Friday, November 25, 2011

If you think dogs can't count

If you think dogs can't count, try putting three dog biscuits in your pocket and then giving Fido only two of them. ~Phil Pastoret

My love for dogs began when I was five.

My mother had passed away and my dad had me stay with my Aunt Mim and Uncle George for a few days while he sorted things out. I was too young to understand the full impact of how life would change, but smart enough to feel the loss.

George and Mim had a beagle named Lassie. Somehow that dog knew I was hurting and confused, and wouldn’t leave my side. Lassie let me hug him, talk to him, and find comfort in petting him. Author Ben Williams once wrote, “There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face.” And Lassie, at least in my memories, was the therapist that helped a scared little child cope with the confusion of life. In some ways, dogs are like surgeons – or, as Judy Desmond noted, “A dog is the only thing that can mend a crack in your broken heart.”

Flash forward to when I was a newlywed, and our first joint decision was to get a pet for our new home. A friend from college had introduced us to his Yorkshire Terrier, “Polo” and the dog just plain stole my heart. Yorkie’s are a unique breed (aren’t they all?) and I was drawn to the “character” of the spirit inside that cute ball of fur. Prissy, yet impish … Yorkie’s are dogs that can tear up a rug while melting your heart with a smile and a wagging tail. We named our first “child” Stash and in the words of Corey Ford, we quickly learned “Properly trained, a man can be dog's best friend.”

Yorkie’s just don’t understand they’re a small breed. Fearless, Stash would gravitate toward bigger dogs at every opportunity. With reckless abandon, he’d chase Labs, Dalmatians, and even a Great Dane. His mistake was going after an Alaskan Malamute in an effort to protect his yard. The Malamute wasn’t into negotiating a peace treaty and settled the matter rather quickly. Tougher than they look, a Yorkie’s devotion to their owner creates a relentless survival instinct. Despite a crushed rib cage and collapsed lung, and an “outside” body cast developed by the Columbia College of Veterinarian Medicine at the University of Missouri, Stash stayed with us for fourteen years. In the words of Agnes Sligh Turnbull, “Dogs' lives are too short. Their only fault, really.”

This Thanksgiving weekend, I watched the National Dog Show on NBC. The competition has become an annual event, traditionally following the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I have yet to find a breed that draws me more than the Yorkshire Terrier. What struck me during the broadcast was a poem read by actor John O'Hurley. The words expressed a sentiment I could never put into words and they touched me. The final line of the poem, paraphrased, was “because a dog’s tail is attached to his heart.”  I don’t think I’ll ever see a dog wagging his tail and not think of those words.

Later in the day, on the evening news, there was a story of some forty beagles rescued from an animal testing lab in Spain. Rescued doesn’t seem quite correct, as the only reason the laboratory gave the animals to the Beagle Freedom Project was because the business, yes business, was about to close. These animals had been prodded, poked, and tested every day of their lives. They never knew the happiness of a gentle stroke on their neck, or the joy of chasing a ball. Yet there they were, on a tarmac in Los Angeles, wagging their tails and licking the faces of perfect strangers who would soon become their servant. “Dogs are the most amazing creatures; they give unconditional love. For me they are the role model for being alive,” Gilda Radner once wrote. Can anyone argue the point?

I know there are people who aren’t dog lovers or think of animals only as tools to perform chores on a ranch. I don’t understand them. And while I prefer the company of a dog, I know there are people who prefer cats. But I’m allergic to them which makes it difficult to become close to a feline friend. Somewhere along the road of life, my daughter developed such a love of animals that she is studying to become a veterinarian. Through every imaginable obstacle and despite various setbacks, she has never stopped pursuing her dream and next year she will complete her coursework and begin to help the animals she loves so dearly. I’m incredibly proud of her, especially because I was part of the obstacles and setbacks.

My oldest son has a Yorkie and he quickly learned once you “Scratch a dog – you’ll find a permanent job.” (Franklin P. Jones). My youngest son grew up raising “Wicket” and “Poco” … two of the most mischievous Yorkie’s I’ve seen. Today, my Yorkie, “Winston” takes me for walks each day pulling on my leash when I’m not walking fast enough. His daily goal is to mark his territory. Apparently, Winston thinks he owns the entire neighborhood. Poor pup, too many mailbox posts, and such a little bladder. Winston, like his predecessors, has the same policy of not allowing me to read a newspaper without putting his paw through the pages. He wants to play “tug of war” whenever the most important part of the movie is showing and with undying faith, sits under the dinner table hoping for a morsel of food to drop. Occasionally, I accommodate in the spirit of testing some of Newton’s principals of gravity. Or is it gravy?

