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A Special May

When I retired last year, I believed that I experienced a lot of lasts.  My last concert on May 17, 2017.  My last class on June 9, 2017.  My last opportunity to impact students in a public school…ever.  I knew that I would be a substitute teacher and from time to time I may feel that I have made an impact on a student or two.  I certainly didn’t envision this.

A very unfortunate circumstance developed and a school that had a well respected and effective teacher found themselves without one.  While the circumstances were and still are devastating to the community, it did create an opportunity for a new experience for me.  Students who were hurt and yet still in the process of their music performances were left with questioned loyalties.  Their teacher, whom they loved and supported was now being publicly vilified.  Their school administration seemed to be less than supportive of their devotion to him.  Their school year, as they knew it, was over.  They had just come off of some great “once in a lifetime” experiences and now had to continue through the end of the year concerts.  Then there was me.

The principal said that there was a very difficult situation.  They really needed someone to come in and get them through the end of the year, but, it will be very difficult.  I had seen situations like this before.  I knew that no matter how dedicated I was, I was still going to be seen as “the outsider”.  They were going to rebel.  They were going to vent their anger.  They were going to be middle school students reacting to an adult situation with very little emotional resources.  I was preparing myself for a difficult if not impossible road to affect their lives in a positive way.  What really happened…I never saw it coming.

Since retiring, I have been trying to enjoy my freedom.  Freedom from having to get up every morning.  Freedom from planning for the next day.  Freedom from all of the things that I perceived as annoying.  It just isn’t that easy.  What it means to be a teacher is to unlock another person’s limiting belief in themselves and the world that they live in.  That has been my goal over the past several years as I neared retirement.  It’s hard to quantify, but you know it when you see it.

This group of students, through their shared struggle have helped me see my value…again.  They have come together to support one and other in a way that belies their age.  I couldn’t be prouder of any group of people that I have ever known.  They are a credit to their parents, teachers and yes, their own friends.  They have truly done far more for me than I have for them.

Thank you DRA advanced choir.  You made this old guy feel young…all over again.

The three dollar manager’s special…

Several weeks ago, I got an oil change in my car.  This car, I inherited from my wife when she got her new Jeep.  She had paid for this oil change in advance so I didn’t have to lay out any money.  The Saturn is the one that we drove cross country from New Jersey.  It had lost its air conditioning in the summer, and since it was old, we added a new car to the family, but kept the Saturn for me.

After getting my oil changed, I had an occasion to park the car in the garage.  When I pulled it out, I noticed oil had leaked on the ground.  I then checked my parking space which is outside of the garage and it too had oil stains on the asphalt.  I was irritated over this since I had just had the oil changed.  I have been planning a long ride in this car for some time and leaving it in the outdoor parking area where it is subject to daily sprinkling on the passenger side and the occasional dust storm, the car was filthy.  I waited for the sale date on the car wash and I paid $3 for the Premium Manager’s special at the local gas station.  This is where all the trouble started.

After purchasing the gas, I realized that there was no purchase necessary and you had to pay for the wash in the convenience store that was conveniently located across the 100 degree parking lot.  Well I paid after over paying for gas, and proceeded to the car wash.  Now, I had gotten one here before but it was paid for at the pump.  This one was not.  I guess it was more thorough.

After watching the car get scrubbed and rinsed, I watched the process go again and spraying my car one more time.  This didn’t happen before.  Here is where I noticed that I was getting hot.  I put on the non air conditioned blower.  The fan started to pummel me with water through the vents.  At the same time, I started getting rained on through the now saturated ceiling.  I was aggravated and I couldn’t wait for the wash to be over.  When I finally got the green light, I put it in gear hit the gas and got nothing…nothing that is except for two engine lights.  Both were orange, but I still was concerned because the one with the downward arrow in it…well, I never saw that one before.  Since the car wouldn’t move and there was a guy behind me, I opened my window to yell out.  I was still stuck in the garage with the dryer blowing.  I couldn’t hear.  Since my car wasn’t moving anyway…I decided to turn it off.  After waiting and praying for several seconds, I turned it back on.  I hit the gas…alarms went off in the Car Wash as I proceeded too fast, so I hit the brakes to go slowly through the dryer.  I forgot one thing though…I had the windows down.  I was hit with 100 degree air from both sides of my face as I panicked again, and struggled to get the windows up.  Thank God that their electronics worked because the dashboard was once again ablaze with warnings.  I inched out onto the road and got as far as the first traffic light before I once again lost power.  I had to turn the car off and on again several times to get it to the car dealer that had done the oil change just a couple of weeks earlier.

