Put the “Human” in Humanity

Humanity is a word. As with any other word, it lumps everything into one category. But our society is anything but one anything. We are wildly different in a myriad of ways. In this country in particular we are hopelessly divided. Politics and self-interest are everywhere. In many cases people are angry and hostile. I posted a meme about people hoarding supplies and one of my friends commented “Fucking Democrats” as a response. I told him that there is no room for that on my page, he’s a Freemason like myself. Inappropriate, unacceptable and unnecessary. But very common these days.

I was mortified…then inspired.

I re-watched Schindler’s List today.You may think it is an odd choice given its horrific content but it was exactly what I needed on a day otherwise filled with doom and gloom, stories of people behaving badly and charts showing rapidly spreading red spots on the maps of our country and the world. I needed a dose of Humanity. Is there a better movie or topic to remind us of what we are and what we can be if left to our own devices?

There a lot of people doing a lot of good things. People helping their neighbors, donating vital supplies to medical professionals, donating their time. But there are a lot of people behaving badly and they put me in the mood for a refresher.

Right now there are people with a 6 month to a year’s supply of toilet paper and disinfecting supplies. More milk and bread than they can ever consume. Vital supplies have been hoarded to “stock up” or sell at tremendous markups for personal gain. All while others, especially the elderly who aren’t fast enough to race in the store and strong enough to fight the mobs, go without. Many now have too much while others have none at all.

Enter Schindler’s List. A critical scene (one of many) is of a boy selling caramels in a crowd of people who are fairly aware that they are going to either die or suffer tremendously. The boy sells the tiny candies at a tremendous profit and one of the people remarks “What is he going to do with the money?”

Is it worth it to take a “Fuck everyone” mentality? Was it really the first instinct of a LOT of people to hoard and deny? Are we ok with the most vulnerable among us going without?

Bad situations bring out the best and the worst of us. Schindler’s List is a sobering and wonderful reminder of what we are capable of doing and also what we are capable of not doing. The German people were capable of being spectators as murder on a inconceivable scale occurred. The Jews were capable of banding together under horrific circumstances to save each other. If you have seen the movie there is a scene in which some women, pre-physical by the Nazi’s, cut their fingers and shared their blood to wipe on each others face to look healthy. To avoid execution. Some shared tiny hiding spaces in walls and floors.

And some didn’t

Some had room and turned people away. Many Jews sold their souls to save themselves. They took jobs to help the Nazi’s in the form of liaisons. Under the guise of “helping” with lists and other horrific housekeeping they were complicit in sending their own people to their deaths as they stood and watched. I always wondered how they lived with themselves. Even though I know the answer. When faced with terrible times, sometimes people make the wrong decision.

Oskar Schindler made the right one. He tried to help. He is an extreme example because he gave his actual everything to save as many people as he could but the fact is that he thought of others when he could have easily only thought of and protected himself.

I am as high risk as humanly possible in the face of this virus. I’m immunosuppressed and on dialysis. I shouldn’t even leave the house but I will if I find that there is someone who needs assistance in shopping, getting medications or other needs. My first instinct is of course to protect myself, but not so powerful as to forget other people. We’re not Democrats or Republicans. We’re not gay or straight. We’re not Millenials, Gen X or Z’ers. We’re not those who believe Pineapple belongs on pizza vs. those who don’t. We are all people and we have to come to one critical realization.

We’re all in this together.

Humanity. It’s not just a word. Let’s be human.

Reminders

This is part of an ongoing series called Graveyard Shift. It can be read alone or you can roll back in my archives and start from the beginning.

Sergeant Michael Valentine was stuck in traffic. He was supposed to meet his partner at 11. He didn’t have to punch in, he just hated to be late. Now, road construction, his tax dollars at work, was holding him up. He was getting antsy when it occurred to him that he was a cop, why didn’t he throw on the reds? Then he realized that the reds won’t help him through the oncoming traffic, it was one lane. He punched the steering wheel. Take a deep breath, he scolded himself.

