Monthly Archives: August 2014

Hump Day: ‘Charity as a business’ might not be popular, but it is practical

Hump DayHump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014
Moncton Times & Transcript
Editorial section

I find there’s a disturbing holier-than-thou trend on social media lately toward registered charities and their legitimate fundraising activities.

The most recent sample is criticism of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Unless you’ve been living under a rock in the past month, you would have seen some of the many videos being posted online of everyone from politicians, business leaders and young people who are raising money for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The disease eventually leads to weakness due to muscle atrophy and difficulty in speaking, swallowing and breathing and is ultimately fatal; there is currently no cure. Many patients remain fully aware of what is happening as the disease progresses. Tragic!

To say there are numerous videos posted online is the understatement of the century. Every political leader and business leader worth his or her salt is doing it. There are boring videos, funny videos, touching videos and downright strange ones, too. Each person tags three friends. If the friend doesn’t take the challenge, they have to make a donation. (Many people make a donation anyway.)

According to a CTV news report posted to the network’s website on Monday, ALS Canada has raised nearly $6 million since July 29, while the ALS Society of Canada has raised $5 million. In the U.S., the ALS Association has raised more than $70 million. Meanwhile, the equivalent association in the UK has raised more than $1 million.

It’s a phenomenon, to say the least – and marketing genius. I can’t remember a viral fundraising campaign that’s been so successful so fast. I’m sure there’ll be imitators popping up all over the Internet at some point. You can be sure the marketing staff at every charity in the world are looking for the next Ice Bucket Challenge right now.

Of course, the Ice Bucket Challenge has its detractors. Environmentalists say it wastes water. Some wonder how in the world the ALS-related charities can deal with such an unexpected windfall. Others say you shouldn’t give to disease-specific charities and besides, the Ice Bucket Challenge videos are one-offs. People who donate will never donate again. (Better to get it once than never, I say!) Others are just annoyed that the videos are taking over Facebook, Twitter and the media in general.

It makes me want to scream with frustration. A charity comes up with a fundraising phenomenon of epic proportions, raises millions of dollars and has everyone talking about it. Awareness is through the roof. Even if many aren’t experts on the disease because they just wanted to get in on the fun, it just makes sense that by the law of averages a certain number of people will continue giving to ALS for years to come. Even if the various charities only retain 15 per cent of donors, this would be tremendous success. Personally, I congratulate ALS on coming up with such a popular idea. If others complain, it’s because they’re green with envy. Good for you, and shame on them.

This week, the 100 Men Who Care of Greater Moncton group had its inaugural meeting. There’s also a 100 Women Who Care of Greater Moncton group that began earlier. The premise of the group is that 100 people join the organization and then nominate a charity. Before the meeting, three charities are picked to make presentations. Afterwards, a vote is taken and the winning charity is written a $100 cheque by each member – meaning $10,000 to one charity in one shot.

It’s a godsend to many charities, for sure, and a way for a group of strangers to come together and make a significant financial impact without breaking their own bank. The receiving charity then provides tax receipts to the donors. The meetings take place four times per year, meaning four $10,000 windfalls to local charities.

CharityWhen I joined the men’s group and started to promote it, I was surprised that a number of people were quite critical. It was discrimination to just have men! It’s also discrimination to just have women! Maybe a competing organization should be set up for those who want a co-ed group. Well, sure! Why not? Fill your boots! But discrimination? Really? Are we that politically correct that a group of one gender getting together to do good in the community is somehow ‘evil’ (for the lack of a better word) just because everyone happens to be the same sex? I don’t get it.

The other day, I saw something that made my jaw drop. A Facebook friend publicly advocated that we shouldn’t donate to cancer-related charities. A video was shared talking about conspiracy theories about pharmaceutical companies, how money was being spent on highly paid staff, etc. All this feel-good stuff like Run for the Cure was just a big useless waste of time, apparently.

Seriously? I have a bulletin for naysayers: you have to spend money to make money. I’ve seen charities that live on shoestrings. They rely on volunteers. They pay their staff next to nothing along with few benefits and long hours. They act like impoverished victims. And guess what? They raise little to no money and are certainly not as effective as they could be.

Charitable organizations are business. They do a lot of good. They fund research. They raise awareness. They provide services to those who need them. And yes, they have staff and offices. And – God forbid – some people are paid well, too! If you want to make money, you have to spend money. I’ve always believed that, especially for charities. We need to stop demanding that charities act like victims and start demanding that they act like dynamic, innovative businesses so they can properly serve their target audiences.

