WEEKEND SHORTS

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Weekend Shorts is a weekly feature containing brief observations on current topics.


Is it just me or does it seem absurd that suburban shopping malls have been developed to look like downtowns when so many actual downtowns are in real need of development?

Legacy Village in Cleveland suburb of Lyndhurst.

Legacy Village in Cleveland suburb of Lyndhurst.


This just in:

(PITTSBURGH) – The 2016 Pittsburgh Pirate Baseball Season was placed on life support recently after being discovered lying in a bloody heap on the north shore of the Allegheny River in the city.  Friends of the Pirate Season said it had a particularly harsh time that started at the end of August with a mauling in Chicago by young bear cubs only to return home to get pummeled by a group of beer makers from Milwaukee and then bludgeoned by a flock of angry, red, bat-wielding birds indigenous to St. Louis.  Grieving fans, anticipating the worst, have been seen dropping memorial wreaths into the Allegheny from the Roberto Clemente Bridge.  Whispered one, “2016 Pirates Season, we hardly knew ye.”


After seven months of having the scenery all to themselves, Trump yard signs are getting company.

Signs promoting Trump’s candidacy have been a fixture in certain lawns around Mahoning County since a month prior to Ohio’s March primary.  They have now been around so long that they blend into the scenery.  By contrast, the newness of a variety of signs for his Democratic opponent makes Clinton’s signs more noticeable as they begin to rapidly pop up.

Somewhat amusing are the households coming out for Clinton who are matching their next-door Trump-supporting neighbors sign-for-sign.  The majority of Trump supporters seem to enjoy putting an exclamation point on their support by displaying multiple signs as if one sign isn’t enough.  One home that had several Trump signs stuck in the yard now has three Hillarys next door to keep it even.


I think I’m going to have to meet my old friend Gerry for a drink sometime so he can explain to me how the Ohio Congressional delegation is 75% Republican even though less than 51% of all votes cast in the 2014 Congressional election in Ohio were for candidates of that party.

I should mention Gerry’s not so much a friend as an acquaintance, actually.  You may know him, too.  Does the name Gerry Manndring ring any bells?


The nominees for Most Likely To Have a Monument Erected In the Mahoning Valley In Their Honor are in.  They are Krish Mohip, CEO of Youngstown City Schools, and Tom Shipka, recently named to the Mill Creek MetroParks board of directors.  If their leadership restores stability and progress at their respective institutions which are at lows in public faith and opinion, a grateful public will be more than happy to show its appreciation.


With the non-stop craziness of the 2016 presidential election, it seems like a year since we heard about “What’s Aleppo?” Or was it “What’s ALEPPO?”  Or maybe it was “What’s a leppo?”

I don’t know about you but I like my presidential candidates to have at least a modicum of familiarity with high profile international events.  Like, for instance, the civil war in Syria and the city of Aleppo that has been savaged with bloodshed in the midst of that conflict and is currently the epicenter of a shaky cease-fire.

In case you missed it, during an interview on a morning news show, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad moment when asked what would he do about Aleppo as president and responded with, “And what is Aleppo?”

It was beyond cringe-worthy.  Johnson later explained that his first thought went to the possibility of an acronym.  Like ALEPPO – the Alternative Light Energy Project of Portland Orgeon. (I made that up – it’s not real, folks.  At least I don’t think it is.) Or maybe it stands for an organization Rush Limbaugh and Ted Nugent could both belong to: Anti-Left Entertainers & Purveyors of Partisan Opinion.

Perhaps after that Johnson thought it was slang for a fan of Def Leppard.  Or a street term for a poor soul afflicted with the dreadful and ancient disease leprosy.  Maybe there’s a scene in the updated version of Ben Hur about it.

JUDAH BEN HUR:  Where’s my mother?

MESSALA:  [in pain after a really, really bad chariot accident] She’s living in a cave.  She’s a leppo.  So’s your sister. [winces] So bite, me, Judah.

