Sunday, January 31, 2010

What Ails You?

When I was a kid I always wished my father was a doctor. I thought it would be so cool that when I had any physical ailment, I'd just have to ask my dad to look at it, right there in our living room. And then I'd feel better.

I seemed to get sick a lot as a kid - bronchitis, colds, sore throats. At least 2-3 times a year I'd be hit with something, and it was miserable.

I'm not sure what the healthcare benefits were like back then, but my parents never really seemed to want to take me to a doctor. In fact, it seemed like a burden to them if I asked.  I only went to a dentist once when I was kid. Luckily, I've never had any cavities or any other major problems with my teeth. Although I probably could have benefitted from braces, I by no means have the teeth of an Englishman.

Maybe it was the money issue, or maybe they thought doctors were only needed for the really serious things. It's certainly not like today, where kids go to their physician constantly and get diagnosed for things like ADD, peanut allergies, torn ACLs, blinky eye syndrome.

Now, I figured out how to feel better physically. Consistently exercise and eat well. It's pretty simple, and for the most part I've stayed healthy. If I get ill once a year, that's a lot these days, and I'm happy for that.

The one thing I do miss from childhood is the other side of being healthy - the mental side. While I may have felt lousy with a sore throat for a couple of days, when it was over I bounced back. I would  feel alive, enjoy being outside playing games, exploring, looking for adventure. It seemed like everyday had some interesting incident, some bright sunshine on my face. At least that's how I remember it.

But now, as an adult, that inner rush of exhilaration seems tamed. Oh sure, it pops up once in a while, maybe when the moon is in the right position, or when I'm watching a good sporting event, or a concert, or something my children did (that didn't cause a major blowout, a broken window or a smoke alarm to go off). But, for the most part, life is a slog. A day in, day out sort of numbness with  peaks of excitement that come along rarely.

Wah, wah, wah. Yeah, I'm grown-up. I have responsibilities. I have to worry about other people. No one told me when I was frolicking in the sun way back then, there would be a price to pay one day. Maybe Peter Pan tried but who would've believed him back then?

All I'm saying is that I want more of that child in my life. Not to the point where I can't take care of myself, still throw tantrums, and hold grudges (that will happen when I'm an old man). I just want some of those natural endorphins to flow through the body again. I want to unshackle that weight I've been dragging around. I want to ... oh, hold on, I have to go stoke the fire underneath the boiling cauldron of the eternally damned.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Life in Revolt

As the rakish, love-struck, sex-obsessed teen hero of the 1993 cult novel “Youth in Revolt,” Nick Twisp encounters all manner of obstacles, including dysfunctional parents, jealous rivals, the Berkeley police and, of course, acne.  Such a raft of challenges are not completely foreign to his creator, C. D. Payne, who has spent significant chunks of his own career struggling, working a series of lousy jobs, living in a trailer for four years and receiving a trail of rejection letters, professional and otherwise. Even with the critical success of “Youth in Revolt” — which he self-published in 1993 and which subsequently became an underground hit — Mr. Payne still couldn’t get a publisher for the book’s three sequels, which he ended up releasing himself. - From the New York Times

Even with the Hollywood release of the movie based on his book series, Mr. Payne is still wary of any success coming his way. "I have no faith that literature is going to pan out on a long-term basis, so I have to have a back-up," he goes on to say.

Yes.  He has a 1964 Airstream trailer filled with oddities and hand-made optical illusions. He tows his trailer around to county fairs charging a few bucks to patrons to walk through his museum. That's the back-up plan.

Not such an inspiring story for an aspiring writer, since my back-up plan was to be a writer! But I do have to admire the man. He seems to be at peace with himself, and he has found another hobby to fill his time - the Eyelusion side show attraction. Yep, I'm already combing through Craigslist to see if anyone is selling one of those aluminum cans on wheels.

His is not the story one envisions when you hear about a movie being made from one's creative work. One thinks of the TV show, Entourage, and the ensuing lifestyle. But I suppose Mr. Payne's life is more realistic. I mean, the guy showed up to his own movie premiere in a truck topped with a camper shell and stayed in a RV park north of Hollywood. It does add a little cachet to his background story, along with some oddity and sadness.

