Affordable Housing (Again)

I blogged about this in April and again today: it’s nigh-to-impossible for a cop, firefighter, or teacher to be able to afford to live in the county where he or she works.

Some think that salaries of public servants are “too high.” Certainly for those who have made a commitment to stay for a long time, and who have earned promotions, studied hard to obtain advanced college degrees, and take on extra assignments like after-school group supervision or overtime, find that their incomes are higher than others. But that’s how it should be. Those who work the longest and hardest should be rewarded by appropriate compensation.

The problem is for the younger people starting their public service careers. In their 20s, usually fresh out of college or technical school, often with massive student loan debt, and perhaps newly married wanting to start a family — how in the heck can they afford to buy a home in a county where the median price of an existing home exceeds a half-million dollars (US$500,000)? With a 5% down payment (of course, better if more, but let’s use this for an example), the anticipated monthly principal and interest (calculated at 6.5% on a 30-year fixed rate mortgage) would exceed $3,000, plus several hundred more per month for PMI and escrow to pay taxes and homeowners insurance. Even for a two-income couple, that amount of money is way above what reputable lenders would allow to be financed.

That’s why these days we see cops, firefighters, and teachers renting, because they can’t afford to buy. Some still live with their parents. Some decide to buy a starter home (condo or townhouse) way far away, far beyond the county where they work. Thus they have to endure a commute from hell, for hours each way. With the cost of fuel, many can no longer afford to do that, either, and sometimes have to quit their job in our county because they can’t afford to commute or live where they work.

This week I feel good because I was able to put a very small dent in this dilemma for a starting teacher and her construction-worker husband who are relocating here from another state. A few months ago, I bought a house that had gone into foreclosure. The house was right next door to another one that I own and rent to a fine young police officer. I spent time to fix it up, do repairs, replace the electrical system, have a new roof put on, replace the water heater, and some other less intensive repairs. My partner even did the painting (I hate to paint!)

The county sent me a list of prospective tenants and I selected this bright young and eager first-year teacher to live in that house. She has been assigned to a school that is just four miles away. She will have time she needs to spend at school doing the extra things a new teacher has to do, as well as attend classes for an advanced degree when she is ready. She will have the time because her commute will be so short. And her husband shouldn’t have trouble finding construction work — our county and the general geographic area where we live is still in the midst of a building boom.

I accept a less-than-market rent (and can deduct the difference from my taxes, as well as what it cost me to renovate the house). I don’t do this for the rental income — income and expenses work out to be a wash in the long run anyway — I do it because, well, I can. I can say truthfully next time I testify before our county council or planning board, “I am making a difference. Are you?”

One person, one couple, one house at-a-time. Sure, have all the “affordable housing” talk you want, but if you’re serious about it, do something. I am very happy that I did.

Deciding to Smile

Every day you have choices. A primary choice is if you will have a good day. Of course, everyone prefers to have a good day over a bad one. But I firmly believe, down to the roots of my faith and family, that you can make each day to be good, or as a close buddy says, “grand.”

First thing I do each day is smile. And as bad as I am at it, I often find myself singing, too. Dumb little songs, like the one that I drive my partner crazy with, It’s So Nice To Be With You made famous by a one-hit wonder group “Gallery” back in the ’70s. Or when riding my Harley to the Metro this morning, I caught myself singing, Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’, Oh What a Beautiful Day, a popular song from the musical “Oklahoma!”

While riding on the Metro, looking at all the glum-faced suits, whose appearance seems to be miserable, I just smile and think of my eighth brother, and sing to myself, Thank You For Being a Friend by Andrew Gold, made famous as the title theme from the TV show “The Golden Girls.”

I could have decided to be sad today as I watched the TV news about the ongoing killings both locally and in overseas wars. I could have been very upset when I listened to news reports about the earthquake in the L.A. area yesterday, when people talked about the stupid things they did, like run outside or jump into doorframes. I spent 20+ years attempting to educate people that “drop, cover, and hold on” is the safest earthquake action to take, but despite the best efforts of hundreds of professionals, when the ground shakes, people react with self-protective behavior that actually is more likely to cause them harm than protect them. So yeah, I could have decided to be angry, sad, and miserable today, but I decided not to. The sun still rises, the world still goes ’round. Let’s celebrate life.

