Casino can’t compete with youthful rink lessons

Driving on Michigan Avenue between Marshall and Battle Creek the other day, I couldn’t help staring at the now defunct business I grew up knowing as Midway Roller Rink. Time has not been kind to the facility in the four years since its closure. After 57 years of delighting, it’s now in the business of blighting the neighborhood.

The roof’s collapsed and the elements have taken their toll on the wooden structure. But they can’t diminish my memories of being in my element back in the day when it was THE place to play on a date. When going to the movies seemed too impersonal, bowling too competitive, dancing too socially awkward, dinner (with required direct eye contact with the other person) too intimate and mini-putt out of season, roller skating was the go-to when you needed somewhere to go on a date.

Roller skating was relatively inexpensive and a highly-public, large-group activity that gave you a built-in excuse to hold hands with someone under the guise of helping them to skate better, unless, as was often the case with me, your date was a far better skater, so no guise, just guidance, was required.

In the event your parents feared that your date might get fresh and the hand-holding likely to lead to possible horizontal action beyond the vertical activity of skating, they could always send along a younger sibling date-spoiler for you to “supervise,” when in reality, it was you who was being supervised.

I was allowed to drive to the skating rink at 16, provided I brought along my 12-year-old, eagle-eyed little sister, allegedly to get her socializing more. Yeah, right. I knew exactly why she was there: to curb MY socializing. But I was too polite to mention it. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was alive and well even back then. I remained mum so my mum wouldn’t revoke my license to skate.

Regardless of your motives and who you were forced to drag along, skating dates were good exercise, improved your coordination and allowed you to spend time with both the person of your teenage dreams, as well as your friends who were there, intentionally or not. Skate dates allowed them the opportunity to size up your latest romantic find without it being too obvious.

I can remember one roller skate date who drew heavy criticism for the ever-present comb in his back pocket during the era when big combs were the latest thing for guys. “All he cares about are appearances,” sized up one of my friends, “There’s more comb than money in his pocket,” said another. I took their evaluations with a grain of salt and acted later, only after a third friend caught him flirting with the cute snack shop cashier.

Not only was such friendly observation helpful, but if/when things didn’t work out between you and your date, you could always ditch him/her to skate with friends. That was probably a good idea, as I needed skating practice much more than I needed a man. While I could launch with ease and steadily gained speed, skating remained like walking on eggshells for me: I was never fully at ease.

Eventually, I taught myself to skate backwards and could do so in a couples skate, but relied upon hitting things or other people to get stopped. Not a solid plan or a transferable skill to other areas of life, such as driving a car.

Nevertheless, my parents always felt safer knowing I was on a roller skating date, despite the guarantee I would end up on my back sometime during the evening. Usually at the bottom of some kind of mass-skating accident, the equivalent of a 25-car pile-up on the highway on an icy day. Caused by my carelessness. Did I mention my skating nickname was “Helen Wheels?”

Ironically, the iconic, caved-in building that once housed the innocence of Midway Roller Rink sits opposite the glitz of the FireKeepers casino, which modern era people visit in similar hope of getting lucky. I smile as I skate by, still confident with the life lessons money can’t buy, garnered during youthful skating rink experiences and stored in the Midway of my heart. We’ll never part.


Trying to seriously online-review toilet paper

DSC_0617One of the many problems with buying things online is that most retailers try to follow up the sale with a review. These review requests are only slightly less annoying than customer satisfaction surveys, which pick your brain about the buying “experience” itself, versus the content of the experience: what you purchased.

Often I elect to NOT purchase online because I don’t want to be opinion-harassed afterward. When I buy bananas at Jack’s in my hometown, nobody chases me out into the parking lot, asking me to rate their freshness, how attractively they were displayed, along with my perceived friendliness of the cashier (Nancy was great!) who checked out my fruit. Online, it’s a whole different story, no matter what I purchase.

Given the digital survey and review gauntlet I am forced to run with each online purchase, the only real thing that makes it seem worthwhile (meaning “less of a time-waster”) is some major coupon discount that can be redeemed online only. The concept of $30 off a $60 purchase is music to my ears in a “ca-ching” kind of way that has me renouncing all other musical genres. I can tolerate a lot of post-purchase survey abuse in the name of savings.

An opportunity aligned perfectly last month when making some purchases at work. We had reward points to redeem (or forfeit, Heaven forbid) before month-end, through an office supply chain with free delivery. Plus, an added discount for purchasing online. Deep discount, free delivery and further rewards. No brainer. But, to meet the minimum amount purchased, we ended up tacking on something we don’t typically online-order: toilet paper.

