When you ask for a release, apologizing after does not cut it.

“That it’s too late to apologize, it’s too late

I said it’s too late to apologize, it’s too late

Too late,”

OneRepublic

Apologizing fixes many things, except the past. The past remains well crystalized. We see a fine example of apologizing not fixing the repudiation of an employment contract.

Ms. Perretta started work at Rand as a customer advocate on September 29, 2014, pursuant to a written employment agreement dated September 11, 2014. Rand promoted Ms. Perretta to the position of sales representative effective November 1, 2018, pursuant to a new employment contract dated October 23, 2018. The 2018 contract stated Rand could terminate Ms. Perretta’s employment without cause by providing two weeks notice or pay in lieu of notice plus the minimum notice or pay in lieu of notice, benefits and severance pay required by the Ontario Employment Standards Act.

Rand terminated Ms. Perretta’s employment on March 31st, 2020. However instead of providing her two weeks pay in lieu of notice, Rand provided her with a letter demanding a release prior to payment of the two weeks severance.

Ms. Perretta’s termination letter included an “Enhanced Severance” offer whereby Ms. Perretta would receive the two weeks’ salary only upon within 7 days signing a detailed three page release, returning all company property, continuing to be bound by the Confidentiality and Non-Competition and Non-Solicitation provisions of the 2018 Employment Contract, modifying her LinkedIn profile and repaying Rand in case she breached any of these terms. Her employment contract did not include any such requirements.

Ms. Perretta pointed this out to Rand, but instead Rand reiterated its demand for a full release prior to payment. Rand then proceeded to ask not once, but twice to have the release signed before advancing the severance. Mr. Perretta’s lawyer pointed out the error to Rand that the employment contract did not include such requirements, and it is only after this that Rand proceeded to pay out the severance. Of course, this did not end the matter.

Ms. Perretta’s lawyer (dare I say cleverly) took the position that Rand repudiated the employment contract by acting as if it was no longer bound to the terms of the contract.  Ms. Perretta then became entitled to payment in lieu of notice pursuant to the common law.

Justice Sanfilippo in the Ontario Supreme Court held that Rand attempted to deny the entire bargain of the contract. By refusing to pay the two weeks severance, Rand deprived her of the entire monetary benefit of the termination provision. Even if the oversite was an innocent lack of understanding of the employment agreement that Rand had drafted, this innocence did not override the serious nature of the repudiation.

The court applied the test considering the surrounding circumstances whether one party acted as if the contract would no longer apply looking at the matter objectively. This includes looking at what the impact would be upon the innocent party and whether they would be substantially deprived of the benefit of the contract.

With respect, the termination payment seems a small component of the overall total compensation package of five and a half years of salary and benefits. The termination benefit was only .7% of the entire total compensation package over the term of employment. However, at the end of any employment relationship, the termination provisions do loom large. And this is when the employee is at their most vulnerable.

The court took particular notice that Rand’s lawyer did apologize a few days later after the termination. Sometimes apologies can help, particularly in medical malpractice. A sincere apology is an act of humility. This requires that the person recognizes that they have done something wrong and needs to acknowledge this mistake. But this makes the apologizing person vulnerable, and the last thing lawyers want to do is show weakness since this acts as a drop of blood in the water, not withstanding the sincerity.

This recalls George Burns’ quote of “Sincerity – if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” This is not recommended since one’s sincerity, or lack thereof will always come to light.

Being sincere of course is not sufficient. You should also express regret and be specific about the harm. And of course, you mitigate the harm you have caused.

However, in drafting releases, employers normally try to squeak in as many provisions to their benefit at the end of any employment relationship. Here Rand attempted to include that Ms. Perretta had no other claims or action, consented to an injunctive relief in case she breached the release and agreed to a nondisparagement clause (which at this point every employer wants) and agreed to keep the terms of her employment termination confidential.

The last clause is particularly ironic since this court decision has been discussed in the media and is free on CANLii. And just so you also know, as Ms. Perretta was 5.5-year employee in a non-mangement role, she received 6 months wages.

This raises the question as to where to put these otherwise nice to have clauses. The only other location would be right into the employment contract right at the beginning of the employment relationship. As the employer and employee attempt to forge a positive initial relationship including these termination terms may seem somewhat hard, but as we should remember words of the great jurist Elton John, who sang that in actual fact “sorry seems the hardest word”.

For employers, it’s too late to apologize.

“That it’s too late to apologize, it’s too late
I said it’s too late to apologize, it’s too late
Too late, oh…”

OneRepublic

Apologizing fixes many things, except the past. The past remains well crystalized. We see a fine example of apologizing not fixing the repudiation of an employment contract.

