Rocky Balboa, the common cold, and “Family Feud”

latestThose three things are an unusual combination.  And although there’s nothing Rocky Balboa, the common cold, and “Family Feud” have in common with each other, they converged to create a social phenomena in Pennsylvania in the Spring and Summer of 1977.

The Pennsylvania Lottery was only five years old at the time; offering only a Daily Number (3-digit) until recently adding scratch-off instant lottery tickets.

It was May 1976.  Tom and Philomena Drake had been married for two years and living in McMurray, PA when Tom happened to plop into a seat in a Pittsburgh movie theatre to see the critically acclaimed movie, “Rocky“, about a down-trodden Philadelphia club fighter thrown by happenstance into a title fight against Apollo Creed, the Muhammad Ali-like Heavyweight Champion of the World.

It was the planting of a seed that would soon sprout for Tom Drake a tree of dubious inspiration.

One year later, Philomena came down with a cold.  Their doctor told them that stress was contributing significantly to her health issues.  The Drakes were pulling in roughly $20,000 a-year in wages, and they were never seeing each other. She working during the day as a secretary at U.S. Steel; he as a neophyte real estate salesman working many nights and weekends.

Tom was looking for a way to relieve their financial pressure and maybe – just maybe – allow Phil to give up her job.  Or as Tom put it, “What can I do so she can quit her job and we can get closer together?”

richard-dawson-440_featured_photo_galleryThat Monday Tom was watching “Family Feud” (the original version with the since deceased Richard Dawson) and that – amazingly enough – was the clincher!  Somehow Tom put together his wife’s physical malady, a movie about a brawler’s a never-ever Big Stage opportunity, and a game show highlighting overly energetic family members being alternately wooed and ridiculed by a smarmy Brit in a nice suit to come up with a – not surprisingly – wacky idea.

Tom called his wife at work; told her to come home right away; to not even wait for the bus.  Take a cab ($20 fare)!  When Philomena arrived at home, she found that her husband had cleaned out their savings account ($1100.) and then announced the fruit that had flowered from that Tree of Dubious Inspiration.

His idea:  Liquidate all their assets and buy $20,000 worth of $1 Pennsylvania “Instant Bingo” scratch-off lottery tickets!

The goal:  Win the grand prize of $1,000-a-week for Life!

State lotteries were new back then.  So when someone saw what looked like a get-rich-quick scheme, they perhaps did not take as close a look at the odds of winning.  The odds, under the method Pennsylvania was using for “Instant Bingo” and awarding the grand prize, came out to 35,000,000-to-1.  But since the Drakes were intending to buy 20,000 tickets, a local university professor calculated the odds at 1700-to-1.

Not exactly a sure thing …

Once State lottery officials heard of the scheme, they tried – unsuccessfully – to talk the Drakes off their 20,000 ticket ledge.  To no avail, largely because of “Rocky” and “Family Feud”.

“The people want me to win.  They really believe I’m going to win.  I’m going to win.”, Tom said, climbing higher into that Tree of Dubious Inspiration.  He was certain “Rocky” had sent him a message.  No one gives up.  Family Feud proved ” … all over the country people were rooting for these people to win.”

In Tom Drake’s head they would root for Tom and Philomena Drake too.

Maybe they did.  Maybe they didn’t.  But certainly I can remember the story, and thinking to myself, “This guy is nuts.”  But what did I know.  Over the course of that Summer I lost track of the story.  The Drakes were scratching off tickets into November of that year.  I wondered from time to time how that all turned out.

1972_Chevrolet_Vega_HatcbackAmong the assets the Drakes sold were their furniture, two trotting horses, and three acres of farm land.  Despite the farm, they were living in a one-bedroom apartment.  They also sold their 1974 Chevrolet Vega.  (Remember those butt-ugly cars?)

