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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Monday, December 31, 2007

Ten things I learned in 2007

  • After watching the VH-1 100 Greatest Songs of the '90s special, I learned that Canadian Reggae singer (I know, it's like Tiny Giant or Jumbo Shrimp, right?) Snow really was saying "licky boom boom down" in his hit single Informer. And now that I know those were the lyrics, I'm not sure I want to know what he was talking about, especially since another verse in the song was about people in prison staring up his bum.
  • Not to be sappy, but I learned that good friends can be people you communicate with only through a computer. What makes this kind of friendship is the sincerity of the communications, not face time. So thank you all for being good friends...even those of you who only come by from time to time, to hassle me.
  • I learned to deal with tragedy. Most of my adult life I have been fortunate in that I have been able to largely avoid tragedy. I've had two friends - two literal peers - die, both from a form of cancer. And every time I saw other people deal with tragedy I'd say things to myself like "I couldn't handle that. It would be too tough." And then Mrs. B and I lost our baby in October. And you know what? I was wrong. My initial emotions were that I was dreading each subsequent day after it happened, 'cause I thought we would whither up from the emotional burden and crumble. But that didn't happen. We faced it head on. We dealt with our grief. She has been a trooper. And we're still rollin' like Bonnie & Clyde. It was rough at first, and since then has been sad at times. But we've dealt. I never knew, 'cause I had not experienced that kind of tragedy, to what depth your true friends (those in your neighborhood and in your family and from your home town and online, etc.) would go to help you cope with your sadness. It's like cream rising to the surface. I really learned a lot about who in my life cared for me like a brother, which is how a true friend should feel, and who in my life was really a frienemy - disingenuous and full of talk with no substance. And one more thing along these lines: It is true that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. But it's also true that what doesn't kill you probably leaves a mark of some kind.
  • I finally became convinced this year that my solution to fixing violent crime will work: The common denominator I saw with every case of violent criminal behavior that involved an underage suspect was that that child's parents or legal guardians were clueless. They had no idea that their little Johnny or Susie was capable or armed robbery or violent assault or murder. And although kids can be clever in their concealment of bad behavior, parents should never be clueless. There's no excuse. If you have to snoop a little, do it. If you have to chaperon your kid's parties and get-togethers or shadow your kid like private eye, when he and his friends are strolling through the mall, do it. Do whatever you have to, to stay on top of your kids' activities and attitudes. Because, I propose that if your minor child commits a violent crime against an innocent person, and you "had no idea" they could be that way, you should have to serve 1/3 of his prison sentence. Institute my policy, and we will have a new wave of parental involvement in at-risk kids' lives in '08.
  • Let's go back to friendships for a minute. I learned that just because you've known someone for a long time, and just because you were friends, you have no obligation to maintain that friendship if that person has changed for the worst. Don't let anyone guilt-trip you into remaining on their team, because you "owe" them that much. An acquaintance of mine finally got the nerve to ditch a childhood friend, who's since turned into a coke fiend. He couldn't do it for a long time, 'cause he thought it was his job to stick by the friend no matter what. But while he agonized over sticking by the coke fiend, the coke fiend - perhaps under the influence, perhaps not - scoffed at his own family, scoffed at my acquaintance, and all his other friends, refused to even consider treatment as an option, and insisted that if everyone "loved" him they'd accept him as is. Not true. Sometimes the friendliest thing you can do is cut someone off until they develop a little love for themselves. I finally grew a set and cut off a long-term, mean-spirited friend, a frienemy in ever since of the made-up word, who exhibited little but selfishness. It was liberating. Try it some time.
  • You may not like rap music, but I learned this year that Eminem was right. If given an opportunity to pursue a dream, you need to not just take that opportunity, but lose yourself in it. Embrace it. Don't neglect your "pre-existing" responsibilities, but don't punk out on what you really want to do.
  • I learned not to be uptight. At one point this year, even before Mrs. B and I suffered our loss, I had become so consumed with work and home-maintenance that it felt like I was living a job 24-7. And so I wasn't enjoying down time. I felt like down time was wasted potential work time. Not good. And in my "fever," I started nitpicking at people's quirks, especially annoying neighbors. I attacked personality quirks with the same vigor I'd use to strike at full-blown bad habits. It took work, but I learned to give people a little more consideration by reminding myself that no one's perfect, especially not me.
  • I learned to not drink the Haterade. Being a hater is easy. It's like being lazy. It really doesn't take effort. But if you're a hater - a person who begrudges a peer his/her success or happiness, just because, or downplays that success, just because - then you are a miserable person. Haters don't hate in the traditional sense. They don't hold your race or your religion or your lack thereof, or your sexual orientation against you. They hold against you your joy, your ambition, and your accomplishments, because they aren't able to look at those things in your life without comparing them to their own life. And that's what sinks a hater every time - the inability to simply be happy for you. So while human nature occasionally "prompts" us all to hate a (very) little, I believe I have largely weened myself off the Haterade. I'll stick to coffee from now on, thanks.
  • I generally can't stand sports equipment slogans. But I learned to try to live by Nike's 1990s slogan: Just do it. I came across a lot of talkers in '07, people jaw-jacking about what they were going to do, people jabbering on about what they planned to talk about planning to do. I even found myself discussing plans more than actually carrying them out. So probably halfway through the year I stopped making plans and started doing. Some of the stuff I did worked, and some didn't. But I'm sleeping better now, because I know I'm trying and not just blowing hot air to convince whoever's closest to me that I plan on getting around to it one of these days.
  • I learned to be nice and courteous. And this is important, because these are two I've had to relearn. I think I had 'em in spades up until about two years ago. I've had fun in South Florida, but the fast pace, the bad driving, the rampant lack of consideration for strangers has contributed to me slowly becoming calloused. And that's not a good way to be. Fortunately, I self-diagnosed early enough in the year to start making conscious decisions to return smiles that I had been ignoring, and to hold open doors for the slow pokes trailing me at 2-feet-per-minute from parking lots into department stores, and to willingly scoot over on the bench at my train stop to make room for the large person whose bulk would surely squeeze the breath out of me, and to wave and say hello to the neighbor across the street, even when I don't feel like being friendly. I've seen the bumper sticker. Yeah, it's dumb. But mean people really do suck.