He called his partner and told him he would be late and to meet at the coffee shop. It was a short walk for him and Mike could pick up both him and a decent cup of coffee. That being handled he focused again on the traffic, his Agita, and his anxiety. Cheryl loved to fuck with me when this happened. This was one of those moments that reminded him of his ex. When he had one of his “moments” of anxiety, impatience or intolerance it would always end up in a fight. Despite the conventional wisdom of leaving him alone and letting him work through it Cheryl always picked and prodded at him and made an otherwise small thing into a blowout. One that regrettable things were said, things you don’t forget. It’s bad enough that I’m wrapped tighter than an airport sandwich, do I have to think of her every time I get worked up? The traffic started to move. He could feel the tension in his chest ease a bit. He lit another cigarette and waved to the flagman as he drove by.

“Hop in” he said as he flung the passenger side door open. In came 2 paper cups of hot coffee immediately followed by his partner James “Jimmy” McInerney. Mike put the coffees in the cup holders and opened the tab on his.
“Extra cream extra sugar?” , he asked.
“It’s your friggin’ heart attack”, Jimmy replied.
“Spare me the commentary, dickhead. Jus’ asking. Coffee is all I have until I can have a drink.” He took a sip. Jimmy laughed.
“You don’t need either. The shape you’re in, you could donate your body to Science Fiction.”
“You’re right. And Fuck you”, Mike said as he tossed his spent cigarette out the cracked window.
They drove in silence, the hum of the tires as they drove down Main St. provided the filler for their silence. They focused on police work, scanning the crowded sidewalks for signs of trouble.

This was their routine every night, to cruise the main street containing the college bars looking for trouble makers. The establishments generally let out just as their shift started and if there was going to be a fight or some sort of mischief this was the time. Jimmy pointed across Mike’s chest.
“There.” He was pointing to a circle of young people. They were gathered around something hidden from their sight. Mike swung the Crown Vic into the opposite side of the street, threw on the lights and blew the siren. Several onlookers turned in response.
“Everything ok over here?” He called out through his open window.
“Yes, officer. Just a drunk girl.” As the circle opened up they saw a very intoxicated young woman sitting on the ground with a befuddled look on her face. Nobody was really helping her, they were treating her as a curiosity. She was clearly disoriented and in need of help.
“You go in and talk to the bartender. That young lady has clearly been overserved. Tell him I’ll shut them the fuck down if they’re not careful. I’ll take her home and swing back for you” Mike said.
“K”, Jimmy replied in his usual perfunctory manner and jumped out of the car.
Mike stepped out and the crowd scattered. A physically imposing guy of 6’2 and a reasonably muscular 250 pounds with a strong chin and a buzzcut, Sergeant Valentine didn’t need a badge and a gun to clear a crowd. He leaned in, spoke briefly to the young woman and helped her to her feet. As he helped her into the back seat of the car he turned to the crowd.
“Maybe next time someone can help out instead of standing around. What the hell is wrong with all of you?” he scolded the crowd. Not one of the bystanders dared to be indignant enough to defend themselves.
He leaned in to get the address of the young woman. Once done, he strapped her in and drove off in search of her dorm or housing. He considered, for a brief moment arresting her for Public Intoxication but he had a soft spot for the kids, especially the girls. They were, after all the same age as his daughter.

