The “hook”

Well, my daughter has officially embarked on her career in the car business. While I have no expectations that this will be a long-term thing, I am very happy that she was willing to make a change. On top of that major step, she is really diving right into this. I’m very encouraged about that, enough so that the choice of change isn’t as important to me as the commitment behind it. People who suffer from depression have difficulty finding motivation, never mind the drive to see it through.

By all accounts she kicked ass during her training. What I get from her is that the dealership is one of those high-pressure, high turnover places that fires people randomly and often. She doesn’t seem to be concerned about that. I’m impressed by that. She learned everything she was told to and impressed the trainer in the process. He has told her that he will be watching her, a luxury she didn’t observe him giving anyone else. On the last day of training, she was sent off with high expectations. And she has the attitude to meet them. And that is the source of my happiness, she’s busting out of her comfort zone and is willing to do what it takes.

She sold her first car on her first day on the floor. In her words, she “didn’t do anything”. I know those deals. Finalized by the sales manager over the phone and given to a lucky rep who either needs a sale or is a favorite of the managers. In her case it was probably to break the first barrier of selling that first deal. Either way, she got it and made the most of it. It’s called “a hook”, in which some lucky soul gets hooked up. She did something right, the customer sent her a nice card and some expensive gifts as a thank you today. I’m so happy for her.

I used to get a lot of hooks when I sold cars. I was always top dog so you would think that I wouldn’t have been favored but sometimes a hook is more than a guaranteed sale. First of all, those deals can always fall apart, nothing is ever guaranteed. There are sales associates who don’t give the customer the best treatment because they feel entitled (or lazy) by being given a slam dunk. I always gave it my best. My hooks were in the interest of taking a possible and making it a certainty. The managers counted on me to finish the deal.

Another capacity I filled was handling difficult customers. Whenever the Internet dept. had a difficult customer coming in it would invariably go to me. I could handle the worst of them. I was the anti-salesman. No gimmicks and no smoke and mirrors. I handled objections as hurdles to get over and always kept the customer focused and on track. It always amazed me how some salespeople couldn’t master that one thing; follow the process and don’t get off track.

My daughter vaguely remembers visiting me at the dealership when she was younger. She remembers my managers telling her what a good salesman her dad was. She saw my happy customers. Now she has an even deeper understanding of what it was that I did, and she wants to learn everything she can.

I look forward to showing her all of it. This is going to be a good thing for both of us. She gets to learn something new and make some money. I get to spend time with one of my absolute favorite people in the world and help her be the best. Win win.

Falcons and Orange Datsun’s

I got a text from my High School buddy Marc today. We communicate by text and email periodically. I wish he was on FB but he, like millions of men, got in a little trouble with his Messenger and in the interest of staying married he got off FB.

I have a lot of regrets about people that I lost touch with, he’s one of the big ones. We never saw each other after High School. I’m incredulous over how that could happen when most of my Middle and High School memories included him.

Marc lived down the street from me but if I cut through a neighbor’s yard, I could cut out most of the walking. We hung out a lot. Wiffle Ball in his big, hilly back yard in the summer and sledding in the winter. We were pals and always at each other’s houses. As we entered High School, we became typical teenagers. We would spend most afternoons in his basement listening to the best music, sometimes accompanying it with some weed for, you know, atmosphere. On weekends we were out walking around, it didn’t matter what time of year. We grew up in a small town and there wasn’t a lot to do. In the absence of parties, we just hung out smoking cigarettes and looking for something to bread the boredom. Then of course, we got our drivers licenses, and everything changed.

I got a text from him today. It was a familiar interaction that has become a routine for us, “hey, I heard this song today”, or “I saw a car like yours”. Truth is, we had a million memories, so it is no surprise that our memories are constantly triggered. Today’s text was about our cars. “I was thinking today about The Falcon and the Orange Datsun. What a ride down memory lane.”

I had a ’64 Ford Falcon that my Great Uncle left me. It was a classic even in 1981 when I got it. It was a rare car with the hard to find “3 on the tree” manual transmission. My father and his best friend who frequently dabbled in folksy racism, nicknamed my car “the Coon”, derived from “Falcoon” which of course was a mispronunciation of Falcon. I didn’t think much about the nickname, and I adopted it until I realized how racist it was. But the nickname stuck.
Marc bought a giant boat of a 70’s Grand Prix. That car was so big you had to moor it, not park it. It was powerful and could light up the tires easily. Every time Marc smoked the tires it cost him a gallon or more of gas. Whenever we asked him to smoke them up, he put out his hand and demanded gas money. It was pretty funny. But the cost of gas got to him, and he sold it and bought an Orange Datsun B2000. He really went the other way with that one. But it was a fun car and it kept Marc out of trouble because that car was incapable of spinning its tires. Throughout the many concerts Marc and I went to, the Orange Datsun served us well.

