Category Archives: Business

Hurry! Hurry! Walmart is Selling Coffins!

Well, we have just entered an entirely new phase of commercialism in the United States of America when Walmart™ begins selling caskets. 

Dozens-of-wooden-coffins--001I was wondering how Walmart™ markets the new caskets they’re selling? I went on a journey through their website today, trying to figure out how to find these, what turned out to be, elusive caskets.

I started with Outdoor Living.  I got the “outdoor” part right, I was sure, but the “living” part proved to be the deal breaker.  Not there.

Furniture?  Were they in the Furniture section?  Alas, they were not there.  Apparently, furniture is something one keeps in the home for people who are alive to use.  Who knew?

Clearly, Health and Beauty, and Sports and Fitness would not qualify as categories in which I could turn to find these sneaky boxes.  Although I had read in reputable papers that Walmart was indeed selling coffins, I simply couldn’t find them.

I turned to the For the Home section. 

michael-collins-lying-in-state-with-sean-collinsNow, clearly, caskets are not meant for the home.  I do recall, however, my mother telling me that when people died when she was young, the dead were placed in their coffins in the family’s living room so people could come and pay their respects.  Grandpa would lie in state, awaiting Aunt Beulah and Uncle Chuck to come by, and say how peaceful he looked.  Mom, however, was born in 1922, and I knew that most of the time, this simply was no longer done.

The people at Walmart™, though, seemed to remember these days of yore, after all.  Cheating a little bit, I entered the word, “Casket,” into the search field.  There, in what appeared to be the For the Home section, I found my prize.  A list of inexpensive and, on screen, lovely memorials to a family’s departed loved one. 

So, I knew the caskets were there, but there was still something missing.  Which section in For the Home were these caskets listed.  I still didn’t know.  I began my search to see where they were located.

I started with Storage and Organization.  It seemed reasonable to me that anything that would hold one item for eternity would certainly be called storage.  Surprisingly, the caskets were not there.

I briefly checked Health and Beauty, but I knew they wouldn’t be there.  Health is the antithesis of death, and beauty, well, Aunt Beulah did say Grandpa looked peaceful.  No, though, they weren’t in Health and Beauty.  I even took a detour into Personal Care as someplace I thought might be a good section.  What is more personal than selecting a resting place for a loved one?  Even here, though, there was nothing about my intended subject.

Were these boxes in Gifts and Celebrations?  After all, in the Roman Catholic Church in which I was reared, we were always told that the mass was celebrated.  Perhaps, a funeral was like that, too.  Nothing.  I guess the people at Walmart™ weren’t Catholic.

Possibly in either the Luggage or Mattresses sections, I could find what I was looking for.  Packing forever?  Lying around forever?  Nope.  No go.

Would I find them in the Appliances section with the dryers and steam irons?  What product more closely resembles a coffin than a refrigerator, after all?  Of course, they weren’t there, but I had to look nonethess.  I did, however, find a lovely mixer I now have my eye on; but, I digress.

Depending on how one feels about the dearly departed, I suppose one might place the caskets in the Home Improvement section; but, overall, I doubt it.

Finally, I realized that the caskets were under the heading, Funerals.  Funerals is not something one will find on the home page at Walmart™.  One must enter the text into the search box to find the objects for which one is looking.  I could have looked all day long, I think, and never found Funerals or Caskets listed.  I had to make that little extra effort.  I wasn’t able to avoid confronting the thought that people who were currently grieving would have to go through this same process at a time they were least able to do so.

How is it that something so intimate and horrific can be sold at Walmart™?  They will never carry them in the stores, amongst the picture frames and linens, so the only way one can purchase them is on-line. 

Is it possible that we can now mail order death products like this at a time when we are most vulnerable and in need of human contact?  A human being’s physical remains will reside in this container for the rest of time.  It just seems improbable that we have gotten to this point in life to be able to acquire their interment box without ever speaking to one human being about it. 

officers_wife_mournsPeople are forced to have car washes and yard sales to raise the money for burying the people they love.  The funeral marketplace has become so expensive that Average Joe America simply can’t afford to have anyone in their family die.  So, Walmart™, in their infinite wisdom, has taken up the slack. 

