Memories Last Forever, Trees Do Not.

A tree is one of nature’s greatest wonders.  They provide shade when it’s hot, firewood when it’s cold and shelter when it rains.

Trees give us oxygen for our atmosphere, structure for our homes, and act as God‘s paintbrush every fall.

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Trees add vivid color to the Fall.

Imagine if trees could somehow communicate.  They would tell us everything they’ve witnessed during their existence, from local history to more intimate scenes like children hiding their eyes while counting down during games of Hide and Seek.

Without fanfare, trees become part of a family’s heritage.

Such is the case with the large maple tree that has defined our front yard.  It is the tallest tree on our street, and I’m assuming the oldest.

Over the years it has been the background for numerous photos.  Every event from Sarah’s first communion, to Kristen’s first day of school, to Matt‘s high school graduation has at least one picture with the neighborhood’s senior member standing watch.

We’ve had block parties and cookouts in its shade, and generations of squirrels and birds have called it home.  I don’t know how many times I’ve had to retrieve a ball from its branches, and I’ve played catch with Matt, watched Kristen ride her scooter, and taught Sarah how to ride a bike beneath the limbs that reach well across the sidewalk.

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Kristen next to our tree on the day of her 6th grade graduation.

It has become part of our identity as a family; a silent, proud parent and friend.

On a less personal scale, I am sure it has played the same role for others that have lived where we do now.  I am guessing, based on its size, that the tree is well over 100 years old.

If that is the case, this tree has stood during some pretty historical moments in our city’s (Oswego, NY) and country’s histories.

If it had ears, it would have heard the cannons being fired annually at the fort, and the whistles of steam engines as this nation developed in the twentieth century.

This maple has stood through the roaring twenties, the Great Depression, two world wars, and countless hurricanes and blizzards.

What a great life story it could tell.

Unfortunately, it is a story whose final chapter is being written this week.

Over the past five or six years some sort of insect has been making its home in the base of the maple.  While the worst things other residents of the tree have done is partially eaten its leaves or nibbled at its samaras (we’ve always called them helicopters), this particular inhabitant has bored holes and literally eaten away half of the trunk, leaving a pile of sawdust on the ground.

The damage is irreparable and we had no choice but to have our noble friend taken down.

We’re losing a part of our family.

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Our once proud tree is now stripped of its branches in preparation for being cut down.

If my tall friend could talk, somehow I think he’d tell me that it’s ok, and that he’s had a good long life.  He’d probably go so far as to thank me for keeping the grass around him cut, and for watering the ground during those extended dry spells in summer.

My thanks to him would take much longer.  I’d thank him for keeping my kids cool in the summer and dry in the rain.  I’d tell him how much I appreciated his patience in letting them kick their soccer balls and throw their snowballs against his trunk.  As if that weren’t enough, he offered plenty of bark to pick and a nice rest stop for every dog that walked by.

I would want him to know that whether he realized it or not, he is part of memories for all five of us.

After this week, pictures of our house will never quite be the same.  The front lawn is going to see a lot more sun in the summer and snow in the winter, and our plot of land will have a little less character.

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Our old friend (on the right) has seen its last winter.

We’ll still have our cookouts, and life’s special events will keep arriving.  They’ll just occur without our old landmark.

The silver lining is that we have the photos and the recollections of days gone by.  They will live as long as we do.

After all, in this world memories last forever, trees do not.

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Goodbye To A Friend

Golf is a very social sport and has a way of putting strangers together then, forging their friendships.  If you are in a weekly golf league, you’ll understand what I mean.

Accomplishments on the links can be the ties that bind people who otherwise might never associate with each other.  Besides, what’s the point in doing something great on a golf course if no one is there to share it with you?

In 1997 I had one of those moments that forever secured a link with the three people I was playing alongside.

It was the fifth hole of a forgettable round of golf in the company league.  The hole was a short uphill par 3 and we had a brief wait on the tee while the group ahead of us finished on the green.  That time was spent jokingly digging at each others’ abilities, physical appearances, and personalities.  It was a typical day in the league.

Anyone that plays in a company golf league knows that as a round progresses, you become more familiar and comfortable with your opponents (unless they are complete assholes).

My playing partner, Harold, and I were competing against two of the more senior golfers in the league – Paul Vibbert and Jim Sperino.