To his credit, Johnson took full responsibility for the flub and “should have known what [interviewer Mike Barnicle] was talking about.”  While a boo-boo like that would have probably given Donald Trump a five point lift in the polls, many people familiar with Johnson will likely conclude he’s finally one toke over the line.  Sweet Jesus…  The good news, though, for Johnson is that in the last day or so it was announced he is on the ballot in all 50 states, the first third-party candidate to do so since H. Ross Perot in 1992.


A couple of months ago a few Hillary yard signs seemed to spring up in some places where it was surprising to see them, but if you stopped the car to read the fine print you discovered the bad joke.  Under a large font “Hillary” were the much smaller words “for prison.”  You had to be within ten yards to catch it.

I have now spotted a few legitimate Hillary signs that looked similar to the “prison” signs and began to wonder about unintended consequences of the anti-Clinton signs.  There are precious few seconds, usually, to see and read a sign.  Typically one sees a name and that’s it.  In spite of their misguided efforts, the geniuses getting their chuckles with “Hillary … for Prison” signs look more like Clinton supporters than detractors.  I know at least two motorists who got that impression.

I’m sure Hillary for America appreciates the accidental “endorsement.”

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THE EPICENTER OF GREED

epipen

This past weekend, the Penguins of Youngstown State University played a little tackle football inside the hostile confines of a place called Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, West Virginia.  Puskar sort of rhymes with “push car,” something I did with alarming regularity in the early 1980’s, a time regarded as The Era of the Really, Really Crappy Mustang. Milan rhymes with MY-lan, just like the pharmaceutical giant that was born in West Virginia and whose global headquarters are now near Pittsburgh (even though it’s registered in the Netherlands with separate executive offices north of London, England – it takes Google Maps to keep track of ‘em.)

Milan rhyming with Mylan is no coincidence. In 1960, Milan Puskar, fresh out of a fine institution of higher learning known today as YSU (which is a coincidence), co-founded Mylan with another young fellow by the name of Donald Panoz.  I’m not sure why they didn’t call the company Milald, Pankor, or Puskanoz, but I’m guessing Panoz caught the fuzzy side of the lollipop after losing an arm-wrestling match in a Morgantown bar to his college bud. Yeah, let’s go with that.  It doesn’t make much difference because Panoz walked out of their business relationship nine years later when Mylan said ho-hum to the development of a transdermal patch Panoz invented.

If you want the whole fast-track skinny on Mylan, watch this short video. Pay attention to the first 25 seconds because there will be a quiz.

 

Did you hear that?  At 19 seconds the announcer says Mylan believes in “doing what’s right, not what’s easy.”  They may want to revisit that part of the script.  If you’ve been keeping up with the news lately, you probably heard that Mylan is a monopolistic distributor of a life-saving device called the EpiPen, a precious little gizmo that delivers a dose of epinephrine by plunging it into your leg to counteract the effects of anaphylaxis which can lead to almost certain death if left unchecked.   Mylan has launched the price of their EpiPen into the stratosphere, raising the price from under $100 in 2007 to $600 today, a whopping 500% boost.

“Doing what’s right” indeed.

Let’s put a little perspective into that price hike.  If a loaf of basic white bread costs $2.50 right now, then by Mylan’s arithmetic you can expect to pay 15 bucks for that bread nine years from now.

Thank God Mylan’s not in the baking business.

A price increase to stay ahead of inflation is understood, but even if you double the estimated time-value of money between 2007 and now, an EpiPen twin pack retailing at $100 then would cost only about $135 today.

The acute nature of anaphylaxis that an injection from an EpiPen races to reverse can be horrifying.  In extreme cases, one’s whole body can be affected within minutes if exposed to the wrong substance.  In some people, deadly allergic reactions can take place if they come in contact with peanuts, shellfish, or even dairy products.  Insect stings can cause it.  So imagine if you’re someone with hyper-sensitivity to bee stings, you literally may have minutes to live unless you stick yourself in the thigh with an EpiPen.  Without it, your airways constrict, you can’t swallow, your throat gets swollen, your heart races in panic; you collapse.  And you don’t get to see your granddaughter get married.

It’s a sudden and ghastly way to die.

