Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Ricardo

I want to tell you about one of my neighbors here in Miami. His name is Ricardo. He is a 25-year old Venezuelan who came to the U.S. in the aftermath of the mess of his birth country. For those who don’t know, Venezuela is, literally, crumbling. The government has become a rigid, Stalin-esque state-sponsored producer of repression and abuse. As a result, tens of thousands of Venezuelans fled and relocated here in Miami. After Cuba, it is the Latin country with the most representation here.

Ricardo is a twin. His brother was killed in a car crash when he was eight years old. His recollection of the event are sketchy – “One minute him & I were in the passenger seat of the car, the next minute I woke up, I was in the hospital and my brother was dead.”

Ricardo is a force of nature. He is the damn friendliest, ebullient person I have ever met. He is constantly happy, energetic, persuasive and persistent. You WILL end up doing what he wants to do. And you will enjoy it. He will insist.

Ricardo is gay. He has a boyfriend and he wants to settle down and marry him. He says he is tired of hookups and guys who only want to get laid. He is extremely comfortable in his sexuality. And, just for the record, I am extremely comfortable in his sexuality. I am probably the least homophobic person in the world, and I personally feel happy for people who know who they are and refuse to let other’s opinions dissuade or influence them. We spent Monday evening in the apartment pool talking about, well, whatever we wanted to.

When Ricardo was 17, he told his mother he was gay. She responded by turning the ring she had on her finger around so that the stone faced towards the palm, and slapped him across the face with it. It left a permanent scar on his face which he covers with a beard. She called him a “Goddamn faggot.” And this all happened in a shopping mall. In public. Shamed publicly. By his mother.

So to sum up: Ricardo is a happy, friendly, gay young man who has had a life of heartbreak, rejection, loss of his twin brother, forced relocation and violence at the hands of his mother.

And he keeps smiling.

There’s a message in there for all of us.



Saturday, April 16, 2016

Neighbors

As my friends know, a few months back I got married. And my wife is wonderful; there is no doubt that I married up. Dawn’s inclusion into my life has brought a number of positive influences to it, and one in particular –

I have met my neighbors.

I am not very sociable when I am at home. After a day of work in the bustle of downtown Miami, I just want to retreat to my little slice of Gringoism where I hear no Spanish & no one cuts me off in traffic. This city is crazy, so I prefer my home time to be relaxing with as few outside influences as possible.

But Dawn moved here from a rural area of Alabama knowing no one but me. She had to make friends, and I am happy to report: She has. And, through that, so have I. Now, you would think that, this being Miami, she has met a bunch of Cubans. Not true. By my count she has only met one – the elderly lady who lives around the corner who doesn’t speak a lick of English. But besides her, here are some bios of her, I mean our, new neighbor friends –

Ricardo – Ricardo is a 24-year old University of Miami student from Venezuela, where he and his mother fled from when Chavez assumed power. There are a lot of Venezuelans here in Miami who did the very same thing. Ricardo is nonstop chatter, and very gay. Friendly as hell, with a wide-eye sunny view of the world. I smile whenever I see him.

Ahmed – Ahmed is a 23-year old UM student from Saudi Arabia. Chain-smokes. Very thick Arabian accent, and when he talks on the phone with his mother, it sounds like Jihadists plotting a terror campaign. But Ahmed is anything but. Ahmed is a bit reserved, and avoids eye contact, but when you engage him he blossoms with talks of his dreams. His main dream is to have sex with as many American women as he can. And when we talk about, well, whatever, you can tell that America is influencing him. A typical Ahmed rant is something like, “I call to order pizza. Dees fucking Cuban on phone say he can’t understand my English. I tell dees asshole same thing.”

Molly – Molly is the elderly German lady who lives upstairs. She has been here in the apartment complex for 23 years. Very thick German accent that has obviously never left her. She is very hard to understand, and her sentences are peppered with “und” instead of “and.” Molly stays up all night watching Fox News and conspiracy shows. She is convinced that Armageddon is around every corner. But she brings us food. So that’s nice.

Scott – Finally, an American! Scott is, well, he’s Scott. He has been everything and knows everyone. Says he used to play guitar with Jimi Hendrix. Has written novels. His father founded Burger King. His dream is to move to California and sell his screenplay to Hollywood executives. Hey, go big or go home, right?

