50 Shades of gray

As I get older I find that I’m becoming a contrarian. Well, I suspect I’ve always been one, I’m just becoming even more of one.

When everyone goes left, I go right. Whenever everyone goes right, I go left. It’s that way with big and little decisions

Here’s what I mean:


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Barcelona on my mind

backpack-1482611_640The leather strap first caught my attention. I next noticed the intricate flower design cut into the side of the handbag. We had been walking down Las Ramblas, the tree-lined 1.2 kilometer pedestrian street in Central Barcelona for only a few minutes but I had promised my wife that I would bring her back something special from the trip. Spain is famous for its homemade leather products, including wallets, belts and shoes so the handbag jumped out at me right away.

When I attempted to ask the the woman manning the kiosk about the price of the handbag with the little bit of Spanish I still remembered from high school and college, she gently rolled her eyes, gave me a mischievous smile and told me in the in the best Queen’s English that the handbag would be priceless to the right person.

She went on to compliment me on my exquisite taste and extolled the craftsmanship of the handbag maker. We went back and forth for a minute or two, but I inevitably ended up passing on the bag. I was looking for a different style of bag and her asking price, as I suspected, was too high. However, the woman and I continued to talk for another five minutes with a familiarity that surprised me. She joked with me that I looked like a shorter Harry Connick Jr. — she obviously needed glasses, my wife will get a good laugh at that one — and in a motherly tone, warned me to watch out for the hordes of people and the occasional pickpocket in the street. While relatively safe, Las Ramblas still has its share of pickpockets who feast on the tourists wandering aimlessly up-and-down the street.


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Never give up, great things take time

I like to play Chess with my son. I’m a novice and he’s a much better player than me, but I still like to play him. I like the ebb and flow of the game and how you need to be thinking two or three moves in advance. I find too that it’s a great metaphor for life.

My son will inevitably take the early lead. He’ll take a couple of my pawns and then he’ll get my Bishop or Knight. He’ll get a big devious smile on his face and he’ll start to rub his hands together. He can’t wait to throw his arms in the air and scream out to anyone who’ll listen that he “owns me” or some other boastful claim.

Fortunately for me, I’ve been around the block a time or two. He’s the better player than me no question, but I know a thing or two that he doesn’t. For example, I know that a few early losses doesn’t mean the game is over. I know too to be patient and to see the game through to completion. I’ve won more than my rightful share of games by simply following this strategy.

In short, I’m resilient.


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Back to the future: A History lesson

My friend sitting in the desk to my left would first start to blink repeatedly a couple of times in a row. His head would start to sag to the side and he’d shake it in an effort to wake-up, but soon enough he would be fast asleep.

I, on the other hand, would be on the edge of my seat, excited, and focused intently on the teacher’s stories.

Whether it was elementary school or middle school History, I couldn’t get enough. I wanted more.


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Giving it the college try

I have a complaint.

In the second episode of the fourth season of the TV drama The West Wing, Josh Lyman, White House deputy Chief of Staff, and Toby Ziegler, White House Communications Director, are stuck in a hotel in Indiana  and they come across Matt Kelley, a father, who’s concerned about how he’s going pay for his daughter’s college tuition.

Kelley has just taken the daughter to visit the University of Notre Dame and she’s fallen in love with the school. He says she’s so excited about seeing the school up-close that she’s not going to be able to get to sleep. He nurses his frustration and worry over a beer in the hotel bar.

“It (college) should be hard,” Kelley tells the two White House staff members. “I like that it’s hard. Putting your daughter through college, that’s a man’s job, a man’s accomplishment. But it should be a little easier. Just a little easier, because in that difference is … everything.”


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They lied to us

The world’s leading doctors and scientists lied to us, blatant, exaggerated lies.

First they told us that a glass of wine a day was good for us, then they said it was bad for us and then back again. You’re not sure what to believe.

Case in point: doctors have long told us that adults shrink as they get older. One study I saw stated that we start shrinking as early as 30. Women can gradually lose about two inches, men an inch between the ages of 30 to 70.

