Archive for November, 2004

>I am married to a piler. We have piles all over the house. They contain bills, junk mail, sticky notes, magazines, little scraps of paper with cryptic notes on them, and other various detritus of daily living. They reside on the kitchen counter, the dining room table, the bedside stand, and any other flat surface in the house. My greatest fear is that left unchecked, these piles will grow forever. I was watching a program on the History Channel or some other similar cable network once about people like her who are “pack-rats”. The documentary told one story of a guy who saved literally everything. His home was littered with years worth of newspapers, magazines, bags of trash, and seemingly every odd piece of junk that had ever come into his domain. He hoarded all of these items for decades until he was eventually found dead in his home. It seems that one of his gargantuan piles of newspapers had fallen over and pinned him underneath. He was trapped for days until finally succumbing to death. This is what I am fighting against–slow death by piles. My job in this symbiotic relationship is to assure that the piles stay under control. I go through them almost daily. In this process, there are some difficult decisions to make. I find notes with phone numbers on them, names of people I don’t recognize, addresses to places I’ve never heard of, directions to exotic locations, and quite frankly — some pile contents with mysterious ancient looking cryptographs that I can make neither heads nor tails of. Only my wife seems to know the significance of some of these items. Whenever I ask her to sort through her piles, she is “far too busy.” This is number one among the piler’s tactics: Say or do anything to preserve the piles. I began to set the indecipherable stuff aside in folders or special “please go through me” piles. This tactic failed miserably. These new piles of “please go through me” folders in turn grew and grew as she ignored their presence just, like their parent piles. Pilers subscribe to that silly adage, “It looks unorganized, but I know exactly where everything is.” This is a lie. Whenever something gets lost, the piles are ransacked in an attempt to find it. When it can’t be found, I am invariably told “you must have thrown it away.” I finally came to the realization that the piles secret value is not the information locked in them, but rather, the pile itself. For the piler, preserving the piles is a way to extend their own longevity — a monument to the life of the piles’ creator. It’s their mark left for generations to let the entire world know that they were here and that they existed. Old phone bills, magazines, leaflets, and supermarket fliers stamped with their names prove that they were here. I’ve finally learned to come to grips with my fate. I hide the contents of the piles in drawers, camouflage them in baskets and folders, and ignore their existence until they begin to grow to dangerous levels, which challenge my safety and slowly gnaw at my sanity. One day, well into my 90’s, long after the kids are gone and can no longer help me, I’ll lose the energy to pile-fight any longer. In my weakened state, the piles will grow until they collapse and envelop me like the man on the History Channel. I’ll be gone, but the monolithic pile will live on forever. The piler will finally have her monument and her immortality.
Pilers or anti-pilers can reach Cean at: cburgeson@pioneergroup.net

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>There’s A Great One in All of Us

Posted: November 21, 2004 in Columns, Hockey

>Over two years ago in our northern Michigan community the local college constructed a brand new indoor ice arena. Families signed up their little ones for learn to skate sessions and mite hockey leagues, and we joined the rest of the civilized world in what has become the “soccer” of the 21st century—hockey.

This sport wasn’t only for the kids, though. The older boys dusted off their old equipment or bought new gear, and a whole batch of hockey newbies tried the sport for the first time. We’re a pretty varied group. On the five teams I’ve played on, the ages of players have ranged from 16-60’s. I’ve played with or against students, cops, doctors, E.M.T.’s, firemen, network administrators, school teachers, postal workers, and stay at home dads. We’ve got a mom who plays goalie, and one of our best skaters played college hockey over 40 years ago.

We all share a love of hockey. We play it, watch it, and talk about it in the locker room while we get dressed to play it. It’s an addictive sport that keeps the guys coming back to the adult draft league, team leagues, and tournaments throughout the year. Some of the guys played as kids but had to leave the sport once they grew too old to play in the leagues any longer. Other guys, like me, played on frozen ponds, rivers, and rented ice at far away ice rinks growing up but never had the opportunity to play organized hockey because their parents couldn’t afford it or their town didn’t have a rink. Some saw this as the opportunity that they had always felt they missed out on while growing up.

There are some coarse words, hurt feelings, and a little contact from time to time. We see our share of penalties. But the guys seem to have a mutual respect for one another despite the skill level. Some of the players can barely stand up on skates, can’t handle the puck that well, or aren’t much in the passing department. That doesn’t matter in the draft league. All are welcome and the teams are put together with a balance of skilled and unskilled players. Basic standings are kept but I couldn’t tell you how many goals I had in the last league or even how many games we won. It’s still competitive, though, and if you play year round, you end up being on some winning teams and on some teams that seem to have a better time off the ice in the locker room with a few beers and a rowdy bull session.

On Fridays we have “drop-in” hockey, where anyone over 16 can come in and play a pick up game. Teams are determined solely by what color jersey you wear (light or dark) and nobody keeps score. Sometimes we have goalies and other times we have to use a piece of vinyl with a goalie printed on it and holes for the scoring zones called a “shooter tutor”. There’s a core group of people who come but the rosters change depending on varying work schedules, school holidays, and out of town visitors. The attitude is light and fun and it’s a great time for everyone. It’s the on ice equivalent of a street basketball game.