Hump Day: Coffee culture etiquette: a matter of steely eyed negotiation

Hump DayHump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014
Moncton Times & Transcript
Editorial section

If you’re in the customer service industry or a trade where you visit the homes of your clients, I would appreciate it if you’d read this column as a bit of a wakeup call for etiquette when in the homes or on the properties of others.

Before I go further, I certainly don’t want to imply that the quality of the work done was poor. It wasn’t. It’s just that I winced when I saw them get out of their vehicles or come in the house. Why? Well, read on.

If you’re going to someone’s house to do work, put your cigarette out in your vehicle. Even better, put it out before you enter my driveway. Most people don’t smoke nowadays – so treat their property as you would their home. Don’t smoke – even outside. One guy got out of his truck with a cigarette with about two inches of ash at the end of it, removed the cigarette from his mouth and then threw the entire thing on my lawn.

Excuse me, sir? Where do you get off throwing your cigarette on my lawn? Doesn’t your vehicle have an ashtray? I didn’t say anything. Maybe I should have, though. I came very close – but I never forgot what he did. I’ve only called the company back out of pure desperation. If it happens again, he’d better get ready for a full-blown hissy fit that would make a toddler’s temper tantrum look tame.

One man working for a company that did yard work a few years ago never took his cigarette out of his mouth the entire time he was here. As soon as it was done, he’d flick it away and then light another one. The cigarette couldn’t have waited?

Lately, a couple of companies have come to my home to do work – and again let me emphasize that they did good work – with each and every one of their employees dragging in big honkin’ cups of take-out coffee that could have launched Noah’s ark if they’d spilled. If it were me, I would have left the coffee in the vehicle.

Now, I’ve gone to a few meetings with a barrel-full-o’-coffee in tow a few times. I admit it – but it’s for meetings with people I know very well. It’s certainly not something I drag along with me to a first meeting, nor would I ever consider taking it with me into someone’s home unless I knew them beforehand.

It’s just that when someone enters your home or property, you would expect them not to be carrying barrels of coffee around your house that could spill or flicking cigarettes onto your lawn like it was their personal ashtray.

I guess being the personal etiquette valet to Queen Elizabeth for all those years has just made me fussy, eh? I have to find something to pick at! Heck, I’m just now trying to figure out which glass of water and roll are mine in a formal dining setting. How many times have I started drinking someone else’s water or began munching on their roll while they sit there staring at me like I’m some sort of knuckle dragger who just this very minute evolved from the apes?

I would have most certainly been fired by Her Majesty the other day when I attended a coffee meeting with a colleague. We pretty much agreed we’d each pay for our own after he decided he wanted one of those coffees that cost an arm and a leg – some kind of extra-large latte with multiple shots of espresso and flavours. I just ordered a plain old coffee and put some cream in it while Mr. Fancy Pants placed his oh-so-pricey concoction on the table.

coffee meetingAs we were talking, I took a long swig of my coffee. It tasted awful. What did they put in this thing? Dishwater? It was so strong that my eyes nearly exploded. It was then that we both realized that I’d started drinking out of his thousand-dollar latte. I guess I should have offered to buy him a new one, but seeing how it would have taken awhile for me to turn a few tricks around Victoria Park before I could afford to pay for it, he accepted my kind offer of simply replacing the cover.

I don’t remember him drinking from it after that. I probably should have just bought another one for him – although emptying out my pockets and maxing out my credit cards to pay for the darn thing would have just made me cry in public – and no one wants to see a grown man cry in public, especially when he’s standing there with his empty pockets turned out.

I always find it awkward when I go for a coffee with someone and we do the little who’s-gonna-pay dance. While I didn’t opt for an expensive latte during the aforementioned meeting, I have to admit that I often do have my heart set on something wildly expensive when I visit those specialty coffee shops. At this time of year, it’s usually a pumpkin spice latte. Decadent. Too much sugar Too delicious for words.

So when the other person insists on treating, I’m usually really blunt and just admit that I’m going to order something so expensive that they’ll have to sell one of their children’s kidneys on the Russian black market in order to afford it. We have a good laugh – and then I stare at them with a steely-eyed look of madness that only someone who really needs a pumpkin spice latte can give.“I’m not kidding.” That’s when things get real in Coffee Town. It’s either that or I just order one after the meeting (which also featured coffee) meaning I’ll be ultra-caffeinated and not sleep for two days.

Either way, I’m getting that latte And, as you read earlier, I’m certainly not above drinking yours when you’re not looking. I’m entitled to my entitlements.