Even though I’ve had my share of bee and wasp stings without going into anaphylactic shock, I still keep my mouth shut when I’m cutting the grass around that bee haven of a peegee hydrangea tree in my back yard.  Not taking any chances.

So, again, imagine yourself as someone who needs to be packin’ one of these devices every minute of every day because you never know when that assassin bee will come buzzing out of the peegee at you.  Or when a rogue peanut will find its way onto the sundae you just picked up at the DQ window.  That plastic tube of life-saving nectar is suddenly invaluable.  But almost just as suddenly, the price is now more than your car payment.

The CEO of Mylan is Heather Bresch whose name reminds me of Fuller Brush (you have to be ancient like me to appreciate that).  I don’t really know what motivated Ms. Bresch to rapidly ratchet up the price of the EpiPen over recent years, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that bottom line profits and boosting Mylan’s stock price (traded on NASDAQ as MYL) played a role.  My worst scenario has her emerging from some underground bunker deep within the mountains of West By God Virginia, smiling like a butcher’s dog following a “eureka!” moment when she realizes that with a 90% share of the EpiPen market she can do whatever the hell she wants with the price and seize the opportunity to make a fortune.

I have to wonder if Milan Puskar would have done this.  We’ll never really know because he passed away from cancer five years ago, well before the EpiPen price reached its current zenith.  However, he was quite alive when Ms. Bresch came into the company as a data entry clerk in ’92.  And he was certainly around to observe her as she rose through the ranks and became Chief Operating Officer in 2007.  I am curious if at any point he saw evidence of a desire by Ms. Bresch to turn their stated code of moral responsibility on its head and do what’s easy and not what’s right.

Here’s why.

Back in 2007, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette made some routine phone calls after receiving a release that Heather Bresch was promoted to COO, a release that claimed she earned an MBA from West Virginia University.  WVU initially said no, she hadn’t earned an MBA there, but then a few days later turned that around as if to say, “Oh, gosh, those silly knuckleheads in the record-keeping department flubbed it up again.  Ha ha!  Yeah, Heather definitely got her MBA here.  Yeah, that’s it.  It was just a booboo we made when you guys called the other day. Oh! Look at the time.  Gotta go.  See ya.  Bye!”

The PG to their credit wasn’t willing to accept the reversal on WVU’s say so.  They dug deeper and just prior to Christmas in 2007 published an expose that all but caused the campus to slide down the hill and into the Monongahela River.

The story revealed to anyone who didn’t already know that Ms. Bresch’s father was then West Virgina Governor (and now U.S. Senator) Joe Manchin.  It reported that Mylan had a titanium-strength bond to WVU because of Milan Puskar’s generosity which contributed to his having a 60-thousand-seat football stadium named after him.  But that wasn’t all.

The incredible capper of the PG’s investigation was the discovery that WVU’ s records had been altered to award an MBA to Ms. Bresch.

People lost jobs because of this.  People like university president Mike Garrison who was a close friend of the Manchin family.  People like the university provost Gerald Lang.  People like the dean of the business school Stephen Sears.

But while Morgantown watched WVU purge three top administrators, Heather Bresch remained on the job at Mylan.  Despite being central to the messy reason why Garrison, Lang and Sears became unemployed, Heather Bresch survived.  In fact, Heather Bresch thrived. And ultimately she became Mylan’s Chief Executive Officer and watched her personal income rise from an already healthy and allergy-free $2.5 million to nearly $19 million in roughly the same time frame as the series of EpiPen price increases.

So there was that scandal in which Ms. Bresch falsely claimed earning a master’s degree.

And now there is this EpiPen disaster with Ms. Bresch at the helm of the company.

You might say that Bresch really knows how to have her brushes with calamity.

Some will say let’s not rush to judgment because every pharmaceutical giant incurs millions of dollars worth of research and development costs associated with its products.  Pfizer has even made a nice TV commercial about it.