My feelings about all of this does not detract from the fact that they have some lovely, more affordable caskets, including ones that say, “Mother,” and “Father,” and have images of American flags, roses, and Our Lady of Guadalupe.   That’s not the issue.

My concern is that we often wonder out loud why our children are becoming so disconnected and desensitized to death and dying?  We ask ourselves why we don’t value life more?  I think this recent news about Walmart™ speaks volumes to those questions.  Although, I know how necessary this is to offset the exorbitant costs of death, for some reason, this new turn in American commercialism makes me so very sad and lonely.

Squeezin’ Squeeze Inn

Squeeze Inn

Squeeze Inn

If the title of this piece is a little cheesy, it is appropriate given the nature of this article.   And, incidentally, “No!  You may not threaten the tiny Squeeze Inn Restaurant.”

There is an horrific outcry from the affected citizenry in Sacramento, California at the recent lawsuit brought by a Sacramento resident against this tiny eating establishment. 

There are few things that would elicit this type of vehement reaction from those of us familiar with this Sacramento landmark.  Cruelty to a child.  Injuring an animal.  Damaging the Constitution.  Suing Squeeze Inn.  These are, for us, nearly equal obscenities.  The Constitution thing may actually come after the Squeeze Inn offense.

Kimberly Block, 41, of Sacramento is suing the tiny, beloved eatery because she says as an individual in a wheelchair, she does not have equal access to the inside of the building.  With a long counter, eleven stools and not much more room than a narrow hallway for customers to sit, I as a portly gentleman, barely have room to sit in that place.  I will say, however, that I don’t care.  I will squeeze my abundance into that phenomenal burger joint to share in one of  the most amazing hamburgers I have tasted in my entire life.

I can certainly understand why Ms. Block is frustrated.  I also respect her desire for equal access.  I must wonder whether she is going to sue the City of Sacramento because if she wanted to work in the sewer system, there isn’t adequate ability to do so?  It is a quandry whether she will sue the Lincoln Memorial because she cannot walk up the steps to see the enormous statue within?  Sure the are pulleys and ramps that will help with either of those situations, but there are some things that would radically change the environment about which we are discussing.

I don’t want to see a ramp into the sewers for easy access, and I don’t want to see a pulley system in the middle of the stairs at the Lincoln Memorial, quite frankly.

There are two options as far as I’m concerned that would resolve this issue at Squeeze Inn.

One is that they could expand the seating area to include areas for wheelchairs.  This, of course, would require that they change the name of the restaurant to “Breeze In,” since the entire ambiance would be changed indoors.  That wouldn’t be good at all.

The other option is to make an enclosed seating area for disabled people where the bottom of the stairs is now.  That way a server could go outside and serve the customers while they wait for their delectable, cheesy meals.  This is the more acceptable solution, although the limited parking in front of the store would be even more limited.  Squeeze Inn refers to both the seating area and the parking lot.

Ms. Block, who apparently is lining up lawsuits around Sacramento because of the access issue for individuals with disability, is elusive in this process.  She will not respond to media inquiries and, yet, she continues to drop lawsuits like IEDs.  Is she a woman on a genuine mission or a mercenary who will get what she can while she can?

As a man who could barely walk for months on end because of major back issues, I understand completely about access concerns.  I also know there are alternatives.  I suspect this litigious woman is out to get what she can from any business who may be in the least bit vulnerable.  In a way, she is doing what she is accusing others of doing: making things more difficult for those who are least able to respond.

Should this lawsuit terminate Squeeze Inn’s ability to operate financially, I am certain that, not unlike the stories of Frankenstein and Dracula, the townspeople will direct their metaphorical pitchforks and torches and literal animosity toward Ms. Block. 

No one is ready for that day to come.

Squeeze Inn, 7916 Fruitridge Avenue, Sacramento, CA  Telephone number: 916-386-8599 is where you should go to find out what all the fuss is about.

