The power of equality, sex magik, twenty five year olds and you


Twenty five years ago, the Red Hot Chili Peppers (RHCP) released Blood Sugar Sex Magik, which included the popular, radio-played tracks “Under the Bridge” and “Give It Away.”

I recently added a couple of songs from the album to my workout playlist, and glory day memories are flooding back into my mind each time one of those songs comes on.

At the time the album came out, I was a sophomore in high school. The same year my brother Jon asked me learn the bass guitar and start playing in his band Creamy Velour.

As I learned, I naturally drifted toward inspiration from those who are doing it better. And bassist Flea quickly became one of heroes when I was learning bass.

I listened to Blood Sugar Sex Magik on repeat for days if not months. I loved every song on the album, and would finger the bass rhythms on my knees, or steering wheel, or wherever. I wanted to learn to slap and pop. I practiced for hours on ideas that I thought were very similar to Flea’s abilities.

Back then, however, I was also astoundingly in love with Jesus and my faith, and many of the lyrics challenged my faith, especially those sexual in nature.

The mention or topic of Sex — especially from a secular source — could single handedly twist my psyche into a guilty sweaty mess. Where I come from Jesus was literally everywhere. Teachers, parents, leaders told me he was “omnipresent” (everywhere at the same time) which supposedly should cause calm and security. It meant you’re always protected.

Omnipresence also became a large reason I dumped the faith.

If God/Jesus/the Holy Spirit is everywhere, that means when a child is dying of leukemia on a hospital gurney, those three fuckers are standing there watching him or her suffer.

People trapped in a burning building. Those three are there. Laughing? Crying? Maybe. But they’re definitely impotent.
A man running down hundreds of people with a truck in Nice, France, those three were there. Watching. Arms crossed. Impotent.
A black man became our president … hey wait, those three were there. Fist bump. Wiggle fingers.

Omnipresence to an adolescent meant Jesus did everything I did.

Brushed Teeth.
Played Soccer.
Did homework.
Masturbated.
My Buddy Jesus.

He also listened to the same music I did.

One song, “Sir Psycho Sexy,” I could repeat the lyrics to … up to a point … and then I’d stop. I figuratively shoved my index fingers into each ear and hummed, “Lalalalalalala!!!”

Here are some lyrics from the second verse:

Deep inside the garden of Eden
Standing there with my hard on bleedin’
There’s a devil in my dick and some demons in my semen
Good God no that would be treason
Believe me Eve she gave good reason
Body looking too good not to be squeezin’
Creamy beaver hotter than a fever
I’m a givin’ ’cause she’s the receiver
I won’t and I don’t hang up until I please her
Makin’ her feel like an over achiever
I take it away for a minute just to tease her
Then I give it back a little bit deeper

Can you imagine me, singing “Standing there with my hard on bleedin'” arm in arm with Jesus as we swayed back and forth?

To a 16 year old Christian, that shit was a train wreck. In one moment, you’re singing along. In another, you’re hoping no one else knows how well you sing a long. Even with headphones on — and no one but Jesus could hear the lyrics — the power of guilt overwhelmed me. But Flea’s bass lines were too important not to listen to. And there was my struggle. The utilitarian thought that there was a greater good involved.

I’ve long since given up on Jesus. It’s a concept that doesn’t work for me. I’m not really sure how it works for anyone, but I get it at the same time. As an insider, I thought it was the best, and told many about it, and brought several to similar beliefs.

The transition away was largely thanks to conceding that my life was much more secular than religious. The concepts and ideas that drove most of my decisions weren’t Biblical logic or informed by Biblical ideas. Biblical ideas aren’t very clear and they certainly aren’t advisable for modern living. For example, marriage is a confusing mess in the bible. And if it weren’t for observing my grandparents grow old together, watching my gramps take care of my gram in sickness and declining health, I would have never understood the importance of marriage. I would have likely lived single my entire life.

Or race. Race in the bible is a tough one. At one end, you have one culture enslaving another. And when the Jews were enslaved, that sucked. But when the Jews enslaved others, okay! You have God’s approval of enemies made of Jews versus everyone. Or everyone versus the Jews. Slavery was okay. Bashing babies against rocks, thumbs up! And then you have Jesus, entering the world from heaven through a magikal birth canal. He commanded to embrace other races, other cultures, other ideas, the downtrodden, the assholes, the sick, the poor, everyone.

