Saturday, March 28, 2020

Chapter 19- Smooth Charlie

(As always if you are new to the book here are links to the earlier chapters, Chapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3 Chapter 4Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9 and Chapter 10, Chapter 11, Chapter 12, Chapter 13, Chapter 14, Chapter 15, Chapter 16, Chapter 17, and Chapter 18 ).

“Julie, I have that architect on the phone again.” came the voice on the speaker phone.

“How many times is this guy going to call? Go ahead and put him through.” She took a deep breath and then smiled and tried to sound polite. “Hi James, you call to tell me you finally agreed that the design you submitted will collapse the very first time there is 2 inches of snow.”

“Very funny. I actually called to warn you.”

“Warn me?”

“The guy whose cabin we have been working on is on his way over.”

“On his way over?”

“I told him, what you told me, that we would need to add that support in the front room and he said he wanted to talk to you. I told him we could call you but when he saw how close your office was he decided to head over there. My guess is he will be there any,” a beep took out his last word indicating another call, it was the front desk.

“Thanks for the warning,” Julie said before switching to the other call, “Send him up.”

“Oh, I guess you’re expecting him. He’s on his way.”

A few moments later and a man was standing in her doorway. As far as attractiveness goes this man was found lacking. What he lacked was a warning that should have followed him, warning all females that they were about to discover that Brad Pitt didn’t look as good as they thought. No this man had it all, 6’ 2”, dark, thick, wavy hair, a gruff shadow that was no beard, but well past 5 o’ clock, and a build that a Greek God would have been jealous of. Was he perfect? Of course not. Julie knew that perfection did not exist and this man was no exception, for a quick glance revealed a rather odd looking mole on his forehead.

“Hello Sir. Can I help you?” Julie said as she stood.

The stranger waved his hand near his face, catching in mid air the mole as it flew away from his now perfect face. “Julie? Um… I’m Charles Straton. You are working on my cabin.”

“Yes, I am familiar with the project.”

“Um… I ..ah.. Wanted to talk to you about it.”

“Yes, go ahead.”

“I guess I didn’t expect you to be, well I expected something else.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well first of all, your names on the plans are J. Smith P.E. and well…”

“I see, you didn’t know I was a woman.”

“Yes, but that's not the biggest thing. You’re supposed to have glasses and a pocket protector, maybe slightly overweight.”

“Am I,” Julie responded. “So, now that you see me as my true self, do you still want to talk or do you need me to go put on a pocket protector before we begin?”

“I guess we can talk but I am finding it much harder to say what I had planned.”

“Why is that?” Julie was loving this. She loved being a woman in a man's field especially when she was able to catch them in their surprise.

“I guess it is just that I planned to have it out a bit with you and I think it would have been easier if you were, well, how I envisioned you, and not as you are. It’s hard to have it out with an attractive woman.”

Blushing a bit she responded, “You will find me very capable of holding my own. Let me have it.”

“Well, you asked for it, here I go. That support you want right in my main room is uglier than the person I pictured you to be.”

“If that was your prepared speech, you might want to spend more time at the drafting board.”

“Forget the speech, what about the support. You are an engineer, figure out how to hold up my house with just the main beam, can’t you just make it bigger or something.”

“Yes, it would need to be about twice as deep...and steel. Which may take away from your mountain rustic look.”

“Well then, we need to come up with something else. I don’t want a support in the main room.”

“I thought of several other options but your architect wasn’t interested.”

“I’m all ears.”

“If we moved this wall in,” she said, pulling out a set of plans, “you could expand the other portion of the room. It would open up the kitchen and give you just as much space overall. I think it would also improve your view out the main window, but I haven’t been up there to check.”

“We can change that. It’s about an hour away, let’s go.”


“Sure. I don’t want my engineer making decisions about what my view will be if she doesn’t even know what the views are,” Charles said.

“I do like to see the proposed sites but you’d be amazed how often it’s not in the budget.”

“It’s my project and it’s in my budget.”

“Well, okay. I think I can shuffle a few things. Let’s go.”

And before she knew it she was sitting next to Charles on her way to Mt. Charleston. Julie had never been one for fancy cars, she liked practical vehicles but she had to admit there was something to the way one felt sitting shotgun in Charles’s Porsche 911.

“So how does a gorgeous girl like you end up signing their name with the letters PE after it?”

“I was good at math and engineering, just made sense.”

“I noticed a ring, what does your husband do? Is he a nurse or a school teacher?” Yes, much of what Charles said was borderline sexist, or maybe way across the border, but something about how he said it didn’t really bother her. She had always been opposed to people getting away with things just because of their looks, but...he looked so good.

“No, turns out my husband is a marriage counselor.”

“Wow. That has to be the worst.”


“Is he always analyzing everything you do? Or does he ever ask you how you feel?”

This question actually stung Julie more than she expected. She knew what he meant, after all, if he did always ask her how she felt it would be really annoying. But the truth was, while she didn’t doubt that he from time to time did ask his clients how they felt, he had never, ever asked her how she felt. And despite liking Byron a lot, she had never really expressed that to him. The question reminded her that, in part, it was because he had never asked. She did not want to look like an unstable individual but as the thoughts ran through her head she was literally holding back her emotions as she said, “No, he doesn’t.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to insult your husband or bring up anything I shouldn’t.”

“No, it’s fine. I guess, like all relationships, mine and my husbands, is complicated.”

“Well I know you can handle complicated, at least I hope you can, because I want the most beautiful cabin in Mt. Charleston, no matter how complicated the design has to be.”

This was a perfect chance to get back onto work and they continued discussing the cabin until they pulled up onto a vacant lot that sat on top of a beautiful vista in Mt. Charleston. After months of only seeing buildings, dirt and a few cactus plants the view Julie now got to enjoy was amazing. The temperature was a perfect chilly 65 degrees, much nicer than the 97 degrees they had left down in the valley. Pines reached up to a clear blue sky in every direction, except for a small clearing of meadow with wild grass and wildflowers that sat directly in front of the patch that had been cleared for the cabin. Across the small valley carved by the small stream that ran through the canyon was a jagged snow capped peak. “I do not get up here nearly enough.” whispered Julie to herself as she took a deep breath of cold air.

“Me neither.” Clearly Charles had heard her. “But you are going to solve that by getting my cabin back on track. So, let’s figure out if you can get me the best view possible and avoid any pillars in my living space. They pulled out the plans and began to place rocks and branches how the cabin was to be laid out.

“See if we turn this wall slightly and bring it in about three feet, we can move this wall out a little, giving you a larger dining space, and you will be perfectly aligned to see a bighorn sheep crest over that mountain just as the sun sets behind the peak in the evening.”

“You have me convinced, let’s do it,” Charles said.

“I thought it might work out for the best.” Said Julie as she rubbed her arms. She was not prepared for the cooler weather.

“Here I have a jacket in the car.” Charles said as he opened his car and pulled out a leather jacket. He dropped the much too large jacket over Julie's shoulders.

“Well now that we have the issue solved. Maybe we better get heading back.” Julie said.

“Seems like a waste to get all the way up here and only spend our time talking about work. Shouldn’t we enjoy ourselves for a minute. Here pull up a chair in my living room and enjoy the view.” Charles said, as he grabbed two stumps that were left behind from some of the trees that had been cleared for the cabin lot. He turned them over in the area where the living room would be and gestured to Julie to sit down.

“I guess I can stay for a few minutes.”

“Plus I want to see if that Big Horn sheep is going to crest over the peak at sunset like you claim,” Charles added.

“Sunset won’t be for a few hours.”

“You saying this view you're trying to convince me is so great, isn’t worth a few hours?”

“I can stay for a little while, not much more.”