Palin’s Ailin’

Governor Sarah Palin (R) Alaska (for now)

Governor Sarah Palin (R) Alaska (for now)

Soon-to-be-former Alaska Governer Sarah Palin (R) is deteriorating before our eyes.  Although I’m certain everyone is happy that her health remains excellent, her political well-being is crumbling before our eyes.

Gov. Palin, leader of the last territory to become a state before my own birth, is only the eleventh person to hold the reins of that vast expanse of land.  The tragedy, or perhaps by some residents’ views, the good fortune of the state has been that Madame Governor is stepping down. 

Her reasons seem to be voluminous and her ability to clearly define her choice making has been ridiculously meandering; however, one thing is clear:  She has other work to do, she feels.

According to a July 12, 2009 New York Times article, Gov. Palin has once again waltzed to her own political tune instead of listening to those around her who have guided her to retain her position.   Should it be any surprise?  She says of herself that she is a maverick.  No rules, no reins, no subtlety.

This is what has been on my mind – If Gov. Palin were an acquaintance at work or PTA, what would we say about a woman who leaves her job with no apparent position to which she is going?  First of all, we would say that there is clearly something we don’t know.  She has something up her sleeve that will keep her in the limelight.  As a public figure and leader of an entire state, what does it say about her that she is willing to abandon every resident of the state to serve her own needs?  Nothing good, I’m afraid.

We are now learning that she states she is going to stump for those who are centrists in the country, Republican and Democrat alike.  To my ears, she sounds an awful lot like an Independent.  I suspect we will be hearing a change in her political status shortly.  Her husband is already undeclared.  Now, Gov. Palin is free to register with the same non-title, as well.

One of the things that she talked about was how the media was hounding her family.  If she were truly the mother bear that she says she is, she would stand her ground on her hind legs, not give up an inch of her placement and fight back.  That’s not what she’s doing.  

She is going from being a politician to becoming a business woman.  Her business?  Sarah Palin, celebrity.  She may be the new Tiffany “New York” Pollard.  Loud, obnoxious, self-involved, and utterly self-promoting.

What she’s really doing is running.  I don’t mean running for office, I mean, running away.

There’s the crux of my concern about dear Sarah.

She’s a jumper.  She jumped into the governorship without much state level experience.  She jumped into the national Republican political scene with inadequate preparation.  She jumped into world conversations without knowing what her role was or much about the issues at hand.  Now, she is jumping out of the governorship and into a political scene in which she has no real place.  In fact, she’s displacing herself further by supporting anyone who will pay her; and, just wait and see, candidates will be paying through the nose if they’re foolish enough to want her support.

She is certainly no Barack Obama or Jack  or Bobby Kennedy, young, dynamic new faces on the scene.   To use a previous allusion, if she lived down the street, we’d all say, “This loud mouth idiot can’t seem to shut up.” 

She crashing and burning and she’s the one who lit the first match.  It’s a shame she’s insisting on this path and it’s an even bigger shame that we are participating in this politically self-destructive behavior.

Why Is Hate So Easy?

In every regional idiom of our American English language, we have many ways to say, “I hate that.”   It’s as simple as a sound and a face, “Ugh,” with our mouth and eyes and nose looking as though we have just smelled something phenomenally foul.   Why are we surprised when our government says the same thing to us?  Our elected officials are selected by us and reflect our values.

15488-07at“You may not marry.”

“You may not serve your country with pride.”

“You may not receive adequate health care or education.”

“You may not be considered beautiful.”

Those who have had to live with the impact of these messages are all being told that we have no value in segments of society and that our needs and dreams are unnecessary to the overall happiness of our country. 

Why does this disregard, discrimination, and distrust come so easily to us as a nation?  At this point, with the media having such a rich influence in our lives and policies, we cannot claim ignorance any longer.  We are making these choices consciously and with the full understanding of how our fellow citizens are being affected by these choices.  We are fully responsible legislatively, culturally, and personally. 

And, yes, it is personal. 