I am glad Marc and I reconnected 9 years ago at our 30th HS Reunion. When I walked in the function hall, he was there at registration waiting for me. We have kept in touch enough, but I wish we could hang out again. Now that my mom has bought a Condo in FL, where he is now, I will make that happen.

When I say that High School sucked, and I say that a lot, I need to remind myself of all the half-baked fun Marc and used to have. I need to focus on stuff like that more.

The mentor

In my last post I mentioned that my daughter took a bold step and has taken a job in the much-maligned field of Automotive Sales. While it may not be great for everyone, it can be a good job both financially and in job satisfaction. And as previously stated, if nothing else it will teach her about what she doesn’t want to do and that is always a good start.

She is not guaranteed to succeed. She will have to be able to maintain punctuality, positive attitude and a strong work ethic to survive in such an industry. Those are entirely up to her. She also must be able to learn; the product, the competition, the rules of the particular franchise, and very high on the list, people. In particular, a knowledge of how to manage the process through understanding the customer. In that area, she has an advantage: Me. I sold automobiles for a long time and everywhere I worked, you would find my name at the top of the Leader Board. I would love to show her what I know.

When I was a younger man, I worked as a Sales Manager for an Auto Auction. I had a untenable situation with an employee that drove me to leave. I had other offers on the table but I also had a non-compete agreement that stated I could not work at another auction for 3 months post-employment. I made a deal with another, larger company and told them that I would start in 3 months. I decided that I would try selling cars for a while. I always wanted to see how good I would be at it. I reached out to one of my Lexus dealers and started the following Monday.
I was an immediate success. My first month I sold 22 cars and finished 3rd in the dealership. I outsold 9 seasoned associates. My commissions were 3700.00. I was asked if I had a secret. I laughed. There wasn’t a secret. The less I sold the easier it was to sell. I knew from previous sales positions that what the customer is buying is you, the product is just that. There is no need to be slick, smooth, aggressive and talkative. There is a need for genuine, knowledgeable, helpful and to be a good listener. It’s the very opposite of what people think. Now I understand that these things don’t come easily to everyone. But they’re obtainable through hard work. You can’t learn to be slick, but you can be yourself.
Unless of course you are an asshole.
But I digress.
I entered the business knowing a lot about cars. I worked in the auction industry, and I was also raised by an absolute car nut. That worked well for me. But the customer of today is knowledgeable and there is a lot of competition. I learned everything I could about every vehicle that compared in price point and vehicle type and features. I could speak with actual knowledge about any vehicle my customer may have looked at already. That combined with connecting with the customer (getting them comfortable), understanding their buying motivation (necessity, future purchase, impulse), and just plain getting them to like me I knew that with all being equal (the cars) they will buy from the person they like.
It’s no secret. And I can teach my daughter all of these things. She’s a lot like me so she may already have it inside her.

I have always wanted to write about my career. This is a good place to start.

Glimmers of hope

My daughter is doing a little better. Although I think her mother would disagree with me on that. The big picture is that she has been struggling emotionally. Mostly with body issues and self-image. While I have not seen an official Diagnosis, we believe she has Anorexia. Which terrifies the living shit out of me. Her mother is terribly worried about her, as am I of course. But her mother chooses to lash out and dwell on her behavior as it affects her, while I choose to offer a kind ear, an open heart, and advice when solicited. We’ve had many discussions and we are clearly not on the same page about our youngest. I believe my ex-wife is quick to fatalism and slow to open herself up to the possibility that maybe she needs to suck it up a bit and tolerate the “acting out” and not make it about herself. That’s just her. A black and white type person who sees all of the bad.
Me, the Pollyanna ex-husband, I see glimpses of her improving and I choose to focus on that. While once dreadfully thin and refusing to eat, she is now eating. Not necessarily enough and it takes weed to give her an appetite, but for now she’s eating. As for her depression, she had the motivation to make changes in her life recently and with my experience in depression, any effort to improve one’s life is an improvement and a very good sign. With my support and that of her girlfriend (I guarantee that I just violated some law of pronouns, but Sar will forgive me because she knows that I like her a lot and mean well) she is doing well enough for me to see glimmers of hope. I have to see hope and authenticate it because my daughter means the Universe to me, and I will do absolutely anything for her to get better. One glimmer of hope, she got a new job.
Change is good.

