What the heck is bonded leather – 2015 edition – Bob’s Discount Furniture is still at it.


bonded leather sofa  Isn’t it pretty?

I continue to see retailers like Bob’s Discount Furniture advertise and sell furniture made out of something called “bonded leather”.

I’ve written about this before. What’s new?  Reputable furniture sellers are now refusing to sell furniture made of “bonded leather” because so many customers have complained (and filed law suits) regarding bonded leather.

If you want to save money, and don’t care that your “leather” furniture will peel and flake like it has a sunburn within months of purchasing it, then by all means, run down to Bob’s Discount Furniture and have at it.

If you actually want something of better quality, something that will last, something you can be proud of – go somewhere else, and then ask a lot of questions.

If you already purchased your “leather” furniture from Bob’s or anywhere else, here’s an easy way to know whether or not you got real leather.

Do you find your leather furniture makes you sweat and stick to the furniture?  If so, it’s not real leather.  Real leather breathes.  It’s an organic product.  It won’t make you sweaty or sticky any more than a fabric sofa.  Don’t confuse this with automobile leather.  Automotive grade leather is often coated to withstand extreme cold and heat.  You can’t compare a car with leather upholstery sitting in the sun for hours where the interior can climb to 140 degrees F, to the leather on your sofa. However, you may notice now, that higher end vehicles come with leather that is perforated or mechanically cooled with fans inside the seats.

Bonded Leather shouldn’t even have the word leather in the name.  It is reconstituted hide scraps mixed with several other things – some recognizable, some not so much.  It is made in a similar fashion as paper – pulverized wood shavings, with other additives, are mashed together in a big blender and then extruded into sheets.  With bonded leather, it’s leftover leather waste products from actual tanned leather that is dried, then pulverized, then mixed with paper bits, cardboard, and any number of other things they find.  It is then extruded into long sheets that have a fiber or paper backing.  Industry standards vary by country.  For example in the U.S.A, bonded leather must contain 60% “leather fibers” (that doesn’t mean actual tanned leather).  In Europe the standards are higher with the requirement of 50% (wet or dry measure) of actual leather.  But in places like Asia requirements for use of the term Bonded Leather only require that as low as 20% of the pulp extrusion be leather fibers and/or leather products.  Much of the furniture sold in the United States at discount furniture establishments, and stored like Walmart, Ikea, etc. comes from China.

Bonded leather is leather like a hot dog is a prime cut of beef.

Recipe for Bonded Leather:

– Take 20% of leftover leather shavings that you purchase in bulk from a tannery,
– Add recycled paper products, cardboard, cut-up foam from yoga mats, rat droppings from the factory floor (anything really, because – there is no regulation).
– Put it all in a very large blender, on high, until silky smooth smooth.
– Pour that “slurry” onto a cookie sheet and bake in the oven at a very low temperature – maybe just keep it on “warm” – until it is dried out completely. Don’t forget to spray the cookie sheet with cooking spray (or any petroleum product you have lying around).
– When dry, peel it off the cookie sheet carefully and wrap it around a particle board frame.
– Sell it to Bob’s Discount Furniture as a “Bonded Leather Sofa”.  It’s completely legal.

To make it even easier you can simply pour the slurry into a “sofa mold” – similar to pouring Jello into a Bundt cake pan.  It take a little longer to dry (cure), but all you have to do it cut the mold away when you’re done.

If you don’t believe me about all of this.  Here is a video of how they make bonded leather:

And here is a video of how one company makes real leather:

Working with leather is an art-form that has been around for thousands of years.  Retailers like Bob’s Discount Furniture in New England (mostly) proudly sell furniture made of bonded leather, yet few consumers know about bonded leather.  They are too embarrassed to ask, thinking they should already know what it is.  And since it has the word “leather” in it, that’s good, right?  Bonded Leather is not real leather.  It’s a word gimmick.  It is the cheapest of cheap materials and it was invented because of what else? Greed – misrepresenting what a product is in order to sell huge amounts of it at cheap prices.

By the way, I just purchased a sofa, online, from a furniture manufacturer in North Carolina.  I was able to select my leather from the many, many swatches they sent me prior to my final purchase.  It’s a beautiful sofa and I spent about $500 more for it than I would have for bonded leather at the local furniture store.   The difference is, for $500 more I get a sofa I will have for 20 years, instead of 3 years.

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Lighthouse Keepers Cleaning, Wells, Maine – Review


 

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything on my blog but I feel so strongly about this that I simply had to warn people.

If you don’t feel like reading this entire posting, the bottom line is, in my opinion, DO NOT HIRE BEN OLIVER FROM LIGHTHOUSE KEEPERS CLEANING IN WELLS, MAINE

If you search online for Lighthouse Keepers Cleaning service in Wells, ME, you won’t find much, if any, information. No web site for this company exists, no HomeAdvisor.com listing, and I could find no listing, even on generic indexes of business through various services like the online Yellow Pages.  I assumed this was a small business with not much of an online presence.  I should have seen a red flag. But I was in a hurry and made a rushed decision.

Lighthouse Keepers Cleaning, or specifically its owner, Ben Oliver of Wells, ME, was recommended to me by the person who cleans my carpets.  I found my carpet cleaner through Home Advisor.  He was excellent, professional, friendly, and stood behind his work.  He’s great at what he does and I will use him again.  I gave him high marks on HomeAdvisor.com where I found his company.  I don’t want to name his company here so it doesn’t get mixed up with this review. But, I trusted his judgment and recommendation.

I first met Ben Oliver when we scheduled a meeting at my apartment so I could get an estimate.  He seemed friendly, actually overly friendly, but nice enough.  When he entered my apartment he immediately started evaluating my “stuff” (my belongings), not the job itself.