Ms. Perretta started work at Rand as a customer advocate on September 29, 2014, pursuant to a written employment agreement dated September 11, 2014. Rand promoted Ms. Perretta to the position of sales representative effective November 1, 2018, pursuant to a new employment contract dated October 23, 2018. The 2018 contract stated Rand could terminate Ms. Perretta’s employment without cause by providing two weeks notice or pay in lieu of notice plus the minimum notice or pay in lieu of notice, benefits and severance pay required by the Ontario Employment Standards Act.

Rand terminated Ms. Perretta’s employment on March 31st, 2020. However instead of providing her two weeks pay in lieu of notice, Rand provided her with a letter demanding a release prior to payment of the two weeks severance.

Ms. Perretta’s termination letter included an “Enhanced Severance” offer whereby Ms. Perretta would receive the two weeks’ salary only upon within 7 days signing a detailed three page release, returning all company property, continuing to be bound by the Confidentiality and Non-Competition and Non-Solicitation provisions of the 2018 Employment Contract, modifying her LinkedIn profile and repaying Rand in case she breached any of these terms. Her employment contract did not include any such requirements.

Ms. Perretta pointed this out to Rand, but instead Rand reiterated its demand for a full release prior to payment. Rand then proceeded to ask not once, but twice to have the release signed before advancing the severance. Mr. Perretta’s lawyer pointed out the error to Rand that the employment contract did not include such requirements, and it is only after this that Rand proceeded to pay out the severance. Of course, this did not end the matter.

Ms. Perretta’s lawyer (dare I say cleverly) took the position that Rand repudiated the employment contract by acting as if it was no longer bound to the terms of the contract.  Ms. Perretta then became entitled to payment in lieu of notice pursuant to the common law.

Justice Sanfilippo in the Ontario Supreme Court held that Rand attempted to deny the entire bargain of the contract. By refusing to pay the two weeks severance, Rand deprived her of the entire monetary benefit of the termination provision. Even if the oversite was an innocent lack of understanding of the employment agreement that Rand had drafted, this innocence did not override the serious nature of the repudiation.

The court applied the test considering the surrounding circumstances whether one party acted as if the contract would no longer apply looking at the matter objectively. This includes looking at what the impact would be upon the innocent party and whether they would be substantially deprived of the benefit of the contract.

With respect, the termination payment seems a small component of the overall total compensation package of five and a half years of salary and benefits. The termination benefit was only .7% of the entire total compensation package over the term of employment. However, at the end of any employment relationship, the termination provisions do loom large. And this is when the employee is at their most vulnerable.

The court took particular notice that Rand’s lawyer did apologize a few days later after the termination. Sometimes apologies can help, particularly in medical malpractice. A sincere apology is an act of humility. This requires that the person recognizes that they have done something wrong and needs to acknowledge this mistake. But this makes the apologizing person vulnerable, and the last thing lawyers want to do is show weakness since this acts as a drop of blood in the water, not withstanding the sincerity.

This recalls George Burns’ quote of “Sincerity – if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” This is not recommended since one’s sincerity, or lack thereof will always come to light.

Being sincere of course is not sufficient. You should also express regret and be specific about the harm. And of course, you mitigate the harm you have caused.

However, in drafting releases, employers normally try to squeak in as many provisions to their benefit at the end of any employment relationship. Here Rand attempted to include that Ms. Perretta had no other claims or action, consented to an injunctive relief in case she breached the release and agreed to a nondisparagement clause (which at this point every employer wants) and agreed to keep the terms of her employment termination confidential.

The last clause is particularly ironic since this court decision has been discussed in the media and is free on CANLii. And just so you also know, as Ms. Perretta was 5.5-year employee in a non-mangement role, she received 6 months wages.

This raises the question as to where to put these otherwise nice to have clauses. The only other location would be right into the employment contract right at the beginning of the employment relationship. As the employer and employee attempt to forge a positive initial relationship including these termination terms may seem somewhat hard, but as we should remember words of the great jurist Elton John, who sang that in actual fact “sorry seems the hardest word”.

You actually are living in the Matrix

Imagine you outline to your client the possibilities of two court actions where he is the plaintiff in one case and the defendant in another. Legal fees are no longer a cost consideration. In the first case, you advise that he could settle and receive $70,000 or have a 90% chance of the court awarding him $80,000. In the second case, you advise that he could settle and pay $70,000 or have a 90% chance of the court deciding he should pay $80,000.  If he was like most people, in the first case he would settle for the $70,000. In second case he would likely go to court and risk paying $80,000. People prefer sure things when it comes to gains, and take risks when it comes to avoiding losses.

