It’s about pork roasts.

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I got nothing against pigs.

The ranch I worked at most of my days had two pigs:  Summit and Waller.  They were brothers.  They were named from the hood the ranch sits in, the Summit-Waller Neighborhood.  They were the cutest pigs.  Summit escaped and probably became someone’s bacon.  Waller had a much fuller life entertaining children in the area for an entire year and a half.

It upset me a lot when Summit went missing.  I called the local butchers, a woman we call the Pig Lady who has a portable slaughter mobile first funded by USDA because local farmers couldn’t afford to raise them for slaughter and then slaughter them without federal subsidies.  Kind of like the current situation with banks.  How could we expect banks to hold our money and use it and then make a profit on it.  So we bail them out.  Never mind that some of us who pay taxes so the government can bail them out so they can exist and turn around and throw us out of our homes because there isn’t anybody to bail us out with our money.  Huh?  Anyways, I prayed for Summit to come back to our ranch and be safe but we never saw him again.  Sad.

I got nothing against pigs.

One day I caught some high school age kids, kids we like to call Transitional Age Youth (ages 16-24), feeding Waller slices of pepperoni pizza.  I asked them if they appreciated just how cruel that appeared to me.  Turned out they had no idea that pepperoni came from a pig.

In fact, most kids I have worked with these days have very little idea about where there food comes from.  More stunning is that most kids I work with have no idea what there food is.  I asked a group of thirty kids to identify three pieces of fruit or vegetable.  I held out an avocado, an artichoke and a tomato.  Most kids could identify only the tomato.  Very few got all three.  It was crazy!

Progressives continue to proselytize, lobby and regulate us by posting caloric information next to our favorite value meal, as if reading how many calories the food we are about to eat has will deter us from eating it.  Good luck!  Actually, it only antagonizes some people into continuing to eat it.

Progressives should push for more education that includes nutrition, food security and identifying your food.  It seems rather basic to me but what do I know.  I know that my children can identify their food.

So back to the pigs.  I got nothing against pigs.  Probably, what I should say is, I’m Jewish and I got nothing against pigs.  I never fully appreciated what pigs had to offer until my future mother in law cooked a pork roast.  Pigs can be mighty tasty if cooked in just the right way.  I’ve only had four pork roasts in my life.  Two of them were cooked by my mother in law.   The other two were cooked by my wife and her sister.  Same recipe made by two siblings blessed with the many positive attributes passed on by the beautiful matriarch with the 5 star, blue ribbon hands skilled in making the pork roast of all pork roasts.  I tried a couple “tastes” in the grocery stores, country clubs, barbecue joints and they could not compare to the pork roast my mother in law made me or her genetically blessed children.

By the way, my sister in law is beautiful, smart and single.  My wife is taken so forget that.  If someone were smart and they really really liked pork roast, they would marry my sister in law.  My only word of caution is that the pork roasts stopped about the time my mother in law had enough of my crap.   You might consider a prenuptial agreement with performance outcomes pertaining to the making of the pork roasts.

So like I said, I got nothing against pigs.  I pray for them, I protect them, I eat them.  I got nothing against pigs.  Without them, there aren’t any pork roasts.

But it’s not about me.

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It’s about moves like Jagger

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If someone has “Moves Like Jagger” now, those moves would be with a walker.  What an absurd song!

My parents took our family to a Rolling Stones concert at McCormick Place in Chicago, Illinois in 1966.  I was 9 years old.  I mostly remember loud music and my Dad snoring for most of the concert.  That was 50 years ago.  If Jagger was my age when he performed that concert, he would be 60 years old.  Of course, he is not.  Mick is 73.

I was having a beer at Buffalo Wild Wings in Grandview, Missouri several years ago while visiting my daughter and her family.   I struck up a conversation with some 30 something women.  One of them tells me that 50 is the new 30.  I asked her if she would go home and have sex with a man who was in his fifties and she says “gross!”  adding that her Dad was that age.  Probably not even if he had moves like Jagger, I’m guessing.  So if a woman tells you this, don’t you believe it.  If you truly understand the lyrics to the song, I’m thinking this gal would find it repulsive to have sex with Mick Jagger even if he had a tongue like Gene Simmons.  Heck, speaking of old Jewish men, I’ve got everything Gene has except the money and the show.

