Jefferson Station and the thing about Healthcare Reform

20140905_jeff_1024The acquisition has become quite commonplace in recent years, from sports stadiums and entertainment venues to infrastructure basics like roadways and railway stations.  Naming rights, long reserved for notable philanthropists placing a family name on hospitals, university halls, museums and libraries, are now a convenient – though costly – method to promote brand recognition and consumer confidence.

Earlier this month SEPTA announced the naming of Market East Station to Jefferson Station in a deal between the regional transportation provider and the Jefferson Health SystemThomas Jefferson University Hospital is only two blocks south of Market East.

The naming deal follows an earlier arrangement to rename the Broad Street Subway station at Pattison Avenue “AT&T Station” and previews a future naming rights deal with their Verizon or Comcast for Suburban Station.

http-planphilly-com-sites-planphilly-com-files-dsc_0027_2-jpg.752.502.sFacility naming deals are an easy way for cash-strapped or opportunistic entities to raise funding from wealthier, healthier corporations.  In the overall scheme of things, it’s a no-brainer for a constantly short-funded regional utility, like SEPTA, to use its captive commuter audience as a way to raise needed capital.

SEPTA’s five-year deal with AT&T cost the communications company $5.4 million, although SEPTA only received $3.4 million.  It’s advertising agent made out very nicely, pocketing $2 million in the deal.

But what of a hospital spending $4 million to buy branding rights all in the name of product recognition?  To me, it speaks to several interesting questions and one Big Duh observation.

First off, the obvious question … Is it prudent, necessary or progressive for a medical provider to seek publicity of this sort at what most would consider a sizable chunk of cash?  Arguments could be made that such attempts at name recognition promote Jefferson as a top-class service provider, educational institution, and research facility.

Yet, I would think that’s a tough nut to crack since Jefferson is already a renown regional name.  Once you get outside the Philadelphia region it’s hard to figure exactly what naming a railway station adds to the Jefferson brand.   How many prospective medical students or established medical professionals would actually be swayed by a name on a subway marquee?

artmax_178They might even look at such largesse as a needless and wasteful expenditure in a research-heavy profession where funding often determines how much a dedicated research professional can accomplish.

On another level, it’s difficult to ignore what equipment, expansion of service, or community involvement could be financed with that $4 million marquee grab.

Jefferson’s argument might be that all testing, diagnostic and treatment equipment is sufficiently updated and in top-level performance condition.  Yet I would be willing to bet you can find a few areas of their network that might very well be begging for additional investment, updating, and manpower.  From that point-of-view, buying a railway station would seem like an unnecessarily extravagant expense to anyone who consumes Jefferson medical services.

Which brings me to my real reason for making so much more out of a relatively small ball approach to the Naming Rights Game …

Healthcare reform … REAL healthcare reform … The kind of healthcare reform we did not get in the Affordable Care Act.  The kind of healthcare reform that would make a difference to those who consume and those who are forced to pay big premiums, big deductibles, and large shares of those Usual, Customary, and Reasonable costs.

Affordable was supposed to be the key word ...

Affordable was supposed to be the key word …

My Big Aha Moment was in the realization that if the Jefferson Health System has $4 million to spend on a subway station, they certainly have a lot of other money available for a lot of other non-medical investments!

This is not an attack on JHS alone though.  This I’m certain is the same financial truth that can be found in any large, successful medical system, be it in Philadelphia or Dallas or Nashville.  I have never hidden my contempt of the ACA, mostly because of the way it was birthed … forced in hurried fashion through a brow-beat Congress.  And as “healthcare reform” it wasn’t real reform at all … Not even close in any way, shape, or form.

Real healthcare reform would have addressed the REAL problem with healthcare … The Cost!  All the SEPTA-JHS deal did was highlight the crux of the healthcare problem … Medical services that are so expensive that a hospital has a few million lying around to buy a subway station name.

All the ACA did was dump more people into a system that costs way too much.  Logic would dictate that if you want to provide medical coverage to more people the trade-off should be reducing the costs – if at all possible – of the services to be provided.

