Archive for December, 2009

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CLOSE TO THE VEST

December 24, 2009

 

The stakes are high.

You’re compelled to “get in front of the situation,” but caution rules. The wrong call could cause an unwanted outcome. Though your competitive nature is in direct conflict with your pragmatism, you know – much like a good poker player knows – you must keep your “hand” close to the vest. Uninformed people are quick to judge, so you don’t allow their noise to define your strategy. Media claims you’re unwilling to fight for what you believe in. Like all of us, media is on the outside looking in and has very little real knowledge of how the “battle” is being waged. Contrary to what they tells us, and the overflow of “advice” so freely offered to you, they’re clueless.

You’re up against private sector interests that funnel millions of dollars into legislators’ campaigns to keep their profits high, while burdening our citizens with insurmountable costs thus reducing the quality of their lives.

Therefore, quitting is not an option.

You were elevated by millions who believed your words, saw your passion and trusted your wisdom. As a student of history, you anticipated many would become impatient and turn on you. I imagine you’ve said to yourself on more than one occasion, “It’s remarkable how much people expect in such a short period of time.”

Unlike other contests, your work didn’t begin until after the scrimmage was over and everyone went back to their normal routines. Now, far less engaged, watching from the sidelines, people expect things to move as fast as they did when they were in the game.

They believe they’re entitled to all that you promised, right here, right now, ignoring the obvious: major change takes patience and time.

Contrary to the words of your detractors, your accomplishments thus far are significant: The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act (Equal Pay for Women), State Children’s Health Insurance Program, 3.4% Raise for Military and Increase in Jobless BenefitsAmerican Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention ActCash for Clunkers Program9-11 National Day of Service and RemembranceFranken Anti-Rape Amendment (part of the Defense Appropriations Act of 2010), to name a few.

In addition, there are other achievements that have barely been reported on Electronic Medical Records Infrastructure,  Communications, Transportation, Education, Re-organization of the Auto Industry, Aid Commitment to Pakistan (with help from Japan), Anti-Gang and Anti-Gun Task Forces in Major Cities and Forest Conservation.

What you have in the works is very extensive. 

With all the slicing and dicing on every syllable of the current healthcare legislation, it is easy to ignore the magnitude of this endeavor. The whining from both sides of the aisle – which is good for the process – and the lame-brained, idiotic blather coming from Pundit World – which does nothing for the process – tramples the fact that you are closer to achieving major, sweeping social change, than any President since Franklin Roosevelt – in your first year.

As a Constitutional Scholar and former Harvard Law Review President, you know the amendments removed from this current version of the legislation – the ones causing supporters’ churn – can be introduced in subsequent bills and passed in reconciliation, after this bill is law. This would not only be more expedient, but would give political cover to those in your party who opposed these amendments when they were first introduced. Needing only 50 votes and Vice President Biden’s tie-breaking vote, those opposed could vote against the legislation, it would still pass, and everyone would be appeased. You also know announcing this strategy publically would shut down this historic legislation for at least another decade, thereby defining yours as a failed Presidency.

So why do people think you don’t get it? Why do they think you don’t know how to fight? Why do they think every “battle” has to be waged in front of a camera?

Your “No Drama Obama” calm exterior fools people into believing all of the above – none of which is true.

Why don’t those who said they trust you, trust you?

In last year’s campaign, a Clinton supporter told your wife, “Hillary will win the primary and the election because Barack doesn’t have what it takes to beat the Clintons.”

“You underestimate him at your peril,” replied Michelle.

She would know.

Sincerely,

www.MichaelKontras.com

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ADAM AND KENNY… POKHIAS?

December 21, 2009

 

 

“I thought I told you boys to never leave your bikes in the driveway!”

“We’re sorry,” we said in perfect unison. We had spoken those words so many times, one would think we were auditioning for “Leave It to Beaver.”

As she drove away, we rolled the now wobbly-wheeled bicycle to the front lawn, examining the damage and wondering how we were going to fix it without anyone noticing. I was five years old – my brother was four.

