Friday, April 4, 2014

HOW DARE THEY - INSURANCE MANDATE

How dare the Government mandate that we must have insurance. And mandate what the minimum coverage must be. And penalize us if we don't buy the insurance from a private company approved to sell that insurance. How dare they!

Of course, I'm not talking about the ACA or as it has come to be called, Obamacare. I'm talking about Auto Insurance. That's right, good old auto insurance. I can't for the life of me understand why the folks on the political right can get blue in the face over the ACA's individual mandate. You know, the government forcing us to buy a product and penalizing us if we don't, since that is exactly what happens with your auto insurance.

Let's compare, shall we. Government sets the minimum coverage required under both. Check. Government must approve which companies can sell both. Check. Government mandates that you buy both types of insurance. Check. Government penalizes those who don't buy both types of insurance in the form of a monetary fine under the ACA and by taking away ones vehicle registration under the auto insurance statutes. Check. The only difference that I can see is that the ACA is federal and auto insurance is regulated by the states. Oh ya, and that the ACA is a program passed by the Democrats under a Democrat President. (Using ideas first proposed by the very conservative Heritage Foundation, by the way.)

They're the SAME, people! No difference at all. The auto insurance mandates were put into place so as to product the public from uninsured, and unable to pay, drivers who cause accidents and damage to those who do take personal responsibility and buy insurance. It's a way to mandate that personal responsibility and the states feel that it's in the best interest of the public that all vehicles are covered by insurance. The ACA is a way to make the uninsured health care consuming public also take the same personal responsibility that those who have purchased health insurance have taken. That way the responsible people don't have to pay to make up for health care services used by the uninsured and then not paid for. Each form of insurance satisfies a compelling public interest. There is no difference.

So, please, someone tell me why one is okay the the other is not? Please. Anyone?


Friday, March 14, 2014

TAXES

I've been working on our taxes this week and if anything can send me into a rant, that's it. Now, I figure that everybody hates paying taxes, but if you listen to conservatives you'd think that the tax man ranks right up there with Hitler, Stalin and Jack the Ripper.

You've heard them, I'm sure. "The government wants to confiscate your hard earned money," or "That government just wants to steal my money." Of course this is usually followed by the words, "And give it to some poor folks," or words to that effect. This echos back to the 2012 Presidential race and the talk of Makers and Takers. But maybe we need to get a bit real.

When you try to define who falls into which camp, either the Makers or the Takers, you run into several, shall we say, problem areas. For example, the fact that the Federal Government pays out huge amounts to subsidize the oil industry. And Agribusiness gets in on their share, as does the renewable fuels industry, including solar, wind, hydro and geothermal. And let's not forget the auto industry, the airline industry and pretty much any other transportation industry you can think of other than the Amish buggy industry. And these and many more are so called Makers!

On the Taker side of the coin one is faced with the uncomfortable truth that both Social Security payments and unemployment benefits are taxable. That's right, every year I have to pay taxes on the Social Security Disability payments which I received during the year. So, does that make me a Taker... or a Maker? Let's see, I earned enough money as a business owner who created and helped to create a couple hundred jobs, and paid into the Social Security and Medicare systems the required taxes so that now, when I need it, I can get a check from Social Security for my disability and receive health insurance by way of Medicare. I guess I went from being a Maker to a Taker. But since I still pay taxes on what I receive I should still be a Maker, right?

And that right there is the part that makes my head explode. People are always changing their status in our mobile and ageing society. It's one of the things that makes this a great country. We just shouldn't label folks with names like Makers and Takers and then try to make those labels a justification for certain policies. It's not fair and it can come back and bite you later in life. Even conservatives get old you know.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

LET'S TALK ABOUT BULLETS

The recent trial of Micheal Dunn in Florida got me to thinking. Dunn is the guy who fired 10 times into an SUV because the music was too loud. Three shots hit and killed 17 year old Jordan Davis and the other 7 missed his three friends who were also in the car. Dunn ended up with a mistrial on the charge of murder, but was convicted on three counts of attempted murder. This somewhat goofy outcome I'll save for another time. What I find interesting are the charges he was convicted on.

