Friday, April 18, 2014

The Secret to Management


Okay, lets get a couple of things out of the way right at the top.

I am not Steven Covey. I don’t possess some kind mystic knowledge that can be distilled into Seven Habits and thus launch a self-help empire.

I also do not claim to possess the ability to make people who work for me motivated to the point of wanting to topple small countries on my behest.

But I think I have found the key to managing people somewhat successfully.

Ready?

Well, first, before I divulge this wad of wisdom, let me tell you how people operate in the workplace. Specifically, how do you get people to do what you want and need them to do?

People are curious. When they are faced with a task, they often have a number of questions about the task. Some of these are obvious – they need to know how to do the task; but we can assume that they already have that ability. If not, provide them training.

They also want to know when they need to have the work done by – what’s my deadline for this? That’s pretty simple too – by the end of the day, the week, or month. Whatever. But be careful with this one – don’t concoct some fake deadline to try to motivate. It may work once, but never more than that.

There are also the logistics of the task – who am I to do this with? Where? Again, those are relatively easy to address. But here’s the key to it all –

People want to know why.

So tell them.

And tell them the truth – ‘Boss is trying to prepare a proposal by the end of the week. Your role will provide the needed statistical analysis of foreclosures in Hialeah, which will give the report its needed depth. You obviously have a strong grasp on the analysis and the area being looked at. The report will be shared by upper management.’

Sometimes the why question has offshoots, like “Why me? Why not Joe down the hall?” Or, “Why can’t this be done by the IT group?”

Be as honest and as patient you can with these queries. Answer them all. If you haven’t figured out the answers to those, do so before springing it on your staff. Because they will ask. And if not you, they will ask others. They want to know why, and they are going to find one way or the other.

So take control of it. Answer the why questions.

Now, here’s the worst possible answer to give:

“Because I said so.”

Wrong on so many levels. For one, we are not dealing with eight year olds. For two, trying to place yourself on a higher authoritative level than them is ridiculous; you already have a title that clears that up. They know it is because you said so – tossing that at them absolutely kills their motivation. It’s patronizing.

A wonderful benefit of answering the why questions is, you just might find a better way to accomplish the task – “Oh, so if that’s the reason, why don’t we try it this way?” I have gotten such feedback so many times and have used that advice often. Hey, I’m just a guy with a plan, but I am not so na├»ve and insecure to believe that since it emanated from my brain it is infallible.

People who know why they are doing something are motivated. They’re empowered. And they feel like they have a boss who listens to them.

Which is why it works. Every time.




Sunday, April 13, 2014

Mother And Child Reunion


(Note: I wrote the following three years ago when my mother was still alive. It was in my first book. I felt it was worth posting here and since it's my blog, I make the rules :) )


My mother is the most amazing person I know.

I always say she was born one generation too early. Had she been born in my generation, there is no doubt she would be the head of an accounting firm, or CFO of a Fortune 500 company. Great mind, sharp as a tack, a whiz with numbers. Since she wasn’t born in my generation, she instead did what women of her generation were expected to do – she got married and raised a family. After her fourth and final child was born (me), she went back to work as a bookkeeper. She likes to use that title in an attempt to remain humble, but she was far more than the gal who balanced the company checkbook. She ran whatever office she worked in. She was the confidante to her various bosses, knew where all the bodies were buried.

When she got home, she would quickly cook supper before dad got home from his job as a plumber. We would have dinner, she would clean up, relax for like thirty seconds, then would help me with mine or my sibling’s homework. She would then retire to her chair and crochet afghans. Constant motion. Selfless. Always put the needs of the family ahead of her own.

In 1974, at the age of forty-seven, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was 16 at the time. The prognosis was not good, and the treatment plan, given the comparable stone-age era of cancer treatment that existed at the time, was a radical mastectomy - surgery to remove not only her right breast, but also most of the muscles in her upper right arm. We, of course, were horrified. The age I was at, I could not process this. Was my mom going to die?

Yes, that was a very real possibility.

The night before the surgery was surreal. It was a steady stream of well-wishers – family, friends, and neighbors. You could see the fear in each of their eyes. Mom was not scared, or at least she didn’t let on that she was…I am sure she was, but in typical mom fashion, there was no hint of it. Each person came up to her, tears in their eyes, telling her it is going to be okay. Mom’s reply, over and over, was twofold. First she would say “Hey look. I am going to be fine. I’m going to get this taken care of and I will see you next week.” Then she would ask how THEY were doing. Amazing. That’s my mom.

The surgery was difficult. Mom was in the hospital for almost two weeks. The follow-up care involved radiation, which sapped her seemingly unlimited supply of strength. Things were done for her once she got home which she did not like in the least. It took a few months until she was back to where she was physically before the surgery, but the bottom line was, she was alive and cancer-free.

Up next was physical therapy. A regimen was laid out to her that that included; yes you guessed it – taking up golf. Mom had never touched a golf club in her life. The doctor said that it would be perfect for her – a low-impact, healthy activity that would strengthen her decimated right arm. The walking would be good for her circulation. Since she had most of the muscles in her upper right arm removed, golf would help getting that area of her body into condition.

For the two years preceding this scare, I was a typical teenager. Translation: I was a lazy slacker that had to be cajoled into doing the most mundane of tasks. I was in the process of ‘separation’ from my parents. My own personality was developing, and part of that development was to begin rejecting whatever my parents stood for. There were almost daily arguments as I was being, well, recalcitrant.

But now, mom needed to learn to play golf. Whatever rebellion was fomenting inside my brain evaporated. She bought a set of Lynx Lady Tigress clubs and this hideous pink & white golf bag. She bought golf shoes, balls, tees, training aids, hats, skirts, socks, tee holders, headcovers, charms and gloves. She then turned to me and said, let’s go.

And we went. In an odd turnaround of the traditional dynamic, instead of mom helping me with my math homework, I was helping her to learn a game I had embraced years earlier.