Jim was the more experienced golfer between the two, and an affable man that I’d get along with no matter the setting.

Paul exuded personality.  His little comments and digs were always in good fun and he kept me laughing.  Throughout the round he’d continually chat and “prod” – smiling as he did so.

vibbert

Paul was “colorful” on and off the course. He often played Santa during the Christmas season.

Golfers are a peculiar bunch.  Some can be very social as they play (like Paul) and aren’t easily distracted by outside “noise”.  Others require silence and peace as they take each stroke.  Without it, their game is readily shattered.

The members of the league that fell into the latter category didn’t appreciate Paul’s “chattiness” on the course.  Often his socializing caused him to lose track of where he hit his tee shot, and on more than one occasion over the years I watched as he’d get ready to swing at the wrong ball.  I’d laugh knowing full well the reasons for his mistake and that his opponents were probably getting pissed.

Anyway, on that day in July of 1997 I somehow managed to knock my tee shot into the cup for a hole-in-one.

I’m a decent golfer, but never for a second thought I’d ever get an ace.  To say I was excited at that moment would not fairly express my feelings.

The other three golfers all gave me their congratulations as well as some good-natured razzing, and each then signed the card as witnesses to that snapshot in time.

I still have the card.

That one day 16 years ago, and that one hole in the middle of a mediocre round of golf, forever linked the four of us.  Whenever I recall that day, I remember who I was playing with.  It’s impossible not to because they were witnesses to the peak moment in the sport for me.

In the years since, I changed golf partners and there would be other matches with Jim and Paul.  Whenever they’d drive by in a golf cart Paul made it a point at shouting “Hey Fore….Skin!”  (my last name is Skinner) with a beaming smile, then turn to Jim and keep chatting away.

At work I never really knew Jim or Paul.  Jim had retired before I even began working there, and Paul was somewhere else in the plant.  Our paths never crossed other than on the golf course.

Yet, through golf, I consider them friends – lifelong friends.  Without the sport, I probably wouldn’t have had the privilege to know them.

Today I found out that Paul died over the weekend.

This year he had gotten a job driving a bus for the city and did not play in the league.  Jim remained a regular on Wednesdays and played with a different partner.  When I ran into Jim last week, he ironically said to me “Don’t you miss Vibbert jabbing at you?”.  I said yes I certainly did, and meant it.

Paul added character to the league.  Hell, Paul added character to the sport.

In reading his obituary one can see that Paul wasn’t much different off the course.  He was a former police officer known to many as “Officer Friendly” (he probably talked people’s ears off), and played Santa Claus during the Christmas season (his hair was white and he had a Santa-like white beard).

Tomorrow I’ll hit the links but it won’t be the same.  With each swing I’ll hear his playful “Hey Fore!!” in my mind and smile.  It won’t matter that he hasn’t played this season; July of 1997 will forever keep him in my memory and my heart.

I’ll play at least one shot with a three wood that I bought from Paul several years ago.  I have rarely used it recently and considered taking it from my bag.  I’ll delay that one more week.

It will be my way of saying good-bye to a friend.

Rest in Peace Paul.  You’ll be missed.

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Baseball Is Better Than This

Above all else I am a baseball fan.  Within that, I am a die-hard New York Yankees fan – always have been, always will be.

That is why the recent events surrounding my favorite team’s polarizing third baseman sadden me.  The name-calling and finger-pointing that is occurring between Alex Rodriguez and Major League Baseball only casts a shadow over what are special times for the greatest of American sports.

Do the two sides not see what their childish behavior is doing to their cause?

MLB has levied a 211 game suspension against A-Rod for using PEDs.  That suspension is currently under appeal and while we wait for it to be heard, Rodriguez remains an active part of the Yankees lineup.

Baseball deserves better than the media's focus on A-Rod

Baseball deserves better than the media’s focus on A-Rod

Others suspended alongside A-Rod (Ryan Braun, Francisco Cervelli, Nelson Cruz etc.) have already accepted the penalties placed on them and are sitting out the remainder of 2013’s campaign.

Rodriguez is the only one that has chosen to fight.

Perhaps it is because his is the harshest penalty, and MLB has clearly made him the face of its efforts to clean up the sport, that Alex chooses to make a stand.  Maybe it’s because he really is innocent?