Brenda – Another gringo. Brenda is originally from Michigan, but has been in Miami for a very long time. This is evident by her leather-like skin that is about ten shades too dark for a typical Caucasian, and straw-like bleach-blond hair. Brenda lives at the pool. Molly says she uses the pool to bathe herself.

So thank you, or curse, you, my lovely wife for introducing me to these people. But given that they all live within a nine iron of where I rest my head each night, I guess I need to know these things.

Which reminds me. I have to go give Ahmed a golf lesson. There are no golf courses in Saudi Arabia.

This should be interesting.



Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Flashing 12 Generation


The time change happened a couple of weeks back, and as is my custom, the next morning I went around my home & moved all the clocks forward one hour. I mean, why have clocks showing the wrong time? Decoration?

Anyway, the process of re-setting my little world to the norms of the outside world got me thinking about my mom, and more broadly, her generation. Mom’s generation was definitely pre-computers, pre-digital, pre-anything but pencil and paper. Moving the clocks meant turning some button on the back that moved the minute hand forward 60 minutes. In contrast, I went to each of my digital clocks, held down the ‘Time’ button, and then clicked the ‘Hour’ button once. There – Spring Forward was accomplished.

My mother’s generation has been called The Greatest Generation, and I am not about to argue that moniker. Parents selflessly gave of themselves – fathers went to war, mothers raised their kids, and they complained very little about either. This was the American Dream of the 1950s. My parents bought a nice home in a nice suburban area, dad went to work dutifully each day, and mom got four kids ready and off to school each day. And then, in the case of my mom, she would get dressed and drive to an office somewhere and be a Bookkeeper.

Mom was a whiz with numbers. Oftentimes she would bring her work home with her, and after feeding all of us, would spend her evenings banging on an adding machine (the mechanical type, where you would punch the numbers, then pull a little bar down where the total was then printed on a roll of paper). Later, she relented and got a calculator - but with the roll of paper for an audit trail.

When computers hit the scene in the 90's mom was at the very end of her working career. She was approaching 70 years old, and when she finally balanced her last ledger, she wrote in the numbers, and, literally, closed the books. Her career was done.

But mine was really just getting going. And in my generation, the tool of necessity is the personal computer. At this minute I am typing this story in Word, and when it is done I will upload it to my blog.

A blog. Try explaining a blog to your parents.

Anyway, I remember trying to get my mom to embrace computers. I showed her neat Youtube vids of babies making faces or whatever, and she thought that was just grand. I then tried to use that bit of interest to explain to her, ‘You know, mom, anything you would ever want to know can be found right here.’ Want to take a trip somewhere? Don’t call the travel agent...fire up Expedia. Want to find a good restaurant in Medina? Google it – don’t flip open the yellow pages.

It was no use. My mom was institutionalized in the Old School ways of doing things. “I spent fifty damn years in the business world punching keys. I don’t have to punch anymore.” Okay mom. Just trying to help.

So what does this have to do with setting clocks after a time change? Well, how many of you have parents, where to this day, if you go to their homes, there’s a VCR (Forget DVD players) that has a flashing 12:00 displayed on it? And how often do you sit there thinking, ‘I could fix that in about ten seconds,’ and then you do, but then you go back a week later and there’s the flashing 12 again?

Our parents were brilliant, and my parents in particular sacrificed themselves for their children. For that I am eternally grateful.

But setting a digital clock or VCR? No clue.

So here’s to the Greatest Generation.

Or, if you prefer, the Flashing 12 generation.




Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Heroes

“Ain’t found a way to kill me yet...”

I will admit that I used to find Veteran’s Day troubling. Having grown up when I did, which was just a little too young to be part of the Vietnam War, but old enough to formulate an opinion on war...yet still an impressionable teenager, I was conflicted. We lost the war...but our soldiers did their damn level-best. But we lost

And as such, in the years immediately following the end of hostilities, our collective national consciousness had to find someone to blame. And tragically, many blamed the soldiers. I adopted that mindset as well. And as a result, I wanted nothing to do with military service. My father even pitched it to me as I was graduating college – “You know, son, you could go into the Navy, come out of OCS as an officer, and retire in twenty years, at age 43.”

You might as well have suggested I run off and join the circus. Wasn’t happening.

