver failure. I still think about him quite a bit. I have never been more upset over the loss of an animal than I was over Oscar. But I thank God for every day that we had him. He gifted us with an enormous amount of love and left us with many wonderful memories.

One of my favorite Oscar stories involves a routine trip to pick up some take out food. We often allowed Oscar to ride with us whenever it was reasonable and the weather wasn't too extreme. He loved riding in the car and being able to "snorfle". For those uninitiated, "snorfling" is when a dog sticks his head out the window of a moving car to allow the wind to blow his floppy ears back and start his nose to running like Niagara Falls (at least, that's how it worked with Oscar). It's a technical term, look it up. I just don't make these things up, you know.

Anyway, in this particular instance, Oscar and I went to Blimpies to pick up a couple of sandwiches. They were nicely wrapped in paper, placed inside a clear plastic sleeve, which was then placed inside another paper bag holding both sandwiches. On the way home, Oscar, as usual, was sitting in the passenger seat while the bag of sandwiches were leaning upright against a corner where the center console met the front of the passenger seat. This was standard operating procedure (SOP). We stopped a small convenience store, known to us simply as "the little store", approximately a mile from home to get a couple of Cokes. This also was SOP. We had done this dozens of times without incident.

So I go into the store while Oscar stands watch over the vehicles and the sandwiches. I can't be in the store for more than 3 minutes, tops. This is not a unfamiliar store. I know exactly where the Cokes are in the cooler and there is never a line at the one register in the place.

As I say, I'm in and out in a matter of 2 or 3 minutes. Oscar, as always, is sitting up watching for me and happy as pie when he sees me (SOP). Anytime we would leave him alone, be it in the car or the apartment, he seemed to think we were never coming back. His previous owner caused him to have great separation anxiety. Anyway, I jump into the car, head home, and Oscar and I grab the food sack, jump out of the car and head inside.

Once inside, I head to the kitchen and start unloading the sack (again, SOP). Now all this time, I never notice anything amiss. The sack shows no sign of being disturbed. Oscar has no remnants of any food on or around him. Nothing on the seats or in the floorboard. And did I mention, Oscar is NOT a tidy eater. In fact, one might call him slovenly. Especially with things that he is not supposed to be eating and have lots of condiments added. Yet, not a shred of lettuce, a crumb of bread, nor a fragment of paper was found in the vicinity of the bag. I, of course, was not suspicious at all because, say it with me, this was all Standard Operating Procedure (SOP, to those in the know).

Then it slowly begins to dawn on me that something is wrong. At first, it just looked like the sandwich maker was a little (not a lot) messy with the sandwich when putting the lettuce on or when wrapping the sandwich up. But as I pull the sandwich out of the plastic sleeve and unwrap it, I notice that the sandwich (mine, of course) seems to be a bit thin in the meat department. I'm thinking maybe the guy shorted me on some of the meat. But no, I stood there and watched him make the sandwich. There was plenty of meat on it. Then I open the sandwich and realize that the meat is gone. No sign that it ever existed.

What the hell happened?! I know there was meat on there when I left the sandwich shop. Then it hits me. Oscar. I look down and there he is, staring up at me with that sardonic look on his face that he always has when I have food and he wants some. Sure, I say, you couldn't have eaten HER sandwich, referring to my wife. His only reply is the perking up of his ears and the incessant wagging of his tail.

But how? How did he do it? It's like he sucked all the meat out of sandwich without even touching the rest of it. He barely even disturbed the lettuce, tomato and other veggies, not to mention the wrapping. And he did it all in under 3 minutes. I just don't believe it. He had to open the outside sack, get into the plastic sleeve, then through the wrapping paper and pull the meat out without noticeably messing anything up or getting any food outside the bag. And be finished and up in his usual spot watching for me, looking totally innocent, before I exited the store.

It is still hard for me to imagine that it was possible. He was a remarkable dog, but come on. I doubt a master thief could have pulled this job. He's just a sweet little 12 pound dog with short legs and a long, barrel shaped, body. It still makes me chuckle every time I think about it.