My discussion with the man at the dealership shop is where my $3 car wash really began to get, well, out of the realm of a bargain.  I told him what happened in the car wash.  As he was listening and asking about the car I told him that it had been serviced there before for an oil change and had subsequently developed a leak.  He added that to the service slip and told me that the diagnostic fee was $130.  I jokingly told him that he was going to charge me that to plug in a little device.  (I have the device back in NJ and have used it to save on the diagnostic fee before with a “trusted” mechanic.  He said that the code still wouldn’t tell you what is wrong and that was the reason for the fee.  I didn’t argue.  I just signed the form as the cost of the car wash…including the gas was now up to $169.

Later that day, a call came in to tell me that the accelerator  pedal assembly failed and needed to be replaced.  She said that the entire bill, including the diagnostic fee was going to be $330.  Now my car wash including the gas and repair was up to $369.  I had to wait for a delivery of a bath tub at my house (this requires a blog post by itself…)  so I couldn’t leave my house until after 3pm.  I took my bicycle out and pedaled the two miles in 104 degree heat.  When I arrived, I was told that the oil leak was not resolved as I had refused the work.  They told me that if I wanted it fixed it would cost an additional $160.  Now, we are up to $529 for the car wash!!!  First of all, I brought the oil leak to their attention!!  I had not refused the work. Second of all, they got me to agree to the repair for $330.  They were “sorry for the confusion” but if I wanted the oil leak fixed it would be more time and more money.

In New Jersey, where I am from, there is a place called Bob’s Garage.  Not surprisingly, it was run by Bob!  When we had trouble with our 1985 Ford Escort that was barely a year old and was seen by the dealer several times, we were just about at the end of our rope.  We were close to filing a Lemon Law claim.  Friends of ours recommended Bob.  We took it to him.  He had it for a day and then called us.  We came over and met Bob and he talked to us about the car.  He said simply, “idle control circuit…it’s hard to tell with these new cars…if you have any more trouble, bring it right in…otherwise…”-and then he extended his hand…not palms up for money, but a handshake.  I said, “What do we owe?” He kept his hand out.  I shook it…said goodbye…and was his customer for life.

Before moving to California in 2016, Bob fixed that same 2005 Saturn up for the cross country trip.  That was 31 years after we met him.  He has worked on every car that we own.  When the work was done…if we weren’t happy, he stood behind his work.  He has taken hundreds of dollars off of our repairs over the years and once even bought a car that he couldn’t fix.  Maybe I’m spoiled.  Maybe he’s a dying breed.  Maybe I just didn’t appreciate what I had when I had it.

I am sure that the people at the Cheverolet of La Quinta didn’t know this story.  I am sure that there are people there who would do what Bob did if they had the power.  I am also keenly aware of bogus auto repairs at major dealerships that have been repeatedly exposed on the news just so that they can sell a new car.  This oil leak “snafu” is just the kind of setup that would be featured on one of these programs and since I have recently joined the ranks of the fixed income retiree (yes I played that card), my scam filter went to high alert.

I sometimes wonder about Bob.  He has seven bays, always full, minimum two week wait for appointments, but will still tow you in and have you out in a matter of days for emergency.  He doesn’t do the repairs anymore but has a staff.  He holds himself accountable for their work.  That’s why he has customers.  He provides value and quality.  He’s the In-n-Out Burger of auto mechanics.  Just imagine if he sold cars to this 31 year customer.