*Bonus - I'm still not doing new year's resolutions. I told you, less talky, more do-y.

So that's all the wisdom I have to wrap up the year, my friends. All I can say is that 2007 and all the haters this year nurtured can bite me. And 2008, let's get it on!

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Friday, December 28, 2007

Fish Jacking - only in Miami

I have seen and heard of all sorts of jackings - your standard, run-of-the-mill muggings, car-jackings, purse snatchings, etc.

But it wasn't until now that I saw a fish-jacking.

I was walking on the sidewalk along the marina across the street from the Herald - right on Biscayne Bay. I walk there a few times a week to get coffee and clear my head.

Anyway, on the way to the coffee shop, I see a duck floating near the docks, sticking its head under water. It's fishing. Finally, after the third dive or so, the duck surfaces with a fish in its mouth. It seemed to savor it for a minute, and then the attack happened.

A huge stork swoops down and starts beating the crap out of the duck with its wings. It seemed like five minutes, but was really about 20 seconds. By the end the of the beat down the duck was swaying like a Weeble Wobble.

The duck dropped the fish. The stork snatched and swooped away. I was half expecting the stork to pull a gun.

It probably happens all the time in nature. But it's more fun for me to say "Only in Miami."

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Big Ups to the Patriarch and Matriarch

They'll tell me I'm being silly, but I'd be remiss if I didn't publicly say happy birthday to the elder Mrs. B (my mother) and happy anniversary to she and the elder Mr. B (my pops).

Today marks my mom's 39th birthday on the Jack Benny calendar (if you're over 50 or a geek like me you'll get that joke; if not, follow this link for an explanation). Today also marks my folks' 37th year of wedded bliss.

Congrats, mom and dad, and thank you for the good example all these years!

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Apples and Oranges?