As I grew older, I realized my anger was displaced. Those troops were put into a totally unwinnable quagmire. The real villains were the politicians. And, honestly, our society for how they were treated once they returned to the States. That’s why you see so much “Honor Our Troops” entreats...I believe it was guilt over how we treated the Vietnam Vets. But I was still conflicted – I couldn’t just swivel and unconditionally thank them for their service; there was a part of me that still thought, ‘Hey, you signed up for this gig.’

“Walking tall Machine Gun Man...They spit on me in my homeland...”

So I spent a lot of time trying to understand the American soldier, without judgment. I asked friends of mine who served what it was like. I turned to media to help me understand. And it was in this search that I came across perhaps the most poignant, horrifying, and accurate description of what it had to be like in those jungles.

“My buddy’s breathing his dying breath...Oh God please won’t you help me make it through...”

Jerry Cantrell is a member of the band Alice In Chains. He wrote the song Rooster in honor of his father, Jerry Cantrell, Sr., who served in Vietnam; ‘Rooster’ was his nickname. And the video, frankly, is hard to watch. But I insist that you do:



I am no longer conflicted. They were heroes. All of them.


Happy Veterans Day.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Discordant Discourse


I can remember a time when the political landscape was dominated by, primarily, two philosophies. You had the Republican vision and the Democratic vision. At times there was a third party in play, but for a very long time, the two main parties would try to persuade voters as to which vision they, essentially, endorsed. Then whoever was elected would, in theory at least, initiated policies consistent with that vision.

That’s how it used to work.

It does not work that way anymore. Far as I can tell, I see only one party offering up a vision. The other party? They criticize that vision. And that’s fine, as that’s politics. Part of the persuasion is to discredit the other vision as wrong-headed, short-sighted, or whatever.

But…you have to have an alternate vision. It simply cannot be, “They’re wrong.” You have to tell me why you are right, and “Because they’re wrong” is not an answer. Tell me why your view is better.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you today’s Republican Party.

They have been called a number of things recently: The Party of No. Obstructionists. Puppets to the Koch Brothers. The Rich People’s Party…well wait, they’ve always been called that.

But just answer me this – what do they stand for? What is their vision? Lower taxes? Strong military? Okay, I will give you those. They have long held those values. But the math simply does not work when you want to spend gobs of money on something while reducing your ability to pay for it.

Personal freedom? Now you’re stretching. They have a differing view of what “Freedom” is, and the best recent example of their idea of freedom is Cliven Bundy – the freedom to break the law and pay no consequences for it. Back in the 1960’s, those people were called Anarchists. Now they’re called Conservatives.

But in reality, their vision is, ‘Against Anything Obama Does.’ Now I realize this pegs me as a Democrat, and that is okay. Most everyone knows I am. But you better stop with the personal criticism right there, because at least my party has a vision. And when the other party spends all their time demonizing the leader of the my party (Marxist, Kenyan, Muslim, Appeaser In Chief, Feckless Leader…take your pick), eventually you have to step to the dais and tell us your vision. We get you don’t like who is in charge. That message has been clearly sent…and received.

So if you’re a Republican, what is your party’s vision? What is the vision of America that Republicans proffer? Tell me. Guns? God? Less government? Okay. Well, the devil is in the details – how do you plan on accomplishing those things? How, for example, are you going to expand gun rights more than they already are? In many states you can strap an AK-47 on your back and walk into a Walmart. What more do you want there? God? The Constitution grants all citizens freedom of religion, totally unfettered. Hard to expand upon that. Less government? Okay. What is going to go away? Road construction? Mass transit? Head Start? They won’t answer that, but instead adhere to Reagan’s mantra that government is the problem. Well, it’s not. And they know it’s not.

Their strategy is to simply throw accusations at Democrats, Obama in particular, which have no basis in any kind of reality. Case in point: How often have we heard that, ‘Obama is coming for your guns.’ So…when is this going to happen? He’s only got two more years left in office. If that is indeed him plan he best get to it don’t you think?

Obamacare. My God the rhetoric on that hit new lows for lying. Death Panels. Killing Grandma. Government takeover of health care. When, in reality, do you know what it was? Insurance reform. It simply required everyone to have health insurance. Bought in the marketplace. Sure, with some financial assistance for those too poor to do so, but so what? It was a massive expansion of customers to private businesses. That’s it. That’s IT. Nothing more. But to hear the Republicans tell the story, it was going to be the death of this country. But if it was their idea…no wait, it was.

The Party of No is now the Party of Hell No. With no rational reason for it.

Except one.