And that would be wrong. Oh I believed the lie like I’m sure you do. However, I have seen the light.

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On the campaign trail, there’s lies, damn lies, and then Donald Trump-sized lies

My mother was wrong.

She taught me that you should always tell the truth and think before you speak. If you didn’t know an answer, you didn’t make one up. And while gossip and rumors are all around us, you should try your best to not repeat outside of the house what you heard, lest the next rumor be about you.

I know that that all bets are off when it comes to politics and seeking out the truth. They have about as much in common as me and Michael Jordan on the basketball court, but I’ve learned in recent weeks that my mother was flat out wrong.

Bold statements and lies, despite what you might think, are actually good. Who knew?

Lies, lies and more lies

My mother was wrong. You don’t need all your facts. Just say what’s on your mind. Think someone’s a jerk, just say it. Think a particular ethnic or religious group is the root of all problems, then get it out. The facts don’t matter. What matters is speaking “the Truth.”

If the person you called a nasty name gets mad at what you say, look shocked and with all the bravado you can muster, say that you’re just speaking your mind. You’re speaking on behalf of the little guy. And then the pièce de résistance: Go on the offensive and say that you’re offended that they’re offended by your original remark.

The politician of the future and the new world order

Think I’m crazy. Here’s just a small sampling of Trump’s communication plan in action. Last week, Trump went off on George W. Bush’s administration for starting the Iraq War, stating that “they lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction. There were none.”

When pressed for details days later, Trump stepped back from his comments, saying: “I’m not talking about lying. … Nobody really knows why we went into Iraq.”

My natural inclination is to ask: Which is it? But in this new world order, the truth just doesn’t matter. It gets better. On Thursday, Trump was in a huff that Jeb Bush didn’t return his call. Classless on Bush’s part, probably. However, Trump called Bush everything but a buffoon for the past six months. Um, I wouldn’t want to talk to you either.

Now George W. and Jeb deserve everything they got from Trump. They’ve been around long enough and walked over enough people that I shed few if any tears for them.

So my mother was wrong. Or was she? There’s a part of me that understands Trump’s appeal in giving it to the establishment. He’s found a way to put into words the worries and concerns that everyday folks have in today’s society.

In the end, I want my leaders to lead. I want them to lead on fact, not a statement they made up the previous day. I want them to believe in what they’re saying and come with real plans, not just broad statements.

Back it up please

I also want them to not lie. For example, I call myself a Christian, but I could care less if Trump attends weekly Bible study. I’d like it, but I’m more concerned that my president be a moral leader. God knows I have my faults, I certainly expect that Trump or any of the other candidates to have their own.

However, don’t try to convince me that you’re a bible-thumping evangelical one day, and then the next get confused referencing Second Corinthians or get into a fight with the Pope, calling him the closest thing to a thief and a liar.

What do I expect of my president. I expect him or her to look at the facts. Research the facts some more. Surround themselves with smart people. And then build strong believes based on those facts. And then and only then speak up.

In short, say what you mean, mean what you say.

Unfortunately, that’s just never been Trump’s way. He has a few good ideas, but he fails to surround his ideas with real plans and makes a mockery of the process. He’d much rather make a Reality TV splash than serious significant change. What’s next “The Presidential Campaign: The Reality Series.”

Excuse me, but I’ll pass.

That’s not fair!

Life isn’t fair.

It’s one of those simple, but enduring lessons that we all have to learn at an early age. Johnny gets two pieces of candy and you only get one. “Aw, hang in there. Next time, you’ll get two.” Next time comes around and the parent, teacher, friend, whomever, forgets to start with you.

For whatever reason, I’ve always been that kid or now adult crying out or even whining “that’s not fair.”

When I was still in the womb and it came time to line up for the “fairness gene,” I went through twice and quite possibly a third time. I get riled up by the littlest injustices and inequalities; it’s rooted deep into my personality.