Graveyard Shift

The clock on the Microwave read 10:38 PM. That microwave is almost as old as me Mike mused. He stood up from the kitchen table, stubbed out his cigarette and put his coffee cup in the sink.
He was late for his shift. Goddamn Graveyard shift. Another night of dealing with the crazies, drunks and other dregs of society. He threw his holster over his shoulder and fastened the buckle. If all else fails him, his trusty 9MM never will. He grabbed the jacket off of the back of his chair and went to the door. As he opened it he heard the shuffle of feet in the kitchen. He turned and saw his daughter at the cupboard, she was getting a coffee mug.
“The water is still hot if you want the instant stuff.”
“No thanks”, she said. “I’ll use the Keurig.”
“You gotta have that Starbuck’s crap dontcha Sarah?” he chided.
“Leave me alone, Daddy. I’m too tired.”
“I’m just playin’ kid.” He looked at her intently. “You ok?” He was worried about her. Between his job and hers he never saw her. She didn’t look good.
“I’m fine. Just tired. I would worry about yourself if I was you, Dad. You look like shit.”
“Thanks”, he said. “I’m late. Let’s chisel out a spot of time that we can hang out. I miss you.” He couldn’t think of the last time he had spent any real time with her. Maybe it was Thanksgiving. Or Christmas. Who knew, time went by so fast lately. He dug into his breast pocket, pulled out a pack of Marlboro Reds and stuck one in his mouth. He lit it, exhaled and coughed. Goddamn things are going to kill me.
As if on cue Sarah said, “those things are going to kill you.” They both chuckled. “Got one for me?”
He begrudgingly reached into his shirt and tossed the pack to her. She took one and tossed the pack to him. She stared at him sarcastically for a moment until he realized why and tossed her the lighter.
“I’m late, kiddo. Gotta go. Love you.”
“You too, Dad. I’m going out soon.”
“Work or pleasure?, he asked.
“Out”, she said.
He knew nothing about her lately. Where she went, who she was hanging with. As a Police Sergeant in a college town of 45,000 people, his job had him pulling doubles, living on bad coffee, fast food and no sleep. Consequently, his relationship with his daughter had really suffered. He wasn’t even sure what she was doing for work right now. She had changed jobs so often. His lack of connection with her was haunting him and he didn’t see a break in sight. At least until the kids went home for the summer.
“Out. Ok then. Wherever that is, don’t have them call me.” They both chuckled. He went over to her and kissed her on the cheek. “Love you.”
“You too, Daddy.” She never looked up from her coffee.



the more things change…

Ever talk to someone and immediately know that they are full of shit?

Having had an eclectic career, I have had the luxury of meeting a lot of people and as much as I hate to say it some people can be put in neat little boxes based on only a first impression.

Most of my career was spent in some incarnation or other in the car business. Between the wholesale auctions and retail sales I accumulated a lot of connections and a lot of knowledge. In addition, and perhaps most important, I acquired a lot of wisdom, particularly in the areas of first impressions and knowing when to speak and when not to. Bottom line, you don’t know what someone knows and someone out there always knows more than you.

Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the automotive industry.

I was at the top of my profession in every venue of the car business. At the auction I was industry recognized and respected for my remarketing skills. I was regularly recruited to opine about market trends, valuations and often called on to execute the arduous task of changing a powerhouse customer’s expectations about what they think their inventory is worth vs its actual value.

In retail sales I was always at the top of the board in sales and customer satisfaction. I made it my business, while my colleagues were pacing the parking lot looking for victims or smoking cigarettes, to study the competition; learn what my product had/didn’t offer vs similar models; and know my own product inside and out. The guys who didn’t do so remained at the bottom of the board. In addition, I was the guy who was given the toughest of customers. The unruly and hostile or just the aggressive and unreasonable ones were immediately sent my way. One colleague called me “Magic Man”, after he saw me spin around a real hostile customer. I was also called the “anti-salesman” because I never lied, never pushed with cheesy lines and I always stayed calm and focused. The things I always did was learn who I was dealing with, never show my hand and, here is the big one, I never ever talked out of my ass ( for lack of a better term). Even as a senior manager of a auto finance company I never violated that policy. Again, there is always someone smarter. Once you’ve revealed yourself a fool there is absolutely no turning back.

Sadly, few people in the industry learned what I did. In the few times since I was forcibly retired, I have had the displeasure of buying a few cars. In the process of helping my mother buy her Escape, buying my motorcycle and my most recent car I have had only one good experience.

It was a good experience because I told the salesperson up front, as I did with the others, that I’m experienced in the business. ANY salesperson worth his salt who hears this will immediately treat you differently. By differently I mean that they will be more generous in appraising your trade (I know within 100 dollars what any trade is worth), in the first offer of price and in product knowledge. This salesperson simply asked me what I wanted, how much I wanted for my trade and how much I wanted to pay for the trade. Each of my numbers were readily accepted without the dreaded haggling process and it was smooth. Other than that it was mostly terrible in my other experiences.