To someone I love very much, when she is told by a physician that he doesn’t have time to discuss why he is making the determination he is on her health, he is saying that because she is brown and poor, she doesn’t deserve compliance with the hypocratic oath he took when he became a physician.  This person is going to be allowed to continue his practice for many years to come, I’m sure, because who is going to listen to his painfully neglected patient? 

When only twelve percent of our nation’s states have acknowledged the love and commitment between two gay people, we are saying that a large majority, 78%, of our people feel that our lives together as a couple have no meaning.   These 78% of states are being supported by the United States Supreme Court when they said that the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” policy was not unconstitutional at the national level, and when the California Supreme Court did not overturn Proposition 8.

It’s as simple as not receiving an e-mail from a teacher.   When a parent writes and asks for information that will assist her in supporting the assignments the instructor gives, and all she receives is silence, the teacher is saying, “Your child has no value to me.  His education doesn’t count and what happens to him at the end of the year is of no consequence.”

Here in Sacramento, there was a shock jock who stated that if his son ever wore high heels, he, as a father, would beat that child with a shoe.  This was not something he said in the privacy of his home.  This person said this statement on the air and laughed about it. 

Now, we must face the truth that one of our citizens has walked into a museum honoring the memory of those who lost their lives during World War II and shot someone to make the statement that the shooter believes that there was no holocaust.   

When does it click, my friends?  When do we get that we cannot allow this to continue?  When does everyone in our country become full Americans to everyone else?   We have waited for 232 years.  Isn’t that long enough?

It’s time we decide, consciously and lovingly, that we will only tolerate respect in our homes and on our streets.  We will only permit those who understand the genuine value of every single person in our country to be elected to our legislative and judicial offices.   Only those who recognize the critical need for an exceptional education for every child, even when it’s difficult to accomplish, will be allowed to receive a teaching credential.  Every physician will be personally held accountable for ensuring that each of their patients understands his or her medical situation.

Simply put, we must only allow love to guide us.  Everywhere.  Always.

A Proud Moment in Film

A few months ago, a group of us decided to produce a film called, “Two Tears in a Bucket.”  The script was written by a new friend of mine, Dave Garcia.  He asked me to take one of the roles and line produce the picture.  I was not terribly busy, so I agreed. 

I’ve never had anything whatsoever to do with film in my life before this.  Nothing.  Not one tiny thing. 

It was going to be a lark.  Sure, I’ve produced many theatrical stage productions before, but this was a new adventure and I’m always up for a new adventure. 

We cast the film, worked out the logistics and began rehearsals, which I think are important.  I did the acting coaching, some of the directing, location management, scheduling, budgeting, and many of the other activities a line producer does.  The more I got into the process, the more enjoyable it became.  I realized that I was actually pretty good at this.  Although I had no formal training, after thirty years involved in theatre, I understood the concepts. 

Our cinematographer/editor came along and we were ready.

In the middle of this process, we were fortunate to do a tiny little six minute film, “Out of the Frying Pan,” which, incidentally, can be seen on YouTube. 

This film was a great training ground for us.  We learned what we could do and what we couldn’t do given our limited resources, limited time, and limited experience.  We were fortunate to have amazing people around us to get it done at all.

Once we were ready to begin filming, “Two Tears…” we felt as though we had a head start.

Tonight, a few of us gathered to see the first cut of our film.  I was prepared for the worst.  We’d done our best, but with few exceptions, we were neophytes. 

What I saw tonight was a surprise and a pleasure.  The first cut of our film was a testament to all the dedication, love, and effort everyone had pulled together for this project. 

The film is now going to the composer for the score.  Rick Dean Sumners has the responsibility to reflect the heartbeat of the piece.  Yet, another joyful connection in my life because I’ve know Rick a long, long time and know that he’s going to do a superlative job.

We have a real film developing here, ladies and gentlemen; a film of which I am so deeply proud.  I can hardly wait for you to see it.

This is what comes from true collaboration and focus.  At this point in my life, I suppose an old dog can learn some new tricks.