 

I get the R&D cost argument but won’t buy it in this case it because this device with the decidedly unsexy and almost scary technical name of epinephrine autoinjector was invented in the 70’s by a guy in Maryland by the name of Sheldon in what had to be a Big Bang moment of inspiration, I’m sure.  The FDA approved Sheldon Kaplan’s device almost 30 years ago.  This wheel had already been designed, tested, approved, and in the market for twenty years when Mylan bought the marketing rights for the EpiPen from German pharmaceutical firm Merck.  R&D on this was someone else’s baby, not Mylan’s, and if you want to argue this further all I have to say is:

wrongness

Now others will argue on Mylan’s behalf that the very bad, no good, evil federal government is to blame for this because of over-regulation and policies that allowed Mylan to suppress competition and build a 90% market share.  They also argue that insurance companies are getting stuck with the bill because of the dynamics of a thing called “moral hazard” where people (patients in this case) don’t feel bad about spending someone else’s money.  While some of this economic fire and brimstone may have a reasonable basis in truth, there is still no one between here and Morgantown who can convince me a conscious and calculated decision to escalate prices wasn’t made. They could have decided lots of times not to light the fuse on that price booster rocket because they believe in doing what’s right, not what’s easy.

I posted last week that I spend a few hours each day providing a floral delivery service.  About five or six weeks ago I delivered some arrangements to a church for a funeral.  The next day I was talking to someone who knew the 40-something-year old gentleman for whom the service was conducted.  He died of anaphylactic shock from a bee sting.  He left behind two children.  Mylan certainly was not to blame for any of the circumstances surrounding this man’s death, but the fact that lives were permanently altered by the effects of an insect sting that could have been halted by a plastic tube filled with a life-saving medication cannot be ignored.  How can that family’s situation justify a $500 price increase over nine years?

It can’t, of course.

And Mylan’s recent offer of a discount card reducing EpiPen’s retail price to $300 is weak, shameful, and an insult to everyone who paid less than half that amount for this device not that long ago.

Mylan should have their day in court to try to explain the inexplicable.  Actually, they should have their day somewhere else to explain themselves before it ever gets to a court of law.  I know how they can be accommodated.  To slightly change the words of fictional President Jed Bartlet’s press secretary C.J. Cregg: “Mylan needs to be investigated by someone who wants to kill them just to watch them die. They need someone perceived by the American people to be irresponsible, untrustworthy, partisan, ambitious, and thirsty for the limelight.  Am I crazy, or is this not a job for the U. S. House of Representatives?”

Investigations and hearings of this nature fall under the purview of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.  It is chaired by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT 3rd) and its ranking member is Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD 7th).  Will I contact them with a polite but firm request to take up an investigation of Mylan, Ms. Bresch, and the outrageous escalation in price of the EpiPen?  You bet.

You can, too.  Click here to get more info on the House Oversight Committee

And when the House Oversight Committee is convened on this matter, Heather Bresch’s father, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), should stay on the other side of the Capitol and do what I do when I’m near my peegee hydrangea and all the bees:  Keep his mouth shut.

Mylan’s website says “Seeing is believing.”  Perhaps after Heather Bresch and her company are placed under public scrutiny in a high-profile Congressional proceeding on the EpiPen debacle we will begin to see some proof they are actually capable of living up to their own code of doing what’s right and not what’s easy.  Until then, I won’t believe it.

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SO, ABOUT YOUR LETTER TO THE EDITOR (Vol. 1)

About Your Letter… is a weekly feature of PFT330.  Observations are culled from select letters to the editor published in newspapers in the 330 as well as the 216 and 412. 

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In the beginning…

L.F. wrote this in yesterday’s Youngstown Vindicator:

“The 1 percent that doesn’t believe is forcing the truth out of schools.  They only want one man’s false ideas about how men and women evolved from monkeys.”

I know at least one fact on this: I wasn’t present for the start of life as we know it (although some very young people I know love to dispute that).  However, until someone irrefutably reconciles the difference between 4.5 billion years (scientific age of the earth) and 6,000 years (biblical age of the earth), I will allow for the vast possibility of things beyond our comprehension that have led to our existence today, and none of those vast possibilities – even if not found in Genesis – will shake my faith.