Because there are only two parties. And, when you have no vision, the strategy becomes simple. Trash the other vision. You do not have to offer up a plan if you spend all your time discrediting the other plan. Don’t believe me? Ask John Boehner. He stated, publicly, that Congress should not be judged on how many laws they pass but how many they repeal. Well, on both counts, they have failed miserably, since this Congress is on track to pass the fewest number of laws of a Congress ever…and have repealed exactly zero.

They believe they are saving us from Obama. Well you know what? With that view you are disrespecting the will of the majority. Obama was elected, legitimately and without fraud, twice. The people spoke. You just don’t like their answer. Too bad. Win an election.

So remember this. Republicans have a vision; they truly do. But they aren’t telling you what it is. Why? Because they know it is too onerous, too repugnant to offer up publicly. I will tell you what it is – two words: Social Security. They want your money. Your money.  They pretty it up with talks of “Freedom to invest your contributions as you see fit” to give the illusion of personal control. Bullshit. They want your money so it can be thrown into the stock market and they can make money off your money.

Disagree? Then prove me wrong.

Politics has been called the Art of Compromise. However, when you have one party refusing to do so, you get nothing. The system breaks down.

And that’s what we have.

Please remember that when you vote this November.


Your choice is a vision or blindness.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Isthmus


So. About two weeks back I got my U.S. passport in the mail.

Six days later I was in Panama.

I am not usually that impulsive of a person. The Virgo in me says to think, re-think, and then think again before doing something like that. But circumstances fell in a perfect way in that I had a three-day weekend coming up, a place to stay in Panama City, and a quick check of Expedia netted a nonstop round-trip flight for $350.

Not to mention a beautiful hostess who was very eager to show me around. (Insert the wink icon here)

I have never ventured outside of the States. Canada doesn’t count. So this was going to be my first real international venture. Customs. Foreign people. New culture. I was very excited. And luckily, my excitement and expectations were easily trumped by the experiences. Panama is a beautiful country with very friendly people.

Panamanians are very passionate about two things: The Panama Canal and Roberto Duran. And luckily for me, I got to meet both. A friend of mine told me, when I mentioned to him I was going to Panama, that I needed to meet Duran. My initial thought was, yeah, sure. A city of two million people and I am going to find him. I informed my hostess, Ileana, of what my friend said. She replied, “Oh, Roberto is a good friend. I’ll introduce you.” My jaw dropped. See, I am a boxing fan, and there was no better period, in my opinion, of boxing than the early 1980’s Middleweight scene – Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas “The Hit Man” Hearns, Alexis Arguello…

And Manos De Piedras. Roberto Duran. He was the best of them all. If you don’t believe me just check out YouTube. He kicked Sugar Ray Leonard’s ass before the ‘No Mas’ fight.

So Ileana takes me to his club in downtown Panama City, we open the door…and there he is. Ileana tells him that I traveled all the way from the United States to meet him (a nice little lie there). Roberto puts his hands together and bows to me. Bows! I shook his sandpaper hand of stone and said “Manos De Piedras…it’s an honor.” He thanked me and said, “You want picture?”

Hell yes! And here we are.


The other point of pride, the Panama Canal, was also on the itinerary. We took a day trip to the Miraflores Locks and watched the huge vessel ships go through. Here was a history lesson for me – the Panama Canal isn’t just a set of locks. It is eighty miles long with a series of locks which raise and lower ships from the sea-level of the two oceans to the level of the lake in the middle of the country, about 85 feet above sea level. A massive engineering undertaking to essentially raise and lower ships via the gravity of water up 85 feet then back down.

While Panama City is certainly cosmopolitan, the country is quite third-world-like in many respects. People do not know how to drive. Road signs are a minor inconvenience, which are only voluntarily adhered to. Cars come from you in all directions. Livestock crosses roads. Some of the living quarters for people are better suited for poultry. Being from the States, I considered this all quite quaint. Ileana informed that if we got pulled over by the police to not say anything (because that would peg me as a foreigner) and to give her ten dollars. Often cops stop you just to get money. See, had I spoken and they heard my gringo voice, the price would have gone to $50.

The president of the country lives in a section of Panama City called Old Town. There is no mistaking when you get near his residence as there are soldiers at the ready with machine guns. You are instructed to turn your headlights off (after dark) so that they can see inside the vehicle. Again, a little Banana Republic-like. Old Town is a place full of character. Sort of a cross between the French Quarter and Key West. Narrow streets and a feel of danger. But I was told it is very safe, and I had a personal confirmation of this, as children went laughing and running down the streets.