I recently traded my truck in (I got a fair offer on my trade and the new vehicle) at a local dealership. It is a used vehicle and as shit happens it has an issue with the drive train that needed to be addressed. I told the service manager exactly what the problem was and I was correct. As I waited for my car to be evaluated I struck up a conversation with a bored salesman. He was an older gent, clearly at the end of his career, and I could tell by his desk that he wasn’t very organized. A messy desk tells customers a lot about their salesperson btw.

We got to talking. I asked him how sales were, what was hot and what wasn’t in the product line, etc. It wasn’t long before he recognized that I was an industry insider but instead of bringing his A game and not embarrassing himself he went the other direction and began talking directly out of his ass. I contained myself, not the first person to do this in front of me and I don’t point it out to them, I just pop some popcorn and dig in for the ride. Some of the things he said about the auctions immediately told me that his auction experience consisted of watching Barrett-Jackson on his sofa in his underwear.

Just as it was getting good and I was almost unable to contain my snicker he was called into the Sales Manager’s office where his manager proceeded to dress him down. Completely unrelated to our conversation, the best I can guess is that he had had a conversation with a customer that was laden with multiple errors, errors that the Sales Manager was forced to correct at great embarrassment to himself and the dealership. He gave it to the guy pretty good. I felt bad for the guy but I was hopeful that it may cause him to evaluate his habits and improve so that it never happened again but I suspect that at his age it won’t lead to change. I watched him leave the Sales Manager’s office with his tail between his legs. I felt bad for him and I didn’t. The manager wasn’t wrong in what he said. It was how he did it that bothered me.

The Sales Manager shouldn’t have dressed him down with the door open. I don’t care how small and claustrophobic his shitty little office was, the showroom was even smaller relatively speaking and he should have shut his door. Everyone heard this poor bastard get it. THAT is a major no-no for all involved.

In my many years in the biz, I spent most of them in a management capacity. Employee morale is everything and all positive morale stems from proper communication. Yelling is the biggest offense, tearing someone a new one in front of his colleagues is almost as bad. Every conversation with an employee has to have balance. For every thing you tell them they’re doing wrong you should try to tell them what they are doing right. And always behind closed doors.

This Sales Manager, who I enjoyed working with when I did my paperwork, showed a lot of others how not to do things and the lesson he “taught” his employee is forever overshadowed by the way he carried it out.

It’s not a new thing, the industry hasn’t changed much since I left it and I fear it never will.

Walls

He knew about her
He knew he would meet her someday
Time…he had

Someday came at last
in a room full of people
he was only watching her

She breezed through the room
a glass of wine in her hand
she glanced in his direction
not at him
but it didn’t matter

Something caught her amusement
her laugh was infectious
her smile went on for light years
who’s the lucky guy that gets to daily see
that smile that renders light unnecessary
to illuminate the room?

He would learn soon enough
when she leaned in to the man next to him
and wrapped her arms around his neck
“he’s a lucky man” he mused
and chased the disappointment out of his head

Days later the friend request came in
his heart fluttered a bit
“Don’t read into it” he said to deaf ears
but he was cautiously encouraged

When the message came in
he allowed himself to be encouraged
he had more questions than answers
but he patiently played along
was she just being friendly
or was it something more?

They became a nightly ritual
exchanging playful messages
through the banter and playful chat
it was going somewhere
she wanted to get to know him
he wanted the same
but needed to take it slow
this one was special

They were talking one night
in a rare moment of bravado
he went for it
“would you like to have dinner tomorrow?”
the silence was deafening
had he gone too far too soon?

