May 26

I just noticed on a recent edition of the local newspaper an article.  “United Way in need of volunteers”, the headline proclaimed.  Ahh, volunteering!  What a wonderful way to give back to your community.  I’ve been volunteering for the past several years, and it is a great way to give of yourself when giving a lot of money is not an option… unless you are a volunteer for Boy Scouts of America, in which you can give your time and lots of money, ’cause, you know, there’s actually people who make money doing this scout stuff for a living, and we gotta get their salaries paid somehow.

I volunteer as an adult leader for both Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts.  I started with my oldest son’s cub scout den, and progressed with him to Boy Scouts.  Now, my youngest has started Cub Scouts, so I’m helping there too.  I am also a deacon at the church I attend.  I have a little under a year left on a four-year term, then I have to take a couple of years off.  I enjoy all of the positions to which I volunteer my time, but one thing I’ve learned about volunteering is that sometimes, you need a break.

I am looking forward to the completion of my term as a deacon.  I have really enjoyed serving the members of our church and getting to know them better, but it is a time commitment that will be nice to see go away for awhile.

I was really hoping that I was about done with scouts.  I always figured that if I could get my oldest son through Cub Scouts and into Boy Scouts, he could take it from there.  I was wrong.  Some how I was conned into helping there too.  Come on!  Can’t I finally be one of the parents who always just drops the kids off for someone else to entertain?  And I did everything I could think of to keep the younger son from wanting to join scouts.

“They eat puppy dogs on camp outs,” I said to the little guy.

“But Brother did it, so I want to too,” he replied.

“Yep, barbecued puppy dog with fried spiders,” I said.  “It’s pretty gross, and you have to eat it really fast so the smell doesn’t attract the vampires.  You can hear the vampires searching for blood outside your tent at night.”

“But, I really want to be a scout like Brother, Dad,” he said, crying now but trying to be brave and hold back the tears.

I really think I could have talked him out of it.  I was about to go into the poisonous snakes that like to crawl into the sleeping bags with the scouts at night when the wife walked in and put a stop to it.  She then proceeded to lecture me on the fact that it is only fair that we support the younger son’s decision to participate in an activity that has been such a big part of his older brother’s life.

Crap.

So, I agreed if the wife agreed to be the den leader… at least to start.  She agreed, if I agreed to be involved and do the camping thing.  I reluctantly agreed.  I love camping… in a camper with heat and air conditioning and a refrigerator and a toilet and a BED.  Any form of camping that involves a tent and sleeping on the ground is for those fortunate enough to be under the age of 40.

The wife volunteers even more than me.  She is more active in the younger son’s Cub Scout pack, serving as den leader and holding a position or two on the board.  She is also active on our younger son’s elementary school booster club.  She has volunteered for other organizations in the past, including a local MOPS chapter, our church’s AWANA club, serving on the board of a local investment club.  She is also volunteering for stuff any time the schools ask for parents to help with this or that.

Volunteering can be very fulfilling… or so I’m told.  One thing that volunteering has taught me personally is that if you aren’t willing to donate your time to a worthwhile cause, you have no right to complain about much of ANYTHING!

“But I’m just way too busy.”

What a load of CRAP!  Every single person that I know has enough free time to volunteer for something.  If someone tells you that they are to busy to volunteer, what they are really saying is, “I am very selfish and my free time means way too much to me to give it up for something bigger than my own life.”  I really want to believe that there is some sort of cosmic feng shui crap that is going to bite these selfish bastards in the ass some day, but I don’t think there is.

What really twists my tighty whiteys all up-in-a-knot is those who don’t volunteer, but who somehow think they have some sort of right to complain about how those who do volunteer are doing things.   You know, like the parent who never comes to the planning meetings and then throws a hissy fit because we planned the scout banquet for a night her son can’t come.  Or the parent who is torked off that we aren’t having the scouts participate in some parade or another, but wasn’t willing to help as an adult leader at the parade… and the only reason we didn’t do it is because we couldn’t get enough adult volunteers.

Youth baseball is one of the areas where non-volunteering parents seem to think that because they were born with a mouth, they are entitled to open it without first engaging their brains.  At my 7-year-old’s first game, the coaches were pitching.  It is supposed to be a pitching-machine league, but somebody forgot to unlock the shed with the machines before the game.  I’m not going to bitch, however, because I’m sure the person who forgot was a volunteer.  Anyway, coaches aren’t always exactly the best pitchers.  Not a big deal.  These guys volunteer their time to teach our sons how to play a fun game.  some of them take 7 and 8-year-old baseball a little too serious, and some of them take it not serious enough.  I figure, as long as the kids learn something and have a good time, it’s all good.  One of the boy’s dad on the opposite team apparently didn’t agree with me.  His kid got up to bat and the coach started throwing balls to him.  The pitches weren’t perfect.  The coach kept trying and the kid kept swinging.  Finally, the dad started to let his frustration show.  He started hollering.