As you can probably guess, I ate rather light that evening.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Off the Air: Part II

It has been a little over a month now since we turned off the television. Things are going pretty well so far. There are some things that I miss; mostly, watching live sports. At the moment that is not much of an issue. For summer is the time of golf, tennis, baseball, and Major League Soccer (MLS).

Golf is probably the sport I would casually watch the most. It was something I would tune into on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon to see who was leading, who was contending, and who was fading (choking). I enjoy golf on television, despite the criticism of it being slow and boring. Sometimes I like my sports to be slow. And, as I am a golfer myself and understand the difficulty, frustrations, and nuances of the game, I don't usually find it boring. I find myself watching for hours on end. One of the exceptions to that is if Tiger is leading in the final round and no one is appearing to make a run. Unless it's really close, I know no one will catch him. In fact, they tend to fall back and not even make him work for it. I tend not to enjoy watching foregone conclusions. Even though I am a big Tiger fan. But, having said all that, I haven't been missing golf too much so far. Even if I did miss Tom Watson's great run at the British Open.

Tennis is a sport that I enjoy, but watch sporadically, usually only Grand Slam events and, even then, I seldom sit through an entire match outside in the semis or the final. Unless it is a player or players that I particularly like. Then I might watch an earlier round. I did regret missing that historic marathon final at Wimbledon between Roger Federer and Andy Roddick. That is one I would have liked to see. But still, not feeling devastated over it.

Baseball, while a sport I find fascinating, is not one that I think plays well on television. Baseball is vastly better seen in person. I don't watch a lot of it on television anyway. Therefore, I haven't missed seeing it. Especially since the Rangers started to tank (but that's another story).

Soccer, like golf and baseball, is a sport that is criticized for being slow and boring. Since I was an avid player in my youth and, like golf, understand the game, I find neither criticism to be accurate. As a matter of fact, soccer is my favorite sport. Like baseball, it is better viewed in person than on television, but I like the game anyway I can get it. So, surprisingly, what I miss most about no television is not having the Fox Soccer Channel (FSC). I can stream the MLS game of the week off, as well as other soccer matches and some other niche sporting events, but I have run into issues with the streaming. Occasionally, it will just lock up and go to black screen, leaving me with only a choice of starting over from the beginning - and risking the same problem again - or turning it off. I don't know if the cause is with the ESPN stream or my internet connection. Who knows? But it is nice to be able to see a little soccer anyway. And, I haven't missed it enough to regret the decision. It doesn't seem worth $90 a month to get back one channel (FSC is only available on the highest digital tier).

As for everything else on TV, I don't miss it at all. Of course, this is only summer, when most of what you have is reruns and filler series and shows. Soon the fall season will be here and we will find out which of our favorite shows can be streamed off the internet and which cannot. Then we will see how serious we are about this experiment. Not to mention, football season starts in about a month. That will be a real test for me. I need to watch my Cowboys. Especially with the new billion dollar stadium they have. Oh well, maybe I can hawk some of the wife's jewelry and actually buy a ticket to a game. I mean, they can't sell out a 90,000 seat stadium every week, right? The rest of the games I guess I will have to go to a sports bar to see. Hmm, that might be more expensive than cable. We shall see.

In the meantime, if you want to see how we do going forward, you, unlike me, will have to stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Failure is Not an Option

The other night, the fabulous Mrs. B and I were standing in the checkout line at Walmart waiting to get totaled up and bagged. Mrs. B then pointed out a cover on one of the many entertainment tabloids on display. It featured Kate, of "Jon and Kate" fame with a quote that read, "I feel like I have failed."

My wife then remarked, "Of course you feel that way, you did fail." The quote, and my wife's remark, were both in reference to the impending divorce of the former (present?) reality "stars". I nearly choked trying to type "stars" there. But this is not a treatise on modern society's celebritizing of ordinary people, so I will comment no further on that.