I didn’t think a lot about it again until after delivery of the order, when an online review request popped up in our email in-box: “You recently purchased Angel Soft 2-Ply Big Rolls of Bath Tissue, 24 Rolls/Pack. Please take a moment to review your purchase and help inform shoppers just like you.”

What?! I have been paid to review books, plays, movies and instructors, for which there are specific standards. But I wouldn’t have a clue about where to start when it comes to evaluating toilet paper. So, I studied some toilet paper ads to see what the advertisers play up: softness, fluffiness, tearability and absorbency. Well, that was a start.

Next, I tried to think about it through a more personal lens: what attracts me to toilet paper? Well, perhaps “attracts” is the wrong word, because that suggests a kind of perversion I am not ready to cop to, at least not at this point in my life. More to the point, what do I look for in toilet paper?

While the typical features may be important, in my household economy, affordability trumps them all. The problem lies in trying to determine what is the best deal with regard to toilet paper. When they came out with “double rolls” a few years ago, it was hailed as revolutionary, plus I could do the math. But over time, the same people who tampered with the number of ounces in a package of cheese and the dimensions of a standard candy bar, messed with butt wipe.

Suddenly, toilet papers were subjected to algebra-defying, ambiguous size claims, such as “jumbo,” “mega” and “super-sized” rolls. I stood in the toilet paper section recently on a trip to a large supermarket and tried to compare the comparisons the toilet paper manufacturers were making for their products.

“6 mega rolls = 9 regular rolls,” said one. “6 BIG rolls = 8 regular rolls,” claimed another. “8 giant plus rolls = 13 regular rolls,” bragged a third. One brand claimed purchasing their TP was like getting an additional regular roll, while a competing brand said its package contained 110 feet more of toilet paper. What does that mean? I have never measured, have you?

I took all these variables into consideration when crafting my online review of the toilet paper obtained online through the office product supplier. “Your toilet paper was deeply effective for its intended job; much better than the historical alternatives of catalog pages and corn cobs. It improved my bathroom experience, plus sharpened my math skills.” Enough said!

Avoid pole barn plastic surgeon practices

It should probably go without saying, but you should avoid the pole barn plastic surgery practice. I feel the need to emphasize this because a couple of months ago, I read in the news about a west Michigan woman who spent 10 hours undergoing fat removal surgery to devastating results in what was described as an unfinished pole barn.

That is not to say that undergoing fat removal surgery in a FINISHED pole barn would have been any better. I think it’s safe to say that no human surgery should be performed in a pole building of any kind. Yes, I know I sound judgmental, but I truly believe I am using sound judgment when I say surgery should mostly be performed in a surgically-sterile setting, germs being what they are. And I’m not a germophobe!

“When a west Michigan woman showed up for liposuction surgery last month, red flags apparently didn’t go up about the unconventional setting – an unfinished pole barn,” said a Detroit Free Press account of it written by Tresa Baldas.

“Rather, the woman underwent the fat removal surgery for 10 hours inside the barn while her mother and sister sat alongside her and watched, state records show,” continued the article. “The family saw the surgeon remove fat from under the patient’s skim, pour it down a sink drain and store some of it in plastic baggies. It wasn’t until the patient appeared to go in and out of consciousness, records show, that an ambulance was called. An investigation followed, which doomed the doctor,” named as Dr. Bradley Bastow of Glenn.

Hello? Is anybody home in the patient’s camp? No matter how badly you wanted the amount of your body fat reduced, which I get, were you oblivious to what’s wrong with signing up for a rural-based procedure conducted in a setting associated with animals?!

Same as barnyard basketball, barnyard surgery sounds like it’s ugly. And apparently far riskier, too. Although Dr. Bastow appeared to get several takers between 2015-2017, the period of time during which he performed the farm-based fat reduction procedures, in June of 2016 a court entered a judgment against him to bring his pole barn into compliance (I am not kidding!) with a site plan that had been approved by the township in which it was located.

Until a certificate of occupancy was issued, no activity other than construction (which rhymes with “liposuction”) was to occur at that location; however, Bastow ignored the court and continued to operate without an occupancy certificate, in his still-unfinished building.

While I am not a particularly choosy person, when it comes to any kind of surgery, I favor undergoing it in real medical digs. If that makes me some kind of diva, so be it.  Sure beats going under the knife wielded by Dr. Bartow, which could very well turn out to be some kind of farming implement!

