Monday, March 2, 2015

My very brief flirtation with multi-level marketing...

Though I'm sure I could find plenty of things to write about that might piss people off today, I've decided I'd rather share a memory from 1994.  It was late August and I was a brand new college graduate.  I had spent the summer working at a Presbyterian church camp, living in a platform tent.  Then I went back to my small hometown and lived with my parents, who were none too pleased for me to be back in their house.

I needed to find a job.  I wanted a job that would pay enough for me to move, but I definitely needed a job that would allow me to pay my bills.  Back in 1994, we didn't have Internet.  While I had taken part in job search seminars and job fairs, nothing had panned out.  I was armed with a degree in English with minors in speech and communications.  I wanted to find a job that would allow me to use my writing skills, but I didn't know where to start.  And my parents were really piling on the pressure for me to GTFO.

I picked up the newspaper and saw a couple of ads for "public relations" jobs in Richmond, Virginia, which was about 90 miles from where my parents lived.  The ads were kind of vague, but I was desperate.  I picked up the phone and called and scored two interviews, one at 9:00am and the other at 1:00pm.  Happy about my success, I went out and bought a new suit (it was red and black) and a pair of heels.  It didn't occur to me to be suspicious about the "jobs" I was applying for, even though the first guy I spoke to said he wanted me to come in and meet him so "we could see if we liked each other".  The second guy told me to make sure I told the receptionist that "Kevin" had sent me.

Bright and early the next morning, I got in the ugly beige pickup truck my dad let me drive.  It was a hideous Nissan with a camper shell and a non-functioning cassette/radio, but it ran surprisingly well.  I drove to the first appointment, which was at 9:00am.  The place was an outfit called United Consumer Club (UCC) and it was located in a strip mall.  I had never heard of UCC before and went into the showroom like an innocent lamb.  Unfortunately, I was very early.  The proprietor, a slim built man with dark, beady eyes, and a receding hairline invited me to leave and come back at 9:00.  He didn't seem very friendly.  That probably should have been my first clue.

I came back at 9:00 and was given a standard job application to fill out.  Looking around, I could see there were a number of other people there for an "interview" for the "public relations" job that paid $22,000 a year.  There were whiteboards everywhere.  I started to get suspicious.

We were all invited to sit at a table, where we watched a video about United Consumer Club.  You may know this business better as DirectBuy-- a few years ago, their ads were all over TV.  In the cheaply produced video, we listened to people talk about how much they loved being members of UCC, where they could pay several thousand dollars for the privilege of buying furniture and building supplies at wholesale prices.  I noticed a couple of people got up and left while the video was running, but I had driven 90 miles and needed a job.  I was also curious.

After the video, the proprietor gave us a spiel about UCC and talked about the position he sought to fill.  Basically, it would be the successful candidate's job to schmooze with potential club members, trying to get them to sign up.  The entire presentation was about money.  I didn't like the proprietor and had a feeling I wouldn't want to work for him because he seemed sleazy.  But I stuck around for the actual interview, anyway.

When I finally sat down across from him, he shook my hand, looked me in the eye with his beady little peepers and asked, "Why should I hire you?"

Feeling uncomfortable, I asked "Uh, before we get started, is this some kind of hard sell operation?"

The guy immediately got pissy and said "I REALLY don't have time to answer your questions right now.  Do you want to interview for this position or not?"

I said, "I really would like to ask a couple of questions first."

He said, "Well, based on what I'm seeing, you won't be a good fit for this job."

"I guess you're right." I said as I got up to leave, thinking I had just totally wasted my time.  Years later, I realize that it wasn't actually a total waste of time, since I learned something from the experience and came away with a good story.  I forgot all about UCC until years later when I saw all the DirectBuy ads on TV.  Back in 1994, UCC prided itself on not using advertising.  I guess they changed their minds.

Glad I didn't get the job....

I went to a local mall to pass the time before my 1:00 "interview".  I was feeling bewildered and a little stung.  Little did I know that the morning interview would seem positively normal compared to what was in store for me that afternoon.

The "interview" I was attending was for a multi-level marketing firm called Equinox International.  Equinox has long since been out of business, but back in the 1990s, it was a burgeoning business that had celebrities like Kenny Loggins and Ted Danson shilling for it.  Of course, I didn't know this when I arrived at the very respectable looking high rise office building for my "interview".

I walked into the posh looking office and told the receptionist that Kevin had sent me.  She invited me to sign in and take a seat.  Once again, I noticed that others were there to be interviewed, too.

Kevin came out to meet me.  He was tall, handsome, and very Nordic looking.  I noticed he wore an expensive looking suit.   He asked how much money I hoped to make.  I said "Low 20's."  Remember, this was 1994.  Kevin just smiled at me as he led me to a room where there were rows of chairs set up.

At 1:00, Kevin and his very attractive partner, Karen, got up to make their presentation.  I noticed that Kevin and Karen were both really good looking and well spoken as they talked about Equinox, a company that made environmentally safe cleaning products and water filters.  They expertly explained why products one could buy in the store were unsafe.

