Sound Bite/Times Up/Non-Debate

A debate is defined as discussing a question by considering opposing arguments. It is usually done in a formal way. What is going on in the Democratic debates is something else. It’s sounds bites with very short times to state a case and then a thirty second response.

No one can clarify a policy opinion in thirty seconds. And how can one person really explain their idea in enough detail with so many others vying for their own precious time.  All the one-upping and show-boating is tedious.

Why can’t this mumbo jumbo be organized to give candidates time to fully state their ideas so voters can really know what they are putting forth.  Here’s an idea.

There are two hours a night for two nights. That’s four hours. What if each candidate was paired with one other and they debated for a half-hour. That could accommodate. sixteen candidates in two nights. Future debates could pair up each candidate with someone new.

More important, each candidate would then be able to really debate their ideas against one other person and the voters could focus on the differences. Or, how about doing away with the debate format all together. Instead, call it a min-town hall. Call it whatever you want.  Give each candidate a half-hour to present themselves and their plan.

News media reports say this is the most important election of our lifetime and that all the rules have changed. If that’s so, then let’s use the available time to its best advantage.



Rent Strike


The 8 ½ x 12-inch yellow piece of paper was left outside everyone’s door late one  night. The next day there was a flurry of questions and wondering who had done it. The conjectures ran wild in the in-house grocery store where many people pass through and share news on a daily basis. The written piece was a page and half long with the final signature: Hawthorne Terrace Resident’s Committee, done in a large and unusual font. There has never been such a committee.

The professional presentation and the expansive vocabulary leaves no doubt it was written by someone with computer and language skills. The tip-off was the use of unusual words and phrases such as: management leaves clandestine notices……an integral part of the reason………the letter feigned concern…..trips have been truncated… has devolved into the current situation.

Main concern in the piece was the inexplicable horror that the emergency buzzers are being removed from all the apartments. The writer waxed poetic about the danger to residents and the blatant disregard this shows for their safety.  It closes stating the former landlord (still a minority owner) is being contacted to see if he can return sanity to this situation.

But the real kicker was this closing comment: there is talk of hiring lawyers and instituting a rent strike. First, I had a good, hearty laugh. Second, I began to analyze the situation. I’ve ruled out the 60 percent of residents who are younger, medical students and other academic professionals.

My main puzzle is how can someone so educated be so naïve about the business workings of a rental property. Residents in the building get a rent reduction for being on call and answering the emergency buzzers. It all comes down to money. Maybe one or more of them is unhappy with loss of this perk. We are no longer a senior living facility but an apartment building. We are renters with two choices, pay the rent or move.

This has only served to stir up more discontent. One resident wrote to management saying he had nothing to do with the letter. Another has called around to other residents to assure them she did not write the piece.

Change is so difficult for some people and I feel very sad for this. We have enough angst and worry going on without this contrived bit of drama. Friends in the building assure me it will all be forgotten in a few days. Judging by the eye rolling and snickers I see whenever there is any kind of discussion about the letter, I think they are right.



Lesson Learned the Hard Way

He was six years old. I only met him once. He was reserved, guarded, watchful. The epitome of the hyper-sensitive child so common in foster children. It was clear there was a lot going on and this would not be easy. I noticed the marks on his neck. Though it had been eight months since the incident, the marks were faded. Still, they were there.

I first heard about him when my supervisor and the agency Director of Child and Family Services of Upper Michigan called for a staff meeting. Eight months previously, this boy had tried to hang himself twice in a couple of days. After the second attempt, the community mental health clinic arranged a transport to the nearest psychiatric hospital. This was no small task.

We lived in the most western part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and there were no psychiatric hospitals in all of the UP. The nearest was at Traverse City State Hospital and that meant traveling across the entire UP and over the Mackinaw Bridge to Lower Michigan. Once treatment was completed, his discharge plan was to return to his home county for follow up services; this included a recommendation for placement in a foster home.

In the staff meeting, I was given the job of locating and overseeing a special needs foster home. We talked at length about the legal and financial issues. When at the hospital, he had been enrolled in SSI and this would ensure payment for aftercare services.

This child had been placed by the Michigan Department of Mental Health instead of the child protective system. So, the usual practice of obtaining a court order to take temporary legal custody had been bypassed.

This family was fully co-operative and unknown to the system with no past history of legal or child protection involvement. This was a child self-endangerment and mental health case rather than a child abuse or neglect case. For that reason, it was decided it would be handled voluntarily.

I’d spent many hours recruiting, training and preparing the foster home and as many hours establishing a relationship with the parents. It takes a long time to gain trust and develop the team that’s needed to help this child. I was sure to be clear that we were a team, no one was the boss and we all were here to help this child.  Everyone was in agreement.