I am a smoker and after 15 years of living here, I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to get everything cleaned perfectly. The landlord won’t repaint, so I was considering paying for it myself.  But to do that, everything needed to be cleaned including the walls and ceiling.  Ben Oliver assured me that he would talk care of that.  I was told that his company always starts a new customer with a “big cleaning”; which meant everything from top to bottom including walls, ceiling, baseboards, behind the fridge, etc.  He wanted to charge me $200 for this cleaning.  I asked if he could come down at all on that and we agreed on $175.  I thought, for that, it was worth it.

We scheduled it for a few days later.  I gave him my house keys during the first meeting because I intended to use him on a regular basis, once a month, after the “big cleaning”.  On the morning he was to arrive, I left a check for $175.00

When I got home that day, at first glance the place appeared to look good.  The first thing I noticed was a broken light bulb, still in its socket, in the bathroom.  I wasn’t too upset by that but thought it was odd he didn’t tell me.  When he was there giving the estimate we talked about previous cleaners I had used and how they had broken things and never told me.  I assured him that if something were to happen, it’s not that big of a deal, just tell me and if its something of value, we’ll work it out in some way.  He agreed.

The next thing I noticed was some white powdery stuff (it looked like comet cleanser) in front of my fridge.  I got out the all purpose cleaner and a paper tower to wipe it up.  But when I wiped it up, the paper towel came up completely BLACK.  i sprayed a little more Fantastik farther away from the original spot and the same thing happened; completely Black. I took a picture where I re-sprayed the original spot a second time.

kitchenfloor

So this is after I cleaned it once.  I should have taken a pic of the first one but didn’t think about the bigger problem until I had already thrown the first one away and took out the garbage. But this is what it looked like AFTER I cleaned the spot.  And as I cleaned further, it just got worse.

This is a picture of my range hood where he used BLEACH!  Can you see the white discoloration and permanent drip mark?

rangehood

And this is a picture of the space between my fridge and the wall where some plastic molding from my fridge is wedged in there and I can’t get it out.. I don’t even know where it belongs.

fridge part

The Walls and Ceiling were NEVER cleaned.

When I called Ben Oliver of Lighthouse Keepers Cleaning, he acted like he didn’t know who I was.  How may people with my name did he have as a customer?  on that day?  When I started explaining the first issue of the kitchen floor, his response was “To be honest, your whole house was black”.  First, that’s insulting.  Second, it’s unprofessional. Third, we had already talked about smoke damage issues, and the linoleum flooring in my kitchen is something I’ve cleaned myself in the past and it’s never been black.  After a long day of work, I wasn’t in the mood to have some argument with him.  In my opinion, he was more concerned about being “right” than about the job he had done that was substandard  at best.  His response should have been “I’m so sorry, let me come back and take a look at it and fix it” to keep his customer happy and stand behind his work.  At the very least he should have agreed to come and look at it.

But in my opinion his personality, and ego, prevented him from being professional. It seemed that in his mind, he is right, he’s always right, and how dare I question him.

So I wrote an email to him about the issue.  I explained my concerns and gave him every opportunity to make good on is cleaning job.

He never responded to the email. I sent him a text asking if he’d read the email.  His text response was that he hadn’t received it and if I wanted to contact him I should do it between business hours Monday through Friday, 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM.

At that point, I was done trying to rectify the situation.  I sent him a text asking for my keys back.  I work in the town where he lives. So I asked him to drop off my keys at my office with the receptionist.  It wasn’t far out of his way and I was scheduled to be off that next day anyway; I didn’t want a run-in with him.  But as it turn out I did have to go into work that next day.

At one point during that day, I heard front door to our office slam and the owner of the company for whom I work came into my office with my house keys dangling in her hand and said “Some guy just dropped these off for you and said to tell you to never call him again!”.  She sort of stared at me funny.  My mouth dropped.  I was mortified.  To walk into a place of business, as a business owner himself, and make a scene over a set of keys, is reprehensible behavior.  It was none of anyone’s business but he made it personal.

The bottom line here is DON’T HIRE Lighthouse Keepers Cleaning in Wells, Maine.  From my experience, you will be overcharged for shoddy work, and he won’t take any responsibility for work that wasn’t done or for work done poorly.  He is unprofessional, and while I try very hard not to judge people based their personality, or who they are, or aren’t, in this case, all of those issues play and were a big part in how all of this went down.   Additionally, there are things missing from my house that I can’t explain or prove. I never even got into that with him.  I’m not a lawyer and can’t accuse without proof, and just wanted it all out of my life.

As I said at the start, I don’t post to my blog very often these days.  However, this situation warranted some action on my part.  I couldn’t find any reviews of him or his company, so somebody needed to speak up.  I wish I had some sort of review to go on; instead I took the word of someone I trusted.  I believe that Lighthouse Keepers Cleaning can’t be found online because he doesn’t want a place online for anyone to review him.

Heidi Johnston – Allstate should be ashamed, and her license should be pulled


For openers, I have the email, voice mail, and recorded phone calls to prove this.

– – – – – – –

Heidi Johnston and her staff of 1 – Jeramy Wyatt, participate in Scam “insurance inquires” and Johnston buys bulk data from data-mining companies like HomeTownQuotes.com.

This agency contacted an employee of our company on his company cell phone number claiming they were calling him based on his inquiry and that they could save him money on his car insurance. This was totally false. The employee in question is a kid barely out of high school who is not Internet savvy. All he knew was that he paid a lot (for him) for car insurance through State Farm (although he is very happy with State Farm). But when someone calls from “Allstate” claiming they can get you car insurance for $39/month (I listened to the voice mail that originated the exchange between Johnston and our employee) why wouldn’t he contact them.

I got involved because after the conversation with Allstate/Johnston/Wyatt (for which Johnston admitted later to me on the phone that she “wrote the script”) our employee thought about it a bit a realized something might be amiss. Since I’m the IT Manager and handle all things Internet, he told me about the call.

