June 13, 2018

Universal Coin and Bullion is no longer trustworthy


I am an NRA Patron Member. A few years ago, I decided to start buying gold and silver coins instead of depositing my extra cash in a bank savings account. Interest rates are the lowest they have ever been in the history of our nation. While this is very good for people borrowing money, it also means bank deposits grow even more slowly than the economy. Money left in a savings account at current rates will lose value in both the short term and the long term. Investing that money into gold and silver coins insures that the purchasing power of the investment will not change. This is a not a highly profitable investment, but it does make for a solid hedge investment against inflation. The downside being that in some cases if an investor is forced to liquidate in the short term the loss can be quite substantial.

Since I am an NRA member, naturally the first place I called was Universal Coin and Bullion. They put me in touch with a sales agent named Robert Campbell. He was an enthusiastic fellow, with a keen interest in the history of the United States and the relationship between coinage and the growth of our nation. I enjoyed talking to him. I purchased some Silver Eagles. This turned out to be the beginning of a nearly eight-year relationship with Robert Campbell. Without fail, at least once a month he would call me up to ask how I was doing, inform me of the current specials they were offering, and talk about history. Once in a while, I made additional purchases. I mostly bought Silver Eagles, but I also bought interesting collector pieces, special editions, and eventually, some gold pieces.

One day I received a call from a new sales agent. He informed me that Robert Campbell no longer worked for Universal Coin and Bullion. He would not tell me if Robert had resigned, been fired, or died in some kind of unexpected tragedy. Instead, he immediately began a hard sell pitch trying to convince me to purchase additional pieces similar to ones I already owned, "to complete the set". He brushed aside any questions I asked not related to the items he was selling and did not listen to me when I explained I wasn't buying any coins for the moment. Rather than listen, he continued his practiced sales pitch emphasizing, "now is the time to complete the set before prices rise."

Annoyed, I hung up on him. Unfortunately, every time I called after this they connected me to the same annoying sales agent with the same rehearsed lines and the same hard sell attitude. It was a relief to fly back to Japan and know he would be unable to contact me for at least six months. While I was in Japan, I decided that I no longer wanted to be a customer of Universal Coin and Bullion. Therefore, as soon as I returned I called them up and asked about selling my collection back to them. I knew I would have to take a loss, but it would be worth it just to be rid of them and insure they had no reason to call me again. The new fellow was not happy to hear this but promised to look into it.

Two weeks later when I had not heard from him I called him back. He promised to call me that Friday. When he did not, I called again on Monday, then on Tuesday. On Monday he was not in the office (or so I was told) and on Tuesday he assured me that he would call me on Wednesday morning. Naturally, he did not. So I called again on Wednesday afternoon and found myself listening to a series of robotic connections, disconnections, and reconnections as the system shuffled me around. I was finally able to leave a message for him, but I suspect it will do no good and he will not bother calling me back.

For nearly eight years I enjoyed doing business with Universal Coin and Bullion. Robert Campbell was attentive to my requests, his head contained encyclopedic knowledge of numismatics and history of American coinage, and he never pushed me into buying something I expressed zero interest in acquiring. When I was interested but reluctant, he went out of his way to sweeten the offer with things like books, a jeweler's loupe, or special prices on liquidation inventory. However, since the day he left the entire tone of my dealings with the company have changed. No one I speak to listens, no one answers my questions, no one takes me seriously. When I am not interested in the current special, I get pressured into buying it anyway. From my perspective the company has transformed itself from a companionable numismatic partner into some perverse version of the Home Shopping Network. I no longer trust the company or its employees. I cannot recommend it. Just the opposite. From this point forward I will enthusiastically recommend people buy their gold and silver coins anywhere in the world except Universal Coin and Bullion


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June 09, 2018

The Darkness Within



Today: Robin Williams' Widow Describes Actor's Last Days
E! News: Inside Kate Spade's Final Days
Delish: Anthony Bourdain's Girlfriend Breaks Her Silence

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255,

I am not a trained counsellor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. I cannot answer, "Why?", when disaster strikes, tragedy visits, or a loved one commits suicide. I cannot see inside the mind and heart of other people. I can barely understand my own motivations on any given day, for any given behavior, or for any given decision I make, especially the major ones. So I am not going to pretend to understand what is behind the growing trend around the world where happy, healthy people suddenly take their own lives. I can barely comprehend a suicide bomber, how on Earth will I ever understand a successful person at the peak of their career suddenly taking their own life?