If you are still on the (barbed-wire) fence regarding undergoing a medical procedure in an unfinished, rural pole barn and/or how to tell if/when you’re not dealing with a legitimate medical enterprise, please study the following for guidance:

You know it’s barnyard surgery when:

  • The other vehicles in the parking lot are tractors and the parking lot is a hay field.
  • The waiting room furniture looks suspiciously like straw bales.
  • The receptionist gives you a copy of Successful Farming, Michigan Farm Bureau News or Hoard’s Dairyman to read while you’re waiting.
  • At the front counter, you find jerky treats and a tear-off rebate form for heartworm medication.
  • Your pre-op instructions tell you to lay off hay or Cat Chow before midnight the night before surgery.
  • The surgical assistant pats you on the head and scratches you behind your ears for reassurance before your procedure.
  • The surgery team wears gloves that go all the way up to their shoulders.
  • Your anesthesia is administered from 20 yards away using a tranquilizer gun.
  • The recovery room resembles a box stall.
  • The receptionist accepts the coupons you cut from the side of a dogfood bag.

Should any of these things happen, contact law enforcement and/or the ASPCA as soon as possible and help put a permanent stop to unfinished pole barn procedures.

Father figures important to future of families

When I got home that night, despite the 80-degree temperature, I turned on the lights of the little Christmas tree that’s still up in June. Its glow was needed to warm our hearts following the news that our family’s beloved friend, Wayne Almond, had died.

For someone small in stature, Wayne left a large hole in many hearts through his passing. At 101, he remained very young at heart. If you didn’t know him, you wouldn’t have guessed his age. Wayne was in remarkably good physical and mental shape. Sure, his hearing and vision were diminishing, but cut him some slack. What can you expect when you’ve driven 25% past your human lifetime warranty?!

I hated breaking the news to my kids. Wayne died three weeks to the day their father was killed in a car accident. The last thing they needed was hearing another foundational, father-figure in their lives was gone. But there was no avoiding that unfortunate reality. We were all instantly sad and grieved collectively.

It led to a discussion about Wayne: How long had we known him? As long as any of us could remember. He had grown up north of here and knew my mother’s family that lived in those parts. After he moved to this area, he also became friends with my dad’s side of the family. I always thought it was great to have a friend his age who had known both of my parents when they were kids.

Wayne had been 18 when my folks were born. He delivered mail and picked up livestock from our farm (not using the same vehicle). After work hours and following retirement, Wayne and his wife, Alice, socialized with members of my extended family. They even took a memorable RV trip to Alaska with three Smith family couples. Perhaps that’s why Wayne felt so much like family.

We loved Wayne for his cheerful disposition, good humor, quiet courage and devotion to family, friends and community. He generously gave the benefit of the doubt and refused to assume the worst about anything or anyone. He was the consummate encourager through some of the most difficult times of our lives. He never gave up on us and would offer us our pick from a basket of mini-Hershey’s bars as his parting gift when we visited. Talk about refreshing!

After Alice died and he could no longer live safely at home alone, Wayne went to live at Masonville. Within that assisted living setting, he continued his helpful role with the other residents. He’d help people find their rooms, search for their lost items and give pep talks before their doctor visits. But mostly he listened. He would go to the dining room early and make sure the table and the food was ready for his friends. You simply couldn’t take the good guy out of Wayne, no matter what the setting!

As my kids and I approach Father’s Day fatherless, we thank God for how lucky we were to have other supportive men in our lives in addition to our own fathers. Instead of feeling cheated by death, we appreciate the life our fathers and father figures breathed into us. Wayne helped keep me and the kids on a positive path. He was never too busy to talk with us.

Never underestimate the father effect. According to Pew Research Center information from The Fatherhood Project of the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, “A lack of involvement of fathers is associated with negative emotional, social, academic and behavioral outcomes for children. These outcomes result in high costs to society, including higher rates of crime, poverty, marital conflict and substance abuse.”

Men are not just dads, but crucial frontline defenses against all kinds of poor decision-making, acting out and social problems. As the Pew researchers summarize, “The feeling of closeness to a father is critically linked to a child’s future success in school, employment and relationships.”

If you’re lacking in the fathering department, spend time with someone who can serve as an honorary dad and supply a healthy, life-affirming male perspective. Or be that person to someone. Everyone deserves a father-like difference like the one Wayne made in our lives.

Landlines become landmines in phone wars

I don’t know about anyone else, but I am tired of the digital age straining my budget. The information era has dug deep into my pockets and I am having trouble eradicating it. While I may enjoy having a cellphone that instantly accesses information and takes better photos than a professional photographer, I am sick of paying for it. On top of my landline.