Can anyone imagine saying that medical costs in this country were affordable prior to the passing of the ACA?  Obviously not, since “Affordable” was the first word they thought of when they created the Affordable care Act!  Yet no significant action was taken to make healthcare more affordable prior to adding millions to the Well-Care portion of U.S. healthcare (i.e. that segment of healthcare that the uninsured COULD NOT AFFORD to use, resorting to Emergency Rooms as their sole source of healthcare once they became sick).

Wouldn’t it have made more sense to take a long, deep look into the cost structure and profit margins of American healthcare BEFORE adding a significant new market for services that would only see demand and usage skyrocket with the passage of the ACA?  Would it not have seemed a reasonable approach to restructure medical costs in a way that potential savings might have paid for many new ACA subscribers?

The SEPTA-Jefferson Health System deal suggests that it would have been on both counts.  Not that we were ever given the chance to find out …

 

Well, health and maybe a good game of railroad Monopoly ...

Well, health and maybe a good game of railroad Monopoly …

 

 

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9 Circles of Ikea

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Something to do on a Sunday afternoon … Rain in the forecast … Remodeling projects in various stages of completion …

Perfect setting for the four words every red blooded male longs to hear, “Let’s go to Ikea!”, dear Carol exclaims.

It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times.

Ikea was founded by a 17-year-old (which explains a lot) in 1943, and is renown for it’s architectural designs of furniture and appliances and an eco-friendly approach to interior design.

This was the First Time for me, although Carol insists I had been there before.  But no, I would have remembered this experience had I lived through it before.

The store was inviting; painted in bold Blue and Yellow – the national colors of Sweden, the visuals reminding me of a favorite U.S. icon, the Blue Angels.  What could possibly be more inviting?

systembolagetYet something was gnawing at the pit of my stomach like a yellow worm with teeth (Ween).  What is wrong here?  What about this makes sense? Didn’t the Swedes also create Systembolaget, a government-controlled alcohol monopoly?

Danger, Will Robinson …

We walk into a bright but spartan lobby that invites you to ride the escalator to the retail floor.  This was an oddity in the Land of Good and Plenty.  Nothing to sell while rendering first impressions?  No impulse-buying enticements?  Primary retail space on the second floor?  Not even one store greeter … no Nordic blondes playing Abba music on nyckelharpas?

But they do have plenty of these over-sized eco-harmonizing shopping bags.  And large enough to fit a Volvo

My shopping psyche is a strange amalgam of wonderment and an anxiety of what lies beyond … I was in Limbo.

And violà!  We arrive on the retail floor!

Immediately you realize the Swedes ain’t no dummies!

We are immediately driven to Lust for the quirky, practical designs of Äpplarö, Falster, Arholma.  This is going to be an epic quest to furnish that unique space in our home.

Did I mention, I’m not a big fan of Quests?

And just then I see the store map …

Rule of Thumb:  Any store that requires a map for you to figure out where you are and to find what you want, can use the same device to make sure you can never leave!

Can you get to the cheese?

Can you get to the cheese?

I’m struck by the resemblance the Ikea store map has to those primitive maze tests used to measure the learning habits of lesser species.  This causes one to wonder, who exactly is the “lesser species” in this Nordic inspired ecosystem?

We push on with our journey, moving right into Gluttony as we peruse the quirky, imaginative shapes and functions of the Artichoke Pendant Lamp, Befintlig candles, Smörboll bedding, and Ödmjuk coffe cups.  Hours seem to have passed in minutes, I am aware of a foggy, detached feeling as though floating through the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, barely tethered to the Earth.

When I am able to roust myself from this peculiar state, Carol is nowhere to be seen and the cart I am pushing is overflowing with abstract Swedish home appointments.  I must find her before we descend any further into the bowels of Scandinavian home furnishings Hades.

And then I see her!  Not Carol exactly, but that head looks familiar …

Tallemaja - seductive Scandinavian forest creature

Tallemaja – seductive Scandinavian forest creature

She appears from out of the flimsy veil of the Åderblad window treatments.  She appears to be unclothed with what looks like the tail of a cow.  When I ask her name, she replies in a foggy voice that sounds so very far away, “Tallemaja”.  She beckons me to follow.

An overwhelming sense of pressure and heaviness … When I look down I am holding three of those enormous Ikea saddle bags crammed full of sheets with artsy patterns and ingenuously designed table lamps.  I absently reach for my wallet …

The Circle of Greed!