Perhaps, that's where he wants to be and where he feels comfortable. And maybe at his age (60), he just doesn't care about changing his lifestyle. He's been set in his ways, used to rejection, and he's already collected enough campers, mobile homes and trailers to keep him busy renovating for a lifetime.

He does keep writing because, "it was the only thing I tried in life I didn't find boring." But he also didn't make any money at it, so he's supplemented his need to write with bored-senseless jobs over the years.

Well, if that's not living in hell, then I don't know what is.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Connections and Coincidences

I'm a person who hasn't learned my lesson about coincidences. When they occur, I make the assumption that they are related to omens; that because I made some strange connection, there must be some meaning behind it. And because the coincidence gets your blood rushing, there must be some good that will happen from it.

For example, I was in Heidelberg, Germany once for a business meeting. It was the second time I was ever in Germany, and I really didn't want to be there. But I was asked to attend a meeting to listen in on some far-fetched business relationship being proposed between my bank and a giant software company, and so I went.

The company headquarters was in Heidelberg, so hence the reason to meet there. I had heard it was a nice town, but I had arrived at night after landing in Frankfurt and driving the hour or so to the sleepy town and didn't get to see anything.

I had a cousin who had once attended the university there, but beyond that I had no interest sticking around. Some of my relatives were not welcomed in the country for a period of time some years ago, and I suppose I still hold some grudges about that.

The hotel I checked in to did not seem too welcoming, either. It was a structure built in the 1800's, almost castle-like, typical Bavarian architecture. The inside looked like an alpine ski lodge with wood beams, tall ceilings, and strange medieval crests hanging on the walls. I'm sure Mr. Himmler and his friends thought it was all the rage in during the Reich, but I just wanted to find a nice modern Holiday Inn.

The hallways were long with high ceilings as well and big wooden doors to your room. I felt like I was the only one in the hotel. Picture the movie, "The Shining", and you'll get a sense of what I was thinking.

The giant room, with high ceilings, was sparsely furnished. The bed was low to the floor, like it didn't have legs at all, and the lighting was quite dim. Perhaps, because the single light bulb was so high up in the ceiling???

It wasn't cozy, but I figured I could make it through the night, get up the next morning, have some breakfast (I could only wonder what wonderful cuisine was on the menu), go to the boring meeting, grab a taxi back to the airport, and fly home to civilization.

Of course, I couldn't sleep. I kept wondering what types of ghosts were wandering around the halls. Was I in some type of Hamlet story. Oh yeah, that took place in Denmark - same difference.

On the night table was a book, a history of the hotel. Of course, it was written in German but at least there were pictures. There were photos of the hotel's original construction in 1860 and a time line accounting for each decade of growth after that. In 1890 a new wing was added. In 1920, a swimming pool was put in. In 1932, a spa. In 1950, a new restaurant. In 1970, tennis courts. And, wait a minute, they skipped the late 30's through 40's. What was going on in the hotel then? Surely, some activity occurred.

I looked around the place and thought about what type of person was sleeping my room around in say, 1941. Did he hang his hat on the door hook over there? Were his boots next to the bed over here?

Okay, enough of that, back to the coincidence.

The next morning, or was it just a few hours later, I went downstairs to get breakfast. As I walked past the check-in desk, I did a double-take. Standing at the counter, paying his bill was I guy I knew - not from business but from my home town, a guy who I was fairly friendly with. My wife and I had gone to dinner with he and his wife a few times, their kids were the same age as ours. We had always been cordial even though we didn't see much of each other around town.

I couldn't believe it, though. Of all the places to see him now, this is where I had to run in to him? What did it mean?

It turns out he was also here on business. He's in advertising and his big client is the pharmaceutical company, Bayer. He comes here once a year for an annual review meeting and this just happened to be the time.

I called my wife after saying goodbye to him and told her who had I just seen. It was six hours ahead at home. She told me she had just run into his wife in the supermarket that morning. What a coincidence. It must be some strange connection, some interesting meaning.

Another recent coincidence happened the other day. A friend, Andrew, who I grew up with and hadn't seen in about 3 years, called me. He was doing a day's worth of freelance work and wanted to meet for dinner when he finished crewing on a TV commercial being shot in the next town. Sure thing, it would be fun to catch up.