This simple example captures a substantial portion of Kahneman’s book Thinking: Fast and Slow in addition to Thaler’s book, Nudge. Kahneman and Thaler separately won the Nobel Prize for work in their respective fields. The Obama administration successfully incorporated the concept of ‘nudges’ into their policy work. These theories on behavioral economics can contribute substantially towards the practice of law and the attraction and retention of clients.

Kahneman separates our thought process into a simple dichotomy of System 1 thinking, fast, and System 2 thinking, slow.

System 1 thinking explains why people feel losses twice as much as they feel comparable gains. Fast thinking comes into play when you stand up to object to a line of questioning without knowing why, when you sense a brief misses something, or when you believe that there really is a tiger outlined in the grass just ahead. Regardless of your personal circumstances, fast thinking comes in handy to avoid being eaten. Figuratively or literally.

Fast thinking includes intuition. Although, thinking with your gut can be dismissed as superficial, Kahneman recognizes that experts glancing at a situation can reach a correct conclusion simply based on continuous experience.

Intuitive thinking guides the halo effect. Someone’s reputation, and ego, could proceed them. Or exceed them. This may give this person an aura of invincibility in that they have won so often they will likely win again. If you, or a court, provides that person the benefit of doubt, a halo so to speak, then you should dissuade yourself of this notion. Rest assured, the rest of the day has not yet been written. Anything can and will likely happen.

Information immediately available primes system 1 thinking and feeds into the ‘anchoring’ concept. Kahneman provides the example of a panel of German judges asked to roll a weighted die that came up with three or nine. The judges were then asked to provide a ruling on a certain fact situation. Although it should not have mattered, judges rolling a nine more often gave higher sentences that the judges that rolled a three.

System 2, slow thinking represents the traditional lawyer mind; collecting facts, analyzing those facts, and providing a researched opinion.  Relative to fast thinking, slow thinking generally has to be dragged into the thought process if the mind feels that fast thinking ‘has got this covered’. Slow thinking eats Doritos while watching TV. I prefer the term ‘critical thinking’ as slow thinking suggests something negative.

Understanding how prospective clients think can impact how you market anything. Imagine yourself a prospective client landing on your firm’s website. The website asks if you want to allow cookies in order to enhance your website experience. Being like most people, you sort of realize that cookies attach to your browser benignly. But you read something about them somewhere and your overall impression leans towards not allowing cookies. You congratulate yourself on being prudent, but your web experience becomes muted. The firm suffers an opportunity cost.

Continuing your search, you land on another site that clearly, but not alarmingly, states that a small piece of code, a cookie shall be added to your web browser. Once again, you don’t know anything more about cookies than you did five minutes ago, but you proceed regardless. Your web experience becomes far more customized, and the law firm discovers substantial information on future clients’ interests.

Most clients intuitively refuse to accept cookies given the choice. The critical part of the mind would not examine the situation since there did not appear to be an immediate need. A client merely advised of cookie use would likely proceed, confident in the notion that someone vetted the cookie usage for them. The concept of providing a default cookie option nudges the client into a better result.

One would think that providing a range of options provides greater satisfaction than fewer options. However, Thaler says that having too many options leads to greater stress and reduced satisfaction. Therefore, providing a default option increases the probability that a correct choice is being made.

Thaler euphemistically refers to this as libertarian paternalism. People make better decisions by the correct arrangement of choices. The person in charge of this arrangement becomes the choice architect.

A business owner becomes a choice architect in numerous ways. In speaking with a client and laying out their options, the phrasing of options definitely impacts the client’s choice. Although business owners may feel that they want to leave the choice of options strictly to the client, one should determine what level of guidance the client requires. Normally they would want your best recommendation.

Thaler parses apart the various tools that a choice architect has into five main aspects: Incentives, mapping, defaults, feedback, expect errors and structuring complex choices. For example data visualization and mnemonics of legal information can illustrate the difference between complex choices. In retaining clients, understanding the process behind making decision choices increases your value proposition defined as the benefits relative to the costs. By making the correct choice easier, you have channeled your client to the correct choice. You have reduced not so much the monetary cost to the client, but the stress cost of making that decision.

In making an intuitive choice, clients want to know what other people did in similar situations. Thaler found that a need to conform easily influences peoples’ choices. Clients could operate on this basis to decide how to proceed on a case for example. They would rely more on what friends and other people have done in a similar situation. Therein lies the importance of stories. Relating other individual’s stories can add additional comfort to clients and make the decision easier. Adding stories to your advice makes a client’s choice easier.

To demonstrate this, Thaler identifies greater compliance in hotels where people are advised the guests before them selected the economical option of not insisting upon having towels replaced daily. People like to be part of the crowd as this makes their decision making easier. Your firm stories should reflect how generally others have proceeded.

These innovative concepts require greater examination and incorporation into today’s business practice particularly in cases where they might operate to your client’s detriment.