“Okay, I’ll take it. So, how long have you been married to Mr. complicated.”

“Why are we talking about my marriage?” Julie asked.

“Need to talk about something while we wait for that goat to show up.”

“It’s a sheep, and why don’t you tell me about you? You married, any kids?”

“It’s complicated.”

“That’s cheating, you can’t avoid the issue by using my excuse.”

“Well, if you want to know. No kids and I am currently in the market as it were,” Charles said.

“Oh yes the wonderful market. How is it?”

“Much like Netflix, millions of options and none that seem worthwhile. You are lucky to be married.”

“I guess, in some ways.”

“No really, do you know how hard it is to find a decent member of the opposite sex. One who has a stable life, hasn’t been married three times before or isn’t some kind of basket case?” Charles' passion on the subject was clear. “Not only that, I am constantly being set up only to find out on the back end that the person makes Medusa seem sane.”

“I completely understand,” Julie could sympathize with all sincerity.

“You probably don’t even remember what it was like.”

“I have only been married for 3 years, and before my marriage I felt exactly like you did.”

“So, how did you find Mr. right? I suppose you didn’t meet him at his work.”

“You are right there. But if I had that would have been quite a story.” She stopped there and Charles looked down as if to say, go on. She took a deep breath and said, “Um… we met through an ad in the paper.”

“An ad in the paper?” Charles questioned.

“I don’t know why I told you that. It’s weird and the whole situation is weird. I think we better talk about something else.”

“You cannot leave the story like that, you have to tell me now. Come on, what is said on the mountain stays on the mountain.”

“Oh fine, but you don’t tell anyone. I can’t even believe I am telling you. But the quick version is that my husband is a marriage counselor who needed a wife for credibility, so he put an ad in the paper and I responded and we got married.”

“What? That’s a joke right?” He said as he looked over at Julie. “Oh, you’re serious. Wow. I, guess… you were right, that is complicated. You just replied to that ad? Wasn’t that kind of scary.”

“Yes, I wasn’t at a very good spot at that time, and like you said, it’s hard to find anyone worthwhile out there, so I replied. Luckily, Byron was a sensible man.”

“I have to agree with that. Also very practical. Need wife, get wife.”

“Don’t make fun of him. He is a good guy.”

“That’s quite the, ‘how you met’ story. So, has it worked out?”

Julie wanted to say, “Yes. Byron’s great, it’s worked out fine.” But she couldn’t. The thought of her, what she now coined, ‘loveless marriage’ with its never ending two week dates and lack of any physical affection had been on her mind. She longed for something more and as much as she wanted to say it had worked out, all she could do was with a small tear say, “sometimes I am not so sure I made the right choice.”

Charles, unlike Byron, knew exactly when the scene called for physical affection. He reached a long, muscular arm around Julie as she leaned into his chest. She could hardly believe it. She was a married woman, with a client on a construction site cuddling. It was so wrong, but it felt so good. She sat in his warm arms and chest for a moment, but then she thought of Byron. Not only was she married, she was married to a good and decent man. He may not be affectionate but he still always treated her with kindness and respect and at least enjoyed dating her. No, as good as this felt it had to stop, “Charles, I really need to go.” She said as she stood up.

“Oh, okay. I guess that poor sheep will have to do his mountain cresting act without an audience. Shall we?” He walked towards the car and opened the passenger door.

Charles quickly moved back to lighter topics of sports and weather on the way home. He was, as ever, a fun conversationalist and any awkwardness from the evening soon left. Julie enjoyed the conversation until they came near to the office. “It’s getting late, I’d be happy to get you some dinner.”

“No, I better go home.”

“Well, if you change your mind, or just need to talk here’s my number.” He said as he walked her to her car.

“Thanks Charles, but I really need to go home.”

“Okay, but don’t hesitate to call. I mean it.” He said as he walked back to his car with a smile.

She tried to take deep breaths as she saw him drive away. She sat paralyzed behind the steering wheel. Confusion filled her mind. On one hand, Byron was a good man. She kept repeating that. She enjoyed his company, and he seemed to enjoy hers. And they had committed to each other even if it was weird, it was a commitment. On the other hand, she so wanted to feel loved, to hold someone, to be held, the way she felt tonight in Charles's arms. The numbers, his phone number was staring back at her. If she would dial, in a few minutes a gorgeous man in a Porsche would come back into view and she could once again be in his arms. She knew she shouldn’t but she didn’t want to lose the option either.

‘He is a client, so I better save his number,’ she rationalized as she put his contact information into his phone. Once in the phone she again resumed the staring contest but now with the phone and it’s newly held contact information. “Dad” came across the screen as a phone call came in.

“Hey Dad,” Julie said, answering the phone.

“Hey Juju bug, how are you?”

“Just leaving work. What’s up?”

“Well, it turns out your mother and I are going to be back in Vegas in two weeks and we wondered if we could stay with you and Byron.”

“Oh, sure. That shouldn’t be an issue.”

“Is Byron going to be in town?”

“Sure, I think so. I can check when I see him but I assume he will be.”

“You two, doing good?”

“Yeah, we're doing fine.”

“Would you say things have been getting better?” Julie was beginning to wonder what was going on. Her mom had always been very interested in her relationship with Byron but her Dad rarely showed interest.

“I guess so, but I never thought they were bad. Did Byron tell you they were, when you too talked?”

“Oh no, he just mentioned to me you two were dating more and it’s always amazing how much dating helps.”

“What do you mean Dad?”

“Oh, nothing. Byron and I mentioned dating and I told him how I always made sure to take your Mom on a date a couple times a month and it made a big difference in our relationship.”

“A couple times a month? So like, every other week?”

“Yes, that is what your Mom and I do, or did, we probably aren't as good about it as we used to be.”

Suddenly it was all becoming very clear to Julie. It wasn’t because Byron wanted to see her at all. “Dad, did you make Byron take me on dates every other week?”

“No,” He paused, “I wouldn’t say make.”

Julie couldn’t believe it. It was just another business deal. “Dad. You had no right. My relationships are my business, stay out of it.”

Her father heard the phone go dead. “Oops” he muttered as he hung up the phone. 

While he was very unsure what to do next, Julie has no such uncertainty. The contact information was still up and she dialed. “Charles? You still hungry?”

Next Chapter 20

Chapter 18- Going Steady

(As always if you are new to the book here are links to the earlier chapters, Chapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3 Chapter 4Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9 and Chapter 10, Chapter 11, Chapter 12, Chapter 13, Chapter 14, Chapter 15 Chapter 16 and Chapter 17 ).

The doorbell rang exactly at 5:45. Byron stood in the doorway in a slacks, button up and tie.

“Aren't you a little over dressed for a book club.” Julie asked.

“I don’t know. I have never been to one.”

“Well you look nice.” She said as they headed for the car. “Did you read the book?”

“I did.” He said as he opened her car door.

Once he had come around and gotten in she asked, “Well?”

“Well what?”

“Did you like it?”

He smiled. “I’m not sure I’d use a strong word like, like.”

“Okay then did you at least, not hate the book.”

“Yes, I very much did not hate the book.”

“Wait a minute,” She said peering into the back seat. “Is this the book?” She reached back and picked up a book that had a crudely made book sleeve over it, made from a brown paper bag.

“Yes, they made us do that to our textbooks in the 7th grade. A skill I never thought I would need again but it came in quite handy.”

“You remembered how to do that from the 7th grade?”

“YouTube might have helped a little.”

“I can’t believe you were so scared of being seen with a pink covered book that you made a cover for it.”

“It did say in big letters, The Husband Hunt. And it had nothing to do with embarrassment; it was because I wanted to protect your book.”