First came the water filter demonstration. Kevin showed us two containers of tap water, one filled with ordinary water and the other filled with water that had been run through an Equinox water filter. Kevin put a chemical in the ordinary tap water that turned it yellow, while the filtered water stayed clear. I had to admit it was an impressive display. Kevin told us that we were poisoning ourselves everyday with ordinary substances like tap water. Equinox had products that would keep us and our loved ones safe. And we could help save the world by making the products available to the world! Who wouldn't want that job?

Then Karen took the helm. She showed us that ordinary breath spray is made with alcohol by spraying it into a flame.  The alcohol caused the flame to torch out impressively.  Then she did the same thing with water-based breath spray made by Equinox.  The flame was doused in a second.  Hmmm... not quite as cool as Kevin's presentation, but still worth looking at.

Karen and Kevin took turns telling us about how we'd make money signing up other people, and how they'd make money signing up people.  I remember them telling us it wasn't a pyramid scheme. Only it was.  Equinox has been shut down and was sued by more than six states for being an illegal pryramid scheme. Virginia is among those states. 

Next came the videos.  First, we learned about Bill Gouldd, the company's multi-millionaire founder.  He lived in a huge mansion, drove expensive cars, spent time with beautiful women... and all of this and more was within reach if we sold his products.  Gouldd himself had started out as a lowly salesman who had found the secret to success.  We could learn the secrets by taking his seminars.  The American dream could be ours by believing in the program and investing our money in Equinox.

Next, there was a video by Kenny Loggins, who told us of his now ex wife and her many medical problems that were alleviated by alternative medicine, a healthy environment, and all natural products like those peddled by Equinox distributors.  I have always enjoyed Kenny Loggins' music, but I have no idea why he got tangled up with this organization.  It kind of makes me wonder what kind of person he is.  Still, I have to admit that at the time I was really impressed... but still skeptical.  I knew they were going to ask me for money and money was something I REALLY didn't have.

Kenny Loggins' video for Equinox.

I noticed there were people laughing at all the "right" times.  It became clear to me after the video that there were, indeed, Equinox people interspersed in the audience to "help" the facilitators.  The meeting was getting very long and bizarre... and towards the end, it seemed almost cultish.  There were even a few people jumping up and dancing around, cheering, singing the praises of Equinox... very weird.  Other distributors approached me and asked me what I thought.  They were friendly-- too friendly.  I liked it and found myself trying to think of a way I could come up with the $500 I would need to get started.  Thank God I have common sense, and that there was a healthy measure of it on hand that day.  I could have landed in some real trouble.

As I was leaving, Kevin asked me if I wanted to sign up.  He was very charismatic and I have to admit, I was still thinking about it. But that's what I told him.  I said I had to think about it.  He winked at me, as if he just knew he was God's gift to women. 

Then he said, "Well, if I don't hear from you in a couple of weeks, I'll give you a call..." As if perhaps I'd be waiting by the phone for the sound of his voice.

Thankfully, he never called and I was too afraid to risk borrowing money to get involved in Equinox.  I hate selling things anyway, and the idea of trying to get people to join that program left me cold.  But I have to admit, it was a sexy organization and the presentation was very seductive.  I could have been sucked in.  I can see how people might leave $60,000 jobs to go to work for multi-level marketing firms.

Years later, I researched Equinox International online and came to realize what a big bullet I dodged by not getting involved.  People lost their shirts.

In 2003, I read and reviewed Robert Morgan Styler's book Spellbound: My Journey Through a Tangled Web of Success.  I am reposting part of that review below for your edification.

Rob Styler, like me, is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. At the beginning of this book, he had just come back from his stint in Guatemala, where he met and married his first wife, Marina. Styler had come back to the States with his wife with the intention of earning more money so that he could move back to Guatemala, because he had bought fifty acres of land there. However, Marina had some medical problems that required two surgeries. Because the couple had no health insurance, they quickly found themselves $25,000 in debt. One of Marina's medical problems would be improved if she got pregnant, which she quickly did. But pregnancy required prenatal care and Marina's OB-GYN refused to take care of her because she lacked health insurance. Styler decided that he needed quick cash. Like me, Styler consulted the want ads. Like me, Styler saw several ads that looked promising. He called and left a message. Later, he was invited to an evening meeting for his "interview" at an international environmental marketing firm.

Styler showed up for his interview with long hair, a beard, wearing Birkenstocks and his best Peace Corps T-shirt. He was confused when he saw about sixty other people milling around the reception area, also there to be interviewed. But then they were all ushered into a big room where they were told they would be given a group interview. A jovial man stood up and gave an impressive demonstration of some of the products the "firm" sells. He also explained the concept of the pyramid scheme (although the man is careful to emphasize that this is NOT a pyramid scheme).

By the way, for those of you who don't know what a pyramid scheme is, here is's definition of the term:

Pyramid Scheme

A fraudulent money-making scheme in which people are recruited to make payments to others above them in a hierarchy while expecting to receive payments from people recruited below them. Eventually the number of new recruits fails to sustain the payment structure, and the scheme collapses with most people losing the money they paid in.