It would seem that the prosecution choose to file only three attempted murder charges because there were three potential victims, not counting Mr. Davis who he actually hit. The Florida statute doesn't make that distinction, so I can only assume that this was a decision made by the prosecutor.

So, here's my idea and I would think that both the liberal gun control types and the NRA would be all for this. If you fire a gun intentionally in the direction of another human being each and every bullet fired counts as an attempted murder. Now, there could be mitigating circumstances that the defense could argue, such as, "I shot at the ground to scare them off," or some such, but in general if the bullet flies toward people that's attempted murder. In the Dunn case that would mean 7 counts carrying up to 20 years each.

But even better, this would be a way to discourage the use of giant magazines by criminals. Conservatives are always telling us that criminal punishment acts as a deterrent to future crime. The entire death penalty system is built upon that foundation. Mandatory minimum sentences are supposed to act as a deterrent to others contemplating selling drugs, etc. So there you go. If Mr. Criminal loads up his AK-47 with a banana clip of 30 rounds and fires away at some other gang bangers, he should face 30 charges of attempted murder. Put in that new barrel clip that holds 100. Oh ya, he's going to prison for a long time!

Gun control advocates have been wanting to ban high capacity magazines, but this could, over time, produce the same result. NRA types want the laws enforced and would never be in favor of shooting at people who didn't already threaten them. You want to load up your MAC-10 with 30 rounds at the gun range, have at it. One could also use monster clips for hunting, but I suspect that a little peer pressure from other hunters might put a stop to that.

So, there you go. If you like the idea spread it around. If not, tell me why in the comments. I promise to check them.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

ON RAISING THE MINIMUM WAGE THE GOP IS JUST ...WRONG!

First, a little housekeeping. Yes, I'm back. Like a bad penny I have returned from an almost year long battle with a rather persistent, but not life threatening, infection. The main problem was that the combination of the infection, and the antibiotics to fight it, knocked me for an energy loop. As in, I didn't have the energy to sit at this computer and write. But I miss it, so I'm back. Now on to the topic.

As the President said in the State of the Union speech Tuesday night, we need to raise the Federal Minimum Wage to $10.10/hour and we need to do it soon. This, of course, produced the usual screams from Republicans that raising the minimum wage will cost jobs and do great harm to the economy and, I think, cause dandruff to break out across the land. As one law maker lectured a TV reporter this morning, it's just simple Econ 101: The Law of Supply and Demand. If you have a higher cost for something, in this case labor, you will use less of it by either not hiring new workers or by laying off workers that you have now.

I'm guessing from that position that, first, the Congressman never actually took Econ 101 and, second, that he never owned a small business with employees. Here's what the Congressman, and the Republicans, pretty much to a man, fail to understand about what actually happens when the minimum wage goes up. Businesses raise prices! It would seem, if you listen to the GOP that the idea of raising the price of a good or service in our economy is right up there with the Seven Deadly Sins. They don't like and they won't stand for such a thing. Oh, they don't actually hate prices increasing if it throws off more profit for the company and increases the wealth of the stockholders. But thou shall not cause prices to increase to pay for increased cost of labor. I'm sorry, that is just nuts.

Now, here's what actually happens when the minimum wage, either State or Federal is raised. I know these things from first hand experience. My darling wife and I owned and operated two locations of a certain fast food franchise. We employed 120 people between the two restaurants and we had to deal with a minimum wage increase during that time.