“Yeah right.” Julie said with a laugh. “Well despite your fear of it’s cover, I am sure you have to admit that the plot was kind of clever. I mean, I would have never thought to reunite 4 old friends at a high school reunion, all desperate and single, and have them make a bet that whomever gets married first will get their wedding paid for. That was a fun premise.

“Fun? I would say more far fetched.” Byron said.

“What?” Julie said in surprise.

“I mean are you really going to bet with a bunch of friends to see who gets married first.”

“I can’t believe you of all people think that it is far-fetched.”

“Why me, of all people?”

“The guy who found his wife from putting an ad in the paper can’t believe in a strange way for people to work at finding their spouse.”

The back and forth continued as they talked about what they liked or disliked about the various characters and the interactions and relationships that followed. Julie was a little disappointed when they came to Becky’s house and knew that their conversation was over. She would have rather just talked to Byron about the book but in they went.

Becky came to the door. “So this is the elusive Byron. Glad you could finally make it.”

“You be nice to him or he will never want to come back.” Julie chided her friend.

“I’m always the pinnacle of kindness,” Becky said.

“Yeah...right.” Julie countered.

“I am just so glad to meet you. I wondered what a man who could land Julie would look like. She had chewed up and spit out so many of the men I set her up with. Then out of nowhere you appear and convince her you are the one in a few weeks. You must be a magician.”

“Okay, that is enough.” Julie responded before Becky could get any response from Byron. They made it the rest of the way into the living room where four couples were all waiting and were introduced to Byron. Byron quickly saw why Julie wanted him to come along to this thing. For her to be the lone single with four couples while they talked about romantic novels was what Webster's would list under, awkward. Byron was amazed she kept coming at all, and was amazed at how supportive these husbands were.

His amazement diminished as he quickly found out that the other husbands attendance wasn’t much more frequent than his own, and as one by one they admitted that they had not read the book. Becky’s husband was the last before Byron and he said, “I didn’t even pick it up.”

Julie with pride and to Byron’s embarrassment said, “Byron read it. And even admitted to not hating it.”

Each of the wives glanced over at their husband to make it clear that they had fallen below the bar and each husband wished Byron had been absent at least one more time. “Well at least one of our husbands cares.” One of the daring wives blurted out.

Byron took the opportunity to fill his mouth with a cracker with some sort of cheese dip on it.

“I am very glad Byron read it,” Becky said, “as a marriage counselor his insights will be most interesting.”

“You’re a marriage counselor.” One of the husbands asked in the same tone he might have asked, “Was it you with the wrench in the library?”

“Yes,” Byron said as he felt any credibility he had with the men in the room evaporate. “But, I don’t know that I have any special insights in this book.” After all, Byron thought this wasn’t exactly an academic book.

“But what about Amelia and Steve’s marriage, do you think it was right for them to divorce in the first place? Do you think you could have saved their marriage?”

“I don’t know that it really makes sense for me to comment on the strength of made up characters marriage.”

“Oh come on, after all, if they were real people then you really wouldn’t want to comment. With them made up, what will it hurt.”

Byron really wanted to avoid any of this but he didn’t want to embrace Julie who was clearly saying with her look, “come on Byron, answer their questions.” So despite the little voice inside his head telling him not to, he went ahead and said, “It was clear from how she wrote Steve that he had depression he needed to deal with and if he had dealt with it appropriately, he could have saved his marriage”

Byron could now hear the voice inside his head again as all the women in the room except Julie each tried to ask him a specific marriage question from the book all at once, it was saying, “I told you so.”

The youngest of the group finally pushed the others down enough to get her question front and center. “So Byron, when (Dolphins man) kept being so kind to her despite her attitude didn’t you just want to stand up and shoot at all the men you meet and say, ‘that is how you should treat a woman, even if she may not be in the best mood or not acting at her best.’” Byron could tell that this question had nothing to do with the book and everything to do with her marriage.

This was made clear when her husband said, “She, whomever the woman was in the book, shouldn’t expect to be treated any better than she treats him.”

The next hour was spent dancing around marriage questions thinly veiled as questions about the book. The husbands were less careful. Likely since they hadn’t read the book and couldn’t veil their retorts.

Luckily, dancing, as Julie now knew, was something Byron was very good at and he actually handled it as well as anyone could expect, and in Julie's mind he had handled it perfectly, until someone asked.

“How long is the right amount to date before you marry?”

Byron was well equipped for this one. He was very strong both in the research of this question and his experience with couples matched what the research showed.

“You should date each other for a least a year before you commit to marriage, if you want to have your best chance at a successful marriage.”

“One year. Didn’t you and Julie get married after only a few weeks?”

Byron had not thought about his particular situation when he had fielded the question. “Well, with Julie and I things were different.”

This was the exact opening the poor abused men in the room had been waiting for. “Sure, all this stuff seems like a good idea or easy to do until it’s your wedding and then things are ‘different’.” Byron did not appreciate the man’s artistic choice to use air quotes around the word different, but realized he made a point.

“So, why were you two so different.” Becky asked. “How did someone who says you should wait at least a year decide a few weeks was enough.

Julie was so impressed with how Byron had done she decided it was time to see if he could get out of a really tough spot. “Actually, he wanted to get married the day we met.”

The audience all gasps a bit as one of the husbands noted, “Mr. Marriage plays by his own rules.” and Byron regained a tiny bit of respect from the portion of the audience with more testosterone.

“Okay, let’s talk about something else,” Byron offered.

“Can’t handle the heat when it’s focus turns to your relationship huh.”

“So, tell us Mrs. Marriage counselor, what is it like to be married to a guy who is an expert on all things marriage?”

Julie did not think this would turn back to her. But with everyone quietly waiting for a response she simply did her best. “Byron’s great in that he never really brings his work home with him.”

And with that perfectly boring response everyone moved on. Byron was happy to hear the next book that was picked had absolutely nothing to do with dating or marriage.

They ate a few more crackers, and started for home.

“You did great in there.” Julie told him as soon as they got to the car.

“Thanks. Do you ever read any books on civil engineering so we can ask you all the questions?”

“Nope, but don’t worry, dating and marriage is only the focus of about 90% of what we read.”

“Very comforting.”

The drive home was even more fun than the drive there. Julie was once again finding herself very much enjoying and hoping that this thing with Byron could work out. She was feeling the same magic she had felt at the Mrs. Goodwin’s wedding but this time she believed that it wasn’t just business or for show. Byron was making an attempt to spend time and get to know her, and the more she got to know, the more she liked. Byron was kind, easy-going, professional, and as she got to know him she was realizing that he was also very attractive. True, he was no Brad Pitt, or Tom Brady, but he was very attractive in his own right. The more she thought about it the more she decided that maybe the time was right to move things along.

“Well, it looks like we are here.” Beginning a sentence with well, was a clear sign that Byron too hoped to move things along.

“I guess it’s your turn.” Julie said, “Do you have an upcoming activity where you need a wife present?”

Byron was in a bit of a bind here. He had been thinking for the last week what he could invite Julie to next. Truth was, he didn’t do group things with married couples. His only friends were single and they were perfectly happy to do activities without his wife along. But what would it look like if he invited her to an activity with just the two of them? The clear choice was a double date with Mrs. Goodman but she was still out of town. One of the joys of marrying a wealthier man later in life was an extremely long honeymoon. He had finally decided he would simply ask her to go to the most boring and bland of all dates, dinner and a movie. But having decided didn’t calm his fears as the moment came. He also wished she hadn’t asked the question the way she had, it seemed to shine a spotlight on the fact that they were going to be alone. “I don’t have anything really specific going on.” Byron began as Julie’s heart sank. “But I thought maybe we could just go see a movie and get dinner, maybe next Saturday.”