We’ve developed a tight knit little community of “hockey families”. Our sons and daughters play together on teams and some of the guys coach or assistant coach. When one of the kid or adult players gets hurt, we hear about it through the locker room grapevine. Guys who travel in different social circles and otherwise wouldn’t run into each other become friends. Hockey moms and dads strike up kinships in the stands and commiserate about the road trips, the challenge of getting the kids to practices and games, and the rising costs of league fees, keeping their children (and spouses) in equipment, skates, and sticks. Parents who previously didn’t know what constituted an off-sides or a high stick penalty are now experts on line changing and passing strategies.

Besides the hockey itself (which is fun for people of all ages, backgrounds, or experience levels) there is a whole other level of camaraderie and sense of belonging to the greater hockey community that comes with being part of the sport. Living the “hockey life” can be fun for the whole family and also a fantastic way to spend time together getting exercise and having fun. And for an hour each week, anyone can be a Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky, or Steve Yzerman in their own mind.

>When the American colonies were founded, just about every respectable citizen spoke the King’s English, even the less-educated denizens of this burgeoning country. As our nation grew, emphasis on spelling, grammar, and sentence structure continued for hundreds of years. Students of bygone days diagrammed sentences, respected the written word, and were also taught subjects such as etiquette and elocution. Somewhere along the way, we took a wrong turn. What I’m talking about here is the sloppy, lazy style of language we’ve developed today in America. Here are some examples of what I’m talking about, taken from personal observation.

“Ain’t.” Okay, we all use it when we’re goofing around, as in sports, “You ain’t gettin’ past me!, ” or in casual use, “you ain’t kiddin.” The problem arises when someone isn’t joking around and they’re actually using the word to communicate in their daily lives, such as “The cable TV ain’t workin right!” How much harder is it to use the word isn’t or aren’t?

“Them.” A good example of this is when the word “those” should be used, but it is instead replaced with “them,” i.e. “Them guys told me that there was free beer here.” Both words have the same number of syllables. Its not any harder to use the proper word.

“Don’t.” I’m not sure how this started, but there are apparently some folks out there who have never been introduced to the word “doesn’t.” I hear phrases like, “He don’t have enough money to buy a ticket.” It has apparently become easier to exclusively use “don’t” rather than taking the time to remember when to use doesn’t.

“Seen.” This one really grinds me. For example, Question:”You seen the Lions game last night?” Answer: “Yeah, I seen it”. These hapless individuals can go their entire lifetime without ever using the word saw, unless they’re discussing the various methods of cutting wood.

“Borrow.” When someone loans an item to you, they let you borrow it, or they loan it to you, or they lend it to you. They do not “borrow it to you.” You borrow it from them.

“Youse Guys.” They can talk like this on The Sopranos and Goodfellas, but other than that, let it go. Double Negatives. “He don’t know no better” is another jewel I’ve heard. Does this mean he actually does know better since two of the words cancel each other out? These examples are merely a few of the blights on the English language in current use.

My personal favorite is when several of these rules are broken in the same sentence: “I ain’t seen them guys since I borrowed my car to them, and there wasn’t nothing wrong with my car when they took it.”

As a country that seems to be coming under more and more fire from the world community almost daily, we should all be embarrassed by the poor state of the English language in America. The spoken word is the way we represent ourselves; it is a reflection of who we are and the care we take when expressing ourselves or forming thoughts. Cultural or regional differences in language, or slang, are part of any language — they aren’t the issue. The problem lies in the improper usage of what is supposed to be our native tongue. Its no wonder half the world sees Americans as lazy and unsophisticated, because that is how we often speak and represent ourselves.Cean Burgeson can be reached at: cburgeson@pioneergroup.net

>I live in a small town in rural northern Michigan, which is I think very representative of small town America across the country. Moving here after living in Washington D.C. and Los Angeles has opened my eyes to the way that most of the people in this country live by means of comparison. In my opinion, I have a good insight into Middle America and the middle class lifestyle (of which I am now a part), the benchmark of society in the United States. This is the home of the Green Bay Packer fan and NASCAR fever; huntin’ and fishin’ are religious activities. People here work on farms or in factories, and do much of the work that would make large metropolitan city dwellers cringe. There are no malls, no Starbucks’, and no Jamba Juice franchises. There is one “big box” store here, and it is the blue collar favorite–Kmart. The closest “big” city is over an hour away, and it holds a mere 16,000 inhabitants.

As a displaced big city person, I’ve observed a few fashion faux pas that exist in this segment of American culture which amuse me from time to time as I run across them while doing my grocery shopping or putting gas in my car. While I in no way claim to be a fashion expert, I consider myself enough of a “metro sexual” to discern which trends are in and which are clearly out. I figure I’ve seen enough episodes of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy to do a little free-lance personal appearance policing myself. The following are some of the guidelines as I see them.

Hair

Hair is the most often abused part of the personal appearance package and one of the most obvious clues as to the hip ness quotient of the particular individual in question. First of all, no male ponytails unless its part or your ethnic heritage. This means that Native Americans and other cultural groups who have traditionally worn their hair long are within their right to do so. The mainstream ponytail for teens went out with the glam rock bands in the eighties. Along these same lines, if you’re a man who has longish hair but not long enough to put in a real ponytail, don’t put it in a “baby ponytail”. These one or two inch “bobs” look sad and inadequate, and you will too. Wait until it grows all the way out to tie it back.