When I was in my teens, it was not uncommon for kids to go from concert to concert.  My concert career began when Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina played at an outdoor concert in Phoenix, Arizona for $2 in 1971.  Janis Ian was one of the warm up acts.  It was a benefit concert for Terros, to raise money for an ambulance for victims of drug overdoses.  There were many drug overdoses that day.  That was 40 years ago. 

I’ve been informed that it still is not uncommon to go to concerts for teens.  The only thing that has changed is the price.  I saw tickets on sale for Justin Bieber last week and kids paid a minimum of $80 bucks in the nose bleed section.  The drugs at today’s concerts aren’t acid or quaaluds any more.  Now they are drugs you can make at home with over the counter ingredients and air compressors.

I remember going to so many concerts.  A million I’m guessing.  My sister Barbara and her husband David drove me and Cindy Delstar.  She was a girl from my 8th grade summer school geometry class.  We went to see Ozzy Osbourne (age 68), the Prince of Darkness and Black Sabbath in concert.  It was at Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix.  It was $6 a person and I thought that was real expensive.  Cindy was a devout Roman Catholic so it didn’t turn out so well.  The Devil was in the details.  One of the last times I saw a concert, it was Rod Stewart (age 71) and he was singing Broadway tunes.  He did sing “Forever Young.”

Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones first became a band in England in 1962.  In 1964, they recorded their 3rd international hit “Not Fade Away” written by Buddy Holly.  I got on youtube while writing this blog with my 16 year old daughter Sarah.  She and I watched the Rolling Stones perform “Not Fade Away” in 1964 at the Hollywood Palace.  Then she and I watched a performance of “Not Fade Away” by Florence and the Machine.

“Dad, I like this one a lot better than the other one,” she commented in a very serious tone, referring to the Florence and the Machine version. 

“Why did you like this one better than the last one?” I inquired. 

“Because she is a much better performer.  She has more energy, like Christine Aguilara.  And there it is.  After more than 50 years of performing, it all boils down to a 30 something having “Moves Like Jagger.”  

Moves which he doesn’t have any more.  And neither do I. 

But it’s not about me.

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It’s about Henry David Thoreau…

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I remember Mr. Spinks at Coronado High School. I remember the day I got kicked out of my high school junior year English class.  I hated my high school junior year English class, but we had to take it. Most juniors in high school hate to take classes that are mandatory.

The room was all abuzz with loud chatter as I first entered the room that day and sat down in one of those uncomfortable desks where the little wooden table is attached to the little wooden chair with only one way to get in and out of them? Our teacher Mr. Spinks stood in front of the class quietly waiting until the bell sounded that the period was beginning.

In his quiet voice, he asked the class to quiet down. No one paid attention. In a louder, more pronounced tone, he asked the class again to be quiet. No change. “Would you please be quiet!” he said as loud as he could, which wasn’t actually very loud, but it seemed to work. Of course, it made most of us laugh, but we began to quiet down, mostly because we knew we needed this class to graduate.

When his opportunity presented itself, he asked the class ”who was Henry David Thoreau?” I raised my hand up high, but he ignored me and called on someone else.

“He was a writer,” the hot little number in the pink sweater said. “Yes”, Mr. Spinks responded, “but Candy, he was more than that.” Again, I raised my hand only higher sitting on the edge of my seat. Again, he ignored me and called on someone else in the class. “He was a naturalist,” Lori answered.

“Correct,” Spinks responded. “But why do you say that? He asked her. She shrugged her shoulders and said, “I don’t know, that’s what the book said?” So much of this class was regurgitation. So much of high school was regurgitation. Most of the classes never ask you to think for yourself. They ask you to think like the author or worse, like the teacher.