I called and spoke with both Wyatt and Johnston. They claimed that our employee initiated the inquiry even though what started this whole exchange was a voice mail from Wyatt. Our employee never inquired to anyone or any company about car insurance. In fact, at the exact time of day when Heidi Johnston claims they received the information from HomeTownQuotes.com (and she confirmed they get those inquiries instantly) he was working here in the office with no access to a computer. In fact he was in MY office at the time working on a cell phone issue. I had his phone which is his only access to the Internet during the day.

The bottom line is that I am shocked as a former Allstate customer that they allow agent like Heidi Johnston and/or Jeramy Wyatt (yes that’s how you spell it) to purchase bulk data from scam artists, and then cold call unsuspecting people claiming they are “returning a call in response to their request”.

When I asked Heidi Johnston about this, her response was “yeah,, I was 20 years old once too, but I knew better than to give out my information to anyone over the phone or otherwise”.

So they won’t admit that they were scamming our employee but DID admit they our employee should have been wary of Heidi Johnston in the first place.

4-rth Sustainable Fashion – Unsustainable Business Practices – Don’t buy from them.


When you find a company like 4-rth (pronounced “for earth”) you want to believe…….

It took me a long time to find quality, somewhat affordable yoga clothes for men.  I wanted them not only for yoga but because they’re comfortable for everyday use, when made with quality.  When I found 4-rth online, they had some cool clothes for guys.  The most interesting, different, and fashionable was the cuffed yoga short for men.  People tell me I write too much (too long), so I’ll try to shortcut this with bullet points.

Cuffed Yoga Pants (Cinnabar w/Grey)

  • I purchased the yoga shorts pictured above.  Note the gray cuff around the bottom of the leg.
  • When I received them, I really liked them but noticed that the cuff was orange, like the short, not gray.
  • When I pointed this out, Doug Donahue (Owner, CEO?,- basically the only person that works there apparently) responded to my email as follows:
    • “excellent eyes you have! 🙂 sorry about that — in that production run, that was an oversight by our production team so they all came out that way but we’ll go back to the Gray cuff in future production runs
    • He also added “p.s. – we have TWO new color-ways coming out in that pant”
    • Translation: “Oops – you noticed, huh.  Oh well.  But we have more stuff for you to buy.
  • I responded to his email and told him that his response wasn’t really unacceptable.  He never offered to replace them or exchange them.  I explained to him how customer service worked and gave him several suggestions to make his customer service better.  I gave him every opportunity to make it better.  I wasn’t mean or snarky.  I was honestly trying to help him.  I wanted him to succeed – and I told him so.
  • Doug Donahue’s response was “Please feel free to use my friends & family discount anytime — it’s good for 15% off at any time of the year! the code is: 4RTH”
    • Translation:  Feel free to REPURCHASE what you already thought you were purchasing – because as I said the next production run “should” be OK.  And you can buy them at a 15% discount.
  • So I can buy the shorts that I thought I had already did buy – at a 15% discount.  How nice.  And they “may or may not” arrive as shown in the picture on his web site.
  • I explained that repurchasing an article of clothing, simply because what I received wasn’t as advertised, was not my idea of fixing the problem.  I explained further how customer service worked.  I explained that I had planned on buying many more items from 4-rth.  However, since I couldn’t trust that I would get what I ordered, or that the follow up customer service would correct the problem, I simply could not do that.  I gave him another opportunity to fix the problem.  I had worn the shorts, but considering they were a design that he didn’t even sell, why would he want them back anyway, even if I had never worn them.  All he had to do was send me the correct product, at his expense, and I would have been a happy camper.  I would have been ready, willing, and able to buy more items in his men’s line AND tout his company on my blog.

This was a ridiculous exchange.  Mr. Donahue should have simply fixed the problem.  He sold me a product that was manufactured incorrectly.  Some may say “It’s just a cuff on a pair of shorts – who cares”.  Well, there are such things as false advertising, integrity, standing behind your products, and good customer service.  Plus, to be honest, from a fashion standpoint, the gray contrasting cuff was what made these shorts unique.

Doug Donahue must have a huge ego for him not to just fix this – easily.  He could not and would not admit that he was wrong.  He sold me a product and the product I received was not like the one pictured.  It’s a simple problem and a simple fix.  I should not have taken many, many emails to address – only to get absolutely nowhere.

I noticed that on his web site, he has “celebrities” like singer Daughtry saying he thought the stuff was cool, and Queer Eye cast member Jai Rodriguez pictures with Doug.  I’m betting if I were a celebrity the problem would have been corrected immediately.  I probably would have received his entire line of clothing as a “gift”.  But since I’m not a celebrity and Doug Donahue’s goal is to be rich and famous and hobnobbing with the rich and famous, he could care less about me, a lowly customer who received a product that was made wrong in the factory.

I gave Mr. Donahue many, many chances.  I even told him about the power of word of mouth (or word of word).  I told him I would hold back from writing anything negative about him or his company because I believed he would do the right thing to rectify the problem.

He Didn’t.  And so I’m writing to let people know what they are in for if they choose to purchase merchandise from 4-rth.com.  Some will think I’m just pissed off and it’s just sour grapes.  I assure you that is not true.  At one point I told Mr. Donahue that I had a lot of experience with online shopping and would be happy to work with him to ensure his customers were satisfied at all levels.  The customer is always right and it’s a company’s job to make sure the customer is happy.  I wasn’t asking for anything unreasonable – I was only asking for WHAT I HAD ORDERED AND PAID FOR.

Restoration Hardware is less trustworthy than Walmart


rh

When a presumed reputable company like Restoration Hardware has a sale, and they say the sale will end on a specific date, most believe this to be true.  RH had a “sale” going on that “ended” on February 10, 2014.  One of the sale items was a somewhat expensive linen sheet set in various bedding sizes, and colors.  A friend of mine had received them recently and had them on her own bed, and on the bed in her guest room.  I experienced these sheets on a recent visit to her house and was amazed. They truly are a unique and awesome item if you love your bed and don’t mind spending a few bucks on it.