Hump Day: ‍Williams tragedy reminds us depression can happen to anyone

Hump DaHump Dayy
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014
Moncton Times & Transcript
Editorial section

Some weeks, column ideas come easily. Someone rings my doorbell and runs. Someone is rude to me. I do something stupid. I was stressing out about a column idea this week and started writing one of those ‘where has the summer gone’ columns out of desperation when the news of actor and comedian Robin ‍Williams’ death popped up on my Facebook newsfeed like some terrible nightmare.

Initial news reports are that he committed suicide. He had a long history of substance abuse and depression.

I didn’t know him, of course, but he made me laugh more often than anyone. What an awful irony that he was able to please so many people through his comedy and acting while at the same time feeling so utterly hopeless that he took his own life.

Mental illness can affect anyone. The rich. The poor. The big. The small. The tall. The short. The old. The young. It doesn’t discriminate. It can hold anyone in its vicious grip. And while society has come a long way in recognizing mental illness as a genuine disease, it still has a long way to go.

My own family has been deeply affected by depression. My paternal grandmother suffered from depression and there are several of her relatives who have it today. Depression certainly isn’t a new discovery. People were being diagnosed years ago, but using different terminology and treatments that we’d consider crude today.

Robin Williams
Robin Williams

A while back, I’d looked up a number of death certificates of relatives online through the provincial archives. Family depression issues certainly didn’t start with my grandmother. They were passed down to her from further up the family tree – and probably started way before proper records were maintained.

For example, the death certificate of my great-great-grandmother Julienne Robichaud (my grandmother’s grandmother) states that she’d suffered from “recurrent mania” for 50 years and that it contributed to her eventual death. From the location of her death – the Provincial Hospital in Saint John – it was also clear that she was institutionalized at the time of her passing in May 1923. I can only imagine what kind of place it was 91 years ago. Makes me shiver just to think about it.

And since she’d suffered from this so-called “recurrent mania” for 50 years, that meant she had documented (and I assume severe) mental health issues since the 1870s, hardly an era when there was a lot of understanding or meaningful treatment.

But with all we know and the strides we’ve made in openness about depression, it still astounds us when a celebrity like Robin ‍Williams takes his own life. He would have all the money in the world to help himself. He could have the best treatment. The best doctors. The best medication. The best support. But sometimes it just isn’t enough. Depression is an illness just like anything else. We don’t blink an eye when someone rich and famous dies of cancer or a heart attack. But depression? Even I have to admit I shook my head for a minute, wondering how he could not have received the care he needed with all that money, fame and support. The sad fact of the matter is that unless you literally tie someone to a chair and feed them with a spoon, we can’t control someone 24/7.

I’ve known a few people who’ve committed suicide – some well and some not so well. From what I understand from their individual stories, they all suffered from depression and they all planned it. Some had attempted and failed – some more than once. Eventually, though, despite all the support and treatment, that vicious ogre of depression sank in again and they could not be saved from it.

Some want everything hushed. We don’t speak of these things, don’t you know! Actually, the more we talk about it, the more people suffering from depression – and those around them – will recognize the signs and get the help they need. Like everyone, I have my own quirks and issues, but I’m so thankful that depression isn’t one of them – at least at this time. I can’t predict the future. And I hope I never have to deal with it. Just hearing that people feel hopeless is painful to me. I’ve never felt hopeless, even when things weren’t going that great – and I hope I never do.

Robin ‍Williams made so many people laugh. I would make sure I recorded his talk show appearances because I knew he would do something crazy that would leave the host and the audience (and me!) in stitches. He raised tens of millions of dollars for the homeless through his Comic Relief charity work with fellow celebrities Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal. He won an Oscar for Good Will Hunting, a great movie.

And he also starred in another film that has been my favourite since the day I saw it in a cinema in 1989 – Dead Poets Society. I was engrossed throughout the movie. The scenery. The friendships. The betrayal. The death scene twist. The heartache afterwards, including an emotional scene where Mr. ‍Williams cries at the loss of his student from suicide. Today, his family, friends and fans are doing the same, but this time in real life.

I also give him credit for bringing cable TV into the Cormier household in the late 1970s. With talk of “Nanu! Nanu!” everywhere in school and Mork and Mindy not being available on non-cable TV, I remember convincing my parents that my brother, sister and I were practically abused children because we couldn’t watch the show. Eventually, we wore them down and Mork and Mindy – and Robin ‍Williams – became part of our lives.

Wherever you are, Robin ‍Williams, I hope you’ve found peace and can laugh again – and thanks for the cable TV.

Hump Day: Late night doorbell-ringing: harmless prank or vandalism?

Hump DayHump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014
Moncton Times & Transcript
Editorial section

When your doorbell rings at 11 p.m., you would expect to find a friend standing there with tears rolling down her face announcing that she’s just left her husband for leaving his underwear on the floor – again.