If you’ve taken the time to read these thoughts, I know you are a lover of dogs. My breed of choice may not be yours. It doesn’t matter, because you have your own stories to tell of how your dog made you laugh and listened to your heartache and kept your confidences. It’s what dogs do – they are the best listeners in the world. “Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole” wrote Roger Caras.

Winston brings me a peace that takes me to simpler times. At night, he will sit on my lap and let me stroke him while I try, usually without success to get him to stop licking my face. As someone once wrote, “My goal in life is to be as good of a person my dog already thinks I am.” As I write my thoughts, he is faithfully sitting in a chair by my side. He is my shadow and I am his. Over the years, my family has been the servant to six Yorkshire Terriers. Each one filled with unique character, loyalty and a stubborn streak for which terriers are famous. Each one owned our hearts and yes, healed our hearts.

If only we had a tail to wag.
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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Wedded bliss...for only $10,000 an hour.

One of my favorite jokes is about the 3rd grade teacher who asks her students whom they consider to be the most important person in history.

Little Susie raises her hand and answers, “Abraham Lincoln, he was a great man because he freed the slaves.” Jimmie blurts out, “Plato, because he was a philosopher and he started the very first school.”

The teacher, Mrs. Ellicott replies, "Those are very good answers, does anyone else have someone in mind?" That’s when Robert raises his hand and replies, “Yes, the most important person in history was Jesus Christ.”

Mrs. Ellicott smiles. “Robert that was the answer I was looking for. But I’m surprised. As a Jewish boy I wouldn’t think that would be your answer.” “Yeah, everybody knows it was Moses, but business is business.”

Years ago, I met Victor Kiam. He’s the man who liked the Remington Razor so much he bought the company. He also bought the New England Patriots in 1988. A rather colorful man, Mr. Kiam was bemoaning the fact that his Patriots were a terrible football team. Looking to brighten the moment, I suggested at the very least Mr. Kiam was making money. Are you kidding me? I’m losing $10 million dollars a year on these guys,” said Mr. Kiam. Why then, I wondered aloud, do you even own the team? His reply? “Because I bought them for $84 million, I’ll lose another 30 million and sell them for $150 million. And that son is how you make money.” Thus, the basis for one of Mr. Kiam’s famous quotes: “Even if you fall on your face, you're still moving forward.”

While a great businessman, Mr. Kiam’s math didn’t work out very well.  In 1992 he sold his share of the Patriots for $23.5 million to a wealthier man who also assumed the team’s $45 million in debt and an additional $38 million owed to another minority partner.  Eight years later, Tom Brady came along.  Timing is everything.
Admittedly, losing $10 million a year is a staggering number, but it pales to comparison to Kim Kardashian. She lost more than $10 million in 72 days. Don’t feel sorry for her, she’s still worth more than $35 million. And Kim’s soon to be ex-husband, Kris Humphries, makes an average of $2.5 million per season in the NBA (if they ever settle the current NBA lock-out). After 7 years in the league Humphries has managed to hang on to about $8 million. Clearly, he’s the more practical of the two.

But it gets better. Kim and Kris get to keep the wedding gifts. ABC News reported the couple's wedding registry requested items like a Baccarat Cosmos vase valued at $7,850. There’s also the “Havana” crystal ashtray, reasonably priced at $840. I should note neither of the couple smokes, but you never know who’s coming for dinner at the Kardashian’s. If you’re looking for something more affordable, choose from two Lalique nudes at $325 each and Lalique's "Wisdom" set of three "See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil" figurines, priced at $735 though they're only three inches high. If you’re really on a budget, the least expensive item in the registry was a $12.50 cloth napkin. But I think you need to buy at least six to get a table at the reception.

Hold on. There’s more. Reportedly, Kim earned $17.9 million in broadcast rights for the four hour wedding extravaganza. Fox News estimates the couple was paid a little over $10,000 per hour of wedded bliss. If the courts rule the income was part of the marriage, then California’s 50/50 split gives Humphries half of the broadcast fee after Kim’s Mom, Kris Jenner takes her 10% commission for negotiating the deal. Did I mention Kris Jenner has a book coming out today? Timing is everything.

In January of 2001 I was smitten by a beautiful red haired woman. It was love at first sight. For me. She required considerable convincing. One evening, shortly after we'd met, we were having drinks with a group of friends at a restaurant and the woman, not knowing I was already emotionally committed to her, said, “I’ve already married for love. The next time I marry it’ll be for money.” I was devastated, but I didn’t give up. After a courtship and engagement that was somewhat longer than the 4 months Kim was willing to wait, we were married. I didn’t get my wife a 20.5 carat engagement ring and I think the Justice of the Peace charged me $40 for the ceremony. Dinner and drinks for a few close friends at a local Tex-Mex Restaurant was another $200 and my bride's dress set her back $40.  Almost ten years later we’re still going strong. Some businessman I am. Our average hourly rate of wedded bliss is less than a tenth of a cent. But some things are priceless.

