Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Hawg goes to a wrestling tournament

For Valentine's Day, I went to a wrestling tournament with my wife and kids.

Now, this is Arkansas so going to watch wrestling on Valentine's Day might not seem that unusual. Ah, but we weren't watching rasslin' like the pro stuff -- we were watching the Arkansas High School Wrestling Championship.

We were there to see my West Point-bound nephew, Jeffrey -- I've mentioned him before, as some of you good people may remember. Jeffrey (pictured here with his mother) wrestles for Rogers High School, so we made the 20 minute trek from Benton to Little Rock to see how he did in the championship this weekend.

Jeffrey finished fifth in his weight class, so I'd say he did us all proud. His father, Jeff, was beaming as he watched his son take part in a sport he loved as a kid.

Jeff is from Iowa and almost went to college on a wrestling scholarship. Arkansas is relatively new to wrestling and we have 40 high schools with teams so far. Jeff helps coach at Rogers High School and I'd say he's taught his son well.

Now, I can't help but say I was a bit disappointed. Why? I wanted to watch some rasslin' and got none of that. I figured young Jeffrey should come out to some theme music (Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" or something like that), pick up a microphone and start taunting his opponent. The opponent would get all worked up, then the pair would climb into a steel cage and beat each other senseless.

It didn't happen that way at all. No, the wrestling took place on plain old mats and there wasn't even a ring to hurl opponents out of. The wrestlers had leotards bearing school colors instead of elaborate costumes and the kids were absolutely polite and respectful.

I did notice the coaches were sitting on folding chairs by the mats, so I figured Jeffrey would at least be able to grab one of those chairs and bash an opponent with it. That didn't happen, either.

I suppose all of those theatrics have to wait until a wrestler is able to go pro and start his career of being a loudmouthed rassler. I will encourage young Jeffrey to go that route and will even volunteer to be his manager.

I've got it all figured out, see. We'll take advantage of his West Point training and create a character for him called Kap'n Kill. He will be one of the good guys, of course, and will fight against terrorists, communists, socialists and anyone else who threatens the American way of life. He'll keep society from falling into chaos by whipping opponents in the ring. Folding chairs will fly, folks, and America will be saved on a weekly basis by Kap'n Kill.

I, of course, will be Colonel The Hawg and will appear in a seersucker suit, red bow tie and a pair of black and white saddle shoes. I'll always carry a cane and will use the skills gained from my public relations career to represent Kap'n Kill at press conferences. Those events, by the way, will always be a hoot.

"Well, suh. Y'all are living in a fool's paradise if y'all think anyone can defeat Cap'n Kill," I'll say. "This boy hyah, now he's American through and through and has the benefit of superior military training. He's a winner slogging through a world of losers. Don't get in his way."

Young Jeffrey would take the microphone and bellow threats at whatever poor slob was challenging him that week.

Ah, we'll be stinking rich, my nephew and I.

I do have to pass on one story from this weekend. The wrestling championship started on Friday and I wound up sitting in front of a very loud woman. She had one of those shrill voices that's so painful that my ears blocked out part of it as she bellowed.

"Gooch! Goooooch! Goooooch!" she'd yell as I writhed in pain.

I'm not sure how Gooch made out as I was too annoyed to pay attention. I was glad when the pair of wrestlers I assumed to be Gooch and his opponent quit because I figured the woman would shut up for awhile. I was wrong.

Two other wrestlers showed up and she started yelling her head off for some kid named Jake. I wound up moving down a few rows and could still hear her yelling her fool head off at various points throughout the evening.

The lady didn't show up today, however. Maybe she got a sore throat or was thrown out of the event.

At any rate, I was glad to see young Jeffrey do well this weekend. He's a great kid.

Happy Valentine's Day, folks!

Frankly, I've never been a big fan of Valentine's Day.

It's kind of a let down, coming on the heels of Christmas and all. Want to talk about a commercial holiday? You can't beat Valentine's Day for that as it was made up by greeting card companies for the express purpose of guilting people into celebrating their love.

Still, I well remember a Valentine's Day back in 1992 when I had a lot of fun. I was in law school at the time and picked up a box of Michael Jordan Valentines.