There were two ways you could claim the top prize of $1000-a-week for Life.  One was to collect enough games pieces to spell out (There were letters on each “Instant Bingo” card.) “Pennsylvania”, “Lottery”, or “Bingo”.  The second method was to win a random drawing, where entry was controlled through qualifying numbers on the “Instant Bingo” cards, resulting in 42,000 potential entrants.  Ten (10) qualifiers would be picked from those 42,000, then one Grand Prize winner would be selected from those 10.

The Drakes’ dream amounted to allowing Philomena to quit her job; buying a nice house; raising a family; and allowing Tom to “… get into harness racing the right way.”  Hmmmm …. to that last one, but dreams are dreams.

Personally, I might have been satisfied with the horses and the farm land, though maybe not the Chevy Vega.

So how did it all turn out?

Through their first 1500 scratch off tickets, they won $500 (down $1000.).  After 3000 scratches, they had accumulated $700 (down $2300.).  $14,100. in scratch-offs later (roughly 200 scratches a day), they finished up by a thousand, having hit one $10,000. prize and several smaller hits.

Was it worth it? Going through all that work, the scorn, the shaking heads and perplexed looks, not to mention the obvious anxiety of “chuck(ing) it all” – as Tom characterized it – at a lottery long-shot dream?

Most of us would say, “No.”

But Philomena would disagree, echoing a statement by Tom quoted earlier in this post.  As they sat a card table in front of a drug store perfume counter, speaking to a reporter and frantically scratching instant tickets, Phil said, “We get to spend so much time together now.  We’re so much closer.”

Sometimes the Dream that gets answered is The One you really needed, not the Dream you thought you wanted.

Could you walk a mile in her shoes?

logoOK … Let’s get this out there right away.

I did not try it.

  • I was ill prepared for the challenge.
  • I was there – volunteering – with an entirely different task set.
  • I’m not sure I could or would want to.
  • I have weak ankles.

There it is.  My expansive list of extremely relevant factors restricting my participation.

The guys who did it? They looked like they were having fun.  Well, some did …

The event was the “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event sponsored by the Laurel House in Norristown, PA.  I was there as a favor to a dedicated instructor and had no idea what the event was about.  We were there to help out with traffic flow and parking for an event at Heebner Park in Worchester, PA.

AR-150429760Laurel House advocates for and empowers those impacted by domestic violence by providing crisis intervention, safe haven, supportive programs and resources.  They also work to advance social change through preventative education and through community training and collaboration to foster a coordinated response to domestic abuse.

Apparently, this women’s shelter was a huge favorite of one of my Citizens Police Academy instructors.  So when he mentioned he was looking for volunteers for a few hours on a Saturday morning, I enlisted.

But it wasn’t until I got there Saturday morning that I saw the red high heels.  At first it didn’t click … That was until I saw the one guy get out of his car in a badly fit red cocktail dress and shiny red, thigh high, 4-inch heel boots.

CLICK!

No way, I thought.  Gotta see this!

But first some relevant facts:

  • 1 in every 4 women in the United States will experience domestic violence at some point in her lifetime
  • An estimated 1.3 million women in the United States are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year
  • The majority of family violence victims are female (86%)
  • The cost of domestic violence in the United States exceeds $5.8 billion each year, $4.1 billion of which is for direct medical care and mental health

11150612_377547345771124_6507808536351055125_nAfter two and half hours of Acting Enforcer of Ingress and Parking Privilege, I headed over to the event to watch the antics.  A mile … in ill-fitting high heels … Some of these guys were running in them.  Some just trying to run until realizing there is no way to walk in them let alone run.  How women walk around in those things, I know not.

It was funny.  It was absurd … some guys simply shouldn’t even try.  But it was also very cool to see some men getting the seriousness of the problem and doing what they could to help out.  Each participant collected pledges to be donated if they completed the mile.

Now, I have been very lucky.  I was never a witness to or present at a domestic violence situation.  At least not that I know of …

With 25% of all women experiencing domestic violence at some point in their life, you have to wonder.

I’ve been lucky … I think.