The first thing that blows up the logic of the Republican position is that labor follows need. No good small business person employs unneeded staff. But by the same token, your employees have value to the business because they make you money. Maybe not every day. Maybe not every hour. But over all, a business will operate at close to the correct number of employees for the amount of business expected. In fast food we had the ability to add staff for certain parts of the day (you know, meal times) and have fewer people on the clock during slow times. This is because there are many possible part time positions available in the fast food business. Students who work after (or before) school, workers with other full or part time jobs, and older folks who don't wish to work a full time schedule. But remember, labor follows need. When the minimum wage went up the very last thing we thought about doing was laying people off so that our labor costs didn't go up. If we were doing the job right, we had the number of people we needed for the business which we anticipated. If we were over staffed because business was slow we should have laid people off sooner. If we were understaffed because business was growing, we needed to add employees whether or not they would be paid more under an increased minimum wage. The way we dealt with the increased cost of labor was to raise prices a little. Not across the board and not by a huge percentage. What was the result?

Our business increased and we needed to add staff! And that's not an unexpected result. There are scores of studies and surveys which agree. Raising the minimum wage doesn't cost jobs, it helps in the creation of jobs. Why, you ask? Because that Econ 101 idea of supply and demand does work when dealing with actual products or services being sold. More money in the hands of your staff, and in the hands of every other minimum wage businesses' staff, means more demand which leads to more staff. This idea is not new. Henry Ford was soundly criticized by the business community of his day when he took the outrageous step of paying the workers building Model Ts on the assemble line the unheard of wage of $5.00/day. His reasoning was simple. If I pay them that high wage they will be better able to buy the cars that they are building. Which will mean I'll sell even more cars and, of course, make more money. It worked.

The second thing the GOP doesn't seem to get is what I mentioned above: everybody is in the same boat. We could raise prices because every other fast food restaurant also had to pay a higher wage and, thus, also needed to raise prices. If my competitors could gain no advantage, in the long term, they either raised their prices too, or ate the increased cost. In the fast food world, and in fact in most minimum wage businesses, you can only do that for a little while. The profit margins are too tight.

So, as you go about your business, when you hear Congressman so and so or pundit such and such go all Rambo on the very idea of raising the minimum wage, ask yourself if the Congressman or pundit is smarter than Henry Ford. I bet I know the answer.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

ARE WE REACHING THE TIPPING POINT ON HEALTH CARE COSTS?

I just finished reading a very informative article in last weeks Time magazine about the health care costs that we, insurance companies and the government pay. One can certainly be outraged at being charged $1.50 for a single Tylonal  tablet that cost the hospital 1.5 cents. But maybe this is pointing to an even bigger outrage; that fact that middle class earnings have declined since the 1970s while the price of health care has only increased. At what point do we find that people just can't afford to get sick? And have we already reached that point?

I think that we're there and have been for a while. The single biggest driver of personal bankruptcy are medical bills. pretty much everybody can name a friend or relative (or themselves) who were charged huge sums for simple procedures and short hospital stays. The usual response from the political class is that greater competition and more transparency will make people better consumers of health care and thus drive costs down. It just never seems to happen. People aren't all that excited about asking the price of a needed health procedure. They're either insured in some way, so that they never actually deal with the price, or they are in no condition to haggle. "Gee, I'm going to have to check that other hospitals price to repair my broken leg." "I'll get back to you." We're not buying washing machines here.

That concept, that health care is not like other goods and services, is at the heart of the problem. When you need medical attention, you need it. In many cases, if you don't get that attention, you will die. Or suffer disabling after effects. Or disabling after effects until you die. None of these is a good outcome for the consumer. But, as the Time article lays out, this produces some very good outcomes for the medical industry. They make loads and loads of money.

Now, it's pretty clear that suggesting that maybe doctors and hospitals and drug companies charge less is seen by some to be... un-American. It brings into question the entire capitalist system that we have created and defend. But, I think that if we can look at it from a slightly different angle, or two, we might just see some light at the end of the tunnel that isn't a train.

As I asked at the start, has the health care industry reached the tipping point beyond which people just can't afford to pay any more? If your health insurance goes up 20% and your paycheck hasn't gone up in three or four years, you may have to do without the insurance. The same is true of increasing co-pays and deductibles. And for the uninsured medical bills can be just devastating. If things don't change, each year will see fewer and fewer consumers of health services. From a business standpoint that would be a very bad thing for the health care industry.