Looking back, I have to ask: what were we thinking? how could we possibly think this could work? The court process seems punitive and sometimes unforgiving so I understood our wish to bypass it. I now see how naïve that was. This work is usually misunderstood and often involves action that goes against what parents want in order to do what’s best for the child. That’s just the nature of the beast.

All it took was the parents learning that the SSI check mailed to them had to be given to the agency to defray the cost of care. Within a week the parents ended the placement. There was no talking them out of it. They knew what was best for their child. And we had no authority.

I was shocked but probably shouldn’t have been. I’d come to know the family was struggling financially and saw how they reasoned this money would be additional income.

Hindsight is twenty-twenty is a common phrase and it sure applies to this case. How bad could a home situation be that a child would try to kill himself?  Looking at the severity of the child’s actions would have told us and we should have listened. Using the full force of the law, we could have protected this child. But we didn’t.

From this, the family disappeared from our view and we’d never know what happened to this child. I learned a hard lesson and came away with a new respect for the power of the law and the need to put a child’s needs above all else.




My Professional Life in the UP

In 1978, I began as a social worker at Gogebic County Department of Social Services; the office was located at an annex to the court house in Bessemer, the county seat. Everything, the police department, the jail, the courts, social services and the health department was under one roof.

I began working in Adult Services with a case load of over 100 clients living in the community. These included the elderly, physically and developmentally disabled and mentally ill. My job was to keep them living independently and also to assist when placement became necessary.

As with most small agencies, it was necessary to fill in or switch to another needed service. In my time there, I went from adult services to family services then child protective services and finally to foster care.

Then about three years in, the unexpected. A state-wide lay-off.  Seems Michigan’s governor and director of Social Services didn’t see eye-to-eye regarding money. The Governor pulled rank and froze funding. The result was every county in the state had to reduce staff. Last hired, first fired. We lost two positions and I was one of them.

I have to say I enjoyed the spring and summer on unemployment. But began to worry as the leaves changed and the temperatures cooled. I’m now divorced, living alone in my house at Big Powderhorn ski hill, worrying about the isolation winter snows would bring. I found an ad in the Ironwood Daily Globe and got the job as a social worker at LaCroix Hospital in White Pine.

Feeling lucky to be employed, it didn’t take long for me to be bored to the hilt. As a medical social worker my job entailed seeing each new admission in this eight-bed facility. My work was done in less than an hour. Most admissions were medically cleared, then transferred to another building that housed a thirty-day AODA (Alcohol and Other Drug Addiction) treatment program. That’s where I wanted to be.

I approached hospital management about working in the treatment program with no good result; so, I wrote a letter to the President of the hospital board. This was intercepted by the manager who scolded me for the end run. But then, he supported my transfer to the treatment program where I’d eventually become a Co-Director.

Hardest part of the job was the drive.   I lived in the central time zone and worked in the eastern time zone. This meant I left for the one-hour drive at 6:00 am central time to get to work by 8:00 am eastern time. This was nice going the other way when I left work at 4:00 pm to get home by 4:00 pm.

Next hardest was the roads, leaving US-2, heading north through Wakefield and Bergland and out to White Pine. There were days while I’m driving in pitch darkness and never passed one car the entire trip. And this was no highway but a two-lane county road. There was a light on the highway at the White Pine turn-off and I was relieved to have it guide me on the last leg of the trip.

The time I spent in the treatment program added important new skills to my resume. It was also a great lesson in never burning bridges and the value of staying in contact with former colleagues. That’s how I heard a rumor of a job at Child and Family Services of Upper Michigan who ran grant-funded programming.  They had cobbled together a thirty-hour a week job in Gogebic County working in two grant funded programs.

I’d spend half my time doing in-home family therapy with clients referred from juvenile court and county child protective services. These were families too chaotic or unorganized to come to a therapist’s office. My job was to meet them in their home and try to prepare them for traditional therapy.

The other half of my time was spent recruiting and supervising volunteer parent aides. Following the WAR (World of Abnormal Rearing) cycle developed by professors at the University of Michigan, the goal was to inject a positive role model into a young parent’s life and break the cycle of future unplanned pregnancy.

Soon after starting, my job was expanded to forty hours a week. A six-year-old was set to return to our county after his admission to a psychiatric hospital in Traverse City. My agency was asked to recruit and manage a special needs foster home that would ease this child’s way back into his family.

It was good to be back in my home territory where I worked alongside former colleagues, though Child and Family Services was my boss. Here’s where it gets a little funny. My supervisor was in Houghton-Hancock, 100 miles northwest of Bessemer. Child and Family’s home office was in Marquette, 140 miles northeast of Bessemer. This was before skype or facetime and even e-mails. I was literally on my own. Let’s just say, I learned to be self-sufficient.

