Friday, July 29, 2011

Unrelated stories tied together by the thinnest of strings...

When I first got out of college and went to work in San Diego I worked for the Devil. Oh was Devlin. Sorry. I worked for a man named Devlin. He had bought out the man he worked for and was now the owner of a large established wholesale pottery company. The problem was he was not interested in running the company. He was interested in traveling and driving his convertible around San Diego picking up women and flashing a lot of money and basically being a big shot. You can only do that for so long before your business suffers and you end up with less money than you need. He had reached this point while I was working for him.

Now one of his favorite things to do was to take his credit card statement every month when it came in and have me dispute all of the charges. Every. Single. One. This meant (at the time) filling out a form and faxing it to the credit company for every charge he wanted to dispute. What this would do is remove them from his credit balance while the charge was in dispute so he could continue to charge without getting an increase on his credit limit. Also if he was very lucky a company would drop the charge rather than provide proof that he had authorized the charge. Now he knew and I knew and the credit card company knew that he had authorized these charges. He had decided to spend the money, spent the money, enjoyed the goods or services and was now being a dick about paying for them. See? Devil, Devlin...pretty damn close.

Next story...

You all know I grew up poor. We didn't have a lot of extras, we didn't take vacations, we wore clothes bought at the DAV (second hand shop) I've seen the repo man when he comes to take your stuff. You also know I went to a private middle school. Which means tuition. Dad had two jobs, mom worked, Jeff worked and the school worked with us to establish payments instead of asking for it all up front. When it came time for me to be able to drive my parents found a cheap used car but to be able to put gas in it and insure it and to pay for any repairs that meant a job for me. I also had to pick up some slack in the schedules. I had to pick up dad from the labs and take him to mom's work when he got off work, I had to pick up my nephew from daycare and take him to my brother and sister's house and watch him until they got off of work.

Responsibility came with owning the car. I had to pay for the extra expense it would add by taking on a weekend job and I had to help bridge the gaps that other people were responsible for already. But I loved that car and it was completely worth it.

So now if I were to tell you that those two stories were tied together you would have a hard time following how right? The only thing that is the same in them is that they are about money and they happened in my life. Ah, but you are all very smart and realize that they also tie neatly with what is happening in Washington right now. Debt ceiling and budget talks. Two things that really are not tied but have been tied together lately as well.

Let's be really clear to start since apparently not even all of our elected officials (including one running for president FFS) understand what the debt ceiling is about. We've already spent that money. The debt ceiling is all about paying back what we already owe. There shouldn't be a dispute now about it, it's done. It's like Devlin making me dispute charges that he knew were valid. Let me say it again...we've already spent that money, we are talking about our RESPONSIBILITY to pay it back while maintaining our obligations.

Now on to the budget talks. People want things fixed and I do to. How did we get into such a bind that we need to raise the debt ceiling by such a large amount? Simple math. We spent more than we made. The way a government makes money is by collecting taxes. If you need more money you go get another job or you get a raise. The way a government gets more money is by another tax or an increase in taxes. So I am going to break it down again in very very simple terms. There are a lot of points that can be argued but I don't want to argue. I just want it stopped and fixed.

Reagan raised taxes. Bush the elder raised taxes (during a recession by the way), Clinton raised taxes. All of this increased the amount of money coming in to the government. Part of why they all raised taxes was because our deficit was growing. The shortfall that happens when your goes outs are more than your comes ins. Then a funny thing happened. Our comes ins were predicted to out pace our goes outs. Wow...yay! A big part of the lesser expenses was due to the ending of the Cold War. Who would have ever known how expensive a Cold War could be? So then we got Bush the younger. And he took a look and said, Well if our comes ins are bigger than our goes outs seems like we should send some of the comes ins back. In theory I don't have an issue with this. If the budget is balanced, well and truly balanced, then you shouldn't collect extra money. Sure, cut taxes.

But here is where it falls apart. When you take away the revenue from taxes to end surpluses in the budget then you have to be able to add the revenue back in when you have a deficit. In other words, you cannot then add the expense of two wars and the prescription drug benefit into the budget and expect it to still be okay. It wasn't. Now our goes outs are WAY more than our comes ins. And our next issue hit. Our economy tanked. Less people working means less people paying taxes AND more people collecting unemployment. That's a hit on both sides.