But we don't ever seem to get to that point because health care is a necessity of life. So maybe we need one of those different angles to solve this.

As a society we have determined that for certain things necessary for life we don't want to leave outcomes to the free market economy. The water that comes into your home, even if it's from a private, for profit, company, is heavily regulated. Joe's Water Service can't really compete on price or service because Joe has to meet the same quality level as the city water department. The same is true for sewage collection. We assume that these services will be provided by our city or town, or by a public service district. It wasn't always like that.

In the days before the urbanization brought about by the Industrial Revolution fresh, potable water was hard to come by. Rain barrels and hand pumped wells in the towns and, sometimes, water collected from creeks or streams out in the country. If you were lucky, or your ancestors were smart in selecting their homestead, you had a nice fresh spring bubbling out of the hillside behind the house. Whatever the source, your water needs were pretty much your own problem to solve. And, again, the same is true for sewage and other waste. In the country it was dig a hole and put a shed over it and in the cities, well you really don't want to know about the cities. After the age of throwing "slop" out of the window into the street came the age of cess pools in the back yard and a wagon with a tank, and a hand operated pump, used to empty the nasty pit that your grandpa told you to never play near. (Not a problem. The smell took care of protection just fine) These services were provided by private companies which started with two guys and a wagon and grew to rather large firms with dozens of trucks. Notice, though, you were still on your own. You had to contact the company so have them come and pump out the pit.

After the Industrial Revolution caused cities to explode in size and density, and the old model of taking care of your own needs fell under the weight of too many people need too much food and producing way too much waste. In order to protect the public, as a whole, from water borne and waste borne diseases the cities and towns took over these services. They became public utilities.

The same thing happened with natural gas and electricity. Even though we may be supplied by a private, for profit, company, they and their price structure are regulated by public utility commissions. We really don't want price competition on natural gas services. The safety of the population trumps capitalism in these cases. Electricity and natural gas are just too dangerous for price wars and such. Interestingly, heating oil, and propane have not followed this trend. The reason has to do more with infrastructure (pipelines and wire) than with any other economic or public safety issues. You just can't pump heating oil to individual homes by way of a network of pipes. Particularly in the winter. With respect to electricity the problem is economy of scale. It doesn't make economic sense to generate power all over the map when that power is going to be generated with the burning of coal. Or the damming of a river. Or nuclear power. Those are big business and government projects.

So, we see that certain necessities of life are better distributed to citizens by either their government or companies regulated by their government. And then there's health care.

In the case of health care we have turned the whole on its head. We have huge companies, making huge profits, providing the needs of the citizens with lots and lots of outlets for their "products," with some government regulation, but mostly with the attitude that any other system is socialized medicine and a very bad thing. I just don't get it.

We have a necessity of life, health care, that we purposely leave in the hands of private enterprise, and we wonder why the cost keeps going up. Please note that, even though Medicare and Medicaid are government programs, they're designed as a way to pay private health care providers. Not to provide health care. And that is the heart of the matter. We didn't dream up "sewage-aid" or "water-care" to help pay for those necessities of life. No, governments stepped up and took the burden on themselves. Your public utility provides the water or the sewage removal.

I'm afraid that only such a public utility model can cure the health care mess that we find ourselves in. I think we have to look at what the rest of the industrialized world has done and pick out the best practices and adopt Universal Public Health Care for all. Not some patched together Frankenstein monster like we have today, but a real national health care provider. The doctors would work for the government and nonprofit hospitals would actually not make huge profits. The government would fund drug research directly and the consumer would reap the benefit of cancer drugs that don't cost $15,000 a dose. We could, in fact, become civilized. Oh, who am I kidding. Civilized doesn't buy politicians. The health care industry sure does! 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

