Saturday, July 30, 2011

Honest Joe

On any given Saturday morning spring through fall, weather permitting, as you travel east on the main drag through town, you’ll notice a large hand painted sign on the left. "Honest Joe"*. To the unaware the place looks like any other yard sale. A front yard studded with old ladders, tables filled with stuff, and a friendly guy with a waist bag full of change, ready to say hi.

Actually, "Joe" runs what we call a "perpetual yard sale". Now, I have no problem with someone emptying out his attic, or Grandma’s cellar for that matter, but this guy is hard core. He goes from place to place dickering with unsuspecting yard sale sellers to buy up their wares. I imagine him chuckling into his borsch as he resells what he acquired, at jacked up prices. He can get away with it because he has a great location with lots of parking. It’s perfectly legal and all that, as he’s feet outside the borough’s limits. But it sure looks like a commercial venture on residential property.

Our first summer in the area, I hit his sale, (thinking it was the real deal), and was astounded at the prices he asked. Better than antique stores, but out of my league. After spotting him there every weekend, I realized the ladders were solidly sunk into the front yard soil. Yet because he is still selling seventeen years later, with some variation in table merchandise, I suspect it is profitable.

Is the bohemian in me secretly envious of a guy who can make a buck from other people’s discards? Can yard sales really be considered a commercial venture? The fellow has to eat. It’s not like he’s robbing banks. I have friends who trash pick and erratically resell for side money. Are any of them any different? What about the two guys in their Beverly Hillbilly truck collecting scrap metal early trash day morning? Or us picking up squashed aluminum cans off the road during evening walks? Isn’t it only a matter of degree?

Really, I don’t know.

Our state requires kids to fork over taxes on their earnings no matter what their age or amount, even if it costs more to process the tax than what they owe. One baby sitting eleven year old sent her taxes in cash. The revenue people had to close down shop and count it with a witness present. Well if "Joe" really is an honest Joe, he’s paying his fair share, most likely by check. So should I begrudge his efforts to stabilize government, keep stuff out of landfills, and promote the entrepreneurial spirit? No. I think my nose is out of joint because he talked me into selling him four wooden chairs for $20. I thought I’d given them a good home. Afterwards a neighbor whispered to me, "They aren’t for himself, he’ll just resell. That was 'Honest Joe'".

*His name has been changed.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Heart to Heart

Benny Goodman played the Philadelphia Academy of Music around 1973. A bunch of us impoverished jazz fans took seats in the nosebleed section. He was fifteen minutes late and we mortified the rich furred and fluffed front seaters by stomping our feet and chanting, "We want Goodman, we want Goodman". An old man came on, eyeglasses glinting in the stage lights. As he played, his bones unstiffened, the music pulsed up, golden, fluid honey. Then poof, too soon, it was over. We pounded for encore after encore. The rich folk had drifted out way before the final, "Sweet Georgia Brown". The die-hards craved more. By jingo we wanted our seven bucks worth! Goodman moved off stage as music’s afterglow still lingered in the air. We got up without speaking and left.

Friends consider me a bit of a Luddite. Raised with classical music and jazz at home, I never got into contemporary rock, blinking before it like a bewildered cave dweller in the sunlight. As a kid, I’d sit for hours listening to Tchaikovsky’s stretched and mournful Pathetique. By bits and pieces though, it came. The Beatle’s hauntingly beautiful Norwegian Wood. That tight a capella riff in the Beach Boy’s Sloop John B, so lovely you could cry. There was music in there. Good stuff that reached in and grabbed you by the tonsils.

Listen for it in today's music. Every once and a while they get it too. From their heart to your heart.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Pearls Before Swine

There was this blog see, and I really liked the writers on it... I entered into what at first seemed an online, thoughtful debate on a theological issue I was reevaluating. Tithing. The “other side” seemed intelligent enough and willing to talk. I was fairly certain of the truth of a particular practice, but a chance comment by someone I highly respect, made me realize they held to the other perspective.

Well if I was wrong, I wanted to repent.

So after holding back from the discussion I entered in, sketching out possible biblical lines of reasoning from both sides. There were two men on this forum, (not the writers), playing tag team with all comers. At first there was some interaction with modest respect on the other side. I waited. One was rather emotional and used Paul’s suggestion to the Judaizers rather freely. So I addressed the other man who sought to reason from the scriptures. His thinking did not hold up under scrutiny though. There were gaps, and when he used a source outside of scripture to make a point, (some historical item from a fellow I was unfamiliar with), I suggested the bible was sufficient, at least we both have our bibles to look at.

Taking the same scriptures the Bible Guy used, I diligently took them apart and could not come to his conclusions. They were interesting enough, but not as clear to me as they were to him. The Yelling Guy entered the discussion, basically calling down God’s judgement, misquoting my previous posts, and accusing me of the very things he was guilty of. So I told him he was wrong. Then BG zipped in and ripped me personally to shreds. Point weak. Talk louder. So I told BG he was contentious, and the discussion was over. The sad thing is, there has to be some solid thinking on the other side.

But I still don’t know what it is.

Friday, May 27, 2011


When you have to make a choice and don't make it, that is in itself a choice.
- William James

Up until this year, our youngest simply waved textbooks over his head and the contents sucked in by osmosis. That doesn’t work anymore. So I confronted him with putting effort into his subjects. He justified coasting, “Why bother? Will I ever really need algebra?” I gave him possible scenarios and his eyes glazed over.