A few minutes later, a man pulled up in a car, got out and walked over to us.

“Hi Mike and Nick, I’m your dad.”

You guessed it. This post is about the first oldest son in our family.

I was born to William and Viola in 1950. In 1952, after having their second child in January, they separated. William enlisted in the Army and left my mother, my brother and I living with our grandmother on Hague Avenue on Columbus’ West Side.

A couple years later, the four of us moved to the North Side. My mother worked full time and continued with her college education at Ohio State. She was 24 years old. My grandmother (Yaya), Despina, was our other parent. My grandfather (Papou), Nicola, passed in 1946.

This first encounter with my biological father occurred in the summer of 1956.

“Tell your mom I’ll be calling her later. Can you do that for me?”

No doubt, our mouths were wide open as we nodded our heads up and down very slowly, never taking our eyes off this total stranger, who somehow knew our names.

This is all I remember about those few minutes. There was probably more conversation, but the shock of actually meeting him quickly erased those memories. We ran as fast as we could back to the house.

“Mom! Mom! We met our Dad! He’s going to call you!”

“What are you talking about?”

“Dad! He saw us in Jimmy’s front yard and talked to us!”

“How do you know he was your Dad?”

“Because he knew our names!”

She did in fact, receive a call. He asked her to join him in Baltimore but she refused, saying that she would only consider it if he had a good job and maintained it for at least a year.

We never moved.

Two years later, Mom had graduated from Ohio State University with a degree in Social Psychology. The divorce she filed on grounds of desertion was granted. She began using her maiden name.

Kontras.

I was born to William and Viola… Pokhias.

(Click on document to see full size)

I was baptized in the Greek Orthodox Church as Michael Pokhias.

My name remained Michael Pokhias until March 24, 1958, when Mom had my last name (and my brother’s) legally changed to her maiden name. This process involved receiving consent from the biological father, which he gave.

I understand why she did this. All of our relatives’ names were Kontras. Small kids are curious, so if our name was different than our cousins’, there would be some confusion. The name Kontras was well-respected in Columbus, and especially the Greek Community. We had an attorney/CPA, a doctor, a dentist, and an insurance agency all with the name. Add the other Kontrases throughout the country, and the list of professionals is extensive.

In 1961, mom married William… Petikas.

My stepfather is the only father I’ve ever known and loved, and still is. In order for us to have his name, he would have had to adopt us, which would require again contacting – and receiving permission from – our biological father, something I’m sure my mother had no desire to do.

I only saw William Pokhias one other time, in 1966. He was in Columbus on business. He called, wanting to see all three of us. Mom declined, but because we were in our mid teens, she allowed us to make our own decision.

I had just passed my driver’s test. Any excuse to drive was all I needed to say “yes,’ so I drove to downtown Columbus, with Nick riding “shotgun” in the family’s 1965 Pontiac.

We waited in the lobby of the Deshler Hotel, watching everyone who came off the elevators.

The fourth time an elevator door opened, a few men stepped into the lobby, and I knew immediately which one was William Pokhias. I saw myself in his face. I knew then what I would look like in my forties.

We drove to Jerry’s Drive-In, a North Columbus landmark that featured in-car dining in the late fifties and early sixties. It was the weekend hangout for all the hot-rodders. The restaurant is now a Tee-Jayes Restaurant.

We ordered Jerry’s “Super Jumbo” burgers and made small talk – Nick and I on one side of the booth, with William facing us from the other side. He smoked a cigarette after we ate, actually offering us one – which we refused. Thirty minutes later, we drove him back. The entire event didn’t last much more than an hour.

What do two teenagers say to a total stranger?

Very little.

What does an estranged father say to his sons?

Apparently, very little.

I went into that evening with no expectations and even less curiosity. I was not disappointed. I was being raised in a healthy environment, with a loving parent, step-parent and grandparent. I had all the essentials of a good family upbringing. There were no voids to be filled.

So Adam and Kenny, the next time somebody misspells or mispronounces our name, be thankful.

