Up in Smoke

June 7, 2011

I was in the second grade the first time I lit up. A neighbor of mine, who was a year or so older, let me try one of his. He was in the third grade and already addicted.

I don’t recall if I inhaled; I do recall getting dizzy and nauseated. You’d think that would’ve been enough, but in the 1950’s it seemed that most adults smoked… including my older brothers and brothers-in-law, so trying again didn’t seem all that stupid. I don’t remember my sisters smoking and I never saw my parents smoke, although I was told that Dad had quit some time before I was born.

Between the second grade and high school, my friends and I experimented from time to time. Once we bought a package of Bull Durham. For five cents, we got a bag of tobacco and twenty cigarette papers. We clumsily managed to roll one or two cigarettes apiece, but most of the tobacco and papers went to waste. Again, I don’t recall whether I inhaled or not, but I do recall the dizziness and nausea.

Another time. my friend who had supplied that first smoke in the second grade, built his own water-cooled Turkish pipe. We smoked corn husks and got more than nauseated. We never tried that again.

Unlike many who have sued the tobacco companies, I don’t blame the advertisements as much as I blame peer pressure and my role models.

My mother was adamantly opposed to smoking, yet she tolerated the members of the family and their friends who smoked in our house. In fact, I remember the Metropolitan Insurance agent who stopped by weekly to collect the premiums (ten cents per week for each of my brothers and I). He was always smoking a smelly cigar and nobody thought anything about it. Mom simply made sure there was an ashtray nearby.

As a member of the Key Club (junior Kiwanis) in high school, I attended a few conventions out of town. As soon as we got to wherever the convention was, my buddies and I would buy cigarettes or cigars. I vaguely remember a brand called Trends, which were shaped like cigarettes, but stronger – like cigars. By this time, I was inhaling and sometimes getting dizzy, but no longer nauseated.

For the younger people reading this, back in the 1950’s there were all sorts of rumors about the health hazards of smoking. First and foremost was that smoking would stunt our growth. More importantly, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that smoking caused cancer. This had not yet been scientifically proven, but we called them “cancer sticks” or “coffin nails.”

The standard line of many smokers was “It will take me twenty years to get cancer; by then they’ll have a cure.”

Well, that was sixty years ago, and the cure for all cancers has still not been found.

In college, I smoked from time to time – when I could find a heavy smoker willing to share, or (rarely) when I had enough extra cash to buy my own. Cigarettes had increased in price since my second grade experience (when a pack would cost seventeen cents). At $.35 per pack (the price of a hamburger and coke), I didn’t waste the cash on such luxuries.

After graduating from college I got a real job and started earning more money than I’d ever had in my life. When I should have been old enough to know better, I became a regular smoker.

By the time I quit for good (the first time) I was in my forties and smoking three packs a day. I had quit many times prior to that, but the longest I ever lasted was a few months or so. But this time I was off for five or six years!

But you know it didn’t last. One evening I was sitting talking with a group of smokers and bummed one from one of my friends. The “one” soon turned into two, three, and so on. The next day I felt obligated to pay the guys back, so I bought my own pack and shared. The following day, I bought a carton and was soon back to my three-pack-a-day habit.

It took me another ten years or so to recognize that I absolutely had to quit for good. This time I knew I could not ever even have “just one”. At the beginning of October, 1998, I threw my remaining cigarettes away and began my smoke-free life. I have not so much as touched one since then.

And the sad part? I still crave cigarettes. When I smell the smoke of someone else, it still smells good to me. My addiction is obviously more than physical.

I’ve told my bride that if I ever come home with a carton of cigarettes, it means I’ve been to the doctor and told I have a terminal illness and very little time left.

Sad, isn’t it. But that’s what smoking can do to a person.

If you’ve never smoked, keep it that way. If you currently smoke, recognize all the reasons why you should quit – cost, health, whatever. Try to convince yourself that you’ll be better off without cigarettes. Don’t quit for anyone else but you. That’s the only way it will work.

I quit cold-turkey, but if you need the patch or gum, do whatever it takes. The longer you smoke, the harder it is to quit. And when you quit, always remember how difficult those first few days are. You won’t want to repeat them. That will help you to stay “quit”.

End of sermon!

Putting the FUN Back in Fund-Raising

July 19, 2010

My first efforts at fund raising were designed to put money in my own pocket. Mom helped me make some sort of pot holders that I then tried to sell door-to-door. Since I’m no longer in that business, I assume the money I made did not seem worth the effort.