The one thing I can do is describe the darkness inside of me and try to explain as honestly as possible why I have not done the same.

When my son was four years old he was hit by a car. My wife and I and our two sons lived in a small apartment in Tokyo. Behind the apartment building was a small, fenced in area with a single gate that served absolutely no discernable purpose. It was about five feet wide, tiled, and ran the length of the building. The gate was never locked, so it wasn't some kind of weird security precaution. It had no toys or sandbox, so it obviously was not intended as a play area. The building did not allow pets, so it was not a pet run. It was just there. One day, I placed a couple tricycles in the area and took my sons there so they could play in the sunshine while my wife cleaned the apartment. I started out helping her clean, but she demanded I do something to get the kids out of the way without taking them to the park, so I lowered the tricycles into the area, then walked the kids around the building and through the gate. I was there watching them for awhile when my wife demanded I come back inside and help her. We argued about it for a few minutes, and I finally gave in. Against my better judgement, I allowed them to play unsupervised while I cleaned the kitchen and bathroom which were on the opposite side of the apartment where I could not watch the boys.

A short time later, less than ten minutes, my older son appeared at the open front door. I was surprised to see him there. I asked how he had gotten out of the play area when I suddenly heard a car screech to a stop and my other son begin screaming.

I'm not going to go into detail about the rest of the day. It was a complete nightmare. But that day began my long spiral into a depression so deep I have never fully emerged from it. Ask anyone around me and they will tell you I am mostly optimistic and upbeat, I argue politics with a passion matched by very few, and I love posting photos of the sunrise on social media. If I ever followed through on any of the dark plans I have often made for myself, then my friends and family would be just as shocked as those surrounding Robin Williams, Kate Spade, and Anthony Bourdain. Suicide would be a very easy thing for me to do. It would be final, I am not the kind of person to make mistakes in something so decisive. It would not be, "a cry for help." It would be a final escape from the pain of living in a world where I do not belong and have not belonged since I was a very small child. That sense of not belonging has been with me my entire life. After my son's accident, it became, "Why do I even bother staying?"

Living on the edge of suicide is not a place I would want anyone to be. And yet, over the past decade it has become very clear to me that I am not alone is this waltz with Ganesha. I do not know how many others there are, but clearly, many people go through the life the same way and some of us take that final plunge into oblivion. So why haven't I done the same? It seems important to answer this question. Not just for myself, but for everyone else who is dancing with the Ganesha without anyone around them having the slightest clue what is going on.

In my life, the most important fuel for the darkness within is personal rejection by people I trust. There is nothing more devastating than to confide in someone about a dream, a desire, a fear, or some other intimate, hidden detail of my life only to be met with ridicule, sarcasm, or outright rejection. It crushes me, every single time. Perhaps a quick example?

I began designing tee shirts last fall. I started with covers from my books, then moved into monochrome photos with some kind of text, such as a poem, a quote from my writing, or a pithy thought. I always hope the text builds on the metaphor of the photo in some small way. I also hope the impact of the two together will both inspire and enlighten. I am very proud of my designs. I put so much of myself into them that it is like sending a piece of my heart into the world and hoping it finds a home. I recently added color designs and these are particularly dangerous because they carry a far larger chunk of my inner world into the real world, subjecting it to judgement and ridicule. The greatest rejection of all is simply to be ignored. The lack of sales weighs on me like a millstone tossed to a drowning man.

On December 7th, 2017, I flew back to Japan to spend time with my wife and hopefully see my sons. The day I arrived, one of the first things I began talking about was my tee shirt designs. Pretty much the first thing my wife said to me after arriving in Japan was her response to my describing my shirt designs and how I created them. She said, "Who would ever want to buy one of your photos?"

