Customer service isn’t

This has been a bad week for me as relates to customer service.  The election cycle just past might be the catalyst for bad responses by business with whom I deal or maybe it is me; you be the judge.

I have a mad money account with a local bank that I will not mention…but it has dollar in its name.  All I do is put money in the account and use a cash function on a bank issued card.  If the card is used once or twice a month it is a lot…most of the time I don’t even check the balance and that apparently is the rub.  You see if you don’t log in for a period of time your password is deleted and a long series of steps to get a new password is begun.  Now I am no genius but this process is not beyond my grade level.  Try as I could there seemed to be no way to get past the first step…my SS#.  A very complicated system which asks for partial numbers frankly frustrated me.  In the end I had to  call the dreaded customer service line.  Pulling my own head off is preferable to this call.  The rep, a very lethargic person  was frustrated with me and I with him. A one point…the tipping point, I confessed that this process, the bank account and this call were no longer of importance to me.  “How do I cancel this account,” I asked hoping to get another rep on the line.  His lethargic response was,  and I quote, “Go to a branch.” Not hey,  wait a minute sir, can we discuss this…or  sir you are an important customer and hope I can convince you to stay.  No, just go to a branch.  So I did…case closed.

I need a new keypad for a lift master garage door; the old one just can’t hack it anymore.  The preferred company will remain nameless but…it is not as precision as you might think.  A very confused receptionist switched me to another number to fulfill my request and promptly dumped my call.  Burning as I was from the preceding encounter with the bank another call to the company was instantly made.  Same receptionist…same routine this time a person answered the wrong call and started talking to somebody named Tom…not my name.  After stopping her in her tracks I was switched again, this time the person said she would have to call me back.  Seven days later no call back.  Upon calling back for the third time the order was placed and she said.  Let me get this straight…you want me to deliver a key pad to your home?  Seemed fair enough but let me tell you what I heard.  Hey dumb ass, cant you get your lazy butt to the home depot and pick one up yourself…like duh!!!  It’s all in the delivery.

…I jus

Some things I think I think…I think

I started and finished my initial foray into organized football while in the sixth grade. Hated it. Unfortunately for me by the time I was going into the 8th grade the schools new football coach was my next door neighbor and he told me that at my size I will be playing football that season. I checked in a 5’11” and 135 pounds and could catch a football. I guessed my dreaded sixth grade experience was doomed to repeat itself. Having not previously played with this team there were few friends among them. This is how it went.

After some slight stretching exercises we lined up for punt returns. The running backs would receive a punt from our coach and the linemen (me) were to race up and tackle them. I stayed toward the end of the line and watched passively. I thought of nothing…like most of my adolescence. All of a sudden I was at the head of the line and the running back I was to face was as big as me. Boom went the punt and I raced down and nailed the runner…put him on his back because that is what I saw the other kids do. Quite a shock for me and the other big kid. That was the beginning of an undefeated season, a championship and 10 receiving touchdown for me. The other big kid was the star of the team…who knew…he went on to run over and through seven league teams and score 700 times. At least that is how I remember it…really wasn’t paying much attention.

I lived across from Engine Company #54. It was a majestic building that still operates to this day. A fascinating place for a little kid who ran every time the engine roared out of the house on a fire call..It got so that I could understand the bell system that alerted the fire men, as they were called at that time. “Fire” I would announce and race out the door to follow the engine. I would run as far as I could until it flew out of sight. Then I would wait and wait and wait until my friends from 54 would return. I made sure all who left also returned and inquisitive as I was asked a million questions when they did. My buddies were Mr. Yates (his daughter and I were classmates) and Mr. Shinkel (we called him ShinkelBells) and Ronnie Knoor (he was hanging around my oldest sister…didn’t like that). Their Boss was Captain George Arendt. Scary dude with an angular nose to go with his long and lanky stature (his son Bobby was a neighbor and friend). I was afraid of George Arendt because he was always the boss at the station where I could be found most days and at his home, where I hung out when I was not at the station house.

Nothing out of the ordinary happened there as my part of town was pretty
sleepy. We joked, Yates, ShinkelBells and go-away Ronnie Knoor and I that there was no need to spend a 12 hour shift at the station, they all could be home in the ‘hood and be there for a fire in a minute. A fire a month was big news. Occasionally there would be a fire in the Hollow. That is where the black families lived. I wasn’t permitted to go there because it wasn’t safe. That seemed odd since a lot of the kids I played Little League Baseball with lived there and they were great friends and better athletes. I guess it was OK if their houses burned down.

