The Secret Reason I Have Been Sending Computers to the Norman-Kramer Family for Nearly Ten Years!
This blog entry will explain why I have been sending random gifts such as three computers to the Norman-Kramer Family in Minneapolis, MN since 2012. Part of it is my generous spirit. But there is more to it than that. I have met so many people over the years and numerous wonderful families. It would be impossible to keep in touch with all of them let alone sending gifts. While the items I sent to this family barely made a dent in my bank account, if I did this for many families, I would be deep in debt many times over with about seven dead, maxed-out credit cards rotting away in my wallet! Perhaps they have been wondering why I chose them out of any of the other families to keep in touch with in such an over-the-top fashion. It is because they are incredible, but there is something else driving my generosity. In case my family is reading this and planning to call me to ask, "What do you *&$#!@ing mean you have been sending people computers for nearly a decade?! You do not have the money to give out extravagant gifts!"...I can assure you that it is not an expensive hobby and has been well worth the cost.
The first thing I would like to say in this particular blog entry is that over the past 38 years, I have not been able to master the art of “letting go” and “moving on.” After 38 years of making such little progress, I doubt it is going to get much easier in the near future. I will give you two examples of what I am talking about and the extent to which some internal force compels me to hold on forever.
Back in 2006 I lost a job in the human service field after a difficult start. I also had a rough beginning while working at the same company during the first summer after my college freshman year back in 2001. But this time the company had changed so much that they were not willing to give any sort of a grace period or warning. The first straw was the last one in this case pertaining to my erratic behavior. I was devastated, heart-broken, and bitter. Why couldn’t they have given me more of a chance? A stern warning or probationary period would have been more than enough to put the fear of God into me! I would have whipped myself into shape overnight knowing the horrific consequences of not stepping up to the plate. Six years later in 2012, the anguish still stung like it happened yesterday. It was never going to get any better if nothing has improved for this many years. Therefore, I marched back into the company and told the woman in charge of human resources that her company had ruined my life and there is a big difference between consequences and draconian repercussions that are not necessary. The woman was scared and did not know what to make of me. When my heart was re-shattered and I started to walk out in defeat, the woman asked, “Jesse, isn’t it enough that we see how much you have matured in some ways since we last hired you?” I bluntly told her that it would never be enough…ever. The only thing that would make it enough is if they would allow me to reclaim employment at the company to get the monkey off my back and pick up where I had left off that haunting day in 2006. In the end, we were able to form a compromise and she agreed that I would be allowed to return to the agency in increments of six months at a time to plead my case. Even though I take some responsibility over what happened with my termination, the fact is that due to how much I have suffered, it is difficult to imagine the same outcome would happen again as far as getting into a situation where they felt justified terminating me in two weeks. Some people thought of it as a pathetic way to grovel for something that would never happen anyway. I, on the other hand, thought of it as serious “backing off” and have been quite proud of myself. Even though I am gainfully and happily employed by Living Resources in Albany, I still visit the same woman twice a year because it has become part of my annual routine!
Here is the second eccentric example! The process of growing up was something that happened at the pace of a sloth. Even as a preteenager I relished those rare sick days because it was an excuse to watch the Nick Jr. programming that was geared toward preschoolers who were home for that part of the morning. Halloween always had a place in my heart and was something I never wished to release from my nostalgic grasp. In fact, I went trick-or-treating until the ripe age of 31 years old. The only thing that threw a wrench into the cogs of Halloween was moving to a new neighborhood in Albany where it would not have been wise to push the envelope even if there are technically no laws for an adult to collect candy.
I am not able to let go of some of the grudges and bitterness directed toward people who have wronged me. On that note, I am also not able to let go of the shame I feel when it seems clear that I could have done better. If I feel like a flake or someone who has let others down it surely gnaws at me like a million termites. Integrity, punctuality, consistency, and reliability are something that is not at the mercy of other people. It is a character trait that I have always tried to refine to compensate for other shortcomings that some people in the world see as defects. But there have been times in which I have still faltered.
Now allow me to get to the point of this entry. For nearly nine years I have been sending computers and various other gifts to this lovely family of three children in Minnesota. All three children have some mild challenges related to things such as autism or ADHD. But they are wonderful and talented young adults led by two caring parents. The first time I met them was when I had visited Minneapolis, MN back in April 2012 because Autism Speaks hosted me for an event at the Mall of America. There were many things that went right or even close to perfect such as a standing ovation at the Big Room in the Mall of America. This did not matter too much due to the fact that I was dwelling on all of the things that went wrong. Many of them were my own fault, too. I failed with some aspects of my mission and could have done better.