I don’t know.  In fact, none of us really knows.

We think we do because of the “spins” bombarding us on an hourly basis from each side of the argument.  Heck, even I am of the belief that “where there’s smoke, there’s fire”.

Given that Rodriguez admitted in 2009 he used steroids while with the Texas Rangers, I can’t help but feel there is an element of truth to the reasons why MLB has gone after the once-feared slugger.

But, I also know that the way each of the warring parties has acted makes me question just who to believe.

I am sick of MLB’s lap dogs in the media referring to the activities of A-Rod’s “camp” or “inner circle”.   The fact that they NEVER directly refer to Rodriguez, but instead make claims against those vaguely defined groups and want us to know that they mean A-Rod, angers me to no end.

If you don’t have direct evidence that Alex Rodriguez did what you want us to believe he did, then don’t use the guilt-by-association argument.

Michael Radutzky’s (“60 Minutes” producer) article on CBS news from August 16th is a perfect example of this kind of direct/indirect accusation.  The title of the column is “Alex Rodriguez implicated fellow players in doping investigation”.

At first glance I thought “ouch, they have you Alex, you are toast”.

60 minutes

“60 Minutes” article’s title misleads the reader.

Then I read the piece.

It never directly says that A-Rod implicated fellow ballplayers.   Instead, it’s very first sentence is:

“60 Minutes” has learned that members of New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez’s inner circle in February obtained and leaked documents that implicated Milwaukee Brewers slugger Ryan Braun as well as his own Yankees teammate, catcher Francisco Cervelli, in the doping scandal that has enveloped Major League Baseball.

Later in the article, it uses the term “Rodriguez’s camp” four times.  Nowhere do I see that Rodriguez is said to have directed people to take the alleged actions on his behalf.
That’s because Radutzky doesn’t have that proof.   It’s all a supposition.

I will be the first to tell you I love “60 Minutes” and respect it deeply.  Perhaps that is why this type of article troubles me so much.  You are better than that Michael.

Jon Heyman of CBS sports is another to throw around the “A-Rod’s camp” and “A-Rod’s inner circle” terms like candy at a parade.

In his August 16th article “A look at A-Rod’s ever-evolving inner circle” he mentions “camp” SEVENTEEN times.  The funny thing is that Heyman goes so far as to say that A-Rod’s camp “.. is an ever-changing camp”, yet continually uses it as the evidence of A-Rod’s guilt.

How can you deduce A-Rod’s guilt based on someone (who you do not directly mention) that may, or may not, be in his “camp”?

That “camp” must be one hell of a place to get talked about so much.  Is there lots of shoreline?  Are there great views?

He, of course, piggy backs on the “60 Minutes” piece from the same day.  One thing to note: Jon Heyman, in addition to writing for CBS sports, is also a “baseball insider” for MLB.

In other words, Jon is in MLB’s “camp”.  I bet that’s a nice place too, and he has plenty of neighbors.

I suspect another writer spending his vacation at the MLB “camp” is New York Daily News writer Bill Madden.

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Mike Francesa presents both MLB and A-Rod’s side of argument with objective interview on WFAN.

In one of the better – and more objective – interview segments I’ve heard Mike Francesa do for WFAN in New York, the host first interviews Madden, then one of Alex’s lawyers (David Cornwall).

Madden paints an almost angry, accusing portrait of Rodriguez and implies that what he’s done is worse than mobster Whitey Bulger.

Cornwall, of course, contradicts everything Madden says.

The interviews can be listened to here.

“60 Minutes”, Heyman and Madden aren’t the only ones pitching a tent in MLB’s “camp”.  A quick Google search of “A-Rod camp” comes back with over 69 million hits.   One has to go to the fifteenth page before finding a link to something not actually referring to Rodriguez.

The MLB lap dogs are out in full force.

Rodriguez’s side is in full “spin control” as well.

On August 17th one of ARod‘s lawyers, Joseph Tacopina, levied serious allegations at the Yankees, saying that the team hid MRI results from Rodriguez that revealed a torn labrum.  He also contends that the Yankees president, Randy Levine, went so far as to tell surgeon Dr. Brian T. Kelly that he didn’t want to see Alex on the field ever again.

Levine responded by saying that if that was true, why hasn’t A-Rod filed a grievance?  A very good point to be sure.

