The Happiness Insurance Company

I just paid another insurance bill, this one for flood insurance. My house isn’t in a flood plain, but you can never be too careful, what with Global Warming  – oops! Climate Change – and all. I paid the Al Gore Climate Change Insurance Company.

OK. No, I didn’t. 

But Al should have opened the Al Gore Climate Change Insurance Company instead of spending all that money on his 2006 documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. It got a lot of press, but didn’t change minds in Washington. Big oil saw to that. 

But he sure was right. As I write this, the entire middle of the country is gasping from tornadoes and floods.  And more to come.

Insurance is a great way of taking care of a disasters like tornadoes. Or fire. That’s why Benjamin Franklin invented it, because of house fires. His credo was “one for all and all for one”, where risk was spread throughout a big group. 

Today’s insurance companies have a different credo: “we take as much of your money as we can and then do everything legally possible not to give it back to you”.

It’s a different country from Ben’s time. We make money, not friends, regardless of what it does to the planet or ourselves. 

But wouldn’t it be nice if we had a different kind of insurance? I’m not thinking of insurance for normal things, like car accidents or healthcare or hurricanes and tornadoes. 

That’s useful, but well, not fun. 

Imagine insurance for something much better. Imagine insurance for happiness. For example: 

Happy Marriage Insurance: If your marriage hits the rocks, you could get paid weekends with discrete dalliance partners, or, for salvageable relationships, six packs of Yuengling and decks of risque playing cards. 

Happy Childhood Insurance: If your child doesn’t have a happy childhood, we’d either replace you as parents or pay your kids thousands of dollars, which they could use for therapy, divorce settlements, or criminal defense attorneys. 

Happy Pet Insurance: This includes help finding the perfect horse, dog, cat, or bird. If they don’t turn out to be cuddly and affectionate, if they ignore house training or eat the couch pillows, we will repair all damaged goods and find a graveyard for the pet. 

Happy Love Life Insurance: If your love dumps you, you get a replacement of approximately the same sex, age, attractiveness level, and IQ – at absolutely no cost; however, your premium increases each time the replacement clause is exercised. We make money by replacing your love with a reject from another insured couple, kind of like when insurance companies repair your car with used parts. Win-Win, right?

Happy Job Insurance: Unlike Worker’s Comp or similar programs, this guarantees you a fulfilling job with a fair and reasonable boss, no backstabbing co-workers, and a really nice desk. It’s expensive, but what in life isn’t? And we are wildly successful. No pressure here, but Jeff Bezos was our first client; the head of Sears turned down this policy.

Happy Old Age Insurance:  This is not just another Social Security program. Or Medicare. Or any of those old-fashioned policies. Nope. This is about making sure your old age is your best age!  It guarantees lots of laughter, love, friends, trips (if you like them), visits from the kids (if you like them) and constant good health. 

Happy Car Insurance: Unlike most car insurance, this makes sure you’re happy with your car. If you get tired of, say, the way it smells after a long ride with the almost-potty-trained kids, we’ll provide cleaning services. If the thrill of peeling out from a stoplight fades for you, we’ll get you a Porsche. If that back seat no longer entices the two of you to the drive-in, we’ll replace the car with a small condo in Hawaii. We want you happy!

Happy Insurance Insurance: This is the guarantee that you’ll love our insurance. For a small percentage of each of your policies, we’ll provide a monthly review by one of our highly trained agents who will analyze you and your “happiness quotient” with our policies. If the analysis shows problems with you or your attitude, all happiness policies will be cancelled immediately. Not to brag, but we have no existing records of a “happiness quotient” below “deliriously gleeful”.

The Happiness Insurance Company, a revolutionary, winning idea.

And you thought you couldn’t buy happiness.

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A funny and not so funny week

Tim Conway was one of the funniest guys ever – right up there with Ronald Reagan. OK, not really, but there is a connection.

When Conway died last week, various TV channels showed clips from his career. He specialized in confident ineptitude. One of his most famous was when he played a dentist who kept shooting Novacain into himself instead of his patient. As he numbed his hand, arms, and legs, he became capable only of hanging onto to the dental chair.

According to KYW-TV old-timers, Tim Conway started there in 1961, when the station was still in Cleveland. He got fired because he had told someone high up in management he was a TV director. He was, instead, a technical director in Master Control, where they switch in and out of commercials and network shows. Not much creativity there. But that didn’t stop him. When I worked at KYW in Philly 10 years later, the crew would still talk about the pranks he pulled. 