“C’mon, Timmy,” he yelled after his kid once again missed the ball.  “Don’t worry about it.”

This parent and his kid were on my son’s t-ball team last year, and I remember this particular dad being overly vocal.

“Maybe if the coach could actually get one across the plate, you could hit it,” the red-faced father yelled.  “Sooner or later he’s got to throw you one you can actually hit!”

Seriously?!?  The coach is looking embarrassed and a little upset.   Finally, little Timmy connects, and his dinkweed-of-a-father erupts into cheers and applause.  Jackwads like this dad are one of the reasons I don’t volunteer for sports.  There are too many parents who I would end up telling to “go to hell” in front of a bunch of kids, and that’s not pleasant for anyone.  Meanwhile Mr. I-like-to-degrade-the-coach-in-front-of-all-the-kids-and-their-parents: why don’t you shut your pie hole and volunteer your time?  I’m guessing because you think your “too busy” and you have too many other “very important things” to do that prevent you from putting your actions where your mouth is rampantly running.  It’s just to bad that “business” and those “important things” don’t keep you away from the games as well…

So yes, in the world of volunteering (just like in the work-a-day world), you are going to be confronted with morons.  The world is full of them.

To all of you who volunteer… thank you.  Your sacrifice is not unappreciated, although at times it feels like it is :)

To all you too indifferent or selfish (I just don’t have the time) to volunteer… grow up and grow a set.  As much as I bitch about it, volunteering is worthwhile, fulfilling, and proves to the world that you are not a vain, self-serving idiot.

To all of you who refuse to volunteer but like to complain when a volunteer organization doesn’t do exactly what you want when you want it… go suck a lemon, jerkwad!

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May 24

In my last post, I pointed out how both high school and college graduates are often (usually) unrealistically optimistic. That’s me, destroyer of young dreams… but I only tell them for their own good.  Better to have no dreams or to know that your dreams are probably unachievable than to dream and have those dreams shredded and left on the compost pile of life.  Did I just quote Shakespeare?  Wasn’t that in Hamlet?  … maybe not…

I felt kind of bad for presenting the future of most of these graduates as the miserable abyss that, for most of them, their lives are going to become.  I wanted to make a modest attempt, in my own very special and unique way, at letting them know that everything is gonna be alright.  Here we go…

Sometimes, my family worries about the level of pessimism (or, as I like to think of it, “realism”) that I display on my blog.  I spoke to my dad on the phone shortly after he read the last graduation post. He seemed slightly concerned.

Dad:  “Son, I bet people who don’t really know you think you’re very bitter.”

Me:  “Ya think?”

Dad:  “You’re really not that bitter , are you?”

Me:  “I thought you knew me.”

Dad:  “I do, I just have a hard time believing you’re that bitter.”

Me:  “Yeah, me sometimes too.”

Dad:  “I mean… you’re really not that bitter… are you?”

Me:  “Not always.  Sometimes, I sleep.”

Dad:  “… oh…”

Hahaha!

Nothing says “good times” like making your parents believe that they somehow failed you in your childhood and your current level of life-misery is all their fault.  No worries, Dad.  All of my pessimism is self-induced.  Life has taught me that it often sucks without any help from you… although the short-gene that you have passed on to me hasn’t helped.  How was I ever supposed to live out my dream of playing in the NBA when I come from short European stock?  But, you just passed on what was passed to you, so not really your fault  (I don’t want to piss off my dad… he’s one of 3 people who read this blog regularly.)

Ok, back to encouraging high school graduates.  I think part of the problem I see with the whole free education system is that, by the time you are finished with it, you are still way too young to have a decent idea what you want to do with the rest of your life.  “I’m going to be a doctor” or “I’m going to be a lawyer” you may say if you are one of them real smarty-pants-types… or you actually have parents with enough cash to help you get through medical or law school.  But, do you really want to be a doctor?  Do you really want to be a lawyer?  You’re 18-years old.  How can you really know what you want to do with the rest of your life?

You can’t.

When you are 18-years-old, you know you want an attractive person of the opposite sex to pay attention to you, you know you like hanging out with your friends, and you know that you like to eat food that, a couple of  years in the future, is going to end up straight on either your gut or your butt; this is what you know about life.  I’m 41-years-old, and I only really figured out what would have been pretty cool to do with my life a few years ago… and by then it was too late.