He tried to pull it back
she went back and forth
he had pushed it
she declared herself an overthinker
one with walls
he again tried to pull it back
then she said yes
he hoped she wouldn’t change her mind

It had been so long
since he had been out with a woman
fortunately he needed to only wait one day

The night arrived
he was early
he was nervous
she chose the place

He opened doors for her
he listened to her
tried not talk too much about himself
she wanted to get to know him better
but it was he hanging on every word
one word in particular came up
a lot

walls

she said it often

walls
high ones
thick ones
someone had hurt her badly
she wasn’t afraid
fear is easy
she was just determined to see
that it never happened again

“Take it slow” he reminded himself
this one is worth it
he focused on her words
her body language
her amazing smile

She started to relax
maybe it was the wine
still, he stayed with the game plan
don’t push
don’t fish
listen to her

They talked like old friends
about what they wanted
and what they didn’t
she had a story to tell
but she wasn’t ready
walls

The walls were still up

They went for a drink
he was learning more about her
he asked a question he shouldn’t have
the dynamic changed
she pulled back
her face changed
he had pushed too hard
he mistakenly reached for her hand
she resisted

“I’m so sorry” he said
he didn’t know
that he was the first to ever ask her that
he vowed to not push her again
Walls

Soon, they were laughing again

The club was jumping
the music was loud
they got a table in the back
she wanted to dance
he was terrified at the prospect
but he would dance with this one

She got up
motioned for him to follow
he was hesitant
she went without him
he sat with fixed gaze


Even from that distance
she was the most beautiful one in the room
dancing alone
he went to her
He struggled with self-consciousness
but it mattered more to him
that he think of her happiness

The song changed and they sat down
on the same side of the booth
he pulled her close
surprisingly…she let him

Maybe it was the wine
he truly hoped it wasn’t
she put her head on his chest
her hands gently explored his body
She looked at him with sleepy eyes
“I want to go on vacation with you…”

It may have been the wine
but the idea of going away
of seeing this rare beauty
glistening under the sun on a exotic beach
took his breath away
still, he was cautious

He enjoyed the intimacy of the moment
as he stroked her hair
this feeling had eluded him for so long
he had forgotten its haunting effects
her head still on his chest
they talked about so many things
things that were beyond the evening
steps yet to be taken
getting ahead of themselves
but it felt right

walls had come down

at least for now

it has been a day since they said goodnight

he keeps reaching for his phone

to text her, to call her

to see if she is thinking of him

as much as he has of her

they had talked earlier

it didn’t satisfy him

he hopes to chat with her later

to obtain the answer

without simply asking…

Are the walls still up?

Even when he knows the answer

they need to come down on their own

but he can wait

she is definitely worth it

The man in the mirror

We live in a vain, narcissistic and selfie-obsessed world. We have all had to step around people blocking sidewalks and paths taking pictures of themselves. We all have that FB friend who posts pictures of every meal and of every stop they make. I know a woman who has no less than thousands of selfies on her phone, she is constantly picking up her phone and snapping a shot. The worse thing is she is over 40 and still making “duck” faces. Ladies, please. You need to know when you are too old to do that.

I never caught the selfie bug. I hate pictures of myself so I NEVER take selfies. In fact, I dive into bushes to avoid being photographed at all. Photos of me are rare because I just don’t like how I look and how I feel.

They’re like mirrors.

I don’t look at them either.

Mirrors are not a marvel of invention. It’s just glass, made from sand. Yet they wield an incredible power. They can force a person who looks into it to not see the whole picture but to only focus on the flaws. The most beautiful woman in the world could look in the mirror and immediately focus on a tiny birthmark on her forehead. And that birthmark troubles her, and brings on an insecurity so powerful that she is rendered unable to see her beauty.

Of course, there is another reason why one might not like mirrors. They just don’t like the person looking back at them.

I recently had lunch with a dear friend and the “man (or woman) in the mirror” came up. I haphazardly mentioned it in conversation and my she immediately teared up. Confused, I patiently waited for her to enlighten me as to the cause of her tears. As it turns out when she was younger (pre-puberty) she had Alopecia. Yup, at the age in which kids are the most cruel she was completely bald. This wonderful young lady, I have no reason to believe that she was any less wonderful then because she’s pretty damned amazing now, was so traumatized that she wouldn’t look in a mirror. I let her tell her tale of bullying and general harassment and let her compose herself. Once it was appropriate I offered up that I was speaking more about looking in the mirror and not liking the person you are.