The day after Tim Conway’s passing, I was flipping channels when I stumbled on to a clip of his appearance on a 1980’s Johnny Carson show. He did a sketch as a PA announcer in a stadium with a strong echo. He ignores the echo until it starts correcting him.

At another point in the show Carson joked about Joe Biden’s thin hair and the Republican President wanting a crown. Not as funny as Conway’s announcer, but funny.

You know what is funnier? The Biden joke and the Republican President joke would get the same laughs today… well, the laughs about Reagan would be less bitter.

The point is: history does repeat itself. Nearly 40 years later, for example, some of the same issues are still being debated.

Take women’s rights…Please! (Sorry. Henny Youngman, another humor icon from the 80’s. Couldn’t resist).

Roe v Wade supposedly settled the abortion issue in 1973. Yet, last week it was brought back again by Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi state legislators. They are convinced that the Supreme Court, now comfortably packed with conservatives, will overturn Roe v Wade.  

There are three good reasons abortion continues to roil the nation; two are debatable, one isn’t.  

First is when life begins.

Is it when the sperm and egg join and a new zygote (unique cell) is formed? Or is it when the now fertilized egg travels down the fallopian tube and attaches to the uterus? But that attachment can fail 50% to 80% of the time. And the embryo can still split into, say, twins. So an embryologist might say life begins when the embryo can no longer split. A neuroscientist might say life begins when brain waves can be measured.

If scientists don’t know when life begins, what are the odds of the Supreme Court knowing? 

Second, is religion.  Genesis 9:1 from the Old Testament: “And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.’” 

But the Old Testament was passed down verbally long before it was written down, so it’s not exactly verifiable. 

More important, there weren’t many humans in those days, so procreation was needed for survival from attack by disease, natural predators, and other humans.

But humans did more than survive. By the 800’s the world population was estimated at 1/2 billion. In 1803 it was 1 billion. Today, it’s approaching 8 billion. 

Overpopulation is the worry today, not under-population. 

Third, is authority. Who wrote the Bible? Men. Who ran the world for the first 2000 years? Men. Who controls the Supreme Court and most governments – not to mention any other organization? Men.

But who has the babies? Women. Who carries them for 9 months? Women. Who, in most cases, raises the babies? Women. And who’s been left outside holding placards while men decide what women can do with their bodies? Women.

Yes, this is a complicated issue. Yes, it’s based on religious beliefs as much as science. Yes, there are two sides. Yes, it isn’t easy. 

But leaving women out of the decision about their own bodies is not debatable.  It’s stupid, mean, arrogant, and ludicrous.

And there is nothing even remotely funny about that.

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The Democrats’ Circular Firing Squad

There are now 23 – What? Oh, New York’s de Blasio? OK, make that 24 – Democratic candidates for President.

That’s either very stupid or very smart. I’ll go with stupid, because politics is stupid, at least for the most part.

Years ago, I was a Republican Committee man for Malvern Borough. My job was to find candidates for public office, go door-to-door with them, hand out literature, put out yard signs, and stand around the polls on election day, appearing to be nice to Democrats, but really trying to backstab them to any voter who would listen. 

OK. I didn’t backstab. But I could have.

There were area “dog and pony shows”, at which candidates for local offices would make pitches. Some were good, but many were out-of-work dog catchers. Their qualifications were, generally, very similar: good attendance at church, high school graduates, no domestic violence, earnest expressions, short hair (men and women), fewer than three divorces, kids with straight teeth and straight A’s, and genetic loyalty to the Republican Party. 

Committee people would listen intently and vote our favorites. Usually that would be neighbors, or friends. Once in awhile, it would be for someone who might make a good politician. 

Again – not that bad, but close.

After the “dog and pony shows” was the county Republican convention. All the committee men and women would gather to vote on candidates who had made it through the dog and pony shows. By that time, the powers within the County would have quietly informed everyone who to vote for. There would be perfunctory (and very boring) speeches, and then votes, which generally went according to plan. In Chester County, PA, which at that time was, I don’t know, 105% Republican, the fix was in.

I tried a few times to buck the system. Once, at my urging, Betty Burke (the Republican Committee woman and for decades a real power in the County) and I backed a Democrat for our town Council.  

When the big shots threatened to throw us out of the party, we told them we had been unable to recruit a qualified Republican. That was sort of true. The Republican possibilities were bozos and the Democrat was smart, understood city planning, and seemed to love the little town.

Because Betty had more clout than the top County Republicans, they backed off.

It turned out to be my biggest and longest lasting mistake. My choice, Woody Van Sciver, a general contractor type, backed a nearly quarter of a mile long, five story high, poorly constructed city-like apartment complex that towers over the main entrance to what had been a charming little village, the tallest house up being a three story Victorian.