It’s those little commandments of enemy love, equality and forgiveness that also informed my decision to evaluate and evacuate the faith.

I knew the bible better than most people, I scoured it for answers to my often debilitating questions, and was surprised by others insistence that the God and the Bible were clear, not confusing, and never inconsistent.

The power of equality.

The opening track on Blood Sex is called “The Power of Equality.”

In my teenage years, I would have told you that’s what Jesus taught and thought. But if you observe the current zeitgeist among religious folks, equality isn’t for everyone. It’s only for like-minded folks with a penchant for saying, “We get on our knees for Jesus.”  You’re free — but only free to think exactly like us about the economy, race superiority, abortion, gay marriage, and whether or not to say “Merry Christmas” or not.

The lyrics from the song go:

American equality has always been sour
An attitude I would like to devour
My name is peace, this is my hour
Can I get just a little bit of power

The power of equality
Is not yet what it ought to be
It fills me up like a hollow tree
The power of equality

What was great about growing up in the Bible belt, in an above upper middle class neighborhood and attending an evangelical private school, it was a constant white out. White was everywhere. There were two black people in my my class during certain periods of my school career. But for the most part, our ability to stay away from any people of color was easy.

One time at the mall, there was a wall devoted to posters depicting history lessons created by local school children. My Dad and I were staring at the wall when he said, “Notice there are no black kid’s names on any of the work.”

I stopped and looked at him, and stared back at the posters. There were three — what I would consider obvious — black names. I pointed it out. There was silence.

I’ve never forgotten that moment. And it returns for many reasons. The names of the children weren’t even on my radar. I was probably critical of the art or materials used. Or looking for any inaccuracies. But that was the height of some of my experiences that read even remotely like racism.

I mean, I saw little bits of racism here and there. My first job was at a little sandwich and ice cream shop. My boss Hubert scheduled me four times a week; Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Tuesdays and Thursdays, I was the only white guy working with another black busboy, two black waitresses, a black dishwasher and a black cook. With my Puerto Rican blood, the sun darkened me every summer to a deep brown and more than once I was asked of I was black. I have big hair and I’m cool, so I figured that played a role.

But I’d see racism at work between our boss and my coworkers. My Tuesday and Thursday coworkers weren’t treated as well as the Monday, Wednesday and Friday staff.

You also saw a bit of racism in the way customers were perceived. If a black family sat inside at a table, waitresses wouldn’t take good care of them, because they either don’t tip or don’t tip more than change. It was a stereotype, but even my black waitress friends knew it and loathed it.

Percentage wise, you saw more black customers come to the counter for takeout.

But the level of racism I experienced and observed wasn’t anything to shake a stick at. I was nonplused by it. A word here. A phrase there. I heard of racist acts and may have heard some racist locker room talk, but I was taught to raise the bar of public discourse, so I either spoke out against it or quietly moved on if it wasn’t worth my time.

I also blame my bubble, though, for not being able to perceive racism. When O.J. Simpson was on trial, my little pathetic excuse for a brain and for education was completely naive to the entirety of the race issues in the United States.

I largely thank my experience abroad in France for opening my eyes a little bit to being able to decipher racism and how it exists. I mentioned above that I tan well. In France, I looked a little bit Mediterranean and a lot Arabic. The woman who housed me called me, “un Arab” or “l’Arab.” To my face. It was the first time I witnesses nationalism on a French vs. Islam scale.

Though, it wasn’t until I moved out of the south that I saw racism and violence in this country. In my 20s, I was in a bar in Chicago one night and some construction guys started a fight with some of my black friends from work. The racist slurs these white guys were throwing broke my mind. City life was supposed to be anything but racist. 

But these white guys were punching for dear life at my friends because they thought race was a reasonable factor to start beating on strangers in public.

The long and longer of it

I could go into far greater detail about other forms of inequality. As a recovering evangelical, I had to move far to overcome thoughts against homosexuality and all kinds of diversity. I didn’t realize how much of a racist I probably was and still am thanks to an upbringing of white, male privilege. And when all you get to do is be all white and privileged, most people never realize what white privilege actually means. I can only thank summers of tans and the occasional odd look or unkind word for even a smidgen of understanding.

I’ll wrap this post up with a cut and paste of more lyrics from the “Power of Equality” song. Or listen to it above or here. This song was 25 years ago. Current public relations show that we are no further forward, if not years backwards. And it hurts my head.