“It was both” she said. The bullying made her not like herself. The bullies had done their damage.

She fortunately grew hair as a teenager but it wasn’t a magic elixir. The scars remain.

The tragedy is that her condition, and the subsequent bullying did far more damage than just mere insecurities about her appearance. It massively affected her entire self image, physical, psychological and emotional. To the point that she didn’t want to look in the mirror. She is mostly over it, but it’s still bubbling under the surface. 0

Despite having blogged about this topic before, our conversation made me revisit it.

For the longest time I made it a strict policy to not look at any reflective surface except the mirror while shaving. Partially due to a fear of a massive blood loss from a shaving cut, also that for the longest time I hated how I looked. All I saw was an overweight guy with several jowls, pale complexion and a flabby physique. I also knew that even if I was able to overcome all of those physical things, I still didn’t want to look at my reflection because I didn’t like who I was as a person. The same with photos, which I would rather dive into a shrubbery head first than be caught by the camera lense.

I believe, hell I know, that there are some seriously morally reprehensible people who have no problem looking at their reflection. I also know that there are plenty of people with physical flaws, some downright unattractive, that can look in the mirror effortlessly. I have never been either one of them. I envy them. I have always been blessed/cursed with a heightened self-awareness masquerading as a moral compass. I had the wonderful skill to be markedly aware that I was not on the right path morally and spiritually yet have no desire to work on it.

Until one day when I forced myself to stand there and take a good, hard look. I did an inventory of what I could change about my appearance and what I couldn’t. That was the easy part. The belly could be vanquished by better choices in food, a gym membership and a little self-discipline. The pasty complexion could be remedied by going outside instead of sleeping until noon. The sunken eyes, well a sharp reduction in my alcohol consumption was all that was required. The receding hairline and bad teeth, well I would just have to live with those. Again, as hard as it was for a person who wrapped in a towel as I passed a mirror after showering, it was still the easy part. Liking the guy that I did see as a person proved to be far more difficult.

Self-examination, if done properly, requires a keen and unflinching eye and you need a goal. You have to be a Forensic Accountant to do it right, for the inevitable outcome is that you are going to find things that have to be brought to the boss’s attention regardless of how well they are going to be received. When I turned my powers of observation on myself I found out more than I wanted and not much of it was good. But I was determined to do a deep dive and really, for once and for all, improve myself and be the person I wanted to be. It was exactly as hard as I thought it would be. But through brutal honesty and an unflinching eye I learned what I had to do.

My behavior, my attitude, my sense of self, my humor and my relationships with those close to me all needed a veritable shitload of work. It started with my children. I stopped fighting with them and reminded myself that I’m supposed to be the adult in the room. I stopped fighting with my wife because I’d have more luck wrestling a spoon from a fat lady at the Cheesecake Factory than I would winning an argument or changing a viewpoint with her. I started being nicer in general to everybody. I became a better listener. I had known all of these things were my Achilles heel and once I started I did it all at once. But it wasn’t until I got really sick and hit rock bottom (around the time that I started this blog) that it all fell into place. No longer the driving force that I once was in my children’s life that I was; no longer the “go-to” indispensable man at work; no longer the breadwinner and backbone of my family I realized that I would have to find a new purpose. I am happy to report that life showed it to me in due time. I have been willingly forced into a life of altruism; volunteerism, charity, Freemasonry and part-time impromptu amateur motivational speaker. I even occasionally serve as an inspiration to someone who thought that they hit rock bottom. Until they heard my story.

I almost like who I have become with a few minor exceptions.

My friend that I had lunch with did have difficulty finally staring at her own image and accepting what she saw. At the end of the day she realized that those cruel, heartless pricks that made her feel bad about herself didn’t have any power over her except the insults. They didn’t know her, the person she would become and how awesome she is. She is now a happily married, independently successful businesswoman and an amazing, funny and caring person. She wins. But nevertheless, she still had to deal with both issues I have spoken of, not liking her reflection over the physical and the emotional.

Me, I had a longer journey than she did, but I got there. The same way we all make major steps forward.

I waited until I couldn’t any longer.