He asked the class, “does anyone know what that means? To be a naturalist?” Again, I raised my hand and this time, no one in the class had their hand up. Spinks turned back at me, his elbow in his hand, his hand on his chin. He was the only teacher in high school that ever wore a suit in class. Not the handsome kind. The kind you got at second hand stores.

“Okay Mr. Beletz!, what does it mean? What does it mean that Henry David Thoreau was a naturalist?” He rolled his eyes when he said it. I never quite got the feeling that he appreciated my insight into literature. There was the time I pointed out to him that I thought Shakespeare was an anti-semite because he referred to Jews as Shylocks or the time I told him Michener got paid by the word.

“He was one of the greatest masturbators that ever lived!”

“Excuse me, Mr. Beletz? What did you say?”

Thoreau. He lived in the woods by himself for years. He never had sex. He probably only did with himself. He probably got really good at it. Right?”

It must have been an arrow through his heart. Yes. I was kicked out of his class and suspended from school. And when I came back to school, I had to finish high school junior English with another teacher. But it didn’t change my mind about Thoreau. It didn’t change my mind about high school junior year English.

But it’s not about me.


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It’s about pork at half price

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Metro Market had an advertised Wine Tasting with Prime Rib, Lamb and Ham last night. So I got in my car and went to Metro Market. I didn’t go for the ham. Let me be perfectly clear. I don’t eat ham. It’s a longstanding Jewish dilemma. Pork at half price.

Nothing is cheap at Metro Market – except the pita bread. That is according to Phil, who I ran into at the Metro Market last night. He was there for the pita bread and the lettuce, which is grown locally, and fresh and organic which is why it’s so expensive. You can go to Safeway or Albertson’s and buy the lettuce shipped in from Mexico for cheaper, but the lettuce from Metro Market is healthier and supports the local economy. This is an American Dilemma.

It’s kind of like health care and insurance coverage. Health care costs more if you don’t have it. Simply having health care insurance coverage drops the price of every procedure. For example, my heart surgery would have cost me $200,000. Because I had health care coverage, it cost the insurance company $100,000. It says so right on my bill. This makes no sense. This is an Ethical Dilemma. I’m thinking the insurance company should pay all of us who have health care insurance a commission check for helping them save money.

Phil didn’t want to buy Parmesan Cheese at Metro Market. If he bought it at Metro Market, he thought he would have to take out a loan. So he was going to get in his car and drive to a nearby grocery store where the Parmesan was cheaper.

I pulled up to a pair of gas stations one day and one gas station had prices for gas that were four cents cheaper per gallon. In a 15 gallon tank, that is a savings of 60 cents. Today, a gallon of gas is approximately $3.50 a gallon. The lines were long with cars waiting to gas up with the cheaper gas. The other station was absolutely empty with plenty of gas and no waiting cars, burning the gallons of gas sending pollutants into the atmosphere and with which they would fill up and save money. This is a Moral Dilemma.

Local gossip has it that WinCo, another local grocery store outlet, has prostitutes on Friday nights.   I thought about going to WinCo last night, but decided that the advertised Wine Tasting with Prime Rib, Lamb and Ham that I don’t eat was a better choice. Besides, there was no guarantee that there would be prostitutes at WinCo. After all, there was no advertisement saying there would be. It was just local gossip. Imagine my disappointment when I got to Metro Market and found out that there wasn’t any Wine Tasting and there wasn’t any Prime Rib, Lamb or Ham, that I don’t eat, as previously advertised!

I thought maybe when I got there at 5:30 p.m. that they had run out. No, in fact they just didn’t have it. Instead, they decided to have a Display of Teas. A Tea Tasting with an attendant so you could taste Tea. Really. Really? I was being Teased! I could have gotten that at WinCo! After all, it was Friday night!

I had to speak to someone in charge. The Metro Market Store Director happened to be in the store last night. I asked her about it and she apologized. She gave me her card and asked me to call in the morning and told me she would personally serve me a slice of something. Really? Really.