Right or wrong, my song is strong
You don’t like it, get along
Say what I want, do what I can
Death to the message of the Ku Klux Klan
I don’t buy supremacy
Media chief, you menance me
The people you say cause all the crime
Wake up motherfucker and smell the slime
Blackest anger, whitest fear
Can you hear me, am I clear
My name is peace, this is my hour
Can I get just a little bit of power

The whole problem with the world


A skeptic friend on Facebook posted the following quote and attributed it to Bertrand Russell:

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.”

I found my mouse attracting itself toward the “love” option and clicking it, but the skeptic in me highlighted the quote and googled it. My google results showed that it’s unknown who said it, according to this page at wikiquote. But who knows what’s what on the internet? I don’t.

Full of Doubts; I think that’s my middle name.

I struggle with doubts all the time. Self doubts. Doubting others. Doubting others perceptions of the universe, the world, the neighborhood, of me.

I wonder if it’s my job to respond to my friend and say, “Great quote, but the skeptic in me questioned its attribution and a Google search resulted in showing it might not be Russell.”

I’m pretty sure I’m starting to hate the Internet and social media in general. Over the past six or seven months, I’ve tried scaling back on mindlessly scrolling through Facebook. I’ve found myself trying not to respond on people’s posts, whether I agree with them or not.

I’m wondering if the Internets aren’t making people stupider. While it’s chock full of information, it’s even more full of bullshit. Memes are the fruits of the devil.

Fortunately, it seems that email forwards are nearly extinct. I think the last dinosaur lives in my building on the first floor. His diet consists of mass quantities of diet Coke, Cubs games, pancake breakfasts at his church, and the adrenaline rush of forwarding the insane stupidity to his email list.

But people like my Dad, Aunts, and Aunts-in-laws have transferred their email forwarding energy to the Facebook for that adrenaline rush.

Then there are my own skeptical friends who post quotes, and I’m skeptical of them, too.

That quote, though, that quote is something that resonates with me. Over the last several years, I’ve been to a few funerals. My maternal Grandfather passed this year. We weren’t close, and it wasn’t upsetting so much to me. I had to check my pulse a few times to see if I was still living. Why wasn’t I upset by this? I found myself in tears after hearing that Gwen Ifill passed, and I didn’t well up at all when Gramps went.

But at Grandpa’s funeral, his remembrance ceremony included speeches claiming that the speaker “knew” that my grandpa was now with Jesus.

People KNOW that a man who died is with Jesus. Jesus, the savior of the world. A guy who supposedly is God. Three in one. A guy who was born 2,000 years ago and used a virgin’s womb and vaginal canal as the tunnel between heaven and earth.

People claim to KNOW that Jesus did this for certainty.

And the tunnel that Jesus used to return to heaven was ascending, literally destroying gravity without ropes or wires … he went up and up and up until he returned to the right side of his “father” and his brother, Holy Ghost. Or hisself. The triune.

And people KNOW this without Google, or the Internet, or an email forward or a meme on the Internet.

They KNOW. Indisputable knowledge. Trademarked Good News, Gospel Greatness. There was no way I was going to walk up to the pastor after my grandpa’s funeral and say, “How do you know my grandpa’s with Jesus?”

Did this pastor ascend up and up and up into heaven while no one was looking, transfer through a tunnel into heaven, see Jesus and Grandpa hug and hold hands?

No, I’m pretty sure he didn’t. No one has seen heaven except the dead. No one except the dead and little boy Colton Burpo who mopped up a shitload of book sales after his daddy wrote a book for him (see Heaven is for Real.”)

Fools and Fanatics. Them there are the people who are full of certainty.

Or maybe it’s the fools and fanatics who are full of doubt.

That quote only makes one kind of person feel better and sheds uncertainty on the other kind of person.

What’s the harm in thinking Grandpa is literally with Jesus? I guess it doesn’t hurt anybody. Or maybe no one really thinks Grandpa and Grandma are literally with Jesus. Being with Jesus is funeral code for “they’re dead.”

It’s the certainty that bothers me. “I know Grandpa is with the dude who I believe created the Universe.”

“I know I’m going to heaven.”

“I know … you’re going to hell.”

These are statements of certainty.

They aren’t, “I know this steak tastes amazing” or “I love it when I get a check for $20,000” or “I know my wife is next to me in bed.”