Suppose I told you that I know of a community in which the tension is so thick that residents are afraid to walk down the street...even during the day.

Suppose I told you that in this community there are healthy adult men who don't work, because they insist that there are no "good" jobs to be had, and that the government is not doing enough to help them, and that it isn't safe on the streets anyway.

Suppose I told you that different factions in this community "fly" and wear colors that identify their allegiance to different groups, and that if a member of one group sees a member of a rival group in public the two will almost instinctively attack one another...physically.

Suppose I told you that sometimes innocent folks, who are members of neither faction, are also hurt or killed when these rivals fight.

And suppose I told you that even a politician or a big-named public figure risked catching a bullet if they showed their face in this community.

I posed this scenario to a buddy of mine earlier today. I wasn't trying to set him up. But this is a guy who doesn't pull punches with his opinion. So I genuinely wanted to know how he would react to such a "neighborhood" description.

I consider this guy to be pretty fair-minded...most of the time. His reaction to my scenario? Lots of bluster and ranting about the 'hood, ie. largely minority populated urban American neighborhoods overrun by street gangs. He hollered about "Crips" and "bloods" and "lazy-a$$ed grown men" using safety and government dependence as an excuse for not working. He got righteously indignant about the danger in such places, and even suggested that "the government" should just drop a bomb on communities like this, so as to spare the rest of society the headache of dealing with the place.

And then he asked what 'hood I was talking about, West Detroit, South Philly, Overtown in Miami, West Baltimore, Southside Chicago, Northwest D.C., Grilltown in Charlotte, Northside Milwaukee?

Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

That's right. I was asking about the 'hood where Benazir Bhutto, former Pakistani Prime Minister, was fatally shot this morning and more than 20 additional people died in a suicide bomb attack.

Her death isn't funny. But I found it amusing that my buddy considered that scenario in Pakistan to be part of a larger, noble fight to save society, but when he thought it was about a depressed American community he was was ready to call for the total destruction of the area.

As soon as I said Pakistan, he replied "Well, that's different. Those people are dealing with groups that want to break down their structure for power and profit."

Hmmm. Where have I heard that before?

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Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas, and all that good stuff

That's it! That's all I had to say tonight...and tomorrow.

Now, I'm off to eat some figgy pudding.

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Greetings and Salutations

So I'm not too far removed from a trip with Mrs. B to Bed, Bath & Beyond.

I've never figured out what the "Beyond" is all about. Maybe the kitchen utensils and other random crap, like oven gloves, and sea salt grinders. Or maybe if you stand in just the right spot in the store you'll be taken to a parallel universe.

Anyway, the store manager freaked me out. He said "hi" too much. I'm not kidding. It was bizarre. I worked in a couple of department stores back in the day, so I know that this time of year the pre-game cheer goes something like "The doors are about to open, people. The first customer will be walking through them any time. Look alive! And be sure to say 'hello' to every single customer you encounter!"

I also know that sometimes, when the store is busy, employees hurrying to and fro' can forget that they've already said "hi" to you, so they say it again.

But this store wasn't busy. There was hardly anyone there. Five seconds after we walked in the store manager walked up, smiled wide and said "Hi!" Then we walked about 15 feet and stopped to shop, and about 45 seconds later he passed us by and slowed briefly and smiled wide and said "Hi!" Then we walked about 30 feet more and stopped and he approached again and said "Hi!" He did this about six more times at less than one minute intervals.

There was hardly anyone in the store. He couldn't have forgotten he'd already spoken to us. Weirdo. I know I'm right, 'cause when we finally managed to escape him another employee said "hi" and smiled as we walked by. And when we passed her by again five minutes or so later, she started to say "hi" again, but caught herself, blushed and instead said "sorry" for doubling up.

Yes, I was bored. Otherwise, I'd have no excuse for even noticing the stalker store manager.


Friday, December 21, 2007

Pre-holiday Roundup

What's up, friends and frienemies? I have sufficiently thawed from my New England romp over the weekend and earlier this week. And now I'm preparing for Christmas the way it was meant to be observed: in short sleeves and shorts, and surrounded by palm trees, wild iguanas, and bad drivers.