I wish I could write about a tragic fire that wiped out a families dreams and that one of my Fire fighter buddies caught a baby being tossed from an second floor window as the flames licked the curtains, but I can’t. Things like that never, ever happened at old 54.

…I just think about

Self Praise Stinks

This is a story about a teacher, my teacher and football coach.  His name is Joe (Bush) Bushofsky.  Coach, as I called him as a player and later as a member of his coaching staff was then and remains my hero.

I was a senior in high school and playing in what would be my last season of football; injuries took their toll.  At the beginning of that season we were greeted by a new head coach.  The previous one left after winning the Catholic League championship with an undefeated season.  A season capped off by a 2-0 victory over our hated crosstown rival Central Catholic, in a game that lives in our hearts until this day; arguably the greatest victory in North Catholic High Schools ( Troy Hill version) fabled history.  My money was on Joe Bush to be our next coach.  Administration had a different plan and brought in a jerk.  Less said about him the better.  I am still bitter over 50 years later.  But I digress.

The story takes place at Mt. Lebanon High in the wealthy Pittsburgh, south hills suburb.  South Catholic, a not so bitter rival played its home games there.  To us it was a treat because our home field did not have grass…theirs did. Our field was dirt that was oiled to keep the dust down.  Playing on grass was like playing in bed.  The “cake eaters” from South were led by an all-everything linebacker named Mike Burns.  He was better than good and tough as a North Sider…well maybe not that tough.

For some strange reason the coach I openly despised named me as one of the Captains for that game.  Sometime in the second half I was in  the pattern (for those of you from Penn State that means I quite possibly could be thrown a pass).  I have no idea why I was in the pattern as I had not caught a pass since the eight grade picnic.

Our QB, Joey B sprinted out to his right and it became abundantly clear that he was going to be sacked.  Joey shouted “fire” which meant get out of the pattern and hit somebody.  So I pealed back and eyeballed the pursuer…Mike Burns….Mr. Everything.  He was snorting and chasing and Joey was screaming and hauling ass.

Remember those old spaghetti westerns directed by Sam Peckinpah in which everybody died in slow motion?  That is what transpired at this moment; my moment.  I sucked it up and barreled full blast into Burns and flipped him up in the air.  I remember thinking…did I do that.  As I got my whits about me I jumped up, fists clenched and said to my self…yes!  Assistant coach Joe Bush was standing right there on the sideline and witnessed not only the hit but my momentary lack of composure.

Confuscius said, and if he didn’t he should have…”When the student is ready the teacher will appear.”  At that moment…the teacher appeared.

Coach jumped off the sideline and pulled me off the field by my birdcage face mask and shouted, centimeters from my face…”SELF PRAISE STINKS!”  I was devastated, probably the bravest thing I had done in my life to that point and I was castigated, publically.  I wasn’t angry just confused.  Later as I reflected he was right.  I acted as if I had never been there before and he hated that.

That was a seminal moment for me, remembered to this very day.  It became my professional mantra.  I taught that lesson to my staffs over my 42 year career in business.  Some might say that if I had been the least bit braggadocious the big corner office would have been mine.  That would have been against our grain, Coach and me.

Six years later I worked for head coach Joe Bush just one season at my Alma Mater and we won the Catholic League championship again…once more beating Central.  Do you see a pattern here? On the 20th anniversary of their championship the players invited the coaches to a picnic.  As the day wound down to sunset Coach and I were alone with a bottle of Jack and too much food.  That day had been about remembering so I remembered that night at Mt. Lebanon Stadium.  After all the derails were laid out for Coach and the admission that what he screamed at me had become my mantra he responded.

“Bobby, I don’t remember that at all.”

“A teacher,” said Henry Adams “attains a kind of immortality because one never knows where a teachers influence ends.”

…I just think of this stuff!


My personal tipping point

For about six years now I have enjoyed keeping up with my Facebook account.  It has been a great adventure, one that has connected me with old friends from work, college and the class of ’65.  I have watched my grand kids grow up on film, especially my two little guys in Florida.  I like to “lurk” and seldom ever write anything poignant or original.  Most of my posting are passing along funny or heartwarming items to my “Friends.”

My first “first person” comment was last Sunday.  I had enough of the rancor, name calling and lies posted on my page.  I quit…no more Facebook for me until this is over.  The Presidential campaign has caused me a lot of personal angst that can be summarized in a short statement; Is this the best we can do?