LET'S TALK ABOUT GUNS


This may come as a shock to some of you, but I am what you would call a Bill of Rights absolutist. That is to say, on issues involving our Constitution's first ten amendments, what you see is what you get. The Second Amendment protects a persons right to "keep and bear arms." That's pretty much it. And my reasoning is also pretty simple. If someone, a bad guy, attempts to harm me or my family with a firearm, I shouldn't have to wait for the police or resort to throwing pots and pans at the guy in order to protect us. I don't think that it's a very hard concept to understand, but I can see where the other side is coming from.
Americans have always been quick to ban or outlaw things, or behaviors, that are thought to cause problems in society. Alcohol, drugs, porn, adultery (see The Scarlet Letter) are just a few examples. We, of course, miss the bigger picture most of the time so we get fun things like the organized crime that was the direct result of Prohibition in the 1920s. The same is true of guns. If we just ban the damn things the problem will go away. Sorry, it won't.
In the current debate over gun control a rather large majority of people believe that so called Universal Background Checks will keep guns out of the hands of nut jobs and criminals. It's a nice idea. It just can't work.
A little personal history might help explain why. Back in the day when my first wife and I moved to a 121 acre farm in rural West Virginia I was a gun owner. The first was a .22 cal rifle, with a scope, that I purchased, new, from Sears. I think. It was a very long time ago. I do know that a background check was not part of the process. My second gun was a 12 gauge, single shot, shotgun that I paid $21 for at an auction. This gun was old. Old to the point that the first time I fired it the gun was tied to a tree and I pulled the trigger with a fairly long piece of string. Just in case. My third gun was a .30 cal lever action deer rifle that I bought from a friend. That's it.
The .22 was bought for protection. Not our protection. Protection for the chickens that my Ex insisted that we raise. It seems that chickens, and chicken feed, attract what we liked to call Varmints. It also worked very well to kill a steer in preparation for butchering. Sorry, but them's the facts. The only hunting I ever did with it was hunting the huge crow that was destroying our garden one year. Now crows are very smart birds and this one was at the top of the list. Every time I came around the corner of the house, with the gun in hand, said crow took off like a rocket. If I hid the rifle behind my back he'd just sit and look at me until I went to swing the gun into shooting position. Off like a rocket again. Finally I spotted him about 200 yards away in the back field while I was still in the house. Declaring softly, "I'm smarter than a crow," I took the rifle into the bathroom. The window looked out on the field. I got down on the floor and very slowly opened the window just enough to allow the rifle barrel to poke out and to give me a clear sight line threw the scope.
I pulled the trigger just as he started to jump into the air for takeoff. He never made it. .22 bullets are very fast. I learned a very important lesson that day. Never fire a gun in a small bathroom! Besides going instantly deaf, I was only hit a glancing blow from the hot brass cartridge that ejected from the gun and then bounced off the wall not two feet to my right. The sucker could have caused serious damage to an eye.
The shotgun's main use was snake elimination. We had an old stone drain on the edge of the front yard and copperheads loved to sun themselves in the rocks. A 12 gauge shell full of buckshot works wonders, and avoids the problem of ricochet. It was better for all concerned. I never hunted with the deer rifle, and, in fact, I think I only fired it a handful of times. It was like getting kicked in the shoulder by an angry horse.
In the end I sold the .30 cal to my brother in law, sent the then broken shotgun to the dump and left the .22 cal with my Ex when I split the scene. I have no idea where it may be now. So how does any of that relate to gun control?
The whole idea of Universal Background Checks is the part about universal. Currently all federally licensed gun dealers must get a background check on any person buying a gun. This same rule doesn't apply to private, person to person sales at gun shows. This is the so called "gun show loophole." Closing the loophole, assuming that the system is in place to allow for quick and easy background checks at gun shows, is not much of an issue to me. No, the problem is with actual person to person sales. And in particular sales of existing guns.
As I said. I bought a high powered rifle from one person and sold it to another. No paperwork of any kind was involved. In order to bring that gun, and millions like it (there are over 300 million guns in this country already), into a Universal Background Check scheme would require registration of that gun. Some proper and approved paperwork would have to be attached, legally, to such and such .30 cal rifle with serial number so and so. This would be true of every existing gun in the country. Oh, and that paperwork would, of course, have to include information on the current owner, and any subsequent owner, much in the same way we register vehicles. Sure, lets create a DMV for guns.
I see at least two real problems with such a registration scheme. In order for it to work to prevent guns from falling into "The Wrong Hands," (whoever that is) there needs to be a threat of punishment for failing to get a proper background check before a private sale. That threat of punishment would attach to the last  known registered owner of the gun no matter how long ago he owned it and no matter how many person to person sales had occurred since the first such sale. A gun sold and resold twenty times over twenty years that ends up being used in a crime could result in the arrest of the poor schmuck who needed an extra $200 to fix the brakes on his truck twenty years before the crime was committed.
That's the only way Universal Background Checks would work. It's not like the police can see a gun's license hanging off the stock or hand grip like the license plate on your car. No, this would only work with universal registration of all guns...and gun owners. That last part is the second problem with this idea. It has long been said in the NRA world that "Registration leads to confiscation." That may sound a little paranoid, but I think that it's a sentiment held by many more people than the usual suspects labeled, "Gun Nuts." And it's that sentiment which would cause most existing guns to never be registered at all. If the guns aren't registered the whole thing fails. It really is that simple.
Why do I believe that most folks would not step up to have their gun(s) put into the registry? Well, first I think many gun owners would ask, "What's in it for me?" Piece of mind doesn't drive a lot of action by the American public. If people can't see a benefit to them, directly, they are not going to comply. And remember, for this to work the paper trail has to include every subsequent sale or gift of the gun or the damn thing could come back to bite you years later.
Second, we have a long history of ignoring or avoiding laws that we don't like or agree with. Prohibition is a perfect example, as is drug use (tens of millions of people smoke pot on a regular basis) and even the underground economy of cash payments for legal services (I'll give you $20 to take that old stove to the dump) not to mention illegal ones, come to mind. What makes anyone think that tens of millions of gun owners are going to step up and "Do the right thing?"
So, there is my pretty pessimistic take on gun control. I think that this is one of those areas where we as a nation can condemn something, gun violence, while in the end realizing that the ultimate price of freedom, is freedom. In this case that means the freedom to get shot at by bad people. We don't have to like it, but I think we have to live with it.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