Byron had struck the right note. For him to ask her to dinner and a movie, truly the most boring and pathetic of all dates was perfect. It made it overwhelmingly clear that he had nothing going on, no commitment to have his bride with him, rather he was asking to be with her because he wanted to spend time with her. “That would be wonderful,” Julie responded.

Byron was now the one ready to be elated. “Great, then I’ll pick you up Saturday at 5:00 two weeks from today.” He said as he got out of the car and headed to her door. Julie was a little disappointed that the two weeks hadn’t turned into one but she figured, one step at a time, as Byron opened her door. Julie got out, Byron closed the door and now the two just stood. They still had no real established way of saying good bye and neither really felt it was their place to make the move. Byron had far more experience with suppressing his hormones than he had in letting them dictate his actions and at 30 their power to dictate was not what it once was. Julie could see that he was going to be a perfect gentleman and while the side hug might become a face to face hug, she couldn’t expect much more. But if movies had taught her anything it was that even the most perfect gentleman outside can be something very different when invited beyond the threshold. “Do you want to come in for a minute?”

“Sure, that would be great.” Byron said as they headed in.

Once inside they sat next to each other on the couch and continued the conversation. The problem in Julie’s mind was that was all they did. Conversation. Whatever magic thresholds had on every actor in every movie, she could see was not working on Byron. He was as much a gentleman inside as he had been outside. Julie wasn’t sure what he was waiting for. She could have understood if he wanted to claim high morals but that didn’t work, because they were married.

In the end, she did get that hug. It was nice, just like the conversation was but Julie couldn’t help but wonder, “What's wrong with this guy, or what’s wrong with me?”

This date began a wonderful, yet incredibly frustrating, pattern for Julie. Once a month she would plan a fun, often group date, and once a month they went to get dinner and a movie. The more they dated the closer friends they became and the closer friends they became, the more Julie despised that word.

Byron, on the other hand, was as anxious for things to move along as Julie was, he kept saying, next time I’ll kiss her, or next time I’ll tell her, I love her. The only thing common in all his ideas was, next time. And that is how it remained, next time and they both came to accept that perhaps things could work out, even if they were married and ‘just friends.’

Next Chapter Chapter 19

Chapter 17- The Challenge

(As always if you are new to the book here are links to the earlier chapters, Chapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3 Chapter 4Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9 and Chapter 10, Chapter 11, Chapter 12, Chapter 13, Chapter 14, Chapter 15 and Chapter 16)

“Well Pelham.” Byron was preparing to get it all out as they sat in the little booth at the diner.

“You can wait until we order to tell the story. I don’t want to rush you.” Pelham said

This helped Byron relax a little. Which he needed after a long silent drive that only added to Byron’s uneasiness. He wondered what Pelham was going to say once he knew the whole truth, but Byron took solace in the fact that so far, he didn’t sense any anger or judgement in his father-in-laws voice. Byron ordered a standard american breakfast, two pancakes, two eggs and some bacon despite not being very hungry. At a diner for breakfast that is what you were supposed to order, so he did. Pelham on the other hand had his own idea. “I’ll take eight pieces of bacon covered in maple syrup.”

Byron was a bit surprised. Pelham looked about 300 lbs shy of a man who regularly ordered in this fashion. Also, last night he had not only ordered a salad but asked for dressing on the side saying, “they always put too much dressing, gotta watch those calories.” Pelham noted the surprise in Byron’s eyes, and decided he better explain. “Byron, I realized a long time ago that I love two breakfast items, bacon and maple syrup. I also learned a long time ago that keeping my wife happy brings me more joy than what I eat. So, I eat what she wants me to eat when we are together and on the rare occasions I eat out without her, I eat what I want to eat. It’s kept me both married and from turning into a blimp. Win-win.”

“But we didn’t come to this meal to talk about my marriage. We are here to talk about your’s.” Pelham continued. “So, lay it on me.”

“Well.” Byron took a deep breath. “I needed a wife.”

“And why is that?”

“I thought it necessary mostly because some lesser minded people found it hard to take me seriously as a marriage counselor without one.”

“Always a good idea to allow lesser minded people to dictate our decisions.” Byron began to stammer an excuse but Pelham encouraged, “Go on.”

“So, I took an add in the paper asking for a wife.”

“I hope you kept a copy.”


“Scrap book material.”

“I suppose.” This was not going at all as Byron had envisioned. Mostly it was going better. I mean no yelling or anger, just jokes and indifference. He wasn’t sure he liked it. “Anyway, I received several answers but mostly people desperate for my citizenship, or my money. I almost gave up but one of the replies was from Julie.”

“Kind of romantic.”

Byron was not sure if that was sarcasm or not, so kept going.

“Julie said she was tired of the dating scene and being pressured by…” Byron paused, catching himself before he said, ‘her mother,’ and instead said, “others, who thought she should be married.”

“No reason to sugar coat it for me. You think I didn’t notice Barbara calling everyday asking Julie what her last date was, when was she going out again, what about that boy you saw at the grocery store, don’t you even want a family. I kept telling her that Julie wasn’t going to meet someone and get engaged in one day, but it sounds like you might have proved me wrong on that count. Did you get engaged on the first day you met?”

“Um… yeah it was.”

“Well I hope Barbara never finds out. I hate being proved wrong. But I digress, go on.”

“We decided it would help both of us if we got married, so as you know, we did. After the ceremony we went our separate ways.”

“So you have been totally separate from that day until this?”

“She did come with me to my secretary's wedding a few weeks ago, because my secretary kept begging me to bring my wife. To pay Julie back I agreed to be there this weekend when you came to town.”

“I see, so you married my daughter, simply to further your career?”

“I don’t know that I would say, simply.”

“Okay. You married my daughter to further your career.”

Byron realized this did not help his cause. To hear it stated so frankly, by the man who had trusted him with his daughter was painful, and he sat looking as much a dejected heap as the breakfast plate in front of him. Finally as an effort to placate his sense of decency Byron offered, “It was a crazy idea, I should have never done it. But we can get divorced and make things go back to how they were.”

“What?” Pelham shot back so quickly that Byron knew whatever the correct answer was, this was no it. “That ranks up there with your stupid, let me run an add in the paper to get a wife idea. Do you think I want to explain all this to Barbara and have to start to hear her complain about Julie’s dating or lack thereof day and night again? I’d sooner admit to her that I just ordered seven strips of bacon smothered in syrup.”

With this unexpected response Byron felt like his most feared enemy had become his strongest ally.

“No, we must come up with a plan. We mustn't go back to how things were, the phone calls constantly asking Julie if she is going to have kids is bad enough.”

“Kids?” Byron coughed up the only bite of egg he had managed to take. “She asks about kids? What does Julie say?”

“You two are ‘trying’, but clearly not too hard. So, we can remove divorce as an option, what’s your next idea?”

Byron didn’t have any other ideas. Thinking about it he was leaning towards leaving things as they are, but doubted that Pelham would find that much more appealing than divorce. As he tried to see any other possible options, he suddenly realized he was in a marriage counseling session, only seated on the wrong side of the table. The realization came with the voices of hundreds of clients who had said to him, “stay together and leave things as they are, or get divorced, what other choices are there?” He always viewed this as terribly closed minded, but somehow when it was his situation it didn’t seem like such a terribly closed minded thought.

When he was counseling others he always told them that there were hundreds of other options besides those two, and all of them involved the same thing, change. The options they didn’t want to see or think about were the options that would force them to change. He now saw that dear old dad was looking for an option that would force him to change.

