Monday, April 23, 2012

Pessimist for a Day

I'm fortunate. I'm eternally optimistic about the nature and future of man. It's just the way I'm programmed, I guess.

Oh sure, I can get beat down about lots of the ugly stuff in the world: crime, greed, terrorism, people who think Kathy Griffin is funny, etc., but for the most part, when I cross paths with people, I expect them to be good-hearted folk looking to make it through their day in the most civil manner possible.

This is foolish. This is naive. And this is also a good way to be let down. An optimist can only be disappointed, while a pessimist can expect the worse, and be pleasantly surprised when a random act of kindness is encountered.

This morning, I saw an act of human behavior so vile and base that it upset me all day.

I was filling up my gas tank at the Midtown Shell Mart at the intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and Hawley Road. This station is just south a little bit from the Badger Association of the Blind. It's common to see visually impaired people in this area and today was no different.

As I was standing between the gas pump and my vehicle, I noticed a blind man walk out of the store and make his way across the blacktop tapping his cane to the left, to the right and back again. I wasn't paying attention to him as he made his way in front of an SUV that was fueling up on the opposite side of my pump, but shortly after he made his way past the vehicle's front bumper, the rear window rolled down and a thug yelled at the blind man.

"Watch where you're going with that stick or you'll fall on your God-damn face, bitch!" they shouted then rolled up the window.

I was shocked and appalled. If I could make my eyes vaporize this worthless dreck of human flesh into the ionosphere I would have. Thank goodness for him that's not one of my super powers.

The blind fellow no doubt heard this. He was only about 10 feet away -- about the same distance I was from the perpetrator -- but he continued his even pace towards the intersection.

I glanced into the SUV only to get a stare shot right back at me. Sheepishly, I went back to my business as I don't think thug-face would have thought twice about popping a cap in my skull if I pressed the matter.

Made worse was the fact that there was a small girl in the vehicle -- I'd guess about 3 years old, with no car seat. This child does not stand a chance.

What was in it for this person to say such a abhorrent thing?

I'm in complete amazement when I see visually-impaired citizens making their way through the city independently when I, with all my faculties fully intact, am growing increasingly frightened of doing it myself. Can you imagine the type of person who could witness this feat and then shout out a comment as loathsome as the one above?

I cannot. We live among savages. My dog's a better person than that. Many dogs are, considering how many are trained to help the blind.

I am sorry if this post was upsetting. I promise, I'll shake it off by tomorrow morning, but on Monday, April 23, 2012, allow me to be a pessimist for a day.

Friday, April 20, 2012

In Remembrance ...

My younger (half) brother -- Bradley Wayne Collins -- passed away earlier this week at the young age of 26. It is not easy for me to put my thoughts and feelings into words. We didn't see each other often, however, he's still flesh and blood, and that's something that forms a permanent bond no matter how seldom we saw each other.

Bradley was a complex individual -- much like our father -- and he suffered from schizophrenia. I was asked to say a few words at the service on short notice. I quickly scribbled some thoughts together that reflected my feelings towards his death. It wasn't easy to write and and it was even more difficult to deliver, but these were my words ...

By any account, a spoken remembrance of someone is never easy. It's always difficult. The last time I gave one was at our father's funeral service. While my heart was heavy and filled with grief, I did not have a head full of questions. I knew my father, and I knew the path of his life for 35 years by the time of his passing.

I knew my father was gifted ... and I knew he had struggled.

With Bradley, however, I have questions ...

When I received word of his passing last Tuesday, I was speechless.

"Speechless" is an oft-repeated and overused expression, but in this case, I truly was.

I sat quietly for at least 15 minutes trying to make sense of it all.

How could an equally gifted person (as our father), be taken from us?

Why was his time on earth so fraught with struggle?

What could I have done to make a difference?

It's not fair, is it? That Bradley's life could reflect our father's life, but be compressed to a time frame of only 26 years?

Finding solace in the death of a family member and loved one is difficult. But it may be comforting to know that peace has come to two of the most complex minds I have ever known. And that, God willing, they will find each other again ... in heaven.

Rest in peace, Bradley.

Monday, April 9, 2012

She Ain't Pretty, But She's Mine!

Got out the ol' gal for the first time in 2012. I gave her a few drinks (of gasoline), pushed her buttons, and pulled her rope -- she was rarin' to go!

Just look at that lawn. Beautiful, no? I'm afraid that's as good as it's going to get if we don't get some rain soon, 'cause I'm not watering. Every year I try, but every year I fail. If Mother Nature wants a dry lawn, I'm going to give her what she wants. It's least expensive that way.

Back to my mower. This Craftsman beauty represents the best bargain I ever got. Perhaps that's why she's so beautiful to me.

I was living in Milwaukee's Washington Heights neighborhood in 2002 and, one day, while walking along lovely Washington Avenue (the same avenue that Milwaukee's Mayor -- Tom Barrett -- lives on) I saw a woman pushing a lawnmower to the end of her walkway. Next to the mower she set a gas can. She started to place a sign on the mower and I asked, "Are you selling this?"

"Yep," she said. "It's brand new. Used once. I bought it only last month, but I've decided to move into a maintenance-free condo. I'm selling it for $50, along with this full tank (2-gallons) of gas."

"Fifty bucks?!" I queried in surprise. "I'll take it!! The only problem is, I don't have any money on me. I live two blocks away. Take the sign away and I'll run home and return with the fifty as soon as I can."

"Okay," she said.

And I ran like the friggin' wind. I knew that mower new sold for at least $240. The gas and the can worth at least another ten bucks. This was the deal of the decade.

I returned -- cash in hand -- and completed the transaction. The used-once Craftsman lawn beast was mine.

Eleven years later, she's still going strong, and every year, the value gets better and better.