"Multi-level marketing" seems to be the more politically correct term for the pyramid scheme nowadays. After reading Styler's account of what happened to him-- he was recruited to join the company and asked to pay a huge amount of money-- and what he did to others-- asked others to join the company and pay huge amounts of money-- I would conclude that Equinox International most certainly did qualify as a pyramid scheme!

After the explanation of how individuals "make money", the group watched videos highlighting the company's president, Bill Gouldd (the extra d is for dollars- he added it on the advice of a psychic). Styler noticed the energy and excitement in the room and caught it himself. After the presentation, he wanted to know how to sign up. Then he was told it cost twenty dollars to apply for the "job" and $5000 to start out as a "Manager" with a lot of product or $500 to be a "Dealer". Styler said..."But I don't have any money." The enthusiastic people at Equinox International say, "That's okay, Rob. You've got OPM." That's other people's money. The company encouraged enrollees to hit up family members, take out loans, max out credit cards... do whatever they had to do to get that money.

Styler got the money and went into business. He found a couple of Spanish speaking guys to hit the Spanish speaking market and, after a great deal of concentrated effort and lots of OPM, ended up being among the rare people who actually made money at Equinox. But along the way, he saw people lose their shirts. He also pulled some amazing financial stunts himself, especially considering his terrible credit. Equinox encouraged its people to exude the illusion of wealth, even if they were days away from eviction from their apartments, they had no idea where their next meal was coming from, and their cars were running on fumes.

People working at Equinox rented their desks for $500 a month, paid for their own newspaper ads, and paid for their own phone lines. Those who opened up offices had to pay for the leases themselves; nothing was covered by the company. Moreover, enrollees had to attend and pay for training seminars put on by Bill Gouldd. Bill Gouldd was frequently abusive to Equinox enrollees, never hesitating to humiliate them publicly. Styler himself was the victim of Gouldd's abusive barbs several times. I was shocked reading what this man endured. And yet, here he was, writing about how he was an academic all star, former athlete, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, the son of a doctor and stepson of a professor, and now he was in this huge mess.

Styler divorced Marina and married another Equinox enrollee. Bill Gouldd performed the ceremony. Styler sent $50 to the Universal Life Church so that Gouldd could become an ordained minister.  Gouldd was late for the ceremony and treated Styler with contempt on his wedding day. The second marriage lasted about six months; however, Styler managed to remain friends with both his first and second wives. At one point, he lives with both of his ex wives, his first ex wife's new husband, his son, and his son's half-brother. Very weird, in my opinion, but great for them if they can be friendly enough to live together.

Gouldd also made a point of sleeping with the female significant others of top earners within the company. When anyone questioned Gouldd's abusive tactics, Gouldd would immediately cut them down. Like an overly controlling lover, Gouldd was quick to keep his people in line. As a reader I was both fascinated and horrified by Gouldd's abusive treatment of fellow human beings. I was also shocked that people would allow him to treat them that way... and PAY for the privilege! Then I was eternally grateful that I didn't get involved with this outfit myself.

Styler fortunately managed to pull out of Equinox before its big downfall. When he informed Gouldd of his decision, he stated that the business plan was too hard for most people to make any money. Also, Styler was sent to Mexico to start an Equinox program there; however the chances of the program succeeding there were nil since the economy in Mexico was so weak. Gouldd was expecting Mexicans to purchase company products at the same prices they were selling for in the United States and he had similar expectations of distributors.

In 2000, Equinox International was sued in at least eight states for illegal pyramid scheme operation. Bill Gouldd has been barred from ever having anything to do with a multi-level marketing business in the United States again.

I found this book very interesting and timely. How many of us have looked in the employment section and seen those vaguely worded ads for jobs that say "Wild and crazy, rock and roll atmosphere! Need twenty-five people today!" and wondered what they were for? I read the book in about two nights; since I actually went through an "interview" with Equinox, I could relate to Styler's initial experience. In fact, I remember being very impressed with the slick presentation I saw. Thank God I had a healthy measure of common sense on hand that day as I sat through the Equinox presentation and didn't get involved with with that scam. Instead, I got out of my parents' house by joining the Peace Corps!

It's pretty obvious to me that this book was published inexpensively. The font used is large, the paper is cheap, and the artwork is kind of cheesy. It looks like maybe Styler self-published the book-- not such a bad thing, but obvious that he's not an established writer. However, the book is well-written and his story serves as a great warning about multi-level marketing schemes. It's definitely a revealing book on a subject you might not otherwise think to read about.


Sunday, March 1, 2015

It's Sunday... time for religion! Making a joyful noise!

Here in Germany, Sundays are sacrosanct.  Nothing is open, save for some restaurants.  People are expected to be quiet.  Yard work is technically not allowed on Sunday, even if it's quiet yard work.  People who break the rules on Sunday are liable to get a tongue lashing from a neighbor or worse, a visit from the polizei.

I'm sitting here in my nightgown, thinking about Candy Christmas, a singer who used to be called Candy Hemphill when she was part of her family's musical act.  I discovered her the other day while farting around on YouTube.  I had never heard of her before, but it turns out she's a fairly popular Christian singer and motivational speaker.