But first, a few observations:
  • You guys know that I've complained for some time that civility was becoming a lost art. I still think we have some work to do. But I've encountered no fewer than a dozen people since I got back to town on Wednesday who deferred their own comfort in order to demonstrate a courtesy to me. In some cases it was something as simple as holding a door for me or allowing me to merge in traffic, after I'd let 10 other drivers merge in front of me. In other cases it was more complicated and work-related, like someone adjusting his busy schedule in order to make himself available to me for an interview, or a customer service person on the phone expressing empathy with me and not acting put out. There's hope. Of course, there's no hope for the mystery neighbor, who after two years of my griping, is still letting his dog(s) bend biscuits on my swale without picking them up, biscuits that I unfortunately stepped in Thursday morning while wearing my favorite Chelsea boots. That neighbor will be extended the courtesy of an arse-whupping and a dog punting, just as soon as I can find them.
  • I am a fan of equal rights between men and women, and all that jazz. And I love jazz. But there are limits to how rigid we should be in that arena. Don't get your boxers in a bunch. Read on, first. Jobs, voting, salary, and civil rights, etc? Yes for equality! Nightclubs and the like? No!!! I say this, because a numbnut in NYC is suing a group of nightclubs alleging that he and the other guys from A Night at the Roxbury all men over 21 who have visited these clubs since 2004 have been discriminated against through Ladies Night policies. Roy Den Hollander says that when clubs including Lotus and the China Club offer women-only discounted drinks or entry it costs him. Roy, I've been out of the game for about three years now, but the force is still strong with me. So I can tell you without a doubt, you're barking up the wrong tree. Your logic is bad. Saying that discounts for ladies hurt you is like saying a 70-year-old getting the senior discount at Burger King hurts you, because you paid full price. It's not their fault you're not as old as them. But I feel your pain. There have been ladies nights - especially when I lived in a cold climate - on which I wished I could get easy access to the club. I wished I could get my first drink free, and so on. But unless you're going out to size up other guys - and if you are that's just fine - then you need Ladies Nights, because in a nightclub setting women who might spend freely elsewhere are notoriously cheap. They don't want to pay cover charges and what not. So if it's female companionship and dance-partnership that you seek, drop your lawsuit and give your full support to Ladies Nights everywhere. Or else you risk creating the nightmare of the year-round Sausage Fest.
  • Jamie Lynn Spears.
  • What? You expected me to say more about her ↑? I could barely bring myself to type the name. OK, fine. All I have to say is be careful that you've not just memorized but also comprehended your sermon notes before you deliver that sermon to the general public.
  • May every one of the U.S. presidential candidates, at least those who have somehow managed straight faces while taking cheap shots at opponents, get lumps of coal in their stockings. And Mitt Romney, I applaud your late father's civil rights record, but leave the figures of speech and analogies to the PROfessional speech writers.
  • Who knew? Turns out Ms. Puerto Rico was telling the truth a few weeks back when she said her Ms. Universe pageant gown had been sabotaged with pepper spray. She was lambasted after making that claim by pundits (and bloggers) who suggested she was just attention-hungry and that no one had tampered with her dress. I'm gonna chalk the skepticism up to most of us being used to ultra-pretty people using Jedi mind tricks to get us to believe anything they say. I pledge in the new year to cut back on my suspicious nature. This poor woman was simply being honest. One bit of food for thought for you conspiracy theorists out there: Of all the substances that could have gotten on her dress, how did she know specifically that pepper spray had been used? Lucky guess, or has she been maced before?
  • Finally, one more time for good measure, I'd like to say Ha ha ha! and Merry Christmas to my friends in Australia. Just teasing. Turns out that whole brouhaha was bunk.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Conversation: Good vs. Bad

So it's just been hours really since I returned to Miami from my latest road trip, or air trip in this case - this one to the frozen Northeast.