I think that this is an important story.  That’s why I wrote it.  That’s why I intend to share it.  I hope to find that Diamond in the Rough auto mechanic here in the Coachella Valley.  I doubt very much is will be Chevrolet of La Quinta. Still, before I add SEO links and share it on Nextdoor, I will give them an opportunity to read it. I will also share it with Bob Holshue and his son.   I believe that we can all learn to do better.  I believe that we should all want to do better.

I hope we do.

BTW…my car was supposed to be done this morning…but the part, apparently is in Tennessee.  Maybe I should have moved there.

 

Fraud and Big Business

On May 23, 2016, at approximately 1:00pm eastern time, my wife responded to a phone message indicating an issue with the IRS.  The person who handled her call insisted that she was subject to arrest if she didn’t clear up a tax evasion issues from her 2014 tax return.  He gave his name, badge number, dates that the IRS sent correspondence and threatened her with a public arrest and public humiliation if she didn’t follow directions to immediately clear up this balance.

 

He directed her to borrow a person’s car, and purchase prepaid Visa cards and sent them directly to your company’s locations to buy them and transfer them.  All the while he told her that if she ended the call she would be arrested.  She went to a CVS and bought as many as were allowed.  (There is apparently an awareness of potential criminal activity, but there must be acceptable losses allowed.)

 

When I finally tracked my wife down she had already acquired the cards and complied with every one of the person’s requests to stay out of jail.  I immediately knew that this was a scam and we went back to the post office to retrieve the cards that the fake IRS employee told her to mail to a bogus address. We called the police and they arrived at the post office.  They talked to the scammer online.  There is a record with the local Police Department.  We did retrieve the cards.

 

When we tried to follow the steps for cancelling these cards, we found that there was no way to get through to the prepaid companies.  All the phone numbers on the back of the cards were for automated computer responses and one of them even asked for our social security number…after just being scammed.  When we questioned a representative from One Vanilla a prepaid company, he said that the payee who received the funds was a known fraudulent business.  Further investigation found that this scam has been running for over 5 years.  The IRS even has the very name of the individual that was being used.

The use of the prepaid Visa card is part of the plan.  The perpetrator knew this and directed every step of the transaction.  He knew the location of the stores and knew where the cards were sold.  He knew how to instill fear and he attempted to wipe every trace of the transaction away by insisting that we mail the cards…to a phony IRS address.  This is known to pre-paid companies and no warning are made on the website, the cards, or at the point of sale. There is no way of accessing a human being and even as the crime was being committed we couldn’t stop it because we can’t get in touch with a human.  All totaled, 10 Visa cards totaling just under $5,000.00 were purchased and used to pay our phony delinquent tax bill to the scammer.  Of those 10, 6 were GreenDot cards and 4 were Vanilla.

 

Based on the information obtained so far, it is clear that GreenDot and One Vanilla were aware of this situation.  Additionally, GreenDot’s consumer access to their customer service is deplorable in light of this threat. Since there were no warnings about this scam that regularly utilizes GreenDot cards among others to launder their money, there is clearly a perceived liability on the part of the issuing bank.  I say perceived because it is my viewpoint and my perception matters here.

 

Since this happened almost 2 years ago and we had reported it to GreenDot and Vanilla and neither company has seen fit to respond to our case, we are pursuing a lawsuit.  These cards are sold in drug stores and dollar stores and they are displayed like candy and activated by clerks who know little more than the fact that they must be purchased in cash.  Since that time there has been a major break in one of the organizations responsible in India and there has been no restitution paid to the victims.  Still there is no warning to the consumer that they are being scammed if being called by the IRS and directed to these financial instruments because, apparently, it would cost the companies money.

 

According to GreenDot’s corporate site, they are doing quite well in returning corporate profits for those investors who don’t care for the dark side of their business or even dealing with consumers who are victimized by crooks who know their practices and know that they will continue to look the other way when presented with these crimes; yet they are as guilty as the person supplying a getaway car in a bank robbery.