There is someone at Metro Market who understands customer service and corporate accountability and responsibility? Her behavior makes it difficult to get in your car and travel to another grocery store and get items at cheaper prices. Her behavior makes it difficult to go to another store and see prostitutes on Friday nights. This is called a Personal Dilemma.

But it’s not about me.

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It’s about thin mints.

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Why do they call them Thin Mints when all they do is make you fat?  Our days are filled with these “bait and switch” decisions, which can ultimately become lifecycle events.  Buying Thin Mints from the Girl Scouts is a lifecycle event for me.  Every year, I buy them because someone I know has a cute little daughter or niece who is selling them.  This year it is Isabel.  She is a heckuva cookie seller.

I began a cigarette smoking habit in the 7th grade because I wanted to be like the cowboy on the horse.  Actually, I just wanted the horse.  Instead, I got hooked on cigarettes for nearly 30 years until I had a heart attack.

RONCO, which advertised all kinds of kitchen gadgets for three decades, sold millions of Mr. Microphones to kids like me.  The microphone was wireless and they persuaded kids like me to buy them through television advertisements during our Saturday morning cartoons.   Mr. Microphone would make us rock stars like the Beatles, the Monkees or the Rolling Stores.  If we had one, we could have lots of groupies.  Again, all I ever had at the end of the day were other kids in my neighborhood who wanted my microphone.     

We watched movies where the stars we worshipped drank tons of booze and smoked lots of cigarettes just before they danced.  Drinking made you dance better.  So did cigarettes.  They helped you relax and you danced better.  So for years, my friends and I went out to bars and drank a ton of booze, smoked tons of cigarettes and danced.  Believe me when I tell you – drinking doesn’t make you a better dancer or a better lover for that matter. 

Millions of young people grew up for decades thinking that steroid use would make them a better athlete.  And more often than not it does.  Of course, coaches and others never told them that years later it would destroy their body and affect their minds.  It also shrinks the  penis or so I’m told.  Don’t even get me started about Coppertone, sunbathing and skin cancer.

Every year, I eat dozens of boxes of Girl Scout cookies because someone like adorable Isabel asks me too.  My cookies of choice are the Thin Mints.  They are covered with delicious milk chocolate.  They are even better after you stick them in the freezer for a few hours.  They come in two packages with a dozen in each pack.  Once they are opened, you are compelled to eat them all.   Seriously, I hear them calling out from the freezer in my kitchen.  “Jamie!  Jamie!  We are Thin Mints and you can’t resist us!” 

All they do is put pound upon pound on me.  They negate any progress I am making on my exercise and diet.  I justify eating them by saying that the quicker I polish them off, the sooner I can get back to my diet and exercise routine.   

But it’s not about me. It is all for a good cause – Isabel and the Girl Scouts.  I wish they sold Oatmeal Raisin.

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It’s about customer service.

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One lesson I learned a very, very long time ago – things aren’t always what they seem to be. A girlfriend once accused me of drinking too much.

“But I never drink before 5 o’clock in the afternoon!”

“But Jamie,” she replied, “you don’t get up until 4 o’clock in the afternoon!”

Customer service is a very hard skill for people to learn. While being polite, well mannered and long on patience are extremely important, there is more to it.

I went to my bank yesterday. I asked the teller if she could help me. She was very quick to say “yes, how can I help you?”

The reason I conduct my financial business at this bank is because the folks who work at this particular branch are extremely friendly, helpful and they appreciate my business. So, it didn’t surprise me that the teller asked me if she could be of further assistance.

“Thank you, Sheila. I have been getting charged these fees on my savings account and I’m not even using it. I want to keep my checking account and cancel my savings account.”

Sheila responded, “Being a senior citizen, you shouldn’t be paying those extra fees.”