I'm no fan of contemporary Christian music, though I do recognize musical talent when I hear it.  A lot of ex Mormons like to make fun of the Osmonds, for example.  They point to their rendition of "Crazy Horses" and the funky chicken dancing they did with it as evidence that they don't have talent.  But listen to them sing and harmonize.  It's not easy for most people to do what they do, yet they are able to do it seemingly effortlessly.  I don't like Mormonism or evangelical Christianity, but I do recognize that religion does provide a way for natural musicians to make a living.  My mom made a very nice side income for over 50 years playing the organ in churches.

The Osmonds rocking out to "Crazy Horses"...

"Love Me For A Reason" sung at their 50th anniversary concert...

The Osmonds are but just one group of religious folks who have used their faith to propel them into a decent livelihood.  If you think about it, religion provides a very convenient platform for people who like to perform.  A group gathers every week for worship, providing the perfect opportunity for a person to show off their talents.

Here's Candy Christmas (nee Hemphill) performing religious music for an appreciative crowd.

And then there are the performers who probably couldn't perform for anyone but a church crowd...

I laugh every time I hear this man sing...  it's not his voice that cracks me up; it's his hair.  And, of course, the songs are kind of ridiculous, too...

This video is hilarious.  I love watching Roger McDuff wait for the music to start before he starts dancing.  Again... lyrics are ridiculous.  Jesus is coming to get us on a snow white cloud, don'tcha know?

D. James Kennedy was not a singer, but he was a performer.  My dad used to enjoy his Sunday show...  Very conservative Christian...  it's amazing how liberal his daughters turned out to be.

Jerry Falwell gets screamed at by an irate congregant until he's overpowered by a saucy singer in a double breasted suit.

Would Holly Starr make it as a secular singer?  I dunno...

I get a big kick out of the choir on Ernest Angley, especially the guys in the back row, who seem way too into it.

Actually, I went through a long phase of watching Ernest Angley's show just to see the musicians.  I notice they use a lot of original music, probably to avoid paying royalties or worrying about copyright.  I notice their music is very cornball.  Some of the musicians on that show are very competent, while some aren't all that good.  Music is a big part of Ernest's show, though.  No doubt, it's a big part of what gets people coming and reaching into the wallets for tithes and offerings.

Here Candy Hemphill Christmas talks about how she overcame depression by feeding the homeless...

And her as a much younger woman singing...

When I was growing up, I used to watch a locally produced religious show called Rock Church Proclaims.  It was a service by Bishop John and Anne Gimenez (John has since died).  I watched it because of the crazy musical performances.  Check this out...

This looks like it was actually taped off the show that used to air on Channel 27, WYAH (since renamed WGNT and made national).

I might actually go to church for this...

It's true...  I may not be very religious, but I do find religious programming fascinating.  Wish I had access to TBN right now.    

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Lovely parting gifts...

$25,000 Pyramid parting gifts...

As you can see from the video above, on game shows, even the losers go home with "lovely parting gifts".  On this particular show, they were going home with denture cream and gift certificates for KFC, but still it's something, right?  Well, that's kind of how it is for a lot of young people.  They "win" just by showing up.  They're "special" just for being themselves.  They have to be included in everything, including wedding vows if they've been born before the nuptials.  Everyone's a "winner", right?

I guess the purpose of "parting gifts" is supposed to make the loser feel better.  Or, at least that's what the losers are supposed to think.  Personally, I think "parting gifts" are just another subtle form of advertisement for big businesses.  But hell, who couldn't use a year's supply of Turtle Wax or Denorex?  Aw, who are we kidding?  Lovely parting gifts are often nothing but worthless crap and the winners usually have to pay sales tax on them to boot!  

Parting gifts on Super Password...  Was Betty White on every game show ever made in the 80s?

But to get those parting gifts, you have to hear this if you're on The Price Is Right.

Bill and I were talking about parting gifts last night.  I think Bill and I got on this topic because we were talking about this trend of adults making very public statements of devotion to children.  A couple of days ago, I posted about NASCAR driver Brian Scott pledging his love and dedication to his wife Whitney's daughter, Brielle.  For some reason, that post has been very popular, not in terms of comments, but in terms of massive hits.  Seems like a lot of people are curious about the circumstances surrounding Mr. Scott's very public statement of devotion  for Brielle.  

Of course, in the video, Brielle seems rather detached from the whole spectacle.  In January 2014, she was still very tiny.  Because she was pretty much oblivious to what was being said to her, my guess is that Mr. Scott's declaration of love and devotion was more for himself and his wife than it was for the child.   Perhaps years from now, if Mr. Scott is still married to Brielle's mother, she can watch the video, see how everyone's weeping over her stepfather's speech, and maybe feel warm and fuzzy about him.  She may even view him as her dad.  

If Brielle's mother is not still married to Mr. Scott, it's likely that video will upset her-- unless, of course, he's still in her life.  I know that sometimes even after a divorce, stepparents can stay involved with former stepchildren.  I certainly have no way of looking into the future and knowing how Whitney and Brian will fare.  I truly hope their marriage succeeds.  But there are no guarantees for anyone, not even Bill and me.  If the marriage fails, I wonder what the lovely parting gifts will be for the children involved.