I fight the urge and set out once again to find Carol.  I find her sorting through a clutch of Gräddig wall decorations, semi-catatonic and mumbling incoherently.  I warn her not to fall for the charms of Tallemaja.

She looks at me, her head cocked to one side.  “Who the hell’s Tallemaja?!?  I was talking to some guy named Nykkjen.  I don’t think he’s an Ikea employee; but he seemed to know a lot about this place!”

Cue the spooky music …

I urge Carol to dump her load of Riktig Ögla and Malma mirrors so we can make a hasty retreat.  I glance nervously over my shoulder half expecting her to morph into a pissed off naked forest nymph.

We need to get out of here … Now!

Heresy!”, she shouts in Anger.  I look around embarrassingly at the mumbling shoppers nearby, displaying those same blank stares, speaking gibberish …

No one here can hear you scream …

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Swedish futboler, shape shifting nicker

But finding an Exit in this place would be as likely as stumbling upon Zlatan Ibrahimović picking through a collection of Bild posters.

Desperate to escape this madness I prod Carol along.  We manage to move but a few steps when Carol calls over her shoulder to a figure bent in appreciative study, “Hey, Nykkjen, let’s go!  We’re outta here.”

So of course Zlatan Ibrahimović – Carol’s tricked out psyche version of Nykkjen – unfolds slowly to his feet triumphantly holding his latest acquisition … a Bild poster!  

Stunned momentarily I stumble in confusion, the Home Furnishings Department spinning dizzyingly.  I reach out and steady myself against the Norwegian soccer nicker’s shoulder, and – true to his Euro fùtbol tradition – collapses like a gunshot victim, grabbing at his ankle in fairy tale agony …         

 Wonderful …

Fraud and Violence in the blink of a referee’s eye … And stand perilously close to the boundary of the 9th – and final – Circle de Dantè!

I convince Carol that we should concentrate on the table and cabinets she wants for her craft room and leave this Den of Temptation before it’s too late.  She agrees and we race through the remainder of the retail floor, heading downstairs to the furniture warehouse.

By now I’m a nervous wreck, with my wallet shoved down the front of my pants and a terrified look on my face.  Carol – always quick to pick up on this sort of thing – asks me what’s wrong.  And I tell her we were oh so close to joining the lost souls in Hades, crossing 8 circles out of Dante’s 9.

Treachery - I tell her – was all that remained.

She rolls her eyes and glances around almost seekingly.  I swear she’s really searching for Zlatan that hunky Nykkjen.  “Well then, let’s get out of here, Mr. Treachery.”, she says, “You know you have to put all this crap together when we get home.”

Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo  ……

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Why Pennsylvania needs Public Sector pension reform

Governor Corbett discusses pension reform in Dresher

Governor Corbett discusses pension reform in Dresher

Last week I had an opportunity to attend one of Governor Tom Corbett‘s mini-town hall meetings on Pennsylvania‘s precarious public pension situation.

The Governor is spending a lot of time this Summer pushing the need for public sector pension reform to improve the State’s financial health and put a lid on spiraling property taxes.  The problem he is facing, along with much of the Pennsylvania legislator – or at least among those who will admit there is a pension problem – is that the Pennsylvanians who pay taxes do not view pension reform as a problem let alone a problem with priority.

Much of this disconnect comes from the plain fact that most of us do not understand how State pensions work; how much they cost us; or how they affect the other real problems with which my fellow Pennsylvanians can readily identify.

Recent polls (Quinnipiac University 2013, Franklin & Marshall 2014) found that Pennsylvanians recognized Unemployment, the Economy, Education, and Taxes as the biggest problems being faced in the Keystone State. These opinions are even more disconcerting from a taxpayer’s point-of-view, because it illustrates a very basic fact about the magnitude of the pension problem …

Few appreciate how the State’s pension mess plays into the perceived problems in Education, Taxes and the Economic Health of Pennsylvania.

For that you must look at the numbers.