All this got me started thinking about failure and how we, as a culture, attempt to either justify it or, more frequently, deny it. Why is failure such a fearful word? Failure is seen as the end of everything, a deficit that is impossible to overcome, instead of a necessary experience of life. We believe if we fail at something, anything, then we are branded a failure in every facet of life. And if we fail the first time at something then we are destined to fail at every attempt at it. Nothing could be further from the truth.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with failure. Failure is an integral part of success. It has to be. Anyone who had become successful without a few, if not numerous, failures usually cannot handle success. And generally doesn't succeed for long. The reason is that they cannot handle the inevitable adversity that comes with success. The ability to pick oneself up, dust themselves off, and try, try again, as the old adage goes, is essential to success. A person who has "had success thrust upon them" will be destined to fall from grace by the first adverse event to ensue.
It is not a fault in their being. It is simply a weakness of character. Character, like a muscle, is strengthened through hard labor. That labor comes in the form of adversity or failure. All men of great character have failure in their life.

All the people we consider successes have had many failures. Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, etc. have all failed. There is a quote from Jordan where he talks about how many times he has taken the winning shot in a game and how many times he has missed. The quote reads, "I have failed many times, and that's why I am a success." Jordan also said, "I can accept failure. But I can't accept not trying."

To see a time when Jordan failed, all one has to do is look at his stint in professional baseball. He probably knew that he wasn't going to make it in Major League Baseball. But that didn't stop him from trying. Many people made jokes about him and thought he looked foolish trying to play baseball. But it didn't keep him from giving his all.

Not trying is the only true failure. Because it's the only one in which we cannot learn. The secret to succeeding despite our failures lies in the ability to learn from our mistakes. Whenever a failure comes along, learn what you can from it and then move along. Go on to the next thing. Try again until you find success. Don't let fear keep you from trying. Because that, my friends, is the true definition of failure.

Life is not a walk in the park. There are many hurdles along the way. And most of us will trip over some of those hurdles in our travels. The only ones who won't, are those who don't jump. So jump away! Fall and scrape up your knees! And imagine your character getting stronger and stronger. Because failure is not an option. It comes standard.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Off The Air, Part 1: The Experiment Begins (Thu, July2, 2009)

I am about to state something that may surprise many people and astound others. I have turned off the television (and vice-versa). Ok, that in of itself is not the astounding part. At least, not in the context that one would generally assume with that statement. What I mean by it is that I no longer have television reception in my home. I, along with the fetching Mrs. B, have had our cable TV completely turned off. And if anyone thinks one can get television reception without cable, living in an apartment, they obviously do not live in Mckinney.

I can see you sitting there with your mouth hanging open, wondering what kind of an idiot wants to live without television. Well, my kind for a start. I have found that television keeps me from doing things that I should be doing or that I want to be doing. Neither of which is a very palatable concept. Television has caused me to vegetate away a great many hours of my life. They pass away like sands through a glass. To paraphrase an old "War on Drugs" commercial, nothing happens with television.

So, the wife and I have given it up. Oh, we still watch things on our set. We pull things from our DVD collection which holds not only movies but classic television series. We also have signed up with Netflix to receive DVDs through the mail as well as streaming video straight off the internet.

Why did we decide to undertake such a preposterous endeavor? Part of it was financial. It started as just a reduction in our cable bill. You know, the "let's drop the premium channels and just go back to basic for a while". Then, somewhere out of the blue, Mrs. B got the hair-brained idea that we could just turn the whole thing off. At first, I thought she was joking. This is a woman who cringed in terror when I suggested just dropping the Digital Video Recorder (DVR) part of the cable. And now, here she was, madder than a March hare, suggesting that we drop all the cable channels, everything, all together. But, I didn't respond with a "are you nuts?!" retort. Instead, like the guys in the Guinness commercial, I remarked, "Brilliant!"