Yes, I am one of those people who still has a landline. Not so much out of nostalgia, but because no matter which cellphone company I have gone with, the signal has been inconsistent around where I live. Calls either don’t go through or get cut off mid-sentence. Text messages from the evening before don’t pop up until I am headed south to work, quite a ways from home. It’s a less-than-ideal situation, but I do need the landline so that my kids, who assure me they are the last two American children who do not have their own cellphones, can call me after they get home from school and interrupt me at work.

Paying both the cellphone and the landline bills from two different providers each month is getting as old as it is expensive. On top of those two expenses is the Internet bill and the satellite television bill. I’d like to do without both, but can’t if I want to continue to submit online stories and photos for publication and/or want to be able to watch before work each morning a couple of faith-based programs that help prevent me from taking retaliative action against the people who came up with all digital devices that have complicated the crap out of my life while allegedly simplifying it.

I resent the heck out of my satellite TV bill, dual phone bill and Internet bill. Each time a new provider appears or special offer comes out, I scramble and call (using my landline) in hope I will be able to “bundle” several services together and perhaps save a bundle. But so far, service glitches keep preventing it. Looks like I will have to continue to give away hard-earned money for partially-duplicated services. I suspect I am not alone with my complaint.

Hats off to those who live in town or somewhere else where they can drop one of their phone plans, get inexpensive cablevision and/or cheap Internet, separately or in combination. It’s gotta be happening for someone, as according to the title of a recent Associated Press news article, “Americans hanging up on landline telephones.” I’d like to slam down that receiver myself.

Statistically speaking, the article said less than half of our nation’s population (45.9%) still has landline telephone service. However, 39% of U.S. households have both types of service. Someone is making money during this transition stage. That’s about all I know for certain.

Demographic patterns show renters and younger adults are more likely to have just a cellphone. Researchers postulate this is due to their mobility and comfort with newer technologies. But that’s not all of the interesting patterns observed by researchers, who also noted wireless-phone-only adults are also more likely to drink heavily, to smoke and to be uninsured. Hmmm. I never knew the good, old-fashioned phone cord served to tether us to clean living and responsibility.

The news article quoted the landline/cellphone study co-author, Stephen J. Blumberg (who, incidentally, is a landline user), that even after taking age and income into consideration, “There certainly is something about giving up a landline that appeals to the same people who may engage in risky behavior.” Wow. Get down with your bad cellphone self!

As interesting as the information was, its timing was moreso. That same day, I happened to pick up from my kitchen counter the previous month’s newsletter from a church I used to attend. In it was a short blurb regarding church contact information: “Please take note that we have dropped our land phone line. You can no longer reach us at that number. Please use the following . . . (cellphone numbers of husband and wife parishioner friends of mine who volunteered to take church-related phone calls).”

Sure hope Russ and Shirley aren’t too busy smoking and drinking to answer.

Devastation defines regular day from the rest

Our lives were changed forever last Thursday. Like everyone else who got up that morning when the alarm went off, I believed it was going to be just another in the long string of non-descript days that comprise the average life. But that was not meant to be. Not for me and family.

As I fixed breakfast, goaded kids into the shower, washed dishes and packed lunches, I was too busy to know fatal trouble was brewing along with the coffee. And if I thought my kids’ missing the bus that morning and my having to drive cross-country in pajamas to catch it at another stop was the day’s worst episode, I was proven wrong.

About the time I arrived back home and resumed organizing what I naively assumed was my own day was when the cataclysmic family event occurred 25 miles west of us, to another person who had probably thought his day was simply unfolding like normal.

I was three hours into my work day when my cell phone lit up with “Unknown Caller.” No biggie, as I’m frequently barraged with nuisance calls, including those from an especially persistent telemarketer last week, trying to get me to switch satellite TV and Internet providers. Likely a better deal, but not last week, when I was putting the final touches on the annual alumni reunion and scholarship banquet. I’d deal with it later.

Unknown Caller left a voicemail. Hmm. A sheriff deputy needed to meet with me soon. My mind raced in a hundred directions, from wondering if he were a process server, to which of my kids had done what. Trouble headed my way. Great! Business as usual was blown up.

Then two deputies awkwardly showed up in my office. “We regret to inform you that your ex-husband was killed in an automobile accident this morning on his way to work.” I was speechless with shock.

Just before 7 AM, Neale had been westbound on P Avenue in Kalamazoo County when a northbound truck on 25th street blew through a stop sign hidden by a blown-down tree branch and broad-sided his truck. The truck rolled and he died instantly, they told me.

I was strangely comforted by “instantly,” compared to what followed: notification of his mother, siblings and children. I went to my children’s school with great trepidation and intimate personal knowledge their lives would be forever changed the moment they received the news. The term gut-wrenching can’t even do it justice.