  • $47,000,000,000. (billion with a capital “B”) … The current pension funding gap in Pennsylvania
  • $65,000,000,000.  … The projected pension gap by 2019.
  • 63 cents of every $1 in revenue … 63% of PA State revenue currently goes to cover State pension responsibilities
    • $2 Billion per year, all covered by PA tax payers
  • $13,000. … The amount each Pennsylvanian would have to pay to cover the current pension fund gap.

State-pensionsForty-one percent (41%) of the annual State budget goes to Education funding.  Another 40% goes to support Health and Human Services (and yes, that’s BEFORE you factor in the potential of accepting on ObamaCare’s proposed Medicaid expansion, which will be funded by the Federal Government to only 90% of costs after 2016) …

The budget percentages for Education and HHS are equally important in understanding the overall picture.  Why?

For one, they illustrate the impact both Education and Social Services have on the State budget.  When you spend 81-82% of your budget in two specific areas, it doesn’t leave much room for the financing of the other good things State government can do.  These huge obligations place the State in a financial straight jacket.  Pension costs make up a significant burden to school districts and public healthcare providers insofar as those costs are a subset of that same funding provided by the State.

As an example, when a School District receives its annual budgeted funding, they must – each year – immediately set aside a significant portion of that funding to be applied towards that school district’s allotment of pension coverage.  As pensions costs grow, school districts are forced to pay more and more for their pension service; and they will have less and less to spend on actual education.

pension-reformSo when you speak of those “real problems” facing Pennsylvania … Education, Unemployment, the Economy and Taxes … there is a genuine, behind-the-scenes connection between pension costs obligations and all those REAL problems.  And more importantly, to financing any solutions to those REAL problems.

So what’s State Government to do?  What tough choices do you make now?  Do you raise Property Taxes again?  Do you raise Corporate Taxes in a state which is already has the HIGHEST corporate tax rate in the country?  Or do you do something about the most easily identifiable and underlying problem?

As a taxpayer, this is a chilling reality.  If you subscribe to the theory that high taxes kill Economic Growth, raising Corporate Taxes is not the BEST alternative.  (And yes, that includes a job creator like the natural gas industry.). Neither of course is raising Property Taxes, which is what school districts must do to meet the growing pension cost budget hole.

Pension reform won’t lower current property taxes.  Replacing pension plans does nothing to alleviate the pension obligations already facing the State.  It’s a solution for the future, putting a lid on rising property taxes by replacing an unsustainable pension structure with one that lessens the future burden on taxpayers!

If you are not yet convinced, take a look at recent examples in countries like Greece and Italy, where excessive pension costs drove cataclysmic threats to economic stability.  Or take a look closer to home …

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Chicago Mayor – and former White House Chief-of-Staff Rahm Emanuel

When uber-Liberal Rahm Emanuel left the cozy confines of The White House as President Obama’s Chief-of-Staff to become the Mayor of Chicago, the first major initiative he undertook was to tackle Chicago’s financially threatening pension problem.  To take a peek at what could happen to cities in Pennsylvania if leaders like Emanuel and Tom Corbett do nothing, look at what has happened in Detroit!

The Rahm Emanuel story is critically important for one reason a lot of people might overlook.  It illustrates that this is not a problem restricted to one political party or the other.  Pension costs with all its ramifications – from taxes to education to health services to economic vitality – is a Democrat and Republican problem.

So what is the real problem with Pennsylvania’s nightmare pension scenario?  It’s reliance upon Defined-Benefit public pensions …

This is not a new problem, not in the pubic sector, not in the private sector, not in the manufacturing sector, not in the financial industry.  Industry, individual companies, other State governments, even the Federal Government have recognized the threat to financial stability presented by growing defined-benefit pension obligations.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am employed in the Public Sector, employed by the Federal Government since 1980.  In 1986 the federal government introduced a two-tier retirement system under the Federal Employees Retirement System Act of 1986.  The Act essentially grand-fathered all existing employees under the existing Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS), while requiring all new employees – hired after the laws effective date – to participate in the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS).  The reasoning behind the switch from a Defined-Benefit CSRS to a hybrid Defined-Benefit/Defined-Contribution plan was much the same in 1986 as it is now for Pennsylvania in 2014.