Panamanians are very friendly people. Coming from Miami, and only being there for three days, I never truly accepted this, as my Untrusting American side kept coming out, like when I bought a Panama hat for $25 but handed the guy $40. He said he had to go get change. I demurred, and told him oh nonono…you leave with that $40 and I will never see you again. But I was assured by Ileana that he would return with my change. And he did.

I thought I was an urbane individual. But after my trip to Panama I realized just how much of a sheltered life I have lived.


And I cannot wait to go back.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Cubans by the Pool

I have wonderful news.

I’ve been adopted.

It started innocently enough, as I was taking an afternoon dip in the pool at my apartment complex after my Saturday volunteer gig at a local golf course. It being summer, I was a burnt to a crisp, dehydrated amalgam of suntan lotion and bug spray. I needed a body of water to slide myself into. The pool was at a crisp 92 degrees. Not that it mattered – it was wet. All I was looking for.

My apartment is the closest one to the pool, a literal 50-foot walk from my front door to the deep end. Thus, when I am in my apartment I can hear the sounds of the pool, and on a typical weekend I hear the splashing, kids laughing, maybe some music…and the chatter.

Incessant, rapid chatter.

Spanish chatter.

The Cubans had taken over the pool.

Hey, I don’t care. It’s Miami and I’m a gringo.

So there I was in the pool surrounded by a very large, extended family of Cubans. There was grandma and grandpa in their lounge chairs. There were their offspring in their 20s and 30s with their children. In all, about 20 or so. They were cooking something on the grill which smelled divine. Two young girls were splashing in the pool, shouting, “Dale! Mira!” at each other. There were two guys animatively discussing something with interjections of, “Claro…pero…” There were the mothers with their babies slowly acclimating them to the water while the babies squealed with delight. I did not understand a single thing they were saying, but I totally knew what was going on. They were having fun.

And apparently they were celebrating something, because they all eventually got out of the pool and gathered around the grill and sang something which I guess was ‘Happy Birthday to You…’ in Spanish.

It was a nice scene. Then they got back in the water and finally noticed me, the prune-fingered gringo who hadn’t moved in over two hours. And we started talking. In English. Because, yes, they spoke English as well, and very well.

And we had a great time. They asked where I was from and I told them Ohio. They didn’t understand, so I said Akron…where LeBron James is from. “Ahhh Laybrrrro Yaymes! Bayskeetbol pllllayur!” And we had a nice talk about how people in Miami are all from somewhere else, including, obviously, them. I learned some Spanish and they learned some English slang. For example, I taught them the difference between “Y’all” and “You guys.” Which is basically, what part of the United States you’re from.

These are very loud people. Very animated. When someone shows up they all stop what they’re doing and yell in unison, “AYYYYY!!!!” When they talk it’s with machine-gun rapidity. It is never quiet.

Just like my blood Italian family.

So anyway. It was getting dark so I excused myself to go eat. It was a nice afternoon with the Cubans by the pool.

The next Saturday I was back at the pool after my golf work shift doing the same thing - hydrating.

And so were they. All of them. In their usual spots. Except this time, they saw me immediately as I walked through the gate. And they all went, “AYYYYY!!!!”

I was adopted.


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Bad Bosses


I have been in my chosen career for over thirty years now, and have worked for five different companies during that time. And for at least a dozen different bosses. Some have been very good; inspiring, motivational individuals.

And others have just flat-out sucked.

I am a boss myself. I have a staff of 23 very different individuals. Literally, a United Nations collective, since I presently work in Miami. Comes with the territory. And I can tell you that being the boss ain’t easy. What I have discovered is that it comes down to individual relationships – what works for Scott won’t work with Merci. Management isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ proposal – what motivates one person doesn’t work with another. As well, I have discovered that what people really want to know is why they are doing something. Tell them that, and things tend to go much smoother.

By no means do I consider myself a great boss. But I do think I am fairly competent on what I do, and if my staff’s collective morale is any indication, my style seems to work. But Gawd-DAMN I have witnessed and been subjected to boss styles that are horrid. Here are but a few, and I will be careful as to not totally blow their cover.