I have some thoughts regarding coloration as well. No male stripper streaks, guys. On women they can be hot; on men, they’re just plain scary. If you want to look like Vanilla Ice or a serial killer, it’s your choice, but I wouldn’t advise it. Furthermore, no Eminem hair unless you’re Marshall Mathers. You can duplicate his look, but not his success. It only makes you look like a wannabe. No frosted tips if you’re a man, either. This makes you look just as scary as they guy with the stripper streaks. You’ll be mistaken for a male prostitute.

I cannot stress this next point enough–no mullets, ever. This hairstyle was never cool even when it was popular. “Business” cut in the front and “Rock N Roll” cut in the back simply doesn’t go together. Another note, fellows: if you aren’t an Army Ranger, no Army Ranger haircut. You know which look I’m talking about; the cut where the hair is shaved on the sides and mohawkish on the top. It makes you look like a social outcast or Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver. If you miss the lifestyle, re-up; if not, join the rest of society. Lastly, as a receding hairline sufferer, I ask this of all you men who have heads full of luxurious hair: Don’t shave your heads because its easier to take care of or you think it makes you look like Vin Diesel. Guys like me who have to shave their heads so we don’t look like we’re trying to perpetrate a comb-over can’t stand to see someone lucky enough to actually have hair shave it all off. It’s a matter of common courtesy to your follicly challenged brethren.

Women aren’t exempt from hair mistakes. For starters: ladies, don’t dye your hair blonde if the original color is even close to black. As soon as the roots start to come in, you look like Leather Tuscadero from Happy Days or some eighties singer along the lines of Pat Benatar. If you have to go light, get the roots done every two weeks. Also, gals, if you absolutely must dye your hair blonde, please don’t dye it that “almost white” color of blonde. Men like bleach blondes, but not women with hair whiter than their grandmother’s.

For members of both sexes, please, no feathered hair. This was cool in Junior High twenty years ago but now only reminds me of high-school burnouts who used to smoke behind the auto-shop. The eighties are over. The hair styles are never coming back. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, your toddler or small child has no say in his hairstyle. Don’t shave his head, give him a flat-top with one long braid like Anakin Skywalker, and for the love of God, don’t give him a mullet. This type of hair atrocity for children is tantamount to child abuse. For everybody, no matter what hair style you choose–wash your hair, (and the rest of your body for that matter), daily.

Non hair-related rules

No combs in the back pocket. Like I said—the eighties are over. No plaid shirts, unless you’re a lumberjack. I can’t think of any other time the plaid shirt would be appropriate. Don’t wear the pants you wore to your blacktopping job to go out to dinner. Do I really have to sit next to “tarpants” when I’m out to eat? If you’re still a little messy from work, go home and change or eat at KFC instead. No” wife-beaters” allowed outside of your own home. For those of you who are less enlightened, these are sleeveless shirts that used to be T-shirts before the wearer took it upon themselves to cut the sleeves off in a jagged fashion with the pair of scissors from the junk drawer. They make you look like you walked out of an episode of cops, and I’m not talking about one of the cops. A final word on T-shirts: shirts with sexually expressive logos or sayings are TACKY. Would you want your grandparents to have to see some punk at the mall with the F-word on their shirt? These members of the greatest generation lived through the depression and a world war and actually died so we could have personal freedoms of expression and are saddened to see us waste this gift on potty mouthed T-shirt slogans.

Let’s talk about hats for a minute. Hats must be free of grease unless you’re actually working on your car. If you absolutely have to wear a ball cap when you leave the house, keep a nice clean one for such occasions. You could even try to match them to your shirt color, guys. It’s not that hard. No hats with nylon mesh in the back, either. I know these trucker style hats have had some limited popularity, but it’s a really hard look to pull off even if you are Ashton kutcher. And if you are a non-urban dude, your hat’s bill must be facing all the way to the front, or all the way back–no “in-betweeners”. Ghetto dwellers, you’re exempt from this one. They created the look and it works for them only. Little Jimmy from the lily-white Chicago suburbs whose dad is a doctor and his mother a lawyer doesn’t have the street cred to pull this look off. No cowboy hats unless you ride a horse and herd some type of livestock. There is no such thing as an “urban cowboy”, just people who want to drive a BMW but pretend that they were country before country was cool.

Accessories are not exempt from the style police. For starters, no wallets with chains unless you drive a Harley. Are you really that afraid to lose the wallet? No flip-flops for boys unless you’re at the beach or taking a shower, at a campground shower, or in a locker-room. Silly rabbit, flip-flops are for kids. Remember: the key to whether you should wear something is the appropriateness; ask yourself whether the item you want to wear fits the occasion for which you are wearing it.

This next one will sound harsh, but here goes: if you aren’t within 5 pounds of your ideal weight, NO LYCRA EVER. I think we all agree on this one. Hey, before you get mad, I’m in the non-lycra wearing category also. Along similar lines, ladies–no clothing that lace up the side unless you’re in a music video. This type of garment often exposes skin from parts of the body that we may not want to see. No polyester ever—leave these items for the senior set. No circles in the back pocket from chew cans, EVER. It’s bad enough to participate in such a disgusting habit; you don’t have to advertise the fact. This is just as bad as rolling up a pack of cigarettes in your T-shirt sleeve like one of the kids from The Outsiders or West Side Story.