I was pleasantly thrilled when she sent me a copy of her Indeed resume. She wanted my input. I liked it. For a person with a limited background (she’s 20 and all she has done so far is babysitting and retail) she described herself well. Soon after, she had an interview at a car dealership. The job description sounded like a “greeter” position but it turned out to be sales. I was pleased that she was not deterred by that. She saw the earning potential and knew that she had the personality for sales. Her mother thought it sounded awful, I don’t see the harm. Let her try it; worst case scenario she hates it and then knows what she doesn’t want to do with her life. Best case scenario she crushes it and learns to believe in herself. With a base salary plus commissions it is certainly worth a try. An additional bonus is that it is the type of dealership that the managers will do anything to help their associates so if she gets a customer interested they will make it happen for her. At least until she finds her way.
Sales is tough.
But she has an ace in the hole. Her Dad is a former legend in the business and I’m going to help train her.
She’s in orientation today, her first day and she likes it. Once she learns the company itself, the real training will begin.

I couldn’t be happier for her as she embarks on this new journey, and I hope that I can take it with her.

Mail

It occurred to me today as I was opening and responding to a series of emails that there was a day when we actually sent letters.

My Grandmother was a prolific letter writer. In addition to Christmas cards to all of her friends and family every year like clockwork, she also loved to sit down and narrate her life to her long address book full of contacts. I fondly remember her, at the small table in her tiny kitchen, with a stack of envelopes in front of her writing up a storm. She would tell all of her friends about the goings on with the family, write about me and my exploits (always the proud Grandma) and then wet the stamp with her little sponge in a tiny pool of water and drop them in the mailbox and raise the red flag. She received and sent letters and cards every single day.

Then she would wait. For days. The anticipation of getting a letter in return was one of her favorite things. While my memories may be incorrect, I think I listened with interest as she excitedly read to me the letters she had received. I may have not liked it, but I loved my grandmother so much I certainly made an effort. It meant everything to her.

Today, the only thing we wait days for is Amazon. And if you have Prime you don’t wait long. Correspondence is now instantaneous. Literally lightning fast. For those of us who knew a world before the internet it should give a nostalgic feeling. While I hated it when I was younger, I now see the value of delayed gratification as I plod through a world built around instant gratification. Instant gratification fades fast and is less pronounced compared to the feeling of sending a girlfriend a letter from Basic Training or from summer camp or whatever and then waiting patiently for a response. Once the response came you read it and reread it, sometimes it smelled like perfume and if I was really lucky there would be a picture with it. I carried the letter with me everywhere I went. It doesn’t feel the same as rereading an email on my phone or tablet.

I wish the world would just slow the hell down.

On Kindness

Kindness. Perhaps the greatest thing a person can offer, and it costs nothing. Yet the rewards can be staggering in scale. An appropriate comparison would be investing a single penny in the stock market and reaping millions.

I didn’t discover kindness. It’s always been around. It is an attribute, even a virtue that is contained within the umbrella of humanity. But as we continue to devolve into a world sadly lacking in humanity, I adopted it not as a simple virtue but instead as a lifestyle choice. My life has never been better since.

Many years ago, I was strolling through a local park, weighed down heavily by the events of my day. I saw an elderly man sitting on a bench tossing bits of stale bread to some ducks. I sat down on the opposite end of the bench and just watched for a little bit. Finally, I said hello to the gentleman. He didn’t say anything, his response was limited to a sideways glance and a nod. I didn’t pursue it; I watched the ducks (I love ducks) as they waddled and jockeyed for position to get more crumbs. I eventually stood up and as I walked past him, I stopped, turned to him and said, “I hope you have a nice day, sir.” and I walked off. He immediately responded, “you as well, young man.” I turned and smiled, and my smile was met with one in return. As I continued my stroll through the park I encountered an elderly woman walking towards me. Instead of making eye contact she had her head down and stared at the sidewalk as she approached. “Hello”, I said. I can only describe her reaction as startled. She greeted me in return as we passed. It occurred to me that nobody says hi to anyone anymore. It is lacking so badly that we actually are surprised and sadly, suspicious of others when they engage strangers.
My attitude has always been “A stranger is just a friend you have yet to make.” I know that I am definitely in the minority. And it makes me sad.

I have made a lot of changes in my life. It is a constant and evolving process. I have embarked on a journey with a very simple yet oddly elusive goal; to be able to look the man in the mirror eye to eye and like what I see. I avoided mirrors for a large chunk of my life. It was when I finally asked myself what do you want to be? that I got my answer. I wanted to be something the world needs more of. Not a captain of industry. Not a celebrity. Not a man of fame and fortune. I simply wanted to be a nice person. A man that, at his funeral, the reflections on the deceased were of deeds, gestures and amusing anecdotes and not of fortunes and successes. If I am remembered as a nice guy, I will have lived a good life.