Fortunately Betty didn’t live to shed tears for the little town she loved. Or call me to task. 

The Democrats had a process similar to Republicans for choosing people, although at that time, they were hard-pressed to find any candidates (remember, this was WBT, Way Before Trump). They loved intelligent conversation and genteel debates, but hated being told what to do. 

I was sneaked into one of their County Conventions once. It consisted of talking, and talking,… and  talking… 

“Let’s hear from everybody who wants to be heard before we vote.” 

After an hour and a half, I left. I imagine, at some point, they drew straws for the winners. That way, no-one’s ego would have been shrunk.

Republicans are team players – to a fault. Democrats are talkers – to a fault. 

Is it just earnestness and ego that makes 23 people, most unknown nationally, think they should be President? Or do they know something? A prize, perhaps? For the most miles traveled? Most appearances on Morning Joe? 

Hey! Next to live sports, we know politics gets the most eyeballs and clicks. Maybe the media is behind it. Maybe this whole thing is a scam by the media! 

Nah… Now I’m buying into Trump-anoia. 

But it is an enigma. Every one of these candidates has a good resume. Most have real government experience of one kind or another. They are all smart, successful, capable. If enough of them ran for the Senate, where they have a good chance of winning, the Democratic Party would control both Houses. 

Instead of that, the Democrats have fielded a 23 person circular attack squad, almost assuring Trump will be back for four more. 

See what I mean about stupid?

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Holy Electronics! Is That A Radio Shack?

The other day I needed to replace the power cable for a piece of video gear. One end had a three pronged “male”, the other a three pronged “female”. 

In times past I would have motored down to my local Radio Shack. One of the staff would have walked me over to the right rack and pointed to the right cable. 

We might have chatted about… whatever. Then, while tapping away at the register he or she would have tried to sell me a pack or two of spare batteries.  I would have bought a pack (you never know when you’ll need a battery, you know) and paid $10 bucks or so for both.

But this day was different because, sad to say, Radio Shacks have folded up and faded into history over the last few years, yet another victim of Amazon and the Internet.

Radio Shack was named after those little shacks on ships that housed early radio equipment. It was started in 1921 by Theodore and Milton Deutschmann, who wanted to cash in on the newest craze: HAM (as in incompetent amateurs) Radio. 

It is said that on April 15, 1912, a Russian immigrant named David Sarnoff was in the radio “shack” of the Manhattan Wannamakers – one of the first department stores (and also long gone) when he saw telegraph chatter from the ships rescuing Titanic survivors. Sarnoff told the world and became famous. 

He also started NBC.

Ok, enough history.

I looked up “power cable” on the internet. Amazon popped up with several, priced from $7.99 to $9.99.  I could have tapped a few keys, sat on my bumpkin, and had it in a few days. 

Thing is, I didn’t want it in a few days. I wanted it now. Plus, to me Amazon is like the lion and the elephant combined: it eats everything that crosses its path and remembers everything else. I’m more of a “protect Bambi” type.

So I got in the car and drove down to my local hardware store. 

The guy there was fascinated “Wow! Haven’t seen one of these in years.” (Hey, the power cable was only a few years old!). He looked in several aisles and came close, but no luck. I told him Amazon carried it, but I’m not a fan. He gave me a silent thumbs up and suggested an electrical supply store 15 minutes away.

No luck there either, although another thumbs up about Amazon and nostalgia about Radio Shack. Then, “Hey, I think there’s a store like that a few miles from here. They call it “The Shack” or “Shack” because they’re not allowed to use the full Radio Shack name.”

20 minutes later I turned into a “Dollar” type mall and there it was, not “The Shack” or “Shack”, but “Radio Shack” – a crisp and clean original logo. 

Call me Marty and my ride a Delorean. 

I walked in, fascinated. There were the familiar racks full of gadgets and spare parts. The saleswoman had the power cable in my hands in, maybe, 30 seconds. I told her I thought Radio Shacks were long gone. She said there are about 300 (up from 70 in 2017) and growing, but slowly. They’re franchises now.  She and her husband bought this one recently.

“How’s business?”

“We’re opening another about 10 miles away… a pack of spare batteries?”

“Oh…sure. One, please.”

In a way, malls got what they deserved. The first enclosed mall was built in 1956 in Minneapolis. Soon after, they became ubiquitous, sucking customers out of small towns. Except in affluent areas (that’s you, Ardmore, Bryn Mawr, Wayne, and Malvern), town centers are history. 