It could have been “Pōk–hī–as.”

Love,

www.MichaelKontras.com

A Political Post Script for Birthers: Note the copy of my birth certificate, which was issued in 1972 (22 years after my birth) is called a Certificate of Live Birth. If you’re still saying our President has not presented ample evidence of his birth in Hawaii with his Certificate of Live Birth, give it up.

NOTE: This story was read by an unknown niece of an unknown step brother. She contacted me in April of 2011. The rest of the story is now available here.

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YOUNGEST SON OF AN OLDEST SON – VOL. 1

December 19, 2009

MOTORHEAD

His bedroom was the biggest room in the house.

He needed it.

Unlike many of his friends, Kenny was not into video games and had no intention of mastering the computer. His was a very different passion.

He liked making things “go.” He once found a lawnmower that had been put to the curb for pick-up, wheeled it down the road, up our driveway and into the garage. Within a couple hours, he not only had the engine working, but had it mounted on an old wagon and was “riding” it back down the driveway.

He was twelve years old.

It was the same with every gas-powered engine he came across. If it wasn’t working, or was working poorly, he’d tear it apart, figure out how it worked, why it wasn’t working, and then get it running better than ever.

But like every teenager, he did overstep his bounds on occasion.

One evening, I walked in the back door to the unmistakable odor of an auto service garage. Kenny had brought into his bedroom (which was in the basement) a V-8 engine – a very large V-8 engine. God only knows how the steps survived the weight.

Assuming he understood why I was so upset, he said, “Don’t worry Dad, there’s no gas in it.”

Kenny! The whole house smells like Mr. Goodwrench! Get that thing outta here!”

As irritated as I was with the situation, I also gained an understanding about Kenny that heretofore, was only a passing thought.

He has a gift and passion for understanding mechanics. His love of the workings of cars and motorcycles equaled my love of music. He, like me, was blessed to have learned this about himself at a young age. And as music did for me, mechanics kept Kenny from experiencing many teenage pitfalls.

Thanks to my wife’s connection with a well-established neighborhood auto repair service, Kenny was allowed to apply for a job at age fifteen. I drove him to the location and waited in the car. I thought to myself, “If he comes back in ten minutes, he didn’t get the job.”

A half hour later, he comes strolling out of the building, expressionless.

“So how’d it go?”

In typical teenage fashion, he responded, “Okay.”

I thought to myself, “This kid would make a great poker player. His face reveals nothing.”

“Did you like the place?” I asked, hoping for more than a one word answer.

“Yeah.”

(No luck.)

“So did the owner like you?”

“Yeah.”

(Sigh.)

Realizing he was not going to offer any more syllables than absolutely necessary, my curiosity got the best of me. “Well, did you get the job?”

Completely shocked that I would even ask, he says, “Come on, Dad. Of course I got the job. I know more than most guys that have worked in a shop for two years!”

He was right.

Our next-door neighbor is a man who knows auto mechanics inside and out. He has a degree in psychology but at that time, was the supervisor of a very large manufacturing company that builds Mobile Veterinary Hospitals and Mobile S.W.A.T. Team Police Units which are delivered nationwide. In his spare time, he raced a 1967 Chevy Camaro he has owned for more than 20 years. He also owns two, top-notch Harley-Davidson motorcycles. When he was a boy living in Northern Ohio, there was a man in his neighborhood that taught him all about cars and he passed that knowledge onto Kenny, along with many great life lessons.

From the time Kenny was in his early teens, his head was under the hood of that Camaro as often as possible, helping the neighbor. He also worked on the motorcycles and other cars brought to our neighbor’s house for repair. (BTW: the tatoo is fake.)

To this day, he and Kenny are still the best of friends. Our neighbor became a mentor to him. He helped keep Kenny grounded in a way that parents can’t always accomplish. Even though the messages were congruent, it was the neighbor’s words that seemed to have the most impact during those critical mid-teen years. I couldn’t be more thankful.