So Thursday, July 2, 2009, became our Independence Day. Independence from stupid commercials, inane reality shows, ubiquitous celebrity gossip updates, and the like. It's only been a few days, but I have to say, I am not regretting this one bit. Yes, I don't get to watch all the sports on weekends that I used to. Though I do get some succor by streaming sports on ESPN360. But I feel so much better about getting to choose what gets put on television and what doesn't. Not to mention, that many of the network television stations put their shows on the internet, available for streaming. Really, I will end up missing very little of what I want to watch.

Therefore, I guess I am not actually giving up television. I am just giving up paying out the nose to the cable company for it. I will keep you informed on the progress of the experiment.

In the meantime, I'm off the air.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Mysterious Ways

I believe in divine intervention. While I don’t believe God controls our lives, I do believe he manifests himself in our lives. I don’t think he shows himself to us like with Moses and the Burning Bush or when Jesus walked the earth. Instead, God uses us, mere mortals, to perform his blessings and miracles.

Such was the case with myself recently when God guided me to help out a perfect stranger in need. I had just finished a round of golf with some friends at Brookhaven Country Club and was starting to drive home. Instead of going back to I-635, driving to Central and heading for Mckinney, I decided to follow the Brookhaven club road, which changed names to something else after crossing Marsh lane, and see where it came out. I figured it would take me to Belt Line and then I would proceed to Central, cutting off some of the distance of the other route.

However, I didn’t pay attention to the name of the street at the next traffic signal and turned right onto, not Belt Line, but Spring Valley. I noticed my mistake after a couple of blocks, but thought, oh well, this takes me to Central and still makes for a shorter trip, distance wise.

Another reason I decided to take the side streets back to Central was because I planned to stop somewhere along the way and get me a fountain drink. As I came to a stop at the signal of Spring Valley and some street whose name escapes me, I was in the middle of 3 traffic lanes, behind two other cars. There was also a right turn only lane there. I looked at the store on the corner, a Chevron station, and thought that might be as good a place as any to get my drink. But wait, I would have to cross over a lane of traffic just to get to the right turn lane and then turn on the nameless street to turn into the store. Seemed like a lot of trouble. But, when the spirit speaks, sometimes even I listen. I checked my mirrors and there was no approaching traffic, so I pulled into the right turn lane, turned right and pulled into the parking lot of the Chevron.

As I got out of the car to go in, I noticed a gentleman sitting up against the wall of the building with a back pack by his side. I am not sure why I took notice of him except that he looked tired and like someone in need. I went in to the store and bought my fountain drink. I planned to ask the gentleman if he was waiting for a ride when I came out, just to see if he needed any assistance. But sometimes I don’t listen to the spirit. When I came out, I smiled at him and started for my car.

Fortunately, something, I believe God, pressed him into speaking to me. He asked if he could use my cell phone. I said sure and then realized that I had left it in the car after I called home when I was leaving the golf club. So I retrieved the phone and gave it to him. We had a short conversation while he was calling two different numbers. He said he was trying to contact his friends in Midland to come pick him up. It was $70 to take a bus and he didn’t have it.

I had only $10 dollars in cash on me and God told me to give it to this man. If I had $70 on me, I would have given it to him. I handed him the money and said I hoped this would speed him along in his journey and may God bless him. He thanked me fervently. Call me naïve, but I could tell it meant a lot to him. If nothing else, it would buy him a meal.

After I left him there, I felt the holy spirit manifest itself in me stronger than it has in a while. Suddenly, my troubles seemed to fade from existence. My only regret is that I did not do more. But the important thing is that I did something, in the name of God, to help out a fellow human being; a brother of Jesus.

Now, I know that most, if not all of this, could have been coincidence. My decision to follow the Brookhaven road to see where it went, mistakenly turning on to the wrong street, having the urge, not to mention the opportunity, to turn into the Chevron station. This man just happening to be there and just happening to need help and ask me for it.

But as I said in the beginning, I believe in divine intervention. I believe that God put me in that position, at that time, to help this man in what little way that I did. God didn’t make me do any of this. But he gave me the opportunity and, fortunately for me, I took it. Because, while it was the stranger that received the help I gave, I felt blessed as much, or perhaps more, than he did. And that is the beauty of God on this earth.