If she weren’t really next to me, but actually next to a gigolo in Vegas, I’d still have more knowledge than knowing that Grandpa was with Jesus.

My concern is that once you allow yourself to think you’re certain that Grandpa is sitting in Jesus’ lap hugging each other in the afterlife, what else are you able to convince yourself of … with damned certainty?

What is the harm in saying, “I loved Grandpa. He was a great man who lived a great life (truths), and now that he’s gone, I want to believe that he’s with Jesus, who he had lived his life for and who promised him eternal life so long as he accepted Jesus into his heart. Because I can’t see it, I will have to believe this idea to be true.”

That to me is like Hillary Clinton railing against rich people when she herself is rich.

I don’t know if Grandpa is with Jesus. I don’t know if he’s not with Jesus. There’s absolutely NO way to know. There’s no way to know that God is real or is not real. There are good arguments for his existence and good arguments against.

I have no idea if Tina really loves me, but I have a pretty good feeling she does. She acts like it almost 95% of the time. Then there’s that 5% of the time when she wants to scream, “I hate you, Jeremy! You asshole. I hate you, hate you, hate you!”

If it weren’t for 95% of her behavior indicating otherwise, I wonder if I would be more skeptical.

I can’t find myself to accept that God, Jesus and the Spirit are (is?) so trivial that he/they/it would let two perfect people’s disobedience be the rational to allow death, disease, pain in childbirth & toiling the earth and the only way to survive death’s inevitability is to express the following thought, “Jesus, I’m a sinner. Come into my heart.” The ticket price for eternal life in heaven is a thought. The ticket price for eternal pain and suffering is an oppositional thought.

Is this really an idea worth fighting for? Is Jesus really the vaginal canal to heaven?

Do you remember who you were for all of the history of the universe before you were born? Why not? Why didn’t you have consciousness before you were born, but after you were born and you did or didn’t accept Jesus would that dictate whether you felt the eternal burn of hell or the eternal bliss of heaven?

I’m good with “I don’t know” and I don’t know why. I don’t think it makes me wiser. I don’t think it makes me a fool.

I’m the wisest fool I know, I believe that with fantastic fanaticism.

And that’s the problem with the world.

Honk.

 

How do you elevate public discourse


Yesterday I wrote some thoughts about #PussyGate.

The topic has infiltrated my brain and I cannot stop thinking about it. I’ve seen that Jerry Falwell Jr. is supportive of trump. Pat Robertson.

These are Christian leaders, and they aren’t giving much more than a frown to Trump. These are the people, the leaders, who should be elevating the public’s standard of morality by criticizing the man. Criticism doesn’t mean that they can’t still support him. But not criticizing him makes me think that they lack any relevance in the morality game. They should hang up their hats.

This is not the leadership that I grew up with.

When I was growing up in an evangelical Christian home, our parents, teachers, Sunday school teachers, and leaders were constantly teaching us about moral behaviors.

One time in High School, I was the president of our academic association. During an induction ceremony, each member of the association tapped new members during the induction part of the hour. Since I was president and to give a speech, I was seated on stage facing the rest of the student body. A teacher had given me a name of a student that I was to tap. We were told to locate that student in the crowd before hand so that we could tap them efficiently.

During an opening prayer, I must have kept my eyes open to search for the guy I would tap.

After the ceremony, one headmaster pulled me aside and said we needed to talk. He told me that he saw that I had my eyes open during the prayer. He explained that leadership means that when other students are watching, especially younger ones, it’s essential to do everything right. That means, closing your eyes because someone watching might misconstrue that behavior.

I felt like shit.

I still close my eyes during prayers, especially when my nieces are in the room. Even though I don’t pray to any god, I find it’s essential to be a good influence on them. I think that doing my best to expose my nieces to positive behavior, to be culturally aware, is positive. Of course if we ever had a discussion, I would gladly explain my position on god. But that’s not on the table when all they know is each meal is opened with a prayer.

We were also taught to respect women, sex, and our speech about both in both private and in public. To this day, I’m not sure I’ve ever participated in so-called locker room talk. I’ve heard some pretty shitty things said. And I’ve even asked guys to stop talking bullshit.

I’ve been on photo sets with women as naked and shaven as the day they were born, and I go out of my way to make sure I don’t do or say creepy shit … why? Because I was taught that leaders, upright men and women, don’t talk in a way that might upset another person.