FERS provides its own two-tiered approach, consisting of a Defined-Benefit where a minimum government contribution is mandated.  Then the federal government fully matches any employee contributions up to 5% of salary (the percentage matched drops on additional employee contributions) made to the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), which acts essentially like a 401(k) with employees able to choose investment options of differing risk and return.

That the Federal Government is out in front of Pennsylvania on anything – by nearly three decades no less – has to be more than a little troubling to Pennsylvania tax payers!  And this again is a problem whose responsibility falls squarely on BOTH political parties.

Former Gov Tom Ridge, not exactly the brightest light on pension sanity

Former Gov Tom Ridge, not exactly the brightest light on pension sanity

In 2001 it was the Tom Ridge Republican administration that cut a foggy-headed deal with the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, where both Democrats and Republicans agreed to significantly increase the pension benefits of Legislators, state workers, and teachers.  They then compounded their stupidity by slashing the taxpayer contribution to service that very same pension obligation.  It’s a case of an entire government turning a blind eye towards its very own economic future!

Changes to the way employee pensions are managed and financed have been rippling through the entire U.S. economy, most drastically of course in the private sector, where change depends not on the consensus of 250 State Legislators who so intimately tied to the very benefits that economic reality demands must change.  But it is virtually impossible to find an employer now who will provide an employee with a defined-benefit pension plan.

It’s a Republican-Democrat problem that will need both parties in the State Legislator to step up to the plate and fix.

Now, I’m not sure Governor Corbett’s approach is the best alternative necessarily for Pennsylvania’s particular pension situation. The devil is always in the details.  However, you must admire Corbett’s tenacity in pushing for pubic awareness of a problem very difficult to fully understand and always controversial … And doing so during an election year!

That, my friends, is Leadership with all its risks and political exposures.

Like the national bi-annual conniption over Social Security insolvency, it’s always the first person who goes through the wall that gets shot.  Yet this is a problem to which even tax & spend liberal Tom Wolf has begun to awaken.  Oh wait a minute … That was for his furniture company, not necessarily the citizens of Pennsylvania!

All politics aside, the message is clear.

If you live in Pennsylvania and believe that the REAL problems we face are Education, Taxes, and Economic Growth, you simply must recognize the threat that growing pension costs pose to the economic health of The Keystone State.  Tell this story to your Pennsylvania neighbors.  Let your voice be heard by demanding your State Representatives and Senators act together with Governor Corbett to address pension reform NOW!

Cranky Man’s Lawn Diary ’14 – Beetlejuiced

Not those Beatles ...

Not those Beatles …

The Fourth of July is behind us, and if you haven’t seen them yet, you haven’t been paying attention.  The beetles are back!

Japanese beetles live very short life spans in which to fit their two favorite – and only – activities: Eating holes in your lawn and Making hundreds of little baby beetles, a.k.a. grubs.  The grubs do the lawn eating until they’re big enough to move on to lawn orgies and maintaining the eat and spawn cycle.

Life as a summer beetle ain’t all that complicated.

Neither is the solution for your lawn.

Don’t be like me last year.  At some point I decided not to do anything about the annually anticipated Dance of the Beetles.  I hadn’t noticed much beetle “dancing” is the two previous seasons, so I thought, “What the heck? What’s the worst that can happen?”  Then I decided to complicate the problem by not reacting when we observed larger-than-normal beetles frolicking in what was certainly a form of promiscuous insect shenanigans right on the front lawn!

Well, they didn’t look like your run-of-the-mill Japanese beetles.

Yes, sometimes I need to be roused with a hard swat about the head with heavy bag of You’re-Such-An-Idiot!

That hard swat came in the form of serious dead spots and chunks of lawn you could rollup like a dead body in your aunt’s heirloom Persian rug.  It was not a good September, lawn-wise or for the body.

Is it Frolic Time already???

They said, “Try the milky spore. You’ll love it!”

After a lot of work to fix what beetles had wrought, I decided to go all microbiological warfare, consisting of a tedious application of the dreaded milky spore!  Dreaded by humans for it’s pain-in-the-nether-regions application process.  Dreaded by the beetles because … well, it’s not a nice way to depart the lawn-eating, baby-beetle-making circle-of-life.