 

It is for this reason that I have engaged an attorney to sue the companies that have participated in a fraud and done nothing to prevent it from happening again.  The criminals are still out there as my family members continue to get these calls.  I am suing because they are at the very least negligent if not complicit in the crimes being committed against Americans.  Clearly they have been silent on this issue because the percentage of frauds using their products represent a significant enough portion of their profits to make it part of their business plan.  Sad.

A Good Day

On March 1, I woke up to one of those WTF moments.  MLB, an organization that I have supported faith fully over the years with my devotion to the Phillies took $115 out of my PayPal account.  Since my PP account is linked to my Checking Account, this created a problem.  I immediately checked my PayPal account and the transaction said, “pre-authorized” subscription.  This irritated me.  I spent $10 for a subscription mid-season and I even questioned its worth at $10.  Little did I know that it came with the fine print to automatically renew at the “Cadillac” level.  I told PayPal that it was unauthorized.  Immediately they interpreted that my account was insecure and locked it.  I had to create a new password.  I cancelled the authorization to MLB and contacted MLB.  They agreed to the cancellation and offered me a refund…in 5 to 7 business days.  That’s business speak for 2 weeks.  I cried foul.  I sent them another email saying that they have triggered a cascading event of bills that won’t get paid because I am a retired person on a fixed income (yes, I played that card) and that I would most certainly seek out legal representation, call it an acceptable business practice and have a class action suit with my name attached before the week was out.  The money was back in my account within the hour.

Last night, I was playing Starbucks Bingo.  The space I was filling was the coffee with friends space.  Now, it is important to know that there was a specific definition for “Coffee with Friends”.

  

The game said to purchase 3 handcrafted beverages in one purchase charged to a single Starbucks Card.  My daughter had a Caramel Macchiato, my 2 “Handcrafted Teas”.  Now, I know that the teas cost a whole lot less and if I were the company, I would have tried to make that clear.  This is probably not the idea they had when specifying the drinks.  Then why call the teas “handcrafted?” The handcrafted nature of the teas must be the reason that they can charge $2.30 for dropping a teabag in hot water.

Hence, a complaint  raised via Starbucks website.  An email was returned to me within 2 hours saying that they were sorry.  They gave me 5 free stars (loyalty stuff), and encouraged me to finish the contest.  This infuriated me.  I responded that they couldn’t guarantee that this wouldn’t happen again and that they are responsible for misrepresenting this contest to the entire “loyal population”.  I accused them of making this deception a standard business practice and told them that I was going to expose it to the world and particularly their loyal users, who give Starbucks interest free loans everyday, might object to this.  I told them that they needed to credit the entire sale.  I had the entire amount back within the hour.

Now you might think that this is no major victory…but think about it.  They tried to appease me with stars.  Stars have no value and no cost to them as a company.  Furthermore, 5 stars can’t do anything by themselves.  I am also a single person in a group that should not be identified as a target for a fraudulent business practice.  Also, I know that things that happen electronically can be countered with a couple of keystrokes and the nonsense that you have to wait for your money is a pile of crap.

I am going to take this as a lesson that it is time to start fighting more battles for right.  In both these instances I have argued my case passionately and logically.  I have also said that I would contact my attorney to begin a class action suit in my name.  The best part is, I didn’t have to actually go through with contacting my attorney.  My argument, my logical argument stands.  It was wonderful.

This marks a change in my approach to recovering a whole lot of money that was wrongfully taken from me.  I am going to pick up the ball and run with it.  There are much bigger fish to fry.

The Parable of the Sower…and the “Bad Seed”

So I bought some wild flower seed from Home Depot last year.  I just wanted some flowers for my front yard.  I kept looking out my basement window to see weeds.  It was depressing.  When I passed the bag of Wild Flower Seeds, I thought…this would be much better.  I went home, pulled the weeds up, and raked the area a little to loosen the soil and planted the seed.  Then, I put some water on it.  Day after day when I passed the area, I anxiously waited for the sprouting of little flower plants.  I knew just where I had put the seed.  I watched the little brown specks just sit there.  Meanwhile, around the edges appeared the same old plants that I had pulled out.  Weeds had returned.