No belly shirts if you have love handles. You aren’t fooling anyone into thinking you are thin. Go to the mall any day of the week and you will see more pudgy midriffs than you can stomach (pun intended). The weight guideline applies to other garments as well. If you don’t have the body for it, nobody wants to see you in a bikini or a Speedo. You can hide more in a one piece or swim trunks and look even sexier.

We need to discuss piercing and tattoos. I know that they are popular these days, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they work for everyone in every form. First off, no one wants to see through your ear lobe. The giant shower curtain ring-sized earlobe stretcher is just plain gross. We aren’t part of a South American tribe, people. Also, restrict the weird piercing to where I can’t see them, because no one really wants to see that you pierced yourself through your chin or someplace else completely whacked out. By the way–does this feel good? Don’t you people snag those pieces of metal on our face in you sweater whenever you put it over your head? OUCH! Oh, and if you ever want to have a job where you don’t have to wear a name-tag, don’t tattoo yourself on your neck, your lower arms, your hands, or your face for God’s sake. I don’t care if you do it, just don’t be mad when you don’t get that job at Microsoft and have to resort to stocking shelves at Sam’s Club instead.

Remember the appropriateness rule. No full camouflage unless you are on your way to, from, or actually hunting. You can wear your cool Old Navy camouflage cargo shorts, but not your full bow-hunting outfit from Outdoor World to go out in public. Similarly, no blaze orange unless you are in like situations. If you are afraid of getting shot by a high powered rifle while walking down the main street of your town, you need to have a talk with your local sheriff. This next one is for all of those people who idolize athletes like Lance Armstrong a little too much: if you aren’t a professional bike racer, race car driver, or snowmobile champ, don’t dress like one. Nobody is sponsoring your weekend 12 mile bike ride from your house to the mall and back. Similarly, if you think NASCAR is cool, that’s fine. I personally can’t see the excitement in watching guys named Darryl turn left for three hours, but some folks find that stimulating, which is fine. You don’t really have to put that #23 flag on your car year round or decal the outside of your garage door with your favorite driver’s number, though. Dale Earnhardt Jr. isn’t going to come to your town, see that, and commit himself to driving even better. Save the fan signs for the race-track.

I know what you’re thinking. Who does this guy think he is–the fashion police? What happened to freedom of expression? I answer those folks this way: how come people in the middle ages didn’t need personal appearance freedom of expression? Nobody had purple hair or pierced noses. That’s because they had respect for the rest of humanity who had to look at them every day. Sure, they would have been burned as witches if they broke conformity but maybe that was for the best… Okay, I’m obviously going to the extreme here but can’t we all just try to show a little class when we groom ourselves and go out in public? Americans already have a pretty bad rep with the rest of the world community as “The Ugly Americans”. Do we have to look like ugly, ignorant, sometimes even scary dorks as well?

>Living in the land of the free has apparently made some people feel like they are free from taking responsibility for their own actions. Case in point: Sixteen year-old middle-school student Nathaniel Brazill was sentenced to 28 years in prison for fatally shooting his favorite teacher. In the subsequent civil trial, a Florida jury amazingly found Brazill innocent of any liability. Instead, the jury placed the blame on the school board, the gun’s owner, and the gun distributor. The jury said the school board was guilty for allowing Brazill on campus with a gun in his pocket, the gun distributor was guilty for not placing a safety lock on the gun to prevent Brazill from pulling the trigger, and the gun owner was guilty of leaving the gun unlocked and loaded, allowing the boy to steal it. Apparently the jury figured pulling the trigger didn’t lead to the teacher’s death. In this case, it may be okay to place some of the blame away from the boy, but not all of it. What it boils down to is that people have stopped taking responsibility for their own actions, and think that the government, big corporations, and anyone but themselves is liable for injuries received as a result of their own deliberate deeds. For instance: An 81 year-old woman spilled hot coffee on herself in the car and sued McDonalds. McDonalds subsequently lost the suit and was forced to award the woman $2.9 million. What is equitable about this settlement? Soldiers in Iraq are losing limbs to improvised explosive devices and aren’t compensated with multi-million dollar awards. It’s unfortunate the woman was burned, but everyone knows coffee is a beverage traditionally served hot, and trying to put cream and sugar in a cup of hot coffee that currently resides in one’s lap isn’t the smartest idea; but the jury gave her the money anyway. At what point are we answerable for our own mistakes? Never, as long as juries continue to award damages in these ridiculous lawsuits. Some vending machines have a warning on them asking people not to tilt them over on themselves through excessive shaking. We all know that shaking large, top heavy objects could result in having them tip over — I would think — but apparently some folks need to be reminded. The warnings are even accompanied by a wonderful graphic of the machine falling on a hapless stick figure — for those who can’t read, perhaps. You can be certain that the snack machine companies did this because some braniac with a sugar-fix squished himself trying to shake free his Twix bar, thus eliciting a lawsuit from his surviving spouse. Legitimate lawsuits do still happen. There are definitely corporations that make unsafe products from time to time. Sometimes people are hurt because of this. There are laws at the city, state, and federal levels which are outdated, and people are hurt because of this. Similarly, there are rules and procedures in the world that aren’t properly administered, and people are injured because of this. But when are people going to take responsibility for our own poor decisions? The only one to blame when we do dumb things is ourselves; lets stop putting the blame on the organization or person who has the most money to shell out in a lawsuit. My father always taught me not to worry about mistakes, but to learn from them. I never knew my mistakes could be lucrative, as well.Cean Burgeson can be reached at: cburgeson@pioneergroup.net