And unfortunately, I can never just let something be. I have to point it out.

I’m fully aware that I probably should have gone into law or some other profession that would allow me to better fight for productive change. But that wasn’t to be. In any event, here’s a few of those annoyances — some big things, other very minor — that have risen to the top of my pet peeve list lately:

Playing politics

Within hours of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell attempted to put off the naming of a Supreme Court successor, stating that the position should not be filled until the American people have spoken and we have a new president in office.

I understand why the Republicans would like to wait. I’m certainly no fan of President Barack Obama. And yes, I find it revolting that Obama who called for a McConnell-like move when the roles were reversed, is now expected to name a nominee in a few weeks. However, McConnell’s call rings hollow to me. It frankly smells like swarmy politics.

The people have already spoken. They spoke when they re-elected Obama by a margin of five million votes on November 6, 2012. I may or may not like the outcome of that vote, but he was given the job to lead the country until January 20, 2017. Not February 13, 2016, but right up until January 20, 2017.

In President George W. Bush’s final year in office, he encouraged Congress to enact the $700 billion Emergency Economic Stabilization Act to bail out the housing and banking industries. While certainly controversial, no one stated that Bush should hold off lobbying for the bailout until the next president was in office.

Supreme Court nominations rest with the president and President Obama should be allowed to fulfill that responsibility.

Party politics stink

Of course the other party is just as crooked. I’m annoyed that while Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have generally been neck-and-neck with actual votes, Clinton now has a sizable super-delegate lead.

After the first two contests of the primary campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire, Sanders held a a 56-42 percent lead nationally. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t win where it counts — the race for super delegates. Some states award their delegates based on each candidate’s percentage of the vote, while others simply award their delegates to whoever finishes first.

In real terms, this has meant that Sanders leads Clinton in the tally for delegates 36 to 32. She however had won where it counts with 98 percent of the super-delegates. She “earned” 362 super delegates to Sander’s 8, putting her in a commanding overall lead.

I get that the parties are all about following the hot money and who is going to win in the general election, but let’s stop calling it a Democratic process, because that certainly doesn’t resemble the people’s vote.

Excuse me, make way for Mr. Big Shot

Of course, it’s not just politics that cause my fairness meter to go off the deep end.  I’ve been driving a lot lately and as my luck would have it many of the roads that I travel have construction. While challenging now, I remind myself that someday my commute will be improved, maybe even lessened.

In the meantime, however, I have to live with road-rage infested drivers and the problems they create. Without fail, I seem to come across impatient drivers everyday who think that the idea of everyone merging from two to one lane is for everyone . . . but them. They’re special. The rules of the road don’t pertain to them. They get to make their own rules.

I get that traveling can be taxing. I get too that sometimes you’re late and need to get to work or school or whatever, but do we really need to drive on top of the bumper of the guy in front of you or wait to the very last moment to merge. Really? Is that aggressive behavior really necessary?

I must not understand the rules of the road. I must be missing out too on the important people that I’m traveling next to on the highway. Obviously.

Are good manners too much to ask?

Of course, as a father nothing bothers me more than when I feel one of my children deserves some recognition from a teacher, coach, or some type of authority figure and they’re not getting it.

I’m not a helicopter parent. I don’t give my kids praise they don’t deserve. They need to work for it, but when they’ve worked hard they shouldn’t be treated bad just because someone has authority over them.

For example, one of my boys came home dejected the other day because he did poorly on a test and his teacher marked an answer wrong that he actually thought he got right. My son generated the courage to ask why the problem had been marked wrong. The teacher ended up giving him points back on the test, but gave only half-hearted feedback and certainly no apology for marking the question wrong in the first place.

I know all to well that the teacher’s job is thankless and I wasn’t counting on the teacher getting on their knees to apologize. I would have liked some recognition, however, for my son’s efforts to take the problem home over night and research the answer, learn from his mistakes, and make the best of a bad situation.

None of that happened.

One more injustice to fight.