This is clearly a hold your nose and vote election for a lot of us and particularly me…but that is what an election is supposed to be about these days…pick the lesser of two evils and hope for the best.  What a sad state of affairs! In other words, the system is terminally broken.  I get that but that doesn’t mean that my Facebook page has to be the garbage can into which the invective gets tossed indiscriminately.  I can read all the dissenting opinions needed in the several newspapers I read each day.  Consider this when you are dumping your anger on my page you are keeping me from seeing my youngest grandson takes his first steps.  Think about that.

The tipping point for me was a picture one of my Friends posted of a conservative talking head, Laura Ingraham.  She was caught supposedly giving a Nazi salute while at the RNC podium.  The posting went on to say that the entire audience was giving that salute like a bunch of crazed Nazi’s.  It was a powerful image…hopefully  you saw it.

The problem was that it was one frame from a video of her speech in which the young lady was speaking about the unfair media seated in the power boxes ringing the arena.  I saw the real time address and what she did was to raise her arm with a sweeping motion to include each of the gathered ink stained wretches, as newsies were called in my day in that business. She carefully swept her outstretched arm back and forth to make sure the audience to whom she was speaking at the time realized it was inclusive of all of them.  Powerful moment for her.

How dare somebody  take a frame out of context and indict the entire Republican party.  That was my tipping point.

Surely there will be more of this garbage in the months to come from both camps.  The die is cast and election is on…God help all of us.


…I just think about this stuff

“…he had a accent.”

I have been fortunate to marry into a charming West Virginian family.  She Who Has No Clothes….except those in 6 closets in three states, was born on a horse farm in rural, southern WV.  Over these many years I have come to appreciate the accent from up on Red House hill and honestly it doesn’t register much anymore.  In the beginning I was totally lost…that from a guy who had real, off-the-boat Scottish grandparents.  I had a cousin in Dundee who spoke to me in a brogue that was almost impossible to decipher…even if I watched his lips.  But I digress but you get my point.

The accent down there is a deeper and more confusing than in  any southern state to which I have travelled.  Trust me, it is!  All that is to say this.

A few weeks back my Bro-in-law had a few surgeries and since he is the quintessential alpha male his posse was out in full force standing guard on him in the hospital.  When we arrived that Sunday afternoon we witnessed something unknown in the big city.  In a semi-private room with just Bro as the only inhabitant we found a room with six…count them six chairs along the wall, each occupied.  The empty bed became a sofa on which sat two more people, straddling the sides as to make sure they didn’t muss the bed. Translation: do not disturb the sheets.

Bro was holding court until bigger than life Billy showed up.  Instantly he took over the gathering.  Billy had been at a horse show, he raises, shows and sells Percheron horses. Lamenting all the while that a new guy was there showing off his horses and winning every class.  It was very frustrating to Billy because he usually wins everything.  He railed on a few minutes and then, responding to a question said,  “I don’t know who this guy was but I’m pretty sure he was from Kentucky.”  And why did he think that, I said to myself, not willing to wade into this monologue.  Nobody reacted…they all knew what he meant…except me.  But as all good story tellers are wont to do, he proceeded to repeat some of the story and the audience was all ears again.  “I am sure he is from Kentucky” Billy said, this time with more conviction.  “He had a accent!”

Now listen folks,  that quote is verbatim and grammatically incorrect as is most of the language on the Hill.  Not one quizzical look was given to his last comment unless you would have seen the sly look I gave to She Who.  The look I got back was to say…hold your tongue City Boy.

…I just think about this stuff

Throw…a most utilitarian word

If you want to have some fun observe how many times you hear the word THROW used in a sentence.  As the title might suggest it is a bit overworked.  Trying to learn Americanized English must be a horribly difficult thing to do.

The definition of the word is …to propel something with force by a movement of the arm and hand. Or to put in place quickly or erect or, project a voice or, put on or take off a garment hastily or, move a switch so as to operate a device or, obtain a specific number by rolling dice or, intentionally lose a race or contest or,  confuse or, lose a shoe or, send something or somebody to the floor.  Clear?

Based on those concise definitions you can:

Throw in, throw out, throw down and of course throw up.  You could throw a tantrum or throw a fit or throw a shoe or throw a bearing and if you really work at it you might throw your back out.

If you have a mind to you could celebrate by throwing a party or throw a shower.  Hell, you could throw a baby shower which, by it mere utterance’ could totally confuse a non-English speaking immigrant.

I love it when someone says let me throw some clothes on and run outside to throw a few steaks on the grill or,  if you are down under…throw some shrimp on the barbie.

Lets throw a nice little wedding and the bride will do all the expected things like throw the bouquet after we throw rice (please,don’t throw your arm out). Oh my, this all sounds expensive; looks like I am going to throw a lot of cash at this wedding.