And before I forget, let me just say that after decades of falling for the hype, I am declaring shenanigans on "Thinsulate." When Mrs. B and I moved to South Florida a couple of years ago we left most of our true winter gear in storage in my mother-in-law's basement back in Milwaukee. So before I left town over the weekend, I had to go out and buy myself a winter coat. This time, instead of tissue paper thin, but lined with Thinsulate, I went for sturdy, woven wool, the good stuff, with a built in heavy-duty zip-turtleneck collar. And you know what? I was warm. My face was cold, but the rest of me was just fine.

Going all the way back to middle school and high school in the 1980s and '90, however, I have fallen repeatedly for the legend of Thinsulate, and I always ended up cold. I went for weight, not necessarily bulk, this time, and low and behold I kept warm.

Anyway, on to conversation. We've all got a little bit of instinct that lets us know appropriate conversation, vs. inappropriate. Bowel issues? Not good dinner chat. Death and fear? Not great conversation when sitting at the bedside of a terminally ill friend...unless they initiate the topic. Ex-girlfriend? Not a good idea to bring her up during the first dinner with your new girlfriend's parents.

So I have to say that while I don't consider myself uptight, I did find myself a little shocked to be sitting next to Dirk Diggler on my flight back to Miami.

I was in the aisle seat. He was next to me. And a young woman - just past 21-years-old, she told him later - had the window seat.

As a rule, I try to keep in-flight conversation to simple, basic stuff like weather, living conditions, jobs, sports, etc. Anything deeper than that usually feels weird to me, 'cause I don't like sharing too much of my business with strangers. There are always exceptions. On my flight up north several days ago, I found myself sitting next to a cool guy, an engineer for a power company, who was very pleasant and funny. By the time our plane landed we were chatting like old friends. But still, it didn't get too personal.

So back to my flight home. About 40 minutes into it I was engrossed in my book - Killing the Rabbit, a really weird, but very well-written suspense/mystery/sci-fi novel set in Australia, by Alison Goodman - when I heard the pair next to me strike up a conversation.

He ordered a glass of wine. She commented that it was good wine. He said he agreed, but that she looked too young to know. She said that she was old enough and had tasted that wine several times. He then asked what she was doing up north and why she was going to Florida. She explained that she'd attended college up there, was working up there, and was on her way home to spend the holidays with her family, who live in South Florida. She asked him the same, and he explained that he lives the winter in South Florida, and the summer in the Northeast, where his business is based. He then asked where she "goes out" in South Florida. She told him. She then asked the same of him.

And that's where the conversation got weird. You have a guy pushing 50. You have a young woman barely past 21, who looks like she's 15. Instinct, in my humble opinion, should have told him to brush off the question and maybe answer it vaguely and generically, considering the truth.

Nope. Instead he proceeded to tell her that he was a swinger. And he spent the next three hours explaining to her that he and his girlfriend "attend" a number of clubs where swapping and group hook-ups go on, and describing the rules of the swinging game.

To be fair to him, she didn't stop the conversation. And she only seemed mildly first, but not really demonstrably uncomfortable. On the contrary, she listened intently and even asked the occasional question. As a journalist, I couldn't have asked 'em better. And I wasn't trying to eavesdrop, but considering the close quarters I couldn't help but hear every word. And I won't lie, I was curious too. Thankfully, he left the most graphic descriptions out of the conversation.

But it was still kind of creepy. It sort of felt and sounded like he was proselytizing her, enticing her like the Pied Piper.

By the end of the flight, he was asking for her phone number and encouraging her to talk to his girlfriend about "the life." She gave him a number. Whether it was her real number, or not - who knows?

I don't know. I'm old-fashioned, but again I ain't uptight. Different strokes, I say. Literally in this case. But this conversation though? Not sure it's one I would have struck up with a stranger on a plane, who looked young enough to be my daughter.

What do you think?

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Don't make me chase you!

There has been a lot of discussion about police take-down tactics in South Florida over the past week or so, ever since a group of police officers was caught on tape allegedly roughing up a suspect who had led the cops on a long, dangerous car chase.