Make each day a good day. Smile, sing, be joyful. I have much to be thankful for, and thank God for his good graces smiling on my life, my family, my partner, my friends, and our neighbors. I am happy, calm, and serene, because of the graces in my life of wonderful people, an enjoyable job, financial security with no debt, and the little things in life. Like that little bird outside my window this morning singing his little heart out, or the squirrels playing “catch me if you can” in our back yard.

Life is short. Wear your boots. Love those you love like there’s no tomorrow.

Salve, Gaius Julius

The subject: resistance to adopting technology — title of this post means, “Greetings, Julius (Caesar)”.

Yeah, for those who don’t know, I studied Latin for eight terms; four years in high school and four semesters in college, including one in Italy where I was able to read and attempt to translate original works. Latin remains quite alive in our English language, and I credit my high school Latin teacher (who truly WAS on a first-name basis with Julius Caesar) for instilling in me a love of the language that taught me how to write in English. Before studying Latin, I couldn’t write worth a hoot. Now, some 30+ years later, I have published several books, articles, and scholarly reports.

I take a lot of light-hearted ribbing from friends about how I am slow and resistant to adopt new technology. Thus, some claim that I remain on a first-name basis with Julius Caesar like my Latin teacher. My #1 resistance is to cell phones. Man, I hate those things. They are annoying yet ever-present in today’s society. I just saw a kid who was about five years old yakking on one yesterday.

Okay, fine, they provide convenience. But you know, the world still turned and we managed quite well before they became so ubiquitous. Kids were able to go play and know when it was time to come inside by listening for someone to yell for them, or the church bells ring, or simply by looking at a clock. Not any more… yuppies and yuppettes all claim that their kids “need” one for their safety. Oh, gimme a break. Kids managed quite fine back in the day. The world really is not any less (or more) safe today. Kids don’t “need” cell phones, and their parents really don’t, either. But the parents have succumbed to the marketing sales hyperbole of the wireless industry. (Hyperbole? Well, I studied Ancient Greek, too).

Seriously, the reason why I am so resistant to cell phones is two-fold: First, I witnessed a close friend get killed by someone yapping on a cell phone. He was riding his Harley in front of me, … I’ll never forget the horror. I blame it all on inattentive driving caused by an SUV-driver being more concerned about talking on the blasted phone than watching where she was going. Second, I really don’t like making rich companies richer. All the wireless phone companies are making a mint off of every person who yaps away on the “unlimited” plans, and texting too.

So here is a contradiction: I have one of those things. My work requires it. But if work didn’t pay for it, I wouldn’t have one. My partner doesn’t have one. Heck, if he had his druthers, we wouldn’t have a phone in the house. But that’s becuase he is a recluse.

What my friends who claim that I am more of an ancient Roman (rather than of Italian descent) do not recognize is that I have adopted certain technologies, like building a personal website (I have several other websites, as well), and even this medium: blogging. There are some technologies that are fun and don’t cost that much. Certainly, email is a technology that I use a lot — I have made friends all over the world and can use email to keep in touch. Sure beats the cost of a long-distance call. (Remember toll charges? Huh?)

Two other media to which I do not subscribe is texting and instant messaging. Texting is another way for wireless companies to make a lot of money. As for IM, I have tried it, but discontinued it because it takes time that I simply do not have. IM programs are blocked where I work, for good reason. The kids around there would IM all day if they could. At home, I seldom have more than a few minutes here-and-there on the computer, so using IM wouldn’t be fair to others, because I can’t stay on line that long. Same applies to on-line chat forums. I just don’t have the time and can’t make the time on a regular basis.

And don’t get me started about “Crackberries.” OMG, … what a very expensive waste of money. The world will survive if you can’t read that email immediately. Seriously. Turn it off and see what happens. Betcha the sun still comes up tomorrow morning.