For my college education, I went the business route.  4-years and a lot of money went to Montana State University and the Bozeman community while I earned a bachelor of science in marketing.  Now, I knew I could make more money if I chose something like engineering, but I always had issues with science.  I didn’t enjoy it, so why would I want to apply it to my career for the rest of my life?  Teaching sounded okay, but kids who took the teaching path seemed to be looking for the easy route.  Besides, teachers don’t make squat, right?  Business… no crappy science, and good money, right?  Oh, how wrong I was.

There needs to be a large disclaimer when someone enrolls in a business program at the university level.  That disclaimer would read:

This degree does not guarantee any kind of future success.  This degree will most likely lead to some crappy job in sales or retail management.  If sales and/or retail management aren’t what you are looking for, chose another program of study!

Of course, this disclaimer does not exist… until now.  I am warning you, if you get a business degree (unless it is very specialized, like accounting) you will most likely wind up as an assistant manager at Walmart or trying to sell computer software to companies that don’t need it and who cringe every time they see you come through the door.  This is a proven fact… well, I don’t have proof, but I’m pretty sure it’s true, which is almost the same as fact, isn’t it?

So, I went through college, got a crappy retail management job, and jumped from crappy job to crappy job every couple years.  A few years ago, I realized that an education in literature would be more up my alley.  I’ve always liked reading and writing.  Maybe that teaching thing wouldn’t have been so bad.  Besides, as crappy as I perceived teacher pay to be at the time I was making career decisions… in reality, I’d be making a hell of a lot more if I had been teaching for the past 20 years than I am now… and I’d have my summers off.  Hindsight… it’ll kick your ass every time.

A few years ago, I figured, heck, why not try pursuing something that would be a little better fit with my personality.  I enrolled in an online graduate program through Fort Hays State University in Kansas.  I was gonna get me a Master of Liberal Studies with an emphasis in English.

“What could you do with that?” you may have asked.  Well, boy howdy, I could have taught English at a community college.

“How does that pay?” you may have asked.

“Like crap,” would have been my response, but I was going through a brief period of insanity in my life where I thought maybe money wasn’t everything.

I enrolled, took a couple of classes, loved the classes, started to get a fresh perspective on life, and then reality smacked me upside the head.  First of all, I stopped working for a company that had a really good tuition reimbursement plan, and college classes are not cheap.  Second, I realized that taking these classes was interfering with family time (and my kids aren’t going to be around forever… they will get out of high school and, I’m assuming, move as far away from the panhandle of Nebraska as possible).  Third, I realized that the odds of getting an actual job teaching English at a community college were pretty slim, and, even if I did, I wouldn’t be able to support a family on that kind of crappy pay.

See, even a seasoned pessimist like me can let stinking dreams and hope and all of that other positive garbage creep back in every once in awhile.  I’m just glad that dream got smacked down before it grew too large.  I was in my mid-30s when that one snuck in.  I’m in my 40s now and any silly hope of getting an education that would lead to some sort of life-happiness is a thing of the past.  Once you get family obligations and mortgages and car loans piled on you and once you get accustomed to a certain quality of life and start thinking about the prospect of being able to retire some day, going backwards financially to make silly dreams come true becomes what it really was all along… a pipe dream.

So, you may be wondering how these words can be construed as “encouragement” for recent high school graduates.  I’m not exactly sure.  I guess my words of encouragement would have to be:

DON’T STRESS IT!

Don’t stress the fact that everyone expects you to plan out the rest of your life through the choices you make at age 18.  Plans change.  Dreams change.  Hopes change.  And most importantly… YOU change.  You will not be the same person at age 28 that you are at age 18, and 38 is going to make 28 look like a total stranger.  You will see the world differently, you will value different things, and your passions may change hundreds of times before you leave life in this realm.  Very few choices that don’t involve death are permanent, and any wound that doesn’t kill you will heal.  Scars are badges of effort,  and it takes effort to survive.  Whether you accomplish your goals or realize your dreams, or if you end up living the disappointing life of the average mortal, you will get some scars along the way.  Wear them with pride.  They show that you made the effort.

Now, if you end up bitter and pissed at the world like me, I’m thinking I’m probably going to be looking for a protege to take over this blog in about 20 years (if I ain’t dead by then).  If you are 18 now, you’ll be 38 then (which is how old I was when I started this bad boy) and we may have to get together and discuss you taking over old Happy Stinking Joy.  See, even when your dreams are dead, you may still have something to look forward to… or not…

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May 18
Graduation

Every year, thousands of small birds are inexplicably killed near commencement ceremonies :(

WARNING!!!

