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HE SAYS:

And now, for something completely different.   We all have a dark side where we explore the dark thoughts that lurk in the recesses of our minds.  It can be a liberating feeling to let the dark side free once in awhile.   This is a story of doubt, regret, and, ultimately, hope for the future.  Enjoy my version of the Dark Side as an artistic expression and not as a personal statement.

On a morning dark and dreary,
as I lie here weak and weary,
I ponder the things that might have been
trying not to embrace regret as a friend.

I start each day with a sense of dread,
while I strive to earn my daily bread.
Even though I hope to thrive,
often, I find it hard to just survive.

The days are tedious and long,
as I struggle to be strong.
I feel invisible, unseen,
what can it all possibly mean?

I think and I feel
but nothing seems real.
My life is an illusion
full of uncertainty and confusion.

The daily turmoil brings me to despair.
I wish with all my heart I did not care.
Instead, I am driven by constant worry
to lash out in pain and fury.

I feel betrayed at every turn,
without the love I tried so hard to earn.
My hopes, desires and prayers
are met with empty and uncaring stares.

 Sometimes, I feel all alone
completely on my own
adrift on a vast and empty sea
with no one there to care for me.

My emotions have been battered
as if my feelings never mattered.
My few gains came at such a cost
and now I fear that all will be lost.

Brighter days must lie ahead
to give me a reason to get out of bed.
Hope springs eternal, as they say,
I wonder if my heart will find the way.

When it is all said and done
and my final hours have begun
I want to look back across my years
without any sorrow or tears.

There will be no blog on Wednesday due to the 4th of July holiday. Next Monday, Joe begins his three part story about his youthful adventure in London in “The Summer of ’69, Part 1”.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

HE SAYS:

You would not be surprised to hear that a widget company would need to make widgets in order to justify its existence.   Likewise, local, state, and federal legislators need to keep legislating in order to justify their existence to their constituents.   Year after year more and more laws are enacted until, eventually, every facet of our lives will be controlled by one law or another.   There is no such thing as overkill when it comes to dreaming up laws for any and all reasons.

There are now laws that are named for a particular victim or situation and one starts to feel that, eventually, we will all have a law named after us based on some travesty that has befallen us.   I am not suggesting that some of these laws don’t serve a valid and useful purpose, but, I am suggesting that not all problems with our society can be solved simply by passing more laws, particularly, laws created as a knee jerk reaction to the public’s emotional response to one tragic event.  It just becomes an expedient and illusionary fix.

More importantly, the reasons why some people do the terrible things they do can’t be adequately explained and will not change no matter how many new laws are enacted.   For example, in response to the shooting in Tucson, Arizona all we have heard is what can we learn from this episode?   Maybe, all we can learn is that sometimes bad people do bad things to other people.  When a national tragedy like this happens, there always seems to be a rush to pass more laws in the belief that it may prevent this from happening again.   We all breathe a sigh of relief that we have legislated this kind of problem away until it happens again and then, of course, we will pass more laws.

Every society needs laws to put everyone on notice as to the basic rules deemed necessary to make that society function properly.   Where I think we have gone wrong is that we feel laws should be used as some sort of panacea to appease the emotions of the public.   Our legislators have come to believe that if something happens that upsets a vocal segment of their constituents, they must pass a law not necessarily to solve a problem but simply to keep their constituents happy.   Usually, there are already sufficient laws on the books to cover the situation but nothing is more cathartic to the public and more conducive to job security for politicians than passing another law.

Ultimately, our laws should be enacted to address real problems and for good reasons and not just to keep our legislators in the business of placating the public.

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HE SAYS:

We will be leaving tomorrow to spend our first extended stay at our new home in Arizona.   We first visited Arizona in February, 2006 and fell in love with the area within days.  As a result of that first visit, we embarked on the challenge of turning our dream of retiring in Arizona to a reality that is just now being fulfilled.

It was a long and, sometimes, tortuous process to design, build and furnish a totally custom house from 2,500 miles away during one of the most severe economic downturns in our lifetime.   That saga will be left for another time but suffice it to say that there were many days when we felt that our dream was turning into a nightmare that would never end.

Our View From The Pool Patio

Our View From The Pool Patio

We now have everything under control with the help of a property manager who visits the house once a week to make sure things are running smoothly and trouble shoots when problems arise.   It is comforting to know that our investment is being well taken care of in our absence.

Pool Patio And Back Of House

Pool Patio And Back of House

Pool Patio And Back Of House

Pool Patio And Back of House

We intend to stay at our home until near the end of March when we will come back for our son Matthew’s wedding.  We are about 30 miles from Phoenix and have access to many wonderful restaurants, big time sporting events, and all kinds of recreational opportunities or we could just sit by our pool and enjoy the warm weather and the views.  Our home is built on a two and a half acre mountainside lot that provides us with spectacular views of the adjacent valley and large commanding mountain range in the distance.  The views are what sold us on the property in the first place and have become the backdrop to our dream home.