Did you feel the nudge?

Living after doing stupid

Have you ever thought back on wonder how you survived this long?

As the saying goes, there are bold pilots and there are old pilots, but there are no old bold pilots.

I think my earliest memory at 8 was one of those bottle rockets. You fill this plastic projectile with water and then pump it full of air. Making this sharp plastic rocket into bottled death.

My friend was busy pumping up one of these plastic death dealers when I noticed that he was pointing it right at me. Thinking this was not particularly safe, I fell to the side to lie on the grass. It was at that instant the rocket let go and basically grazed my face.

At about 10 my parents got me one of those BB guns. I built a little shooting gallery in the basement. I thought it would be cool to use those little metal hockey players from the hockey games they used to sell. Shooting them down I was Zabata. I was the Rifleman. A BB hit the metal player and ricocheted right back to just below my eye. No, instead I was Ralphie from Christmas Story.

I am beginning to think my parents were out to get me by enabling my various destructive tendancies.

My dear mother was kind enough to accompany me to the pharmacy. She asked for a few ounces of potassium nitrate, saltpeter. The major ingredient to gunpower. The pharmacist was astute enough to ask her as to why, and she simply responded that I wanted to conduct experiments. Which was true of course. He simply admonished her slightly that my intent was to make gunpowder. That was the experiment. That didn’t stop her. Or me of course. And this was 50 years ago. Kinder gentler more trusting times back then.

I didn’t have the internet. But I did have all 32 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Plus the maps and the index. All the world’s knowledge.

Flash forward a few years, then we have the teenage driving years. Got through that without a speeding ticket. I went through two transmissions however. And I went through, partially, one garage wall.

Not surprising, a lot of people are injured when skiing. When I was still in my late teens I went skiing through the forest. I careened towards an tree and managed to drive both my arms forward to force myself to merely shoulder check a tree at highspeed.

You think I would learned a bit better.

After attending a conference I went hiking in the mountains above the tree line. No water. No confirming with other people where I was going. But I struggled through this broken slate type of ridge. One side of the hill faced the lodge where a sharp eyed conference attendee might point out what that idiot, me, was doing. But if I fell on the other side, on the dark side so to speak, I doubt anyone would notice my absence till later the following day. I think some would notice my presence. But unfortunately those would have been the cougars. And not the figurative ones.

A few years later, again after a meeting, I drove up to the side of one of forest covered mountains and followed a cascading stream. As I worked my way, I had to cross the stream a few times. And it was deep and fast enough that if I fell in, it would have had its way with me. Meaning banging me around for about ten feet before bouncing me hard against one of the many boulders. Once, without notifying anyone, they would have started looking for me the following day. And there was the signage of course.

Keep watch for cougars.

Smart phone dopamine doping

I fondly remember the first cell-phones. And by cell-phones I mean the old brick sized cell phones that would come with their own power supply the size of a car battery. I would constantly check my voice mail to see if anyone left me a voice message. I became thrilled if someone left me an electronic message and asked me to do something. I also became disappointed if there were no messages, especially after loading up my briefcase to haul this monstrosity of communications device around.

Of course with continued miniaturization, you could finally fit your phone into your pocket without having to carry a briefcase. But as the phones got smaller, the larger their impact on your overall life. When the phones finally developed the most miniature of screens, this was like mana from heaven. Texting was pointless for me when you had to type a button three times to get the proper letter to form a word. No wonder the WTF abbreviations finally started and formed part of our lexicon. Writing, became another art form slowly being lost.

A lot of people believe that the precursor of the end of civilization as we know it came with the advent of smartphones. Now you really can communicate with anyone in the world and at the same time lose the ability to relate to everyone else.

Of course, the end of civilization was to end with television, and before that radio, and before that the telegraph, printed books etc. Even Aristotle opposed writing somewhat since then his students didn’t really learn something if they didn’t have to memorize it. This little bit of wisdom may still apply today since you can search the world’s knowledge whenever you want to and you don’t really have to understand it. The context of everything then becomes a little bit more lost.

The intellectual train comes with a bunch of preliminary cars such as facts, information, knowledge, wisdom and finally you get to the locomotive we all want to reach, enlightenment. But with our attention span fallen below 8 seconds, which is lower than the common goldfish, enlightenment may only come as a result of a search engine.

We are so anxious to get our little dopamine fix. I used to play Black Jack a fair bit. This was the one game where you could get closest to beating the house. Rest assured, you think you can beat them over the very long-term, but you can’t. That’s why they have such great hotels in Vegas. Any money leakage is quickly squashed. I had a fairly simple system of knowing all the odds and pressing the advantage whenever the cards starting going my way. It paid for a couple of trips, but I got out when the going was good since the long game always favors the house. But I remember the chemical effects. You can feel the dopamine pouring through your system whenever a good card was laid out. You win just enough to keep you completely engaged. And you can now feel this same effect whenever you agree to push notifications from your favorite social media.