This was difficult for me. For one, I did not like to tell my mom to do anything. For two, I did not have a real good grasp of how to communicate in a teaching manner the mechanics of a golf swing. And for three, my first student was a 48-year-old breast cancer survivor with no muscles in her upper right arm. It was a challenge. Much of my so-called instruction was, “Mom, watch me.” And her reply was usually, “Yes I see what you are doing son…but I can’t do that.”

In short order it became clear that mom needed professional instruction. She enrolled for a set of lessons with a local pro, and ate it up. Every Wednesday, 6p to 8p. She would bounce home and come straight up to me, all enthused, “Jerry, look at what I learned!” I had to admit I had to fight the urge to say uh, I don’t think that’s right mom, but the look in her eye dissuaded me from doing so. She had that same look in her eye that I did when I first fell in love with the game years earlier, and I was not about to dampen that enthusiasm with my opinion on what a pro was telling her.

My dad, who never liked to be left out of anything, started joining us. I kind of hate to admit it, but mom really did not like playing with dad, as he was wont to point out anything my mom was doing incorrectly. “Charlie, worry about your own damn game” was one of her common replies. But if I had something to say about her swing, she was all ears. See, I am more similar in personality to my mom. We are both analytical, introspective. My dad was an impulsive extrovert. If you were going to have a party, mom would plan it & dad would crash it. Dad would befriend anyone, then make mom tell them to leave. They worked well together as a parenting team, but when it came to golf, mom preferred her advice from me.

During the summer we would play at least three times a week, usually at Sycamore Valley, a short course perfect for beginners. We usually walked, and we always talked about anything and everything. Every time we played golf, I got smarter. Know how teenagers seem to think their parents are dumb as rocks? I was starting to adopt that attitude when mom’s cancer struck, and the resulting dynamic turned this traumatic event into something beautiful. At an age when most kids are moving away from their parents, I was getting closer to mine. My older siblings were gone – Barb was married, Kenny was in Florida and Patty had her own apartment in nearby Stow. The household was mom and dad…and me. There may have been some animosity of how close mom and I were becoming, but either I was not aware of it or it did not exist. In either case, it was irrelevant in my mind. I had mom’s attention now. They had their time. This was mine.

When we golfed, mom would work on what the pro was imparting to her. I would steer clear of that and help her with other aspects of the game – reading greens, playing the wind, club selection. In other words, I left her swing in the hands of the pro but I took care of everything else. The mechanics of the golf swing are just a fraction of what is entailed in “learning” how to play this crazy game. ‘Mom, see that sand trap over there? I don’t think you can clear that, so why don’t you aim to the right so your next shot is a simple pitch shot onto the green?’ That kind of stuff.

We took golf trips. Myrtle Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, Las Vegas. We would discuss the game at the dinner table – “Look what Jerry showed me today”…”Lemme tell you what mom did on the course yesterday”…

Mom’s swing was very slow and methodical, much as you would expect from a bookkeeper, a person who makes a living making sure things are correct, would be. She would stand over the ball for an inordinate amount of time, going through her mental check list – (ball off left instep…hands ahead…weight evenly balanced…) – and once she was satisfied that everything was how it should be, she would take the club back slowly. She would pause at the top, but with the lack of upper-arm muscles, she could not control the club at the top – the weight of the club and momentum of the backswing would cause the club to slide out of her grip – she would then re-grip it as her first move down. This action caused her right hand to roll over too quickly on the downswing and shut the clubface at impact. The result was usually a pull-hook – the ball would start left of the target and curve/hook farther to the left.

The standard joke was, ‘My mother the hooker.’

We became inseparably close. A bond was formed that was impenetrable. For all of dad’s attempts at infiltration or my sibling’s perceived animosity, those forces were moot. Golfers know this bond. Now, mix in that it is a mother and her youngest child, and further that it was a ‘man-bites-dog’ story line, that the child was teaching the mother, and you had something that was unique, wonderful and beautiful.

Cancer is a horrible disease. It robs us of loved ones. But in the case, it reunited us.

Mom is now 83 years old, a forty-six-year (and counting) breast cancer survivor. A few years back, she contracted Reynaud’s Disease, a circulatory ailment that resulted in the amputation of two fingers on her right hand and half a finger on her left. That ended her golf, though she still crochets like mad, cranking out an afghan a week. She then donates her hand-made afghans to Project Linus, an organization that gives sick children free blankets. Recently, she completed her 300th donated afghan.

Once her golfing days were done, she gave away her clubs to a friend of my sister’s who was taking up the game. That she gave her clubs away is typical for the most selfless person I have ever known.



Thursday, January 30, 2014

Miami mas 12 mes


Ay dios mio. I have now been in Miami for a year. And to a certain extent it has made me loca de la cabeza. My life has become influenced by a place that is like nowhere else in the world. Not that I have been around the world to confirm this, but I would like to know of a place that combines swamps, Cubans, high-rises, Jews, Venezuelans, pissed-off impatient drivers, empanadas and lizards.

Enlighten me if you know of such a place.

So for now there is only Miami.

I have lived in Florida for half of my life. I spent 27 years in Ohio and 27 going on 28 here. My Florida residences have been such places as Orlando, Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie, Boca Raton, Jupiter, and scads of others. I even lived in a place called Greenacres. Loot it up, it exists. None are like Miami. At all.

First, the similarities. It gets hot in the summer and comfortable in the winter. There, that’s it.

Miami is a world unto itself. Those familiar to south Florida know this, as when you cross the county line from Broward in to Miami-Dade County, it just ‘feels’ different. Things get busier, louder and edgier. Your leisurely commute down I-95 or the Turnpike turns into a screeching halt of mind-numbing traffic. The billboards are suddenly in Spanish. People in their black Beemers roar by you at 100 miles an hour.  In the distance you see a skyline of a major city; scores of buildings. You know that somewhere to the east is an ocean and the so-called high life of South Beach.

But from your vantage point of creeping towards the Golden Glades interchange? It just looks like chaos.

And I am here to tell you. It is.