Yes, those were those small ones similar to the ones that we passed around in school. The difference, of course, is that they featured the great Michael Jordan blurting out inappropriate phrases.

For example, there was one that pictured Air Jordan in the middle of a slam dunk and saying something like, "You're cool!" What the heck was that about?

Those cards were great because the company that put them out appeared to have grabbed some photos of Jordan and simply plastered phrases that sounded "chummy" on them. Because of the absolute randomness of it all, those cards were even funnier than one I bought for my ex wife that featured a snake celebrating Valentine's Day by trying to buy a rat out of a vending machine.

So, I passed them out to friends. The men thought they were either stupid or funny while the women seemed downright confused that I bothered to waste my money on those things and then hand them out. Regardless, I had fun because people either loved them or hated them.

Now, I was a good boy this year as I bought my wife some roses. I've learned a couple of things about flowers over the years. First of all, buying flowers isn't enough -- they must be sent to a woman while she's at work so she can show them off to other women and, ideally, make a few of them jealous. If you purchase flowers and send them to a woman's home, she can't show them around to people. Also, it seems there's a certain thrill attached with having someone show up and deliver a bunch of flowers to a woman.

My wife and I have been married for 10 years, see, so I've learned a few things such as how to have flowers delivered. The old "send them to work" approach has always worked out well for me.

By the way, I'm a little disappointed that I couldn't send a teddy bear along with the flowers that had the sappiest phrase of all printed on it -- "I love you BEARY much." That phrase is a real rib tickler. A real knee slapper, in fact. The bear I sent along with Marci's flowers is just holding a heart. That's not as kitschy as one that has "I love you BEARY much," of course, but that doesn't matter because my wife likes the bear I picked out just fine.

Second, I've learned to quit wondering why my wife likes flowers so much. Hey, those things are expensive and the die in a hurry, so what's the point?

The point is this -- flowers make my wife very happy, so that's all I need to know. Who wouldn't want a happy wife who is so giddy over receiving flowers that she giggles a bit? Who wouldn't want a wife who is so thrilled at the gesture that she makes something great like cupcakes (hint, hint, Marci) on Valentine's Day?

At any rate, happy Valentine's Day to everyone. I hope you all get to spend the day with someone you love.

Worried about an elderly parent or grandparent?

Back when I was a kid, there was a famous (infamous) commercial in which a grandmotherly type fell, hit a button on her life saving device and was able to call for help.

Ah, but what if that elderly person fell and was hurt so badly she couldn't even reach the button on her life saving device? What if she was so injured she couldn't even press that button?

Fortunately, there are other devices available in the Medical Alarm field that can help the elderly who can't call for help themselves. One of them is the FALL ALERT detector that will automatically alert medical personnel when a person has fallen and can't push a button.

Another is the GPS Tracking Bracelet that is worn on the wrist and features a two-way speakerphone that allows the wearer to call for help. It also has a GPS tracking system that can help authorities track down someone who has gone wandering and can't be located -- very handy for people with ailments such as Alzheimers who have become forgetful.

Those old "push button" devices were handy items that saved more than a few people. Technology, however, has replaced those devices with products that are even more beneficial to the people who rely on them.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The stimulus package is flawed to the core

If I hear one more word about this stimulus package, I may lose my mind.

Actually, I may go nuts if I simply hear the word "stimulus" again. God only knows how irate I'll be if this monster gets passed.

But, of course, we know something will be passed, don't we? After all, we've got few conservatives left in Congress. The moment a Republican president started pushing to bail out our failing U.S. auto industry and was joined in the effort by a Republican running for president, it was pretty clear that fiscal conservatives were a dying breed.

Sure, real conservatives like Ron Paul are howling about this stimulus nonsense, but he's in a true minority. Even Republicans in Congress have picked up on the disturbing theme that the free market needs a major nudge from the government and that throwing good money after bad is a great idea.

For just a second, let's overlook the junk in the stimulus package that has nothing to do with economic growth (i.e., sneaking in some nasty government controls over health care, etc.) and talk about the flawed premise that gave rise to this nonsense. What the government is attempting to do is simply prop up a system that's unsustainable.