Not that they don’t deserve it, mind you. But here we go:

The Condescending Bitch: I have nothing against female bosses; let me be clear on that. But I had one female boss who was very dictatorial and kept her staff on a very short leash. She took over as my supervisor at a job I was at about ten years ago, where I was about three years into my employment. And apparently she felt she had to squarely press her thumb down on staff. She ruled through domination. Her pet phrase was, whenever I was presenting something, was to interrupt me and say, “What Jerry is TRYING to say is…”

Bitch, what I am trying to say is what I am saying. Shut up and listen.

The ‘Nothing is My Fault’ Douchenozzle: Everyone knows this type. He gives vague, cryptic direction on how he wants something accomplished, and then when the results aren’t what he wanted, he rants. Further, he has no compunction to toss his staff under the tires when he is pressed by his higher-ups. You wish he gets run over by a truck, which usually happens anyway, since Karma takes care of these types. The pet phrase of these types is, “You need to work smarter, not harder.”

Yeah well, you need your genitals attached to electricity.

The ‘In Over His Head’ Jerk: This is The Peter Principle in practice. Just because you are a good, say, bus driver doesn’t mean you are good at MANAGING bus drivers. Management is its own field of expertise, but this guy doesn’t understand that. Through doing a certain task for a number of years, he gets promoted; usually due to nobody else wanting the position. He then finds himself in charge of people who were his peers, and he cannot make the transformation. These types usually end up burning themselves out over the pressure and end up doing the work themselves since they have no clue on how to motivate people to do it for them.

The Preening Empty Suit: I saved this one for last, as he was my boss at my previous place of employment. He would strut around like a rooster in his freshly pressed three-piece suit replete with a quad-folded handkerchief in the breast pocket, looking ready to host some fucking game show. But the clothes had no emperor. There was zero substance under the style. When pressed for direction, his common reply was, “Let me get back to you on that,” or, “Let me check with the boss.” But you knew what was really going on – he couldn’t buy a clue if you spotted him a goddamn loan to get one.

This fuck-knuckle would actually walk up to people, look them straight in the eye and say, “How much do you value your job?” Because the common theme with these types is raging insecurity – they know they’re vacuous, but to keep you at bay they have to make sure you’re worried about your employment.

I really hope I am not any of these types. I guess if I was I wouldn’t be sitting in a corner window office on the 12th floor of a building in downtown Miami.

But you would have to ask my staff to be sure.


Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Word of Our Generation



Want to know the height of arrogant presumption? I am about to do it. I am going to define my entire generation via one word. One. Single. Word.

Ready? Here it is –

Cool.

That’s the word to define Baby Boomers and those who came the generation after for good measure. It’s what we all wanted to be. Cool. And what did we not want to be?

Un-cool.

It’s not a temperature. It’s not a weather term. It’s an attitude. Everyone wants to be cool. Now, previous generations had their terms that connoted cool – suave, debonair, smooth. We also had synonyms such as hip, jake, chill.

But it was cool to be cool.

Cool got you laid. Cool got doors opened for you. Cool got you popular – “Oh, Frankie over there? He’s cool.” It was the only label you needed. Smart? Psht. Educated? Please. Vegetarian? Dude, not cool.

Sometimes imploring someone to be cool is what a situation totally calls for:



Now I would be remiss if I didn't give a nod to the runner-up word of our generation: Fuck. For those offended by that, get the fuck over it.

Or fucking, better, get a fucking clue because fuck is the fuckingest baddest word any motherfucker ever fucked. Which, as that sentence demonstrates, shows the versatility of it.

But cool is a word with so many uses which all center on one, singular intent. 

We all want to be cool.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Everybody’s Got A Cousin In Miami


Years ago, when my dad was a young man, he would make frequent trips to Miami for vacation. As a result of those trips he nicknamed Florida “The land of the hustle.”

No, my dad wasn’t into disco. He was referring to how Florida used to be – a land where people with shady pasts or questionable character could swoop in, run a couple of scams then leave before the authorities caught up with them.

And this was more or less true in the 1960s and 1970s – Miami was a growing, burgeoning cauldron of immigrants, snowbirds and natives trying to stake out their piece of paradise. And in doing so they were subjected to various fly-by-nighters who would promise to fix a roof, build a pool or pour a patio. These vermin would take a deposit to do the work then never show up. They did their hustle then skipped town.

I am here to tell you the hustle still exists. Getting a reputable contractor to do work on your house is still a dicey proposition. But also, a huge black market has flourished here as a result – people don’t call the Better Business Bureau or check Angie’s List to find a reputable worker.

