A ‘poor bastard’ wises up, counts his lucky stars

I’m cleaning up my old Chevy Malibu before trying to sell it.

I have to admit I have been lax with the maintenance. Do people really wash car windows on the inside?

Finally doing that chore, I noticed how badly the decals on my back rear windshield had deteriorated. They once touted the prestigious colleges my kids attended; today some have faded into mere shadows of letters and crests and others look like smears from insects who got too close to the car.


I displayed the decals proudly when the kids found out they did well enough academically to get into the schools: Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, Fordham, NYU and Syracuse.

One day when I worked as an editor, I drove our van, which had similar decals, to a court hearing. I had to appear in front of a federal arbitrator who was trying to decide if our newspaper deserved some police records we were fighting for. I had to wait outside by the van as the lawyers and the arbitrator met privately and the arbitrator eventually joined me and a couple other newspaper employees in the parking lot.

“Look at this poor bastard,” the arbitrator joked in an effort to make some small talk. Motioning toward the decals on the van, he said, “Those schools cost a pretty penny.”

I replied, “Tell me about it. That’s my van.”

He apologized but laughed loudly at the same time.

I was glad it happened. I’m convinced he helped settle our lawsuit more quickly out of pity for me.

The debt I took on to help the kids has certainly lasted longer than the decals.

But I have no regrets. Not only have all the kids done well enough professionally to make loan payments, they’ve also made my wife and me very proud in other ways — perhaps most unselfishly by helping out the kids who now attend their old, financially strapped city high school through The Iseman Foundation.

I started thinking of the foundation the other day when our youngest child, Adam, told me it would be expanding its scope.

I was glad to hear about it; it helped bring me out of the doldrums.

My malaise had been brought on by another birthday, Nov. 7, and the events that transpired the day after, Nov. 8. I was already lamenting the election results, and began to stress over my other problems.  

The list is not short.

It includes aging, for me and my car, and all the issues that go with turning 61 (me) and turning 16 (my car). It includes some nagging problems with the body (me and the car, though the car is easier to fix) and some bad luck.

Only by realizing my good luck, especially regarding my wife and our successful and happy kids, was I able to refocus. In essence, my pride “Trumped” my funk.

It was Adam who came up with the idea for the “Iseman Foundation.”

More than the idea, actually. He just started the thing, without asking anyone else what they thought or whether they wanted to participate. An electrical engineer, Adam just decided he wanted to do it, and he acted.

adam-2The other kids, quickly seeing the value, pitched in. Some of their friends, mostly Meyers alumni, helped out, too.

Started in 2012, the foundation at first funded the The Butwin Elias Science and Technology competition at  E. L. Meyers High School in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

Meyers has seen better days and teachers appreciated the BEST award, which is named after two longtime teachers — Sam Elias and George Butwin.

From the foundation website: “Both of these extremely influential and talented teachers structured their curriculums around numerous projects and labs. From bungee-barbies demonstrating Hooke’s Law, cardboard canoe races enforcing Archimedes principle to Van de Graaff generators demonstrating the nature of static electricity, a key tenet of their instruction was that students learn more when they get hands-on experience.”

The BEST award, which has grown in terms of prizes and participants over the years,  expands that teaching philosophy to a contest. Everyone who builds something gets at least $50 and the top cash prize is at least $1,000.


The kids over the years have built projects ranging from a one-string guitar made out of a shovel to a 3D printed fractal antenna.

Last year, a total of $2,875 was awarded when all the prizes were tallied. The Wilkes-Barre newspaper covered the event; a story can be seen here http://bit.ly/2fKZUu0


The new contest, starting this year, honors two other teachers.

Again, the website explains: “The Caffrey Welles Fine Arts Award encourages students to follow their passions and gain experience in the fine arts. Whether you write a short story, film a comedy sketch, paint a portrait, or analyze a famous work of literature, we’d like to accompany you along your creative journey.”

The award is named for liberal arts teachers Mollie Caffrey and Kevin Welles.

You can learn more about both awards by going to www.isemanfoundation.com.

If you feel you might want to donate, know that Meyers is one of those schools like many across America struggling to deal with white flight, declining revenues and a city with increasing crime.

You might not want to waste your time if you voted the wrong way Tuesday. You probably have something better to do with your money, like sending it to the Angry White People Relief Fund, or Keeping Boys out of Girls Bathrooms.

For the rest of you, I have a proposition.

After I fix up my car, if you buy it, I’ll donate a chunk of my proceeds to the foundation. As an added bonus, if you let me know you’re buying it by Thanksgiving, I’ll throw in a big ol’ decal of The University of Pennsylvania. That’s bound to get you some respect. It’s certainly a couple degrees cooler than “My kid is an honor student.”

If you really want to impress, you can also share this amazing but frightening fact.

Tuition and room and board at Penn is now more than $64,000 per year.

Author: David Iseman

Longtime newsguy. Retired. Tinkering with words. Lemme know what you think.

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