Then I received a letter of re-call to my original job with Gogebic County. There were many shrieks of disbelief from former colleagues when I turned it down. I knew, if I went back, I’d never leave the area. Since I was divorced, I no longer had a reason to be there.

I’d worked at every job this area had to offer.  More important, I wanted to go to graduate school so had to move where there was one. I searched and found a job near Milwaukee, hired a real estate agent who also agreed to find renters until the house was sold. I started packing. I was ready for the next phase.



Making Ends Meet in the UP

From 1970 to 1985, I lived in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan’s’ Gogebic County (pronounced with hard G’s). This was my first time living in such a remote, rural area. I had a lot to learn about working and surviving here.

Gogebic County is the most western county in the UP that I jokingly called the outback since it was so remote; a place time seemed to have passed by. There were no major industries, only small mom and pop bars, restaurants and shops that catered to hunters, fishermen and vacationers with the stamina to travel the extra distance to reach this undeveloped area.

The Gogebic Range has a long history of mining. First iron. Then copper. Towns grew up around mining locations and this was confusing when I, as a newcomer, asked for directions: go to the Ramsey Location and turn left at Hautala’s. Both locations and Finnish names were a constant puzzle.

One of the biggest employers was White Pine Copper Company in White Pine, Michigan. This was in Ontonagon County north of us.  The Company ran buses transporting workers at least an hour from the Ironwood area to the mine. When the mine closed in 1982, this was devastating to the economy.

I have a vivid memory of one of the laid-off miners who handled this trauma by taking to his bicycle. Nothing fancy, just a two-wheeled pedal bike. He rode every day all day and I’d often see him on US-2 between Ironwood and Bessemer. Seeing him made me sad.

As with most rural areas, the only good jobs were in medical, education and government. A steady, year-round, full-time job with benefits was prized and not plentiful. Then there’s tourism which provides seasonal and low paying service jobs that are dependent on outside forces such as the weather and the economy.

And its tourism that had brought us here. My husband had met a real estate agent who introduced him to the owner of Big Powderhorn Ski Resort in what’s called Big Snow Country. The 200 to 300 inches of lake effect snow Lake Superior dumped here each year resulted in his certainty; this was a prime place to achieve his dream of owning and operating a residential building company. Ski chalets particularly.

He set up his business and landed a few contracts from big city ski enthusiasts who wanted to build their dream get-away at the ski hill. I entered the service industry work force and put in time at various restaurants, hotels and shops. I also became his go-fer.

Each day, when my paying work life was done, I’d arrive home to a list of things to do. Deliver some papers to the bank. A trip to the post office. Phone calls to follow-up on back-ordered materials.

It was tough going. The business was operated from our kitchen table. Besides the contracted homes there was also the speculative ones. As each house became habitable, we moved there until it was sold. Just barely habitable, I might add.

In fact, I quickly grew tired of washing dishes in a plastic container in the bathtub, and instituted a rule: before we moved in, there had to be a door on the bathroom, running water in the kitchen and at least one light, even a bare bulb hanging somewhere.

I laughed heartily when I heard I was the talk of the town. People were judging me, saying I was taking a job away from a local; why was I working when we were rich. If they only knew.

With the development of his business, we began socializing with various members of the business community. One man I’d known for a few years but was surprised to find out he was the Director of the Gogebic County Department of Social Services. He became quite interested in me when he learned I had a bachelor’s degree. He was anticipating an opening for a social worker, a four-year degree was required and wondered if I’d be interested.

He further explained Michigan uses the civil service system.  That means applicants take a civil service test and are put on a state-wide list according to their score. Applicants designate which counties they are willing to work in. Then, when an opening occurs, the Director must hire someone from that list.

He said he was discouraged by his recent hires. These were usually people already in the system, all excited to come up and live in God’s Country; they would, in a short time, became lonely and see how hard it was to fit in.  Soon they returned to wherever they’d come from. Tell me about it. I’d lived here for eight years and had become accustomed to being the perpetual outsider.

He was ecstatic that I already lived here. Of course, I said yes, I’m interested. He actually hand-carried the application to my house. That’s when I knew this could really lead to something. As instructed, I called him once I was on the list, when his opening occurred, he set up an interview. I’m not sure how many other applicants he saw but I got the job.  My life was changed forever.



From Morning to Night

I always said I’m a morning person. And I was. Up at dawn. Full of new ideas, I’d often go to bed with a problem and wake up with the solution.

Endless energy but to bed early in order to face the next day. Even on weekends.  I couldn’t sleep in.  Remember those lovely days in college when it was nothing to sleep until noon.