The first thing that went wrong was inadvertently playing a tag game with the emails back and forth to their mother, Kammy who was coordinating the visit. She would email me and I would complain that I had received nothing. At long last, I had discovered that the SPAM folder was filtering her emails. I felt quite silly and embarrassed that this had happened. Perhaps I was just too lazy to check the SPAM folder and she had the patience of a saint as we went back and forth…again and again! Even though Kammy was polite through text messages, I could tell this must have been frustrating for her!
The itinerary that Kammy had set up was filled with a TV interview and other wonderful things. One part of the itinerary involved me spending time with her boys, Elliott and Henry along with her husband, Tom at the indoor waterpark inside the hotel. I chose to bail out of this fun activity due to the fact that I wanted to instead make last minute revisions to my speech that could have been easily accomplished weeks before the event or at the very least... on the plane. Procrastination is the tool of the damn devil, and it cost me dearly in this case. I felt like a jerk and a flake for skipping this activity. Even though I never mentioned my regrets to the Norman-Kramer Family, I always feared they thought I was just not interested in hanging out with them at the waterpark. Furthermore, it would have been a lot of fun because I cherish waterparks and started returning to my childhood haunt of Splashdown Beach and Waterpark in Fishkill, NY as an adult. It would have been so much fun to frolic in the man-made paradise. But due to my lack of time management skills, I missed out. This has always bothered me and I fantasized about having a Do-Over by returning to Minneapolis to the same indoor complex with the boys and Tom to recreate the Autism Awesomeness that never was. But life rarely gives you Do-Overs, which is why it is critical to live in the moment.
It is also very seldom that I am late and am typically early for everything. In fact, if I were married to a woman who was chronically late all the time and dragged me down with her, I do not know if I could survive such a marriage. For some reason, I was about fifteen minutes late meeting Tom and his boys for dinner, which was held at the Bubba-Gump Restaurant at the Mall of America. My memories of why I was so late are foggy. It was probably due to the fact that I misjudged the amount of time it would take to dry my hair and get dressed. Kammy even texted me to say matter-of-factly, “Tom is waiting for you downstairs.” I also remember the elevator being extremely lethargic, and the freaking thing seemed to stop at every single floor and then skipped to the higher floors before finally coming to me. The elevator probably tacked on five to ten minutes to my tardiness. I had become the one thing I despised, which is someone who is shamefully tardy. It is easy to blame external factors when such lateness occurs. When there is gridlock traffic on the way to the airport, it is not the fault of the person who caused the accident that the plane was missed. It is the passenger’s fault for not leaving a cushion of about two hours of extra time. As my old hiking partner, Alex Stafford stated in 2005…whenever something bad happens the best way to keep it from happening again and again is to “just blame yourself.” This even applies to circumstances when someone is the victim of a devastating scam like Catfishing. The person cowering in Nigeria who has our money after making us fall in love with a fake profile does not care and is not hurt by our rage from afar. We are hurt by allowing that bitterness to keep us from learning and not retaining the ignored Red Flags that will prevent us from being victimized again. The elevator and mishaps getting ready may not have helped, but what would have seriously helped is pretending that Tom was meeting me ten minutes before the actual itinerary. It would have been more than enough time to deal with the elevator that ran like molasses. For some reason I decided not to apologize for my lateness and acted as though it was not a big deal. Dinner at that beautiful restaurant with those amazing kids would have been nicer if we had those fifteen extra minutes instead of looking at the clock all thanks to me!
The speech at the Big Room at the Mall of America was wonderful. As was mentioned earlier…I received a standing ovation. But it could have been a lot better with more preparation especially considering this was the first time performing a PowerPoint. That speech should have been polished long before my trip to Minnesota. For example, I briefly mentioned an interest in mortuary science and moved on to another subject. I should-have, would-have, and could-have elaborated by explaining that the stint in the funeral home was meant to polish my social skills and prove that I could control myself with people having one of the worst days of their lives. The audience instead probably thought I just had a macabre fascination with death. It went well, but it would have been SO much better with a little more preparation.