I had my computer bing whenever a new email came in. I would drop, electronically, whatever email I was working on in order to read the new email. My concentration was slowly being eaten away as I agreed to the new hormonal influx from the new email. It would take me a minute or two to get properly focused on whatever I was doing before however.

Now you can get notifications whenever something new is posted, or new comments on that post, or if someone comments on your post, or if someone comments on your comments. Time keeps getting chopped up more finely.

After a while it seems that you might have an angry squirrel in your pocket since your phone constantly chitters at you. Begging for a bit more attention. If this is making people happy, then more power to them. But this seems like a short jump to Brave New World when the population turned to Soma instead of facing reality. Attaching electrodes directly to the brain seems to be simpler and faster route than having to go through the smart phone interface.

Eventually things got bad enough that I turned off all push notifications from any sort of social media. This recapture of free will became most liberating. I feel that being able to focus on one thing at time increased my creativity as I go through various scenarios. This reduction in dopamine happiness likely had other positive ramifications however.

Scientific American provided some research on the difference between happiness and well-being. There appears to be a synergistic effect where one can increase the other but they remain different. One can be happy watching TV even though you would be better off learning something new or completing that homework assignment. By changing your focus from short-term tactical happiness you can then focus on the long-term strategic happiness.

Pets can add to happiness

I was recently reading an article in the globe and mail. Pets are an investment in happiness. “A field study demonstrated that pet owners who were randomly assigned to spend five dollars on their pet reported greater happiness than those who were assigned to spend on themselves or another person. An effect specific to feelings of happiness rather than to mood more generally. This was reported in the Journal of Positive Psychology.

I imagine this depends on what the money was used for otherwise. If I crossed the dessert, I would sooner spend five dollars on a bottle of water. Even if it was plastic.

I do keep some large carp. They might not care if I got them a little plastic castle. But if I got them five dollars of little feeder fish, they would be leaping out of the pond to get them.

My golden retrievers would be ecstatic if told them I got them a treat. As long as I was enthusiastic, and gave them attention, they would quickly forget if I gave them anything at all.

I think the point I was trying to make, is that we can justify just about anything. I prefer my own person Journal entitled Journal of Confirmation Bias. I like to read things that substantiate the way I am already thinking. I am inclined to disbelief things that do not align with the way I am already thinking.

And perhaps the definition of pet can be somewhat misleading. Any animal could be a pet. I think most people go immediately to dogs. A pet can be defined as a domestic or tamed animal kept for companionship or pleasure. Dogs seems to fit into companionship. Are cats more in the pleasure category?

Almost interestingly, psychologists have a convoluted definition for PET which I accidently googled. Positron emission tomography (PET), which is similar to the MRI, is a scanning method that enables psychologists and doctors to study the brain (or any other living tissue) without surgery. Not a great companion.

Getting back to the point, three recent studies aimed to find out how and why pet ownership benefits people psychologically. They found that Pets that fulfilled their owners’ social needs better were related to less depression, less loneliness, greater self-esteem, and greater happiness in their owners.

During these times of COVID, favorite dog types were in high demand. I did not check into cats. I visited my pet store and I did find that carp were still well stocked.

Happiness divided by Sadness plus Meaning equals Well Being

The equation looks simple, but getting the numbers right is the hard part. Fortunately, well being does not include calculus. And no, the number is not 42 as in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, the “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything“, calculated by an enormous supercomputer named Deep Thought over a period of 7.5 million years.

Happiness and Meaning provide two powerful motivations in life. Scientific American provided some research on the difference between the two and that happiness and meaning are essential elements of well-being. There appears to be a synergistic effect where one can increase the other but they remain different. One can be happy playing video games even though you would be better off learning something new or completing that homework assignment.

The one thing that increases meaning in life but likely causes unhappiness would be having children of course. Having children seems meaningful when you are finally playing with the grandchildren that go home at the end of the day as opposed to the times when you are up at 3 am with a colicky baby.

Other studies have found that feeling heathy or having wealth contributed to happiness while wisdom contributed to meaning but detracted from happiness. So happiness relates more to having your needs met while meaning relates to helping others met their needs.

Meaning possesses two major parts, a cogitative processing component which makes sense of and integrates experiences and a purpose component which includes motivation and long-term goals. This demonstrates the potential negative impact of attempting to be happy all the time and not experiencing the full range of negative emotions needed for personal development. While connotative processing strongly relates to a passion and perseverance to long-term goals. Which is quite a long-winded way of saying Grit.