For hours afterward I said nothing to anyone. I barely spoke five words the rest of the day. I wanted desperately to simply get back on the plane and leave, or better yet, find a nice tall building to leap from. It took every ounce I possess of both self-discipline and self-restraint to not climb the stairs to the roof of our apartment building and throw myself off. I am neither joking nor exaggerating. It was a very near thing. It might seem tiny to the vast majority of people who read this. It might even seem a simple, harmless sarcasm and my sense of rejection might seem a vast overreaction, but that does not change the reality of the turmoil that racked my mind the rest of the day.

So why didn't I jump? It would have been a simple thing. Excuse myself for a Pokemon GO walk, take the elevator to the top floor, take the stairs to the roof, and everything ends. The sense of failure. The profound sense of my own uselessness. The sure knowledge that no one would even miss me. It would all end. (I know, many of you reading this will immediately object, but this is the reality of my inner world in those moments when Ganesha is whispering in my ear that it is time to leave.)

I didn't jump because when I plugged in my American phone and connected to the family Wifi I found a text message and a nude photo from a cam model I sometimes patronize. A woman I have never met in person, and never will meet in person, who lives thousands of miles away from both my home in Ohio and my home in Tokyo. Just writing about her here is a huge risk, but I feel it is one I must take. The simple words and photo of a sex worker on my phone prevented me from killing myself. That one tiny glimmer of a fictional sunshine was enough to hold the darkness at bay and reduce Ganesha's powerful whispers to an annoying buzz. (No, I'm not Hindi. But I do understand the role of Ganesha.) So the next time you read an op-ed about the evils of online sex and "virtual prostitution", keep in mind that those men and women are providing comfort to people who can find it nowhere else. They are worth every penny they make. Their contribution to our world is priceless in ways that cannot be measured. (And the comfort they provide is also exactly why I believe it is important we not minimize Mary Magdalene or try to explain her way.)

Everyone who dances with Ganesha needs some kind of coping mechanism. All of these mechanisms are self-destructive, that is what makes them attractive and that is what gives them their power. For some, alcohol is readily available and convenient. For others, narcotics, which are even more dangerous than alcohol and in today's world far more likely to bring success in finding death than momentary escape from the burden of life. There are some lucky people who find their coping mechanism in work, in exercise, or in producing art. This is very rare and in my experience, the effect does not last. (I suspect this was true for Robin Williams, Kate Spade, and Anthony Bourdain. Their creativity was their coping mechanism, until finally they built up enough tolerance it no longer worked.) When I was very young my main coping mechanism was reading fiction. As I grew older, alcohol entered the picture until I tamed that beast by spending a decade completely dry. As the internet grew, I turned to online forums, then online games, until my favorite game was shut down. I know exactly what I am doing when I seek out these coping mechanisms. I do it intentionally. I need that momentary escape, that bit of misdirection, that ability to stand at the edge of the abyss and not fall into it. Recently, I find comfort in chatting with cam models. An expensive, but necessary indulgence.

Now, those of you who do not dance with Ganesha, those of you who have never felt the irresistible magnetism of the final escape, and those of you who are quick to belittle those of us who depend on our coping mechanisms just to make it through the day, here's a hint, YOU ARE MAKING THE PROBLEM WORSE! Every time you say something like, "You don't need that. It's going to kill you. Just think positive!", you are fueling the sense of failure and rejection that feeds the darkness within. Every time you try to explain away the darkness, every time you deny the attractiveness of suicide, every time you downplay the importance of the coping mechanism, you are increasing the likelihood someone like me will take the final plunge and end everything. What I need, what people like me need, is recognition of our strengths and acceptance of our weaknesses. To be blunt, shut up and listen! More often than not you don't need to provide advice or encouragement. You don't need to solve the problem or point out more positive ways to channel our "negative energy". You just need to listen. Sometimes the most powerful thing in the world is an unexpected text that simply says, "I love you and I'm thinking about you."

I am taking a great risk in writing today's blog post. Family and friends will read it and some of them will not be happy about it. I am sure to hear all kinds of negativity from people I depend on emotionally. And I'll be honest, I do not know how I will cope with it. Nonetheless, it seemed vitally important to put this out here in cyberspace where the entire world can read it.

If you are dancing with Ganesha, know this, you are not alone. You were never alone.


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