Sometimes the feelings of regret, obsession, loss, and shame do not engulf us until long after the moment has passed. This is exactly what happened a month or year after leaving Minneapolis. The obsessions took over and nothing was going to eliminate this poison from my soul aside from perhaps the dramatic feat of returning to give a presentation for free. We would go to the waterpark and have twice as much fun as the first time that never was. These feelings would instead never go away. Or so I thought…
The poison began to recede the day I had an unusual amount of luck at an Atlantic City Casino. All of the cards fell in my favor, and I must have won over two hundred dollars. There was the compulsion to continue gambling after taking a break when the winning streak finally came to an end. I wanted to double or triple my winnings. I knew chances were strong there would be a stream of terrible luck and all of the winnings would be returned to the casino. While weighing the pros and cons in the hotel room, I started looking at nostalgic items on eBay until I came across a model of the first Apple computer made in the early 1980s. The device was used and yellowed by age, of course. But it still worked perfectly. I thought of young Henry who I learned was starting a computer museum at his house filled with vintage technology. I made a promise to myself that if the computer was purchased, I would stop gambling and leave with whatever was left over after the purchase of the computer, which was no more than eighty dollars. It is one thing to have a constant streak of atrocious, supernaturally bad luck in which no breaks can be found at the Blackjack tables. But this is a totally different than Lady Lucky smiling down on me only to throw it away by pushing the envelope and having it turn into the other extreme. It as though a preordained force is punishing me for being greedy. While my gambling pastime is definitely under control, it is something that is a nice escape from reality when life seems to give nothing but lemons. The reality is that there seems to be better luck at a casino than in real life during period of time when little seems to go right. No matter how unlucky someone may be…nobody is unlucky all the time at a Blackjack table. It is all a matter of knowing when it is time to stop. Anyway...I did not think of it as losing at least $80.00. I thought of it as winning $120.00 while making an adolescent boy happy in the process!
Over the years, more gifts were sent to the Norman-Kramer Family including two laptops because the technology department of Living Resources, Inc. has given me two old laptops they were going to throw away or use for parts due to the devices being extremely outdated. But even though the items may be technological dinosaurs…they are still modern enough to connect to Wifi and get the job done! A nice employee in the technology department named, Sam was kind enough to recalibrate the equipment so the memory was wiped clean for Ada, Henry, and Elliott. The most recent laptop had a slight defect with the power button so I had it repaired by a local professional and professionally cleaned. I also made sure he understood that Elliott’s name has two “l’s” and two “t’s” considering it probably drives him crazy when his name is relentlessly butchered again and again!
I know there were other gifts sent to this family including one Paint N’ Sip creation that was created with the Recreational Therapists of Indiana at one of their events. They had shipped it to me considering it was much too bulky to take on the plane. But I never took it out of the box when it finally arrived. Instead I printed out their address and sent it directly to the Norman-Kramer Family as a surprise. They told me that it has been receiving a lot of compliments even though all of us were semi-drunk while filling out our canvas, which is the whole point of this activity!
In the end, my speech in Minneapolis, MN about nine years ago carries some of the greatest regrets as well as a perfect storm of would-haves, should-haves, and could-haves. I could have done better. In the end I am sorry in the sense that I would desperately try to not repeat these mistakes in a future engagement. Especially not on purpose. But I am actually not really sorry at this point in time. Not at all, in fact. The obsessive regrets and self-disgust at missing the fun at the waterpark created a wondrous cocktail that resulted in me sending the kids three computers that made their lives happier. Without these self-inflicted debacles, they would have just been another family passing in the winds of life. There would have been no long-term connection or subsequent magic. The inability to let go allowed me to hold onto them, however. Both parents are hard-working and can certainly afford to purchase computers for their gimlet-eyed children. I am glad to have been able to save them thousands of dollars, however. Two of the laptops were mailed with the kids' current equipment was on its last legs. It is an inalienable fact that if everything had gone perfectly there would have been no computers, and they would not have become a consistent part of my life. If the kids have not matured beyond believing waterparks are childish…perhaps we will have a Do-Over of that water park adventure one of these days if I should ever return as a more polished public orator who is prepared and does not take chances with the damn elevator.
If you are also disabled as far as “letting go,” perhaps you will find your own way to justify living with these demons and make everything work for you!