He thought of all the magic moments in his office when the client realized that he wasn’t the type of Dr. that simply asked you to pop a pill and pay the bill. No, he was going to expect them to do real work, the hardest work anyone can do, change, become a better person. This realization, at first, always led to the same thing, excuses, and Byron was no different. While he was too scared to vocalize the excuses, his mind was fabricating them with such efficiency that even Henry Ford would have been proud. ‘Why should I change? I’m not unhappy with our marriage. Julie isn’t unhappy. I can’t afford to change, changing would take so much. I have no time, no energy, no way.

He looked up again at Pelham. Weighing in his mind which excuse was best but ultimately said, “What would you suggest?”

Byron had always wondered why his clients took so long to give him such a brief response.

“Well, I think a happily married couple should see each other more than twice every couple of years. Don’t you?”

“How often were you thinking?” Byron was prepared to negotiate.

“We aren't haggling over a used car, how often, in your professional opinion should a happily married couple see each other.”

That sly dog. Thought Byron. He always felt he was the master of asking the right question but he now realized he was but a novice compared to the great Pelham. But two could play at this game, “I have seen military couples have decent marriages who very rarely saw each other.” This wasn’t really true but Bryon assumed there must at least be one out there.

“Fair enough, but would you say at least twice a month is good for anyone not deployed overseas?”

“I guess so”

“So, how often are you going to see Julie?”

Byron had learned along time ago that it was safe to simply repeat the professor. “Twice a month?”

“Sounds good to me. So, it’s agreed you will go out with Julie at least once every other week. Feel free to call me and keep me up to date with how things are going.”

Byron wanted to complain. He wasn’t sure he had actually agreed to anything but as Pelham grabbed the last piece of bacon with a smile, Bryon could see that the negotiation was closed. “Boy, oh boy. Six slices of bacon can really feel a man up.” Pelham said as he sat back in his chair.

“I’m going to have a difficult time explaining to Julie that her Dad is requiring us to date.”

“That is exactly why I recommend you don’t do that.”


“Son, this will work a lot better if Julie doesn’t know, that I know. Any of this, best leave me out of it.”

Byron felt like Pelham had just occastrated D-Day and finished the inspiring speech with, “you boy’s have fun, I’ll be waiting back in the US to hear how things went.”

“So, what do I tell her?”

“I don’t know. She is your wife. But if you really want a place to start, when I want to see Barbara, I usually try something like, ‘hey babe want to go see a movie, or honey, want to try that new Italian restaurant.’ but you are smart, you can come up with your own lines.”

Byron was still in a state of shock trying to process exactly what he had agreed to do and at this point if he could get out of it, when Dad got up and said, “Well, we better go, but I am sure glad we had this chat. I think you’ll do great, Son.” Hearing Pelham call him son was equally awkward for both men, but Byron knew he did it with the best of intentions, and it did serve to trip up his train of thought and while Byron appreciated the gesture he was not sure he could reciprocate.

The ride home was as strange as everything else but only because it was normal. Pelham acted as if their conversation at the restaurant had never happened. He asked Byron about his work and Byron answered in short but not responsive answers. Yes, Pelham was back to just being the same old guy. Byron on the other hand was anyone but his usual self.

His body may have been in the car but his mind was still sitting in the dinner. All he was thinking about is what was he going to do and worse what was he going to say to Julie. While Pelham continued conversation to keep Byron sain he knew that Byron was mulling over what to tell his daughter. Pelham smiled knowing someone was beginning to feel like a married man.

No sooner had Pelham opened the door then Julie jumped up from the couch alert and ready to question them about this ‘bonding time’. The anxiety of her unsuspecting husband without supervision with her cunning father had clearly been wearing on her.

“Oh glad you two are back.” She said with a smile that had no more honesty in it than the rest of the weekend had.

“So dear,” She said looking at Byron, “What did you two talk about?”

Dad knowing that Byron was in no shape to be regurgitating full truths let alone clever part ones, jumped in.

“Darling this husband of yours is quite the guy, he told me all about…” Dad went on to make their ten minute car ride home, most of which Byron was comatose for, sound like a deep, 2 hour conversation all about Byron’s life. Pelham did have to make up quite a bit of it but did so knowing that Julie was unlikely to know any better.

It was clear Pelham was not only a great marriage counselor and negotiator but also quite the actor. What amazed Byron was that he was able to fool even those who knew him best. By the end of his tale Julies nerves were visibly calmed, so much so that she gave Byron an unexpected but very welcome smile as a way to say, “nice work,” It was a look he desperately wished he deserved.

“Well, I hate to admit this but Honey we better get our bags packed and get to the airport, we don’t want to miss our flight.” Pelham said.

“Do you need help with your bags?” Byron asked.

“Oh, we will take a half hour or so to pack, why don’t you two do whatever you do with your Saturday mornings. Julie told us how much you two love to garden together, why don’t you plant a few daisys. You can help me with the luggage once we have it all packed up.

Byron gave Julie a confused look and then together they headed out to the yard.

“Pelham, honey, Julie never told me Byron liked to garden.” Barbara said, “And our bags are already packed.”

“I know,” he smiled as he looked out the window seeing Byron and Julie headed together towards the small garden shed, “let’s go take a nap.”

The ploy to force them to spend time together didn’t help much. Byron and Julie did go out to the garage, but Byron was so distracted with trying to figure how he could meet his commitment he had made to Pelham that he made a terrible conversationalist. By the time they went back to the home to say goodbyes Byron was no closer to solving his problem.

The goodbyes on the front porch would have made leave it to Beaver proud. Everyone was smiling. As Dad went to hug Byron he whispered, “make me proud Son.” This was the first hint that the earlier conversation had even taken place.

“We will see you two love birds later.” Mom explained as she walked to the car. The weekend had clearly left her with no doubt ther her daughter was happy and perhaps more important in her mind, happily married.

Byron and Julie continued to wave as Dad and Mom drove off. When they were safely away. Julie was the first to break the silence. “You can relax, you did great, you convinced them. I don’t know how, walking around like a ghost all day but you did it. Now that they are convinced we won’t have to see each other for a long time.”

This was not the opening Byron wanted but it was an opening nonetheless, “Julie, maybe we should see each other more often.” Byron slowly let out.

Julie looked shocked and checked to see if he was joking, but both the tone and the look was serious so without thinking said, “Why?” by her quick response she could tell he was a bit offended, and she instantly regretted it. The truth was she would love to see Byron more, he had just caught her off guard. Now she worried, was he really wanting to see her more often, did he like her? In an attempt to salvage the situation she joked, “I said it went well, not that well.”

Byron had hoped for a little more positive response but the sarcasm was sufficient to let him know that it wasn’t a total no. “I was thinking , perhaps, it would benefit both of us, if we didn’t need to come up with excuses so often. You could come on the double dates Ms. Whitaker, I mean Mrs. Goodman is always bugging me about and I could come…”

“To my book clubs.” Julie jumped in.

“Yes, I could come to your book club.”

“So we will trade off. I go to one for you and you go to one for me. Another business arrangement.” Julie said with a little disappointment.

“You could call it that.” Byron went on.

While void of any romance, Julie saw that this made sense. “So what are you thinking, twice a year?”

“A little more than that might be nice. Maybe a couple times a month.”

“That seems like a lot, to go from not seeing each other in years to now several times a month. Are you sure you don’t want to do it only once a month? How often do you think book clubs meet?”

Byron didn’t want to have to tell good old Dad he had failed so stuck to his guns. “I think twice a month would be good.”

“If you insist but I go first. I have a book club coming up.”

Byron couldn’t believe it. It had worked. She had accepted. Ever since he had committed to dear old dad that he would see Julie twice a month he had been completely stressed about her response to such a sudden change. With her acceptance behind him he was absolutely elated. “Perfect, you let me know when that book club is and I will be there with bells on.”

“What does that mean?”

“You know, it's a phrase, with bells on.”

“I haven’t heard it.”

“Everybodies heard it.”