Add to that the stimulus money that Bush and Obama spent to try and head off worse issues. Did it work? Hard to say, but it's gone, spent. So now we are looking at commitments to pay out over then next few years and we are looking at the money we have to pay it and we are seeing that gap grow larger and larger. The debt ceiling needs raised right now to ensure we can pay for what we've already spent and we need to fix our budget issues so that we can get out of this mess.

So Congress has tied them together and now we are staring down the barrel of defaulting on our payments. If you default on your credit card payment for a month or two what happens? They raise your interest rate. If the US defaults on it's obligations our credit score gets downgraded and our interest rates go up. OUR interest rates. The one you pay on your college loans, mortgage, car loan, credit card loan, business's all based off of a base rate. WE pay. All of us. Not some "them" in Washington. You and me, baby.

The debt ceiling needs raised to pay for what we've already bought. End of.

Now...budget talks...the only way to stop a hole from getting deeper is to stop digging. We all can agree to that. So cuts are needed in what we are sending out. We spend too much. We spend too much in a lot of areas. Cut costs. Some of them are going to be painful but the burden should be shared equally. So that stops the hole from getting deeper, but the only way to fill the hole is with more dirt. That means higher taxes. Sorry, but sometimes you just have to pay the piper. It's time. Those last round of tax cuts that happened because we had predicted surpluses? We don't have those anymore so those tax cuts should go away. If we right the ship, if the hole fills back up, if we pay our debts and face our obligations, then we get to revisit that benefit.

But for some reason a lot of people including a lot of those in Washington can't seem to understand this simple concept. The best way to tackle a big problem like we have is to take bites at it from each side. Everyone gives, everyone gets, it's called compromise. It's how our system is designed to work. Wonder why we don't have one party? Because we are all about the checks and balances. When we get true bipartisan bills going then we get true answers. Stop with the "if I don't get my way I am taking my marbles and going home" bullshit. Stop putting debt plans and bills through that you know won't pass because they aren't balanced, they are one sided. Stop arguing and start fixing.

And for those of you reading this who are just as stuck on your side as those in Washington are, take a step back. Look at what you do in your own house to clean up a mess. In your own business. Cutting costs AND increasing revenues. It's what is needed. Just get it done.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The one your mother warned you about....

Okay so the first few sentences of this blog serve no other purpose but to get past the little preview window that will show when I post the link. This should about cover it. Clear? Yep, we are clear now we can start.

Fuck you. Is there a more versatile curse out there? It can be super angry, sort of sexy, or very playful depending on how it's used. Depending on the tone you might hear it as a "you got me" response to a joke that might hit a little too close to the bone but is still funny. I got one of those fuck yous a few months ago when the cute little barista was flirting with Brent and I told him that he could be her daddy issue. It was a well deserved fuck you for sure and it made me laugh. Yes, not many married couples tell each other fuck you with love and humor but it works for us.

I also love a good poppy perky song with Fuck in it. Lily Allen's Fuck You or Cee Lo Green's Fuck You come to mind. Something about the juxtaposition of the light and simple and the f-bomb just pleases me. Sort of like Sarah Silverman's comedy. You just don't expect something so sweet to be so filthy. I have been told that the first time someone hears me cuss it's sort of the same reaction. It has to be the first time, because I cuss all the time, always have, so if you know me for any length of time you hear a lot of foul language.

I've written before about how I believe words are just words and that C wasn't raised with the "don't say that" mentality. He was just raised with the not appropriate for school or around Grandma guidelines. I do try to make sure my language is appropriate for the situation. I didn't cuss at clients at the agency or C's teachers even if they were being fucking idiots at the time, but if you are my friend you hear it all.

Growing up there were levels of cuss words in my house. We could use the word shit with impunity. My mother even says shit. In fact our parakeet learned to mimic three things when I was younger, my brother's sneeze, my mother's laugh and the way my mother says shit. He would run up and down his perch saying, "Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit" then laugh just like my mother. It was pretty funny. My sister and I got away with using bitch as long as it wasn't directed at my mother. Funny side story, C told me yesterday that it wasn't until the 5th grade that he even knew bitch was considered a cuss word. He was very familiar with the word, just didn't know it wasn't appropriate for everyone. He also didn't realize it could be used as a noun. That tells you that I am much more likely to tell you quit your bitching than to call you a bitch.