Our House On The Hill

Our House On The Hill

While we are away, our Director of Finance, Kristie, will run the day to day operation of USFSB and we will provide our input through the Internet, e-mails and, of course, by phone.  It is our hope that we will be able to relax and fully enjoy our first taste of retirement while, at the same time, keeping our business going strong without our direct involvement.

It seems that we have made our dream become a reality even if it was a difficult journey.

Front Entrance

Front Entrance

Look for our five part story of how we brought this project to a successful conclusion despite encountering some difficult problems along the way in “All’s Well That Ends Well, The Prelude, The Process, The Problem, The Solution and The Conclusion”.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

HE SAYS:

The most disturbing aspect of the ongoing debate regarding taxes is the scorn with which many people seem to have for the so-called “rich”.  

A person who earns over $250,000 a year can pay as much as 35% of their income in federal income taxes.   According to available IRS statistics, the top 5% of taxpayers paid 53.8% of all individual income taxes collected, yet, they earned 30.6% of the total income reported.   The tax rates already disproportionately penalize people for their success.    

These taxpayers also generally spend more money in the community, pay more State income taxes, pay more property taxes, and generate more sales taxes and, yet, receive no more services from the government than anyone else.  In fact, they receive less.   They are denied many tax deductions, they are not eligible for most grants or scholarships to help with their children’s college expenses; and they are not entitled to many other governmental perks that other citizens receive.

 The call to raise only their taxes is outrageous.  Isn’t 35% enough?   Most people that earn over $250,000 a year do so because they worked hard, made many sacrifices, and took risks, both in school and throughout their careers, in order to achieve their success.   Why would they not deserve a tax break along with everyone else?

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

SHE SAYS:

I am generally not a person who complains about much and I am usually pretty tolerant of people and their mistakes, but one of my biggest pet peeves is poor customer service.  As a teenager, I worked at a part-time retail job and I prided myself on being helpful and courteous to customers.  Now, when I am a customer, it annoys me when I do not receive good customer service and most times, I will comment when that happens. 

Many businesses including ours must be able to rely on their employees providing good customer service to its customers.  While no business or employee can expect to have a 100% customer satisfaction rating, we can all strive for perfection and should!  Employers should recognize those people that belong in customer service and weed out those who do not. 

We’ve all had bad customer service experiences with both small and large businesses that can leave us frustrated and angry even when a ‘supervisor’ tries to remedy the situation.  I sometimes wonder how they stay in business.  On the other hand, some supervisors really do care how their employees treat customers.  As customers, we all need to be vigilant and be sure we are treated in a fair and respectful way.  I have been known to make complaints about poor customer service, but I have also been known to compliment exceptional customer service.  

A few years ago, during the winter, I was on my way to the office with my daughter and we were at a local Dunkin Donuts drive thru window.  To make a long story short, I ordered a hot chocolate, and then a Dunkaccino for her and neither was available, so I resorted to coffee with cream and sugar and received an iced coffee.  When I commented:  “I didn’t order an iced coffee.  I ordered a hot coffee.”  The rude and snippy reply I received was “You didn’t SAY you wanted hot coffee.”  There was more to this exchange and as I drove away, I became more incensed.  I called the manager and described the situation.  I shared with her that I owned a small business and I would want to know if my employees were treating our customers that badly and would not tolerate an employee who was that rude to customers.  She was apologetic and offered me coupons for free food and coffee.  She indicated that the employee would be terminated because I was not the only person to complain.  While I appreciated her coupon offer, I declined it telling her that I thought good customer service was more important.  It’s too bad someone lost their job, but if it wasn’t this incident, it would have been another.  She just wasn’t meant to work in customer service. 

More recently I had a poor customer service experience with a very large company.  I had a home repair appointment scheduled with Sears for a certain day between 12:00 and 4:00.  I arranged to receive a call on my cell phone 30 minutes in advance of the arrival so I could leave work and arrive home for the appointment.  They were happy to provide this arrangement, but because I was worried about it, I called that morning to confirm my appointment and to verify that the notes were clear regarding my arrangement.  I was assured that the notes were clear and the technician would call me.  By 3:40 there was no call.  Upon reaching a live person, I was informed that the technician did call me at home but because I didn’t answer, he cancelled my appointment.  I tried to speak to a supervisor and was left on hold for over 20 minutes.  When I finally spoke with a supervisor on a second try it was to no avail.  The supervisor was indifferent to the inconvenience their mistake caused me and was only interested in knowing if I still wanted an appointment.  She should have initially acknowledged their mistake and apologized, but she never did.  Even though I was still near the window of my appointment time (I at least started my calls to them before 4:00), I was told that no technician was available that day.  The best she could offer was the next day between 12:00-4:00 and as I was deciding if I could fit it into my schedule, she said “Never mind.  That appointment is now taken.  The next available appointment is in three days.”  I can’t express how angry and frustrated this type of inept service and poor attention to detail makes me.