As you slither down I-95 towards those high-rises, you pass through the rougher neighborhoods of Miami. Allapattah. Hialeah. Liberty City. Overtown. Places where the riots happened back in the 80’s. Places where most of the country know by CSI Miami or The First 48. Nasty places. There is a small town called Opa-Locka which you hope to never find yourself in. Why? Because their crime rate is three times higher than Detroit. Be sure you do NOT stop for gas or directions in these areas. You will leave without you wallet or car. But you will be offered crack, or forced to buy it at gunpoint. True. Just keep driving.

You pass under the I-195 which takes you to Miami Beach. Suddenly the skyline is right in your face, and is it beautiful. The architecture of downtown Miami is mesmerizing. And at night, it is enthralling. You cross the Miami River, and the high-rises continue, except now, instead of it being commercial real estate, it is residential high-rises. Welcome to Brickell. You are now where the well-heeled lived. You are now somewhat safe to pull off the highway and gawk.

While you are there, head east to Mary Brickell Village and grab something to eat. Go two more blocks and say hello to Biscayne Bay and the causeway which takes you over to South Beach. Beautiful.

If you keep heading south, I-95 ends and becomes Dixie Highway. Don’t panic. You are now heading to the civilized side of Miami. Coral Gables. THE U. Coconut Grove. South Miami. You will notice the homes change from duplexes with bars on the windows to million-dollar homes with manicured yards. Your blood pressure should start dropping.

So there’s Miami geography in a nutshell. Go east and you are on the beach. Go west and you better speak Spanish. Go further west and you are in the Everglades. My Walmart is in Westchester, and you do not hear a lick of English in there. If I need assistance I have to ask, “Habla Ingles?” first.

I know this tends to piss off some people, and they rightfully point out that Miami is in the United States. Technically, yes. This is true. The American flag does indeed fly. But this is a town heavily influenced by Cuban migration which has been going on for the better part of a century. But it is not just Cubans – Haitians, Venezuelans, Colombians, Puerto Ricans, Bahamians, Jamaicans, Brazilians, Argentinians – they have all carved out their niches here. Miami is an international town, and always will be.

These factors, along with the ‘bigness’ of the place makes for a smoldering cauldron of emotions. People tend to get pissed off easily here. Don’t believe me? Wait two seconds at a light that just turned green. The car horns will reinforce that you are in a place where people do not have a lot of patience. Factor into this roux of People from Other Countries are people like, well, me. Northerners who moved to get out of the snow and cold. While there are many of us, we are dwarfed by the wave after wave of immigrants who washed ashore, literally, in Miami. I am an English-speaking gringo from Ohio, which makes me a minority.

And yes, I have seen the bias that African Americans have had to deal with for centuries. Cubans control this town. I am an outsider. It is a palpable feel. I have seen it in action at work; the bias towards those of Latin descent. They, of course, will deny it. But it is there.

So. This is how I feel about Miami: It is a cool place to visit, even a cool place to live. But it is not my home. I am here because I was offered a very good job with good money. And I am somewhat comfortable here. But I miss Orlando, the last place I lived. O-Town is Miami without the edge to it. Hell, even the dope dealers are nicer there.

So one day I will retire and I will leave Miami.

I am a city boy, but Miami is a bit too much for me. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Dude, Where’s My Muse?

So I just checked my blog and realized that I haven’t written a story in over three months. Three months! That is easily the longest time between stories since I started the blog over five years ago. I have written 157 stories, which works out to about 30 a year, or about one every two weeks.

And of course, my thoughts are not that linear. It goes in spurts. There was one month where I wrote thirteen stories. I guess I just had a lot on my mind that month.

Which is not to say I haven’t had much on my mind these past three months. Certainly there have been many times in this period where I have thought, ‘that would make a good blog story,’ but I can never seem to form it into a cogent, cohesive story.

I believe this is what they call Writer’s Block.

So here I am writing a story about not being able to write a story.

But it goes a bit deeper than that. It’s not that I cannot seem to cobble thoughts together. It’s more a matter of, well shit, I’ve said what I wanted to say. 157 times. Certainly I have had material to opine on, but they are subjects which I already done. Politics? Y’all know where I stand on that, and even though Conservatives have given me much to lambaste them on; after all, they did shut down the government over not liking a law, but that subject has been done.

I’ve written seven stories on Miami, my new home. A half dozen on my mom’s passing. At least a dozen on rock and roll. And y’all don’t really care about my golf game.

So what else is there? I just described my life in its current state. I love Miami, I miss my mom, the job is great and I hate the Tea Party. And I shot 81 today with two birdies. I am NOT going to talk about the Cleveland Browns. They have already sucked enough life out of me.

So I hope I have only hit a dry patch of topics and the imagination will be rekindled. But what I fear is something more insidious:

I fear I've lost my muse.

Writers need an inspiritive spark. When I wrote my novel last summer, that spark turned into a five-alarm fire, and I could not write fast enough. I would dash home from work and write until I would look up to see it was midnight. It was a frenetic time where I was amazingly alive; thoughts flowed like Niagara Falls.

So I am thankful to my muse for that period. And maybe this is how she works – she gives and then she takes away. I mean, no writer is inspired all the time. So how do I get her back? Burnt offerings? Chanting? Meditation? Virginal sacrifices?

Where did she go? Did I piss her off? Did I bore her to death? Is she saying "Jerry, you’ve told the world what you needed to tell. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to give Stephen King yet another way to scare the crap out of people.”

Please come back, muse. I need you. I miss you.

I need to write. Please fill my head with something.




Sunday, August 18, 2013

Mahogany Row



I am a mama’s boy. Always have been. Many of my childhood memories centered around things I did with my mother. I am the youngest, and for whatever reasons, it seemed like her and me were together often. Just the two of us.

I am blessed in many ways, but this may the topper. Because I was influenced, shaped and molded by the most selfless person I have even known. Which is kind of funny since I grew up to be a pretty selfish person. However, I have a very soft and caring side, and the last thing I ever want to do to anyone is hurt them. I have not always succeeded in this goal, but my heart has always been in the right place.