The “one man” to whom the writer likely refers is naturalist Charles Darwin who apparently wasn’t above making a self-effacing comment when he said, “I love fools’ experiments.  I am always making them.”  But he also described himself as someone “turned into a sort of machine for observing facts and grinding out conclusions.”  If the human race ever decides to stop observing, grinding, and concluding, we’re all in a heap o’ trouble.


Genesis Chapter 2

It must have been Creationism vs. Evolution Day yesterday because there was another letter addressing the topic in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  In a more tempered, even-handed manner G.S. wrote:

“Creationists make the mistake of believing that the Bible can be used as a scientific document, but scientific fundamentalists make the mistake of thinking that only modern analytical thinking has any value.”

G.S. makes an interesting argument that where science provides data and analysis, the Bible gives us wisdom and meaning, and together they “give us a balanced perspective of life” he says.  I’m thinking Alfred Einstein may have agreed, especially when he said, “When the solution is simple, God is answering.”

I’ll take these latter perspectives any day over the perception of a 1% Conspiracy to Force the Teaching of False Ideas.


E-Caught

The online Columbus-based charter school Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow is miffed because someone’s asking it to be accountable for the nearly $100 million in taxpayer money received each year from the State of Ohio.  That pesky someone is State Sen. Joe Schiavoni (D-33rd) who is leading a valiant effort to force ECOT to reveal the exact status of its on-line “attendance” which according to reports is substantially below state education standards.

Senate Minority Leader Schiavoni responded yesterday to a letter published in the Vindicator a week ago, a missive from ECOT’s Superintendent Rick Teeters published on September 4th.  Here’s a snippet of the Teeters letter:

“Schiavoni writes that ECOT has the worst graduation rate in the nation. That’s not true. In fact, ECOT graduates more students than many public schools in the nation, and there are dozens of public schools in Ohio that have a lower graduation rate than ECOT.”

Sen. Joe fired back yesterday:

“In addition, a recent investigation by the New York Times found ‘more students drop out of [ECOT] or fail to finish high school within four years than at any other school in the country, according to federal data.’”

As the late U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynahan once said, Mr. Teeters, “You’re entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts.”

I think you’ll probably be reading more about ECOT on PFT330 in the near future.  Meanwhile to our caped crusader: Keep the heat on, Joe.


Wrong channel, dude

A few days ago, MS wrote this in the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

“I listened today on CNN the Donald Trump speech on our military and foreign affairs … But when the speech was over CNN subjected me to their opinions as to what I heard. Everything they stated was the opposite of what I heard.”

Hey, MS, look at your channel guide.  The network you want is Fox News.  You’re welcome.

 

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FLOWERS FOR A MAN WITHOUT PANTS AND OTHER TALES

flower-delivery-guy

When I graduated from college with a degree in communications and did things like manage a multi-million dollar cable advertising interconnect, I never entertained even a drunken thought that an early chunk of my AARP years would be spent slinging floral arrangements each day.  But then along came the Great Economic Downturn of Godzilla-like Proportions, and before you could say “watch where you breath that fire, buster” it melted down the tech firm for which I had been working eight years.

So here I am, on the road each day.  There I am, up by your door.   Here I go: “I got these for you.”  There I go.  Turn the page.

A habit of having coffee Sunday mornings at Panera led to getting acquainted with a gentleman who owns a floral shop.  He does some weddings and special events, but the bread-and-buttercups of his business is individual piecework for funerals, birthdays, anniversaries, and all that sort of stuff.  During the initial stages of the operational downtime imposed on me by the Great Recession, I would jump in when he needed an extra hand for high-volume holidays like Mothers Day.  Over time I became his Primary Delivery Dude.

The job has its moments.  For starters, it’s a daily exercise in experimenting with Newton’s Laws of Motion, particularly where Force demands attention.  If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, gather up some jars and vases, fill them up with water, put them in your back seat, and then get back to me after you round that first corner.

Unless you c-r-a-w-l on that turn, ya gotta take a lot of precautions to keep that fragile merchandise from slipping, sliding, and tilting catty-ass-whompus like furniture on the Titanic.