We treat people the way we want to be treated.

Right, Jesus?

We were taught that was as essential to act above reproach even when no one was watching, because “God” was always watching. He was everywhere. That’s what we were told. That’s what we believed. I couldn’t masturbate without a level of guilt that Jesus was watching.

I still feel guilty when I think some thoughts. It’s residual conditioning from the discipline of my youth.

Our teachers taught us that immoral thoughts were as sinful as actions. In fact, there was no difference in the sin of thought versus action.

How many times was I told that? Let me count the times!

Another time after a basketball game, my coach gave me an earful after I lost my temper on the court. Losing one’s temper was a complete lack of proper public behavior.

But these same coaches, teachers, parents and leaders aren’t so much as criticizing a man so rife with sin, whether or acted upon or thought, that their hypocrisy is absolutely befuddling me.

That makes me wonder about this entire process of raising kids a certain way, but once they’re adults, let certain folks do whatever the fuck they want.

As long as a “law” isn’t broken, all’s fair in love and war and presidential campaigns.

Where are the leaders in the church, where are the teachers and parents who should be pulling Trump to the side and calling him out? Either publicly or privately?

Do you want to know why I was criticized for certain behavior? Because of “love.” The people around me wanted me to succeed. To guide the greater good, having people behave less like animals and more like civilized people makes for a better public discourse. When you’re part of a team, the leaders of the team might look at a weaker player and say, “Hey, you gotta improve this aspect of your play.” It’s not to piss that person off, it’s to help the rest of the team look better. To help the rest of the team win.

So why is it considered poor behavior to criticize Trump?

He’s a part of a team, a team that is getting leveled and battered for being the lousiest losers in the country.

If I could pull the whole of the world aside, I would advise them to behave less like quiet animals quietly enabling people like Trump to raise their standard of public and private behavior to a higher, less, well, um … a less deplorable standard.

 

It has come to this, the #ComeTrumPence is going to make me vomit #Trump #PussyGate


Like the rest of America, the leaked recording of Trump floored me.

It was like a cataclysmic world event, and I wanted to be first in line to consume the fallout as it rolled out. I scoured websites, FOX News included, looking for information and updates. I half assumed more Republicans would bail on Trump. And I’m not surprised that so many people whom I love are somehow still supporting him, namely through Facebook posts or reposts.

I have not and cannot seem to find any kind of understanding why and how anyone would support Trump, apart from the idea that supporting Hillary would be completely un-acceptable. And I kind of get that. Why? Because I was raised conservative. And there’s not a critical eye that most conservatives can throw onto any situation.

I scratch my head with the rest of the Trump unsupporters wondering how he got this far. I wonder how many books, articles and talking heads will examine this phenomenon for years to come.

For the most part, I’m quietly voting for Hillary. I make no effort to defend her past. If nothing else, I’m very critical of her. It would be a full-time job to completely dig into all the ins and outs of what people criticize her for.

I don’t think of her as the lesser of two evils. Trump should be disqualified from running for such an office. His actions, his demeanor, his track record continue to render him a big buffoon.

Had there been a more identifiable Republican in the race, I could have given them a fair shake at possibly winning my vote in November. Trump lost my vote forever when he made the comment about McCain and how disgraceful it was that he was fucking captured.

Really? A war veteran. A POW. A fucking patriot and a hero?

In whose mind is this kind of talk defensible, let alone coming from a “republican” the party that stands so proudly on the more-patriotic-than thou platform.

This election season has been nothing but a nightmare for me.

When a family member expresses support via social media for Trump or even for Hillary, I first wonder, “Why do you have to do this publicly?” We all know that this election is causing more and more division within this country. It makes me think people want to piss off half of their friends for nothing other than the thrill of pressing “Post” and seeing a couple awkward “likes.”

And now there’s this reprehensible #PussyGate bullshit.

I just looked at Facebook and saw how many Christian grandfathers with grandchildren, Christian fathers of little girls and boys, who find it okay to support a man identifying himself as the candidate to lead this country to “greatness” and at fifty fucking nine years old he is on a recording saying that he tried to fuck a married woman and that it’s okay to grab women by their pussies.

What the fuck.

And then the number of women who support the culture that allows this?

Devastating.

And women supporting Trump? How is this possible?