So that is today’s musing… ab ovo usque ad mala

Stealth in Boots

My partner works on a schedule where he has every other Monday off. Today was one of those days. So he can continue to sleep when I rise at 4:30am, he sleeps in our guest room. Fortunately, it’s on the opposite side of the house from our master bedroom, so he can’t hear me in the shower or while I am getting dressed.

The only problem is that boots make noise. And since he waxed the hardwood floors on our first floor, no matter what boots I wear, they make loud squeaky noises on those floors. And cowboy boots would clunk loudly. While I like the clunk sound, I don’t want it to disturb my partner while he is trying to sleep.

We resolve this situation by some advanced planning. I figure out what boots I will wear the night before. I put them out in the garage by my motorcycle. In the morning, I just pad around the house in my socks. When I come down the stairs into our wood-floored foyer, I try hard not to fall on my butt because the floors are so slippery.

I packed my lunch, using only the light above the stove. If I turned the lights on in the kitchen, the light spilling out the kitchen windows causes a reflection that can be seen from the guest room. My partner is very sensitive to light, as am I. We usually rise no later than dawn all year-round.

I gather my stuff to bring to work, pack it in my bag, grab my motorcycle helmet from the top of the ‘fridge, and then quietly and carefully tiptoe into the garage, slowly closing the door behind me. Once I am in the garage, I put my boots on. Then I carefully open the garage door using the manual release. Oh-so-slowly I lift the door so it doesn’t rattle and creak. When the door is open, I step outside and walk around a bit, determining by feel what to wear for protection and warmth as I ride the Harley to Metro. Fortunately, I keep my most regularly-worn leathers and gloves on a special rack that I built in the garage.

It was a very mild morning, so I put on what I wear most regularly in the summer, my light leather shirt/jacket that I got a long time ago. It is light enough not to be confining, but heavy enough to ward off the slight morning chill. I put on my Damascus 302 cop search gloves, which are very light, as well.

I carefully walk the bike out of the garage, then very slowly close the door and lock it. I remount my iron steed and walk it to the end of the driveway, pointing down the street in my direction of travel. Only then do I fire it up, and ride off.

I learned from an article in American Motorcyclist that by starting a motorcycle out in the street, away from where sound can reverberate such as against a garage door or the front of a house/building, reports are that few people can hear it. Thus, no complaints about motorcycle noise. I have to be careful about that, because at 5:30 in the morning when I leave, almost all of the rest of my neighbors are still asleep. I don’t want them complaining to the HOA President about noise that I make. (Well, no worries. I’m the HOA President… but nonetheless, I have a reputation to maintain). I try to be thoughtful, and don’t want to bother people if I can do something to avoid it. And that includes being stealthy inside my own house, not put on my boots until I’m in the garage, and starting up my bike while well away from walls that can reverberate that hefty rumble of my Harley.

Il dolce far niente

I had a busy week last week and it continued right through this morning. Ordinarily, we wake up with the sun, but lay cuddled in each other’s arms for a while before getting up. However, this morning, we snuggled for only a couple minutes before we were dressed and out the door at 6:30. Even for us, that’s early for a Saturday.

By noontime, I was preparing a home-made pizza and a key lime pie to enjoy later. After lunch, we had some more chores to do, but fortunately they were done rather quickly. After putting the tools away, I was thrilled when my partner pronounced that we were done for the day. He suggested we get out the hammock to enjoy our park-like shady back yard. Since I often post pictures of myself on this blog, I thought instead I would post a pic of my hunky partner.

We “hung out” and watched the squirrels jumping high in the trees, talked about life, dreams, and lots of other things. I even slept for a couple hours, sweetly in my partner’s arms. He napped, too. Though it was warm, there was a gentle breeze and it was comfortable in the deep shade.

Some times the greatest pleasures are in doing nothing — thus the origin of the title of this post.

Have a great weekend!

Identification with Gay Subcultures

I received an interesting email message from a guy who runs a “bear” website in Brazil. He asked me why I didn’t show the “bear flag” on my website because, to him, I am a bear.