Tom Wolf, The Terrible

Tom "The Terrible" Wolf

Tom “The Terrible” Wolf

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has followed up his first blundering month in office with something a bit different …  Putting a stop to all forms of disagreement from within the Executive Branch of State Government!

Of course, when this happens you must have that first sacrificial lamb; and that lamb was the unfortunate, now former Chairman of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission, Bill Green.

Green was quickly and unceremoniously dumped from the chairmanship last week by Tom Wolf, The Terrible for crimes against the State, Education, and children of all ages.

His crime?  Disagreeing with Tom The Terrible (aka Triple T) on charter school applications in the Philadelphia School District!

You see, Triple T wanted the SRC to deny completely any and all applications for new charter schools in the beleaguered Philadelphia School District (PSD) for which the SRC has maintained oversight since December 2001.  The SRC resulted from frequent turmoil over school funding and poor performance, finally provoking the State to take over the schools.

Over the years, the situation became so bad in the school district that parents clamored for choices and a way to ensure quality educations for their children.  Part of the answer became privately run charter schools.

From the School Reform Commission website:

Charter Schools are independently operated public schools that are funded with federal, state and local tax dollars.  These schools are established to provide families with more educational alternatives for their children. Charters are non-profit, non sectarian, organizations that are approved by the local Board of Education   (the “authorizer”) or the State Appeal Board. Each charter has its own Board of Trustees and administrative staff and operates as a separate, independent  local educational agency (LEA) within Intermediate Unit 26 (IU 26).  The Pennsylvania Charter School Law – Act 22 of 1997 – set up charters to operate free of many of the local and state requirements that apply to traditional public schools.

Bill Green  He never had a chance!

Bill Green
He never had a chance!

The problem for the PSD is that the district – any school district, since charter schools are found throughout the state – must apportion any funding it receives to any charter school that enrolls district students.

Disagreement abounds about exactly what that cost is.  Current requirements state that a charter must be funded to $2000. per child enrolled.  The PSD asserts that the cost to the District is closer to $7000., but support for the figure is questionable.  Currently, the PSD faces an $80 million funding shortfall.

All this led to Triple T insisting that the SRC not approve ANY new charter school applications, despite parent pleas for more choices from even more charters, so long as they were properly overseen and provided quality education opportunities.

In February, faced with 39 applications for new charter schools, the SRC approved 5.

Yes, that’s right … just 5!

Many were disappointed in the SRC’s conservative approach.  Many expected 21 of 39 approvals.  Some were pushing for all 39!  The SRC approved 5.

No one was happy.  Not the Parents, not the State Legislature, not the school district.

Apparently Triple T was apoplectic!  So, just days later Triple T swung his mighty claymore and dislodged the Head of the SRC.

Tom's Terribly swift sword

Tom’s Terribly swift sword

Of course, the demoted – though yet to be completely vanquished – Bill Green should have seen this coming for miles from across the moor.  He should have seen Triple T’s armies amassed in the foggy distance.  Mighty steeds puffing hot breath in the cold, damp morning air.  A vista of cold steel held aloft by the minion army gathering and peering towards his vulnerable redoubt.

Or he could have just asked Eric Arneson, vanquished appointee to the Office of Open Records!

Those minions off in the distance?  Nothing more frightening than the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers!

You see, Triple T’s power – as a Democrat – rises and falls with the fortunes of public unions.  This is why Pennsylvanians will not see much-needed initiatives to quell the Public Pension problem from Triple T, nor changes to the anachronistic system of State Stores in the distribution of liquor products.  But you will see plenty of tax increases to keep the minions happy, their horses mobile!

Tom's Terribly swift Union minions

Tom’s Terribly swift Union minions

Triple T needs them!  He needs them badly!  And he will behave badly if it means keeping the minions in truncheons.

Perhaps the darkest visage however, delivered by that terrible swift Triple T sword, is that our state employees, managers, directors and commission members have now gotten the message.  Don’t cross the boss …

Not even when you are certain he is wrong … No matter how much experience, expertise, and value you bring to your job.  Don’t even suggest that your boss, Tom the Terrible, might be wrong.