You can read about it in the linked post; but trust me I wouldn’t want to be the beetle larvae that eats from the wrong grass root.  But effective it supposedly is, offering up to ten years of grub protection as the spore grows and multiplies.  No worries to you, the kids, your dog, or that body in auntie’s Persian rug.  The milky spore is harmless to all other species!

At this point however, I’m playing a coy waiting game.  I should have years of protection, but the milky spore needs to grow and multiply through the – ahem – judicious use of fresh and living beetle larvae.  (The icky body in the Persian rug part.)

Anyways, I figure a year or two before I’m home free and no longer in need of expensive grub treatments, often the most expensive lawn treatment for which you will normally pay.  My plan was to apply the usual grub treatment, that is until struck with the thought that I need healthy grub “hosts” to make the milky spore effective.

Such a conundrum!  Forego the recommended grub treatment to allow healthy grubs to feast on my lawn so to initiate their untimely and horrific death.

Now where did I put that carpet …???

For those of you not opting for the hideous milky spore solution to control your bug issues, make sure you purchase and apply your grub treatment this weekend. Once you see beetles cavorting on your lawn, it’s probably too late.

As for my lawn beetles …

You can run; but you can’t hide!

Reflections on the Spirit of Independence

Declaration_independenceI admit it.  I’m a bit of a history nerd.

Make that an American history nerd.  It’s difficult for me to get interested in the ancient history of Old Europe or the Greeks or the Roman Empire.  For me, it’s a matter of direct effect.  Although American society has its foundation atop the successful and advanced societies that preceded, it’s difficult for those ancient predecessors to elicit an excitement in me that overshadows the more recent authors of purely American success.

But that’s just me …

What really holds my fascination whenever I take the opportunity to reflect on our earliest American history is the foresight and fortitude demonstrated by our Founding Fathers, and the difficult and sordid compromises they made to bring to fruition a tenuous but entirely necessary experiment in Independence from tyranny.

In 1776, an eclectic collection of leaders, renown primarily within their regional communities, met for a second time in Philadelphia.  (The first Continental Congress met in 1774.)  They brought with them the depth and breadth of institutions, economics, religious beliefs, and governing philosophies prominent where they lived to Philadelphia in order to argue and decide the fate of British colonies chafing under the capricious actions of rulers residing a full ocean away.

These men were far from perfect.  Some held some views on women and slavery that many – living now – would characterize as appallingly backward or downright inhumane.  Some of them surely recognized – or at least refused to confront – their conflicted positions on the Equality of all Men, while themselves holding men in slavery.  And in the end, we like to think their better angels had no choice but to kick several very large cans of worms into the future.  These cans or worms required generations to resolve.  The biggest unresolvable issue – Slavery – eventually demanded the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands 85 years later in a civil war that threatened to tear apart a still fragile Union.

These compromises they made because they were blessed with a yearning that rendered one choice paramount to all irreconcilable differences …

Independence from England …. Freedom from oppressive rulers!

What I find most fascinating of all is that this Second Continental Congress was successful at all!

Think of the mindsets that drove a loose collection of men from geographically extended colonies with no standing army or navy; rife with regional differences; and faced with moral shortcomings that differed not just on Equality, but the actual definition of Man to slap the insolent glove of challenge across the face of the largest and strongest empire that existed on Earth at the time!

Battle_of_Guiliford_Courthouse_15_March_1781Yes, they were fallible; and perhaps they were morally weak by today’s standards.  But they were also the social and political elite, who in the end had the most to lose if the insurrection failed.  Many of them would have been hunted down and killed, and their families as well.  Their property scattered among the triumphant British generals, if the miracle of victory was not somehow accomplished.

When I read about those days in the latter stages of the 1700s, I like to think that the stronger minds that were present knew that what they were putting into motion was an imperfect solution to an unavoidable problem.  That their only choice was a somewhat soiled compromise to accomplish a greater good.

They had faith that an initial success, no matter how unlikely to succeed against a well-trained British military, would allow for growth and an abiding strength for future generations to tackle the problems they could not resolve when forming a less perfect Union.  If they did think that way, they were prescient, even if those changes came by way of dramatic sacrifice and untold sufferings.