“Not me. What does it mean?”

“You know, I’m not sure but I think it means you're excited to go or something like that.”

“You’re excited to go to my book club?”

Byron now realized he might have overplayed his excitement. “Well, I will be there. I’m not sure about the bells.”

After this Byron went back up to Julie's room and gathered his things. The entire time he kept his very peppy attitude. Julie couldn’t help but notice the timing, he had been peppy ever since she had said she would see him more often. Maybe, just maybe, he really did want her around for more than just avoiding excuses. Julie finally asked as they headed out the front door with his luggage, “Byron, what has gotten into you. You were a zombie throughout most of my parents' stay and now you are like a kid on halloween.”

Byron was a little embarrassed but was in a very good mood. “I guess I was so stressed about really getting to know your parents and I am glad that it wasn’t a total bomb. At least I hope you don’t think so.”

“No, it seemed to go really well, thanks for doing it.”

“Well text me all the info on the book club. It will be interesting. I have never been to a book club.”

“You will enjoy it more if you actually read the book. Here I finished it, you can borrow my copy.” She handed him a book with a bright pink cover with an illustration of a bouquet of flowers on it and the title “The Husband Hunt.”

“Is this a joke?”

“You said you would be there with bells on.”

“And I will. I just hope no one sees me with that book. Well, I’ll see you then.”

They both kind of stood there not really knowing how to say, “See you later.” End of dates are always a little awkward, neither party knows how far the other wants them to go. Should you just say, “Well, toodles.” and hop in the car. Do you shake hands? Is a hug too much, or maybe just a little hand squeeze. Truth is Byron wouldn’t have minded even a bit more, but what would Julie think? And the fact that the person is your spouse, which some might think would make this less awkward only made it more so. Finally Byron awkwardly leaned in and did a side hug. “Okay, I better get going.”

“Bye, Byron.”

He drove off. He noticed something about Julie as he drove off in the rear view mirror. She was pretty sure that he had wanted more than just a side hug and truth was so did she. But sensing he wanted more made all the difference and what Byron noticed was, she was beautiful, especially when she was smiling.

Here is a Link to the next chapter, Chapter 18

Friday, March 27, 2020

Yea Bipartisanship! Oh wait?

The US will allocate 2 trillion dollars to stimulate the economy ...

Fear can lead us to do some strange things. I believe fear just led us for the first time in many years to have a wonderful bipartisan moment. One where party's united from both sides of the isle to pass one of the worst pieces of legislation in our history. Another rare bipartisan moment came when not only did both sides of the isle pass this bill but they joined in on spewing hate to anyone who dare speak against it. Stopping the bill from moving forward at break neck speed was tantamount to wanting to kill Grandma and the economy, as we saw when Congressman Massie looked like he might stand in the way by asking Congress to follow procedure.

The obvious reasons to be opposed to this bill all seemed to fade into dust behind the bandwagon. What happened to the anger that fueled the Republican party when they didn't have time to debate or even read the massive Obamacare bill. My guess is if we clocked time to pass versus size, this bill would take the cake. What happened to the mocking conversations of "How will you pay for that?" when Bernie Sanders spoke of Medicare for all. I remember when at least one party used to care about that question, before they bowed and rolled over as soon as it might impact their fearless leaders reelection chances.

But put aside the fact that with this bill Trump will likely exceed Obama's record deficit of $1.4 Trillion by two to three times this year, even if we could afford it, this bill would be a bad idea and here is why.

1. Bad bills lead to windfalls-
We all feel badly for people and companies that have lost jobs and revenue due to the Corona virus situation. We would love it if no one lost any money, but do we want to pass a bill that gives people or a company windfalls? Should any of us walk away from this situation with more money than we would have had if this virus never come because congress passes a bill that hands out tax dollars? I hope we can all answer, a resounding, NO! But that is exactly what will happen with this current bill. This bill contains 3 separate windfalls that are likely to occur.
  •  500 Billion in this bill is for large corporations. While it is not very unclear how the 500 billion put in for large corporations will be distributed you can bet that if there is one group of people who know how to show a loss in order to get a gain big corporations will figure out how. I will never forget when President Obama came out dismayed when he found out that large banks they had bailed out used some of the money for big bonuses for it's executives. Well, if you think something similar this time won't happen you greatly underestimate corporations ability to out lawyer, and out maneuver our politicians. Not to mention when Senator Bernie Sanders threatened to add an amendment that would stop any of the money going to corporations that lay off workers, cut wages or benefits, ship jobs overseas, or pay workers poverty wages, it failed. There is zero doubt in my mind some corporations will end up ahead in this one. This will be a windfall for some of them.
  • Another provision adds an extra $600 dollars for unemployment benefits above the benefit that would extend unemployment to full salary for many workers. Meaning that there are many Americans currently laid off that will make more on unemployment than they did working.  (To who does that sound like a good plan?) There were several Republican Senators that tried to add an amendment that you could not make more on unemployment than when you were fully employed, it failed. That is a windfall.
  • But the biggest windfall is the checks to every American. While many lost their jobs the majority of Americans are like myself, and fortunate enough to be working during this time. I have lost 0 salary or benefits during this crisis, my wife lost 0 and my kids don't cost more, or need more money during this crisis. And many of those who did loose work will get 100% of their pay through the new unemployment benefits. So why do we need to send out checks? It's simply a windfall from this poorly crafted bill.
2. This bill punishes those who did the right things. We want people and companies to make wise and prudent decisions. Yet many provisions in this bill punish those who did the right thing.
  • Save for a rainy day- We want to encourage people to save for events like the one we just had, yet when the government increases the money supply by $2 Trillion dollars in one swoop it dilutes the currency. You can't run these type of deficits without causing inflation and inflation lowers and thereby punishes those with savings. If everytime there is a crisis we try to solve it by passing out money and diluting our currency people will learn that only a sucker saves for a rainy day.
  • Try to hold onto your employees through the hard times- Many businesses try to hold onto employees through hard times because they feel it is the right thing to do. They look like suckers today now that this bill passed. If they would have quickly laid people off or sent them home, they would have held onto more money and the taxpayers would have foot the bill for the time their staff was off.
3. This bill encourages bad behavior.
  • Do I as a business want to rush out and rehire my staff, when I know they are making full benefits and pay at home not on my cost? I don't want to risk bringing them back until I absolutely know they will bring me more profits by being in the office than at home. This will slow rehiring.
  • Do I want to go out and find a new job when I am making full salary, plus even more sitting on the couch? It will lead to the mentality of, "I want my old job to call me back and rehire me, just not quite yet." This is bad, bad for productivity, the economy, and bad for developing people. 
  • This bill furthers the lie that we can have our cake and eat it to. We all want to beat Corona virus. We made a decision that it was worth the sacrifice to slow the economy to beat it and save lives. This bill is trying to say we can stop our economy and have zero sacrifice, maybe even get a little ahead. It's a lie.  It will perpetuate the idea that every inconvenience we face in life should be solved by congressional vote and a presidents signature. 
I am sure there are parts of this bill that are good. I am supportive of breaking the piggy bank to fight this virus. Testing, drug trials, vaccine research, cutting red tape to get these things even faster. That is a good idea, hang the costs. But bailouts with little to no strings, free checks to every American for doing...nothing, 100%+ pay for unemployment, these are all horrible ideas and that makes up the bulk of this bill.

So, what am I going to do about it? For one, I will not be accepting my windfall. I am torn between giving it back to the treasury through my taxes or giving it to a charity of some kind. I know it is mostly a symbolic gesture but I hope you will join me in it. And even more importantly, I hope you will not be rushed away with this bandwagon that somehow all the things we know are a bad idea in our personal lives is somehow good policy because someone like Trump or Pelosi peddle it. 