Here's the thing. Our entire economy is based on credit and, as such, is an illusion. Things have gotten so odd that prosperity is often viewed as something that can be obtained by those who have a good credit rating. When enough people borrow money like it will never be paid back, they get bitten one day.

Things have gotten so odd that a good number of economists out there have argued against tax cuts by declaring that they won't help because people might be tempted to (gasp!) save money instead of spend it. No, the answer to getting the economy going again is to get credit flowing once again, thus allowing people to borrow more money and get themselves further in debt.

How do we do that? Well, we have the government borrow money from our friends in Japan and China, thus putting the nation further in debt. The problem, of course, is that individuals and governments must make good on their debts one day, yet the government seems perfectly satisfied to delay that day as long as possible.

So we're just about to jump in and push off the inevitable for a bit longer. Still, we can't borrow forever and the longer it takes to learn that fact, the worse things will be when it does come time to satisfy those outstanding debts.

It's worth mentioning that some dramatic, societal changes will have to take place before we can address the nation's real economic problems. I doubt more than a few politicians have the guts to discuss anything else but the quick fix, temporary solution of a stimulus package.

We, as a society, have gotten ourselves in a mess. Look at it this way. If we go back 50 years, a fellow with a solid, middle class job like mine could easily afford to support a wife and a couple of kids. Here in 2009, however, my wife works and we get by just fine by virtue of her income.

What's changed? Taxes have gone through the roof in the past 50 years, the cost of living has increased dramatically and wages haven't risen nearly as much as everything else has. In that environment, it only makes sense that a lot of people have fallen back on credit to augment their incomes.

When you combine the easy availability of credit with the notion that we ought to have everything we want right now, it makes sense that people choose to go deep into debt rather than decide to save up and actually buy stuff with real money. When people can get credit easily, they're less fussy about how much things actually cost, so it's no surprise that we've watched the prices of everything go through the roof.

Take the housing market, for example. The ridiculous gains in values we saw through about 2006 were based -- in part -- on easily available credit. If someone with a pulse and a job can get a "zero down" loan to buy about any home he wants, then that person is less picky about how much the house actually costs.

The same goes for cars and just about anything else. If we're going to rely on growth in credit debt to fuel the economy, the problems that have been playing hell with us right now might get smaller for a time, but they won't vanish. No, they might lie dormant for awhile, but they'll grow larger in time.

In other words, the feds can dump as much money into this economy as they can borrow. The root economic problems, however, will remain.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Watch out for creditors these days

We're hearing about a lot of people defaulting on loans in this economy.

Yes, people who owe money on their homes, cars, credit cards and the like are defaulting or going bankrupt in droves. Considering how rotten the economy is, that's no surprise.

What is a bit surprising, however, is that a number of creditors appear to be adopting the strategy of squeezing the people who are paying to make up for the ones who are not. In a way, that makes sense, but beating on good customers and charging them sneaky late fees, bumping up interest rates and using other tactics to bleed money out of people who have always lived up to their obligations is just plain wrong.

Now, I've heard about some of these rotten tactics and have been arguing with one creditor who's been trying to beat some money out of me lately. Here's what happened.

A couple of years ago, I picked up a Toyota Matrix from a used car lot. Since I didn't bother with a dealership, I wound up financing it through the company the lot used rather than through Toyota.

I've never missed a payment and I've never been late on one. I know this to be true because I pulled my credit report prior to purchasing a 2009 Toyota Sienna for my wife. There's not a late payment to the creditor who holds the loan on my Toyota Matrix on the credit report at all, and I figure the fact we got a loan at a good interest rate through Toyota is proof that my wife and I are doing everything right with regard to our credit.

Now, back in December, my wife mailed the payment for the Matrix off as usual to the finance company in California. About a week later, we got a call from a woman in Memphis who said, "You don't know me, but your car payment was delivered to my house today."

Obviously, the Post Office messed up and the lady was kind enough to forward it along to the finance company with a letter explaining what happened. The finance company called, we explained what happened and the payment showed up a few days later.

Now the finance company has slapped us with a $30 late fee. I got a call from them Monday and said I didn't think I ought to pay that as the late payment wasn't my fault. I said I'd send it along with my next car payment and was told that was fine.