Had anyone kept score, they’d know that over the past half-dozen years, my family has gone through extended Hell, beginning with my grant-funded job abruptly ending, followed by my mother’s diagnosed cognitive decline, my children’s step-father leaving us, the private school I later worked at closing and the firing from my next job (with its grueling commute) the same week my daughter ended up having a near-fatal stroke and open heart surgery at age 13. Two months later, my kids’ grandfather suffered a massive heart-attack and died before their eyes as my son and his dad futilely performed CPR. And now my kids’ dad is suddenly and freakishly taken from them.

Even a seasoned country song writer wouldn’t touch this stuff with a 10-foot pole! However, comedian Dennis Leary nailed it with his song, “Life’s Gonna Suck When You Grow Up.”

I’m at loss for positive direction just yet. So I keep it simple: encircle my kids with love and prayer and lean on the support of God, family and friends. Eventually, I’ll get to WWJD, but I’m pretty stuck in WTF right now. Did someone enter me in a physical, mental, spiritual, financial tough-man contest and not tell me?!

My suggestion is that if there are unspoken words and undone deeds you’re unconsciously putting off until later, you consciously re-think that. There’s no guaranteed “later” in our lives. A lyrical reminder comes from former Burlington resident Gloria (Sickel) Gaither of Gaither gospel music fame, “We Have This Moment Today:

We have this moment to hold in our hands
And to touch as it slips
Through our fingers like sand
Yesterday’s gone
And tomorrow may never come
But we have this moment today.”

Christmas tree still up in 85-degree temps

I have a guilty confession to make: temperatures hit the 85-degree mark this week and my Christmas tree is still up. Actually, it’s not really my Christmas tree, you know, the full-sized model I’ve long owned, but had neither the time nor energy to wrestle out of the attic last December, let alone branch-fluff, light-string and decorate.

My rule of thumb when it comes to Christmas decorations or decorations for any season is that if I can’t find the time and ambition to put them up, odds are slim to none I will find the energy to take them back down. Therefore, leaving them in storage for another year makes the most sense.

What I did elect to erect was a Christmas tree of the pre-lighted variety and only about 42-inches high. I acquired it on sale mid-December, placed it on the reading table in front of one of my front windows, hung it with all my Christ-themed wooden ornaments and plugged it in.

I loved its message, as well as how it looked in the window from the road and the twinkling light-play it created on all the surfaces in our dining room. It also lit up my countenance every time I looked in its direction.

Its inspirational glow is why I left it up well after Christmas. However, about a week after we’d unwrapped gifts, my son wanted (for one of his hand-held electronic devices) the extension cord I had my delightful little Tannenbaum plugged into. So when I was gone from home, he swiped the cord right out from under the tree, like the Grinch who stole Christmas.

I came home that night, after a very long day, looking forward to lighting and lightening up along with the tree, but was instead was greeted with darkness and gloom. The source of my sunshine had been circumvented. It wasn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last. Although I knew it was more about someone else’s selfishness versus something I had done, it was hard not to take it a wee bit personally, standing there in the dark.

While my face fell, the little tree remained standing straight in its spot on the table. Its dull, unlighted lifelessness made me sad. Not sad enough to muster the ambition to carry it out-of-sight to the attic or to go out and purchase another extension cord, but sad enough to frown in its direction and glare in the direction of my son.

Couldn’t help but run through my mind the words of that bittersweet old Gene Autry tune, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray. You’ll never know dear, how much I love you. So please don’t take my sunshine away.”

I didn’t need to sing the remaining lyrics. For one thing, I’m prone to botching them, but mostly because I knew all too well where they led and would rather have not gone any further down Loss Lane when I was already feeling depressed enough for one person.

But tonight, it’s spring as I type this. The temperature has dropped a few degrees and there’s still a hint of daylight in the sky. A gentle breeze is stirring the landscape and a new song is forming on my lips. I hear a different set of lyrics, sung by Nat King Cole, “The evening breeze, caressed the trees – tenderly. The trembling trees embraced the breeze – tenderly. Then you and I came wandering by and lost in a sigh were we.”

I like that first part – a lot. The last line will have to wait for now. I’m alone and the wind is picking up substantially. Several small tree branches have been scattered about the yard. I’m glad my little Christmas tree is safe inside. But safety is mostly an illusion.

“I close my eyes, only for a moment and the moment’s gone. All my dreams pass before my eyes, a curiosity. Dust in the wind. All they are is dust in the wind.” Words from my favorite Kansas song. With life and Christmas both such short seasons, you’ve got to make the most of them. Every time. Make your own sunshine.

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