Recent high school or college graduates, please don’t read this post.  I don’t want to be held responsible for harshing your mellow at this time of great accomplishment in your lives.  As you travel the road of life ahead, you will have plenty of time to discover the truths held in my words for yourself.

The wife and I took our boys to our niece’s high school graduation this past weekend in North Platte, NE.  So, we spent a weekend watching young people being recognized for their accomplishments. This all got me to thinking… thinking how much people could accomplish with their lives if the stinking real-world didn’t have to come along and jack everything up.

I remember graduating from high school feeling like the whole world was out there waiting for me to conquer it. I remember having the same delusions at my graduation from college. At my niece’s graduation, I could read the same thoughts in the faces of all of those graduates. They were imagining their futures filled with limitless opportunities. Give them a few years. They will find the limits. Actually, the limits will hunt them down and stomp many of them into the ground.  I know.  The graduating class speaker was a well spoken young woman who reminded the graduates that they were solely responsible for their own futures. Graduates and school administrators say that kind of stuff at graduations. Graduates and school administrators believe that kind of stuff at graduations.  Now, with graduates being young and naive, such dreams are expected.  School administrators, on the other hand, should know better but are extremely biased in their perception of the true value of “education.”  Aside from the field of education, I can’t think of a single line of work in the United States of America where further education guarantees higher earnings, seniority, and advancement.  A large percentage of people employed in the field of education seem to have lost touch with what it is actually like outside of the field of education, and those people probably should not be allowed to speak at commencement ceremonies; they paint an unrealistically-rosy picture.
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Well, I guess we want to give these young people hope for the future, right?  No need having them give up when a very small percentage of them are going to accomplish those dreams.  As for those who will not accomplish their dreams, they will have plenty of time to figure out what their futures hold.

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Soon enough, most of these optimistic young people will be just like the rest of us… wondering why everyone misled us about how bright our futures were.  For the kiddos, when someone tells you that you may need to set “new goals” or dream “new dreams”, this is them gently telling your dreams and goals are unrealistic (see, they lied to you at graduation… you can’t accomplish anything you want).  Pick something less-hard to accomplish, or maybe just settle for what you have.  Less hard and settling are what most of us do on a daily basis…

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May 12

You ever get the feeling that everyone and their dog is out to piss you off?  I’m sure I’m not the only one to have those kinds of days on occasion.  Well, several days over the last couple of weeks have gone that way for me.

To start things out, the administration and board of Scottsbluff Public Schools seem to have recently inserted their heads squarely into their butts.  I understand that times are tough and schools have to reign-in spending and all of that garbage.  Still, cutting positions on the front line of education (i.e. teachers) doesn’t seem to make sense.

Scottsbluff Public Schools is the only school district in the panhandle of Nebraska to offer an orchestra program.  Well, it looks like the school administration plans on cutting that program.  There has been a full-time orchestra teacher in the program for years, and the program has been available to kids beginning in 4th grade.  The teaching position is being cut to part-time, is only available to those in middle school or higher, and they are considering getting rid of concerts for the students completely.  Okay, so by cutting out the 4th and 5th grade participation, they are cutting off feeding the program.  By cutting out the concerts, they will be cutting back on interest from students, parents and the community.  Administration will not admit it, and they think we are too stupid to figure it our for ourselves, but it seems obvious that the orchestra program is being phased out.  Just too darn expensive.  Did I mention that our superintendent of schools makes $160,000/year?  This is almost the same pay that the superintendent of the North Platte Public Schools makes, and North Platte has a much larger student and staff population to manage.  I can’t figure out what exactly makes our school district so difficult that we would have to pay a superintendent the same as someone managing a much larger district in the same state.  I have my own opinions about why it sucks around here, but none of the reasons have much to do with the schools.  I guess it must have something to do with how much it just sucks to live here.  We gotta pay top dollar just to get someone to live here.  The last superintendent, upon retiring, immediately moved the hell away from the panhandle.  He apparently hated it here and we had to pay out the wazoo to keep him while we could. He was kind of a pompous ass anyway (which seems to be the status quo for school superintendents), so the community is probably better off with his departure.