To paraphrase Deal or No Deal’s Howie Mandel, “I made a great deal.” Victor Kiam and Kim Kardashian picked the wrong case. But business is business and everyone knows timing is everything. So, to Kim and Kris, I lift a $350 Waterford Goblet and offer a toast: maybe next time.

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Sunday, October 16, 2011

It's Just That Simple...(If only)

For someone who lives by the power of words, I find I have little to say these days. And, truth to be told, many times I find it better to remain silent than to share my views for fear of being attacked by the piranhas of disagreement.

In “Give Peace A Chance” John Lennon wrote a verse about Bagism, Shagism, Dragism, Madism, Ragism, and Tagism. Today, I wonder if he would change his lyric to “Conservatism, Liberalism, Socialism, Capitalism, Racism, Atheism, and Evangelism.” By the way, there are 887 words in the English language ending with “ism” according to Somehow I don’t find it comforting that most every cause has an “ism” in its name. It’s probably not a coincidence that there are 1187 words that end with “ist”, including , socialist, capitalist, racist, atheist, and evangelist.

In today’s world, we’ve all become experts. We listen to talk shows, hear what the commentator says and his/her opinion becomes ours. We don’t think for ourselves anymore (or any less, I imagine); we just let someone else fuel our internal fires to help form our opinions. In statistics, there is always a way to twist the numbers to make your point. One can say the candidate came in dead last; the other can say he finished second in a two man race. For every fact blaming Obama for our economic woes I’ll bet we can easily find a similar fact laying this mess on the previous administration. One economist will say America got into trouble with Bush tax cuts; another will say our economy grew during the Clinton years when we had higher taxes. Both arguments ignore regulation/deregulation (neither of which is inherently evil), or the failure to close the loopholes of those policies allowing World Greed to fester.

Here’s a simple solution, suggested by a “friend” on Facebook: “If you are starving, you go where the food is. If you need a job and can't find one, move to where the jobs are. It's just that simple.” Now, why didn’t I think of that? Suppose I’m an igloo maker in Alaska and we have an unseasonably warm decade (I wouldn’t dare call it Global Warming); I’ll just move to Texas where the jobs are (as Governor Perry insists) and build igloos in Houston. The only problem is the Igloo Factory just outside of Houston only has 21 openings and all require bilingual candidates. Anyone see a problem with that?

I replied to the Facebook post, “isn’t that a bit simplistic?” Then, another person responded with, “Simplistic? There are millions of people who refuse to leave their "home town" because "that’s where they've always lived.” Therefore they stay on unemployment for 99 + weeks. When it is time for guys to find new employment, we move from North Dakota to Texas ... and to the east or west coast if necessary. You have to go where the job is! Sitting on your ass because you are "home" isn't an option. "Home" is wherever you end up.” 

Based on this reasoning, if I’m unemployed but my wife is working, I should stop sitting on my lazy ass, learn Spanish, and move to Texas. Fortunately, I’m already here. But I confess that I haven’t started my Spanish lessons.  

Here are some numbers for my "simple solution" friend to consider:
  • National unemployed rate: 9.6%
  • 14 million Americans are currently looking for work
  • 6 million Americans have been unemployed for more than six months
  • Nearly 1 in three Americans are unemployed for more than a year (Wall Street Journal)
  • The unemployment rate for over-55s is at the highest level since 1948. (Minnesota Ind.)
  • During the 8 years of the most recent Bush Administration 3 million jobs were created.  (Wall Street Journal).  (To his credit, Reagan created 16 million jobs).
  • During the 8 years of the Clinton Administration 21 million jobs were created. (Wall Street Journal).
  • To get our economy back on track, we need to create 261,200 jobs per month over the next five years to get to pre-recession levels (Zerohedge)(Wealth Cycle).
Clearly, our educational system is in more trouble than we realize. 14 million "lazy" Americans haven’t figured out that all we need to do is move to where the jobs are. Quick. Get me the number for Mayflower or United Van Lines, better yet; U-Haul. It’s just that simple.

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Friday, September 9, 2011

Political Dodge Ball

On Wednesday evening, I watched several Republican Presidential candidates engage in a spirited debate. Actually, in retrospect, that’s what I tuned in to watch; what I got was a discourse in “he said-she said” political dodge ball. Governor Romney took shots at Governor Perry, Perry returned fire and Michelle Bachmann stood glassy eyed to the side. Several of the candidates were completely unfamiliar to me, but seemed to have the same “I can create jobs” response that was the standard answer to the evening. The other stock answer, of course, was “I can fix Social Security”, or a Tea Party variation, I’ll stop Social Security; it’s just part of big government.