I got kind of curious about Sean Caisse.  I don't follow NASCAR at all, even though I once lived in car racing heaven.  I only found out a couple of things.  Apparently, his father died in 2012.  In the obituary, Brielle is listed as a survivor, which makes me think that at least in 2012, Sean Caisse was in his daughter's life.  Another curious tidbit I found is that Caisse appears to have been arrested in late 2014.  It looks like the charges were somewhat serious, too.  I have no way of knowing if this means he's not into being a father.  But then, if you're a parent who ends up in the slammer, that does make it hard to be there for your kids, whether you want to be or not.  

In any case, let me reiterate that I do think it's nice that Brielle was included in the wedding ceremony.  And if Brian Scott truly loves her as if she is his own child, then I certainly approve of that.  I just question whether or not it's wise to make very public pledges the way Brian Scott did at his wedding.  Sometimes that kind of thing can backfire.  A successful marriage is not the same thing as a very moving wedding ceremony.  Marriage is a long, hard road for most people.  Kids can definitely complicate matters.  Kids from other people can complicate matters even more.  I hope they're ready for the journey ahead and no one walks away with nothing but "lovely parting gifts".       


Friday, February 27, 2015

Yet another sign that many politicians are morons...

This morning I found this article posted on my Facebook.

It seems that at a recent House State Affairs Committee meeting in Boise, Idaho, Republican state Representative Vito Barbieri asked if a woman could swallow a tiny camera in order to allow a doctor to conduct a remote gynecological exam.  Mr. Barbieri asked his question after the committee had heard three hours of testimony on a bill that would prohibit doctors from prescribing abortion-inducing medication via telemedicine.

Fortunately, a competent physician was available to educate Barbieri on how female anatomy works.  Dr. Julie Madsen, who was testifying in opposition to the bill, explained to Barbieri that swallowed pills don't end up in vaginas.

Sadly, the crowd seemed to think this was hilarious.  According to the news article, people laughed when Barbieri said "Fascinating.  That certainly makes sense."  Bear in mind that Barbieri sits on a board of a crisis pregnancy center in northern Idaho.  Barbieri voted in favor of the legislation, which proponents say would help protect women from side effects of abortion-inducing drugs.  Those against the bill, including Dr. Madsen, say that the law would restrict abortions to women living in rural areas who are already very isolated.

Barbieri says his question was rhetorical and taken out of context.  He was actually trying to demonstrate how a chemical abortion was not the same as a colonoscopy, which the doctor had said was more dangerous than a chemical abortion.  His explanation follows.

“(The doctor) made the point that you could swallow a camera and from thousands of miles away, you could detect the state of that colonoscopy … My question was then, are you saying that you can swallow a camera and get the same results? Which is of course rhetorical,” Barbieri told Russell. “But she responded that of course you can’t swallow a pill and have it end up in your vagina. So my point was made. The point is that just because a colonoscopy is more dangerous and can be done from a distance, doesn’t mean that you can examine a woman at such distances, with a camera or anything else.”

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Here's a video of the proceedings...

Mr. Barbieri explains himself here...

Okay... so I get his point.  I still think it's ridiculous, though, because the point Dr. Madsen was making is that chemical abortions are very safe-- even safer than a colonoscopy done remotely is.  Could a woman end up in medical trouble after taking an abortifacient?  Yes, she could.  Is it likely?  No, it's probably not.  And there are rural areas in Idaho where telemedicine means the difference between a woman getting some timely medical care or not getting any at all. 

Mr. Barbieri, obviously caring so very much about the health and safety of women, thinks that medication that induces an abortion is potentially very unsafe and women need doctors nearby to take care of them when they expel the fetus because there could be "hemorrhaging".  I hemorrhage every month when I have a period.  Moreover, if a pregnant woman lives in a remote area where telemedicine is available because there aren't any doctors around, she's going to be at an elevated risk regardless.  She could get pregnant and still miscarry, which could also cause significant bleeding.  Is Barbieri saying that pregnant women should be forced to move to areas where they can easily be seen and monitored by a physician?  Because pregnancy can also be very dangerous for some women.  

The doctor's point is that technology has made it possible for people to work together in unprecedented and safe ways.  No, a colonoscopy is not the same procedure as a chemical abortion is, but that wasn't the main idea of what Dr. Madsen was suggesting.  

Fortunately, Mr. Barbieri will never be pregnant and thus will not ever face this dilemma himself.             

Thursday, February 26, 2015

"Marrying" your stepchildren...

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This was on my Facebook feed today...

In January 2014, NASCAR driver Brian Scott married Whitney Kay, mother of an adorable little girl named Brielle.  During their wedding ceremony, Scott made "vows" to Brielle, promising to commit to her.  I won't rehash exactly what he said because you can watch the video for that.  I do think it's kind of sweet that he acknowledged the little girl in their wedding, even though if you've read this blog, you may already know how I feel about things like "daddy/daughter dates" and stepdads giving their stepdaughters expensive jewelry.  At the same time, I have to wonder where little Brielle's father is and if he's alright with another man pledging to be surrogate daddy to his daughter.  