That’s just one of the countless lessons I learned from my mom. Treat people like you want to be treated.

I remember when I was a young adult, about twenty years old and in college. Like most people that age, the future seemed very exciting…and scary. And like most, I truly had no idea what I wanted to do with my life; I had no idea where it would take me or what I would do to make a living. Oh sure, I wanted to be the successor to Jack Nicklaus, but my drive and desire to master the game of golf never ran to Tiger-like levels. I played a decent game…but I was not going to be a PGA Tour golfer.

So what was I going to be? I had no clue.

So I asked my mom.

At the time mom was still working as, as she put it, a Bookkeeper. But she was just being humble. She was the Accountant for one of the largest construction companies in Akron, the confidante to the big boss, and the person who knew where all the bodies were buried. She was plugged in to the corporate scene. She knew people. And they loved her because she did her job expertly and could be trusted with anything.

So when I asked her this question, “Mom, what am I going to be?,”  she gave me that warm smile she reactively gave, looked me in the eye and said, “Son, you are headed to Mahogany Row.”

Mahogany Row. I had no idea what that meant. But it sounded nice.

She elaborated. “Son, you are going places. You will one day have a large corner office with people reporting to you. The term comes from the desk you will sit behind. It will be made of mahogany. That’s what bosses sit behind.”

Now. This could, and likely was, encouraging motherly talk. But that did not matter to me. My mom always spoke the truth.

I am honing in on thirty years in my chosen career. Earlier this year I took a job in Miami, which is the best job I have had yet. The money is very good, I am a ‘boss’ to 23 people, and I have a corner window office. But the desk isn’t mahogany…that was the one detail she did not quite get right.

I accepted that position on February 6th of this year. At that time my mom was in a hospice care unit with advanced stages of dementia. I debated whether to even tell her the news, as I am sure she would not have been able to process it. I was so proud of my accomplishment that, finally, I could not help myself. I had to tell her. So I called her at the facility. She did not answer. Two days later she passed away.

At the calling hours that Friday I had a few minutes alone with mom at her casket.

It was made of mahogany.





Monday, July 29, 2013

Confessions of a Tired Fan


Okay, let’s get this out of the way right at the top – I am a Cleveland Browns fan.

I will wait for the snickering to stop.

Still waiting.

Done?

All right, that’s enough. Look, I had no choice in this matter. I was conceived in Akron and raised in Northeast Ohio. They are pretty rabid about their Beloved Brownies. And I embraced that rabid…, uh, ity, and proudly donned the seal brown and orange right about the time the team was in the last throes of yearly dominance while that team 125 miles away rose to prominence. That ushered in a reversal of fortunes for the two teams, as the Browns went into hibernation, occasionally coming out with seasons like the 1980 Kardiac Kids and the unfathomable teases of the late 1980s Bernie Kosar teams which always got slapped back in the AFC Championship by John Horseteeth. The 1990s brought us Bill Belichick before he was a genius followed by the unthinkable – the team was taken away.

A new team masquerading as the ‘Cleveland Browns’ resurfaced in 1999 pushing the envelope of putridity to depths never before experienced.

Meanwhile that team 125 miles away got six Lombardi trophies.

Oh, and the team that left Cleveland in 1995? They got two.

My God I’m tired.

Yes, training camp has just begun, and yes, I am reading every bit of information about how Paul Kruger is looking awesome, how Barkevious Mingo is ready to decapitate opposing quarterbacks and how Trent Richardson is ready to churn out twenty touchdowns this year. And I am really trying to get my ‘tude on and go toe to toe with fans of other teams, about how THIS year it is going to be different.

Here come those snickers again.

And they have every right to snicker. 1964. Nineteen-freekin-sixty-four. That was the last time the Browns were the champs of the NFL. Forty-nine years ago. Jim Brown. Frank Ryan. Gary Collins. Names I have read about, but since I was only six years old at the time, never got to see play. I have proof in black and white footage of Collins catching three TDs in the title game as the Browns laid the lumber on the Colts, 27-0. My dad said it was awesome.

But me? I got Earnest Byner’s fumble and Art Modell’s greed as my memories.

I give up. Y’all win. There is nothing left in the smack tank with me anymore. We suck. We have sucked for a long time. Point your fingers and laugh. You will get no retort from me. I got no room to talk. What, am I gonna say how good Derek Anderson looked for half a season in 2007? How I thought Lee Suggs was going to win the rushing title?

Laugh away.

But.

Just because that’s the way things were doesn’t mean that’s the way things will be.

Remember that when we hoist that motherfucking Lombardi Trophy one day.

Then it will be my turn to laugh.


Saturday, July 27, 2013

America The...Salad?


I love my country.

But, as many know, this does not mean I love everything about it. I love the concept of our country – the idea of a government of, by and for the people. However, in practice, we fall well short of this ideal. More accurately, this country is of, by and for the powerful and connected. Money rules. And it always will.

But anyway. I want to talk about a phrase used to describe America, which I believe, is totally inaccurate. That we are a ‘Melting Pot.’ That somehow, people from all over the globe come here, become Americans, and get added into this purported roux with the rest of us resulting in an altered, refined mixture.

Bullshit.

For starters, for that kind of alchemy to occur, those who are already here would have to accept and respect the cultures of those who recently arrived and, further, embrace them. This does not happen. It never has. Whether it were the Irish who came here in the mid-nineteenth century, the Europeans in the early twentieth century, the Cubans who came here in the early 1960s, or the Haitians soon thereafter, each was met with scorn and resentment. They were exploited, ridiculed, considered less than equal in the eyes who were here before. It was only after a long period of time, usually stretching to two or three generations later, did these groups gained acceptance. And that’s where our purported charity stopped – eventually their numbers became so large that people finally said oh all right. I guess you’re here to stay.

But never does the overall ‘mix’ of this country get adjusted due to their presence.

So, we are not a Melting Pot, so stop with that description.