They call Pepe in Hialeah.

I am not a world traveler, so I cannot tell you about the black market in other cities, but I can tell you that whatever you need in Miami, everyone seems to know someone who knows someone who can get you it. I mean, this happens with the most mundane purchases. For example, a few months back I was informed I
needed to get a Guayabera. A Cuban dress shirt. It’s a standard staple of most people’s wardrobes here. So, I innocuously stated my intent to a few of my staff. Almost instantly, one of my staffers, who is Cuban, sidles up to me, turns and looks to either side to be sure no one was eavesdropping, and whispers to me, “Leesen. You want good Guayabera? I have a cousin who weeel hooook you up.”

Dude, I’m not trying to buy a kilo of coke.

This town is loaded with those types of transactions. Trust me, there’s a Guayabera store on damn near every major road in this town. But I was advised to avoid all those and go see this guy’s cousin. To get a shirt.

In many ways, this is a cool side to this town. It encourages you to get to know people so they can do you favors, to get connected. And people here are friendly – if they like you they will hook you up…for everything from sandwiches to yachts, someone knows someone.

But it also causes me angst. I’m a researcher. I scour the internet, craigslist and so on to find a value deal. I pride myself in making informed purchases. It is a bit disconcerting when that all gets neutered when someone whispers in my ear that their brother in law can take care of me.

Sometimes this gets to me so I retreat to my sanctuary – the golf course. Which I did the other day and played with one of the caddies at Crandon, Danny. He was going on about his new set of irons he bought, how much better he was hitting the ball and so on. He was real happy. In an effort to make conversation I said, ya know, I’m thinking on getting a new set of irons too. And there, in the middle of the seventh fairway, with nobody else around, Danny comes over to me, pulls out a piece of paper from his wallet, and whispers to me…

“Leesen. Go see my cousin on Coral Way. He weel hook you up.”

Ay dios mio.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Facebook Gobbledegook



I love Facebook. I really do. It has provided me a convenient way of keeping up with family and friends who I am too lazy to call. It’s also an easy way of finding out what is going on with your friends, from heady issues such as their health or what their children are up to, to the critical stuff. Like pics of what they ate for lunch. You also learn a lot about these people not gleaned from face-to-face conversations. Not to mention the opportunity to snipe some uber cool memes. (I will never tire of Grumpy Cat) -->

But there are some things people post that make me take pause. Things that, when I see them, I think, dude srlsy?

Here are a few things that make me smh…

People who talk to their dead relatives – You know what I’m referring to. Posts like, “Mom you died thirteen years ago today but I still miss you.”

Okay, let me get out of the way the fact that many people do miss their deceased loved ones. Me included.

But what makes you think that heaven has internet?

Shit, my mom never touched a damn computer her entire life. If I Facebook posted while she was alive that I loved her, she would never have read it. So there is zero reason to think that her passing included a sudden spate of tech savviness.

People…dead folks don’t have Facebook accounts.

Yeah I know. These kinds of posts are people’s way coping. Cool. I’m down. But really – if you want to remember your dead dad, go lay some flowers on his grave.

Share if you love Jesus!

And if you don’t you’re going to burn in hell.

Apparently that’s the message. Lemme ask – can I love Jesus without sharing this post? Is that allowed? This is remotely related to my previous beef. We all agree that Jesus died some two thousand years ago, a horrific death which included nails being driven through his extremities. So he’s dead. Some think he now sits at the right hand of God. Okay.

But why does my feelings towards him hinge on whether I share your zealous post or not?

Political Opinions That Can't Be Backed upLook. Those who know me know I love a good political debate. However, many do not understand what the word ‘debate’ means. They think they can post their view through some kind of politically-based meme and get three thousand likes.

Well, forgive me if I might have questions. And forgive me further if I ask them.

What usually happens when this occurs is one of two things: Either the poster explains they did not intend to engage in debate, or I am told how stupid I am for having a different opinion. Either reply leads to the same conclusion:

You got no business telling us your opinion in a public forum.

So stop it.

Game InvitesI don’t know what Farmville is. I have no interest in finding out.

So I guess these are usual irritants which occur when the collective moshes on a website. I wonder if Mark Zuckerburg saw this coming?

Actually, I wonder if he’s too busy counting his money to care.


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.