We went out to a diner that evening and while eating we both got phone calls at the same time. Of course, we answered our phones because that's what you do these days in the middle of a meal. My call was from a friend/ work colleague, actually my boss. He wanted to tell he had just come from a get together in the city that he decided to attend at the last minute and had run into a mutual friend of ours, Scott - someone we were just talking about out of the blue earlier in the day.

My friend, Andrew, also got a call from his boss, Greg. It turned out to be a Greg that is a mutual friend of ours. We all grew up together and I hadn't heard about him in about 5 years. He was offering Andrew more work on a TV commercial for the next day. And all these calls happened at the same instance.

After that coincidental connection, I did the same thing I did when I got back from Germany and after many other strange incidences I seem to come by. I went out and bought lottery tickets. And you know what happened this time? Nothing! Absolutely nothing each and every time. Nada.

Because when you're living in hell, there are no such things as meaningful connections or coincidences.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

It's All Fun and Games

I never read the popular life coaching book, "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten", but I kind of get the gist of it. It takes some of the simplistic early lessons we all experienced as children and equates it to life lessons we should still follow as adults.

For example: Share Everything, Play Fair, Don't Hit People, Say You're Sorry When You Hurt Someone, and blah, blah, blah.

Yeah, wouldn't be nice if we could all follow this credo? The problem is ALL of us need to do it for this to work. Not many of us will continue on if the other person doesn't share, plays fair, hits, or doesn't say sorry.

While we may have learned all the essentials on how to be nicer people in kindergarten, I have a few things to add that were missing from that book. Actually, I'm sure they were intended never to make it into the book (maybe this should be a book on its own). These are things we learned through games played during recess or in some friend's backyard. The lessons from these games prepared us not about necessary niceties in life, but how to look out for oneself and survive in the cut throat world of business. Below, are a few examples of these

Mother May I
A game of permission. In the children's version, one person plays the role of mother and stands facing away from a line of kids. Each child takes a turn asking if they can take a certain number of steps, until one person reaches Mother. "Mother, may I take three baby steps?" And depending on the whim of the person playing Mother, they would either grant your request or deny it.

Wow, what a way to become submissive. But an essential trait in kissing as in the corporate environment. Think about how many times you have had to lower your self-esteem and ask a superior for permission: May I take a 1 week vacation? May I take the morning off for my colonoscopy exam because my doctor said I had giant polyps near the endpoint of my large intestine and the start of my anus? Or, May I take all those heavy files on our group year-end reviews off your desk and directly to the HR office, I'm heading that way anyhow?

Hide and Seek
The classic childhood game where a group of people hide and try to be the last one found by the seeker.

One thing I've learned in business is that there are some people who hide really well from work responsibilities, and others who don't - kind of like the fat kid who thought no one saw him standing behind the Maple sapling.

There 's the one person who you never saw in the office. They had a desk, they had a nameplate, they had mail piling up, they had the red voicemail light on their telephone always lit up, but they somehow rarely were ever present. It got to the point you actually believed they were on some high level assignment, and you weren't going to be the one to question it. Your manager wasn't questioning it, so you couldn't even dare. These no-shows were a mystery. Stories would circulate. Some would take about how much business this person was doing or that they had become so specialized and were working on such high level strategic work they were now invaluable to the company. That person is the ultimate hider, the one who had the best spot and could never be found.

On the flip side, there's the guy in the office who thinks that if it's lunch time and he's sitting at his desk reading a book that the boss isn't going to see him, or care. They think they have this invisible "out to lunch" sign over their desk and that everyone should know not to bother them. Bullshit! Even though this guy shows up everyday, muddles through his work and doesn't make waves, he's the first one the boss is going to fire for being such a dork to hide in plain sight.

This one may not have been as popular and you may have known it under a different name. For instance, we called it, "Kill the Guy with the Ball".

It was quite straightforward. Within a contained area, like my friend Ron's backyard - the one filled with patchy grass and rocks - someone would be given a football and told to start running. The other eight or twenty kids would chase this ball carrier who was running for his life because the goal was to catch him, throw him to the ground and pummel him. The person who could run for the longest amount of time was the winner.