I got a call the next day from someone else at the company demanding that I send in an electronic payment right then. I told her I'd already handled that on Monday and she said she didn't have any record of that and started bugging me about the late fee. I told her to "check your damn records and quit bothering me" and hung up the phone.

I got another call this morning from another person at the finance company about the late fee so I growled at her, too. She said she had no record of anyone calling me on Monday or Tuesday and started howling about the late fee. I wound up cussing a bit at her, told her I didn't want to hear from her company again about such a piddling amount of money and hung up on her after saying I'd add it to the next car payment.

After thinking about it, I think I'll adopt the strategy of screwing with them and seeing just how many times they'll pester me about $30. All three of the calls I mentioned took place on my cell phone while I was at work.

I figure I'm not the only paying customer who has to deal with this nonsense and will feel compelled to mention that some finance companies are getting desperate, pesky and nasty. I would also suggest that everyone takes a look at the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

That handy slice of federal law sets out the the rights consumers have and what creditors can and cannot do. Pursuant to that act, I will be sending in a letter to the finance company requesting that they stop calling my cell phone, never call my work phone and communicate with me on my home phone or through the mail if they have a problem. Once a creditor knows that it is not convenient or allowable for them to contact you through work, they must honor requests to stop pestering people at their places of employment. My cell phone is owned by my employer, so I figure I can legitimately ask them not to call it.

Furthermore, I will dispute that I owe any late fee, request a full accounting of any and all late fees owed and ask for reasons why that fee or those fees were charged. If I get another phone call from the finance company on any of the numbers that I have asked them not to call or don't get a full accounting of the fee or fees as requested, I have grounds to turn them over to the feds.

If they want to be jerk bastards I can play that game just fine. Back when I made my living as an attorney, I filed a lot of of bankruptcies and learned to hate creditors with an almost maniacal passion. A good number of creditors like to bully people and push them around because they usually get away with it. Someone who knows their rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, however, can push right back and raise five kinds of hell.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Marci and The Hawg grow up

My wife, Marci, and I have entered a new phase of parenthood -- we ran out and bought a minivan.

It's a 2009 Toyota Sienna that we brought home tonight. Yes, the van had but 255 miles on it when Marci Kay drove it off the lot and she couldn't be happier.

You can kind of see it in the photo I took. It was dark, raining and foggy, but I suppose that can't be helped. We didn't make it to the car lot until after work and we didn't drive it home until about two hours later. You get the idea from the photo, though -- it's a minivan and, well, there's not a whole lot more to add than that, is there?

I do have a few observations about this vehicle. First of all, I'm stunned that I, The Hawg, now own a minivan. I swore I'd never own one because I've always considered them only slightly less awful than SUVs and I figured I'd always stick with cars.

However, we've got three rows of seats and can separate the kids on car trips. That's a great feature as I'm tired of the kids just warting the hell out of each other if they sit together for more than five minutes.

And this vehicle is ridiculously big. I drive a Toyota Matrix and the Sienna looks as if it could have given birth to my little vehicle. I might as well start calling my car "Junior," in fact. Still, I love my smaller vehicle as I can zip through traffic and my gas mileage is fantastic.

Second, I'm wondering if the "buy American" slogan means anything these days when it comes to vehicles. Apparently, I'm supposed to do my duty by purchasing something from Chrysler, Ford or GM so as to support the U.S. economy and American labor.

However, the Sienna was manufactured in Princeton, Indiana and 90 percent of the parts were made in Canada or the U.S. while only 10 percent came from Japan. It seems as if I did my part in supporting U.S. labor and manufacturing facilities by purchasing this vehicle. I'm not stuck with a piece of junk that will die on me in a couple of years, either.

Finally, buying a car is still a horrible, horrible process. Back when I was in law school, I had a friend who is the son of a wealthy insurance defense attorney. I went with my friend to buy a Ford truck and it was an odd experience as he picked out the truck, signed a couple of things and we left in it after his father told the salesman, "I'll send you a check on Monday."

The whole experience took but a few minutes.