A senior citizen? Me? Okay, it didn’t completely take me by surprise. Being 60 is pretty close to 65. Like 10 is close to being 15. However, when you are young, you can’t wait to become older. When you’re older, you can wait the rest of your life.  After I picked up my feelings from off of the floor, I asked Sheila if she could eliminate the fees if I was in any other category. I felt like the woman who doesn’t want to admit her dress is a size larger than it was before. When I look in the mirror every day, I know I look like I’ve been rode hard and put away wet, but I hate it when someone else notices it.

Quickly, Sheila must have noticed the melancholy look on my face. I wear emotions like hurt, disappointment and martyr on my sleeve like Charlie Sheen wears bipolar behavior in the tabloids.

“We have the same plan for military veterans!” she quickly retorted. I must have been wearing my PTSD face just then. I probably was scaring the crap out of her.

“That will work for me, Sheila,” I said. “Thank you. Sign me up for that.”

As it turns out, Sheila only solved half of my problem yesterday. She only thought she solved all of it. I’m still going to have to go back to the bank branch and try to have them help me solve the other half of the equation. If we can’t come up with a solution, I’m going to become more frustrated and I’m going to switch banks. Asking the right questions, listening and understanding what problem exists goes a very long way to coming up with solutions for customers. That is customer service. I appreciate Sheila’s earnest to help me.

But it’s not about me.


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It’s about receiving accolades

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“Did you hear what happened to poor Gordon?”

Long pause. I didn’t want to ask. Okay, let me be real honest. I was absolutely terrified to ask. Actually, I was supposed to know. The fact that I didn’t know and wouldn’t know would simply delight Phyllis. I didn’t want that to happen.

“Nope. What happened?”

There went the smile. She lit up. She loves knowing stuff I don’t. What a gossip. A regular Gladys Kravitz. “He received a bunch of accolades. They told him he was going to receive them before he left and than they decided not to give them to him after all.” I was astonished. Outraged. Indignant. I stormed off in a huff. How could they do this to poor Gordon?” I asked myself. How could they do this to anyone!  After I arrived back at my room and calmed down, I wondered if the lack of Accol Aids would affect his health seriously. I thought to myself “how fortunate for me that I haven’t needed any for all of these years. The lack of Accol Aids could be serious!”

It wasn’t until I spoke with my wife the next day that I learned that accolades weren’t connected to a medical condition but were often expressions of praise by others, often in the form of awards. Firefighters, police and military personnel often receive accolades for bravery in the form of awards. A degree from a university is considered an accolade. In the Middle Ages, the transition from apprentice to knighthood was considered an accolade and it was recognized in the form of a ceremony. In Gordon’s case, his accolade was a NATO medal for several years of meritorious service to his country.

“So they took it away. Really? Can they do that?”

“I don’t know,” I answered. Hey, I just learned it wasn’t a medical condition. I just went from thanking God I never got any to cursing him because I never got any. “Seems like their handing accolades out every damn day in this country. Maybe we should slow down. Don’t they know our country is broke? Accolades has become an entitlement. Now everyone is going to think they deserve one, just like Medicare.”

Oh God. I shouldn’t have added that last line. Now I’m going to get her started. How is it that I’m the lucky guy who fell in love with the only liberal Marine in the entire United States of America? Thank the sweet Lord sometimes she just ignores me.

“Accolades aren’t bad things, dear,” she said in her condescending tone, “they are ways society or in this case the military lets someone know that they are loved, liked and valued.” Okay, she doesn’t ever completely ignore what I say. “You know dear, like I’m constantly giving you accolades because I love, like and value you, even though you continue to make ignorant statements.”

“Ouch!” She is right on cue. She never disappoints. And yet, I go on too. “Of course, Gordon earned his stripes and his medal. But I wasn’t talking about the United States. I was talking about Afghanistan and the local Afghan people. We hand out medals and diplomas to them so that they will drink the Kool Aid. I’ll bet you that six months after we leave, things will go back to the way they were. What won’t change is the impact we have on their culture. It will go from Kool Aid to Coca Cola. They won’t still be drinking our Kool Aid, but they will still be enjoying our Coke.”