Eventually I learned that the best way to raise personal funds came through employment… although the entrepreneur in me still yearns to try my hand at something. If the government doesn’t stop spending my social security on things like buying Pakistan’s friendship, I may be left with no choice.

In high school I belonged to the Key Club – a group of teens sponsored by the local Kiwanis Club – and we raised money for underprivileged children by delivering free neighborhood phone directories and asking for donations. I have no idea where the money we collected went, but we did a pretty decent job of laying guilt on people to get them to drop paper – not coins – in our boxes.

As an adult, I belonged to the Lions Club and became very adept at selling over-priced brooms, light bulbs, and fruitcakes. I’ve also sold more than my share of raffle tickets.

As a member of our church’s Out Reach committee, I’ve sold tickets to Irish Dinners, Gourmet Dinners, and various dances. (In our church, most forms of dancing are permitted.)

And then we discover SCRIP!

Gift Cards - Just as good as Cash!

My bride and I attended a church service in Akron, Ohio and saw that they were selling gift cards after each service. We investigated and convinced our church in Cumming, Georgia to give it a try.

We’ve been selling scrip for about eleven months and have earned a little over $11,000 for our efforts. It’s taken us a while to convince all our members to participate, but as more and more people take the time to buy some cards, our profits are beginning to increase.

So, what’s so great about this type of fund-raising? Simple. A person pays $100 for a grocery store gift card and receive $100 with which to buy groceries. The only thing it costs that person is a few minutes to trade a check for a piece of plastic.

So, how are the funds raised? Again, simple. The grocery store sells the cards to us at a discount. The merchant can then write off the discount as a cost of doing business or a charitable contribution.

There are literally hundreds of retailers who participate in this program. We can get gift cards for restaurants, clothing stores, home improvement and hardware stores, on-line shopping sites, and just about anything else you can think of.

Currently we are looking for other churches in the area to pick up the same project. If we can combine our purchasing power we may be able to get bigger discounts. We’re also trying to contact local merchants who are not yet participating in the program. We recently added a local Greek restaurant that has become one our members’ favorite places.

Any one who has ever sold a fifty-cent candy bar for a buck and a half should take notice of this entry on my blog. There are much better ways to raise money than selling magazine subscriptions to grandparents.

The economy is tough. Why ask people to overpay for anything – no matter how worthy the cause? For every card shown in the photo, I paid face value and the church received a donation. When I take those cards into those merchants, I’ll get exactly what I paid for.

What a deal!

Cap & Trade or Michael Jackson

July 7, 2009

Regardless of which side of the issue you’re on, it should bother you that the news media is spending far more time keeping the American people up to date on the Michael Jackson memorial service than they are in informing us of the progress of the Cap & Trade legislation.

And why are they placing so much emphasis on a dead celebrity? Why are they ignoring more important issues that could affect all tax payers?

Some right wing conservatives would have us believe that the left leaning media is intentionally taking the focus away from Congress so the Obama administration can shove another giant spending (and taxing) bill down our throats.

The left wing radicals would argue otherwise.

Naturally – and unfortunately – the truth has nothing to do with politics. Sadly, the media is giving the American public what the American public wants. I’ll admit I haven’t checked, but I’d bet that any broadcast of the American Idol show garnered a much larger share of the viewing public than any of the Presidential debates.

The truth is a large portion of our population doesn’t care about what goes on in Washington, D.C. In fact, they care even less about what goes on in their own state capitols.

Many years ago I attended a Key Club convention in Philadelphia. Each delegate was given a key ring. On one side was the Key Club logo. On the other was the phrase, “Combat Complacency.”

I believe we’ve lost the battle. In the 1960’s, college students stood up and voiced their opinions. While many of them were wrong in their beliefs, they all had the courage to stand up for what they believed. As a result, many things in our society were changed.

The youth of my youth took the time to learn about things that mattered. Sometimes they heard one side of the story and jumped to incorrect conclusions, but in most instances, they looked at both sides and came to good logical conclusions.

I’m afraid today’s youth are too busy twittering their lives away.

Perhaps that’s the major difference. While we didn’t have CNN, FOX News Channel, C-SPAN, or… come to think of it, we didn’t have any cable channels because we didn’t have cable. We also didn’t have lap top computers and the Internet. But we did have newspapers, news magazines, and the library.

We paid attention to the world around us – sweat bullets during the Cuban Missile Crisis – and felt a responsibility to speak out against what we saw as injustice.

Perhaps that was the influence of John F. Kennedy. I know we all admired the man and took the “New Frontier” very seriously. And we all deeply mourned his passing.