Representative Ron Paul scares the dickens out of me, his answer is just let everything flow to its own natural level. He actually suggested we remove all banking regulations, because, if bankers know there will be no bailouts, they’ll be more honest. Seriously?

The former Governor of Utah, John Huntsman appeared deep, philosophical, and a statesman. In the business world, we would refer to Governor Huntsman as an “empty suit”. I believe we have that wardrobe well filled with the current resident of the White House. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania had nothing to say and took too long to say it. Exit left. 
Here’s what really struck home: Georgia businessman Herman Cain addressed problems with solutions, rather than the general political rhetoric of Romney and Perry; yet he has been dismissed as an irrelevant candidate. Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House, also had actionable plans to fix some of our nation’s problems. He, too, was pretty much ignored by the moderators. The battle is clearly between Romney and Perry. Unless Sarah Palin believes she can grab more headlines by teasing us with her candidacy. Palin dismisses the fact she is America’s most polarizing candidate; with the highest negativity ratings of any of the candidates; she’s selling books.

There are many more debates to be held and more political dodge ball to be played. Over time most of the candidates will shoot themselves in the foot. Perry, most likely, will be one of the first, since he tends to carry a weapon when he jogs. Perry, I thought, made a major error when he dismissed global warming as part of his dismissal of the notion we have contributed to the problem with our emissions. I imagine he would hold to the belief that earth’s Ice Age was also fiction, since there were no scientists available to prove or disprove the fact the planet was frozen.

How bad has our political process become? Recently former Vice President Dick Cheney suggested Barack Obama, for the good of the party, step aside and let Hillary Clinton seek the Democratic nomination. Did Cheney actually suggest the most competent politician of our time is a Democrat?

The bitter regurgitation of our political culture has paralyzed our nation. Last night, the President gave his American Jobs Act speech. The disrespect shown him by several Republican legislators was treasonous, if I may borrow Rick Perry’s use of the word. These elected officials didn’t feel they needed to hear suggestions to fix our unemployment crisis. I hope their constituents don’t feel the need to cast their votes for them at the next election. Let them get a first hand lesson in unemployment. And while the President “attacked” the political circus, he became the ringmaster by referring to the Republican Party 18 times in his speech. To me, it was a George Bush “bring it on” moment. The ideas he presented, he proudly noted, had bipartisan support. Then please explain why they haven’t been enacted. And while the President attacked business loopholes that allow companies to avoid federal taxes, the CEO of General Electric sat next to the First Lady. GE has been the poster child for the tax “evasion” tactic, reportedly paying $0 in federal taxes last year.

A final thought. There’s an old business adage that says it takes money to make money. A loose translation would suggest if I spend money, someone will make money. I firmly believe in supporting small business, but if I have no money to spend for their products or services, we’ve just made another bad loan. The President proposed extending unemployment benefits and giving businesses tax credits for hiring people who have endured long term unemployment. That’s a Catch-22. If I were running a business and had plans to expand, I might consider putting the entire project on hold. Why hire now if I can get tax credits in six months when Congress considers some form of the proposal? For that matter, perhaps I’ll wait until gas prices fall to under $2 a gallon before my next fill-up.

America is crying out for leadership. Is the Congress so selfish they will sacrifice the American work force to defeat President Obama next November?  I think many of us agree President Obama has failed to meet our expectations. But he certainly got one thing right last night: the next election is 14 months away and we can’t wait that long for solutions.
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Monday, August 8, 2011

Where Are Your Manners?

Over the past several years I’ve had to develop some relatively “thick skin”. After receiving several hundred rejections to job applications, “thick skin” pretty much becomes a necessity of survival and sanity. On rare occasions, when I actually get in front of a hiring manager, one of the questions often asked is, “how do you handle rejection?” I have to be careful how I answer, because I wouldn’t want someone to think I’ve given up the hunt and accepted rejection. I want them to know there’s still a lot of hunt left in this old’ dog. So I usually make a light-hearted quip regarding the need to deal with the disappointment and then move on to the next opportunity. Since I haven’t had too many offers, perhaps my answer isn’t as tactful as I’d like to think.

Some companies send very nice rejection letters. They’re careful to say that they have found other candidates more qualified in this specific discipline and wish me the best of luck in my future endeavors. I’m not kidding myself, I know a form letter when I get one, but it’s still nice to be acknowledged. Someone had to lick the stamp.