So what are we? What is a more accurate description for this nation of people from somewhere else?

A fruit salad.

Think about a fruit salad. It is pieces of various, well, fruits, each individual in its taste, texture and color. Sharing the same container.

That is America. The blacks are over there, the Hispanics are down the street, and the whites are behind the guard gate. They each occupy a space in the overall container, and sometimes rub against each other, but a piece of pineapple remains a piece of pineapple. It is not overly affected by the piece of cantaloupe next to it, or the grape next door. We all go to Walmart to buy our stuff and see each other (and that’s where the overlaps occur – we all buy Walmart shit), but each gets back into their shiny metal box and heads back to their turf in the salad bowl.

So please. Let’s stop glamorizing a vision of America that does not exist. We are not tolerant people. New pieces of fruit appearing (What is that? What’s a kiwi fruit? Get it out of here!) are barely acknowledged until too many of them appear, at which point the established fruits rail against their existence in the bowl. They want them expelled for fear of contaminating the salad.

But…what makes a good quality fruit salad? Uniform pieces of melon? No, that would be a melon salad. What makes a great fruit salad is the variety of fruit.

And that’s what makes us a great country. New pieces of fruit, each with its own flavor, which adds to the overall awesomeness of the salad.

But each piece still separate. Grapes taste like grapes, melons like melons. You never get a hybrid Grapelonapple. There’s no ‘melting together’ going on.

Maybe I should conduct diversity training. Because that’s what diversity is.

And that’s what our country is.


Saturday, July 6, 2013

Dancing With Myself


I have a pretty good life. Good job, live in a nice place, I have my health. When I take an inventory of how I am, what I have and how I interact with people, and the world in general, it comes out on the positive side. Most know me as a somewhat intelligent, friendly person. On the minus side, I can be overconfident to the point of being arrogant. I have a strong personality that turns off some people.

So where am I going with this?

Here. I am 54 years old and single. Not even in a relationship.

And I don’t know how I am supposed to feel about that. I know how I do feel about that, and that is, ninety-five percent of the time I am okay with it. The other five percent of the time is when I ponder the next ten to fifteen years of my life, when age will catch up to me, my looks will deteriorate (not that they’re all that at the present), and I might move into senior citizenship without a partner. I think about that scenario for a bit then fire up match.com and check out personals. After a few minutes of that I move back to the ninety-five percent mindset and go grab my golf clubs.

I like being single. Which may be simply a different way of saying I suck at relationships. Both are, undoubtedly, true statements. My track record speaks for itself – twice divorced, many ex-girlfriends some of whom have severed all contact with me. And it bears noting at this point that I have never laid a hand on a woman – I have never abused, either physically or emotionally, a mate. I’m just a difficult person to be with…I guess.

And as I get older that will just become more difficult, as I do what I want to do when I want to do it. Kind of goes with the territory of being alone. So when someone enters my life and suggests something I don’t want to do, I bristle. I simply am not used to sharing my life.

So this begs the question – what’s the problem, Jer? Are you saying you want to be in a relationship?

And here is the answer. I don’t fucking know. Societal-speaking, I am somewhat of an aberration – a mid-50’s guy alone. But I do not want to live my life based on what society expects of me. Shit, for that matter, I don’t live my life based on what anyone expects of me. I did that for too long, and it made me feel uneasy, uncomfortable with myself.

One of things I have realized about, well, life in general, is that it is unscripted. It’s weird. You cannot say ‘Okay, this is how it is going to be,’ and then it turns out that way. Further, past performance is no indication of future events. If you flip a coin fifty times and it comes up heads all fifty times, the odds of the fifty-first flip is still 50/50 of coming up heads. The point being, I try not to worry about what will come, and further, cannot control it. So why worry. I could meet the love of my life this afternoon.

It is those types of thoughts that get me back into my ninety-five percent comfort zone.

Then I grab my golf clubs.

So now, you’re probably thinking, ‘Gosh thanks for wasting five minutes of my life reading all that. Your point, Jer?’

Eh, nothing. Consider this one of the thoughts that hangs up in my brain…much like those cheese doodles in the snack machine.

And like those cheese doodles hanging there, it will remain until action is taken to move them. Or to let them hang. I guess that’s what I am dealing with, with this whole ‘lack of relationship’ issue I have.

But in the end, it’s only an issue if I wish it to be. Which gets back to my perception. And you know what? If I am okay ninety-five percent of the time, that’s a pretty damn good percentage. But I am also open to whatever life may toss at me in the future – I don’t ever want to get into a situation where I feel ‘compelled’ to get into a relationship so someone can call 911 if I keel over in my recliner. If I get into a relationship, it has to be organic.

Much like how I am now.

So, that’s all. Welcome to life inside my brain.



Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy Birthday, America.



Today we mark 237 years of existence. Nice run.

There is no doubt, at least in my mind, that we live in a country where we enjoy certain freedoms not available anywhere else in the world, and for that I am grateful. To think that I could have been born in, say, Iraq or North Korea, but instead was conceived in Akron , Ohio, and therefore by birth I am granted the benefits this country offers, is quite humbling of a thought.

If you feel a “but” coming, you’re right.

Those who know me know I tend to not only see the positives of a situation, but also what could be improved. And in today’s America, there is much that can be improved. But on this day, July 4, I will respect the country’s birthday and not go into what those areas of improvement are.

But (there it is), I will say this: I am no less an American for wishing for a better country than those who quickly slap back with the ‘Love it or leave it’ mantra. I don’t have to love America in order to stay here; that’s not a prerequisite to my citizenship. I don’t have to stay silent on issues such as veterans sleeping on the streets or children going hungry when the nearby grocery store bulges with food. We can do better, a lot better.

Which leads to my main point – Patriotism in not a political issue.

Yeah, well, tell that to the two main political parties.

My good friend, who is a veteran, just posted on his Facebook page the Lee Greenwood video ‘Proud to be an American,’ which I would certainly expect from him. What sickened me about it was Sarah Palin standing next to him smiling.