Or someone who’s been in an accident in front of your house needing help. Or an alien who’s landed on your front lawn and wondering if you’re in the mood for a scientific probe where the sun doesn’t shine.

A couple of weeks ago, it happened to me. (No, not the alien part – I mean the doorbell part.) Anyway, it’s 11 p.m. and I’m working away in my home office and I hear the ding dong of the front doorbell. Of course, it freaked me out – because nothing good can come from a doorbell ringing at 11 p.m. It’s not as if the lottery people would be standing there with a big fat cheque waiting to tell me that the non-winning ticket I tore up yesterday and threw in the trash was really a winner.

The doorbell has rung at 11 p.m. about six times before, I believe. The first two times were years ago when a certain neighbourhood kid was causing trouble. Three other times, it was the same pizza delivery guy who couldn’t read a map. I won’t tell you which pizza shop he worked for, but let’s just say I never want to play dominoes again.

The third time Christopher Columbus the pizza delivery guy rang the doorbell and banged on the door (within about five seconds of ringing the doorbell), I was not amused and he knew it. He had the street number right. Unfortunately, the street itself was wrong. I didn’t exactly give him a tongue lashing, but it didn’t take him long to figure out I wasn’t pleased. He high-tailed it out of my driveway pretty fast and sped off to his intended destination a couple of streets over.

Another time my doorbell rang late at night was some young lady who was stoned out of her gourd. She’d left her bicycle at the curb, walked up to my front door, rang the doorbell and then when I answered, asked if I had a light for her cigarette. Because, you know, that’s a perfectly sensible thing to do in a quiet residential neighbourhood at 11 p.m. I think my answer was perfectly clear when my head split open and the hounds of hell came out. It didn’t take her long to get back on her bicycle. (Please note: Even stoned people can run fast if they have the right incentive, i.e. hounds of hell.)

So, a couple of weeks ago, I was sitting at my desk working away when I heard,‘Ding dong!’ My heart skipped a beat and then the dog started barking her furry little brains out just to make sure I knew someone was at the door. Yes, dear, I hear you. The entire planet hears you. Dead people hear you. Now, stop yapping and come protect me when I answer the door to what is most certainly a major threat to my safety – perhaps some escaped madman with a chainsaw waiting to turn me into filet mignon.

alienI approached the door and turned on the outside light, expecting to see a shadow of someone there. Didn’t see anything. Maybe the guy was kneeling down and hiding his chainsaw – you know, so as to trick me to answer the door. Or maybe the alien – who I assumed would be quite short – was standing there with his little glow-in-the-dark bow tie and a bouquet of flowers to ask me nicely to come over to the UFO for my probe.

I decided to throw caution to the wind and opened the door. No one was there. No Christopher Columbus with his wayward pizza. No lustful alien. No strange girl tripping on drugs trying to bum a light. Eventually, I figured out that I’d been ding-dong ditched – the classic pastime of generations of young males who get their jollies ringing the doorbell and then running away.

I went online right away to see if anyone else had been visited. Eventually, I discovered that there was a crew of teen males roaming around ringing doorbells. I did manage to see a couple of them when I looked outside. They were walking very fast – and started running when they noticed that I’d seen them. And trust me, they were old enough to know better – at least 16 or 17. These weren’t pre-pubescent pranksters.

I decided to call the police to let them know. No, I didn’t expect mass arrests or anything – nor did I call 911. I just called the regular dispatch number. They actually were quite helpful and sent a patrol out right away. About 30 minutes later, the police called back and said they hadn’t found the dastardly ding-dongers.

What surprised me, though, was the reaction of some after I posted it online. A few told me I was overreacting. Some said the kids should be left alone because, “It’s what kids do.” And how dare I ruin their fun? Really? Are you kidding me?

Well, how about the senior citizens who they scared the daylights out of by ringing their doorbells at 11 p.m.? How about the young children who were awakened? How about the people who needed to get up early the next day and who needed their sleep? Are they really expected to put up with some yahoos roaming around the neighbourhood at 11 p.m. and trespassing onto their properties? I don’t think so.

Now, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not as if anyone died or anything. The police told me when they called back that they did see evidence of minor vandalism from the gang roaming around, but still. I just don’t get how some people were just so lackadaisical about it – pretty much implying the idiots had the right to do it.

No, they didn’t have the right to do it. They didn’t have the right to come onto my property. I just don’t get it. I could be disappointed in the idiots who were doing the deed, but I think I was more disappointed in the adults who thought they had the right to do it.