In the nearly four years he’s had a driver’s license, Kenny has owned more vehicles than I’ve owned in the last twenty years and seems to be on a first-name basis with the people at the Deputy Registrar’s office. He currently owns a Volkswagen Jetta and this Suzuki motorcycle.

He’s been employed as an auto and/or truck mechanic since that first job, where he stayed for two years. His passion for mechanics has not faded although his desire now is to get involved in designing and building custom engines.

 

Apparently, at the tender age of twenty (next month), he’s “outgrown” simply repairing cars. 🙂

Sincerely,

www.MichaelKontras.com

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“HOBBY”

December 15, 2009

 

The Battle of the Bands is in two weeks.

It’s a big deal: TV, radio and newspaper coverage, a live recording featuring the top five bands on a two-disc LP and all-but-guaranteed additional bookings.

You’ve been saving money from your after-school job for nearly a year, working for $1.45 an hour. You need $995. You know it will add a new dimension to the band’s sound and could certainly help in this contest. You have it on lay-a-way, but it won’t be paid off in time for the “battle.”

There’s only one thing you can do: ask the music store owner to let you use the electric piano that afternoon and then return it – something he has never allowed with an item this expensive. Because of it’s popularity with national groups like The Left Banke and The Association, it’s in high demand and his is one of only three in the entire state.

To your complete surprise, he honors your request.

After the event, you go back to the store, excited to tell him your band came in second place and came close to garnering the top spot because that band violated one of the rules and was nearly disqualified. The owner smiles warmly while you recap the day’s events. “Man, it was incredible! There were so many people! You should’ve been there! It was great!” As you head out the back door to bring in the keyboard, you feel a tap on your shoulder.

“Just take it home with you and keep paying on it like you’ve been doing. I know you’re good for it.”

“Really? Thank you! Thank you!

“You’re welcome. Oh, and by the way, I look forward to seeing your band again.”

“Again?”

“Yes, again. I was there today. You guys were great.”

The rest of the summer is a whirlwind of engagements, local TV show appearances and newspaper articles. You’re having the time of your life.

But then comes Fall and with it, the start of another school year.

It also means the 2nd Annual Lecture on putting aside what grown-ups are reluctant to even call a “hobby.” This time, the lecture comes from an uncle on your mother’s side, who, for some inexplicable reason, feels she needs his help raising you.

He starts out with the usual, “It’s time to put away the music and concentrate on your studies.”

This year, you decide to disagree. “I can do both.”

“No you can’t, and you won’t,” he says, truly startled at your opposition to his command. “Playing music will get you nowhere. You need to forget this nonsense and bury yourself in your schoolwork!”

Then comes the “never-been-done-before” move: you talk back to your uncle. “I just shelled out a thousand bucks on this ‘nonsense’ and I am not going to forget about it for the next nine months.” You back up slightly as the last words come out of your mouth.

In rapid-fire, non-cohesive – yet seemingly rehearsed – verbal bursts, he yells, “What did you say? You can’t talk to me that way! How much? Does my sister know about this?”

Feeling somewhat confident that you weren’t going to get knocked across the room, you only answer the last question. “Yup. Mom was there when I bought it.”

Now comes the other lecture – the one where your mother scolds you for talking back to an elder and implicating her as a co-conspirator. But after a few finger-pointing comments, she finds humor in the situation.

“You really said that to him?” she asks, starting to smile.

“Yeah. I guess I should’ve kept my mouth shut,” you admit, while revealing a certain pride in your “performance.”

Breaking into laughter, she says, “Yes, you should’ve.” Then, with a failed attempt at regaining her “I’m-upset-with-you” composure, she mumbles, “Don’t let your grades slip.”

She had a love for dance, working her way through college teaching at an Arthur Murray Dance Studio. Her unrealized dream was to someday go to New York and dance on Broadway. At seventy years old, she still commanded attention when she hit the floor.

Thanks for understanding, Mom.

Sincerely,

www.MichaelKontras.com

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MITCH’S METAMORPHOSIS

December 9, 2009

Most of us have heard the phrase, “Talking out of both sides of your mouth.”