You may just lose your head!

My troubles with the IRS

IRS-telephone-scamWell, it’s finally happened.  I have run afoul of the IRS!

After decades of diligently paying taxes and filing returns so simple I choose to do them myself, I must have done something very, very, very wrong!  ‘Cause now I have The Man pounding on my door (phone) demanding that I respond to their verbal warnings and threats of imminent “legal proceedings”.  Yet I don’t recall getting any official notices and threatening letters from the Internal Revenue Service, filled with mind-numbing bureaucratese, enumerating my heartless transgressions against the People of America that surely should have proceeded my run-in with the IRS’s latest crop of bird-dogging bounty hunters!

It’s a bit of a puzzle.

Most confusing is the IRS’s reliance on a bunch of poorly spoken “English majors” apparently based in either West Africa or the Indian sub-continent.  It’s kinda hard to decipher their dialects.  The first call was from the latter, the latest from the former.  Don’t these hunter-killer IRS units speak to each other?!?

The second Special Agent, who called himself “Don” with an Anglo-Saxon last name spoke in a heavy Punjabi or Urdu accent (I can never tell the two apart.), was much more pleasant than the previous Special Agent, who sounded much more African (if I can be so bold as to characterize his geographical-cultural orientation).

phone-scam“West Africa” didn’t leave a name, but he was very forceful and full of implied threats.  He made sure – in no uncertain terms – that we knew the serious of our crimes against America, Apple Pie, and Motherhood.  He demanded immediate redress from our answering machine!  (The greatest invention since the brewery!) Aggressive legal action was dangling by a single hair – like the Sword of Damocles – above our heads.  I was almost convinced a S.W.A.T. team was sitting out on our back deck awaiting the word to breach the doors and drag us all off to Debtor’s Prison.

OK … So it’s a scam.  A scam of the worst kind, intended to prey on the elderly, the disconnected, the easily spooked in nothing more than any of the other usual methods of stealing from the weak.

A coworker, who also received the dreaded Tax Man Cometh scam, had the opportunity to answer the phone before he realized the call was a baited fish-hook.  Once the gig was up, he simply asked the “agent” his name, identification code, and location so he could call back after reviewing his tax return.  He heard a rustling of paper in the background, undoubtedly as the “agent” checked for this unexpected turn in the prepared script.  Then the line went dead …

But you really do have to laugh at the desperation, the obvious inattention to detail, the amateurish attempts to portray Big Bad government agent, and the huge clues they drop that are almost as good as being caught with an exploding dye pack in the getaway car while still sitting in the bank parking lot!

For me, I had to laugh at Don of The Sub-Continent when he ended his call of dire warning and imminent legal and financial ruin with the following salutation:

“Good night and God bless”

Imagine that … An IRS attack dog that signs off saying, “God bless”!?!

Game, set, match …

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 …

 

 

Primary colors

Turnout in the Horsham 1-3 is approaching 10% (84 voters).  Not sure whether to be relieved that we might hit my 125 prediction or go take a nap …

Both maybe ….?

* * * * * *

So Pennsylvania’s DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) was struck down today.  Am I a bad person for not caring … Neither celebrating or belaboring …

is it OK that I never cared what others do in the privacy of their own world to express whatever love they feel?

Is it OK that accepting the concept of Personal Liberty, brought here in The Declaration of Independence – that makes this country so strong – leads me to the conclusion that I should have no feeling or take no action one way or the other?

Is it OK to be of the mind that I have way too much to manage in my own life to have the time, energy, or desire to manage everyone else’s life?

Can I rightfully believe that we have way too many and much more important issues and problems facing us than this?

DOMA’s dead?  Wonderful …

Now can we get some REAL problems solved?!?

 

The Power of Pancakes

pancakes2IHOP declared today to be National Pancake Day.  It says so on my Facebook feed, so it must be important.  It is also Happy Faschnaut Day, a.k.a. Donut Day.