Republicans, especially evangelical “conservatives,” the self-declared masters of morality with their incessant insistence that they alone hold the key to pleasing the unseen god of the universe by embracing and holding Holy Bibles above their heads is supporting a disgrace of a man who has done more to violate Biblical values than any man I’ve ever met, and they have the gaul to support  a man who has mocked women, Americans with disabilities, veterans, judges, immigrants (like my own father), the working poor, 400 lb computer geeks, Muslims, Jews, refugees, and the list grows and bloats every day of every week as we near November.

Yes, we’ve watched Hillary, a career politician get caught in lies. Her email server is terrible. She’s probably done some horrendous things in support of her husband’s indiscretions. I happen to know women quite closely who have done the same thing.

We all know how to tell if a politician is lying, don’t we? When their mouths are open?

Are we all this stupid?

I’m appalled that we are okay with anything politicians get away with. But we live in a country overwrought with concepts of forgiveness for everyone except our enemies despite what Jesus ostensibly said about 70 times 7. Or rich people and camels. Or feeding the poor. Helping the sick and the destitute.

For almost twenty years, I’ve lived with a lot of anger regarding how men, namely Christian men, Christian business men, married Christian business men who go on trips in America and abroad, and they fuck and rape young, often very underage women who were sold into slavery and prostitution by their own fathers.

This is the type of man Trump is. A business man who has shown no remorse about not paying taxes, about sexual immoralities, about cheating, lying and deceiving to make a buck. And maybe that’s why so many men with such disgusting proclivities and abhorrent fantasies support him. They want to be him, a man who does what he wants and gets away with it.

What a leader.

What a con-artist, misogynistic, load of bullshit loser, mother fucking asshole.

Only a supporter of Trump could look at him and misconstrue “winning” with such a loser mentality.

The Republicans can’t claim they’ve cornered the market on moral superiority when their candidate for leadership can’t find his way out of a paper bag labeled “right & wrong.”

I’m a bit nauseous right now from hashing all this out. I think I might go throw up now.

I turn to you


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“I ask you to turn to each other, not against each other as we move forward. Let us support one another. Let us help heal one another.”

– Loretta Lynch, July 8, 2016

Agoraphobia is getting more and more attractive.

I’m starting to have nightmares on a regular basis about murders. Not to self diagnose and to diagnose America … but I think we’re all suffering from PTSD.

I’m hoping that I wake up and this was all a bad dream.

Last night, a sniper took out five cops and injured more. This week, two more black men die with phone video to show the world. Just this week, a friend of mine — a person whom I only know through social media —  was murdered in her home in North Carolina. I refer to her in this old vLog I did back in 2009. Her name was Wendy Rae. See this article here for information. It’s fucking awful.

Fuck, man, I’m still trying to get over that attack last August when Bryce Williams shot and killed those two reporters while working. I’m still trying to get over the Charleston massacre, let alone the Pulse Nightclub bullshit and November 13 in Paris.

When I ride down the street on my bike with Tina, I look at people in cars and wonder if they’re going to execute a random act of violence against us. It plays out in my head. It scares me.

Shit, a lot of stuff plays out in my head.

I hate it.

Social media makes it worse. You have friends ranting and raving from their stereotypical points of view. You have the shitheads that no matter what happens, they’ll side with the NRA and rant against the president. Then you have the folks that scream, “Do something about the gun problem!”

Who the fuck knows what the problem is.

We’re living in a goddamn powder keg. While I am fond of this president and the last eight years, I know so many who aren’t. And that building tension is about to explode no matter who wins the chair in November.

If Hillary gets it, the rednecks and racists will scream bloody murder. They’ll collectively say, “We’ve already had eight years of a black man. Now we gotta deal with this white-y fucking bitch who broke the law and shit. That’s what FOX told me!”

And if Trump gets it, the rest of us will eloquently bitch and moan for four years using reasonably decent grammar and educated words.

I doubt I’m alone when I say that I would love to win the lottery, move out of the country and hide away from all this chaos for a while. I need a goddamn break from violence and negativity.

When I was in France a few weeks ago, there was one night that Tina and our travel partners went to dinner while in Marseille. The place we chose was a bad choice. And we got stuck with tourist level food at not so great prices. The night’s conversation was loaded with negative comments, and everyone was damn sure not to leave even the smallest tip.