Because of the cost, I was hesitant, but I really wanted these sheets.  I received an email from Restoration Hardware on February 10, REMINDING me that the sale was ending on that day.

I bit the bullet and placed my order.  I didn’t want to miss out on the sale price, or possibly experience a lack of color choices.  I order the sheets.

The next day, I happened to check the RH web site and guess what?  The sale had been extended for “one more day”. They specifically stated that the sale was extended to February 11.

I sent an email to Restoration Hardware Customer Service asking what the deal was and why were they actively participating in such low-class tactics.  I expect more from them.  I didn’t use those words; I was much more diplomatic, but I was clear about how I felt.  I never received a reply.

Now it’s February 12 and guess what.  Not only is the sale STILL going on, but the wording about the sale being “extended” has been removed.  After my email, the “end date” of the sale suddenly vanished.

For those of you who hold Restoration Hardware in high regard (as I used to), let me tell you that they are no different than any other retailer.  Amazingly, even Walmart ends a sale when they say it’s going to end.  I have purchased items from Walmart for our business, at times, because they had the best price.  But their sales do end.

So if Restoration Hardware has lower standards than WalMart……….

UPDATE:  I received an email reply from Tricia Lavy in Customer Care at Restoration Hardware a short time after I wrote this posting, who said (and I quote exactly) ” Please be assured that the extension of this promotion was a last minute decision, and the promotion was extended an additional day to provide our customers with one last opportunity to take advantage of the sale. It was never our intention to make you feel misled by our recent decision to extend the promotion. ”

This was written to me TWO days after the “sale” had ended, and ONE day after the “extended” date, yet the sale continued.  Now it is February 13th.  Day three since the sale ended and TWO DAYS after the “extension”.  Guess what?  The “limited time sale” CONTINUES.  Restoration Hardware continues to mislead consumers.

Frank & Oak last rites


I have to hand it to Frank & Oak for trying.  If you read my last post about them, they were concerned about the bad press generated by said blog post, and offered my readers a 20% discount.

I also received a free item from F&O because I told them I wouldn’t rescind anything I said about the company unless I tested the products again:  It was a french terry pullover in dark blue.

To be frank (no pun intended), the pullover was “just ok” for quality.  The french terry was a very tight weave.  Even in an extra large (and I’m not really that big, but I ordered larger due to my experience with their sizes), I had to shimmy into the thing.  The fabric doesn’t move with you, or stretch at all.  It’s tight – like wearing burlap.  I gave it to a female friend of mine who is much smaller than I am, and while she liked the “idea” of it, she won’t wear it either because it is simply not comfortable.

With all that has happened between me and the company of Frank & Oak, I have to say I am finally done with them.  From what I can tell based on responses to my original review of Frank & Oak, there are many, many of you out there who are also “done” and will not do business with Frank & Oak any longer.

I wish the company the best; I honestly do.  But until they up their game in merchandise quality, accurate, detailed descriptions of their products, and better customer service, I don’t see Frank & Oak as a survivor.  Not unless they are relying on pseudo-style-conscious “men” who don’t give a damn about quality, of course.

I know pronounce my relationship with Frank & Oak dead.  I’m calling it.  Time of Death – 11:54 AM February 12, 2014.  It lingered way longer than it should have.

Frank & Oak is taking itself seriously, finally. Offers Discount Code.


frankandoak-logojpg

It’s been a little over a year since I wrote my review of Frank & Oak – the online men’s clothing box service.  To my surprise, in the past year I’ve had about 14,000 people visit/read that one individual posting.  It’s received far more attention than anything else I’ve written on this blog.

Two days ago I received another comment from a visitor which I did not approve to be posted onto my blog.  The comment was from someone who worked at Frank & Oak.  It was an apology to me and my readers for the troubles that I or anyone else had experienced.  It went on to say the F&O had done a lot to improve and then, at the end, offered a 10% discount code to me and/or my readers.

I wasn’t too happy with that.  First, I didn’t feel that an employee of a company should use a comment section my blog as a marketing tool in response to a bad review of their company.  My blog is personal opinion.  I have no agenda other than to tell the truth about things that have happened to me.  Second, 10 percent??  That barely would cover the sales tax for most people.  So it all came off a bit hollow.  I responded to the commenter with my thoughts.  But it all turned out much differently than I thought it would.

As it turns our Roger Emeka is a very sincere gentleman (guy) who is truly trying to restore the Frank & Oak brand.  He’s honest, and generous, and very straight-forward.  There was no disrespect intended.  I asked him to change the comment a bit and offer a:

20% discount to my readers. 

which he did,

The discount code is FRANKCARES20

I approved his edited comment.  To see his comment, go to the original post and scroll down to the comment section: https://noagenda.wordpress.com/2012/07/30/frank-oak-is-frankly-a-joke/

I’ll have more on Frank & Oak coming soon.  To anyone who was disappointed with Frank & Oak, at this point, at least consider giving them a second look.

A brother’s pride and joy


the-brothers-and-the-sea-smallCredit: Artist – Jenny Armitage

One day, a man’s TV broke.  It was a nice high def TV that he had for only 6 years.  The original TV was about $1,800.  It wasn’t a top-of-the-line TV but it was very good quality.  He called the local shop where he bought it, and also called the manufacturer, both of whom said it couldn’t be fixed.  The man was upset, really upset.  This was just one more thing that had gone wrong; one more thing in a line of things that overwhelmed him.  At the time he bought this nice TV, he had the money to do so.  He no longer had resources that afforded him the luxury of buying luxury items when he wanted them.  He borrowed some money from a very good friend to buy a new TV.  Not exactly what he would have bought under different circumstances just something relatively affordable that he could afford to pay back to his friend over time.  It may seem strange to feel you need, or are entitled, to own a television.  For this man, after living a comfortable life for many years, now faced with staring at a broken TV that he couldn’t afford to replace, was a constant reminder of his failures.