Here is a rebuttal on this from my Brother (click here).

And here is my Father's view (click here).

Friday, March 20, 2020

Thriving in a pandemic

Image result for pandemic

Right now things are scary and when I’m scared I often find good advice from my wiser, more calm self (I hope I can get the rest of me to listen). So, what I need today is advice to thrive through a pandemic, and here it is:

1. Calm down. I’m not saying this because the situation isn’t serious, or because I know that things are going to get better before they get worse. But no matter which direction things go, I know that I will face it best, if I face it calmly and with a clear head.

2. Don’t sell your stocks in a panic. I am not a genius investor. But I have a decent sense of when things are high and when they are low. They are low now. Are they at the bottom? Nobody knows, that is why they are up 5% one day, down 10% the next. Everyone is guessing the future value of companies when they have no idea if this pandemic will be over within a few weeks, months or years. Everyday investors take a new stab in the dark. Which way the market goes from here is a pure gamble. If you have been on the sidelines it may be a decent time to get in, but if you have ridden this wave down, now is not the time to get out. Fear will lead you to buy high and sell low, not exactly a formula for getting rich.

I remember back when real estate in Las Vegas crashed. I had paid $170,000 for a 1 bedroom condo in 2006. By 2009 that same condo was selling for $35,000 dollars. The common advice of the day was to take a short sale and get out from under it. After all, it would never be worth what you paid for it. I held on. I look back on that being one of the best decisions we ever made. Did I end up selling it for more than I bought it for? No. But I made good rent on that condo for many years and it more than paid for itself. In addition, the lessons that it taught me are worth far more than money can replace, but that will have to be a post for a different day.

3. The government can’t save us. I am not anti-government. After all, I work for the government. But at the end of the day bailouts, checks, and stimulus will not be what saves us. If you think, “if only the government paid for my lost income, or guaranteed me work or…” you name it, you are headed down the wrong path forward. I want good government, and one that does all it can to limit people's suffering in hard times like we are currently entering. This is best done by fighting the disease and cutting red tape related to relief and healthcare. But what makes our country strong is individuals picking themselves up and accomplishing great things. That will happen by individuals pushing, working, motivating, hiring, innovating, not by government bailouts. The government paying us to sit on our couches only incentivices sitting on our couches, it does not create, and in the long run that is what grows the economy. In fact what really needs to happen is:

4. Work, Work, Work. You want to individually thrive during hard times, work like you never have before. When the going get’s tough the tough get going, as the ancient phrase goes. “Easy for him to say,” you might be thinking. He wasn’t laid off. But to the millions who will likely be laid off this time around, I am sorry but the answer to your suffering is work. Work in any way you can. Work to find a new job, work at odd jobs, start a youtube channel, write a book, remodel your kitchen, whatever you do, work.

This time especially there will be millions who lose their job on a temporary basis. It will be tempting to say to yourself, ‘what can I do, but stay at home and catch up on netflix or master debating on twitter, while I wait for them to call me back.’ You may feel getting another full time job is not the best option, since your other job will likely call you back. To this I say, the best creations we all enjoy were built by people who were working on things they didn’t ‘have’ to work on. You working on a side project and really focusing on it could build the next microsoft, write the next harry potter, or create the next great youtube channel. Is that likely? No. Your next great idea is likely to fail. But you will gain skills and knowledge that will benefit and enrich you in new and exciting ways. If you have been given the unexpected and undesired blessing of time off. Don’t sit back, but challenge yourself and create.

The last point I’ll make on this is that you need to control your own destiny. I know that is a total cliche saying, but it’s true. I hate to say this, but thousands if not millions who have been sent home and told they will get called back in 15-30 days may never get that call. All businesses hope that in 30 days their customers will come right back as if nothing happened. For many, they won’t. Sitting hoping on your old company to ride back and save the day is no better than sitting back and waiting on the government. You deserve better, by taking control, and getting to work you will find yourself with more options, no matter what happens in the future.

5. Hire Others. Winner for smartest move in the current crisis goes to Amazon. Rather than panic and wait to see what this will do to their business, they realized they are in a position to both help society and capitalize on making this a growth opportunity. They said they will focus on delivering the most needed supplies, hire an additional 100,000 people and increase wages from $15 to $17 an hour. I could be wrong but I believe history will show that this was beyond genius. They look good, because they are. They expand their clientele as people who need supplies who don’t regularly use amazon (if such people exist) will begin to use them. And when there are lots of talented people laid off looking for work, they are ready to swoop in and get them, and then pay them a wage that will keep them.

But I’m not Amazon, you say, I don’t have a trillion dollar business that can give 100,000 people jobs. That is okay. Do you have a job that you need done around the house or a contractor to fix the landscaping you have been meaning to do? Getting good help isn’t easy, but in the next few weeks your chances of finding a honest, hard working, and talented person to help you with whatever you need is much higher. And likely at a very reasonable price. People need work, and if you can hire them, you and they will likely benefit.

6. Count your blessings then slow down and enjoy them. At times it takes us to lose a little to help us realize we have a lot. Most of us still have our health. We continue to have access to more knowledge, education, entertainment, food, transportation, methods of communication, and healthcare than anytime in history. This is a list of blessings that our society in general enjoys but each of us could list thousands of personal blessings and should.

As noted above now is a time to work like never before but make sure you take time to not only count, but enjoy your blessings. Take a slow walk through the neighborhood after a rain. Enjoy an evening with the family by the fireplace. Read a good book. When life is hectic it’s time to enjoy the blessings at a slower pace.

7. Serve. There is no better time to stop worrying about how hard you have it and realize there are thousands around you who are suffering just as bad or worse. “Forget yourself and go to work.” is one of my all time favorite quotes by Bryant Hinckley. And he is right. Find those around you in need and lend a hand. Nothing will do more to brighten your day and lift you from worrying about the future like lifting others. This is #7 on the list but I probably should have made it one.

“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” Matt 16:25. There may never be a better time to find yourself.

All of these are ways to say, take control. Refocus your life on the things you have power over. You can’t control the stock market, you likely have very little impact on the spread of coronavirus in New York, or Italy. You can’t stop your job from sending you home. And you can’t get Congress to pass the legislation that you feel is best.

There is a temptation when we get scared about the future to become news junkies who watch 24-7 for any sign of what the future might have in store for us. We watch stock tickers go up and down. We check 4 times a day how many people have the virus and how many have died. We listen to hear what bailout bill the government will pass. But every second we spend doing that we put energy and focus into things that are largely out of control. So our world seems and feels, just that, out of control.

When you take time to focus on the things you do have control of. Your health, your mental state, your family relationships, your ability to create and work, and the chance to serve those around you. Then you realize you are the master of your fate. That despite the world crumbling around you, you are still in the driver's seat. And that will help you thrive at any time of your life.

Friday, March 13, 2020

An Alternative Solution to School Closure

photo by Demano Barcelona

Even though it appears our chance for contracting the Coronavirus is currently low in Clark County, these many recent cancellations of public gatherings are a prudent step as studies show the earlier those things are limited, the less severe the outbreak will be. Waiting until the outbreak occurs before we cancel events is, as many have stated, like closing the barn door after the horse has bolted. However, the largest gatherings that we are most reluctant to cancel are the schools, and understandably so. Many of our families depend on schools for child care and even food, and there is not equal access to technology and internet at home that might allow for education to continue through distance learning.

But I’m afraid we will wait until it is far too late for school closure to be a useful barrier to the spread of Covid-19 in our communities. The reality is, though we are grateful our children are not at much risk, they are very good at spreading illness, and they have parents who work or shop with our more vulnerable age groups. Thus, our children and teens are likely to be a huge catalyst to outbreak in our society and the death toll that goes with it. But there’s a difficult balance of caution and consequence that our government, school, and organizational leaders are grappling with day by day. 