It is possible to be nice and still be a person of accomplishment. By adopting kindness as a way of life, as an instrument of personal conduct, there really is no limit to what one can accomplish with a clean conscience as an added bonus. Accomplishment is not limited to the accumulation of wealth and power. Accomplishment is the satisfaction that your achievements were obtained without stomping on the necks of those who stood in your way. I was very successful; dare I say respected in the automotive finance industry because I chose to do my job with empathy, compassion and a benchmark of how people wanted to be treated. In an industry renowned for cheating and lying, my little corner of the industry was based on basic respect and kindness.

As I have endured epiphany after epiphany of late as I continue to incorporate kindness as a goal and a means of personal conduct. I worry about people, especially as the effects of COVID-based isolation begin to reveal their true damage. I worry that we are losing our humanity as a result of technology, multiple screens in particular. If we don’t put the “human” back in Humanity we are doomed as a people and no technology can change that. I don’t want to live in a world like that.

No one person can help everyone, but everyone can help one one person. And it all starts with just being nice. Say hi to someone. You might be the person who inspires them to have faith in humanity again. Just watch it snowball from there.

Kindness, put that shit on everything.

The transplant clinic

I had my monthly appointment at the Transplant clinic yesterday. I am now at 5 months tomorrow since my surgery. Just last month I was deemed fit to be seen just once a month. Given my commute time (2 hours each way) it was awful tough when I began my recovery to go there twice a week. I did that for a month. Driving 4 hours in excruciating pain was not fun. The second month I went down to once a week and then twice a month. I was pleased last month when they reduced it to monthly and I made it a point to thank my Doctor. He said, “Don’t thank me, you’re the one who is making it easy on yourself.”
“How’s that?”, I inquired.
“Because”, he said, “you are doing great, top 2% of all post-transplant patients at this stage.”
I told him that at 4 months I should think so. At that point I was back in the gym, detailing cars and working part time at another gig. Apparently, I am the exception according to my doctor who told me that, at 16 weeks most are still at the “bitching and moaning phase”, still in a lot of pain and struggling to follow instructions, and still quite in need of frequent check-ups. As imcomrehensible as that was to me, it gave me some relief to know that I was crushing it.

I looked around the waiting room as I waited to be called. I studied the patient’s in the room, optimistically looking for someone who looks like they’re doing well despite the battle they are fighting, the one I know all too well. It’s a true mixed bag of patients, both pre and post-transplant. On any given clinic day there are as many as 12 patients at a time being seen. It’s impossible to deny my people-watching inclinations and I take a lot of mental notes. What I noticed is that, with rare exceptions, the pre-transplant patients look a heluva lot rougher than I did before the surgery and the post-transplant patients, some having received their gifts many months or years before me, just don’t look very healthy. The lobby is cluttered with wheelchairs and walkers and these people look so very sick. It breaks my heart.

I can attribute my expedient return to thriving existence to a few advantages I suppose. I am a bit on the young end to have had 2 Kidney Transplants. Youth, even at 56 I am considered young, is always perceived as a benefit with regards to illness.
Another advantage is my ability to conceal my illness. Having been diagnosed at 17 I have had a lifetime to learn how to deal with this disease. If you have ever read me before, you will have no trouble understanding that “dealing with this” means that I have mastered how to not “look sick”. As soon as we had children, I became a Jedi master at hiding my symptoms. For better or for worse, it worked for me.
The last, and perhaps most important advantage is that I always prioritized my physical conditioning. Even at my sickest, during dialysis, I managed to exercise and keep my weight within range. By Range I mean the parameters set by my transplant team. If I was 40 pounds overweight when I got “the call” I would have been passed over. When I learned that, I knew that I always had to be ready to go. With both transplants, I entered the operating room at an ideal weight and in decent physical condition. Not only did I not look sick, and I was, but I also looked fit. To illustrate this point, when being prepped by the anesthesiologist, he remarked that he wasn’t expecting a guy that “looked like he could kick my ass” to be on the table. We had a good laugh. His was the last face I saw before I went under. I know I was smiling when the silly juice kicked in.
I’m on the other side now and I’m still smiling.

I wish more than anything that the other patients are able to push themselves to be the very best patient they can be. Some of them are very advanced and it is unlikely that they would be able to embark on the regimen I did. But there are also many who are just morbidly overweight and past the point that they can fix it now. Even if they know that they will likely be passed over if they didn’t. All I can point to is that I was able to do it and I’m not special. I just think ahead, and I naturally think of the worst-case scenario and I then over-think it. In this case all I thought about was being called and not being ready. That made me worry just enough to do something about it.