The problem is that Levine didn’t just stop there.  He went on to challenge Rodriguez to release his medical records, showing that the Yankees took good care of their controversial star.  He also expressed many other opinions about the entire situation – only throwing more logs onto the fire.

The actions of the third baseman’s legal team certainly appear to be that of someone trying to point a finger away from themself, and with each passing day another statement or opinion gets expressed that only cements that apparent strategy.

Lost in all the volleys is the actual sport of baseball.

2013 should be celebrated for the competitive season it has become.  Things like Yasiel Puig’s explosion into “the show” that jump-started a stumbling Los Angeles Dodgers season, the Pittsburgh Pirates actually leading their division this late in the season for the first time in over 20 years, and the spectacular promise that players like Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen bring are all being overshadowed in the press by A-Rod’s PED controversy.

Pittsburgh Pirates v New York Mets

Andrew McCutchen and the rise of his Pittsburgh Pirates are one of the many great MLB stories being overshadowed by the A-Rod story.

I’m not saying that this fiasco should be ignored.  What I am saying is that baseball is bigger than it and better than it.   It should be treated as such by members of the media.

Let due process take its natural course and focus on what is happening between the lines.  Trust me, there are some much better stories there.

Randy Levine, shut up.  Focus on getting Robinson Cano re-signed and working with your general manager in getting the Yankees back on track.

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Randy Levine needs to work on making the Yankees better, not on getting into a pissing contest in the papers with A-Rod’s lawyers.

MLB writers, stop whoring yourselves.  You are better than that.  I know, I’ve read your stuff and believe that you have the ability to paint masterpieces with your words.  You don’t need to sell out in the name of getting site hits, or scoring points with MLB.

A-Rod, decide if you want to help the Yankees (as you claim) or destroy them.  If it’s the former, you need to put a muzzle on your lawyers and tell them to work quietly on giving you the best legal representation.  Let them know they are currently making fools of themselves and you.

Baseball deserves better than what all of you have given it.  In the last few weeks each of you has only added to the sport’s embarrassment.  Instead of adding to the growing disgust, try to give back to the sport that has given all of you livelihoods.

Baseball will endure this, as it has every other controversy to pound it broadside since its inception.  Let’s all just take a deep breath, step back and enjoy the sport for what it is.

Baseball is better than this.

Steve Skinner also writes for Bleacherreport and BleedingYankeeBlue.

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Thank You.

Thank You..  On this Memorial Day we remember those that have fallen for us.

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Time Flies

It seems like only yesterday that I held this funny looking, hair-covered, tan baby as she took her first breaths of life.

Today she turns 21.

Where has the time gone?  I know it is a question that every parent since the dawn of man has asked, and I suppose it is one of the many burdens that we take to our graves.

No regrets.

She is the first of three children that my wife and I brought into this world, and I can still remember desperately hoping that she would not be born on the same day as her great grandmother.  I would quietly bite my tongue when relatives with only good intentions made remarks like “Wouldn’t it be great if the baby came on Grandma Hammond’s birthday?”.  I wanted my child to be unique in every way and to make his or her name for themselves.  I’d have none of this sharing a birthday talk!

Naturally, Sarah was born on Grandma Hammond’s birthday.

From the moment I first held her I no longer cared what day she called her birthday.  At the moment the doctor put her into my arms the petty worries about who else was born on that day vanished.  I was holding a living, breathing person that would cut her own path in the world and in doing so help to define my legacy.

I pledged at that moment to forever be there whenever she needed me and to always protect and comfort her as she grew up.  I’d make that same pledge for her brother and sister at their births.

Now twenty-one years of moments in time flash through my mind.  Synchronized swimming meets, softball games, soccer games, lacrosse games, driving lessons, academic awards ceremonies, college visits, and a Salutatorian speech all are snapshots that I will keep for the rest of my life.  Of course they are tempered with things like hair getting caught in a game piece, staples in the top of her head from where a golf club accidentally found its way, a broken leg while playing soccer, and a broken heart from a first love lost.

I can’t imagine going through life without my kids, and Sarah is the one that has had to show us the way.

She’s done a pretty damn good job.