What a great idea. Let someone know you love, like and value them. Pick up a six pack of Accolade at your local market. Kids could have Accolade stands. PTA’s and local charities can raise money by selling Accolade. People could become employed by hosting an Accolade Party in their home. We could have Accolade gift cards.

“Honey, do you remember Willie Nelson and Farm Aid to save the farmer?” I was so excited now. “We could have an Accol Aid Concert. Okay, not so good. Besides, it’s not a medical condition. We wouldn’t be saving anybody. I just like the idea of Angelina Jolie and a bunch of famous musicians singing some song about our beverage saving some people for some cause. You know, like ‘We are the World’ in the Coca Cola Commercial?”

“Dear,” she yells from the other room, “I still love, like and value you even though you make ignorant statements!” She remains tolerant and I remain vigilant in my desire to fit Angelina Jolie into all of our future plans.

“Dear, why don’t you set up kiosks. Depending on what you pay, will determine how love, liked and valued you are. How about a slogan like, “You are wonderful, but you could be better.” I laughed. I loved it. She always comes up with great ideas. Well, except the ones that involve me, cars and cliffs.

In Gordon’s case, pulling the plug on his medal was wrong. Accolades shouldn’t become political tools. Perhaps for those kind of ceremonies like his and political conventions, I think the award should read “Sacrifice First, Accolade After.”

But then, it’s not about me.

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It’s about how we are named

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My mother was 29 when I was born. Like everything else in her life, she was early. She gave birth to a prematurely born one pound, five ounce baby boy. I prefer to look at it as being ahead of my time. In any case, they weren’t ready for me and I wasn’t ready for them.

My Mom hadn’t even come up with a name for me. Baby Boy Beletz was what they put on the original birth certificate. Later, they got a new birth certificate. When, after spending six weeks in an incubator in Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago and slimming down to a meager one pound, one ounce before mushrooming up to a svelt 3 pounds and something, they were pretty sure I was going to make it.

That is when she decided to name me James Mallory Beletz. It is a custom for Jewish people to name their children after someone in their family who is deceased. Often times, they will take the first letter of the decedent and match it up with a name that they like better. My mother would often tell me that she named me after my father’s grandfather Morris whom she referred to as Mo.  Later, when I was in elementary school, I would often hear my mom tell her friends, “And Jamie, he was named after my father in law Mo.”

“Mo, I would think to myself, I’m named after my grandfather Mo,” and proudly I would traipse outside and beam with the delightful feeling that somehow I was so much more important than my siblings because I had my grandpa’s name. Of course, he was the only dead grandparent I had. It didn’t dawn on me until much later that my grandfather’s name did not begin with a J.

So one day in elementary school, when we had the lesson where the parents and the child prepare a family tree presentation, I asked my mom.

“Mom, why does my name begin with a J when Grandpa’s name begins with an M?”

“Oh, that? Well, I also named you after Jesus.”

“Geezus, Jesus? You mean THE Jesus, like Jesus Christ Jesus? The Christian Jesus?”

The neighborhood we grew up in when I was in elementary school was entirely made up of Jewish families except for the Kereska’s who my mother swore were Nazi’s. The Roth’s, the Berks, the Horowitz, the Abramsons, the Lazerwitz, the Toback’s, the Lichtenfelds, the Garfins, the Lieberman’s and on and on and on except for the Kereska’s and they were Nazi’s. The fear that swept over me that kids in my neighborhood would find out that I was named after Jesus was only surpassed by the time I hit a wiffle ball into the Kereska’s back yard and I had to go retrieve it.

Mallory was a hat company back when I was born in 1956. My mom picked the name Mallory out of the yellow pages phone book. It sounded better than Mo or Morris. She didn’t want to be reminded of her dead father in law every time she called my name. Who calls their kids by their middle name? No, better you should name them after a messiah and a hat company. Somehow James evolved into Jamie and Mallory morphed into Doll. Yes, Doll.