Don't get me wrong; I do admire stepfathers who are loving, supportive, and ready to step up to the plate and pitch in as the term "step" implies... but I also have respect for bio fathers, who too often are pushed out of their children's lives through no choice of their own (even as I acknowledge that there are plenty of bio dads out there who willingly walk away from their kids).  

And then I think about what would happen if the situation were reversed and Whitney Kay Scott was the childless one marrying a man with kids.  What would happen if she made "vows" to her stepchildren, provided that they would even be allowed to attend the wedding ceremony?  Wouldn't those kinds of vows offend their biological mother?  Would the public be nearly as supportive of such a gesture if it came from a stepmom?

I know that for many people, dads are pretty disposable.  A lot of people don't even know their fathers because they took off... or maybe they were tossed out of their lives like my husband was tossed out of his kids' lives.  For the record, Bill took care of his ex stepson as if he was the boy's father.  When I first met him, he referred to his former stepson his son and the lad even used Bill's surname, which he promptly ditched once he couldn't use Bill for money anymore.  

It wasn't until we knew each other better that Bill accurately explained their legal relationship to me.  I know that if his kids had even been allowed to attend our wedding-- which they certainly were not-- their mother would have had a total conniption if I had dared to make such gushy commitments to them, especially in public.  Moreover, had we been a prominent couple whose wedding was featured on The Today Show, I doubt people would be oohing and ahhhing over me making "wedding vows" to some other woman's children.  Instead, they'd be clamoring about how I should show more respect to their mother, no matter what a hostile and toxic shrew she is.

I didn't comment on this "news item" because the comments were so overwhelmingly in favor of the "happy couple" and I didn't want to invite drama; though I did notice one stepmother was brave enough to say this:  

Nope. Marriage is between the man and woman. Kids do not belong in the marriage dynamic. They are kids and their parents are responsible for them not TO them.   I'm an 17-year stepmother. Have 2 great step kids but I didn't marry them. I married their father. I helped their parents raise them.

She got a lot of nasty sniping comments for her trouble.  Another guy asked what the story with the bio dad was and a bunch of people told him it was "none of his business".  Okay... well, if it's no one's business, why is it news?  Are we only allowed to make supportive comments about this?        

Anyway, I do hope that if Brielle's biological dad is in the picture, he wasn't too hurt by this very public display.  And if he's not in the picture, I truly hope Brian Scott lives up to all the promises he's made to that little girl.  I hope he and Whitney have a long and happy marriage and he doesn't walk out of their lives... or get kicked out like my husband was.  I also hope Brielle's dad wasn't kicked out of his daughter's life.  

Unfortunately, marriage statistics are not on this couple's side, but maybe they will be an exception.  Hell... maybe I'm making assumptions.  I don't even know if Whitney was married to her daughter's father or if she had her the old fashioned way or visited a sperm donor.   Nowadays, you can't assume women who have kids also have an ex husband or boyfriend out there.  ETA:  I see Whitney was once married to another NASCAR driver, Sean Caisse, and apparently he is the father of little Brielle.  

In any case, let the record show that, no... I don't like the idea of "marrying" stepchildren.  I don't think it's the stepparent's role unless there truly is no bio parent in the picture and the stepparent intends to formally adopt the child.  I don't think it's appropriate for stepparents to lay claim to their stepchildren unless they are actually without biological parents.  But I guess I'm old fashioned that way.

Yet another unexpected windfall...

I know I have done my fair share of bitching about USAA in the past year, but yesterday they were responsible for something rather cool.  Somehow, we ended up with $2800 extra in our bank account.   At first, it looked like maybe our car insurance was canceled.  Bill called up USAA in a panic.

It turns out that because we are overseas, we can no longer get the subscriber benefits check they send out every December.  The amount you get is based on the business you do with them and how well they're doing.  For us, it usually amounts to about $200 a year and is a fraction of the amount actually accrued.  Because we aren't in the States anymore, they sent Bill all the money that was in this account based on his 30 years banking there.  The first $1000 or so went to pay for car insurance, which means we have no more car insurance bills until August.  The rest went into the bank account.

Now... I know what I wrote above makes little sense to anyone who doesn't deal with USAA.  In fact, it makes little sense to me.  But the upshot is that we ended up with an extra $2800, which can be used to pay for the new tooth I need.  If I were a religious person, I might praise God for His providence.  Since I'm not particularly religious, I'll just say we're very grateful for the assistance.  Yet again, it's a sign that coming to Germany was the right thing to do.  If we were still in the States, this wouldn't have happened, plus Bill might be underemployed or even unemployed.

This dental thing is a real puzzle.  I have no pain and very little discomfort and yet I saw the x-ray the dentist took when he stuck a pin up the fistula.  I hate to have the tooth removed and live with a hole until it heals enough for the first part of my implant.  At the same time, I know it needs to be done before things get worse.

The weather here has drastically improved, which seems to be improving my mood.  We have had sun and warmer temperatures for the past couple of days.  Hopefully, winter is about over.