Other companies handle rejection differently; they simply fail to acknowledge they received your application. It’s probably part of an austerity program, if they don’t acknowledge the application, they don’t have to waste money sending a rejection. With thousands of applications for the lowest of positions, postage adds-up. I understand that, but perhaps they should consider how much an automated email response would cost.

In a sense, I’d rather get a form letter or be ignored than receive an ugly rejection letter. One of the most valuable lessons I learned while working for CBS was how to give people bad news. Even then, the Company knew tact in the dismissal/rejection process would become a frequently practiced skill, soon to be emulated by fine companies like Clear Channel, Cox, and Cumulus. (Perhaps the moral of the story is never work for a company that starts with a “C”). When I had to terminate someone, I made sure they understood why (assuming I understood – many were cram-downs); and I made sure they left with some dignity and the knowledge I wouldn’t “burn” them with a bad reference.

When air talent sent demos for consideration, even if I thought the talent was horrible, I would thank them for their information; explain there were no current openings for which I felt they would be a good fit and that I could keep their information on file for future appropriate opportunities. And then, yes, I would carefully place their material into my circular file. Just under the desk. The custodian would come every night and file it for me, alphabetically by last name, I think.

But yesterday, on a Sunday, no less, I received the ugliest rejection letter I’ve ever seen. I really shouldn’t call it a letter. It was a word. “NO”. This thoughtful reply certainly told me I wouldn’t want to work for this man under any circumstances. Truthfully, I was offended by this two letter response. I put more than 45 minutes into a customized cover letter explaining my qualifications for the job and he managed to respond in a second. That’s assuming he’s a “hunt and pecker” typist. If he’s an average typist, just reduce my description of “hunt and pecker” by the first two words. It would have been far better had this man simply not acknowledged my application.

I’m tempted to write several proper and thoughtful rejections in a generic voice, so that he could use them for future applications. But if his Mama didn’t teach him any manners, I’m sure an email from me saying, “try one of these” next time would only cause this man to kick his dog, or, perhaps one of his employees for whom I have deep empathy.

Perhaps I should give this man the benefit of doubt, and think of his response as a simple “typo”. After all, “NO” is part of “NOTE”. Maybe he simply hit “send” before he had finished typing his note. If that’s the case, would it be wrong for me to respond with:

Dear Mr. Higgins,

I’m sure you meant “NO Thank You”?

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Start up - Shut down

“A bend in the road is not the end of the road... unless you fail to make the turn.” - author unknown

For the past two years, the road I’ve been navigating has made San Francisco’s Lombard Street look like a straight line. But instead of writing about the continuing saga of finding steady employment, I want to share some observations made over the past three months while working for an entrepreneur and his start-up venture, “PK Interactive” or

The mission was to sell the digital platforms (that’s tech-speak for web, blog, Facebook, Twitter & podcasts) for a nationally known radio host. PKI was seeking someone with sales experience who would be comfortable picking up the phone and “cold calling” potential clients. It was clear I wasn’t the perfect candidate. Still, with personal funds at stake, the entrepreneur took a chance on me and I will be forever grateful to him.

The boss was a big thinker, so I thought big, too. Rather than concentrate on small accounts, I went after the big guns like Procter and Gamble,, and Zappos Shoes. In broadcast language, I became a national sales manager, and targeted every conceivable category that would want to reach the audience our client attracted. As our client reached older adults, I reached out to healthcare companies, travel and cruise companies, financial institutions, pharmaceuticals, supplements, and cosmetics. That’s when the real learning process started.

I quickly discovered that major clients don’t just have one advertising contact, they have several. There’s an agency for Out of Home (OOH), broadcast, print, creative, and digital. Often, one agency has no idea of what the other agency is doing and though I could sell both broadcast and digital, it often meant trying to coordinate with two agencies. Many media buyers simply ignored me, some took the time to direct me to the appropriate decision maker and some were kind enough to explain how the game works to this self-admitted rookie. I listened, I asked questions, researched demographic and geographical targeting, developed strategies for my outreach program and I started selling. But I knew that I wasn’t generating nearly enough income to keep the company rolling (let alone pay my bills). I knew we were being sustained by the boss’s personal funds and the hope of landing a few more major clients.

It didn’t happen. And after six months, PKI closed up shop. But there is no anger in my words, only gratitude. I was allowed to grow outside of my comfort zone. I was allowed to learn some new technologies. And I had the privilege of working alongside some of the most talent and professional young adults I have ever encountered. I was energized when I was around them. The culture of PKI was like many radio stations. Laughter in the hallways, noontime lunch treks, after hour’s drinks and lots of texting, Facebook chats and camaraderie. There were no hallway gripe sessions, no idle gossip, and if someone said “this is confidential” it stayed that way. These talented graphic artists, copy writers, IT geeks and code developers were half my age, but never considered me the “old man”. Well, if they did, they never said it out loud. We friended each other at work, on Facebook, Foursquare and even Google+. By the way, they are all looking for work, too.