Okay, Jesus was better. I’ll take Jesus. Imagine, your mother coming out your front door and yelling, “Jesus Mallory, time for dinner!” No, that wasn’t good enough for my mom! Instead, she would come out every day around dinner time and yell, up and down the street. “Jamie Doll, time for dinner!” Move over Johnny Cash and a Man named Sue! You have nothing on me. Again – I was way ahead of my time.

But, it’s not about me.

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It’s about transitioning from the military

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After receiving an Honorable Discharge and departing the military, I looked for work in California near the naval base in San Diego, California. I couldn’t find any work. No one would hire me. I was a disabled veteran. There wasn’t a local small business that wanted to hire a disabled person. Like most men and women who have lost something while in the military service of our country, i didn’t spend time talking about it.

I returned to Phoenix and looked for work there. People would kindly thank me for my service. But when I wrote disabled on the application or provided them with a copy of my DD214, they wouldn’t hire me. It was as if the definition of service connected disabled Viet Nam Era Veteran was synonymous with crazy homeless guy.

One day, fed up with trying to find employment in my local area, I got in my car and drove across the country with all of the money I had left and went on a nostalgia tour. I went to many of the places in this country I had run away to before I went into the military. Only this time I did it in my own car.

Finally, I ended up in Gary, Indiana (not Louisiana, Paris, France, New York or Rome) without money or a job. Desperate, I applied for a job at the Continental Can Company in nearby Portage. Only this time, I didn’t fill in the space about prior military service or being disabled. They gave me a well paying job working on the line.

Ironic isn’t it? Service to your country is supposed to be a good thing. Sacrifice for your country is supposed to be a good thing. We support our troops at war, but will we support our troops when they come home? What about the veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan? Are they designated crazy homeless guy too? With our increased awareness about PTSD, will they have to wait until they really are diagnosed as mentally ill?

After two years of watching can lid after can lid come off of an assembly line, I grew weary of my new found wealth. After much prodding from my long time friend Jon, I moved to Bellingham, Washington. Gary, Indiana to Bellingham, Washington is quite a leap. Further prodding from Jon and my new friend Jere, and the view of coeds parading down the sidewalk in front of our Fairhaven, Washington home, led me to seek out a means to go to college.

Floyd Norton was my federal caseworker. He was a very kind man. He worked out of the Veteran’s Administration Office on Columbia Way in Seattle. Because of Floyd Norton, I finally reaped all of the benefits of the GI Bill.

I never got to thank Floyd Norton for providing me with the opportunity to go to college. He was gone when I graduated college. Now I am just a broken veteran, not a disabled one.

But it’s not about me.

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It’s about organized religion

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Our home was vandalized last night by a mob of Unitarians. Do you know how I know?  They burned a question mark on our front lawn.

I recently went to the Unitarian Universalist Congregational Church here in town for a pancake feed. Food will lure me to a place of worship with four walls. Today was no exception. NOTE: The pancakes were okay but they served ham.  I did some research and believe it or not, food is not a popular reason why people in America go to church. In fact, it’s less than 1%. It didn’t even make the list!

The top two reasons why Americans attend church, according to a 2006 Gallup Poll, are for spiritual growth and guidance (20%) and going to church keeps them grounded (20%). Bad weather will keep you grounded. Fellowship is a big reason as well (15%).  These reasons are followed by I go to church to network for business, I have a belief in God, I go to church to worship God and my family did it so now I do.

I lived next door to Har Zion Synagogue in  Greater Phoenix, Arizona when I had my Bar Mitzvah on my 13th Birthday. Every Saturday morning after that, the old men at the synagogue would come looking for me so they could have ten men for their minyan. I would hide under my bed or in my closet or under a cactus or anywhere so I wouldn’t have to go and pray. Finally, they would tempt me with the Oneg Shabbat, the food after the service and I would come.

I was “homeless” living everywhere but with my biological parents beginning when I turned 15, so church or synagogue was somewhere I went when I was hungry. I’d attended and eaten at every kind of church or synagogue by the time I was 19.