So I went to the bathroom after we were leaving, and I told everyone I’d meet them outside. When I came back down from the toilets, I gave our waiter, who was very patient with us and not a bad waiter for sure, a tip. He did, after all, deal with our table’s lack of French. We were a bit loud. And he hooked us up with another table’s unfinished bottle of white wine.

Instead of going back with everyone, I told them politely I needed to take a walk for a minute. So I walked around the Old Port and got my bearings. This was my trip to celebrate my birthday. I also think that traveling abroad means embracing the negative experiences and doing one’s best to stay positive.

You know that old idea that you can give someone a swell of compliments, but one negative word can or might carry ten times more weight than all those positive words?

I feel the same way about how negativity affects every day life.

And boy are we affected.

I took the above photo last week, and I find it particularly apropos given all the events over the last year, or more … Racism, violence, bigotry …

Whether we know about it more because of social media or we’re living in an exceptionally violent time, I fucking need to take a walk and get away from it for a while. But I can’t seem to get far enough away from it all.

Man, I’m spent.

I’ve decided I need to be a force for positivity in my world. So when Loretta Lynch gave her speech today, I took notes. And that quote up there meant everything to me at this particular time … when I want to be on the blame team. I want to be negative. But my brain can’t take it anymore. My heart either.

I turn to you. And not against you. 

 

Spark Energy might not be a scam, but their business practices are suspect … a review, a recorded customer service call, and you


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Like many Americans, we get door-to-door salesman from time to time. Last fall, we actually welcomed a roaming door-to-door sales guy in from Spark Energy. Why? Because the sales guy was a friend named Mike. I worked with his girlfriend on a photoshoot and I used to see him every once in a while at my local watering hole. I tend to put trust in friends, basically because I want the same in return.

Spark Energy is a company that claims to work with your energy utilities to provide a cheaper rate than actual utility can, by selling you gas or electricity at reduced costs.

The sales meeting was suspicious to both Tina and me, but in the end, we accepted what this guy Mike was saying was truthful, because who lies to their friends?

By the way, the funniest thing was that the sales guy was not allowed to step inside our apartment. He did the entire transaction from the threshold of our place. “But we’re friends,” I told him. “Come on in.”

“Nope. I can’t,” He explained. “I could get into trouble.”

After he explained what seemed to be a good deal,  we signed up last September. We didn’t see much of a difference in our bills. We were contracted to use them for a year, so I was fine with sticking it out till the end. We weren’t losing money after all either.

Status quo is fine with me.

And the early termination of the contract would be $50.

But then we received our gas bill this month for over double last month’s bill. Further examination showed that it was an adjustment fee from Spark Energy. Tina called People’s Gas first, and they said it was Spark’s charge. She called Spark, and a robotic customer service rep kept explaining that the charges were an accumulation of three month’s of Spark Energy charges. He explained that when Spark sent invoices to People’s Gas, PG rejected the invoices.

The charge after three months of rejection was for $112.63.

So if you divide $112 by 3 and add that to our monthly bill, that’s almost $40 more each month.

So Tina was on the line talking circles with the customer service rep trying to understand where this charge came from and how to avoid it in the future. While she was on the phone, I googled Spark Energy and found a lot of websites like this or this from BBB with lots of negative reviews. On a Consumer Affairs site, Spark Energy representatives responded to each complaint and made some resolution statement.

The Better Business Bureau has not accredited them.

So I should have done my homework, but — like I said — I want to trust my “friends.”

What ended up being the kicker was Spark Energy’s own website. Get this.

On their front page, they claim to have a 5.0 customer service approval rating. I’m not statistician, but I read that to mean that no one, not one person, has given a negative review.

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But if you go into their comments and ratings, there are many ratings lower ratings than a 5. They apparently only keep about 22 comments at a time, because I can’t imagine a company has only 22 comments in all its 10 years of business.

Below is in fact what their ratings are based on 22 responses at the time of this writing.

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So their site isn’t exactly a very ethically sound one, don’t you think?

The guy that Tina spoke to finally agreed to give her to a supervisor. And I took the phone from Tina. I learned a trick recently that helped with a dispute with our bank over a $50 charge: I record my phone call.

My hope was to get to the bottom of the charge. And when the guy told me what he told Tina, I would cancel my subscription to Spark Energy and also ask them to waive the $50 early termination fee.

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you can’t get that shit waived. If you keep these guys on the line until you’re blue in the face, you will get what you want.