If she's a little cranky, and difficult to start, rather than get angry, I need to remind myself: I paid only $50 for her 11 years ago and have done no more maintenance than pour gas in her tank. (Mostly true. I have pounded the air filter against concrete and checked the oil once every couple of years.)

I think when she finally retires, I'll buy another just like her. Maybe full price, but a Craftsman.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Honesty, the Best Policy

Last night, on my way home from work, I stopped at my local grocery store -- Metcalfe's Sentry on 68th and State -- and picked up a few items for the upcoming weekend. Like many of my shopping trips, this one included picking up a 12-pack of some good craft beer. Sentry had a nice offer on Summit Brewing Company's Spring Sampler (three bottles each of Extra Pale Ale, India Pale Ale, Great Northern Porter and Maibock), so I picked one up.

After running my items across the self-checkout scanner, paying and packing up my car, I was thinking about the bill on the way home. It seemed too inexpensive. Something must be wrong.

At home I checked the receipt and saw that the $14.49 Summit Sampler rang up at $5.99.

Five. Dollars. And. Ninety-nine. Cents.

A whole $8.50 less than it was supposed to be!

I knew I had to make this wrong right. I quickly called Sentry and explained that I was undercharged $8.50 and that they needed to correct their pricing on this item. I also said that I would stop in the next morning and pay the difference.

My conscience temporarily cleared, I went for a 3-mile run and returned home to enjoy a tasty Summit Maibock -- a brewing style I am usually lukewarm to, but this one I enjoyed. it was not too sticky sweet like I find some Maibocks.

This morning I returned to the store as I said I would and, with receipt in hand, I explained the story again. The person working the desk said she couldn't ring up the transaction because this was a liquor department sale and that business could not be conducted until after 9 a.m. She thanked me for my honesty and said that she would honor the price that I paid for the sampler.

Yes! Inexpensive beer is the next best thing to free beer!

While this may be a simple story, it brings a few things to mind:
  1. Thank you, Mom, for raising me with this honest ethic. This was all your doing and I am proud to have it.
  2. Metcalfe's Sentry is a good store with good people. I have shopped there for years and will  continue to do so.
  3. Summit Brewing Company makes good beer.
  4. How many others would do the same thing that I did? I think readers of this blog would, but others would  probably have run back and bought more samplers!
Thanks for reading and have a good Good Friday and a winning 2012 Milwaukee Brewers Opening Day!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Play Ball! (Thoughts on the 2012 Brewers)

Like every year at about this time, the boys of summer are about to return and I couldn't be more excited. For years football was my untouchable number one sporting event, but within the past 5 years, baseball has become my favorite.

The one caveat, however, is that the Brewers must be competitive in order for my interest to remain. If the crew is eighteen games back nine games after the All-Star break, my interest in baseball will wane and I'll begin to anticipate football season.

With that said, here are a few things I am looking forward to finding out this season.

1) Prince is gone; can the new lineup make up for his production with the addition of Aramis Ramirez at Third and Matt Gamel at First? I think they can. I sure hope so. Not only for the Brewers' sake, but mine as well. You see, despite Fielder's baseball productivity, I never was a big Prince Fielder fan. I always felt he was a grab-the-money-and-go type of guy. Despite being a Brewer for many years, he never showed any love or loyalty to the organization. That's his prerogative and right, but I could sense his disloyalty and never chose to be a Fielder fan.

2) I will look forward to the discussions regarding Ryan Braun to be about what he does at the plate and on the field. This off-season was all about what took place between his belly button and his knees. Was he a playa? Was his urine sample handled according to MLB rules? What's wrong with his groin this spring training? Enough! Let's hope he puts it all to rest and has another strong, MVP-like season.

I must digress about Braun. This guy is hanging by a thread (my POV). He is precariously close to being the biggest cad to ever play professional sports in Wisconsin. This is harsh, I know, but he successfully appealed his 50-game suspension and got off on a technicality. He then gave an impassioned speech to gain our trust and compassion. If it is ever proven out that he did indeed take PEDs, he'll have made chumps out of us, his fans.

I rather wish he would've came out a la Andy Petitte and said, "I was trying to heal quickly to get out there and help my teammates win the pennant. I screwed up. Please forgive me. I look forward to rejoining my team after the suspension and getting my team back to the World Series!"

It would have been done and over.

He's only making it worse within the past week by refusing to comment on the case. Grr.

3) I loathed Barry Bonds and watched with incredulity the booming ovations he would get in front of his home crowd, yet, in every other baseball stadium he would virtually be booed off the field.

Are we going to be like Barry Bonds' fans? Will we cheer loudly while Braun gets jeered at parks across the country? We will soon find out. And I don't think I am going to like the answer. I doubt Braun will like it either.

When I am at games, I won't boo or stand when he is announced, I will give him a polite hand clap.

Come out, Ryan, and tell us the truth as you said you would. Then maybe I'll stand and cheer.

4) This spring we eliminated Cable TV from our monthly expenses. The hardest part of the decision was depriving ourselves of nightly Brewers games. However, I was able to reinforce my decision with the realization that I have access to a great national and local civic treasure: Bob Uecker. Now, instead of sitting indoors in front of the TV on a lovely summer's evening, I will relax on our patio with Bob calling the game on the radio. I am looking forward to this greatly.

5) All five of last year's starting rotation are returning, how will they fare? Yovani, Zack, Randy, Shaun and Chris are back, giving the Brewers one of the strongest set of starting pitchers in baseball. The Brewers may miss Fielder's offensive contributions, but this is still a league where pitching wins ball games. And with this lineup, I expect to see a lot of games won!

So with that said, let's toss some sausages on the grill, pop open a couple of cold ones, turn on the radio and get ready to welcome the 2012 Major League Baseball season!

Play ball!!