The chase started when the cops tried to pull this guy over, 'cause his car was similar to one they thought had been used in a crime. Turned out later he wasn't involved in the other crime. At the end of the chase the suspect bailed from his car, ran to a nearby strip of grass and literally dove to the ground face down, before the officers set upon him. Later the suspect, who was recently released from prison, said he fled, because he was driving on a suspended license.

Debate has ranged from the cops being justified to the cops being accused of brutality, since the guy was already face down and spread-eagle when they started to "subdue" him. I've been sort of on the fence. That was until I saw a kid and his mom in a "standoff" outside my barbershop Wednesday morning, and a real time analogy unfolded before my eyes.

I was actually sitting on a bench in the shop in downtown Miami, waiting to get my hair cut, when I noticed just outside the door of the shop a woman speaking in warning tones to a young boy - I'd say either her son, nephew, or someone she was babysitting. I'm thinking son, though.

Anyway, the kid couldn't have been more than 4-years-old. And who knows how old the mom was? What I do know was she kept telling him to come to her, but she didn't have the speed or athletic prowess to make him comply.

First it was "come here, please." When he declined and scooted further away from her, mom graduated to "come here." When Junior still didn't listen, mom took a quick step toward him and reached out. Junior sidestepped her hand and laughed. Mom didn't. She then moved on to "get over here" through gritted teeth. Junior danced just out of arm's reach and laughed some more. Then she said it. Mom raised her voice and snapped "get your narrow behind over here!" And that's when Junior stopped.

His facial expression changed. It hovered somewhere between I still think this is funny, 'cause she can't catch me, to I still think this is funny..., but I may just have pushed her too far.

Finally, as Junior contemplated his situation - and I mean you could see the gears turning and his face screwing up as he weighed his options - mom saw her chance and she lunged and got that little...angel by the collar! She gave him a shake - just stern, nothing abusive, in my humble opinion - and then proceeded to give him a hardcore tongue-lashing as she dragged him down the sidewalk and into a store. Memories of Homer Simpson chasing son Bart and yelling "Why you little!" followed by a soothing "I'm not gonna hurt you boy!" flashed through my mind.

I will never condone police brutality. I've been scared half to death before by a couple of cops who hassled me for no good reason. And I don't know - the cops involved in this chase may have a history of overdoing it with suspects. But in that moment in the barbershop, after thinking about the number of times my mom, huffing and puffing, scolded me "boy, don't make me chase you," I sort of felt for the cops involved in this particular pursuit.

Seriously, I would not make a good police officer, because if I told someone to "freeze!" or to pull over and they didn't listen and they made me break a sweat and chase them and stress my bum knee, I'm gonna be pissed off when I catch up to them. I ain't saying I'd beat 'em. But I'm admitting I'd want to.

Yeah, yeah. I know cops are public officials and therefore held to higher standards and expected to keep their tempers in check. But humans are humans.

And without justifying the alleged roughing up, don't forget this situation would never have happened if the guy had just pulled over and stopped when he was first told to. Of course, he chose not to stop, because he knew he shouldn't have been driving in the first place.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Not fair, I waited in line!

In college I had the luxury of having a couple of buddies who were in the nightclub promotion business. In fact, on a few occasions I did a little promotion with them to make extra money on the side.

The result was that my buddies and I built friendly rapports with the various groups who operated the hottest nightclubs in town. And whenever we wanted to go to small concerts or just for a night out, we needed only to make eye contact with the right bouncer or concierge and they would wave us on in, allowing us to skip the cover charges and the long lines of people awaiting entry.

Inevitably, someone who was suffering velvet rope burn in the queue outdoors would blurt out something to the effect of "not fair! I've been in line for an hour!"

As I read with incredulity that the Bush White House is making moves to bail out homeowners with subprime mortgages by freezing their interest rates to give them enough time to refinance or sell or simply get more money to pay their bills, I sort of feel like those folks standing in line outside the club.

I understand that there are some people out there who just didn't have the wits about them to read the fine print and gather that after so many years of fixed, low interest, their mortgages would one day be subject to the whims of the economy. And if, when that happened, the economy was doing badly, then their new "flexible" interest rate would likely also be bad.