We didn't play this game too often, but the lessons it taught us for business were endless. The main one being, no one likes a ball hog, a.k.a the leader. You see, everyone is gunning for the top position but only one person can have it. Everyone is looking for some fault in the leader that will topple the regime and allow the next person to move up the ladder. As the leader, your goal is to run for as a long as possible because the longer you do so the better the payout package will be when you fall.

And the most important lesson of this game is, you will fall.

So, these are just a few examples of the activities we experienced in our youth that can be extrapolated to adulthood. And remember, it's still just fun and games.

Except when someone does get their eye poked, an infection develops, that person loses their eyesight, claims workman's comp, collects long term disabilities, sues the company for inadequate safety measures, wins a multi-million dollar court case because the jury is filled with out-of-work people who blame the large corporation for their own woes and sided with the little guy, but is later found to have committed insurance fraud because the person was seen on the golf course in Ft. Lauderdale driving the ball 180 yards, because they didn't really lose their eyesight it was just that the guy got a doctor to lie for him because he agreed to share the award proceeds from the lawsuit, but the jealous ex-wife hired a private detective to find out what the deadbeat was doing and then circulated the photos on her Facebook page until one of the woman's 358 friends - a prosecutor in the attorney general's office - saw it and decided to press charges because he knew it would help make a name for himself since he was passed over for promotion last year, and the game continues ....

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What the ....?

Take a look to the right. There are four frames, two of which have pictures. These are my followers. Pfffh!

After 9 months of blogging and with over 13,000 page hits, I only have four followers. These metrics don't match up. 13,000 hits ain't so bad after 9 months, but four followers? What's that about?

Don't get me wrong. I'm grateful for the faithful four. I know each one of them but I don't need a blog to reach them. In fact, I used to call them up and tell them my problems in person. I thought I was doing them a favor by creating this blog so they wouldn't have to hear about my life in hell. They could selectively follow what they wanted, when they wanted.

These four people are not capable of making 13,000 hits. They have real lives -- ones that don't revolve around pounding my blog site over and over again. Nope. There's others out there checking this site out. Others who are too afraid, too ashamed to sign on as followers.

I could rant and rave, curse, and damn you all to a private hell. I could ask you to step up and announce yourself. Or, I could forget the whole thing and keep on blogging because in the end this blog is my own roadmap of my life in hell. Not yours.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Little Guy

If Tiger Woods was only able to keep his eyes on the road, the wheels straight, and his text messages hidden, none of this nightmare would've happened - for now.

But a slight turn, an obstacle in the way, a golf club shattering a window and bam! - he's in hell.

The media have had their fun exhausting this story, and by now, most of us don't really care anymore. Ever since I saw O.J. Simpson being chased down the highway in his Bronco, I gave up my naive view on the morality of sports legends. You can add ophthalmologists, little league coaches and the clergy to the list as well.

Shame on us for thinking any of these people are above the frailties of being human. Why do we always expect more? Why do we always think this guy is different?

I believe they should teach examples of this stuff in school, prepare us for reality. For instance, after we learn about the achievements of George Washington and Ben Franklin we should also hear about the other dalliances of our fondling fathers. This way we keep things level and reduce the chance of inferiority complexes as we grow up because we don't become presidents, astronauts or little league coaches.

The other headlines Tiger is making are the daily tallies of his sponsorships that are being cancelled, one-by-one. Most of us believe Tiger already has enough cash and won't be hurt financially by these decisions. And I'm sure that is true. But we have all failed to think about a small group of people who will be hurt. People who are behind the scenes, away from the limelight for the most part. A group who does have to worry about where the next dollar will come from. After all, these people are not athletes, they're not superstars. They have nothing to fall back on. They're just people. People who lived symbiotically off of Tiger. I'm talking about the ten percenters, the agents.

These are people who have benefitted from Tiger's riches. They bought fancy cars, too. They had multiple homes, as well. They enjoyed exotic vacations because that was the lifestyle they grew accustomed to. And now that the golden calf has turned into a giant cubic zirconium divot, who will feed the meter? What will they do since they never had to do anything?

I'm truly worried about these people. They're only at their best when they're shilling for others. They don't know how to fend for themselves. They need our support.

So the next time another star falls from grace and you laugh, snicker at this unfortunate situation, think about that poor sycophant that will be hurt. And think about the lesser heard second part of that insightful Alexander Pope quote: "To err is human, to forgive is divine."

Happy New Year!