I initially replied saying that I did not really identify with any particular gay subculture. I am a guy who happens to identify with loving my one and only man, and that I find men, in general, much more interesting than women (when it comes to sexuality). I also identify with being a community activist and leader, with serving people with skills and knowledge that I have learned, with helping other people by doing odd-jobs and simple things like grocery shopping for elderly folks, with motorcycling, with geeks in website building, and so on. I have many thing with which I identify. Must I identify with one more than another? Nope.

I looked up information about “bears” and found a Wikipedia article from which I quote:

Bears tend to have hairy bodies and facial hair; some are heavy-set; and some project an image of working-class masculinity in their grooming and appearance. Some bears place importance on presenting a hyper-masculine image; some may shun interaction with men who display effeminate style and mannerisms. There is, anecdotally, more acceptance of tattoos and body piercing in the bear community, although this acceptance varies from member to member.

Well, I share some of those characteristics, but not all. I am not thin and hairless. I don’t shave what body hair I have, but because of my Native American blood, I could not grow a beard if I tried. I am a masculine man, but don’t consider myself “hyper-masculine.” For example, if guys are talking about a football game, I usually zone out because I don’t care for sports. I do not shun interaction with anyone, though I find gay men who act “queeny” to be difficult to be around because of their demand for attention, and dramatic attitudes and behaviors that are often displayed (and usually cause straight people to develop and affirm inappropriate stereotypes about gay people). Finally, I hate needles and thus never will have any tattoos. I find body piercings to be repulsive, as well. It just hurts to see someone with a ring through his…(insert name of body part here).

Similarly, I share some, but not all, characteristics of what is deemed to be a “leatherman.” Many men who enjoy leather also engage in BDSM. I blogged about this before. Suffice it to say, not only do I not engage in BDSM, I find it repulsive because of its reminders of human torture which I have, in a past job, attempted to rescue people from. (This is my own personal opinion and not reflective on any individual anywhere.)

I also share some characteristics of “cowboy,” but haven’t ridden a horse in a long time and probably won’t again. I like the masculinity of a cowboy, his down-to-earth style, practical attitudes, and work ethic. I have and wear a lot of cowboy boots, but that doesn’t make me a cowboy. I have the boots, though, because I can wear them to work with dress clothes, and they look and feel good on my feet. I work hard, but not out on the range. My limit to physical labor is work to keep our house in shape, and remodeling homes for the rental to important working folks like cops, firefighters, and teachers.

So what gay subculture “am” I? None, really. I am just a guy who likes boots, wears leather, rides a motorcycle, has a moustache and chest hair, and likes other guys. That’s it. Nothin’ more, nothin’ less. Don’t try to put me into a box; I am just an “outta the box” kinda guy.

Bike Cop Boot Advising Again

At the invitation of a county sheriff with whom I spoke at a recent conference I attended for my work, I was invited to meeting in a nearby state where discussions were held regarding new uniforms for a law enforcement force that will emerge from when the city and the county merge into a unified government. This will likely happen when approval is granted by the voters in November.

There is a lot to do in order to combine the city police department and the county sheriff’s office. Least of which is specifying a new uniform. They decided to go with totally different uniform colors and do away with the “old” uniforms in the “old” colors. The new uniform will be dark blue with yellow side stripes on the legs.

While they were at it, the motor units from both forces were considering specifics regarding the boots they will wear. Right now, the sheriff’s department wears only Dehners. The city’s police force wear any boot that is tall and black. A few have Dehners, some have Dehner look-alikes, and a few wear Chippewa Hi-Shine Engineer Boots.

I blogged about bike cop boot advising before, and the same types of questions and discussions arose.

What was interesting, though these men wouldn’t really admit it, is that they were more concerned about appearance than they were about cost or comfort. While it is likely they would get a generous uniform allowance the first year the forces combine, it is not likely the uniform allowance would remain nearly as high in future years. That means, then, that Dehner boots would be difficult to “require” because their cost is so excessive, especially for stock boots whose shafts are made of that plastic stuff called “Dehcord” that cracks, breaks, and wears poorly.

They were also looking at Intapol boots, and liked them. The style, zipper on the back of the shaft, and availability of different calf widths were selling points. However, they didn’t like the new soles on the Intapol boots, which are supposed to be a lug-style, but are more like a soft type of rubber.