After years of retirement, it finally sinks in. No need to rise at a certain hour.  I can take naps when tired during the day. Now I stay up until all hours; then get up when I feel like it.

Some days I get on the computer while still in my night clothes and work on a project until noon.  But I’m having dreams every night.

Research shows that people who dream are less likely to have Alzheimer issues as they age. Sounds good to me.

These are vivid and action filled dreams. I can’t identify where they take place and nothing looks familiar. The people in my dreams, and there are many, are unknown to me.

I wake thinking I have something important to do. I feel a sense of dread. Then, once fully awake, I realize it was only a dream.

It’s like watching a movie. Though I’m in the movie, I’m only an observer and what happens doesn’t affect me. That’s perfect; unlike those days of work-related pressure.

I’m loving my transition from morning person to night owl.

Connie’s Supper Club

My first job when I moved to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan was at Connie’s Supper Club in Hurley Wisconsin. My boyfriend (who would become my husband) and I had done little or no planning before moving there. Ah, the folly of youth. We would learn our lessons the hard way. I was desperate to change this homeless and jobless situation.

This was in 1970 and Hurley was coasting along on its illustrious history as a wild getaway for hunters, fishermen, snowmobilers and gangsters. Hurley’s main thoroughfare was Silver Street (all of five blocks long in this town of 800 people).  The street ended with what was called the lower block, sloping down into Ironwood Michigan; it was lined with the remnants of bars, restaurants, strip clubs and brothels of years gone by.

I’d answered an advertisement in the Ironwood Daily Globe. Ironwood and Hurley were adjacent to each other on the Wisconsin/Michigan border. I’d like to think I was hired on the spot due to six years of waitress experience, working my way through college. But since I’d later learn about the area’s dismal work force, maybe anyone who applied was hired.

Connie herself interviewed me. I’m using the word interview loosely since it took just three minutes. Connie was an older woman who stuck to business. She had thick, black, wavy hair. Dyed for sure. Connie had a stern look, complimented by bags under her eyes, hollows and creases on forehead and cheeks. Always in a tailored dress, she wore bright red lipstick and was an incessant smoker.

While working there, I’d heard rumors that Connie had been a madam in old time Hurley and she sort of looked the part. I also heard she’d been a friend to Al Capone. Madam?  I don’t know what to think about that but friend of Al Capone was believable. This was due to the gangster shoot-out at Little Bohemia in Manitowish  Dillinger and Capone, were known to visit the area.

Jimmie was the chef. He was quite elderly and a well-known fixture in the Hurley bar and restaurant world. I can see him behind the grill with his white chef’s hat, a grease spattered apron protecting his paunch and a cigarette hanging from his lip. He was the epitome of the Italian chef; always in Italian, he and Connie would argue and joke throughout the night. He was especially proud of his gnocchi.

I’d come into work and pick up my bucket. These were the days before computers. The bucket was a plastic container that held a base amount of money. Customers paid us and we made change. A cash register kept track of our orders and at the end of our shift it tallied up what we owed. After paying that, we returned the base amount to the bucket; what was left was our tips.

One night two young guys, who were seated at the rear of the dining room near the back door, walked out on me. All they had to do was watch me turn into the kitchen then make their get-away. The rule was we had to pay for walk-outs.

I refused, argued my case to Connie, saying the door should have been locked or maintained in some way. She just shrugged and walked away. When it came time to tally up my night, I wrote walk-out on the slip and shorted the bucket. I was sure Connie would fire me. But she never said a word.

Once in a while after our shift, a few of us would go down to the lower block to have breakfast at one of the strip clubs. By the time we got there, the dancing was done for the night and the cook obliged us with a late-night order.

I don’t remember the name of the place but an internet search reveals  that today there are still six strip clubs with addresses ranging from 15 Silver Street to 27 Silver Street. The myth of “Helen of Hurley” lives on in the lower block.

The Ironwood Daily Globe offers details of interest about Connie’s Supper Club: Many Gogebic Range residents remember that the supper club was operated by Serafino “Suds” and Naomi (Connie) Willard, when it was called Connie’s. It was sold around 1992 and first called the Silver Dragon, specializing in Chinese food, before featuring chicken as Wishbone Restaurant.

The reason for the article was to report details of the 2013 fire that completely destroyed the building. It wasn’t open at the time since the owners were on vacation. The fire was said to be hot and quick. The article included a picture of the building that brought back many of these memories.

I worked at Connie’s for maybe a year, until I was able to search out other opportunities. And that would be the first chapter in my fifteen-year adventure living and surviving in the UP.  Over time, I found good friends and real jobs and was able to acclimate to what seemed like a foreign land. But I will be forever grateful for that first job.

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