This is a boring post.  Will have to find something to bitch about.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

If all goes according to plan, Georgia will execute Kelly Gissendaner tonight...

Although I lived in Georgia for about a year and a half, I can't say I followed a lot of crime cases there.  Over the past couple of weeks, there have been news articles about Kelly Gissendaner, a 46 year old woman who got her boyfriend to kidnap and kill her husband, Doug Gissendaner.  According to what I've read, back in 1997, Kelly Gissendaner was unhappy in her marriage.  She was cheating on Doug with a man named Gregory Owen.  She wanted a fresh start, but apparently didn't feel that divorce would give her the complete freedom from her ex that she sought.  Kelly asked Owen to kidnap and murder her husband.

I will admit that I don't know anything about Kelly Gissendaner or her late husband, Doug.  I do know that she is the only woman on Georgia's death row and, if she is executed tonight, will be only the second woman to die in Georgia's death chamber.  That makes me think that despite her original assurances that she was totally innocent of her crime, what she did must have been egregiously terrible.  I mean, she is definitely not the only woman in Georgia who has committed murder, but she is, for some reason, only the second to face the ultimate penalty.

From what I've read, Kelly and Doug Gissendaner were married for seven years, which she claims were very rocky.  Yet somehow she was still able to have three kids with this man that she claims wouldn't leave her alone after a divorce.  That was how she justified having him offed by her lover-- no doubt because she alleges that he was "abusive".  In one article, I read that Kelly dropped Owen off at her house before going to a party.  Seems to me that if Doug Gissendaner was that fearsome, Kelly would not have been partying on the night of his murder, which she plotted and premeditated with her boyfriend.

Kelly supposedly hoped to benefit from two $10,000 life insurance policies her husband had and their $84,000 house.  Curiously enough, Gregory Owen, who actually carried out the kidnapping, beating, and stabbing of Doug Gissendaner, was able to confess to the crime and testify against Kelly in exchange for a life sentence.    

I have a hard time believing that Kelly Gissendaner, who claims to have "found God" and is described as a "model prisoner", had anything but selfish intentions when she asked Owen to murder her husband.  At the same time, I am not a fan of the death penalty and I don't think most murder cases warrant putting someone to death, especially since the executions usually happen many years after the crime has occurred.  Kelly Gissendaner has been on death row since 1998.  She's had 17 years to redeem herself.

I read that it's highly unusual for a person like Kelly Gissendaner to be executed.  For one thing, she's a woman.  For another, there was only one murder victim.  Apparently, the death penalty was on the table because prosecutors wanted to put her away with no chance at parole.  Somehow, she ended up being sentenced to death anyway.  This is pretty tragic for her children; as of tonight, one of them will have lost both parents to homicide.  Kelly's other two kids have different fathers.

Personally, I think that executions should only be carried out in situations where public safety is an issue and they should be carried out with as little fanfare as possible.  I think they should only be done when there is no doubt of someone's guilt; that way, time and money won't be wasted on endless court appeals.  There is no doubt that Kelly Gissendaner is guilty of what Georgia will execute her for tonight.  Meanwhile, she's been sitting on death row with increased security measures for the better part of two decades.  That extra security costs a lot of money.  

Another notable detail about this case...  Kelly Gissendaner has requested an enormous last meal.

Hope she's hungry.

ETA:  Looks like Kelly Gissendaner got a few days reprieve thanks to Old Man Winter.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

McDonald's, broken legs, Vienna, and people who need to check Snopes....

Last night, I looked up a woman I haven't seen or heard of since fifth grade.  I was surprised by how easy it was to find her.  I just typed her maiden name and the name of the town where we grew up.  I was surprised to find her living in a town not far from our old hometown.  I also found out that she attended the same high school my former boyfriend did.  He may even know her because they probably graduated in the same class.

This woman's name was very common in the year of our birth.  Indeed, I share her first name, but here I'll just call her "Joni".  Like me, Joni was socially awkward and considered weird.  Actually, she made me look like a social genius because she was even louder and odder than I ever was.  Joni was outgoing and smart enough, but she was strangely dressed and kind of homely.  She had very crooked teeth that didn't appear to be very well cared for and an unfortunate habit of picking her nose in class and eating her boogers in front of everyone.  When we were kids, she was very skinny, had stringy blonde hair, and a face that could be best described as interesting.  

When we were in the fourth grade, I remember playing kickball with Joni.  Our teacher at the time, Mr. A , was big on taking us out for recess if time allowed.  These were the glorious days before the No Child Left Behind Act.  One day, we were playing kickball and Joni, being kind of gangly and uncoordinated, stepped up to the plate.  The ball rolled toward her.  She kicked at it, missed entirely, and fell to the ground with a solid thud.  On impact with the dirt, Joni's leg made a sickening cracking sound and she started howling in agony.  At the time back in 1981, there was a McDonald's commercial that used the voice talents of Frank Nelson, a guy who would say "Yeeeeeees...." all time time.  That's what Joni sounded like when she hit the ground and started screaming.

Frank Nelson does a 1981 McDonald's ad...  

At the very end of this ad, you can hear Nelson say "Yes" in the same manner Joni screamed that day when her leg broke.