Whew…I need a rest.  I should just gather some throw pillows on the sofa right there on that throw rug and hope all goes well so somebody doesn’t throw me under the bus.  If that happens I am going to throw some punches.  Relax…throw caution to the wind.  Remember not so long ago they were going to throw me out of school because the administration thought I was going to throw a ping pong tournament.

Now my head hurts from all this throwing stuff.  If I fall asleeep here on the couch, no worry, my wife will throw me into bed.

…I just think about this stuff!

Firsts…part 1

I was born at a very young age, and now that I am in my Social Security years I seem to remember the past in vivid detail. Recently while trying to fall asleep memories of first’s started rolling through my head.  The first bike (red for the curious among you). The first fall of the bike (coincidentally on the first ride).  And the first friend; think about that, I can remember the moment I met my first friend, down to the words that were exchanged.

Growing up in the city it took me approximately five years to meet another kid that wasn’t a cousin.  I was playing on the unnecessarily high steps to our rental row house at 12 Bonvue Street, when this huge kid came up the street making a beeline for me.  He was a fat kid, as we were allowed to say in those days, he had freckles and a big belly. I could tell he was way older than me, he was 6.  “Hey,  you Bobby Mill?”  Up to that point in my life everybody knew who I was because we were all related.  I stammered slightly but got the affirmative answer out fearing that maybe he was just identifying the target before he pounced on me.  “I’m Tommy Vaughn…you wanna be my friend” he asked. Not knowing exactly what a friend was I agreed to be a friend for the first time.  I remained his friend until I carried his huge casket some 40 years later.

Then came the first girl friend.  She had that distinction although she didn’t know it until way later.  Charlie Brown had his Little red haired girl I had my blond.  Sally Howley was the first female vision.  She had no idea how smitten I was.  She was an older woman, sixth grader while I was in fifth.  Our parents were friendly from church and she lived on the walking route to school…that is how one becomes a stalker.  Each day my scheduled walk was made to coincide with hers so as to be a safe distance behind, lusting in my heart, safe from her gaze.  Not that she would ever look at me…and what would I do if she did!

My birthday was fast approaching and my two older sisters were plotting a surprise party for me.  Casually they wondered aloud just whom I would want at a party should there ever be one, which of course would never happen to me because that was the first time I ever heard of a surprise party.  Playing along the names came rolling out, all boys.  That was unacceptable so they persisted, any girls, they asked.  None came readily to mind except for Sally Howley.  End of conversation.

Ding-dong, the door opens and in comes Tommy Vaughn and a group of our baseball buddies and Sally Howley.  Are you kidding me?  In my house…in front of my guys…carrying a gift to a surprise party, my first surprise party.

Two years later we had our first kiss and a year of being a couple.

…I just think about this stuff.

The King and I

The following story is true, no names have been changed to protect anybody.

I was nearing the end of my first year of teaching and coaching high school football and forensics at my alma mater when my brother’s friend convinced me to try my hand at sports writing.  Why not…I love sports and believed I could write a word or two.  That was the easy part.  I didn’t mind ending my teaching career.  In point of fact I had to get out of teaching, mind you I loved teaching but realized stomach troubles…I needed to eat three times a day.  Surviving on less than $6,500 for a family of three was going to be a stretch.  So I took the job and made less money but that is a story for another post.

The editor called me and asked if I could write a piece before my actual start date.  Agreeing before being told the assignment was a act of faith.  He assigned me to go to a local country club and interview Arnold Palmer.  Let me repeat that; interview Arnold Palmer, the King of golf, the Masters champ, owner of green jackets, a Claret Jug and more trophies than one could count. This 23 year old school teacher who had never written a newspaper article in his life was coming face to face with his hero.

Upon arrival I was ushered to a room in the club with five well know writers and a TV personality. One, Marino Parencenzo would eventually be enshrined in the Golf Hall of Fame, writers wing.  Then the King walked in, shorter than I had envisioned but strong looking and well tanned…he demanded attention.  I was drooling.  The press conference was orderly and all of a sudden it was realized that I was the only one to have not asked a question yet.  All eyes fell on me when Arnie nodded that it was my turn.  I could not speak…several tries generated not a sound.  “Is this your first time” the King said; shaking my head in agreement he said, “I’ll be gentle.” Apparently he did answer a question or two but by that time I was a puddle.  The article appeared in the Monday edition as it needed the steady hand of the editor and I fear the whole staff to make it printable.