At the same time, in another place, a much younger man had a brother who was recently married.  This young man didn’t have much money to buy his brother and new sister-in-law a wedding present.  He was a bit distraught and for several months was trying to figure out a way to give the newlyweds (but especially his brother) something nice; something that they could use; something they didn’t have and couldn’t afford to buy, something he could afford.  That’s a tall order to fill.  But this younger man was patient.

The older man who had the broken TV, and the younger man worked at the same company.  The older man, having back trouble, asked the younger man to help him carry his new TV up the many stairs to his apartment.  The younger man, always eager to help anyone in need, was quick to say yes, that he would be happy to help.  When the younger man brought the TV up the 39 stairs to the older man’s apartment, the younger man asked what was wrong with the broken TV.  The older man showed the younger man how the TV picture was all messed up, and told the younger man the story of the TV being irreparable.  The “experts” said that the problem was the “T-Com” board (whatever that means), and the manufacturer didn’t even sell those boards anymore, hence why it couldn’t be fixed.  The younger man mentioned that he liked to tinker with electronics and asked that if it was OK with the older man, he’d like to take the broken TV, if for no other reason than to take it apart and see how it worked.  The older man was wondering how he was going to get rid of the old TV so he was pleased that the younger man wanted to take it.

About a month later, the younger man arrived at work one day and asked to speak to the older man.  The younger man wanted to tell him about the old TV.  Surprise cast a shadow on the older man’s face.  What was he talking about?  The younger man said that he had struggled with the old TV for a while.  But, after a few attempts on Ebay he was able to find the right T-Com board for the TV.   The younger man was a very curious and tenacious person.  He liked to learn about electronics.  The first T-Com board he bid on and got on Ebay, was the wrong one.  It took him a long time to find another possible fit.  So he bid on, and won the bid for, another T-Com board.  When the younger man had first installed the second T-Com board into the TV, the picture was blinking and flashing and wavy – not viewable at all.  But after powering it off and back on a few times, the old TV came back to life and was working perfectly.  It seemed similar to adding new hardware to a PC.  You need to give the PC time to recognize the new hardware and make the proper adjustments.  The younger man then told the older man that he had a brother who was recently married.  The younger man had fretted, and worried, and was very frustrated that he didn’t have a “proper” gift for his brother.  The younger man loved and respected his older brother very much; it would be source of pride and accomplishment if he could figure out how to give his older brother a wedding present.  After fixing the old high def TV, he sneaked into his brother’s house one Sunday when he knew his brother and sister-in-law would be out.  He setup the new/old TV in his brother’s home.  His brother did not have a TV and couldn’t afford to buy one.  The younger man wrapped the remote control to the TV in a box and gave it to his brother when the brother returned home.  The younger man was so proud, and happy.  When the brother opened the box he said “what’s this” and the younger man said “go inside and look”.   The brother did and to the brother’s surprise, in his house was, to him, a brand new big flat screen TV.  The brother stared in awe, not even knowing how to thank the younger man, let alone figure out how the younger man had pulled this off.

The younger man had, against all odds, repaired the old TV given to him by the older man.  The younger man was so happy that he finally had a present for his brother.  And the younger man’s brother was happy that he received a gift that he wouldn’t have been able to afford on his own.  The brother had no idea how the younger man accomplished this.  The two brothers loved each other very much.  It was important for the younger man to have something of value to give to his somewhat older, married brother as a wedding present.

As for the older man,  at the time, buying a new TV seemed insurmountable and he was angry at the TV and the manufacturer; he was mad at himself and the world.  The older man had limited resources, but he did have a job and a way to pay back the price of the new TV he bought (thanks to a very generous friend).

But the older man was happy, too.  When the older man found out what had happened to his old TV – that is was miraculously fixed, and that it ended up in the possession of someone who could not afford such a nice TV, and given to him by a young man who wanted nothing more than to get his brother something for a wedding present, the older man’s anger over his TV situation seemed so small.  He let the anger go.  And he thanked the younger man for letting him know what had happened to his old TV.

The older man realized that sometimes, things do happen for a reason.  While the older man no longer had the resources to buy luxury items, he certainly had more options than the younger man, or the younger man’s brother.  So in perspective, the older man felt blessed.  He realized his petty wanting of material goods was all just so stupid.

The older man was me.

Epilogue:

It can be argued that nobody “needs” a television.  And I’ve heard many in the media (OK, right-wing TV and talk radio)  talk about poor people on government assistance who somehow have a flat screen TV.  Well, the bottom line, to me, is that first, you can’t buy anything other than a flat screen TV anymore.  And by flat screen I mean high-definition TV – that’s all there is.  All new TVs are high-definition flat screen, whether it’s cheap or expensive.  Have you seen a “picture tube” television in a store lately.  I doubt it.  Secondly, television is what most people use as their connection to the outside world.  Something as simple as the news, or the weather – you get that from your TV.  Even if you don’t have cable TV, you can still use a high-definition TV (known in the pedestrian world as a “flat screen”) with rabbit ears just like in the old days.  Television also provides basic entertainment regardless of whether you are rich or poor.  You can even have a TV without actual broadcast or cable stations – just a TV with a VCR or DVD player, and use that as your entertainment.

So television is an important part of people’s lives and of the American culture.  Not having one because you can’t afford one makes you feel like a failure as a human being.  Society has taught us that we are.