The second (more severe) cut that is really pissing me off is the board and administration screwing up the HALs program.  HALs stands for High Ability Learners and is a program for students who aren’t challenged enough with regular classroom learning.  We have had a coordinator for our HALs program and she has done an outstanding job.  Her name is Merry Witzki, and she is not a normal “teacher”.  Merry knows how kids learn.  Her focus hasn’t been only on math, science and language arts (which seems to comprise the focus of our education system).  Merry mentors the kids (high ability, normal ability, and low ability) she works with and focuses on creative thinking skills.  She challenges the kids to think outside the box and the kids gain skills that will actually help them create a positive impact on the workforce once they join.  I mean, it’s great to know that a water molecule has two hydrogen atoms and a single atom of oxygen, but how many people are going to have a career where that information is relevant.  Good basic knowledge, but critical thinking skills and learning how to lead and be part of a team and all of the other things that Mrs. Witzki focused on were real-world skills that the kids weren’t getting anywhere else.  Well, apparently the school district doesn’t believe real-world skills are important.  Mrs. Witzki’s position has been eliminated.  She will be a grade teacher.  The HALs program will still be in place, but it doesn’t sound like the HALs kids will meet with their peers anymore for monthly workshops and yearly conferences.  Instead, they will be assigned a “special teacher” who will visit them in their existing classrooms and make sure they are being challenged in their classes.    What, make sure they are getting a little harder math homework in their math class than the other students are taking home?  That isn’t going to encourage the HAL students.  It may challenge, but it won’t encourage.  What a crock of crap!  The National Association of Gifted Students recommends this protocol, but our school district doesn’t want to follow this advice. The HALs program has been something that the HALs students look forward to: a fun and creative experience that helps them grow.  I have a strong feeling that the HALs program is about to take a nosedive straight into the toilet.  But whatever.  At least the superintendent is still making $160,000/year.  Hmmm… I wonder if the HALs program could still have a coordinator if the superintendent made what the average superintendent in a school district our size makes?  Or if we didn’t decide that we need to hire a teacher to teach the Chinese language?  Well, I guess since the US is pretty much owned by the Chinese now, we should probably start teaching our future national language.

One thing that really kills me is how the school board defends some of the stupid decisions it makes with, “If parents really cared more and came to the school board meetings, they could make their voices heard before we make decisions.”  The school board meets normally once a month on Monday.  Does the school board have any idea how many other groups meet on Monday night?  My wife is on a booster club for an elementary school, and they meet on Mondays.  I am at Boy Scout troop meetings every Monday throughout the school year.  I guess if we all stopped volunteering in the community, we could monitor the school board that we put in office to help them make the decisions that we elected them to make in our students’ best interests.  I know that I’m probably being a little hard on the school board, but I cannot for the life of me grasp why a group of educated adults would make a decision that is going to potentially have such a negative impact on our brightest students.  I guess, for some children, being left behind is acceptable…

Alright, so those in power on school boards and school administration piss me off, but they aren’t the only ones.  Other people with perceptions of power and authority piss me off as well.  I know I have discussed my aversion to local politicians (especially small town mayors) before, but I keep coming back, don’t I?  You know the types: county commissioners whose asses everyone kisses because of the hellfire of economic ruin said commissioners will rain down upon those who openly oppose them (or who don’t hook them up with free crap just because they are commissioners).  Also, higher-ups in economic development-type organizations can be real jerks.  Some of these people see themselves as “elite”, and I’m getting too far along in age to be talked down to by some jerk on a power trip.  What really gets me is that the people who are supposed to be all about developing the local economy are the people you never see out supporting local businesses.  If they actually do support local businesses, they constantly throw in your face how much your service “sucks” and how much better off they would be going with a non-local business, but they are supporting your business so you better do whatever in the hell they want you to do to make them happy.  They are the kind of people who call in to complain that their toaster stopped working… and your business has nothing to do with the sale or service of toasters… and they want you to fix their broken toaster, because, “all of my smart friends tell me that I need to buy my products or get my service from someone other than you, but I keep my money going to you, so you better get someone out here to fix my toaster!”  And, of course, you fix the stinking toaster.

I have never really held a position with any kind of real power, and I probably never will.  People in positions of power will always talk down to me and make decisions that affect me or those I care about directly, and these decisions will continue to piss me off.  There really isn’t anything I can do about any of this.  Oh sure, I could always come up with an elaborate, diabolical plan to remove these pains-in-the-ass people from my realm of existence, but that sounds kind of messy.  Besides, with my luck, I’d get caught.  I have a feeling that the people on power trips in prison might make my life noticeably more miserable than the elitist jerks I have to deal with on the “outside”. Intimate relations with a tattooed child molester named Bubba, or a similar relationship with local people of “power”. I guess the figurative is better that the literal in this situation…

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