It gives me no joy to be at the top of the chart in recovery. That was just a plan coming together successfully. I wish that the other patients find the strength to get themselves ready when they get the call and enjoy the same gift of life that I have. I further hope that my fellow post-transplant patients have a plan to get well, to get strong and get back to living. From where I stand, and I have been there, until you commit to doing everything you are required to do with every ounce of strength in your body and mind, the thing called “good health” will continue to elude you.

At that point you are merely existing, not living.

My obligation

Have you ever encountered a person that needs help, but you have helped them many times before and you just can’t do it anymore? That is a question and a situation that I have been living for days and as simple as the answer is (at least on paper) I just can’t pull the trigger. I should walk away knowing that I have done way more than enough. A whole lot more than anyone I know. But I can’t. I took an obligation to never leave a poor or distressed Brother in need. I’m a Mason.

It started years ago. A former Master of my lodge and a good friend (in fact he is the reason I joined myt beloved fraternity) called me one night late and told me his car had been towed. He needed help. He had no money to get it out of impound. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t have the money. He had a job. Or so I thought. He was pulled over for having an expired sticker. The traffic stop would reveal that he was also driving an unregistered vehicle and with no insurance. Upon further questioning it got worse, I would learn that he was homeless, unemployed and owed a shit ton of back child support. His license was being pulled by the state. I brought it to the attention of a few brothers, and we got together to help him best we could. But nobody knew how bad off he really was, and we were now involved.

I’ll keep this brief. He was so deep in a hole that he dug. Not only had he lost his job, but he also wasn’t looking for another. He couldn’t bring himself to even apply for one. He had zero savings and to make it worse his family had disowned him. It was all way beyond our comprehension how that particular nugget could occur. The obvious question was “how had he been supporting himself” but we later learned that he had taken freeloading to the level of an art form. It was apparent that nobody in his life wanted to support him anymore and that any bridges he had ever crossed were now smoking embers.
So, we (and by that I mean me) set our sights on finding some temporary lodging for him.

I found a brother and mutual good friend who had a room to spare. The catch was that he wasn’t in a financial position to feed our brother so I decided that I would give him 300 bucks to cover his food for a month. We agreed and sat down our brother and explained that we were helping him with a place to stay, hoping that with the anxiety of where the next bed was going to being removed he could then focus on getting back on his feet.
It didn’t work that way. He sat on his ass and played with his phone for the first 2 weeks. They began to argue. My friend the host told him that any help he was getting was contingent upon him making an effort to improve his situation. To make it more fun they were both calling me complaining about the other. I washed my hands of it. I told my friend the host to do whatever he needed to do, up to and including kicking his ass out, and I told my down and out friend to smarten up and get his shit together. It ended badly. At the end of the month he was thrown out.

I kept up with him and continued to support him as I could. I paid for him to get a state issued ID so that he could work. I gave him some more money. 2 months later he dropped off of the face of the map and I washed my hands of it. The word was that he was living with a member of our lodge (Masonry is a strong bond) taking care of his sick wife in return for lodging. This would go on for 2 years. Last month his new host passed away unexpectedly and his wife, the one being cared for by my lost brother, passed away as well. When I heard, I reached out to him and asked him what his plan was. He didn’t have one. Despite being steadily housed for 2 years he still had no job, money or prospects. And he was rude as hell to me.
I was floored. I asked him why he would treat me like that and he ignored me. The urge to tell him to fuck a goat was strong but I took the high road. In a most conflicted way. Despite being outraged and feeling totally disrespected I still wanted to help him. So, I spent two days making calls.

As it turns out he had already been calling around to everyone who would answer. The word was out; take this guy in and he will never leave. Alan Harper of Two and a Half Men would be a lesser leech than my friend. Still, I persisted. I lobbied his new lodge (he quit ours for some reason, probably related to why he was rude to me but I don’t know what it was), for help. More than one person asked why I would do so, given the way he had treated me. Apparently, word had gotten out. I persisted until I knew he was warm and safe, his first day on the streets would be the day the Nor’easter hit last weekend. Long story short, he is housed for now.

I’m kicking myself and I’m not because I know that I’m not a sucker, I’m a Mason and we never turn our back on a brother in need. My obligation and personal compass doesn’t allow for personal animosities. I know I did the right thing and probably will continue to do so. I just have to remind myself why I am doing it.

The right thing is always the course of action to take. His actions reflect on him, not on me. I don’t want a thank you. Every good act I’ve ever done was without expectation of something in return. Believe it or not, it’s easier that way.

I am a Mason above all else…