Now the bag said that it contained flower seeds.  There was a picture of what the resulting flowers would look like.  All indications were that this was good seed…but then again…how do I really know?  The truth is that I don’t.  This could be very bad seed.  This could be the kind of seed that wouldn’t grow in any condition.  I truly don’t know.

I am a practicing Christian.  I offer up a Bible reference because it speaks to me and maybe some others.  In the Parable of the Sower, we are given an absolute that “the Sower had good seed”.  He set out into the world and scattered his seed everywhere.  He didn’t discriminate.  He spread his “good seed” everywhere.  In this scenario we get the description of the failures of the seed.  Some fell on dry ground where it withered for lack of water.  Some fell in among the weeds and were choked out.  Some fell along rocks and along the footpath where they were trampled.  Then again…some fell on good soil.

Recently a person posted a question about school shootings and other mass shootings for that matter.  I commented and one of the contributing factors to the current crisis was something that he was involved in and “never shot up a school”.  Many more chimed in and soon we had a “free for all” of opinions with some people resorting to insults but mostly people offered up evidence of themselves not being a shooter and engaging in these activities that were indicated by me.  People have a tendency to protect what they hold dear and for some it is violent video games and guns.  It is very true that the combination of the two aren’t a predictor of mass killings.  It is also true that 40 years ago, they didn’t exist.  (You should have seen what was considered a state of the art graphics card in the original PC).  As a matter of fact, we had pong…and it was just as addictive.

Today we have a vastly different set of circumstances.  We don’t have the FCC restricting what we can watch.  We clamor for the right to see and do anything that we want in the name of personal liberty.  We can read, write and publish anything that we want.  It can be for the building up of the person and society or it could tear it down.  There are no barriers.  Anyone can access anything and cultivate any thought and create just the right soil for seed to grow…good or bad.  It takes just the right combination of things to grow a plant or create a monster.  Remember, sometimes the packaging makes it very difficult to determine what type of seed you have.

Now, there is very little that we can do about free speech and free exchange of ideas.  While this is also very scary sometimes, if we eliminate it entirely we truly let the bad guys win.  The video games which I still fail to appreciate in any form are here to stay as long as there is a market for them.  It is true that by percentage the vast majority of players don’t do harm to anyone by playing them…even hard core players.  This is a component of the “soil” that can help the bad seed grow.  So if these two issues aren’t going to change then we as a country have to be ready to throw some rocks into the fertile soil that creates the monster.

On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed 20 people mostly school children under the age of 10.   He used an automatic weapon.  The very same day in China a knife wielding man attacked 22 school children the same age as Sandy Hook and one adult and no one died.  In both cases…bad seed.  The difference was access to the automatic weapon.

The monster exists in a fallen world.  As a Christian, I believe this to be true.  I don’t believe that it means that we are to throw up our hands and say “oh well”.  The task ahead is a daunting one but we need to pursue it now more than ever because the soil is ready and the seed is out there.  Let’s look at the very first phrase in the 2nd amendment that states “a well regulated militia, being necessary to a free state,” and start by regulating…real regulating.

The question is can we do this and keep those gun enthusiasts who like to shoot happy and free to shoot?  I believe we can.  People who love shooting should be able to shoot…targets (which sadly are always shaped like people).  Having a weapon of war, one that should be restricted to the battlefield is not having a “well regulated militia” if that weapon is among a civilian population and kept in the home because of the access given to family members who possess neither the maturity or the responsibility needed to manage them, we will continue to have these “bad seed” incidents and countless more people will die needlessly.

Respectfully submitted.  Feel free to comment here.

Valentines Day

This is what it is all about.  It is about the experiences in our lives that brought us together and continue to bring us closer.  I will forever be grateful that I met this beautiful lady and that she consented to be my wife and that her family welcomed me with open arms.