>By CEAN BURGESON
Associate Editor

I often wonder if I was born 50 years too late. I have a fondness for the world of my grandparents that I can’t shake. Men wearing suits and hats, big band music, the advent of radio, films of the time — all hold a romantic aura for me.
Part of that era’s appeal is the legacy that each generation leaves — the contributions that they made.
My grandparent’s generation lived through the Depression, the New Deal, and World War II; as well as the resulting boom in this country after the war. Their contributions helped shape the modern world. And their sacrifices helped us to live in the prosperity that we enjoy today.
My parent’s generation had Vietnam, the civil rights movement, the end of the draft, protests, free love, rock n roll, and a myriad of other revelations and contributions to American culture. Their sacrifices, like their parents before them, also cleared the way for many of the freedoms we are fortunate to have in this country.
What is my generation’s legacy? What have we contributed?
The 70’s and 80’s, making up around half of my lifetime, were more my parent’s era. I enjoyed growing up during this time, a time mostly of peace and prosperity.
Towards the end of the 80’s we began to come into our own, but we didn’t have a depression, or great world war to define our actions. During the first Gulf War, I was in college, and it was over so quickly; I didn’t have the opportunity to participate.
Years passed, and technology became our generation’s boom. Crude video games and personal computers of the late 80’s and early 90’s evolved into the Xboxs and powerful notebooks we use today. The Internet flourished, IPods and MP3s entered the public lexicon, mobile phone usage exploded. Technology made the world a smaller place, and allowed us to communicate and express ourselves in ways never before imagined.
So why do I sometimes wish I was born in the time of my grandfather? I think I envy their grit, their determination, and the hurdles they had to overcome to keep American on track.
Do I really admire the adversities they had? Of course not. No one wants their life to be more difficult. I just believe that Generation X hasn’t really made their mark yet.
And I think Gen X may take for granted the sacrifices made by previous generations so we can live in the manner we do today.
So I wonder about my grandfather, who struggled through the depression, with multiple extended family members living together under one roof, and a Model T he went in on and shared with another guy. I wonder about his being drafted to fight in Europe, seeing his friends killed, having to live in foxholes, then being captured by the Germans and forced to live in a prisoner of war camp. Trading on the black market to survive, he escaped only to be captured again, and then remained a prisoner until the allies liberated his camp.
Later, he came back home and raised six children while having a successful career as a juvenile probation officer, keeping kids in Detroit off of the street and out of jail, facilitating numerous adoptions, and counseling countless youths.
What did he think of my generation before he died ten years ago? What would he think now?
I think he would be happy that we never had to endure the hardships he had. And I hope that he would feel pride that he and the rest of his generation had a large part in the peace and freedom that we live in today.
Will the war on terror define the Gen Xers? Is this our societal inheritance? Will we define ourselves by how we handle this menace?
Perhaps. Maybe our great war, our freedom ride — will lie in restoring the peace of mind that Americans used to have. We live in a more globalized society, where world wars aren’t fought with conventional weapons, by conventional warriors. Today it’s difficult to define our enemy. This is a whole new world.
I just hope we aren’t the first generation to fall short of those who fought before us, who did what had to be done during tough times.
We are the MTV generation. We love our video games, our plasma televisions, and MP3s. We spend money on big houses, toys, boats, snowmobiles, and ATVs. We spoil our kids with Game Boys and participation in expensive travel sports leagues.
But we still have that American spirit. We know what has to be done.
I think that when the time comes, we won’t disappoint our grandparents, parents, and our children. And we’ve already started to show that.
This past week the duration of the Iraq war surpassed the amount of time that the United States was involved in World War II. It’s funny how we measure this war against previous ones, like we are trying to live up to some precedent. But there’s a reason for comparisons of this type. We have large shoes to fill.
I’m still unsure of what our generation’s legacy will be, what our grand contribution to the country, to the world, is destined to become.
I think that is being decided every day with the passing of time — and only time will tell.
Cean Burgeson can be reached at cburgeson@pioneergroup.net