I'm not that lucky. No, my wife and I had to fill out credit applications, provide references, produce a driver's licenses and proof of insurance, show proof of income, etc. Also, Marci and I had to wait, wait, wait while our financial histories were being examined and deals were put together.

In the end, however, Marci wound up with a vehicle she's wanted for a long time and was able to get rid of that Saturn that's served us well for 10 years but is now on its last legs. Heck, this is a responsible vehicle that is great for our family.

Don't think I've grown up too much just because my wife and I own a minivan, however. I've been trying to convince Marci to get one of those "If the van's rockin' don't come knockin'" license plates or bumper stickers to slap on the Sienna. She's resisted such nonsense so far. I'm not surprised.

By the way, if you're ever looking to buy a Toyota in central Arkansas, be sure to head over to Landers Toyota in Little Rock. That's a great bunch of folks over there.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A step toward my destiny?

As I've mentioned before, I used to be a lawyer.

Yes, I practiced for four years and wound up shutting down my office in February 1999 to go back into journalism. I haven't set foot in a courtroom since July 1999 when I had a jury trial (which I won).

For the past few years, I've been a public relations guy and have been thinking about reactivating my Arkansas law license. Why? I'm watching PR guys get cut loose right and left in this wonderful economy and I believe in being prepared.

By the way, I've got all the paperwork to reactivate that license and I figure I might just go through all the steps. The tell me at the Arkansas Supreme Court that I'll have no problem getting my license back, in fact.

I asked them if I could get my money back if it didn't work, and I was told not to worry "unless I'd gotten a bunch of DWIs, had a felony record or something." I've mostly raised kids and worked since I quit practicing law, so no problem there.

Believe it or not, I did a fair job as an attorney most of the time. I would be lying if I said I didn't miss being a swaggering, loud-mouthed bully at least a little bit. I don't, however, miss the long hours, beating money out of people who assumed they could let my bill slide because I was rich (not true at all -- I brought home $150 some weeks) and generally dealing with people who were going through the most traumatic times of their lives.

Never again will I, The Hawg, make my living as a "street lawyer" taking in every case that wanders through the door. I'm too damned old and too damned tired for that kind of life.

At the same time, however, I'm about to hit 40-years-old and that's advanced enough to appear to have some wisdom, yet young enough to do something wacky and get away with it. To that end, I may use my reactivated law degree to fulfill a lifelong ambition -- to be ... The Singing Judge!

Oh, yeah. I could assume the role of Judge The Hawg and host a weekly variety/comedy show which features yuks aplenty and an occasional song by me. Think of it as a bit of throwback to the days of old time radio or the earlier days of television.

Just think of, say, the old Burns & Allen radio show. George Burns and Gracie Allen would do their bit, pause for a song and then go back into the show again. Burns and Allen provided that lightening-quick comedy, see, but a big deal was always made of the song.

It'd be the same thing with my singing judge show. Yes, people would tune in to catch up on their favorite wacky characters around the courthouse such as me, Marjorie the case coordinator (who would be a hot redhead, of course), Sally the bailiff (who would be based on my wife -- ex-Army, tough as nails and cute as a button) and those wacky defendants who would come before me.

And what comedy would be complete without a nemesis? My sworn enemy would be Judge Scoundrel, a weasel that I would constantly refer to as "his dishonor." We could constantly play mean spirited tricks on each other (gavel theft, stealing the bailiffs bullets -- those kinds of hijinks) and I would constantly try to get him removed from the bench.

Then, of course, you'd have the big song in the middle of the show. Picture this, people. Judge The Hawg calls a recess and everyone leaves the courtroom. The lights would go dim, leaving me to sing a great ballad such as "I'm Guilty of Lovin' You" or "I Sentence You to Love Without Parole."

I wouldn't sing all ballads, of course. How about a cover of Warren Zevon's "Disorder in the House" (modified to "Disorder in the Court") or an original called "The Lusty Juror?" Fun, fun.

And on that Zevon song, you'd better believe I'd want Bruce Springsteen to play guitar, just like he did on the original. He'd be the special guest that week, see, as a defendant charged with something zany. And, no, he wouldn't be allowed to pop off about his weird politics.

Look for my dandy show on a network near you!