MEL TORME'S GHOST

It's the holiday season again and. like most of us, my thoughts drift back to holidays past. This year I'm reminded of a Christmas season from about a decade ago.

The Queen of the Frontier and I were living at the beach on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The pros and cons of that move are fodder for another day, but there we were, owning and running a full service restaurant in Kitty Hawk.

A bit of history is in order. I took up playing the guitar at about the same time I started college. I could tell you that I had a burning desire to express myself through music. I could say that I was influenced by a great music teacher or a great player whose record I had listened to. I could, but I won't. I took up the guitar to attract girls. At the time (1967) that was considered almost a sure thing, at least by we who tried it. All I attracted was the woman who became my first wife, the dreaded "Wicked Witch." Oh well.

The WW and I played and sang folk music. She played the Autoharp and I played guitar. For a while we played some collage coffee house gigs and even once did a show for a VFW party. I can't remember how many times we played for our supper at picnics and family reunions over the years, but it was a few. Heck, we even rode a hay wagon in a parade, playing and singing the same song for 45 minutes. Some kind of fun!

After the WW and I divorced I decided that I'd had enough folk music in my life. The Queen of the Frontier bought me an electric guitar and from that point on I never looked back. I wanted to play lead guitar in a band. To make that beautiful instrument sing and cry. And after a few years of lessons and practice I actually was able to play a passable lick or two. Of course, life intervened. I never did play in a band, but, thanks to the generosity of several real musicians, I got the chance to sit in with some local groups at gigs and parties. I loved it.