So … if you can stand hearing me stumble and bumble over my words … I’m posting our conversation below. I feel a little badly about calling him a liar, but it was a moment of weakness. I needed more leverage, and I thought I had a better argument going into the “lie” statement.

You gotta give the guy props, though. He never lost his cool with me.

All in all, we got what we wanted: to get out of the contract and to get the fee waived.

This is certainly a lesson learned. Don’t trust door-to-door without doing my homework.

Do yours as well. If one of these guys comes to your door, just do a quick google of their company before signing on the dotted line.

I couldn’t edit the clip for this posting, but I’ll revise it soon and upload it. Edwin, the customer service supervisor doesn’t pickup until about 0:30.

My extremely frustrating experience with Hasselblad USA: a review


Before Christmas, I was photographing tabletop with my Hasselblad H3DII-31 when I noticed something on my computer monitor. It showed me that there was something on the sensor. This is a common occurrence with medium format (MF) shooting, and one of the reasons why you should try to tether when shooting MF.

You spend more time cleaning dust and stuff off the sensor than with a DSLR.

When I removed the back to blow it with air, I noticed that the mark wasn’t the usual hair or fuzz, but a somewhat long scratch on the surface of the IR filter.

“SHIT,” I said.

I have owned my MF camera for over two years, and read often that it’s advised to send in the cameras for maintenance and repair. Thinking I need to take care of my baby; I mean, investment — I contacted Hasselblad repair in New Jersey to let them know I’m sending it in.

You must fill out a form and have it accompany your camera, stating the problem, your address, phone number, etc.

Seeing it was before Christmas and the turnaround time is around 2 weeks, I thought it would be an okay time to send her in hoping to have her back in early January.

I tracked the camera and it arrived around December 17 to their offices. I received no word that they had it. When I followed up, a woman named Maryann Murphy responded on December 22 and said they are having the camera reviewed and they’ll send me a report and invoice.

On December 23, they day I spent driving down to North Carolina, I received an invoice. The jargon on the invoice was confusing. I googled a few of the things they said they wanted to fix. I couldn’t find answers. So I responded and said thank you for the invoice, but can you clarify these points: “What is an “ACC door modification”? “What are zoom rollers and why do I need 6 of them?”

I got no response.

I followed with other emails.

Nothing.

I gave Maryann Murphy the benefit of the doubt. It was the holidays after all. Maybe she was out of the office even though I received no “out of office” replies.

On January 6, I reached out to my Hasselblad rep and told him what was up. He said he would call and have Maryann call me back. He called January 7 and she STILL didn’t follow up with me. He said he talked to her.

I called a few times, but only left one voicemail, as I didn’t want to stalk Maryann, but fuck, I should have.

Finally on January 8, well over twelve business days since they received the camera, Maryann responds with:

I’m sorry I have had no messages from you nor did anyone call or email checking on your repair.  I sent you the estimate and have been
waiting for your approval.  You can give me your phone # I will call you for your credit card or you can call me at the phone # below or
you can send it in  an email.

I responded angrily that it was (A) ridiculous and (B) that she should have my information on file and to use her information to call me! I mean, after this awful customer service, maybe try to do something right!

And the phone call. The phone CALL! Do you wanna know how it went down?

My phone rang. It was from New Jersey. I picked up, “This is Jeremy.”

“This is Maryann from Hasselblad. I’m calling to get your credit card.”

Frustrated, I told her the card, the number, the expiration.

“We’ll get your camera repaired as soon as possible,” she said.

She hung up.

Huh. The Ferrari of Camera companies doesn’t have enough customer service experience for a genuine voiced apology on behalf of the company? She can’t have a conversation with a disgruntled customer?

Maryann must be a robot.

You think that with a name and reputation as lofty and lauded as Hasselblad, they would go out of their way to make their customers and fans feel like a million bucks … because the price tags on these things are more than many cars, and the leases — if you’ve seen them — are so high.

This experience has changed the way I view Hasselblad … for the worse. And while I wanted to stay brand loyal and I was starting negotiations to upgrade my camera for a more recent model, I’ve decided to stop negotiations and explore other upgrades.

I think Hasselblad owes me an apology. But who am I?

Namely PhaseOne. But have you seen those Pentax 645Zs? I mean wow. If it weren’t for the sync speed on those guys, wow.