Until President Obama came along, we hadn’t had another President who could reach out and stir the interest of the youth as JFK did. But it appears that the interest of our current youth petered out once their man was elected.

It’s a shame because, the way I see it, it’s the youth and future generations who will be most harmed by what is currently happening in Washington.

The U.S. Government has no business being in business. Every time government has taken over an industry, that industry stops being self-sufficient. For example, independent bus and trolley companies operated in major cities for decades. They competed for riders and most of those companies were profitable.

The companies that couldn’t compete went out of business and their assets were bought up by the other companies. Then, the government decided to take over. The two ‘companies’ I’m most familiar with – the Port Authority Transit (PAT) in Pittsburgh and the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit  Authority (MARTA) – have both operated at a loss for decades. Taxpayer subsidies are the only way they stay afloat.

Will General Motors be any different? Will taxpayer subsidized pricing put Ford, Chrysler, and others out of business?

The Federal Government has put itself in a very awkward position. Congress is talking about passing a ‘clunker bill’ that will give citizens a tax break for trading in an old car for a new, more fuel efficient, car. Will the tax break be higher for those of us who buy a GM product? It would make sense if the government wants their ‘company’ to flourish.

But wouldn’t that be unfair to the other companies? Does the government care?

There are many people who believe the economic crisis could’ve been solved months ago simply by the government letting workers keep their entire paychecks. Think about that. The typical worker has almost a third of his or her paycheck withheld every pay day. If that money had been available to the individuals, they would’ve spent it. Even if they simply paid off some bills, the economy would’ve improved.

Foreclosures would’ve been reduced dramatically and banks would’ve had more money for other loans. Consumers would’ve bought more cars, televisions, and other big ticket items… which would’ve resulted in more jobs.

If consumers bought Fords and Toyotas rather than Chevys and Buicks, GM would’ve had to fix their problems or go out of business. With increased sales, the other auto makers would’ve been able to buy GM factories and put the former GM employees to work building other makes of cars.

Is it too late for the government to get out of the auto business? I hope not. And while they’re at it, they should also get out of the banking and investment businesses.

Come to think of it, maybe it’s time for MARTA and PAT to liquidate and let the private sector show the politicians how it should be done.

Considering the business acumen of most politicians, it wouldn’t take a business genius to repair the damage done by congress. Think of it! How many politicians have held a ‘real’ job during their adult life. There may be a few, but most of them were borderline lawyers who recognized they could make a lot more money supporting the causes of special interest groups.

If they were intelligent enough to be successful business people, why would they even consider becoming a member of Congress?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and see if Michael has been buried yet.

Another Decision

March 6, 2009
My hippie days

My hippie days

This picture has nothing to do with my thoughts for today. I included it for anyone who wants to see what I looked like about sixty years ago.

My thoughts today center around a new decision I need to make. There’s no rush on this one, but I owe it to a lot of people – including myself – to give it some serious thought.

I attended a meeting of the Forsyth County Optimist Club yesterday morning. I was the guest of Donnie Culver. Donnie is the eternal optimist who always has a smile on his face and can usually say something to make me laugh.

For example, yesterday he explained how his wife wanted him to be more sensitive. So, when he took the garbage out, he cried.

He also mentioned that he warned his wife that if she ever decided to leave him, he was going to go with her.

Simple statements such as those are guaranteed to bring a smile to many faces.

Donnie wants me to join the Optimist Club. He also wants me to be the guest speaker at their next meeting. Thus, part of my decision making process involves deciding whether or not to accept either invitation.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a joiner. I like belonging to groups… especially those who perform some sort of service for the community. In high school I belonged to the Key Club, which was sponsored by the Kiwanis Club. We held several fund raising events each year and donated all our proceeds to various charities. We also attended annual conventions.

One year, three or four of us attended an International convention in Philadelphia. Shortly after we were told not to leave the city limits, we boarded a bus and traveled to Atlantic City. While my friends frolicked on the beach and boardwalk, I rode another bus to Somers Point and visited with my Aunts Josie and Mary.

In college, I joined an educational fraternity, Kappa Delta Phi. While most of our activities centered around kegs of beverages, we did take some time to tutor children at General McLane High School. Of course, when Dr. Luther Hendricks learned what I was doing he said something about ‘the blind leading the blind.’

Later in life I joined the Lions Club. Their main charitable activities centered on the blind. They were proud to tell how Helen Keller had challenged the group to become ‘Knights for the blind’ and the many ways they acted to serve that group of individuals. We held fund raisers and sent the money to the Leader Dog school in Rochester, Michigan, the Lighthouse for the blind – a summer camp in Pennsylvania – and a number of other similar groups. We also collected used eye glasses and sent them off to foreign lands where they could be recycled. Come to think of it, we also encouraged people to donate their eyes when they were no longer needed on this earth.