Yes. It is sickening to think some public figures use patriotism for political advantage, as if to say, I am more patriotic than those whiners over there. Vote for me.

Sickening.

Look, we are all Americans. By birth, therefore by default. And you would certainly think anyone running for political office simply wants what is best for this country, regardless of political affiliation. Some think that means government should get out of our lives. Some think that means government should help those too unfortunate to help themselves. Some think people should pick themselves by their bootstraps. Some want to offer boots to them first.

Whatever. That’s all in your political beliefs.

But none is ‘more American’ than the other.

We hear from certain groups that, if the policies of the other party are followed, the country will be ruined. I doubt that. Fortunately, we have a governmental structure which divides up power evenly such that no one person – or party – has too much power. In other words, no one group can screw things up.

What can screw us up? Simple.

We. The People.

How? Again, simple.

By turning on each other. By believing the hype and paranoia of elected officials who claim that ‘The Enemy” is people who don’t think like they do. You know, other Americans who are doing nothing more than exercising their First Amendment rights.

That’s our Achilles Heel. Those who would divide us, who would like us into ‘Us Versus Them’ camps. Who would then say, if you don’t think like we do, then you’re not as patriotic as us, and, therefore, not as American as us.

Those are the people who scare me.

So, on this birthday of the country of my birth, I wish us a future of common unity based on our founding principles – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

And dissent.

Because people who don’t think like you are patriots too.


Sunday, June 30, 2013

Miami Plus Three Months


I am a fan of symmetry. Maybe it’s my math background, I don’t know. But I find a certain beauty when things appear to fit.

Don’t worry; this is not a story about gay marriage.

In looking through the 151 stories I have written on this blog, I noticed some symmetry. Back in 2009 when I first moved to Orlando I wrote a story about how awestruck I was with the town. Then, three months later, I wrote a more grounded, yet still positive, story about where I was with the Orlando Experience. Earlier this year I moved to Miami and wrote a similar awestruck story. I have now been here three months.

Time to true up the symmetry.

Three months seems to be a good barometer. The initial excitement and confusion about living somewhere new should have subsided, replaced by familiarity and reality. This is definitely the case with my Miami Experience. So what have I learned about my new home during this time? Well…

Let’s start with the obvious. You do not hear a lot of English spoken here. Spanish is the default. You sometimes have to make a concerted effort to find someone who speaks English, especially in places like Little Havana or Westchester. My closest Walmart is in Westchester, and the last time I was there all I heard was a constant stream of Spanish. In fact, when I need assistance finding something and approach an employee, my first query is, “Habla Ingles?”

And as I mentioned in my last story about Miami, this does not offend me. I don’t grumble about the fact there is an American flag flying outside yet English is the secondary language. Because Miami is a young city; a hundred years ago it was little more than a swamp. About fifty years ago, Castro came into power in Cuba, which triggered the first exodus of Cubans to Miami. Thirty years ago the Mariel boatlift occurred, depositing 125,000 of Fidel’s Finest here. And since then, other Latin America countries have become noticeably represented here – Colombians, Venezuelans, Nicaraguans and so on. And what do they all have in common? Spanish.

So what is occurring here is a generational thing – the elderly speaks Spanish. Their offspring, folks around my age, are bilingual. Much like the Little Italy section of New York. And like New York, Miami is truly an international city. Which leads to my next observation –

The food here is outrageous. Whether it’s Ropa Vieja at Versailles on Calle Ocho or Arroz Con Pollo at Kokoriko in Brickell, it’s all good. Real good. Or, I should say, muy bueno. And the people here are proud of their heritage and are very friendly. As you can imagine, especially among the older Cubans, there is an inherent joy in being somewhere where speaking your mind does not land you in jail. As such, these folks like to celebrate.

But there are instances which makes me truly feel like the minority that, well, I am. For example, FM radio. It sucks. But then again, it reflects the demographics of the area. Ninety percent of the stations are Hispanic music. The other ten percent is classic rock or sports talk. So you choices are bonga-bonga-bonga arriba te amo, Led Zeppelin, or Dan Lebatard.

Well, I don’t care for salsa and I am burned out on Zep. Dan, by default, wins.

Which is a good segue to something Miami is also know for, its sports teams. I just worked the Miami Heat celebration parade. It was attended by 400,000 people. Now, being a native Ohioan, having been born in the same town as LeBron James, there is a personal grinding of my teeth to see the Heat win championships. As I have found out, this is a view held by most people who live outside of Miami. But in Miami? They don’t care. In fact they take it a step further – they don’t want to hear it. If you are upset about the Heat cherry-picking elite players from other teams, keep it to yourself. They know the rest of the world doesn’t like it, and that just gives them more resolve – hate us, as if we care. World champs, muthafucka.

There are a couple of other minor, yet infuriating aspects of living here. Why does it cost twenty freaking dollars to get my car washed? Where are the coin-op self wash places? Why does it cost SIX BUCKS to park at a county park?

But those are easily dismissed for the far more important positives of being here. I have assimilated into an international city where I am proudly a minority (and a 54 year old white boy from the Midwest is definitely a minority), the beaches are awesome, the women are beautiful (a product of mixed bloods), and I am happy.

And you likely would be too if you lived in Miami.

So if you want to only be around white people who speak English, stay in Iowa. If instead you want to experience how the rest of the world lives, c’mon down.

But download Rosetta Stone first.



Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Delayed…But Not Denied


So I just took a dip in the pool at my apartment. Sounds pretty boring, right?

Well, it was. Thank goodness.

I need a good dose of boring. The last three months were beyond crazy. I cannot recall a similar stretch in my life where more things happened in such a short period.

Let’s rewind to February 6th of this year. On that day I resigned from my position with a firm in Orlando to accept a similar position with a firm in Miami, knowing that would trigger a number of required activities like relocating.

At the same time, I knew my mother was in the advanced stages of dementia, so I was debating whether to even tell her this news, for fear of whether she could even wrap her atrophied mind around it. On Sunday February 17, I called her to tell her the news. She didn’t answer the phone.