The only real difference between me and the rest of the crew was I wore Dockers to work every day and they wore jeans. Their work ethic was as professional as I have ever encountered. They were timely, focused, willing to stay late when needed and passionate about their craft and our clients. I never heard a temper tantrum and I never heard someone snap at another; I simply saw professionalism.

The other difference was in the way we handled the news of our impending departure. As a baby boomer, stability is always on my mind and I was immediately concerned about keeping a roof over my head. The PKI crew? They just appreciated the great ride they had over the past six months. I’m not suggesting I always thought in terms of a career and these young men and women are seeking only jobs. They just have a different view of what constitutes a career and I think because of that, they enjoy life more than me and my fellow boomers.

PKI was staffed with as diverse of a group of individuals as you’d ever meet:

Robert, the boss. Visionary. Always twenty moves ahead.

Roy. CFO. I lost count how many times he brought bagels or tacos to work.

Chuckles, always looking for an excuse to party.  If he couldn't find one he'd start one.

Dr. Love, his running gag was to ignore his New York upbringing and claim Guatemalan Citizenship. He also knows more Yiddish than I ever will. Poor guy, I’d point to a spot on his shirt, he’d look down, and I’d tweak his nose. Got him about 4 times.

The Venezuelan, with the largest collection of uploaded music I’ve ever seen.

Nacho the office Mom – juggling career and kids.

K-So with a kind word for everyone.

Jesse – we never did come up with a nickname for her. She brought me a souvenir from her trip to Spain that I will always treasure. She knew me for all of a week and still thought to bring me something.

Kristen, the cheerleader with the “can-do” attitude and the first to arrive.

Everett – a code writer who appreciated Star Trek for the classic lessons of life.  I'm not sure anyone understood his philosophical commentary.

Aamir, with the patience of a Saint. He needed it, because he dealt with the client every day.

Shay, the quiet one with a gleam of mischief in his eyes and a Hawaiian shirt on Fridays. He is an inspiring husband and father who drove to Austin every time his son played  t-ball.

I learned from each and every one of these people. I was the “grasshopper” and they were the “master,” although I wonder if some would understand the Kung-Fu analogy (unless it was in the Panda version).  As for their level of professionalism, even though our boss informed us of the company’s demise on Thursday, we all came back on Friday. Athough off payroll, I will go in on Monday to help make sure the transition of my accounts goes smoothly. I owe that to the boss. Apparently, several others feel that way, as they will be coming into the office on Monday as well. In fact, my friend Dr. Love has already texted that he’s bringing me some of his wife’s special Sunday night lamb dinner. By the way, I dubbed Jorge with that nickname because he handled the love department – customer service. And I’m going to save a bottle or two of my home brewed beer for him, although he will have to wait for another two weeks.

These are the quality individuals I came to respect over the past several months and I will miss seeing them every day with their positive approach to life.   I think my new friends would appreciate the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “When it is dark enough, you can see the stars”. Brighter days are ahead, my friends. But you already know that.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Pass the Life Preserver

John Donne, one of the most famous Metaphysica...Image via WikipediaPoet John Donne once wrote, “No man is an island”.  I’m not so sure he was right.
At a July 4th party with neighbors and friends, I pretty much felt like the odd man out.  My fellow partiers are fully indoctrinated Texans.  I, on the other hand, still have plenty of New England moderate liberalism flowing through my veins.

Once upon a time, we were taught to vote for the best candidate.  Today, we are drawn to the candidate who belongs to the “right” party.  Right or wrong, on target or completely adrift is no longer relevant; only the party affiliation. 

America has been at war for more than ten years, authorized by both Republican and Democratic presidents and a legislative branch that authorized the expenses.  Yet, one side of the debate has the audacity to blame the current President for the entire deficit and economic conundrum.  More amazingly, as the President tries to tactfully back out of Afghanistan (the longest war in American History), there are politicians who want to keep spending on the war while reducing social programs at the expense of the American people.  The endgame?  We’ll continue to lag in education, we’ll continue to fall behind China and India with innovation and manufacturing, and we’ll wonder how our nation has become a Third World country.