When I was 15, I ran away from home for about the 15th time and spent 5 weeks living in a cave on Camelback Mountain in Phoenix, Arizona.   I was just like a Maccabee.  In fact, I got the idea from the story of Chanukah.  Faced with going home or moving to higher ground, I traveled first to Flagstaff, and then went to the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City. They fed me very well there.  I returned home only to run away again a few months later. I hitchhiked to Chicago via the East Coast and NYC and the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, New York. Again, they fed me well.  By the time I was 18, I’d run away to Israel. On the way, I stopped at Westminster Abbey in London and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem where they say Christ was killed and buried. I had no money but I met generous people who fed me.

At the age of 19, I entered the military. Even while I was in the military, everyone went to church or synagogue.   I went for the food. They had plenty of bagels, lox and cream cheese in the Jewish line because there were only 8 of us out of 10,000.  When I was stationed in the Philippines, I went to a beautiful baroque church built by the Spanish in Manila. The food was great and often there was take out.

After I graduated college, my second wife was a Catholic, so occasionally I went to her church. I went to her church because the food was terrific!  I went until the priest gave an Easter sermon on the Jews killing Christ. I didn’t kill Christ. I wasn’t there. Besides, he came back three days later. Needless to say, I didn’t stay for the Easter meal. They had this enormous spread!  They did have ham and pork roast.  But they had turkey too.  That sermon was the beginning of the end of that marriage. Besides, she couldn’t cook worth a darn.

Do you know how we know Jesus wasn’t Jewish? Had he been Jewish, they would not have called it the Last Supper, they would have called it the Early Bird Special.

Anyways, food didn’t make the list. Shocking!  Either did miracles. Healing and miracles didn’t make the list?

I’m reminded about an interview on the David Letterman show with Salma Hayek. Salma talks about how she was feminine in high school but she liked to hang out with the guys in high school. Life was good until at some point, she became unhappy because she was “flat as a board” and the guys would pay more attention to the girls who weren’t. One day, she goes to church with her Mom. After church was over and her mom and her were leaving the church, she tells her mom she forgot something inside and goes back and places both her hands in holy water and prays, “Please God, give me some breasts. And he gave them to me,” she says.

Women pay a lot of money for breast enhancements, but God gave Salma her breasts, not some doctor. It was a miracle! Jesus performed his “water into wine” miracle in a church. Miracles will lure me to a church!

Music didn’t make the list. OMG! Music didn’t make the list? Honestly, some of the best music comes out of churches. The list of people who first sang in a church before they made it huge in the industry is longer than the list of unkept promises made by politicians since politicians first inhabited this earth.  I attended Temple Chai in Scottsdale, Arizona in the early 1990’s. I proudly served as a 3rd grade and junior high religious school teacher. I also was the Southwest Federation Temple Youth Advisor for the congregations high school kids. We had a cantor named Sharona Feller and she had the most magnificent voice of a cantor I have ever heard. On Kol Nidre, it would make me feel as if I was dancing with angels. I feel the same way about gospel music. I love gospel music. Gospel choirs will lure me to a church.

Architecture didn’t make the list. Over the last 2000 years, churches have produced the most profound architecture in the world. While architecture might not get me there on a Sunday morning, I will go out of my way to visit a church with profound architecture any day of the week. The Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island is the oldest and one of the most beautiful in North America.

Charity didn’t make the list. Unitarians call it Community Outreach. Jews call it tzedakah. I was 15, homeless and I needed to eat and if it weren’t for churches, I might not be here. Food banks and clothing banks are in churches. But it didn’t make the list.

Finally, social justice didn’t make the list. Jews call it tikkun olam, “repairing the world” in English.   So many churches are at the forefront of making positive change in America and around the world. How can social justice be left off the list?

Miracles, Food, Music, Architecture, Charity and Social Justice. None of these reasons made the list. I believe this is a more honest, complete list. Spirituality comes from inside and what does keeping one grounded mean? Humility? That is a character trait that is learned. I first experienced both when I visited the Grand Canyon.

But it’s not about me.



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