Then there are doorbells.  My unscientific survey says 80 percent of ‘em don’t work.  When they do work, 80 percent of those homes have not one but two dogs.  And, yeah, it never ceases to amaze me that ferociousness is indirectly proportional to size when it comes to canines.  The smaller they go, the bigger they bark.  Cats are all, “Yeah, just leave them there.  I’ll eat – I mean get – them later.”

On more than one occasion, I am positive the person to whom I was making a delivery was convinced I was only pretending to deliver flowers in order to hide my real purpose of serving an arrest warrant, eviction notice, or subpoena.  After finally coming to the door, they would quickly open it and grab the arrangement as their eyes darted around to see if a SWAT team was hiding in the bushes.

While I‘m thinking of it, I wish the shop owner would invest in a sign for the delivery van.  I mean, if you don’t want to go whole hog on a logo paint job that’s fine, but at least slapping on a couple magnetic signs would be nice.  Why?  It doesn’t matter what neighborhood you’re in, but when an unmarked van slowly drives up a street in search of an address – especially near a school…  You get the picture.

What makes delivering floral arrangements most interesting, though, is the people getting the flowers.  Over the decades I have been in plenty of circumstances where someone did not necessarily like to see me showing up, but NO ONE doesn’t like to see the flower guy coming.  The joy of receiving flowers, I suppose, could be measured from 1 to 10, but it’s always joy.  Well, almost.

You might think funerals are the hardest deliveries, but they’re not because they’re typically made hours before the family arrives.  And in the useless trivia department, I know the location of every floral delivery door at every funeral home in Mahoning County.  And parts of Trumbull and Columbiana, too.

Several deliveries stand out in my memory as particularly poignant.  One was a nice dish garden with a glass cross planted in the middle.  Whatever the occasion, I knew it was not a happy one.  It had “comfort” and “love in time of sorrow” virtually written all over it.  And when the young woman came out to accept it, she could barely say thank you through her tears as soon as she saw it.

I was greeted once at a front door by a woman, probably around my age, tethered to an I.V. pole that she guided along beside her.  She wore a scarf over her head, she looked tired, but just the same her smile was incredibly warm and endearing.

Two years later I made another delivery to that home.  She did not come to the door.  I knew she wouldn’t.  The arrangement was for her family.

And then the hardest delivery of all was to a hospital room near the labor and delivery wing.  Now, almost every delivery to the maternity ward is sky high on the joy scale, but not this day.  These flowers were being sent to help comfort the mother who lost her baby the night before.  The room was dim.  The air was heavy with immeasurable sadness.  And she was alone.

I hope to never make a delivery like that again.

I have made deliveries to the poorest neighborhoods and the wealthiest and to a lot in between.  They all have their “charms,” but I’ll never forget a woman who lives on the south side of Youngstown on a street I didn’t know existed.  This woman, elderly, lived in a house that had seen better days.  Like maybe a week back in 1920.  The front porch was a tad soft and spongy and I was careful not to move too much for fear I might plunge into whatever dark, dank, and cobwebby recesses awaited below my feet.  But this old woman was happy.  Yes, she was overjoyed at receiving flowers, but there was simply something about her nature that said she was always outrageously joyful, and I should add it was not in an eccentric or goofy way.  Her joy was warm and sincere and radiated from her eyes and smile like sunshine on a warm day in April.  Yep, her default position was unbridled happiness.  And while I shouldn’t presume she’s done more hard living than most of us, the evidence was there to suggest that things were not easy, yet she didn’t seem to mind.  She didn’t mind at all.  She was happy.

Sure made an impression on me.

And then there was that guy.  Wait.  Let me back up.  It was something out of a Seinfeld episode or a Monty Python sketch.  It was Friday before Memorial Day, it was gonna be a busy day, and I showed up at the shop to start deliveries.  The first was a mammoth urn that needed to be at the cathedral within the hour but the designer was still working on it, so it was suggested I take care of two other quick deliveries first, one a pair of altar arrangements for a church virtually across the street and another to a residence not far from that.  Easy peasy quick and easy and I’ll have plenty of time to spare to get to the cathedral on time.