However, I'm not convinced that's the majority of subprime mortgage holders. Just based on what I've seen in South Florida alone, a lot of what we're seeing is the result of people desperate to live above their means. I've talked to dudes on waiter's salaries who live in $400,000 houses in nice neighborhoods. How? They had "funny" mortgages that allowed them to put zero down, finance for a million years, and go five years without paying interest on their home loan. Why? Because they were desperate to keep up with the Joneses. Now the interest has kicked in and guys like these are paying 10, 12, even 15% on their mortgages. They're finding their payments climbing exponentially. And they're crying out for help.

There was a time back in the day when the norm was that you saved your loot till you could land a "normal" loan and finance the property you wanted to buy. Or you bought small, maintained your loan and your property for a few years, then you traded up.

The same goes for cars and any other thing of value. My guys and I in high school all started off with junkers in various stages of disrepair. We fixed them up. We drove them for a couple of years. By the time we were in college and had jobs, we were able to trade or sell our junkers and buy nice cars. The point is we waited till we could afford the nice stuff. We didn't try to bend space and time to redefine what "afford" means.

This logic or lack thereof works for jobs too. Ask the average, healthy, unemployed, unmotivated young man what he's waiting for, and he's going to tell you something to the effect of "the right job," or "the right opportunity." Now, you would think with no income, the right job would be any job that pays a steady wage. But again, American society has convinced a lot of people that they shouldn't work certain gigs, 'cause those gigs are beneath them. They should go straight to the top, to the big-paying jobs.

So here we are at this subprime mortgage thing. When Mrs. B and I moved to Florida a couple of years ago, we drove through neighborhoods that made us salivate. But then we crunched the numbers and we realized that if we were going to live with our heads above water and keep them above water we had to go elsewhere. And we bought a house in a neighborhood that was acceptable, nice even. And we determined that when the time was right we would sell our property - hopefully at a profit - and then buy something a little better in a better 'hood.

Tell me quick - what's the point of waiting in line?

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Cowboy Code: Chapter 10, Accidental Charity

If you've just arrived in the State of Burnettiquette, then you may not be familiar with the Cowboy Code.

It has nothing to do with cattle hustlers. Rather it's the guideline by which young gentlemen should deal with one another these days, where women are concerned. There have always been different names for it, but as far back as I can think - back to college more than 10 years ago, it has been the Cowboy Code.

It's the Cowboy Code that dictates thou shalt not ask your buddy's ex-girlfriend out on a date ever! Or at least not without his prior blessing and waiting six months to a year after their breakup.

The Cowboy Code says that if your buddy's girlfriend tries to trap him through you, by asking you if he really was hanging out with you last night, you don't give him up. You don't have to lie for him. But you smoothly give a neutral answer and then change the subject as soon as possible.

And the Cowboy Code says that no matter how big your crush on a woman is and regardless of whether you saw her first, if she seems more into your buddy than you, you should not keep trying as a sore loser would. You should step aside and graciously concede defeat.

So I was catching up with a good buddy, whom I consider a best friend - and I don't toss "best" around lightly. And he reminded me of a semi-funny situation that occurred in a booze hole in Milwaukee, shortly after Mrs. B and I got engaged. He reminded me, 'cause just last weekend he encountered the same situation and wasn't sure how to respond.

Here's the deal: Shortly after our engagement, I left work one evening with several buddies and strolled a few blocks to Milwaukee's Water Street bar row and we tipped a couple of pints. Mrs. B called and said she was wrapping up work and would join us for one if we didn't mind. We didn't.

Anyway, it was winter time. Colder than the girl who rejected my prom invite in senior year. And Mrs. B was bundled up in knit hat, scarf, mittens, etc. So when she arrived and spotted us, she detoured to the bar to place her order before joining us. Well, two young lions, fresh from their office stood next to her at the bar. And when the bartender brought Mrs. B's glass, one of the young lions hurriedly plunked money on the bar and said he'd get it. It was loud and crazy in there. Mrs. B tried to protest. He shushed her and insisted. She shrugged it off, and then took off her mittens so she could better hold the glass, and that's when the young lion saw the ring. He didn't say anything, but he turned beet red and turned away, apparently frustrated.