>I recently checked to see when my graduate school loans would be paid off and found out that the payoff date falls somewhere in 2017. I was in my mid-twenties when I finished classes. I’ll be 47 when they’re paid for.While going to school, I worked three part-time jobs and saved as much money as I could, paying for the balance with a few small scholarships and as few student loans as I could squeak by on. When all was said and done, the amount I had to borrow, plus interest was still almost $20,000. What happened in this country during the last 40 years that allowed college tuition costs to increase with such speed? Today, students have to take everything they earn while working as a busboy or retail clerk in high school, work 20-40 hours per week while they’re in college and during summers, and still take out massive loans to make ends meet. Then, if they’re like me, they get out of college, and marry someone who also has a ton of student loan and credit card debt.According to Nellie Mae, students who used credit cards to pay for part of their education reported an average credit card balance of $3,400 at the time they left school. My wife and I had about $10,000 in credit card debt when we finished school. We also had combined student loans of over $30,000.A study released by the State Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), during the 1999-2000 period, showed that 64 percent of students borrow money in order to help cover the costs of their education.As today’s students leave college and begin their careers, they’re so strapped with debt that they have to delay normal goals like buying a home and having kids. This puts them at a serious disadvantage compared to previous generations. Bankruptcies filed by the under-25 crowd grew to a record 94,717 in 2000 according to a Harvard law school study. So, how are our children expected to pay for college when the costs increase far ahead of the rate of inflation without any end in sight?Average public university tuition has risen at nearly twice the rate of inflation since 1982. How is this possible?I have two children. I hope that they can both go to college. I also hope that I can pay all or part of their way.That’s every parent’s dream. But if I can’t, I won’t for one-minute push them to go to college if they don’t want to incur the debt.I feel this way, because in hindsight, I sometimes wish that I would’ve forgone college. If I did, right now I wouldn’t be writing a check for 20% of my net earnings each month to pay for a degree that I earned almost a decade ago and will be paying for each month for the next 12 years — at which time I will have exactly one year off before I have to start paying for my oldest child’s college education.Something has to change. All of those politicians up for re-election who espouse their “pro-education” platforms need to check the rhetoric at the door, roll up their sleeves, and actually do something about college tuition costs. The government needs to step in and help the hard-working students who were fed the line that a college education would open all the opportunities in the world to them. Because, for a lot of young people, all it opens is the door to half a lifetime of financial struggle and frustration. ———Cean Burgeson can be reached at: cburgeson@pioneergroup.net

>I think about my daughter every day. I don’t know her name. I don’t know how old she is. I don’t even know if she is born yet—although I’m pretty sure she is. I don’t know her family, what town she is from, or what she looks like. I’ve never even seen her picture. My wife and I haven’t figured out what her name will be. Just the same, I love her, even though I haven’t met her.

What I can tell you is this; she’ll be up to 18 months old, from somewhere in China, and she’ll be our daughter the second we hold her picture in our hands some time next spring. We started the international adoption process last May. We should send in our “Dossier” this October. With any luck, we’ll have a “Referral” next April or May. The Dossier is the ultimate goal of anyone in the middle of their international adoption paper-chase. It contains notarized and state sealed documents detailing the adoptive parents’ finances, employment status and wages, marriage and birth certificates, a letter to the officials of the foreign country, medical examinations and tests, an intensive home study done by a social worker, photographs, a clearance letter from the local police, and a magic document from the INS called the 171H. It takes four or five months to gather all of these documents, and it’s a long journey.

That photograph I mentioned earlier comes with the Referral six or seven months after the Dossier is sent to the country of choice. Some countries take longer—China is running about that long right now. It could be longer and it has been in the past. During periods of political unrest it’s taken as long as 16 months. At any time the Chinese could change a policy or a rule and extend or even discontinue the entire process. It’s a difficult wait and a stressful experience you can be sure.

We have one biological son already, aged five. If we had known we wouldn’t be able to have any other children “the old fashioned way”, we probably would have started this process sooner. Its funny how you take for granted the ease at which children are conceived and born every day. Very little paperwork. No letters of permission to government officials. Nothing needs to be notarized or sealed at the state capital. There isn’t a 20 hour airline trip and two weeks of travel in a foreign country required to have a baby the natural way. These are all things we never thought of until about a year ago when we realized that we could conceive but not carry a child to full term.

People ask us why we’re adopting and if we have talked to all of the fertility doctors. They want to know if we’ve run all of the tests. Well, we ran a lot of tests and we tried all of the pills, creams and other concoctions that our doctor gave us. Eventually it got to a point where we were focusing entirely on getting pregnant and the stress of the whole ordeal was taking its toll on our relationship. It was no longer the method we wanted to use in order to add to our family. We had always talked about adoption but it seemed out of reach—too expensive and time consuming.

The more we thought about it the more it seemed like a possibility. The cost of fertility treatments was also high and the emotional rollercoaster of hoping that each time the process would work and having to face the possibility of failure again and again was too depressing to contemplate. Why not put our time and energy into a sure thing? There are thousands of children worldwide who need families. Why shouldn’t we try to give one of them a home? It seemed selfish to go through all of the pain, stress, and expense of trying to conceive a child when there were so many children in the world who needed a family like ours.

Still a little skeptical and unsure of what we were getting ourselves into, we went to an informational meeting at Bethany Christian Services, an adoption agency in Traverse City. No obligations; just a meeting to see what the whole process was all about and what it entailed. There was no hard sell. There wasn’t a push to get us to “sign on the dotted line”. The people were fantastic and the information presented was very persuasive on its own merits. Halfway through the meeting we met a mother and her 2 year old daughter who was adopted from China the year before. It was, as they say, “all over” at that point. What a precious little girl. What a fantastic story. All of the sudden it all made sense. This was what we had to do. This was the way we would “complete” our family. If we weren’t already sold at that point, they ended the meeting with a DVD that one of the families had made chronicling their trip to china to adopt their daughter. It was hard not to shed a tear at the overwhelming emotion of the whole experience.