Politicians are infamous for the tactic – on all sides of the political spectrum. There’s always a majority party and a minority party, each browbeating the other and themselves in the ongoing struggle to remain relevant in an environment toxic with blather. Add punditry and you have so much noise, even I, who enjoys a good political debate, am flipping channels. A little fiction goes a long way towards escape from the all-too-boring, never-ending, non-substantive discussions that regurgitate and re-digest the same nine-second sound bites for days.

At least there’s an end to a “Law and Order” episode.

I continue to be amused by the lack of knowledge many politicians display about the “Information Age.” They still don’t understand there’s always someone watching, listening and now, recording. They continue to reveal their more-than-obvious biases, and then deny the very words that belie them.

Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Senate’s Minority Leader, is one of these politicians.

Senator; Contradicting yourself from week to week or month to month is something we’ve come to expect. We know you don’t have any real solutions. We know the status quo is fine by you. You have the best of everything life has to offer. But why would you take a stand against the majority party on an issue, only to completely reverse your position  the very next day?

And then post all of it on your website.

The Senate voted 100-0 to protect Medicare benefits on December 3, thus putting to rest any fears that people might have about their care. In an article from the Associated Press, Ricardo Alonso Zaldivar writes, “…amendment by Sen. Michael Bennet, (D-CO) …that no benefits in … Medicare will be cut by the (healthcare) legislation, was approved 100-0.”

On Sunday, December 6, 2009, this was on the front page of Mitch McConnell’s website.

So after a unanimous vote to protect Medicare benefits, McConnell, on his website, continued making the false, fear-based claim that if the Democrats have their way, Medicare reimbursements would be reduced, thus reducing care for millions of elderly Americans. The truth is Medicare Advantage (not Medicare) – which is privately run healthcare insurance and has nothing to do with Medicare or Medicaid but gets subsidized with our tax dollars – would no longer get those subsidies. This is a ten year savings of well over $100  billion, that is now being realized as profits by these insurance companies.

In a rare Sunday session on that same December 6th, there was a discussion of expanding Medicare to those 55 and older. The plan would not only reduce the number of uninsured, but would also strengthen Medicare for those already in the system, thereby assuring Medicare reimbursements would not only remain stable, but could actually increase in some areas, further helping the very same people McConnell was “so worried” about. Here’s his website page on December 7th.

It’s time to retire, Senator.

Sincerely,

www.MichaelKontras.com

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YOU CAN’T FIX STUPID

December 7, 2009

Newspaper editors are not what they used to be.

 

Here’s a couple of ads that should have never seen print.

I hope you weren’t eating.

Sincerely,

www.MichaelKontras.com

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ARE YOU SURE?

December 2, 2009

Dear Mr. President,

Are you sure?

I applaud you for not concerning yourself with politics in making your decision. I will not however, commend you for taking time to consider every possible option. It’s part of your job description. This is why I voted for you. I wanted pragmatic, discerning leadership in the White House.

But are you sure?

 

I watched the young cadets as they watched you. It is possible some may be lost in battle because of your decision. It is possible one of these faces could someday belong to Malia or Sasha. I know you understand this. As you embraced these cadets after your address, I couldn’t help but wonder how soon their wide-eyed youthful faces would be forever hardened and pre-maturely aged by the horrific experiences of war.

So, are you sure?

I trust you are implementing this plan with knowledge that far exceeds my own. I am but a distant observer; knowing only what I hear and read – and what history teaches. I believe you have information of the region’s extremely volatile nuclear situation that neither can be, nor should be shared publically. I “hear” you when you say this is not like previous conflicts.

But are you sure?

Your eyes revealed more than your words as you addressed our nation and the world last night. I saw great concern, not about your decision, but about unknown consequences. You displayed “heaviness of heart’ through your facial expressions. This tells me you did not come to your conclusions with ease.

 

 

So, if you’re sure, I’m with you.

I will set aside my personal ideology.

Sincerely,

www.MichaelKontras.com