Poor thing.  I actually remember people laughing and saying that Joni sounded like the McDonald's guy at the scene of her injury.  She was not well-regarded by our classmates.  I don't remember being especially unkind to her, though I also don't remember being her buddy.  People were mean to me too, though, and I think I might have had a smidge of empathy... though I probably also felt relief that someone other than me was being picked on.

Anyway, Mr. A got help for her and, after about a week, she came back to school with a canvas cast that covered her whole leg.  She used crutches for months and I remember her wearing what she called a "rocking shoe".  I even remember her spiritedly telling someone about the rocking shoe when he was teasing her about it.  She was a girl with a surprising amount of pluck and resilience, especially for her age.

I might have felt snarky toward Joni the way our classmates did, but I too suffered an accident while in Mr. A's class.  In my case, it just involved being knocked unconscious by a soccer ball kicked by Mr. A.  That was a very embarrassing incident, but at least I recovered from it quickly.

The following year, Joni was in my fifth grade class.  That year, I witnessed another classmate getting hurt, though this time, it wasn't Joni.  It was another person who, at the time, was a friend of mine.  We were in PE class and she was climbing the bleachers when her leg slipped between the seat and the foot board.  She tore a huge gash in her leg, right by her knee.  I remember all the blood and our gym teacher (not Mr. A, though he did become a gym teacher at that school that year) picking her up in his arms and rushing her to the office where someone called an ambulance.  This girl's bleacher accident also happened right in front of me and it reminded of me of when Joni broke her leg.  My other injured classmate screamed, but she didn't sound like Frank Nelson.  She, too, used crutches for weeks afterwards.

One of my last clear memories of Joni was at Christmas time.  We had a gift exchange and Joni drew my name.  On the day of the gift exchange, the teacher asked me to come speak with her out in the hall.  While we were out there, she handed me a present, which turned out to be a little Smurf pin.  I think it depicted Papa Smurf grinning and holding a flower.  She said she had bought it for me because Joni had drawn my name and she knew the present Joni was going to give me would suck.  She didn't phrase it that way, of course, but that was the basic gist of what she was saying.  I think I remember her telling me that Joni's family didn't have any money or something to that effect.  I believed it, having been in school with Joni for a couple of years.

Sure enough, when it came time for gift exchanges, I got Joni's gift wrapped in rumpled notebook paper.  It was a Christmas ornament that we'd all made in class and hers was painted several different non-complementary colors.  Since the teacher had prepared me, I managed to accept the gift gracefully.  And though I was never a fan of the Smurfs, it took many years before I could bring myself to get rid of that little Smurf pin that my teacher had bought for me.  To this day, I still have the same luck when it comes to secret gift exchanges.  I always get the person who buys me booze and then drinks it all before they present it to me (yes, this did actually happen to me once when I worked at a country club).

After fifth grade, Joni moved away.  I didn't know where she went and, in time, even forgot all about her.  But then someone on Facebook posted one of those class pictures and I saw her in it, again reminding me that she was part of my childhood.  I looked up Joni because I was curious about where she is and how she's doing.  It looks like she's doing fine.  I was a little dismayed to find out that she's already a grandmother.  Since we are the same age, I hate the idea that I'm old enough to have grandchildren... but hell, I guess I am.  I see that she's still awkward looking, but apparently has a lot of friends, a loving family, and a good sense of humor.

I even saw that she was brave enough to post photos from her early childhood.  I actually remembered some of the photos because they were of a scholastic nature and I was around for them.  She even had one that had the full on face shot with the heavenly profile side shot above it, ever popular in the early 80s.  She had on a very frumpy looking dress that looked like it might have belonged to her mother.  One friend asked if she was Amish and her reply was a light-hearted, matter-of-fact response that that was how her parents dressed her.  I was glad to see that she looks happy enough as an adult despite our miserable elementary school days.

In other news...    

Yet another person shared George Carlin's "Paradox of our Time" on my Facebook wall.  This time, it was my former English professor.  I started to write her a note to tell her that George didn't write "Paradox of our Time", but then I decided it wasn't worth my getting upset about it.  So I hid the post...  but then I was left sitting there thinking about all the English papers she had graded over the years.  I would be lying if I said I wasn't a little disappointed that she, of all people, didn't take a minute to check Snopes.  Then I was left marveling about how something like a misattributed essay can get my blood pressure to spiking.  I probably ought to get a life.

Bill and I had another champagne bucket drawing.  We will be taking our next trip to Vienna.  When we will do this, I don't know.  Maybe we will go in April.  We probably should save the money for my tooth, but I need regular trips to keep my spirits up.  Besides, I have been dying to see Vienna with Bill.  It's a really beautiful city.

And finally, Alexis, I discovered this Christian singer yesterday.  Her name is Candy Hemphill Christmas.  Christmas is her married name.  Can you imagine going by the name Candy Christmas when you're a gospel singer?  Will have to research more about her because I am certain a blog post will ensue.  For now, click here for info on how to book Candy Christmas for your next event. 

Check out the hair and dress!  That brings back memories.  She has a really pretty voice, though.