Then there were the unmentionable words. Which might be where my love of the word fuck comes from. It was on the NEVER EVER list. So of course it was the best one to use. I can remember using it on the playground in elementary school. Fuck a rubber duck. My preacher's son went to school with me and threatened to tell his father. I looked at him and said "go ahead." Something in the way I looked at him made him decide not to say a word. Wise boy.

The other words we couldn't use were God, damn and hell and especially not the phrase Goddamn it to hell! That would have resulted in many many hours of grounding and most likely a backhand to the mouth. No Jesus, Christ or Jesus Christ either. Those would be the blasphemous curses and they just weren't okay in a religious household. Thou shalt not take the Lord's name in vain. Which also included jeez and depending on her mood gosh darn it. The preacher's son I mentioned earlier? He was grounded for two weeks and had his boom box taken away from him when he father heard him singing along to a song..."Hot damn summer in the city..." funny thing is he got the lyric wrong and it's really "Hot town summer in the city...." oops!

My drama teacher in high school used the phrase Got Dandruff! Some of it itches! And we all used that for awhile just because it was insane. Then my group of friends picked up God bless America, twice daily! I have no idea how it evolved into the twice daily part, but one of the joys of marrying your high school sweetheart is not having to explain why you say God bless America, twice daily! When you are frustrated with a project.

When you cuss as often and with as much variety as I do you sometimes forget that not everyone does. And you forget the pure shock value of a well placed swear. When I was home for my father's funeral a few weeks ago I spent a lot of time at my mom's house, as you can imagine. Well a recent addition was a "No Parking" sign that had been put up in front of their place. It was obviously not a city sign, just one that had been tacked up and I ignored it and parked where I have since they moved into the house. My brother told me he would have to tell our nephew (who put the sign up to keep the neighbors away apparently) that I paid as much attention to the sign as the neighbors do. I told him, "Yeah, I saw it and thought fuck that and parked there anyway" As soon as the words fuck that were out of my mouth the sip of tea he was taking was out of his. Nice spit take on shock value.

Then there is the tone and mood of the fuck you. Like I said, it can be very playful. But it can also be about the harshest thing you can say to someone and also one of the saddest. Depending on how you say it. Is it being barked out? Short clipped FUCK YOU! or is it the slow head shake walk away quieter...fuck you... It's all about the tone. Fuck you can be just the last straw of disgust at someone or the white flag of I give up, you are irredeemable and I am done. Because tone is so important I find that I swear less online than when I speak. I just can't convey the level of communication I want with that few of words in writing, but I can when I am able to add the tone.

So yes, I swear, a lot. I don't even think about it for the most part. I don't do it to shock you. I just do it because I like the words. They fit what I am talking about at the time. And if you know me and talk to me for any length of time then you are used to it.

Which in a way I wish was different. I would love to be able to hold the shock power, the force behind a swear when you don't swear often...Mrs. Weasley, I am looking at you.

Fuck that. I just like to swear.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Maybe I need Legos....

When I look at the way people live their lives I think to myself, are you an architect or a sculptor? Or were you one and now are the other? Or do you wish you were one but you aren't?

The architects fascinate me. An architect has a plan. They map things out. They know what they want the building to look like before they ever start buying the materials. There is a process. You know the type. They announce to the world that they are going to be what ever it is they are going to be and they start down that path. They know what schooling it's going to take, they know the contacts they need to make. They are building this life piece by piece. Architects are planners and doers. They start with the basics and build themselves into what they want. It's fascinating...

Then there are the sculptors. You have heard the saying about how sculpting is easy right? Say you want to sculpt David out of a block of marble? You just carve away all the marble that doesn't look like David and there you have it. Sculptors know where they are headed. But they can't really tell you how they are going to get there. They have the vision in their head and they are constantly carving off the pieces that don't fit. Sculptors are more likely to be the sampler type people. They try a little of this and a little of that. If it looks like them them they keep it, if not then it's carved away.

The problem with architects is that sometimes the world doesn't go as planned. Things happen. You have your life blueprints laid out in front of you. You went to the right college for pre-med, you got into the right med school, you got the internship at the prestigious teaching hospital you wanted. Your path is going exactly the way you intended it to. Then you meet the guy on the train that you can't live without and you are married and pregnant 3 years ahead of schedule. The jerk you were interning with isn't as smart or as talented as you are but they get the position you were craving because you are going to be on maternity leave. You had a plan dammit! Now what? This sort of thing can drive an architect crazy.