Belief and Opportunity

So, it is a return to blogging. I know that it has been a while. I also know that I am better when I put things into words.

I have been working with a Network Marketing Company for year. I have done very little. Most of the time I follow what is going on, but I do very little. Oh, from time to time I get somewhat involved. The truth of the the matter is that I don’t believe. The question is “what don’t I believe?” I know the company is great. I know the product is good…everybody already uses it. Then, what don’t I believe in. It has to be me.

I have noticed that most people who do really well in this company are teachers. I have made my living as a teacher. Why then would I doubt my ability now? The truth is that I shouldn’t. It has been proven over and over again that my passion is what moves people. Today, I took a big step. Tomorrow, I will take another.

Lawyers are people too

Ah…people.  They are that form of life on this planet that are capable of so much.  It could be beautiful, artistic, empathetic, self sacrificing and every good quality that you can think of…but, people have and equally darker side.  It could be evil, devious, narcissistic, ugly and every form of evil that you can think of as well.

There are far more subtle and specifically human characteristics that are part of this human condition.  Laziness and carelessness come to mind.  I know.  I am a human and I have found myself in this condition.  When I am guilty of this, it means that I am not living up to my potential…and this is sad.  I do want to improve in this area.  I have every intention to get right to it.

The sad thing is that when I found the need for an attorney years ago, I thought that meant I bought perfection.  I never did consider the title of my blog post today.  It would appear that the time that has lapsed during the time of our relationship had a real effect.  Life, it appears, moved on while my legal problems stagnated.  In typical human life fashion the delay led to several more related legal issues…and they all have to do with money.

From my perspective, this can easily be attributed to laziness.  I know that he’s not working on my case as it should have been disposed of years ago.  The problem is that I neglected to remember that I am part of that team.  I am not able to understand legalese so when the friendly process server showed up at my door, I took the piles of paper and delivered them to my attorney and was confident that it would be handled.  Over the past few days, I have found that not to be the case.

Apparently, an overzealous attorney on the opposite side of the table took an action that “should not have been taken” and now my entire family is financially paralyzed.  Additionally, my daughter has had her entire life savings taken from her in an indiscriminate money grab.  Since I have my own attorney, I can’t talk to her, and by her I mean this faceless individual representing “the other side”.   I have to believe what my attorney is telling me and as of late that is very difficult.

So, from this date on, I am on the same level.  I know that their weaknesses are my weaknesses and their flaws are my flaws.  Out of love and dedication to my family, I am emboldened.  It is time to pick up the baton and direct this ensemble and create a harmonious resolution.  I hope you’re ready.  Rehearsals begin right now.

Fitness Find

So I was thinking about fitness today.  I have been disappointed because of my lack of progress in this area.  It is perhaps because I don’t do it regularly.  Then I began to think about the word and applying it to every area of my life.  Of course, the first thing that I thought of was financial fitness.  Now I have studied the Law of Attraction but I don’t think that it works this way.

After my long bike ride, I stopped at Starbucks to get an ice coffee and relax before finishing the ride home.  As always, I found a table with two chairs so that I could put my foot up.  As I moved the chair, I saw a nickel staring up at me, heads up.  It looked kind of old and I thought about leaving it alone, but my grandmother who used to collect coins taught me 2 things.  One was that heads up is good luck and the other is  that the older the coin the more likely it may be worth something.

I grabbed it and it said 1942 which I instantly recognized as a wartime nickel.  I flipped it over and it had the letter P above the Monticello.  This means that this coin contains silver.  I went online and found that it is worth 95 cents in its current condition.  That’s almost 20 times its face value.  This got me thinking…how many  other things do we take at face value without exploring a little deeper?

I think that I will explore and see what I can find.  Perhaps my own value has been only “face value”.  A little consistent effort on my part and maybe, just maybe the fitness find of the day will be financial fitness and maybe a whole lot more.