Two days later, she passed away.

Now, the plan was for my last day at work in Orlando to be that Friday, February 22, to start work in Miami on March 11. Two weeks and two days. Plenty of time to find a place in Miami, get my stuff down there, relax a couple of days, then hit the ground running at my new job. With mom dying, that was all tossed out the window. Obviously I had to get to Ohio for the funeral…but that was my last week of employment. So on my way out the door to head north, I handed my employee badge, tears in my eyes, to my boss & told her, “I guess this is it.”

Fortunately, they extended my employment a week, to March 1, so I could take care of things in Ohio. That was extremely nice of them, but it did not change my start date in Miami. Now my two weeks between jobs was truncated into one. The result was my moving plans were scuttled and I ended up in a hotel in Homestead instead of a condo in Brickell. For my first two months of employment in Miami, my commute was a surreal combination of driving, bus ride & rail ride – over an hour each way. And this was on top of learning a new job with12-hour days. During the period I basically did three things – work, eat and sleep. There was no time for anything else.

In late April I was able to find a nice apartment in South Miami, with move- in mid-May. This triggered my moving activities, with multiple 500-mile round trips between Miami and Orlando to get my belongings. I finally finished that on May 19.

Whew.

This whole time prevented me from normal activities related with losing someone’s mother. Like grieving. I was too busy. In one aspect, that’s good. I was perpetual motion, too many things on my plate to simply sit back and reflect.

But finally, last night, I did. I sat in that pool at my awesome new apartment in Miami, took a look around the beautifully landscaped area, let out a deep breath, and thought ‘I made it. I did it.’

I then thought about my mom.

And I cried my eyes out.

That was way overdue.


Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Way It Is



Having now lived in Miami for a couple of months, I have discovered that what a lot of people know about this area is true. You don’t hear a lot of English being spoken here.

And here’s my thought on that – so what?

I can hear the Bubbas now – “This is AMURRICA! We speak ENGLISH here!”

Well yeah, with a decisively ignorant accent.

Look. We are a nation of immigrants. And if you want to really get down to it, the ‘native’ language of this country is whatever the Sioux or Senecas were speaking 400 years ago. English was imported here from, well, England.

Yes you heard me. English is a foreign language.

But it is also what was taught to us as children. It is the accepted form of communicating in this country, and is certainly the dominant language of our nation.

But not in Miami.

And I realize this pisses off a lot of people. Many avoid this area as a result. Which is too bad for them, as this is an entrancing place loaded with local flavor and multiple cultures. Miami isn’t just a city with a bunch of Cubans. There are Venezuelans, Colombians, Brazilians, Puerto Ricans, Virgin Islanders, and so on.

But yet, the ignorant among us want to avoid them and decry their insistence on speaking in their native tongue. And I dare say, it is these same ignorant people who, when traveling to Europe, insist the French or Italians speak English to THEM. After all, we are Americans, and damn, we are full of ourselves. It’s almost as if we are saying, “We are armed to the teeth & can blow your little country back into the Stone Age so don’t tell me I have to learn your language.”

And we wonder why other countries hate us. They love America, but not crazy about the Americans inhabiting it.

But anyway. I took Spanish back in high school. Four years of it. But given that was 35 years ago, obviously I have forgotten much of it. My vocabulary is probably a hundred or so words, but I can fluently state to someone of Hispanic descent, “Yo hablo solamente un poquito de Espanol, porque yo aprendo en la escuela…many years ago.”

They then smile at me and we proceed to have a nice conversation…in English.

Because here is what the Bubbas don’t understand – these people know English too, at least the vast majority of them do, and the ones that don’t, you can still communicate with them.

See, here’s the lesson, kiddies. You can communicate without using words. Verbalizing sounds is but one way to communicate.

So here I am in Miami with very limited Spanish at my disposal, and I can tell you I am not at all at some kind of communicative disadvantage. I get along just find, gracias.

And I can tell you my Spanish vocabulary is, obviously, growing. It is inevitable in a place like Miami. But do I feel irritated by this? Do I feel resentful that I have to try to learn a language in a place where the stars and stripes flap on a flagpole?

Not at all.

And why not?

Because it’s fun. It’s what makes Miami Miami. And it exposes me to new cultures, new activities…not to mention some totally hawt Hispanic babes. And by speaking a little Spanish to them, you know what happens? Their faces light up and they smile.

See, I am more about trying to ingrain myself into the culture of a place instead of dogmatically insisting they conform to me. By having that attitude, new vistas open. And here, with over sixty percent of the population being of Hispanic descent, the city and all its charms open up to me.

But, if you want to insist everyone speaks English, stay in Iowa. Because no matter how many laws are passed, no matter what efforts are instituted to homogenify everyone into only one form of communication, it will never work. They will still speak Spanish in Miami.

And I have no problem with that.


Saturday, April 27, 2013

Home Sweet Home…stead?



They say home is where the heart is.

Lately, my heart’s been freekin’ everywhere. I was born and raised in northeast Ohio but have lived my adult life in Florida. For the past four years my residence was Orlando, which I became quite fond of, but I recently took a job in Miami. But I don’t yet have a permanent residence in Miami. Instead the temporary place I’ve been resting my head is Homestead, Florida, in an extended-stay hotel.

A hotel room. In Homestead.

So that’s where my body is. Where’s my heart? Hell if I know. I am still only two months removed from my mother passing away, so part of my heart is with her. Ohio will always be special to me, another piece is there. My son lives in Jupiter, he gets a chunk. And I left Orlando begrudgingly, as I became quite attached to a place most of the world knows for its mouse ears & overpriced buffets. So O-town owns a piece too.

So while I am still sorting out the postal codes my blood-pumping organ resides, I want to talk a bit about where my carcass presently calls home. Homestead.

Look on a map. You will see that Homestead is waaaaay down south, right next to Florida City – the last two vestiges of civilization on mainland Florida, the gateway to the Florida Keys. To the west are the Everglades, to the east, Biscayne Bay. Ground Zero for Hurricane Andrew’s landfall in 1992.