The problem with sculptors is sometimes they can't see through the marble to the end creation. So they just chisel randomly. They eventually end up with a life but it's pretty disjointed. If you close one eye and tilt your head to the side you can sort of make out the outline of what they are trying to accomplish but it just doesn't quite make it there. For a sculptor the endless choices and opportunities can be overwhelming. What if I carve off something I really wanted to keep? What if I keep something I should have carved off? These sorts of things can drive a sculptor crazy.

Everyone who knows me knows I am a sculptor. And I am a free form sculptor. I have no idea what the finished product is going to look like. I try things for awhile, if they fit I keep them, if they don't I carve them off. I have spent a lot of years wondering and worrying about the fact that I don't have a plan just a collection of random interests and experiences. I am constantly moving on to a new piece of marble and chiseling something out of it. Just this year I have tried writing (well writing more, I've always written), ice skating, photography and knitting. I've also gone back to some old things I chiseled off years ago and tried them again. I sort of view that as digging through the chunks of marble on the ground to see if I've left anything interesting there. Luckily for me I grew up white trash enough to know that you can re-attach almost anything with the right combination of super glue and duct tape! It might not be pretty but it works.

I used to wish I was an architect. But now looking back at my life I see all of the things I would have missed on the way if I had stuck to a plan. I have friends who don't understand how I can pick up things, try them for awhile then walk away with no interest in trying them again. Those are the architects, if you take the effort to learn a skill, to buy the supplies, to try the event then you should use it. The sculptors say, nope, not for me, I tried it, I carved it. It didn't look right or feel right so it's not part of the final piece. My various careers for instance. I might have carved out a pretty stellar advertising executive, it might have looked good to the outside world, but there was a fault somewhere in the marble, it just didn't sit right on me so off it went into the discard pile. Maybe someday I will find a way to add it back in to my piece in a way that works but not now.

I am a sculptor, I am a little flighty with my art, but at the end of it all I hope to look back at a perfectly carved piece of marble that is me. It might not be the sleekest piece of art ever made, it might not have been made the most efficiently but I know it will be interesting to look at. Duct tape and all.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Back to Tennessee

So last we left off we had just gotten to the hotel and were starting our weekend. When we checked in the company Brent was interviewing with had left a "Welcome" kit for him. We thought it might be a map of the area and some suggestions for places to go...

Not quite. Lint brush, note pad, mouth wash. Seems they were more interested in him looking and smelling good for the interview than us actually being "Welcomed." The really funny thing is every thing they gave him was branded. Or at least we thought it was funny...until we started exploring the town some more. Passing the Eastman Credit Union, on Eastman Boulevard, going by the Eastman Recreation Fields down near the Boys and Girls Club of Kingsport, sponsored by Eastman....we started to understand the full ramifications of what living in a company town would be like. But we told ourselves, at least he would be working for that particular company.

Saturday night we did a little driving around and grabbed some BBQ for dinner. We couldn't really go to Tennessee and not eat BBQ now could we? Though truth be told, the sauces were good but Russell Street does a better job with their meat. As we drove around we were starting to discover something interesting, but a little freaky. All of the roads led to everywhere. If you got on the "wrong" highway if you just stayed on it it would take you back to where you wanted to go. We wanted to check out Bristol but got on the highway that was going to Johnson City, no problem, it would eventually get to Bristol. The road to Bristol would eventually get you to Kingsport, the roads in town would eventually all meet up. It was a really odd thing to experience. Though it came in handy on Monday when I was exploring on my own. Being directionally challenged in my own town it was nice to just be able to repeat to myself, "all roads will get you there" if I got a little turned around. I sort of liked the idea of living in an area with that feel to it. Seemed more like a mantra than driving directions, "all roads will eventually get you there."

Sunday was our big day to look around. We started with breakfast at Cracker Barrel, hey you look around your way and I will look around mine! When the waiter brought me my jelly I wasn't sure if it was a good sign for staying in Tennessee or a sign we should be going back home.

Marionberries are a Northwest thing you see. So since I could get preserves at Cracker Barrel was that a sign to stay or the fact that they had to spell out that a marionberry was a type of blackberry a bad thing? Hmmmm....