Let me suggest an alternative to closing schools that we could implement immediately  and which could at least aid the prevention of large community outbreak with as little family hardships as possible, and that is voluntary distance learning. The thought came to mind after a friend was telling me they might pull their kids out of school and homeschool the rest of the semester now that he and his wife have been directed to telecommute from home. I could see how that would help protect their family and their aged mother with whom they have frequent contact, but it would have almost no community benefit unless large numbers of people did the same. I could feasibly do that for my kids, but I still want my son to get school issued credit for his geometry class that goes on his high school transcripts, and I’m sure many feel the same.

But what if schools offered and encouraged everyone who has the resources at home to finish the semester from home? Those who have adequate food supplies, adult supervision, and internet technology at home, can continue their course of study from home, receiving and delivering assignments through email, or doing assignments on the free Khan Academy website, and otherwise implementing distance education measures. Thus we could dramatically reduce the number of kids in a classroom, empowering us to implement more effective measures into the classroom that would provide the most caution against the spread of Covid-19.

Some of these protective measures could include: spacing desks out throughout the room, running air filtering devices, spraying an aerosol disinfectant during recess, not sharing writing utensils, having the teacher dispense hand sanitizer as students come or go, even serving lunch in the classroom or outside on good weather days rather than in a common cafeteria, and stagarring recess to one class at a time. You could essentially limit each student’s contacts to only the 6-12 students in their own class. At recess they could close off shared playground equipment and introduce other activities on the grass and black top that don’t require shared hand-touched surfaces. Should someone in the class or a family member then come down with coronavirus, it would be much easier to quarantine the remaining class members and their families than trying to track the entire school and their contacts. Secondary schools are more complicated with specialized classes, but perhaps having teachers rotate through classes rather than students or other inventive measures could limit students contact with other students and shared surfaces. 

Additionally, those who have adult supervision and internet technology at home, but who would struggle without school lunch or breakfast, could drop by and pick up their meals from an outdoor distribution point rather than being at the school all day, such as is done in many communities during the summer months. 

Another benefit of this approach could be that we redistribute our online learners to the teachers who are in higher risk age groups. They could plan assignments and keep up with student progress from home so that the ones directing the in class instruction at the schools can be only those in lower risk age groups. 

This approach may bring the concern and criticism that it disproportionately exposes low income students and families to the spread of the virus, but the truth is, when compared with not cancelling school until it is too late, this approach would still greatly reduce the risk to our low income families by decreasing the school population as a whole, and would have the added benefit of allowing some of our most academically needy children to receive more one on one instruction and support with a much lower student to teacher ratio during this period of time. It also benefits our low income families with continued child care and meals while still reducing those children’s risk of contracting or spreading this infection, which of course benefits the entire community as well. 

Should an outbreak become more widespread in our community, it may still come to the point where schools will have to close entirely, but this solution might provide an interim benefit to everyone involved and could delay or possibly prevent the need to close schools entirely. 

With so many pros and cons, costs and benefits to consider, think this one over and if you like the idea, pass it on and maybe our district or state will consider this option.

Written by Jeanine Gee (my awesome wife)

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Is America Great?

At Dinner with Alanna, Josh and Brandon

Life had never been easy for young Alanna, she never knew her Father, never even knew anything about him until she was an adult and then figured out very quickly she was glad that the violent alcoholic had not ever been in her life. Her Mother did her best that a single Mom could do trying to raise a family by herself. When little Alanna came home and said that her friend Brandon, who was only 5 years old, had been abandoned by his family, her Mother decided to adopt him and add one more mouth to feed. 

But despite loving her, her Mother was far from perfect, and when her older brother starting bringing drugs home, Mother, rather then stopping it, joined in. Due to the Meth addiction of her Mother young Alana found herself on the streets for the first time at age 16. Her Mother would go on and off drugs for the next few years. Brandon would join the Navy and spend two years on a submarine before being discharged and coming back to Indiana. 

Alanna went on to fall in love with a boy named Josh. Josh had special needs but kept a job at Indiana Beach being a stunt double for their shows. When Alanna was able to help her Mother sober up for the first time in a long time things looked like they were going pretty good. Her Mother was sober, she wasn't on the streets, Brandon was home and Josh's job brought in a few bucks so they had some money.

But things changed fast, her older Brother was still caught up in the drug scene and one night, a deal went the worst way a deal can go and Alanna's Mother was murdered by a local drug dealer. A short time later, Indiana Beach shut it's doors and the trio of Alanna, fiance Josh and adopted brother Brandon, banded together on the streets. 

The only shelter that they were near in Indiana was a Men's shelter, that meant that if the nights were freezing Alanna had no place to go. "No one will give you a job in Indiana if you are homeless." Alanna states as she recalls there time back home. "Police do nothing but harass you, and if it's freezing, well, too bad."

Josh's Father told them that he planned to move to a small town outside of Denver in May, and he was getting a large piece of property, and they were welcome to 2 acres if they wanted. It was more than anything they had in Indiana so they somehow got a vehicle they hoped would get them to Denver and hit the rode. They were wrong, the vehicle never made it, but with rides and help they did. 

Now they just have to wait until May, but things have been very different for them in Denver. "There is a clinic that sees us for free and helps get me my asthma medication. There is a local church that helps us with food. The police stop to make sure we are okay, and if it's below freezing they help us get to somewhere with shelter so we don't freeze. And best of all there is a daily work place that will help get us temporary work," Alanna says. 

Brandon pipes up. "I have had two places offer me a job once I get my ID which should come in the mail in a few days."

I, knowing that addresses can be hard for homeless ask, "Where are they sending your ID's?"

"A local charity gave me a box to use as an address."

"They are way more helpful here. When we told the guy that Josh had special needs, rather than look at us like, too bad, he said, 'no problem' and helped him fill out the application right then and there. It was totally different experience," Alanna adds.

This experience, oddly enough, reminded me of two statues.

The Colossus at Rhodes was a statue of the Greek God Helios. At over 100 feet it was the largest statue of the Ancient world. It was erected to show Rhodes power after they had a victory over Cypress. 
The Colossus of Rhodes: Ancient Greek Mega Statue

In 1883 the United States was in the middle of a Depression. They too hoped to erect a large statue. They needed to raise funds to build a platform on which to place a statue of a beautiful women that had been given to them by the French in honor of their friendship. A young poet, Emma Lazarus wrote a sonnet that was to be auctioned off to raise funds for the pedestal.  

In the end, the statue was to be similar in size to the Colossus at Rhodes, and it would undoubtedly be compared to it. But would the comparison be fare. Lazarus knew that unlike the Colossus at Rhodes, which was erected to show power over others, this statue was a symbol of strength through friendship, love and charity.

To make this clear she penned the immortal words, a portion of which were placed and still sit at the base of that statue today:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

In a depression, when we were struggling to take care of ourselves she knew where Americas power truly would come from. Not from showing how great we are or only accepting the worlds best and brightest it would be from showing that we were open and prepared to receive the lowest of low. Those who needed help. She was not blind that they would come with baggage, struggles and needs. But She knew that we had something to offer, something that would make them and us better.

A portion of those words still sits at the base of the Statue she helped raise the funds to erect, the Statue of Liberty.

I do not know all the reasons it didn't work out in Indiana for this group who has had so much of worlds adversities laid at their feet. But when I hear about their experience in Denver, it reminds me that what makes our country great is not just men and women who have pulled themselves up from poverty, but men and women who have pulled, loved and helped others along as well.

If you enjoyed this please enjoy another one of my homeless articles: Getting Behind the Wheel