And my temporary home. I took up residence here to get started with my job in downtown Miami, which is 35 miles away. Economics drove the decision – things are much cheaper down here than in Miami. In fact, about the only thing Homestead has in common with Miami is they share the same county.

But that’s it. Homestead ain’t Miami. At all.

Homestead is a cool amalgam of small town & old Florida. It’s primary sources of economy are agriculture and the nearby Turkey Point nuclear power plant. It seems to be a close-knit place, and the locals like where they live – they seems to reject the ‘big-ness’ of Miami and revel in the fact that they have nothing in common with their huge neighbor to their north.

The people. They’re an interesting bunch. Every Saturday morning I have breakfast at the local restaurant – the Royal Palm Grill on Krome Avenue. And you want an example of the old Florida I speak of? The Royal Palm Grill is embedded within a Rexall drug store. Yep, Rexall’s still exist, and this particular one has sundries on one side…and the local’s favorite restaurant on the other. Retro-cool.

The Royal Palm Grill is teeming with local character. Virtually every time I have breakfast at the counter, I engage in conversation with whoever is next to me. And I have received phone numbers from these folks who insist I call them for a quick trip to Key Largo (which is only 25 miles away) or a round of golf.

And then there’s Star – the aging, self described Hippie. Star is one of the servers at the Grill, and she is, most of the time, a blur of motion. I would guess her to be in her early 60s, and this morning, as she was racing past me, I said to her, “I bet when you get home you pass out.”

That stopped her in her tracks. She turned to me, walked over and whispered, “I have MS, and the way I figure, if I keep moving it can’t catch me.”

Rock on, Star.

She then sped on to fill a cup of coffee and deliver some toast.

When she returned to my vicinity, she decided she earned a five-second break and told me, “I treat my MS homeopathically. Acupuncture and herbs. I’m a Hippie! I was at Woodstock…I hitchhiked there!”

And off she went.

So after breakfast I decided to take a drive around town. Homestead actually has a downtown, a quaint five-block stretch of
Mexican restaurants and an old movie theater. To the west you can see the flat expanse of open farmland. Along Krome Avenue are old-school hotels. Things move slower here, and there is palpable feel of real community – something Miami sorely lacks.

I needed to run some errands, and one of the places I needed to stop at was the local U-Haul, as in two weeks I will be moving from my hotel room to my apartment in South Miami. My time in Homestead is nearing an end.

And that actually made me choke up for a moment.

Looks like Homestead now owns a piece of my heart too.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Today, Random




Leave it to Facebook to provide me inspiration for a story.

A couple of days back I was perusing the ‘News Feed’ – posts from my Friends, and one bugged me – it was a pic of Shirley Temple and Honey Boo Boo side-by-side, with the caption “What has happened to this country?”

Setting aside whatever political statement the poster was trying to make (which I still don’t know and don’t really care), the inspirative thought hit me –

Why do people romanticize the past at the expense of the present?

Now sure. Some of it has to do with nostalgic recollection of days gone by. And certainly I have no problem with that line of musing. I do it all the time, especially when I see an old friend – “Hey remember when we were in high school and that night with those twins? Man, those were the days…”

Okay, there was no night with twins. Roll with me here.

What I am referring to are people who embellish the past at the expense of the present; people who think things – or they – are worse off now than then. Now add to it the future, and these people have some grave, apocalyptic Mad Max vision of how things will be, both for them and for society.

And some of my Facebook friends apparently can divine all this from pics of Shirley Temple and Honey Boo Boo side-by-side.

Well, here’s the truth. The past was not as great as you remember it, the present isn’t as bad as it appears and the future is not going to be a mega clusterfuck.

Why?

Because life is weird. It’s random. It is, literally, unpredictable in the most literal sense – nobody can predict what will occur based on what has occurred. And definitely not politicians, so remember that in the next election cycle.

Let’s take my friend’s Shirley Temple example. Apparently his message was that things were much better in the 1930’s than they are now.

Really? Millions of blacks who did not have the right to vote and could not attend schools with whites would beg to differ. Polio sufferers would have issue with that. And that guy in Germany who had visions of a ‘master race’ was plotting his plan.

Okay, I win that point you say. But what about on a personal level? “I miss the good old days!” you cry.

Well, cry all you want, but you are suffering from selective recall. You remember the good but conveniently forget the bad. Let me use the one subject I am an expert on, myself, as an example. It is very easy for me to sit here and talk about how ‘wonderful’ things were in, say, 1983. I was 24 years old, had just moved to Florida, I was meeting a lot of girls and living a very carefree lifestyle. But I was also dirt poor, my car broke down every other day, and was living with three other guys in a house with no privacy…and no air conditioning. In South Florida.

So yesterday was no picnic. Now, let’s go to today, and let’s stay on the personal level, because opening that discussion up to the global levels brings in politics and world events and all kinds of stuff that will get us off message. What is going on in your life right now can either be looked at positively or negatively. Your choice. There is good and bad going on – nobody has a shithole/no positives existence and no one has a utopian/everything is perfect one either. We are all in that muddled middle of good and bad.

But here’s the thing – it’s all temporary. None of it will last. So remember that when you are hitting a rough patch. It will pass. But, that also applies to the good times - those too shall pass.

So it’s all in how you look at it.

I hear you now – “Gosh thanks Dr. Phil.”

Whatever. But it truly is all about perception – your perception and your life.

Now, the future. This one is simple. Who the fuck knows? Nobody. And I caution you from drawing conclusions of the future based on current conditions. Why? Re-read that paragraph about it all being temporary.

So, what’s my point in all this? Simple. It’s all up to you. I’ve seen happy people who don’t have a pot to piss in, and I’ve seen unhappy people in mansions. It’s all about perception. And one of my favorite phrases is, if you have one foot in yesterday and the other in tomorrow, you are pissing on today.

Carly Simon said it best. These are the good old days.