Anyway, we hit the road. The recruiter that first contacted Brent told him about a little town somewhat nearby called Asheville. He thought it might be a little far to commute but he really liked it. He was right, very cool little town. Funky and active downtown, very pretty. But at about an hour and half each way, just a little too far to commute daily. Though I found a house for us just in case we changed our minds.

What do you think? I know, it's a little small but I think I could make it work.

Later in the day we decided to head to Bristol and check out the track. We had seen the exit from one of the many highways that will get you there so we headed off in that direction. After we left the highway and started in the direction we figured the track would be we started to get a little worried. You would have guessed that getting off the road there would be signs pointing you in the right direction, nope not at all. But we held to our "all roads will eventually get you there" mantra and ended up in the backwoods of Virginia. Just when we were starting to give up hope that we were ever going to find the track this came on the radio. I kid you not...I had to take a picture (once I stopped laughing) just to prove it!

Another sign? Who knows, but it was hilarious.

Eventually we found the track and took a look around. We watched the tour group get a run around the track in a minivan. Not something you see everyday! So back on the road for us.

One of the interesting things to see in the TriCities area is the Quilt Tour. Yep, the Quilt Tour. On the sides of barns out in the country they have painted traditional quilt patterns. You can buy maps of all of the quilts and go looking for them. We spotted a few here and there though we didn't do the actual tour part.

After getting a feel for the area we went back to Kingsport. We were talking about how it was small but manageable. Different but didn't seem too horrible. All of the things you start to weigh when considering a move. As far as the 500,000 people though? Only if they were counting all of the bodies buried in all of the local cemeteries as well. And that would probably still be pushing the population estimates! So as we hit town again we also hit the rain. Or I should say the rain hit us. It came down so hard and so thick we ended up pulling off of the road to let it pass...twice!

See how that tree looks a little softer? That was the rain and that was when it was finally light enough to drive again! Oh my goodness.... I made a joke that it was because we were saying nice things about the town and we weren't supposed to like it or move there so we were getting a sign!

Monday morning came and Brent headed off to his interviews. I took my camera in hand and headed off to downtown Kingsport. We had seen some interesting things driving around on Sunday and I wanted a chance to take a few pictures before we left (shocking, I know!). Now here is where I have to admit to being judgmental. You know we all have these preconceived notions about people in other parts of the country. One being that people from New York are rude and people from the South are polite? Well let me tell you my recent travels flip that one for sure! When I was in NYC last fall everyone there was as nice as could be. If you were standing on a corner looking lost someone would ask you if you needed directions. Every store we went in to people were friendly and helpful. Only out at the bar Saturday night did I run in to anyone that was overtly rude, and they were drunk so that would happen anywhere.

But downtown Kingsport, Tennessee? Not the same story. As I walked around camera in hand (which back home is usually a conversation starter)I saw probably 20 people and no one said a word to me. Even when I smiled and said hi. It was odd. And rude. And odd. But downtown was still interesting and I took a lot of shots of random things. (all of the pictures will be going up on facebook soon)

The bank in the old train station

The downtown theater

Now there was one person who wanted to chat. Jimmy Horton. Who is Jimmy Horton you are asking yourself right now. Well Jimmy owns and operates this fine establishment.

It was actually a lot of fun to talk to him and to hear the history of this local chain. Always nice to run into someone who takes pride in what they do.

Brent's interviews were over, we were ready to leave town. Sharing our day's adventures with each other while waiting in line at the airport to check into the flight we decided that over all it wasn't that bad of a place. Maybe not the place for us, but not that bad really. We could make it work, the good was probably a little better than the bad...then we got to the front of the line to check in and heard our flight was delayed due to plane maintenance that would have us leaving and hour and half later than we were scheduled so we would be missing our connection in Atlanta. (remember the foreshadowing? Yep, exact same issue, same time delay, two points start a line...) So we renounced Tennessee right then and there in the airport and we were booked on another flight with another airline and actually made it home an hour earlier than originally scheduled.

I don't know if the universe really does give you overt signals when you need to make a decision or if you just look for things to fit what you are thinking anyway, but I do know that Kingsport, Tennessee, though lovely and quaint is just not for us. Rain storms, people who don't say hi, and a one company town wrapped up in an airport with hour and half time Thanks though, it was interesting.

So wish I would have gotten a picture of the drive through gold and silver exchange...