The image that comes to me this year on Independence Day is a fanciful look back through these 238 years into that hot, stuffy room in Philadelphia.  In that moment those brave men can also see the progress, the obstacles, the conflicts, and the sacrifices that have been experienced and overcome; and what those efforts have wrought.  They can see exactly how far their not-so-little experiment has grown.

At either ends of this fantastic time tunnel, both groups stand 238 years apart and in absolute awe of each other.

Enjoy your 4th of July!

 

That Summer of ’79

He had just gotten discharged from a 4-year stint in the U.S. Air Force.  I had finished my Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology at LaSalle University.

He was looking to spend a few months enjoying his freedom from the rigors and discipline of military life.  I was frustrated with searching for a career path while still working my old high school/college job with Acme Markets.

It was the Summer of 1979.

Rich and I had known each other from our latter years at St. Jerome’s parish school on Holme Avenue in Northeast Philadelphia.  We attended Father Judge High School (Class of ’74) together with a boatload of neighborhood friends.  Our neighborhood clan matriculated in typical middle class fashion through the hallways of Abraham Lincoln and Archbishop Ryan high schools in addition to Judge.

As we prepared to leave high school, I knew I wanted to go to college.  Rich wasn’t sure what he wanted to do in Life, so the discipline and focus of a military hitch appealed to him.

When he was discharged in early 1979, Rich was ready to enjoy Life a bit.  I was tired of the pressure of job searching and the possibility that maybe I hadn’t sufficiently thought through what Life after college would look like.

So I was an easy mark for Rich’s subtle suggestions to blow off the job search and spend the Summer doing nothing more than enjoying the freedom to do whatever we felt and – in the end – prepping ourselves for the decades-long haul of adult responsibilities.  There would follow many days of unproductive activity followed by nearly as many nights of unproductive activity.

In the wee hours of the morning, we often found ourselves sitting outside Rich’s parents’ house with a six-pack, after the bars had closed, just talking.

Rich always had his head screwed on right … though maybe just a tad too tightly.  He knew – maybe professed would be the better term – that once that Summer of ’79 was over it would be time to buckle down, settle down, and get on with the Serious Business of Life.  He already has his girl picked out, and his plans included marriage and family which – experience would show – he pulled off quite successfully.

He planned to work as hard as he possibly could, but openly expressed his optimistic goal of retiring at age 45.

Eventually that Summer of ’79 ended.  There is so much more I could share about what we did and how we essentially wasted the good part of a year doing little of value.  But much of that I will keep to myself.

Some of those memories have lingered between us over the 3-plus decades that have passed.

  • His greeting of “Michael, man!” whenever we got together
  • That night at the Play Pen at Diamond Beach on the Jersey shore, waiting for David Bromberg to take the stage while we struggled to segregate enough cash to buy gas for the ride home.  (As it turned out, Bromberg never took the stage that night due to audio problems.)
  • Him witnessing my first hole-in-one … (OK … Yes, it was only pitch & putt, but still!) … a shot that could have just as likely ended up 20 feet short of the green.
  • The night I drove my father’s car into a gaping hole on Delaware Avenue in Philly the size – I am not kidding – of a cargo container.  (“Dad, I only hit a pothole!”)
  • Space Invaders … constantly …
  • Laying around his future in-laws’ pool while they were at work
  • Spending the ’79 Eagles Superbowl season dutifully watching every game in Jim Pistory’s basement

As our adult lives progressed, we drifted apart and were never as close as we were that Summer.  That’s certainly not all that unusual.  Life tends to pull you in different directions.

The important thing is we were both successful in the truly important things in Life.  That’s the way it’s supposed to be.

My most poignant memory though is those long, late-night conversations.  Rich was full of plans and dreams, but we disagreed – rather agreeably – over the level of intensity needed to live all those meaty adult years, where marriage, family, and hard work would hopefully set the stage for those peaceful and plentiful Golden Years.

Rich was adamant that the nose had to be kept hard to the grindstone, once the fun and frivolity of that Summer of ’79 had passed.  I used to challenge him by suggesting you had to stop and smell the roses once in a while (Yes, I may have actually used that phrase!), because you never knew how things might work out later.