But, having said all of that, it’s not what this story is about.  This story is about counting your blessings.  It’s about realizing what you have, even when you might not realize you have it.  And it’s about the fact that no matter how badly you might feel or how much self-hatred you may feel over something big, or something small, there is always somebody out there with a story that is more significant than yours.  But mostly, it’s about the love between two brothers.  Brothers who don’t count their blessings in dollars, but rather in sense.  I don’t believe in something called god.  But I do believe that these two brothers have very good parents who taught them well.  I have been reminded, through this experience, about what’s important.  I hope you do, too.  I am happy that through a series of rather strange events, my old TV made its way to a happy couple, just married and starting their life together.  I picture them sitting in front of the big high-def TV at night, snuggled up, watching a movie together, enjoying each others’ company, and always thinking how cool it is that someone in their family gave them this beautiful TV.

On one final note:  I thought for a moment that I should have bought the TV back from the young man so he could buy his brother something new.  Then I realized that all the tinkering and trying, the sense of accomplishment and the laser focus on a single purpose, the joy of giving a gift that came from the heart – all of that would not have happened if I bought the TV back.  I would have robbed the younger man of his pride and of is joy.  It all worked out just as it should have.

Birthdays, Diabetes, Underwear, and Skyscrapers


That’s quite a title; 4 seemingly unrelated topics……..

Today is September 11, 2012. It’s a gorgeous Tuesday morning here, just like it was on September 11, 2001. I turned 37 years old that day. Today I turn 48.

I don’t know if having a September 11 birthday made what happened that day worse for me or not. What I do know is that “celebrating” on my birthday since September 11, 2011 has been difficult. The horror of that day is ingrained in me, as I’m sure it is for everyone. I’ve held a special connection with that day because it all unfolded on what was formerly, to me, “my day”.

When I’m asked in conversation when my birthday is, invariably, when I tell them it’s September 11th, I hear “oh, I know someone with a September 11th birthday, too”. It’s someone’s aunt, or husband, or sister, or nephew, or friend that has the same birthday that I have. They say it flatly. No excitement, no melancholy. They simply say it. And I think I’m supposed to understand what that means. It’s the unspoken feeling of those with a September 11th birthday, and I do understand.

I seems, although I have no scientific proof, that September 11th has more birthdays than other dates, although statistically, it can’t possibly be true. I do believe, however, that I am one of the very last “baby boomers” ever born. From 1946 to 1964 (they say) is the baby boomer period. It all ended about 9 months after JFK was shot on November 22, 1963.  After JFK’s assassination, America was scared, and no longer in the throes of the post-WWII euphoria. I don’t know if it was couples clinging to each other during a time of great crisis in this country or not, but I can imagine that to be true. People who wanted babies wanted one last chance before the world seemingly went to hell.

So, as I say again, unscientifically, there are a lot of birthdays on September 11, and in September in general  It’s a popular month for birthdays. In my family alone, with 6 children, three of us have September birthdays, and one more on August 31.

OK, so that’s the background. I’m going to change topics a bit, but I promise I’ll bring it all back around.

When I was younger, people thought of me as a clothes horse. To people who didn’t know me, I guess I can understand why they thought so. I was young, gay, and seemed like a stereo-typical 80’s gay kid. But to me it wasn’t true. As an overweight gay kid (those two things alone paint a picture of the real ostracism, bullying, and borderline hate crimes that I was subjected to) I have never felt comfortable in my own skin. My own family (you know – the people around whom you are supposed to feel loved and accepted) made fun of me for my weight. I’ve struggled with weight and body image my whole life. There were times when I was not overweight, worked out all the time, and looked good (and for me to say I looked good is quite a rare occurrence). But more often than not (and I find I do it still today) I can’t walk into a crowded room, or a room with just a few people, or a store at the mall, or the mall itself without looking down at the ground like I did in high school, hoping to god that nobody notices me. If they don’t see me, they won’t call me names and throw spit balls at me.  If they don’t notice me, I won’t die a little more inside and waste time hoping that someone will rescue me from hell.

After I turned 40, and realized that I would probably be single for the rest of my life, I sort of gave up. I live alone; I stopped taking care of myself, and had a heart attack at the age of 40, just two weeks before my 41st birthday. By the time I turned 47 I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes. I felt, and looked like hell. And I pretended that I didn’t care. That was the persona I tried to put forth to the world. “Screw it – I’m going to die too young, just like my father, and I don’t have anyone special in my life to love me and that I can love back. So who cares if I’m not here anymore”. I didn’t wish for death, but thought that one day, as my body decayed, eventually I would be thin enough to be accepted.

Something changed, and I don’t exactly know what. When I was diagnosed with diabetes, I couldn’t imagine having to inject myself with a needle to control my insulin. Enough was enough.  I immediately turned to a hero of mine “Dr. Atkins” who is no longer with us, but whose legacy lives on. I had lived the Atkins lifestyle back in 1999 and continued it, very successfully for several years. But like all things for me, when the depression takes over, I gave up and didn’t care anymore because no matter what I did, I didn’t love myself, couldn’t look at myself in the mirror, especially naked, without turning away in disgust. I know that if you don’t care about yourself, you probably won’t find someone special who will care about you as well. So I turned back to Atkins not only to lose weight, but to gain control of my Diabetes. After one long year, almost to the day after I was diagnosed, I had new blood work done. As a result of Atkins, my numbers were phenomenal. I don’t even take medication for diabetes any more (and haven’t since about 3 months after being diagnosed). I lost about 40 or 45 pounds. Everything from my cholesterol to triglycerides to my blood sugar levels were within normal ranges or even well below.  My primary care provider is a bit perplexed at how I was able to do what I did.  I could write an entire post just about Atkins and the destruction caused by empty carbohydrates in the American diet, but that is for another day.