Looking back, I can see how I imposed a level of grit into my life approach. My life moto turned out to be you only fail once you stop trying. I certainly had to apply this throughout all my years of university. I was incapable of giving something up once I started it. Unfortunately, I have not included house cleaning as part of those tasks that I am not prepared to give up. I recognize a Sisyphus boulder pushing task from the get go.

Processing and purpose fuse together to provide meaning in life. Examining your life brings to mind Aristotle’s teaching that the unexamined life is not worth living. A more positive way of saying this would be that processing your life makes living more worthwhile. Although behavioral economics has already taught us that that people feel losses twice as much as they feel gains, so Aristotle may have had it right the first time. People are more encourage to act in order to avoid a loss.

Life examination does not appear to be one time thing, but rather an all-time thing. You can’t just examine your life once and forget about it. Each step seems to require its own examination to see how it all fits together.

Speaking of great philosophers, Vince Lombardi said something similar. “Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while. You don’t do things right once in a while; you do them right all of the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately so is losing.” This can be applied in numerous situations as we constantly examine our lives and continue to live our life with purpose. The final part, about the meaning of life needs can now be phrased as to how to live with long term goals and perseverance. 

So when it comes to goal setting, what would Vince, or Jefferson do in a similar situation? Jefferson spent a great deal of his youth studying. He laid out in great detail how one should study and for how long. From 8 o’clock in the morning till dusk he would study all areas of science, law and agriculture. From dark till bedtime he devoted his time to poetry, drama and literary criticism with an emphasis on Cicero’s speeches. At night, he ran past the city limits and back again. After Jefferson, all other presidents stood on the shoulders of this giant.

Taking Jefferson as a role model, we can see the benefits of the setting long-term goals for the mind, body and spirit. Had he lived another ten year, it’s unlikely that he would have allowed his work to have been interrupted by checking the telegraph machine every few minutes.

Why do sinners make the best saints?

The most interesting Saints cover a broad spectrum. They transition from the generally bad state to sainthood state. Everyone likes the come from behind kid.

St. Augustine may have had the most sinful past. He fathered an illegitimate child. He eventually abandoned the child and the mother in the prospects of marrying a heiress. His mother, like almost all mothers, persisted that he repent. Eventually he did and turned to the priesthood. As a nod to his party past, he remains the patron saint of brewers. He apparently prayed for chastity, but not just not yet.

Ancient Rome subcontracted out tax collection to locals. These people were generally hated by all. Tax collectors notoriously extorted additional fees on top of the taxes. Even if they didn’t, they were seen as Roman collaborators.

Likely the most famous was St Matthew. Followers harangued Jesus for including roman collaborators.  Eventually St. Matt moved out the money collection business and into Sainthood. I think it is telling that ever since tax collection in the US started, no one working there has been raised to sainthood.

St. Mary of Egypt lived in Alexandria in the fourth century. She was a ‘seductress’. Some research suggests she was a prostitute. Other studies suggest that St Mary never charged for her services. She seemingly liked the challenge.

Fortunately, she joined a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. She did this apparently to either drum up more business or join what would have been the closest thing to the mile high club. Either way she managed to seduce everyone along the way. When she finally got to the holy site, she saw a statute of the Virgin Mary and repented. What must be the greatest turnaround in ancient history, she is now the Patron Saint against sexual temptation.

St. Angela spent most of her life seeking wealth, material possessions and pleasure. As an aside, I really didn’t like where this one was heading. She had several children but was still more interested in gathering possessions.

At 40 she realized the emptiness of her life. Unfortunately, her mother, children and husband died three years later. She sold everything and joined an order and became the patron saint of widows. Part of her tagline includes adulteress. I am not sure what they did for SEOs back then.

The Blessed Bartolo Longo started off as a devout catholic. He may have been looking for more immediate gratification and became a Satanic Priest instead. He joined the Dominican tertiary and helped college students learn about the avoiding the evils of the occult. We can only be thankful that there was no cool aid back then.
All of these people focused on the long game. This means there is hope for all of us.

Superheroes don’t all wear capes

Photo by Ronu00ea Ferreira on Pexels.com

Some carry BBQ tongs.

I led another daring rescue one time. Spoiler Alert. Everything turned out fine. I say led since my dog Seamus started things off, but otherwise he didn’t help very much outside of emotional support. And really that’s what he does all the time, so there was no increased emotional support.

During the summer, fall, spring and perhaps winter, I engage in my favorite activity. BBQ. One fall day, I moved hamburger Wednesday over to hamburger Thursday. So I attempted to minimize the charring on the various pieces of meat for people wanting theirs’ medium and those wanting well done. This activity normally included beer, but I minimize, ok abstain, completely now. The sound of sizzling meat filled the air.