I also attended a few state and international conventions as a member of the Lions club. As I recall, no one ever told me not to leave the city limits as an adult. It wouldn’t have mattered, I would have wandered off anyway.

My west coast brother used to belong to the Rotary club. I don’t know if he is still a member or not, but I feel that I should investigate what the Rotary club does. I also need to re-examine the Kiwanis club.

Believe it or not, part of the criteria for my decision will be where these groups hold their annual conventions. My bride and I love to travel. If we can go to exotic places with a group of friends, we’d probably look forward to the opportunity… especially if they can get discounted group rates.

More importantly, I want to know how each organization raises money and what they do with it. I don’t want to belong to a group that uses the international banner to justify a social club. I’m not interested in anything other than a service club.

However, I must also be realistic. I already belong to the Christ the King Lutheran church’s Out Reach team, which is similar to the Catholic church’s St. Vincent dePaul. I’m also a board member for Thrivent, which is another Lutheran group that supports mission trips to the Gulf, Habitat for Humanity, and other worthwhile charities. In fact, Thrivent is a big supporter of God’s Global Barnyard – check out the link on the right side of the screen!

At Christ the King, we’re in the midst of raising money for the American Caner Society’s Relay for Life, and, in my spare time, I sing with Nostalgia – a band that entertains senior citizens.

I must face reality. Do I have the time to be a productive member of any service organization?

Over the years I’ve wondered about people who join service clubs, faithfully pay their dues, and never show up for meetings or service activities. Why they do that is a mystery to me. All I can figure is that they join so they have something to write in their resumes and the associations will look good in their obituaries.

St. Pat's Irish Dinner at CTK

St. Pat's Irish Dinner at CTK

For now, my decision will have to stay on the back burner. My thoughts are currently on our annual Irish dinner at Christ the King. This is one of our main fund raisers for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.

If you live in the area and would like to attend – your choice of corned beef and cabbage, or Irish stew made with lamb – contact me for ticket information. And if you don’t live in the area, but would like to make a financial contribution, I’ll be glad to hear from you as well.

In the meantime, if you’re familiar with the Lions, Rotary, Optimists, Kiwanis, or any other service club you think I should consider, please let me know.

More December Memories

December 9, 2008

I know, I know… you’re wondering what that song has to do with my December memories. Well, the Pittsburgh disc jockeys really loved that song in 1961 and it seems they were constantly playing it while my friends and I stood out on a street corner selling Christmas trees for the local Kiwanis Club.

We were members of the Langley High School Key Club and we assisted the Kiwanis during several projects throughout the year.

Langley High Key Club

Langley High Key Club

This picture was taken while we were distributing community directories to every house in the area. The directories were free, but we solicited money for the needy families. The handsome, skinny guy standing on the far right is the person I used to be… about a hundred and forty pounds lighter.

The tree sale was held in the Elliot section of town – at the corner of Lorenz  and Chartiers Avenues. I believe the owner of the Rexall Drug store (on that same corner) was a member of the Kiwanis and allowed the use of his sidewalk.

Besides trees stacked everywhere, we had a big old oil drum in which we kept a fire constantly burning. Decembers in Pittsburgh can be brutally cold and we huddled by that fire when there were no customers looking at the trees… which seemed to be a large part of the time.

As I recall, we basically covered the tree ‘lot’ in the early evening while the Kiwanis members were enjoying a nice quiet dinner with their respective families. The men would finally appear around 8:00 PM and stay around until 9:30 or 10:00. We’d usually leave shortly after they arrived.

I don’t recall how many trees we sold. Nor do I remember our prices. However, I doubt if we had a tree priced higher than $15.00. That’s a far cry from today’s prices.

Over the years, whenever I bought a real tree, I tried to purchase it from a service club. I’ve sold trees for the Roswell Lions Club and bought trees from the Forsyth County Optimists. I buy from these folks for two basic reasons. First, their prices are usually better than the private lots. Second, their profits go to good charitable causes.

Besides, being around a service club lot reminds me of the other song the Pittsburgh disc jockeys liked to play in 1961.

Perhaps it was my age… and the radio stations we listened to during that time, but I don’t recall hearing Christmas carols while we tried to stay warm. Of course, I don’t know that Jingle Bells would have warmed us any more than a song about jungle sounds.