What malls did to small towns, Amazon is doing to malls. 

But, Amazon is more. It isn’t just swallowing retail, it’s also swallowing data. And people. Sure it’s efficient- where else can you get 10 different things in one box delivered to your door in a day or two? But there’s a human toll too.  Amazon records every price inquiry, every birthday wish, every thing you buy. They know what you like and don’t like. How much you spend, and where you keep your money, how many kids you have and where they are, your friends and family, your bank. They use that data and they sell it for billions.

I went to three stores that employ around 20 people at a lot more than $15/per hour. I met some new people. Not people performing robotic tasks in unseen warehouses. Not robots. People. 

It was fun. And I got my new power cable in an hour, not a day or two. 

And some spare batteries, just in case.

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Cristof and Teresa

In 1976, when she was 15, Teresa loved two things: her boyfriend, Javier, and English. So, her father, being fairly well-heeled and very smart, arranged for her to go from Venezuela to Cincinnati for the summer, where his pal from Venezuela, Cincinnati Reds star shortstop Dave Conception, watched over her. 

She loved everything about English and Cincinnati. But, like all teenagers, she had to go home for school. 

Strike one. 

Years later, in 1982, she came back to the US, this time to Camden, Arkansas with her first husband (“who will be not be mentioned again, por favor!”) She loved Camden, too (if that sounds strange, remember – Arkansas, not New Jersey). 

As you might imagine from the “por favor!”, the marriage broke up, so she returned to Venezuela. (I might add, this was before Venezuela became the mess it is today. In fact, it was pretty nice).

Strike two.

She studied management and wished she was in the US. That’s when her Javier, now in the US, found her and ”a beautiful love story began”. She returned, this time to Birmingham, Alabama and married him.

Home Run.

(What is the Supreme Law of the land?)

Also in the 70’s, a young Cristof, of flowing dark hair and earnest eyes, was working his way through architecture school in Pati, Italy, as a dishwasher, when he decided architecture was boring. What was fascinating was cooking. 

“My father loved cooking,” he says.  “He made sweet and sour rabbit. Amazing!” 

So he left school and went to Milan to train as a cook. That started a trek that took him to Dubai, Bahrain, Oman, Paris, and England, among other places and, eventually, Fort Myers, Florida, where he started the McGregor Cafe and hired Teresa in 1998. 

(The Federalist Papers supported the passage of the U.S. Constitution. Name one of the writers.)

He cooked many meals for many people, including the world famous French chef, Alain Ducasse who praised his cooking. “The best compliment I’ve ever gotten”.

He cooked for the Princess of Jordan, the Sultan of Oman, Pavarotti (“what a nice man!”), and, at the McGregor Cafe, Jimmy Carter, “so real, not a phony.”)

(Who is the Chief Justice of the United States?)

Restaurant work is very demanding. Successful restaurants – those that fill the seats all year – require 12-14 hour days of hard work and happy faces. By 2008, he was “how you say…burned out?” At age 40 and successful, he sold the Cafe and retired. 

(When was the Declaration of Independence adopted?)

But restaurant work can also really get into your blood. Less than a year later, stone bored, he drove by an old Florida house just up the road from the Cafe, bought it, and started “Cristof’s on McGregor”.  

He hired Teresa to manage the place so he could concentrate on his second love, cooking. (His first love is named Rachel, with whom he has “exactly the same age difference as my father had with my mother!”).

(When was the Constitution written?)

Cristof says he will never retire. Teresa doesn’t look like she will either. “I wanted to work with him. He’s like a brother to me.”

(Why do some states have more Representatives than other states?)

Was it hard to attain citizenship? 

“No”, says Teresa, with a slight accent. “I learned everything about my new country. I loved it. I am thankful every day.”

“No”, says Cristof. Shades of Italy linger in his voice, even at 60. “You have to show respect for laws, the country… and president.” He pauses. “When in Rome…”, he smiles without finishing the sentence.  

Then, to me, “you know what salt does to food?” (Uh…) ”Makes it sweat – like you and I do… releases the juices.” And off to the kitchen he loves.

Why do I write about these two people? Because, like you and me, they work hard, pay their taxes, raise healthy, contributing families, and are living the American Dream. Cristof and Teresa have done very well, just as many natural born Americans have. 

But they had to learn a language and culture you and I were born into.

(If both the President and the Vice President can no longer serve, who becomes President?)

And they had to pass The US Citizenship Naturalization Test, a test you and I never took or even saw. Some of the questions they answered correctly are sprinkled throughout this story. 

I’m sure you, like me, got every one of them right.  Right?

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