Today represents yet another step into adulthood for the oldest of my offspring.  I’m not quite sure why I am so sentimental as twenty-one is merely an age that some government official deemed humans are old enough to drink and live out from under the umbrella of their parents’ guardianship.

It’s funny how life can be.  When your children are young you find yourself anxious to reach the next phase in their growth.  You want them to become more independent and self-sufficient.  Yet, once they mature and achieve the levels of independence that you hoped for, you can’t help but long for the days where you sat in the stands watching in the unbearable heat of an indoor swimming complex while they desperately tried to impress judges during a “synchro play day”.  You only want to relive those snapshots in time.

But you can’t.

Instead, you celebrate the fact that they continue to meet new challenges on their own while you sit on the virtual sidelines beaming with pride and awestruck in what they’ve achieved.  You are always at the ready to catch them should they fall, but you know that with each passing year they become a little more sure footed.

Sarah continues to break new ground for the Skinner family and next year she’ll graduate from college, becoming the first of our three kids to do so.

For now, we’ll just relish the fact that she is safe and relatively happy and healthy.  For a parent, it is pretty much the goal we set out to accomplish.

Happy Birthday Sarah.  Stay the course and never look back.  If you stumble, we’ll be there to catch you.

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Veteran’s Day Has Personal Family Meaning

I had the fortune of being able to watch my son Matt march in the Veteran’s Day Parade in Syracuse, NY this weekend.  Matt is a freshman at Syracuse University and a member of its Army ROTC.  Out of high school he was awarded a full-ride to SU via the ROTC scholarship program.  It requires four years of service (two active) following his graduation.

Matt carried the flag for his battalion in the Veteran’s Day Parade

One day, God willing, Matt will be one of the veterans we salute on this very special holiday.

As I stood along the parade route, I couldn’t help but reflect on what this day means to my family.  My dad served in the Army during the Korean War, and my wife’s father was a member of the Air Force.

The military traditions that now accumulate on Matt’s shoulders don’t end there.  They go as far back as this country does.  Solomon Wixon, Matt’s ninth great-grandfather, was a Minute Man in the Continental Army.  His son, Solomon Wixon Jr., was part of a rifle battalion during the War of 1812, and there are two ancestors – A.B. Reniff and Jesse Soper – who fought for the Union in the Civil War.  Less direct military ancestry includes a third-great uncle that served in the Spanish-American War, and a great-great uncle that fought and died (and is buried) in France during World War I.

I realize that ours is not the only family with this kind of lineage.  We are one of what I am sure are thousands of families scattered across this great country with proud military histories.  Each of us have our own set of stories to tell, and all of us share the common bond that is the defense of freedom.

I wish I could personally thank my long-since gone grandfathers for their service to our country.  I do not know what their reasons for enlisting are, and I never will.  What I do know is that because they did enlist and fight, my family can live in a land where it is ok to speak your mind and pursue your dreams.  If you are going to fight for something, I can’t imagine a more noble cause.

Members of the 10th Mountain Division march in the Veteran’s Day Parade.

For the one family member that served this country and is still alive – Dad, thank you.  No matter how insignificant you may consider your part, the fact is that you were willing to lay your life on the line not only for your children, but for your grand-children and their children.  There is no greater expression of dedication and love.

Whether you do anything in observance of Veteran’s Day or not, just remember those who served did so for you.  I cannot be more proud of my son for carrying on the cause of his ancestors, and after watching the parade and reflecting on its meaning, I cannot be more proud of all of those in whose footsteps Matt now walks.  Thank you for your service.  Thank you for your sacrifice.

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SONY – How a Large Company Took Advantage of a College-bound Teen

My son Matt is 18 years-old and a good kid.  He’s smart (ranked 5th in his class) and athletic (team captain and goalie of the soccer team), and he’s overall just a good person.  He’ll be a freshman at Syracuse University this year, attending on a full four-year ROTC scholarship.  That means one day he’ll be defending our way of life.

Go ORANGE!

Matt’s greatest fault is that he believes in everyone.  He trusts that all will be true to their word and follow through with their promises.  In Matt’s mind, everyone is good until they prove otherwise.  It is a noble belief, but unfortunately it is proven flawed time and again.

This is an exciting time in our household.  The weeks have been building in anticipation of Matt beginning his four-year journey at Syracuse, and some of that excitement stemmed from the fact that he would be getting his own laptop (sort of a tradition that began when his older sister purchased hers prior to entering the University of Rochester).