Upon leaving we were each given an autographed copy of the days program, yielding to the ceremony that writers don’t ask for autographs…we want them but can’t ask.  That program and the cut sheet of the article rested in a box in my homes for 45 years.  It was the most thrilling day of my young life; a day never to be forgotten.

Then one day in 2012 I was invited by a friend to play at Arnie’s course Latrobe Country Club and to meet him in his office before we teed off.  Program in hand I bravely sauntered into the King’s castle.  His office and museum is an amazing tribute to his life.  There is a club room with 3,000 clubs in bins, and my guess would be understated.  There is an airplane room with models of each of the planes he has owned and piloted in his storied aviation career. Replica trophies of all the majors he had won were positioned majestically in another room.  He turned 80 that year but he looked ready to fight 18 more holes that day.  He graciously posed for pictures and I showed him the program from 1972.  Thumbing the pages he softly said “This is amazing.”  Yea right, that was a pretty awesome day I thought to myself.  “I don’t remember this at all.”

The most thrilling day of my life and he didn’t even remember it happening.

He may not remember but I will never forget.  He has given me a story I have told countless times, a handshake that could crush a few of my fingers and a treasure trove of pictures of the day that hang in my office.  We must be prepared to face the day when the living legend passes on and it will be a national day of mourning for this country and the world, but mostly for me…and he was gentle.


…I just think about this stuff!




Some things I think I think…again

Why is it that if there is a 50/50 chance of something happening I will be wrong most of the time.  I have tested it regularly and while I can’t say with certainty that I am always guessing wrong I will give it a high 80% number.  Regardless, I am a speech major and the math is secondary to everything…but it still stinks guessing wrong so often.  That is precisely why I don’t gamble.  If you were a betting man or woman and your poison was football games the 50/50 rule should make you a lot of money.  Nay,nay!  Conversely the only winner is the guy who takes the other side of the action.  You can only afford to play so many games each weekend, Bookies will play them all and when the results start pouring in and your teaser is a loser by 4:00 p.m.  On Book’s  300 games he only has to be right 50% of the time.  Next time somebody says its a 50/50 proposition trust me it absolutely is not.  Death to 50/50!

I understand now why Donald Trump is acting the way he is.  He is not a serious threat to be the leader of the free world but he is on a mission.  In a country that is so caught up in political correctness he is a breath of fresh air.  Most of what he says is not well thought out but it is from his heart.  He is saying what is on his mind and in his heart and for that he has become a pariah in some circles, read liberals.  But if you think that he thinks that he can win an election you both would be wrong.  No, his agenda is much bigger.  He wants us to get over ourselves and cut out the fear of speech which has replaced freedom of speech.  You have to give him credit; he has a voice, unfiltered as it is, and he uses it.  I for one enjoy the fact that he is not afraid to tell it like it is…according to The Donald.

…I just think about this stuff!



I have come to the conclusion that the most important word in the English language or any language for that matter, is not what you might expect.  It isn’t love nor money…nor fame or even winning.  This word is powerfully insightful, and damnable at the same time…it is simply “WHY?”

When babies begin the terrible three’s and fours they get it.  Haven’t you ever notice that tykes are always asking WHY?  I can remember responding to a barrage of  that word from my son with…”because I say so!”  Why did I respond that way?  probably because I didn’t have the answer or the explanation was to deep for his young mind to comprehend; ergo “because I say so” sufficed to shut him up.

I mourn for a world that has forgotten to ask the simple question.  The asking of the question should not terrify any longer.  We should be asking WHY there is so much violence in the world.  WHY is everything black or white, left or right?  And to these questions we should demand answers. When you friend or candidate makes a bold pronouncement which either alters you relationship or your government just ask him/her WHY?  It takes no prep on your behalf;  you are asking to actively learn…to understand…to comprehend.

I have a friend who loves to use the phrase, I hate that guy!  Punctuation intended.  One day we were talking about the former Steelers player and now member of the Pro football hall-of-fame, Jerome Bettis.  I made a few complementary comments about The Bus, to which my friend exploded with,  “I hate Bettis!”

Taken aback as I was there were no words with which to respond.  Bettis is an institution in Pittsburgh and one who has never done anything to besmirched his rep or that of his team of his adopted city.  I hadn’t yet made this breakthrough in thinking about the word WHY? …so  just listened intently as he quickly went on to another subject.

When word came down that Bettis indeed  made it to the Hall the previous conversation had to resurected.  “How do you feel about Bettis now,” I asked.  He said he thought it was great.  Upon reminding him of the long ago and far away comments he stammered and stumbled and all but recanted his comment.  Methinks he forgot all about it but not me.  WHY, WHY did he say that back then?

…I just think about this stuff!