It would be comical if it wasn’t so terrifying.  Political factions, it would appear, would rather “bankrupt” the US government to avoid raising the debt limit.  I understand their desire to reduce spending.  Really, after being unemployed for 18 months, I still deal with my own mini-crisis.  But I also understand that cutting expenses wasn’t enough; at some point I had to bring in extra revenue.  Peter Sellers played a wonderful character, Chauncey Gardner, in the movie “Being There”.  The farce of the movie was an intellectually challenged gardener used metaphors that politicians translated into brilliant economic philosophy.  So, I suspect Chauncey would say, “to cut the blade of grass is not sufficient, one must water to encourage growth”.

Have you ever heard a politician say, “I don’t love my country?”  I don’t think so.  Yet, Republicans are threatening to plunge the government into bankruptcy, creating the potential for devastating long term effects on the US economy.  Some experts say such an action (or inaction) could crash Wall Street and create a depression equal to the 1929 stock market crash.   Where’s the love?  The Democrats aren’t any better.  They need to accept that budget cuts in key programs are critical to the success of restoring our out of balance debt.  Republicans need to accept that some taxes and exemptions need to end.
Part of the problem is with our leadership.  Even those of us who voted for Obama have been disappointed. He has stood on the sideline while Congress defended their side of the aisle.  Once he got involved, it would appear after much cajoling, the message got out that he would be willing to make “tough” budget cuts if Congress would eliminate some major loopholes.  A voice of reason?  Not really, since the extreme left still won’t budge on certain cuts; and the extreme right doesn’t want to eliminate their beloved loopholes and offend their big business contributors.

In the 2010 election, America sent a message to President Obama.  Republicans felt they were vindicated with their victories throughout our nation.  Yet, they are squandering their opportunity with petty bickering within their ranks.  The coffee drinkers, the tea drinkers and those who like to “sweeten” their beverages with moderate compromise.  The latter of course, attacked for their willingness to do what’s right for America.
Here’s the really sad part, who wants to take a bet that from one of our highest election turnouts in 2008, the 2012 vote will be one of the lowest?  What message will politicians take from this?  No doubt they’ll tell us the message is heard, partisans of both parties are unhappy and not to worry, we’ll do more of the same.

John Donne continued in his poem, “Because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”   Pass the life preserver and pray we’re not aboard the Titanic.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Art of Waiting

I’m not very good at waiting for things.  Everywhere I’ve worked there was always someone who would call me “Fast Eddie”.  I had an Uncle Eddie.  That was his name.  Mine is Ed.  I’d rather someone call me Mr. Ed than Fast Eddie.  Fast Eddie’s is a chain of pool halls in Texas and Louisiana.  But that’s a horse of another color.

One of the most difficult challenges I faced as a manager was waiting for things to get done.  Supremely confident, at least on the surface, I always believed I could do things faster and better than the person I was assigning the task.  Eventually, my supervisor challenged me to delegate, explaining the importance of not being spread too thin as corporate responsibilities increased.  He was right of course, and over the years I found ways of twisting the waiting into what I would call “managerial follow-up”.  That’s a fancy way of pushing people to get their task done sooner so I didn’t have to wait.

When I call customer support and find myself in the dreaded “queue” I punch every option on the keypad hoping to speak to a real person.  I don’t want to wait and I don’t want to hear some automated voice telling me how important my call is and to please hold.  If I were that important someone would have answered the phone.  I was thrilled when doctors started calling their waiting room a patient lounge and “on demand” would be the great invention of all time if it would only work.
I don’t like waiting in lines although I try to make the most of it by striking up a conversation with my "next-in-line" neighbor.  For example, when was the last time you walked in and out of a tax assessor’s office or the Department of Motor Vehicles?  It doesn’t happen.  So I pass the time by talking politics, or pretending I’m a rocket scientist for NASA or a government official.  The person next to me will never know and he/she might even have some bragging rights about meeting such a high level diplomat.

For some reason, I don’t mind talking to people while waiting for an elevator; but once we’re in the 4x4 cubicle, I’m staring at the numbers that glow with each floor.  When I get tired of looking up, I’ll look down at my shoes.  I’ll pass the time counting the “dings” and compare my count to the glowing lights.  I’ve missed my stop more often than I care to admit.

Instant coffee isn’t fast enough for me.  Starbucks is torture.  A drive-through line?  Perish the thought, especially after the battle of a mumbling order taker.  Besides, it’s tough to read the menu options under that kind of pressure.  Supermarket lines are probably the worst.  I try not to shop at Kroger, because their “Express Lane” is for twenty items or less.  HEB’s “Express Lane” is ten items or less.  Now stores are throwing a wrinkle into the equation with self-checkout.  On the surface, it looks great.  With only one or two items, I can zip in and out.  Except I’ve yet to use one of those self-service kiosks without needing help from the one assistant responsible for all six machines.  That’s five other people ahead of me and that means I’m once again, waiting.