"Your education is like a funnel, the less you learn now, the narrower your choices become later. It diminishes your capacity to understand more complex issues. It reduces your learning/studying strategy options."

I hope that sinks in.

He’d like to take Latin instead of Spanish, but if his grades don’t improve, he’ll repeat Spanish 1. Right now the world is open to him, full of promise.

Learning the hard way seems like such a waste of time.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

You Know It’s Really Spring When...

It’s 61 degrees outside and drizzly. The trees are in fairly full leaf, that impossible to paint very green, too much yellow color. Mourning doves nest under the back porch. A cardinal couple flit around the house. Goldfinches dart to and from our neighbor’s thistle feeder. Robin males sing their love-struck hearts out.

Dirt comes alive with creatures, smelling like the dirt of childhood, and pollen dusts everything yellow.

The annual batch of dandelion wine bubbles lazily on the counter, along with an exotic experiment, violet wine. The dandy is solid, slightly sweet, herbal stuff, in a wonderful bright yellow. A country bumpkin brew. The violet is a fragile, heady, sweet wine, with a pinky amber tint. An ancient drink of Caesars.

Our garden is in, and properly fenced. Beans pop through the soft earth. Tomato plants dig in and reach up. Potatoes unfurl their dark green leaves. Narry a glimmer of carrots or spinach, and the basil stands limply. But we’ll see. With a black thumb, any positive result is a gift.

A ring necked rabbit longs for her way in, as she nibbles yard greenery. I talk to her every morning, touting the nutritional advantages of dandelion leaves. No dice. It’s like suggesting Attila the Hun show mercy. The markings nail her as a fifth generation descendant of the carrot and bean desecrator, Bunzilla. Cute, but sneaky. Very, very sneaky.

Other new beginnings. Our first born graduated college this week and hopes to plunge into the real world. A job. A car. Jazz drum lessons. A new kit. Surprise! You’re off the dole kiddo, onto responsibility, time to pitch into the household. The younger one dabbles with the idea of summer work now that he's 15, but hasn’t moved an inch. If he doesn’t get cracking, we know people who’d be more than happy to hire him for yard work. Besides keeping him flush, manual labor is a perfect remedy to “I’m bored.”

Everything indicates spring has arrived in the mid-state. What about your neck of the woods?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Let the Buyer Beware

Good things can be used to cloak sneaky practices. So be on the alert when you shop.

Buy One, Get One. Inflated prices can make this deal no real deal. Check out generics or coupons or another store on similar items. If you keep a price book, all the better, as you really know when the deal is an honest one.

Free with shipping and handling. Like when I took advantage of redeemed “points” from a credit card to get “free” small light weight stocking stuffers that ended up costing me $4.99 S&H a pop. Totally not worth it. If they don’t clearly list the S&H, watch your wallet.

After rebate pricing. Some rebates are nearly impossible to collect on. Complex procedures, tight deadlines, small print, all lower your chances of actually getting the cost break. Also beware of getting a “gift card” or “debit card” rebate with short expiration dates instead of actual cash. Will you actually use it?

Pricing with a “99 cent” suffix. Zeros scare us. That 99 cents on the end makes us think we’re getting a better deal.

The package looks the same but the contents shrink. 16.9 oz. peanut butter, 1.5 quart ice cream, 5 oz. tuna all show creeping inflationary pricing.

Adding an ingredient to a soon to expire patented name brand medication, renaming it, and continuing to charge high prices. All the while a generic of the original is considerably cheaper.

Buyer’s reward cards. Giving you 10 cents off per gallon of gas when you buy $100 worth of stuff is not a good deal. So if your tank holds 16 gallons you save $1.60. Big whoop. Our huge chain grocer does this trick and their prices are consistently higher than the local mom and pop chain.

And one of my personal least favorites. A coupon for $1 off 2 or 3 which when calculated, still doesn’t bring the price down to anything comparable.

The sad thing is people fall for these tricks all the time. Don’t be one of them.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

God’s Hand

Sometimes it’s as if your prayers bounce off a bronze sky. Slow and tedious going. Conversions of family members, jobs, grades, overwhelming projects. Then out of nowhere you ask God for something, maybe not even verbalizing it, and “POOF” it’s answered to overflowing.

We got a phone call from our first born. His girlfriend wasn’t able to stay with her housemate, as the home was being sold sooner than expected. She needed a place until she got an apartment of her own. "Well", I said, "she can have the sunroom".

Imagine being in an already slightly cluttered space, sleeping on an air mattress, surrounded by your worldly goods in boxes and black plastic garbage bags. Far from adequate. But she’s been a trooper about it.

Anyhow, back to the answered prayer part. She has no kitchen stuff or furniture. A lady at church died recently. As the home was being sold and the contents cleared out, her sister offered us whatever we wanted. My sweetie went to the books of course, and found a few gems to add to his already overflowing shelves. I thought about our guy’s girlfriend and brought back a set of dishes, glassware, and some cookware. She returned from classes, took one look at the stash laid out on the dining room table and said, “That’s the pattern my mom used to have.” and gave me a big hug. Then someone on freecycle offered yard sale leftovers. That yielded blue sheets, (her favorite color), other bedding, tupperware, and a personality filled stuffed rabbit. A friend emptied out her mother-in-law’s place and set aside flatware and kitchen cooking utensils. Yet another freecycler offered a crock pot. It’s a glorious thing to observe so many things coming together in such a short amount of time.

I’m excited to see what’s next.