We were supposed to look at the uniforms and boots yesterday, then the cops were going to set up a training course today and ride with various styles of boots on. However, due to predicted rain for today, they switched which day they did each task. Yesterday, the cops just put on various makes of boots and rode through a course of twists, turns, and stops on their police Harleys. They even let me try the course on my H-D Road King, while I was wearing my Chippewa Hi-Shine boots. I was successful, about which I was proud because this is the first time I have ridden the bike through such challenges since I bought my new bike at the end of May.

Anyway, they rode and rode and rode with Dehners, Intapols, and Chippewas — both the motor patrol style as well as the Engineer style. All the boots performed well, as reported verbally. The written reports gave preference to the Chippewa Hi-Shines for comfort, and to the Dehners for appearance. The Intapols were in between. Several cops noticed black marks on the pipes of their bikes left by the soft rubber sole on the new Intapol boots. Those who wore the Chippewa Motor Patrol boots said that the boots were hot and caused them to feel uncomfortable. (It was a very warm afternoon out there in the sun.)

This morning when they were modeling the uniforms with the boots, the stress cracks on the Dehners were very obvious. That caused some of the old-timers who wouldn’t consider any other type of boot to look again at alternatives. Since they didn’t like the sole of the Intapols, and those who wore the Chippewa Motor Patrol boots said that they didn’t like them because they got so hot, they looked again at the Chippewa Hi-Shines.

I talked about mine, why I like them, how comfortable they are to me, and demonstrated that the pair I had on were severals years old and have endured thousands of miles on my Harley. I also discussed what I had learned when working with a different motor outfit in May.

Now they want to talk among themselves and think. Several of the cops will wear their demo boots between now and September, when they will make a decision. A few of the cops are still hesitant about adopting Chippewa Hi-Shine boots because they have muscular legs and wanted to be able to get wider calf sizes, but unless you get a wide foot, you can’t get boots with a wide calf. Intapol offers different calf widths. Dehners can be made custom. They’re not sure just what they will select. But they don’t have to decide right away.

It was a great couple of days, and I appreciated having the opportunity to do this as part of my “real” job as well as continuing my personal avocation. And, as a double-blessing, I was able to avoid the rain for my long motorcycle ride home by routing myself differently from how I got there. I am glad I didn’t have to ride in the rain.

Stupid Is is What Stupid Does

A guy who regularly posts on “Boots on Line” posted this picture with the subject, “Awesome bike — cool dude.” The writer initially posted the pic saying that the rider of this motorcycle was very proud of his machine, a 2000 Millennium Indian, and talked to the writer at every stoplight about his pride in his ride.

What’s wrong with this picture? Well, besides the obvious (no helmet, wearing shorts, and some sort of soft footwear), he’s holding to the handlebar with ONE HAND! How incredibly stupid, on all accounts.

Several people wrote a reply commenting on the lack of protective gear, and I’ll add my voice to that. They referred to him as a “donor”. Meaning that when he is involved in a crash (usually caused by someone claiming not to see a motorcycle and turning in front of him), he likely will suffer a traumatic brain injury. If the rest of his internal organs are not spread to smithereens all over the road from the crash, then the organs may be eligible to be used as donor organs for people on transplant lists. (I am just very glad that they don’t transplant brains yet).

I am an organ donor. I know what that process involves, the emotions, and the long-term impact on the families of donors and recipients of organs. However, to avoid repetition of that story, just read my May 3 “Happy Kidney Day” post here.

What further adds to the misery of this story is that the writer said this picture was taken in Florida. It’s sad but true — Florida has more elderly drivers than any other state. NHTSA studies have indicated that older drivers have slower response than younger drivers, and we all know that milliseconds in decision-making count when determining how to avoid a crash. Motorcycle Safety Foundation studies have corroborated that when older drivers are involved in a crash with a motorcycle, the majority said to first responders, “I didn’t see him.” Their peripheral vision and visual acuity is just not as sharp. So riding without a helmet, in shorts, sneakers, and with one hand, IN FLORIDA, is particularly dumb.