Today, I’m expecting an email with a job offer.  Make no mistake, “expecting” is a fancy word for “waiting”.  Want to take a guess how I feel about that?  Pretty damn good.  Except, of course, for the waiting.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Circle of Life ("Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose")

I must confess, when I was a kid, I didn’t look forward to family gatherings. My parents would fondly reminisce with my aunts, uncles and cousins about the good old days; and as a well disciplined child, I would either sit and politely listen or find an excuse to go play in traffic.
When I became a young adult, with my own family, it got worse. My career took me away from my New England roots and every few years I would return with my family to visit those same aunts and uncles. The conversation still consisted of fond memories; but a new dimension was added. As boasting rights, they would compare aches and pains. One had arthritis, another had a touch of gout (is that like being a little pregnant?), another had bursitis and there was the assortment of bunions, corns, dentures and dietary restrictions. It was painful. At dinner, conversation was more appropriate for the children. While we may be fine watching gory scenes from CSI or Criminal Minds during dinner hours, in those days we limited our dinner conversation to the price of groceries. My cousin Molly would complain about the price of a head of lettuce, my cousin Rae would note the cost of cucumbers and other relatives I could only identify by their sloppy, wet kisses were unhappy with the service they got at the gas station. Attendants were supposed to check the oil and tire pressure while they filled your tank.

The irony is I have become what I hated.  French novelist Alphonse Karr once wrote, "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose."  For those of us who don't speak French, the translation states "The more things change, the more they stay the same."  (In full disclosure, I found this quote on Bing.  I heard it once on an Association Live album; and later the line was used by Kurt  Russell in Escape From LA).

When I travel to a new city, the first thing I do is check out the prices in the grocery store. I actually read the grocery store inserts and compare prices between the supermarket chains. HEB, Kroger, occasionally Randall’s will earn my business. I don’t like shopping for groceries at Wal-Mart or Target. I have a problem putting my food on the same check-out line with engine oil and bicycle tires. And I find myself constantly telling my children the same stories over and over, albeit slightly embellished, about things they couldn’t possibly care about any more than I did when I heard those stories decades earlier.

I see the cycle of life. It amuses me. It concerns me. When I was just starting in broadcasting, I couldn’t get some jobs because I didn’t have enough experience. Now, I have the experience and I can’t get the job because I’m over qualified. Not long ago, I had an HR manager tell me I didn’t make the final cut, because, and I quote: “I was over-qualified; they were looking for someone younger and would take less money.” I’m not a lawyer, but I bet there were a few comments in there that someone with a law degree would find actionable. Surprisingly, I wasn’t upset at those comments. I appreciated the honesty. At least this manager had the courage to tell me the truth.

Being raised in the New England, I acknowledge I lean liberal. Particularly when compared to the conservative bent of the south. But I find it more and more difficult to remain on that side of the fence. No, I still think Rush Limbaugh is the devil and a pompous one at that; but I can listen to other conservative commentators these days without shouting back at the radio. Hugh Hewitt and Dennis Prager come to mind as broadcasters with rational arguments in defense of their beliefs. I used to say two kinds of people listen to talk radio: the idiot who wants to hear what the next smart person is going to say; and the smart person who wants to hear what the next idiot will say. I’m no longer sure into which category I fit.

Last week, I started to apply for a job with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. The position was for a media relations professional. The job description sounded perfect and I felt completely qualified to pursue the opportunity. Until I hit the final job requirement: “Candidate must be bilingual in Spanish-non-negotiable.” Wait. Isn’t that a violation of my Civil Liberties? Don’t I have the right to speak the native tongue of the country where I was blessed to be born and not be forced to learn a foreign language? Whatever happened to the notion of “When in Rome?” This radical thought frightens me. Have I become a bigot? Is the conservative beast hiding beneath my inherently liberal tendencies? Seriously, America welcomes (perhaps too warmly these days) people from all nations to live the American dream. Our new citizens have the same dream of fulfillment through hard work that has turned into something of a nightmare for the baby boomers that are over-qualified in their fields and lose jobs to our new guests. And please notice I wrote “citizens.” They have earned the right to benefit from America’s bounty. But I’d like to think they’d benefit from taking a citizenship test in English rather than have the questions translated into their native tongue. And why do we speak English in America? Do they speak American in England? Perhaps that was lost in the failed metric conversion.
So, here I am, with more time to reminisce. Becoming more like my parents than I ever thought possible. Knowing, with some comfort, that one day, my own children will repeat the same stories over and over to my grandchildren. The circle of life. One day you’re too young to know what you’re doing; the next day you’re too old to know what you’re doing.

By the way, lettuce is usually cheaper at HEB.
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