Our backyard contains an extensive network of gardens and raised beds. The pond in the corner holds my various goldfish and comets. Basically carp. A large pump circulates the water and causes it to cascade over a small waterfall. I find the sound quite relaxing.

Our golden retriever, Seamus sat on the deck, Sphinx like, looking into the neighbors’ backyard. A wire fence encloses the backyard and vines and cedars provide sufficient privacy. You can sort of tell through the fence that the backyard neighbors keep a swimming pool going. Their large yellow lab sometimes goes for a swim. A delicate thing he is not. His front legs would come to the surface to be plonked back down. Sort of like your younger days when you used to dunk your younger brother.

Instead, Seamus, continuing his sphinx pose, watched their lab circle around the outside of the pool.   I could see him occasionally through the fence. Over top the cacophony of sounds, meat sizzling, waterfall falling, lab scrabbling, I heard a much smaller series of plonks. But my attention was constantly drawn to increased sizzling whenever a fire erupted.

I suppose the intuitive part of my mind sensed something was wrong. Seamus’ favorite activity includes ping pong back and forth barking with the neighbors’ dog, but both distracted. The smaller plonk sound grabbed my attention, so I walked over to the back fence and peeked over. Now, I think we own this fence since it seems similar to the one at the side yard. But the previous owners must have tried to make their leftover fencing fit since the top of the fence does not have those nice round tops, Rather, they sheared the tops off at an angle. This converted the nice neighborly wire fence into something like suburbia razor wire.

Approaching the fence carefully, I grabbed the least flesh and tendon rendering part of the fence and looked over the top. I saw that the neighbors’ Yorkie going for a swim. I found this surprising as I didn’t think Yorkies liked swimming very much. But I did not know much about the topic. Much like my lack of knowledge about worms.

I scanned the perimeter of the pool and quickly surmised that there was no easy, or any, access for this little dog to leave the pool. He needed help. I momentary wondered about the social and cultural norms of jumping into the neighbor’s pool. I decided that the situation overrode all of that. It seems longer reading about it, and critics might be thinking the word interminable comes to mind, but the entire process could not have taken more than three seconds.

Remembering the suburban razor wire, I dashed to the garage and got my step ladder. Leaning the ladder against the fence, I climbed to the top. Now, at this point I thought some gloves would have been a nice addition. I grabbed the top wires carefully, there is no other way to handle razor wire, and I clambered into a vault position and balanced at top since straddling the top did not appear to be an option.

The next required leaping clear of the fence and landing on the concrete. Dropping six feet onto concrete should be something that all 60 year olds should avoid, but there was no avoiding this and no backing out. The landing came off fine but continued until I came to a complete stop. Sort of frog like with my butt bouncing off the concrete and slapping down my palms.

The Yorkie managed to swim now to the side of the pool and scratched away at the liner, He remained a good nine inches below the pool deck. I ran to the far side as this seemed much better than jumping in. I grabbed the little guy with only his head above the surface, bulging eyes and pounding heart. He shook uncontrollably. Me too by this point.

I walked over to their house and knocked on the door. The Yorkie’s owner became understandably quite distraught when I told her what happened. She thanked me profusely. She offered to let me walk through the house back to the street. Getting back to the BBQ, I could now hear more sizzling, became a priority. Going through their house would require going around the entire block before getting back to my home. I elected the proto-superhero exit. By this I mean a superhero before they received their powers or after they lost them.  Remember how lame that guy was before being bitten by the spider, irradiated by gamma rays, or fused with machines. So visualize them climbing a wire fence. So I gamely clambered back up the fence, without the ladder which remained on the other side. My neighbor started to look a bit more concerned about a 60 year old climbing a razor wire fence. I contained my own concern since successfully getting over the fence became paramount with a watching audience. I managed to hoist myself up and avoid being eviscerated on the top. Putting my foot on the ladder on the other side helped my balance and I could climb down. Jumping back to our side would have been softer with the dirt gardens, but by no means safer. Jumping would mean landing on the field of my wife’s hostas. Even the razor wire seemed a somewhat better alternative. Quicker and done, so to speak.

This shows how connected we can be with all living things if we paid attention. I try to reconcile this with my constant desire to eat meat products. Our backyard neighbors rewarded my wife and me with a nice BBQ set, spices and sauces. So my angst continues as I look forward to the next outdoor cooking season.

Kids buying homes need dads with tools.

Woman in Green Jacket Holding Smartphone
Photo by Pexels

I pack my favorite tools in a checked bag. I fly to Victoria and successfully avoid and evade COVID in order to help our son and daughter-in law with their recent house purchase. I pour over the inspection report whose main purpose includes finding as many defects as possible. Caveat Emptor. The buyer needs a thousand eyes, but the seller, well he needs but only one. That kind of university education does shake one’s faith in humanity a touch, but I persevere.