In researching what computer he’d be choosing, Matt was drawn to the “perks” that came with buying a SONY VAIO – enough “points” to get another tech gadget (like a tablet, ipod…etc) and one-day shipping (which would ensure that he’d receive it prior to heading to school).  On August 3rd he ordered the laptop online.

Be careful if you order a laptop from SONY.

As the date for the anticipated delivery of the laptop drew nearer, Matt began checking its status online.  A day before it was due, the ship date changed.  The laptop wasn’t ready.  He called SONY and found out that not only was the computer still being “processed”, but he was not eligible for the “perks”.  Disappointed, he let that roll off his shoulders and kept faith that the laptop would soon be shipped.

Following another delay, Matt decided (wisely I thought) to cancel the online order (since he wasn’t going to get any of the incentives) and just drive the hour to Syracuse where he could purchase the same model at Best Buy.

Following his call to SONY, he finished his day by making the purchase in Syracuse and setting up the laptop that night.  His excitement for school was building as things were finally falling into place.

Matt finally got his laptop from Best Buy after delays by SONY

The next week Matt’s plan was to purchase his books from SU online.  He had already received his schedule, and with it the list of books he would need for each class.

Before selecting his class materials, Matt decided to check his account balance.  When he did so, he found SONY – that very day – took $750 out (the amount of the laptop order he had cancelled), leaving him without the money necessary to get his books.

Immediately he called the SONY customer support line, and after waiting 45 minutes he finally got a live voice who told him that SONY shipped the laptop that day and took the money.  After some argument, the SONY support person admitted to Matt that “somebody dropped the ball” with his cancelled order – but did nothing.

Needless to say, I got involved and exchanged tweets and phone calls with someone else in SONY support (@SONYsupportUSA) who ultimately apologized and told me that because the laptop was shipped, they could not credit Matt’s account until the laptop was returned to their warehouse, and that would not occur until next week.

Since then, I’ve received confirmation via twitter that the shipment of the computer had been stopped and it is en route back to the warehouse.

My question is this: If they have confirmed that the laptop is on its way back, why can’t they refund the money to Matt’s account?  Do they honestly think I’m going to chase down the truck that carries the package and steal it away before they can retrieve it?

Given the level of intellect of the people we’ve dealt with thus far, I don’t think that would be too difficult and I appreciate more of a challenge.

Having resigned ourselves to the fact that SONY just isn’t going to refund the money to us (that they basically stole) until they physically have the product THEY wrongly shipped back in their clutches, focus changed back to happier things like finishing up with getting school supplies.

SONY will rob you blind and think nothing of it.

Once again to his dismay, Matt discovered that today – two days after we thought SONY was done stealing Matt’s money – the apparently desperate-for-every-dollar company took another $107 from his account.  A quick call to their support line rewarded us with another lemming who informed us that the charge was for the service contract on the item being shipped.  Really?

We are now close to a week since the ordeal with SONY began and Matt is out a total of $857, snatched from his account because the company “dropped the ball”.  He has been unable to purchase the books required for his class because of SONY’s incompetence and he borrowed money to complete the purchase of his school supplies.

Along the way we have never once asked for anything other than the return of Matt’s money to his account.  We haven’t even asked for an apology.  Yet, here we are with this supposed multi-billion dollar company unwilling to part with $857 that they wrongly took.

Matt’s spirit remains strong because he knows the road ahead for him is much more important than worrying about a corporation so arrogant and greedy that they think nothing of robbing a college student.

Matt remains “Army Strong” in spite of SONY’s efforts

My son is a better person than I am.  I’m having difficulty getting over what SONY has done in the course of one week.  I certainly cannot believe that we are the only ones this organization has dampened the spirits of.

Is this the way SONY conducts business with everyone or did Matt just happen to be one of the “lucky” few?

In any case, my son will go on to get a great education at a great school.  During that time he will also learn how to defend our country and protect a democracy that gives a company like SONY the platform it needs to continue to hurt the very people it calls “customers”.

Ironic isn’t it?

It is my sincerest hope that Matt goes on to be the doctor in the U.S. Army that he hopes to be, and that SONY’s business practices come back to haunt them.  It might just restore some of his belief that justice can be served.

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