Rich didn’t agree much with that.  And from what I know, he kept to this viewpoint from the day that Summer ended.  Even when dealt an unfair employment termination in the wake of the ’08 financial crisis, he didn’t let up.  He simply started his own one-man handyman business.  Doing what he needed to support his family to the quality-of-life in which they had become accustomed.

richardI tended to be much more circumspect in my approach to Life as a grown-up.    And now I have never been so depressed over being so right.

Richard G. Tomaszewski left us suddenly on June 17, 2014 at the way-too-early age of 57.

A Fathers Day … Fifty years ago …

bunning5I was all of eight years-old, riding home from a family visit to relatives on my father’s side of the family.  It was a different time then, illustrated no less than by the way we stood on the floor of the back seat – unbuckled – to watch as Dad drove us home with all the windows rolled down in a car that knew not of air conditioning on a hot, humid Sunday afternoon.

The date is – in the interest of honesty – seven days short this Fathers Day of a full five decades of baseball history … June 21, 1964

Dad decides to spend the trip homeward listening to the Philadelphia Phillies playing the lowly New York Mets at Shea Stadium, which had opened for business just two months before.  Jim Bunning was on the mound that day in a game already in progress, the first game of a double-header.

For those baseball fans not born or baseball-aware before the turn of the century, a double-header is a scheduled event on a Major League Baseball team’s game calendar deliberately requiring the play of TWO games of baseball in one sitting. 

Baseball used to actually schedule double headers as a normal part of every team’s calendar, repeated several times a year … until they caught on to the concept of gate receipts and their effect on earnings and profitability.  You only see them nowadays when rain outs and tight scheduling require doubling up; and even then, they almost always require the fans to leave the stadium and buy additional tickets to see the second game.

They call this the Day-Night Double Header.  But you can refer to them as Double-Dipping-the-Fans-Because-You-Can Header!   

It was late that afternoon … around 4:00 when Dad turned the game on.  I was yet to reach the point of my full Phillies awareness.  That would be – rather traumatically – that following September when the renown ’64 Phillies would spiral in flames from 1st place in the National League with 12 games remaining …

Oh hell, I don’t want to go there!

My point being, I was hardly paying attention to the game as I bounced around the back seat, most likely in some sort of competition or conflict with my younger brother, Pat.  So I remember very little of the actual game, except for the conclusion when Dad mentioned that Jim Bunning had pitched a PERFECT GAME!

I knew not what that even meant at the time.

Bunning’s Father Day feat was most appropriate.  He was the father of seven children at the time (eventually having 12!!), only one of which was there in New York that day.

bunning1Bunning’s performance still goes down as one of the Top 10 perfectos in Major League Baseball history.  He threw only 89 pitches to complete the game, only 21 pitches were thrown as balls.  He struck out 10.  It was the first perfect game in the National League since 1880!  And Bunning became only the second pitcher at the time to throw a no-hitter in both the National and American Leagues.

The other pitcher to throw no-hitters in both leagues?  Cy Young

Bunning tortured his dugout mates by constantly talking about his developing perfecto, breaking a major baseball superstition.  He later recounted losing a no-hitter three weeks before against the Houston Colt .45s after keeping silent and decided he would not avoid the subject this time around.

What I remember most about Bunning was his wild follow through.  When he threw his hardest, he would fall off on his left side, often finishing with his left arm on the ground, his body almost parallel to the pitching mound.  Not exactly how the youngin’s today are coached.

Other interesting trivia from Bunning’s Very Special Fathers Day celebration:

    • Bunning’s first no-hitter was pitched on July 20, 1958 against the Boston Red Sox.  He was pitching for the Detroit Tigers and remarkably enough the game was also the first game of a scheduled double-header.
    • After the game, Bunning negotiated an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show for all of $1000., but it was enough to build a pool and pool house at Bunning’s Kentucky home!
    • Bunning struck out pinch-hitter John Stephenson for the last out throwing nothing but curve balls after recalling a similar game earlier in the season when Phils manager Gene Mauch told Bunning in at on-the-mound meeting that Stephenson “… can’t spell curve.”

Bunning went on to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996.  His post-baseball career took him from local Kentucky political offices to an unsuccessful run for Governor to successful campaigns for the U.S. House of Representatives and eventually to a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Bunning left the Senate in 2011.  He continues to reside in Kentucky at the age of 82.

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