I vented, now let’s hear your customer service stories, good and bad.  We can all relate to them!

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

HE SAYS:

I have already mentioned that I first came to USFSB in order to help take care of the business during my brother’s illness.   There is much more to the story then that.

Paul Cardamone was a consummate politician and the successful owner, operator of USFSB, but, most important to me, he was my younger brother.   He was vibrate, energetic and, certainly, was enjoying his life as an eligible bachelor.

This all changed when our mother passed away in 1993.   He took her death very hard and over the course of the next year he lost a lot of weight, drank heavily, and let his heath deteriorate.  In the fall of 1994, his behavior and conversations started to become bizarre and became progressively worse over the next several months.  

Friends and business associates of my brother started to contact me to both tell me how strange he was becoming and to ask me to intercede before he destroyed himself and his business.   Even his employees contacted me in an effort to stop him from running the business into the ground.  It became a full time job protecting my brother from himself and the many predators who were trying to take advantage of his condition.  Luckily, both my legal training and the fact that I knew many people in the community provided me with the ability to keep my brother from getting into any serious trouble.

Thinking that my brother might be having a nervous breakdown or suffering from a mental illness, my wife and I, with my father’s blessing, recruited some close friends of my brother to have an intervention.  The intervention did not go well and resulted in the police being called and my brother being admitted into the hospital for observation.   He blamed me for the intervention and this caused a rift between my brother and I that was never healed.  He lashed out at me and even tried to sue me.  In his condition, he simply could not understand that I was only trying to help him.

Eventually, we learned that my brother had a terminal illness that was affecting his brain. This caused him to become bedridden and non-responsive for the last year of his life.  He needed round the clock medical assistance, in his home.   Since we did not want him to be cared for only by strangers, I would take time from operating USFSB and my law practice to visit with him almost every day even though he was unable to communicate with me or even acknowledge my presence.  My father and I would stay overnight with him each night.  My father during the week and me on the weekends.  This put quite a strain on my life and family, but, fortunately, my family understood and supported me in this effort.

The loss of my only brother was profound, particularly, since we never had any closure.  Coming to USFSB was not an easy thing for me to do, under these circumstances, and there is not a day that goes by when I do not think of my brother as I sit in his old office here at USFSB.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

SHE SAYS:

Last month, we blogged about how you can enjoy your vacation even if you are a small business owner.  This summer, we were able to take our own advice to ‘Have Fun!’  Our son Matthew announced some happy news that was a wonderful way to begin our vacation.

Each summer, actually since I was a child, I took vacations to the Jersey Shore.  After Joe and I married, I encouraged the tradition with him and our family.  So, every year, we went to the Jersey Shore for two weeks and it has become a special place for all of us.  A couple of years ago, we finally purchased a condo on the beach for all of us to enjoy.  When we are not using it for our two weeks we rent it out to others, which can be another story about running that small business!

This year, our time together at the shore was fabulous!  We knew in advance that two days before we left for vacation, our son, Matthew, was going to propose marriage to his long-time girlfriend, Erika.  She accepted and that began a sweeping wave of happiness for all of us.

Originally, Joe and I planned to spend the first week by ourselves and our good friends always join us on the second week.  It is customary for our daughter to be with us on vacation and for the three boys to join us on the ‘middle weekend’, when they can.  This year, Julia was volunteering at two different jobs and wasn’t sure she could make it all.    Michael lives in San Francisco, so he wasn’t planning to be there either and Joseph decided to go to Washington, DC for that weekend.  Matthew ended up having a week off between jobs, so he and Erika wanted to come down for the “middle weekend” and stay a few extra days.

Since we knew about the proposal plan and the date in advance, we started talking to Michael, Joseph and Julia about their plans and the possibility of everyone converging to the shore to celebrate the engagement together.  Michael was able to plan a work trip to NYC so he worked around it to be able to join us.  Joseph cancelled his trip to DC and Julia was so excited that she rearranged her schedule to be there.

These days, it is unusual for all six of us to be in the same place at the same time, but this time it all fell into place.  Not only were all of us there, but my nephew from Florida who is close to Matthew, drove up to NJ with his girlfriend, a niece also visited with us for a couple of days and of course our friends joined us too.  By the “middle weekend” there were 14 of us in the condo and it was one of the most exciting and happiest times we’ve all had together lately!

Business, what business?  Oh yeah, after our fabulous weekend, even though we were still on vacation, it was back to reality!

In the meantime, we recently met Erika’s parents for the first time. All of us are already having great fun enjoying the engagement and making plans for the wedding which will be in March 2011. I’ll keep you posted on the developing plans.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?