Having served as a rescue technician for several years in my home county in Maryland, I got really sick of scraping guys like this up off the road. It was so very sad, and so preventable. What the writer also failed to recognize is that the cost of caring for someone who incurs a head injury from a motorcycle crash adds significantly to the cost of health insurance premiums as well as taxes we all have to pay that go to health care provided by public hospitals (if the guy were not insured.) If the guy isn’t killed in the crash, his health care treatment and recovery costs will be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. And that doesn’t begin to measure the emotional cost on him, his family, and those who will become long-term caregivers.

I don’t give a hoot about whether the law says a DOT-approved helmet is or is not required. Getting in gear is just common sense. This guy ain’t got any. Period. End of story.

Finally Figured Out Chippewa Hi-Shines

One would think that a Bootman like me ought to know these things, but I have to come clean — I learn a lot from experience.

This morning as usual, I was using my website to determine what boots I wanted to wear today. (I often use my website to facilitate my boot choices.) I will be on my Harley as usual to get to the Metro, then at work in some meetings. After work when I get back to where I parked my bike, I will be riding again to attend another meeting at our local police district station. This is a regularly-scheduled meeting in which I am involved as a civic leader.

So, bike cop boots were on my mind. So was the weather: very hot and very humid again. (It was 80°F [27°C] at 5:00 this morning, and predicted to reach 95°F [36°C] again today). I wanted to wear good-looking boots that would work for all these activities: riding my Harley, meetings at work in a professional environment, and then meeting with the cops in my district at home.

Chippewa Hi-Shine Boots were the answer. An easy choice. But as I was looking in my boot closet, I pulled out both pairs that I have: my older pair that I got in the mid-90s, and the pair I got for my partner in 2005 and to which I had lug sole plates added a month ago. The older pair still look nice, so I decided to put them on.

Why were they feeling so tight on my legs? Why did my feet seem to swim in a cavern in the foot of the boot, but the shafts were literally sticking to my legs? Since my legs were already sweaty, I had to use a bootjack to yank the boots off my legs. I looked at those boots very closely.

They are standard size 10D. That’s what I usually wear. I looked at my partner’s boots (now mine) and they are size 8.5EE. I pulled them on. They felt GREAT! I had more room in the calf, so they weren’t sticking to my legs or feeling tight, and my foot felt comfortable — not too tight, not too lose.

So, I finally figured it out without really thinking about it. Chippewa Engineer Boots run large. But for those of us with a muscular calf, we need the size in the shaft, not in the foot. So a wide boot provides a wider shaft. Duhh… it figures.

I wonder who else figured this out, and why I am so dense as to figure it out only now. I’ll have to discuss it with my friend Mike after he recovers from the “Up Your Alley” (Dore Alley) fair this coming weekend in San Francisco.

Life is short: wear boots!

How Can I Help You?

The simple thought or question, “how can I help you?” … seems to have been replaced by the question, “what will you do for me?” Man, that just drives me nuts. The Starbucks-swilling Beemer-driving yuppies were all over the grocery store and parking lot today where I regularly take some elderly friends shopping.

They stand in the middle of the aisle, as if they are the only ones there. They get angry if you are in their way but don’t give a hoot if they block you. They stand there swilling their coffee and yapping on their cell phones expecting to have privacy, and give a dirty look if you say, “pardon me, but the apples that my friend wants are behind you, will you kindly move?”

They leave the store and walk the shopping cart out to their SUV, which they parked as close as they could to the store, even if it meant circling the lot a dozen times instead of just parking a little further away in a clear space. After unloading their groceries into their car, they just put the cart wherever… they wouldn’t think of bringing back to the store. Nooo… it’s all about them, their needs, what’s best for them.

I tell ‘ya, nuts this behavior drives me. But I remember what I was taught by my parents and from my faith, to love, to live, and ask, “how can I help you?” Seriously, this world would be far better if more people just took a sec to think about someone else other than themselves.

Pardon the rant, but today’s fiasco at the grocery store just sent me over the edge. If I hadn’t pulled a child out of the way, a Beemer-driving, cell-phone yapping yuppie would have creamed her. The driver didn’t even look, stop, or give a damn. I pray for his soul.