Arriving at the house, my son and daughter-in-law beam happily. But the house remains stoic. I am pleased that the house does justice for all of the photos from the report. Any photo from the realtor seems to distort reality, while the inspector’s photos bring reality back to focus. Sometimes harshly. Like all good things, a bit of distance does make things look better. Up close, some of the flaws can be distracting. Thoreau’s mild caution comes to mind for when the couple get their house, they may not be the richer but the poorer for it and it be the house that has got them. 

At twenty-five years, the house aged well. The first owners may not have aged as well however. When the original owners sold, a contractor bought the house a few years ago and saw an opportunity to do a quick gut and turn a bit of a profit. The subsequent buyers only had the place for a couple of years and decided to move to a different neighbourhood. Unfortunately, they had to sell during the time of COVID. The virus had not peaked yet, but the fear component was quite high. And Warren Buffet did recommend along the lines of buying when others are fearful, so this seem be that situation. Not that he made it into the realtor’s report.

The contractors revamped the exterior. This meant a new coat of paint that also meant painting the roof. They advertised the roof as slate tiles, but I eventually figured out the tiles were actually cement. Did painting cement mean anything longevity wise? How well does paint adhere to concrete? Many questions and not too many answers. The house inspector did not have a firm answer. This became more of a research project as opposed to a renovation project.

All the lovely flowers in Victoria seem to be a result of all the rain. So it seems that constant November to February showers bring March flowers. It does not sound as poetic that way. A problem with houses is that they are mainly made with wood. If the wood is no longer part of a tree, then the showers contacting the wood becomes a problem. Showers also bring fungus rot. Not as pretty as a flower.

And yes, we began caulking. One of those neat words that act as a noun and as a gerund. Builders cover many of the decks with vinyl to keep the area underneath the deck relatively dry. So whenever they cut through the vinyl to make way for deck railings, it just seems to defeat the purpose. Remember National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation when Clark Griswold was happily putting hundreds of little staple holes in his shingled roof? Something like that. More Chalking.

The main living area on the second floor faces a rock hill behind the house. This attractive feature diverts all of that surface water down to the base of the house. Lovely moss and ferns cover the rock face. This suggests that lots of moisture cascades down this area. Weeping tiles seem to be doing a great job in collecting the water and diverting it around the house. Except for all of those little spaces in between the house and cement patio. More Caulking.

A few deck posts appear to have been heavily puttied. This material covers up areas that have decayed away, until the putty starts to crumble itself. Cut and replace. Way past caulking.

At the far end of the deck, one of the main beams no longer reaches its final destination. A standing post. Just a few inches shy. A post too far perhaps. The next to last post is only four feet away, so this hovering beam needs to be redone. The beam can cantilever for a couple of feet, but it can’t cantilever there forever. Cut out the old, and put in the new.

Good job for a reciprocating saw. I have a nice rechargeable Black and Decker one. Did I say rechargeable with one of those large lithium batteries that seem to catch on fire occasionally when on a plane? The battery would have to come in my carry-on while the saw itself would have to stay in the checked bag. And does anyone besides me read those little boxes you check before printing your airplane ticket? One asks are you carrying explosives? Easy no there. The next one asks about carrying power tools? Answering yes kicks you out of the main line and into the exception line for check-in. In Canada, the attendant taking the bags simply told me that a saw would be fine. I have been dragged into the “exception line” in foreign countries on occasion. These rooms have metal tables and people with automatic weapons. No reasons were ever given, and it was not a Midnight Express experience, but something to avoid.

After the outside repairs, we can now look inwards. Not for introspection, but for the problems inside of the house. The one thing that could be worse than water, which gives life and appears so attractive in photos, would be termites.

Termites have a right to live too, just not in the house. Our inspection found this little insect colony near the boiler room. Termites become the kiss of resale death for houses in the US. The Western Drywood termites there can start on wood and carry-on merrily until they are done. The Victoria Subterranean Termites require moisture and they construct tunnels in order to move from one area to another. So they constructed little earthen tunnels. Taking out small parts of the drywall, we can see that they did not affect the wood at all and simply abandoned the nest. It resembled an ancient abandoned Mayan civilization. Only the structures remain. But we got rid of the termite structures anyway.

After a week of tearing some things apart and rebuilding others, I return home. The young adults seem pleased. Job done. At least for now. I pack away most of my tools. I leave some behind since I seem to own 4 or 5 of the same tool. I can’t resist shiny things.

Later that month at home our daughter calls. She just bought a nice turn of the century house. Come and have a look she says. Bring tools.