The exact same sort of scenario happened to my buddy over the weekend, except he was with a date, not a girlfriend, and not a fiance. The bar wasn't very crowded or loud. And in his case the guy who had bought his date a drink actually protested after the fact.

Now, when this happened several years ago, I felt bad for the young lion. He didn't know any better. And all because he didn't see Mrs. B's ring at first, he was out a few bucks. My instinct was to offer him the $3 or $4 he'd spent or to get his next round. But he was too proud to accept his money back as consolation prize, or a free drink. So I dropped it.

Faced with the same scenario, my buddy didn't even offer the cash or a drink to the slighted guy.

I don't know that our situations were any different. Or maybe they were, since I was with my then fiancee, and my buddy was with a first or second-time date.

The way I see it, Mrs. B had mittens on, so the guy who bought her drink couldn't have known at first that she was taken. And I gave him the benefit of the doubt that had he seen her ring up front, he wouldn't have offered to buy her drink.

My buddy? I sort of feel that since the place wasn't loud and crazy, and people could actually hear themselves talk, when they "buyer" paused for a breath the date could have spoken up and said she was with someone. Also, when you buy anyone anything in a bar, results are not guaranteed. There is a good chance they won't even say thank you, much less fall for you. So it's usually buyer beware.

Maybe I'm being a hypocrite. But I don't think so. Therefore, it's my judgment that my guy did not violate the Cowboy Code. What say you?

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Monday, December 03, 2007

The worst kinds of excuses

Over the past several days folks in and around Miami have been attending memorial services for murdered football player Sean Taylor.

In case you don't know, Taylor, a rising star with the Washington Redskins and a Miami native, was fatally shot in his Miami home last week, while Taylor's girlfriend and 1-year-old daughter cowered under the bed sheets. Taylor heard noises, armed himself with a machete he kept for protection and locked his bedroom door. But the cowards who caused his death, kicked in the door, shot him, and then fled. Taylor died in a hospital the next day.

Beyond the fact that an apparently innocent person was gunned down in his own home, the thing that disturbs me most about this case is how quickly everyone from the Miami-Dade County police director Robert Parker to the families of the suspects jumped before the microphones to suggest or say outright that the suspects weren't killers. Rather, they were burglars who got spooked and "accidentally" killed a man. Parker even said in one press conference that the suspects fired after they saw Taylor's machete. I know he didn't mean it this way, but Parker's comments almost made it sound like Taylor shared some of the "blame," 'cause he scared these guys by being home in the first place, and being armed with a blade.

Short of security video that recorded everything, we have to assume that Directer Parker is basing his comments on what the suspects said in their confessions. And the suspects' families? Well, how often do you see family members of violent crime suspects step up to the microphone and say "If he did it, he should get what's coming to him?" I can count on two fingers the number of times I've ever seen that. And this case wasn't one of those times.

Sorry, but I say they're wrong. They're all wrong. If these guys weren't planning to harm anyone why did they bring a gun to a burglary? This isn't meant to be funny, but you've heard the old adage about it being wise to not bring a knife to a gun fight? If I'm gonna break into someone's home I'm bringing lock-picking tools and whatever I might need to disable an alarm system. There's no point in bringing a gun unless I'm prepared to do something more than steal property.

What? Don't tell me you buy the protection argument. They wouldn't have needed a gun to "protect" themselves if they weren't trying to take off with O.P.P.

The fact that they were armed with a gun says at a minimum that the Taylor suspects were willing to threaten harm to someone else in order to get away with their crime. And since the gun had bullets in it they were obviously prepared to hurt someone in order to get away with their crime. For that reason alone, they are cold-hearted killers, and their families, the cops, and anyone else who wants to speculate at what these guys meant to do, need to stop making excuses for them.

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