National Carb Days are almost semi-religious holidays for corporate Big Carb evolving from fear for the dawning of the Christian Lenten season, where Catholics in good standing will forsake the siren calls of the IHOP/Dunkin Donut/soft pretzel triumvirate.

Well, maybe not so much the latter in this area.  That’s a Philly thing.  We can only go so far in demonstrating our devotion.  We barely survived edicts of meatless Fridays, which tended to put an economic crimp in the local cheesesteak economy.

In any the case, the point of this post is to celebrate the mystical properties of the pancake!  Any connection with National Pancake Day is purely coincidental.

I say this because I witnessed the Power of the Pancake this weekend!

The story has its genesis in the struggle of addressing the needs for elderly parent care.  There is never an easy solution to the question, what do you do when parents are aging to the point where more focused supervision is required?

My experience includes the breadth of care options available, from Independent Living through intensive, full-time managed care to end-life hospice services.  There are blessings and curses with each choice.

Our latest experience and challenge is the decision to invite our last parent to join us in our home.  My father-in law in a good guy, one I have always gotten along with though he has his blustery side and bouts with stubbornness.

When the choice was presented, I agreed easily enough, although there was a bit of anxiety about how such an arrangement might change a home dynamic with which we were all comfortable.  My wife’s piece-of-mind over a relative living alone was enough to persuade me.

KOQ-571.tifOur solution was to remodel our basement in recognition of my FIL’s desire to remain as autonomous as possible.  So autonomous in fact that his new digs are the nicest in our home (just in case your first impression was an episode right out of the King of Queens)!  The transition however has been anything but seamless.

We had to move him in earlier that expected and before his new palace was in move-in shape.  The remaining construction and approaching holidays made the situation a bit dicier, resulting in a hangover that threatened our expectations for limited disruption to the established household routine.

The difficulties which developed involved the usual sources of close-proximity conflict … mismatched expectations, fumbled communications, and the tendency to avoid rocking anyone’s boat at all costs.  Growing frustrations however required that the situation be addressed sooner rather than later; before the atmosphere we were trying to protect turned fetid, breeding anger.

I was tasked with being the Diplomat of Harmony.

My solution?  Breakfast!

nrAjVpmpU4T94vbK4Wmnt7_CmRKB49G7m-wiN6BxBqf03Octsc48KiZUqOpxXfhzNtnR=s151So this past weekend I invited my FIL out for breakfast at Hatboro Dish!  I did not tell him the reason for the invite.  Found out later he was suspicious, thinking we were going to through him out.  (Insert link for King of Queens episode)

Carol, not a fan of Big Breakfast, opted to let the guys hammer things out at an establishment full of sharp objects.

As we sat down, Jim dithered over the menu options.  I chose the bakery-quality cinnamon roll French toast, which is made by Lochel’s Bakery a few hundred feet up York Road, and Jim chose the pancakes … with strawberries … and whipped cream … soon to be marinated in maple syrup poured from a jar, not emptied from cheap plastic packaging.

Did I mention he’s diabetic?  However, it’s my belief that once you get to a certain age, you should be free to enjoy whatever you can, reasonably and safely.  I let him enjoy his loaded pancakes.

Once we finished our morning meals, it was time for The Talk.  Dreading the moment I put all my cards on the table, I wasn’t sure how Jim would take the challenge.  Changes had to be made.  But addressing them would not necessarily be easy.

What I found out though was that Jim was as unsettled about what was going on as we were.  We had a factual, very honest discussion of expectations vs. reality as it existed.  It was more relaxed than I had anticipated … a friendly, direct, unemotional conversation about how to improve the home situation.

Our discussion couldn’t have gone better.  Almost immediately function and comfort returned to our home!

Now this pleasant outcome could be attributed to a number of things –  personality traits, mindsets, shared values – that helped us at the breakfast table that day.  Either way you look at it, it’s hard to have a bad morning when looking over a stack of pancakes!