My point here is that even with all of that good news, I still see myself as an overweight kid, and always will. I don’t buy clothing very often because I hate having to try things on that might not fit because I’m too fat. No matter how much I actually weigh.  I can’t look at or touch my own body.  I can’t put sun tan lotion because I would have to touch my own body.  I don’t like stooping over to pick up something I dropped because when I do, I might feel my own flesh touching another part of my flesh.  I don’t go to the beach or the lake (where two of my family members have homes) because I can’t bear the thought of taking off my shirt or wearing a bathing suit.  If I can’t do it when I’m alone, imagine how terrifying it is to face it in full view of other people.  I am a prisoner of my own mind.

And that’s how we get to my love affair with underwear. Nice segue, huh? When you’re not feeling good about how you look, buying/wearing underwear (and I mean good quality underwear) can’t make you feel sexy. Feeling that way doesn’t come easy to someone with a poor self-image or body image issues. I bought boxer briefs from Banana Republic and Calvin Klein, and many other major brands. Sometimes retail, but more likely at discount places like Marshalls. I liked them and wore them with pride. Nobody ever saw them, but I knew I had them on and it made me feel good. Strange but true. But I was looking for something more, something different.  When I started to lose weight and feel just a little bit good about myself, I realized I don’t need to wear XXL or XL underwear, and I wanted something new.

I don’t remember, now, how I originally found out about Andrew Christian underwear. Andrew Christian is a designer based in LA. who came into public awareness during a stint on Bravo’s “The Fashion Show”; a reality show with a clothing designer theme. He turned that notoriety into a full-fledged fashion industry, based on (but not limited to) the highest quality, most innovatively designed men’s underwear.

His underwear and clothing lines aren’t inexpensive if you compare them to what you might find at Wal-Mart or Target, but they are actually quite affordable. I decided to try a few items, and on each payday, if I could afford it, I bought one or two pairs. And I LOVED it. Andrew Christian underwear is truly unique. His has various design elements never seen before in mens underwear. I have touted the benefits of, and demanded that my underwear be, 100% cotton. I never thought in a million years I would be swayed into thinking about it differently. Not that A/C doesn’t have 100% cotton underwear, but that’s not what their big sellers are (from what I can tell). I won’t get into the entire line; you can check that out for yourself at http://www.andrewchristianshop.com .

At one point, I had an issue with one of my purchases and wrote a scathing email to Andrew Christian himself via Facebook. I think I was just having a bad day, I don’t know. But whatever the reason, I was extremely unhappy with a purchase. That email was answered by a man named Gregory who is in customer service. Gregory explained a lot of things to me including a more detailed explanation of the Andrew Christian return policy (which is liberal, but not quite explained as well on the site). He not only quelled my distaste for the company, he literally turned it around and made me a fan by how well he (and Mr. Christian) handled the situation. I was truly amazed at the customer service I received, even after I was poised to write awful reviews of this company and wanted to sever all ties with them as a customer. I realized then, that Andrew Christian wasn’t what I thought it was. They were instead, a company of integrity. And I am now a happy customer, again.

But, A/C doesn’t just sell underwear. On one of my earliest visits to the Andrew Christian web site, I saw a necklace that I really liked. I don’t really wear much jewelry, at least not conventional jewelry like a watch. I do have two toe rings on one toe, I wear two stainless steel rings on one finger, and recently got both of my ears pierced (body piercings – not the staple gun at the mall). That sounds like a lot for someone who doesn’t wear jewelry and actually, it is. But these items have significance to me that I won’t get into now. I don’t wear them as a show piece for the world. I wear them for me.

So I saw this necklace on the A/C website and it was hard to discern exactly what it looked like up close. I thought it was a long flat bar of metal with three dots engraved into it toward the bottom. I only saw it briefly that one day on the web site – then it disappeared. In my emails with Gregory at Andrew Christian a few weeks later, Gregory he told me the necklace was no longer made but he described it to me and gave it a name. It was called the 3- Squared Skyscraper Necklace”. It is literally an elongated, square box with three windows carved into it. It’s an amazing piece – so simple, but beautiful, and it immediately reminded me of the World Trade Center. I don’t know if that was the intention or not. But interpretation of art is in the eye of the beholder.

OK – so now we’re ready to go full circle.

A few weeks ago, after scouring the Internet, looking for someone who had one of these necklaces to sell, I had absolutely no luck. There were a few sketchy European web sites that supposedly had some but these sites were not what I would call reputable and I’ve never bought anything from an overseas company and then had it shipped to the US. I had no idea how that would go and honestly thought there was no way I would ever get what I paid for. Right or wrong, I just didn’t want to do it that way.

I wrote back to Gregory at Andrew Christian and asked him if there was any chance they would release that necklace again. I explained about my birthday being on September 11 and how buying the 3-Squared Skyscraper necklace for myself, for my birthday, would be a great symbolic way for me to honor those who died on that day, and their loved ones, while taking back a little piece of that day for myself. I believe then, as I do now, that symbolically I could finally celebrate my birthday without detracting from the nation, and me, as we mourn and remember that day every year.

I received an out-of-office reply from Gregory. But I had dealt with him before and knew he would get back to me when he could. Around September 6, I received an email from Gregory letting me know that he got my email, and that while the chances were very slim (to none) that Andrew Christian (the company) would release a new batch of that particular necklace, he would see what he could find out.

And that was it. I waited to hear back, hoping that eventually I would be able to buy one.

Yesterday, September 10, I got home from work at about 7:00 PM. It had been a long day and I had a bunch of errands I had to run after work. All around – it was a crappy and tiring day. I don’t normally check the mailbox very often at the entrance to my apartment building because it’s just bad news anyway. But something made me check it last night. It had been at least a week or more since I last checked it for bills and junk mail. I saw a package in a Fedex envelope. I picked it up and honestly thought it was a registered letter of some sort. The package was from Andrew Christian (the company) in Los Angeles. I couldn’t remember ordering anything so I just scooped it up with the other mail and went upstairs to my apartment. When I opened the package and dumped out the contents into my hand, three small black pouches fell out. I was confused for just a second and then I thought “It can’t be”. It was.