Back at the beach, the Queen and I offered live music at the restaurant on Friday nights. Peter, a Jersey boy transplanted to the sand like we were, was our Friday feature. I'm pretty sure that he knows every song from the 60s, 70s and 80s that can be played and sung by one guy. He can remember all of the lyrics and can work out the chords in a flash. He would put on a great show and we advertised the hell out of those Fridays  to bring in more business. Peter and I became golf buddies and, of course, started playing music together. He'd sing and play acoustic guitar and I'd play lead and sing back up vocals. Before too very long we took it to the Friday nights at the restaurant. I would work during his first set waiting tables and doing any of the hundreds of things you need to do to run a beach eatery and then sit in for the second set. We had a ball.

After the first Christmas season we realized that we, that is Peter, didn't know a lot of Christmas songs. Oh, he knew the words, but the music was a bit more of a problem for both of us. As the next holiday season approached we agreed that we needed to learn some new songs. It was time to do some homework.

 This was the perfect opportunity for me to learn one of my favorite Christmas songs of all time; the aptly named "The Christmas Song," written by jazz singer and composer Mel Torme. If you don't know the title I'm sure you know the opening lyrics; "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire." I love that song. And I could sing it fairly well. But neither of us could play it on the guitar. It's jazz, you know.

But I was not to be denied this golden opportunity. I had, in fact, played some jazz sitting in with a superb jazz trio back in West Virginia and while I hadn't messed around with that style for some time, I still owned a very nice jazz guitar. It was time to take that baby out of its case and plug it in.

It turned out that a fellow who worked for us had been a music major before his escape to the beach and he was able to write a chord chart for me that I had a small, but real, chance of learning. Now, this was in October, so you'd think that I had plenty of time in which to learn and refine one silly song. But you would be wrong. I'd played some jazz lead guitar and I could sing pretty much anything in my key. But doing both, that is sing and playing jazz at the same time. That was a different story.

So I practiced. And practiced some more. Weeks went by as I slowly put the chord progression together in a smooth, and hopefully, musical form. Then I started singing while playing. Okay, some set backs there, but it was starting to come together. This was starting to get exciting.

The big night was going to be the last Friday before Christmas. Peter and I had agreed that I'd sit in from the start and end the first set with "The Christmas Song." I practiced a few more times during the week and we were raring to go.

The crowd of mostly regulars knew that something was up, since there was an extra guitar in the corner of the room were we would set up. When they didn't see a third player most, I think, figured out that I was going to do something different that night. As I switched instruments Peter did a little snappy patter and then introduced me and the song. It was on!

"Chestnuts roasting on an open fire," came out smoothly. The guitar sounded fantastic and the crowd was actually taking notice. "Jack Frost nipping at your nose." I had to look either up at the folks or at the neck of the guitar because I knew that if I looked over at Peter he'd make a face and I'd burst out laughing. "Yuletide carols being sung by a choir and folks dressed up like Eskimos," "Everybody knows, some turkey and some mistletoe, helps to make the season bright." Okay, I was coming up to the bridge section. The chords are a little bit easier and I could relax heading into the big finish. "Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow, will find it hard to sleep tonight."

"They know that Santa's....." And just then, the guitar strap came loose from the end of the guitar! The end that I didn't have a grip on. The end that fell to my knees in an instant of shocked silence. It was bad.

I swung the instrument back up and fumbled with the strap for a bit until I could get things right. Yes, I started the bridge again from "They know that Santa's on his way," but the magic was gone. I made it through to the neat little "Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells," instrumental ending. The audience offered polite applause. So I did the only thing I could do at that point. I thanked the crowd and then offered the explanation, "I guess Mel Tormes' ghost didn't want me to sing his song." They laughed. I've never tried to play that song again.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

Oh, and one more thing. Now that "The Christmas Song," is running on a loop through your head...you're welcome!