My wife and I left the meeting drained emotionally. There was no discussion or weighing of the pros and cons like with every other major decision we had made in our ten year marriage. I looked at her as we walked out to the van and said “we have to do this”. She was surprised because she had set the meeting up and was researching the possibility of international adoption for almost a year. I wasn’t part of this investigation process and I agreed to go along a little reluctantly. I quite honestly had not shown a lot of interest in the whole adoption idea. There was a multitude of worries about financing the adoption, dealing with attachment issues, and the problems we would face in becoming an interracial family. Once we walked out of that meeting, though, I didn’t have any of those worries anymore. Our destiny was clear. The next day we put in our application and we were assigned a social worker. The paper-chase and the adventure began.

We were approved for a number of countries in Europe as well as China and Korea. After doing research about Chinese adoption and the plight of Chinese girls, we decided this was the area of the world that we were most interested in. In China they have the “one child rule”. Any Chinese families wishing to have more than one child have had to pay a significant tax on that second child and become ineligible for special financial incentives given to single child families. Since girls don’t carry on the family name and their role is to support their husband’s parents in old age rather than their own, many Chinese families will abandon their girl child and try again for a boy. It’s illegal for Chinese citizens to abandon a child of course, but they are left with little choice because it’s also illegal for anyone but the state to put children up for adoption. So, thousands of little girls are left in train stations and outside of police stations and in open markets. This is the adoption plan that their mothers have created—the only adoption plan possible. The rule has been expanded in recent years to allow for a second birth if the first born child is a girl. The tradition which holds boy children in higher regard than girl children persists, though. Girls continue to be placed into orphanages and adopted by the thousands each year.

Our dossier is almost ready to send in. Sometime next summer we’ll get the call to go and pick up our little girl. We’ll spend over 20 hours on a plane to Beijing where we’ll spend two days sightseeing and getting over our jet-lag. Then we’re off to the province of our daughter’s birth (on another plane) to wait in a hotel to receiver her. After spending a week getting to know each other, we’ll fly again to Guangzhou in the southern part of China where the American Consulate resides to finish our final paperwork and to have our daughter’s final medical check before leaving her birth country. Finally we’ll fly to Hong Kong and exit the country on another 20 hour trip home. When the plane touches down, she starts the process towards becoming an American citizen and we start the process of becoming a new family—complete at last.

At that point I’ll finally know the answers to some of those questions I have today. I’ll know her name (the one we’ll give her and the name given to her by the Chinese orphanage), where she is from, and what she looks like. I’ll know what she likes to eat, her sleeping habits, and the way she looks when she smiles. What we may never know (and she may never know) is her real name, birth-date, and her parents’ names. These details are not usually left with these girls when their mothers and fathers take the risk of leaving them to be found and placed into orphanages.

So that’s how I came to love a little girl I’ve never met. I think I started to love her when I first heard about these little girls and read the stories surrounding their journey into the orphanage system. It’s funny that I know literally nothing about her at this point in the process but I love her just the same. I wonder if it makes me love her more because it’s so much work and such a long wait to finally meet her; or maybe because we thought we might never have another child. After careful consideration I don’t think so. This entire process has made my wife and I really examine why we love our children so much whether they are adopted or biological—simply because they’re ours.

November is Adoption Awareness month. For more information on international adoption, go to http://www.bethany.org/ or call Bethany Christian Services at 1-800-Bethany.