I received not one, but three “3 Squared Skyscraper” necklaces. I opened each one and literally had tears in my eyes. It was the night before my birthday, a day I have come to dread, and I get a package from someone who doesn’t know me and lives on the other side of the country. We’ve never met; we’ve only exchanged a few emails. But somehow, Gregory (and I don’t know yet if anyone else was involved) reached out to me from a place of pure empathy and humanity and gave me a gift for which I can never repay him. I wrote him a thank you email, and had difficulty doing it because my eyes were so filled with tears.

Today is September 11, 2012. I turn 48 today. And I’m wearing two skyscraper necklaces on one chain to symbolize and remember not only what happened on 9/11/2011, but also that today is my birthday. I finally found a way to reconcile the two. I finally found a way to celebrate, and yet remember, all at the same time. And it all happened because I really like underwear, because it’s my birthday, and because Gregory at Andrew Christian has an amazing heart, unflappable intuition, and endless human kindness for someone he doesn’t even know.  See – I told you they weren’t unrelated topics.

I don’t know how to say thank you for this. There’s nothing I can say that truly expresses what I feel. So I decided to write this piece to try to put some perspective on it so that Gregory, Andrew Christian, and the world (if they read this) will understand the power that an unselfish act of human kindness has.

This is America. For all of the partisan bickering and the endless cable news, self-induced panic about how our nation is divided and falling apart, the real America is made up of people who care about each other, who are more than willing to work together, and are kind, decent human beings.

If you can, I’d like you to support the Andrew Christian company. They are a fine example of the American dream and a company who truly has the customer’s best interests in mind. While some may not be drawn to some of their marketing, I can guarantee you this: it’s just marketing. They sell exemplary products, stand behind them, and love their customers. I want to make it clear that I do not work for the company. I am only a customer, and only for a short time. I don’t know if Gregory or Andrew Christian even want anyone to know what they did. There was no note in the package, and no name on the package to indicate who it was from or why.  For all I know, Gregory could have passed along my story and someone else, even Andrew Christian himself, could have sent me the necklace.  But in my heart, I know Gregory was involved. (update: I have sinced heard from Gregory after a few days of radio silence and her confirmed what I suspected, and he read this blog posting).

Please visit them at http://www.andrewchristianshop.com. They really do make a great product, the best in fact. But more than that they are good people.

And thank you Gregory.  From an overweight kid, with a 9/11 birthday, who struggles with body image issues and being a single gay man for a long time, thank you for making this birthday the happiest I’ve had in at least 11 years, and probably the happiest birthday I’ve ever had.

Women’s Tennis – Officially Unwatchable!


On a Sunday afternoon, on a cool September day, there is nothing quite as enjoyable as watching a Tennis match.  I’ve always enjoyed individual sports more than team sports (other than Baseball).  I’ve often watched Tennis players like Roddick, Agasi, Nadal, Federer and others, and truly enjoyed it.  Back in the day I used to like watching Chris Evert play.  It was beautiful, graceful, and yes, powerful.

This past Sunday, September 9, 2012, I happen to be channel surfing and came upon the US Open women’s final.  Williams and Azarenka.  It was almost over.  Not the match so much (although it applies to that as well) but my interst in watching was over before it really got started.  To listen to Azarenka play tennis was like listening to a group of Muslim woman at a wedding.  She was wailing and ululating on each and every movement, so loud and distracting that I just couldn’t do it.  I had to change the channel.  I didn’t care who won at that point.  I realized that all of these years, while “grunting” has been a bone of contention in the sport, it was the grunting that prevented me from watching.

While some male tennis players do grunt, it’s really the women who have turned it into an art form.  Starting with Monica Seles, whose extreme grunting made ME want to stab her, it’s just gotten worse.  Now the World Tennis Association (WTA) is considering cracking down on it.  They want to start young tennis players out, learning how to play the game without the gruning.  I say – More Power to ‘Em, the WTA, I mean.  Detracters want to “grandfather” current tennis players from the rule, citing that the change would affect a trained athlete’s game and that’s not fair.

It’s not just that the grunting (and in Azarenka’s case, wailing) is distracting, it’s annoying and makes tennis unwatchable.  It’s unnecessary, undisciplined, and to be honest, tacky and rude.  It sounds like they are constipated and trying to squeeze out a log right there on the court.  It’s disgusting.

But Azarenka takes it to a new level.  I had never heard anyting like it before.  I was only half paying attention when I was channel surfing.  As soon as I heard the ululating wail, I had a flash back to 9/11 and the pictures of people ululating in the streets of many Middle Eastern countries, celebrating the carnage.  When I looked up and saw it was a simple women’s tennis match, I was quite literally shell-shocked.  I was shocked that this is what women’s tennis has turned into.  I was shocked that this was allowed.  I was shocked that this woman wasn’t embarassed for herself, I was shocked that the TV network didn’t bleep it out (because it’s as offensive as if she screamed “FUCK” every time she hit the ball.

Azarenka doesn’t belong in this sport, or any other sport, except maybe Olympic Weight Lifting.  But even that sport doesn’t allow excessive grunting.  And these men are dead lifting more than their own body weight – they should be allowed to grunt.

But what Azarenka is doing isn’t grunting.  It is wailing and it’s meant to distract her opponent.  It would be the same if Azarenka paid someone to lob tennis balls at Serena Williams from the side lines while Williams is about to return a serve.  I don’t know how this got so out of control.  There’s a thing called “sportsmanship”.  Wailing like a banshee at every turn isn’t sportsmanlike and I have to believe that the TV ratings for women’s tennis take a hit because of it.  In our society, the only thing that speaks is the almighty dollor.  So let’s stop tuning in to women’s tennis until it stops sounding like a delivery room during a breached birth.