The process, quite honestly, has been a rollercoaster of emotions for me, but worth every moment.  I suppose that’s what comes from being willing to take the risk to make yet another dream come true.

The World Economy and Me

The world economy and me.  Isn’t this how we all perceive what is going on with the world economy?  Everything from Chinese exports to the value to the Euro to the ludicrous increase in the cigarette tax in California.  If you are anything like me, you are asking, “Why is this happening to me?”

The challenge is, of course, that as deeply affected as we all are at an individual level, it would be impossible for those in Washington or at the G20 conference to know each of us by name and consider our individual lives. 

Yet, here were are, in the midst of an economic situation similar to that of the one our parents and grandparents talked about during the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. 

What did they do?  Because of their work ethic and sense of personal responsibility, although frustrated and sometimes feeling fairly hopeless, they dug in .  The kept looking for work, the continued to make sure their families had something to eat, and they supported those in their communities who couldn’t take care of themselves. 

Is that what we are doing today?  Is that how we are approaching things?  No.  The truth is, we are thinking, “How can we keep our 2,500 square foot home with all the luxuries to which we have become accustomed?   How am I able to buy my children the latest fashions when I can’t afford gas for the car?  Why can’t I keep swimming in my heated swimming pool all winter?” 

We must accept the accurate assessment of where we are and take action to improve our situation as best we can while still remembering that we are part of a community.

Are we built for that?  I’m not really sure any more.  I would love to believe we are, but the evidence is dwindling in some ways. 

I see the television where wonderful people are collecting clothes, toys and non-perishable food items for those who cannot afford them.  They give me hope.  Even something as simple as buying someone a meal, encouraging them get out of the house once a month for some entertainment helps. 

We are hopefully compelled to remember others in this very difficult time and not look solely at our own situation.  I suspect that through community and compassion, we will get through this time together.

And, for those who say that I am being a bleeding heart liberal, I say, you may be one who is receiving a bonus from a company who just got a huge bailout, or have always paid your own tab and not someone else’s bill.  To you, I say, your perception about our situation counts, too.  You, too, are a member of this society and we all need your participation, as well. 

This is not a condemnation of anyone; just a simple reminder from a simple man who is living in the world as it is, hoping to see us be the people I know we can be.


Yesterday, we shot the first four scenes of our movie, “Two Tears and a Bucket.” Good fortune rained down upon us, not unlike the rain today rained out our second day of shooting… torrentially.

Our locations were perfect. Our cast was on the money. Our Director of Photography was better than one could have ever imagined.

Everything fell into place and, quite honestly, I’m both surprised and satisfied with the consistency of our process. It seems, as my mother would always say, like a cat, I always land on my feet. Day after day, year after year, no matter what the challenges, things routinely work out well. I haven’t any explanation for this; however, I am grateful. Perhaps it is my faith. Perhaps I was born under a lucky star. Whatever the reason, I sit in humble gratitude for my good fortune and the beneficent stars that surround this project.

As artistic endeavors are undertaken, no matter who is involved, there seems to be an unheard engine of motivation and inspiration to action by those involved. Artists are compelled by our desire to communicate, no matter through which medium.

There are times when it seems as though we are screaming silently from within our cages, just in case one person might hear us. At other times, we are raising our jubilant tones in celebration and thanksgiving on the top of a mountain in the resounding dings and bongs of our joy.

Each of us, however, is calling to at least one other person to hear us.

It is in that primal urge toward being heard that we find our intentions manifested, I suppose.

And, so it was yesterday. Our scenes are now digitally embedded into a computer chip, and more importantly, our voices are preparing to be heard by others as we begin the editing and release process.

Release. A great word, really, for what happens to our picture when it is completed. A great word, too, for what happens to our message within the film.

Our life scenes are once again reflected in our artistic processes – imagined, manifested, created and released. Suddenly, we no longer own our small civilization. We must offer it to others so that they, too, will understand what is within us and maybe, in some small way, be more fully connected to their own message and inspired to share it with others, as well.