>I was once a Hollywood assistant at two talent agencies and one management firm in fabulous Los Angeles, California. The work was unglamourous, mostly unrewarding, and not at all lucrative. The only benefits of the experience were the lessons that I learned. These lessons can be applied to any career and any person living just about anywhere, so I offer them to you. Attractive people get farther in life — so deal with it
Sure, there are the Bill Gates’ and Stephen Hawkings’, but these are merely exceptions to the rule. In Hollywood, I saw many vacuous and less-than-intelligent individuals reach the apex of the industry with nothing more than their good looks. It stinks, but we have to realize it and deal with it. The only leveling factor is that there are tons of attractive people in Los Angeles and not all of them are going to make it. This is the poetic justice which evens things out for the normal cross-section of the human population.
There is a difference between Equal and Sweet & Low
This may confuse some of you who haven’t seen the movie “Swimming with Sharks,” so I’ll explain further. If someone in a power position asks you for Sweet & Low for their coffee, don’t bring them Equal thinking that they’ll be just as happy. What I’m saying is this: Pay attention to detail and you won’t end up with coffee thrown on your new white shirt (literally and figuratively). Even though this example is from a movie, I’ve still seen this type of scenario played out time and time again, whether I worked in LA, Washington DC, or Northwestern lower Michigan — regardless of the job field I was employed in.
Just because you’re hot now, it doesn’t mean the honeymoon will last forever
Creative people, especially actors, directors, writers, and the like, love to have their egos stroked. They enjoy the attention, the limelight, the “heat”, so to speak. The problem arises when said creative folks start to believe their own press. I’ve seen many a Kansas farm girl or boy come to Hollywood as sweet, down-to-earth people who chuck their Midwestern values the first time they land a guest role on “Caroline in the City.” I’ve also seen sitcom stars who were on the cover of “Tiger Beat” every month spend their money like the gravy train would never end, only to find out that even a good television series only has a six or seven year run — and after that, you’re returned to the back of the line to try and get on another hit show with the rest of the newbie actors fresh off the Greyhound bus. Which leads to my next point…
Always treat others as you would like them to treat you, no matter how important you think you are
I’ve seen it happen. The supposed “star” actor treats the lowly production assistant like so much dog doo that she scraped off the bottom of her designer Jimmy Choo shoe. Then she finds that two years later when her career is on the skids and she’s dying to do the new part in the hip new script that the production assistant wrote and is directing, that he has a very good memory. Fame in Hollywood, and all avenues of life for that matter, is truly fleeting. Don’t burn your bridges.On the flip side, no matter how lowly your beginnings are, keep your chin up. Your fortunes can change at any moment if you’re in the right place at the right time, and take the opportunities that life presents to you.
Not everyone is destined to “make it big”… and that’s okay
Now this is a tough one. I don’t want anybody to get the wrong idea about what I’m trying to say here. Those with delicate constitutions should leave the room now. Yes, you should follow your dreams. Yes, you can achieve your dreams if you work hard enough. But…not anyone can achieve any dream they set their mind to. I know this sounds harsh, so hear me out. Some folks aren’t going to be good actors, no matter how many summer stock productions they perform in, how many acting coaches they enlist, or independent features they do non-gratis to “hone their art.” Look at it like this. I will never be a professional basketball player, no matter how many hours I spend at the YMCA practicing free throws. For everyone, and every dream, there is a reality checkpoint that must be acknowledged. If you’ve been trying for ten years to be an actor and all you’ve landed is a guest shot on “MacGyver,” maybe its time to start thinking about a day job. That’s all I’m saying. This logic doesn’t only apply to Hollywood. Everyone needs to look at their careers with realistic goals and it’s important to reassess these goals every few years. We all have hidden talents just waiting to be discovered. I think the best learning experience for me from my time on the left coast was the way in which I was humbled on a daily basis by the people who, at least in their own minds, were “big shots”. Being humbled, although hard on the psyche, did go a long way towards thickening my skin, which has helped me in life ever since. I was able to sleep much better once I came to the realization that these so-called “superstars” were really just people like myself, with the same hopes, dreams, fears, anxieties, and all the other everyday junk that life brings; albeit they were a lot richer and more arrogant. And quite frankly, I was most comforted by the fact that most of them — were absolutely nuts. Cean Burgeson can be reached at cburgeson@pioneergroup.net

>Why is the Grudge “the number one film in America”? Sarah Michelle Gellar sleepwalks through the entire film. She isn’t given any real acting job to do except look scared. This is another example of a foreign film that was fine in the first place but we had to “re-make” it with a bigger budget and more special effects so we could make some big money off of it. Its funny to note that the same director was used for the english speaking version as the Japanese version.

Part of the problem is also the fact that American audiences are not sophisticated enough to appreciate foreign films in their orginal language with subtitles or even dubbed. What really galls me is when you watch a news format or reality TV show where the talking head is speaking english with an accent and they subtitle it for people who apparently are too mentally deficient to understand an australian or british accent. But I digress, back to THE GRUDGE.

Another point of annoyance is the fact that this movie universe makes all its own rules and has no boundaries whatsoever. A good horror or sci-fi film will establish rules and follow them. This adds credibility and a clear plotline. For example, we know vampires are repelled by garlic. They can only come in to your home if they are invited (in some film versions). They can be killed with a wooden stake to the heart. They can’t see themselves in the mirror, etc, etc. All good films of this genre establish the rules, the reasoning, and then the boundries. This way we have a feeling that the main character has a chance at “beating” the ghoulie or bad guy or overcoming the situation they are in.

Films nowadays take the cheap and easy road and there is no real clear reasoning behind the phenomenons which are occuring. We know in THE GRUDGE that whenever a horrible evil happens, the spirits released during the bloodleting are very angry and vengeful and rooted to the evil place. This is a good start. Here’s where it begins to fall apart. Why are only the son and the daughter haunting the people in the film? What about the evil father who killed them both? Why is the son nice most of the time and scary as hell the rest of the time? Why is the mother always scary and why is she the one that kills other people? Why does the boy merge with the cat at times? How come the evil is able to travel outside the home? Why is it mad at these people who did nothing wrong? Why didn’t the demon lady kill the whacked out mother or Sarah Michelle the first time she encounters it? Can it be stopped? Can it be killed? How? Leaving all of this up in the air is the equivalent of soap operas leaving themselves the ability to change the characters on a daily basis, killing, resurrecting, rekilling, shifting their ages, and generally putting them in any situation they feel will make people watch it. Its a cheap way of writing a script.

Why it works is beyond me. People just want to be creeped out and made to jump when they are watching films like this in a dark theatre. Contrast this with a film like THE FORGOTTEN which yes I will agree played out like a long form episode of the XFILES, but nonetheless had rules, reasonings, and explanations behind the characters and what they were doing. There was a clear conclusion at the end and relatively reasonable route to get to that conclusion.

What really needs to happen to pump up the horror genre is a little more originality. We keep seeing remakes and sequels and parodies of already successful films which just don’t have the quality of the originals in most cases. Hollywood’s goal should be to make movies rather than re-make them.