So I go to grab keys to unlock the van and discover the “good” van is with the owner.  “Good” in this case means fewer rust spots and power windows.  I’d have to use the other van.  I go out to open it up and discover it’s full of boxes except for one spot where I could put my arrangements.  Now, remember what I said about Newton’s Laws of Motion?  I knew that some of these boxes stacked in the back like Jenga blocks could move around and crush my deliveries, but I didn’t have time to unload the van so I arranged and secured those boxes as best I could.  Or so I thought.

Just as I pulled out of the parking lot I remembered the Garmin was in the “good” van and I didn’t have access to anything to help me find the exact location of my residential delivery.  My cell had picked that day to go into the throes of demon possession and wouldn’t even turn on to allow me to use Google Maps.  I had to turn around and go back to the shop to use one of the desktop computers to generate a map.  The clock was ticking but it was still early in the game.

Map in hand, I went to the church with the first delivery and discovered that one of the two altar arrangements had been clipped by a rogue box.  Another lesson for you: Carnations are so damn fragile.  It was snapped in a place where I couldn’t do my own quick fix to hide it (and, frankly, I don’t have any talent to design arrangements, only deliver ‘em), so I looked at my watch and decided I still had time to head back to the shop again for a quick repair.  Are you getting a sense that time pressure is mounting in agonizing increments?

While the designer swapped out the fractured flower, I devised a new shipping strategy:  I would put the box with the altar arrangements on the passenger seat to protect them from any further peril.  Repair made, I slid the fixed arrangement back into a slot in the box with its partner, trotted back outside to the van, and placed the box on the passenger seat.

I got back to the church and for reasons that remain among the Greatest Mysteries of the Universe, the passenger-side door wouldn’t open.  My cell phone demons apparently transferred themselves to the door.  Instead of slowly and carefully attempting to move each arrangement out through the driver’s side, I decided to crawl over and push the passenger door open.  I did so with spectacular results.  My hand slipped as I pushed, I lost my balance, and I crushed both altar arrangements with my full body weight.

I went back to the shop for the third time in like fifteen minutes and presented the designer this time with church arrangements that looked like victims of a tornado.  There would be no quick fix this time, but I would still have time to make that other delivery before heading to the cathedral.

As I headed to this guy’s house, I recounted my dumb luck in such a short time span:  Possessed phone, malfunctioning door, escalating floral damage.  And I was really beginning to feel the pressure of getting to the cathedral on time and meeting the delivery needs of all the other orders now rolling in.

I got to my destination and impatiently waited for someone to answer the door bell and my knocks because I think his was one of those 80 percent where the damn button doesn’t work.  A man finally opened the door.  He was disheveled.  He looked like an unmade bed.  He appeared not to be well.

And he definitely was not wearing any pants.

I noticed his lack of bottom apparel in just a glance and then averted my eyes because there is no amount of bleach – even if it’s flavored with pumpkin spice – that can make the stain of a visual like that disappear.   After I got back into my vehicle and closed the door, I began not to just laugh, but to convulse with laughter so hard it made my chest hurt while tears poured out of my eyes in buckets.  At each traffic light on the way back to the shop I roared in laughter again.  The patent absurdity of the past twenty minutes – wayward electronics, sealed doors, crushed flowers, and now a man without pants – was too much to bear.  Anyone driving by had to think I was nuts.

I didn’t stop laughing until I got back from the cathedral.

There is no moral that you need to draw from any of these stories.  The purpose here was never to bring you to some Grand Conclusion About Life.  Nevertheless, delivering flowers allows me to draw my own conclusions about life every day.  For instance, like those damn delicate carnations that snap if you look at them cross-eyed, the nature of our existence is equally fragile.

It’s hard for me not to muse over life’s foibles when a person who looks like they don’t have two nickels to rub together insists on giving me a tip.  Or when the door is opened by an old woman who smiles at everything life throws in front of her.  Or when the road to the cathedral is filled with crazy things no sober person could predict.

On my worst days, I remember the young woman in the maternity ward and decide whatever I’m moping about pales way beyond comparison.

It’s almost time to get on the road again.  I hope everyone is wearing pants.

Posted in General interest