Fallen Idols

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I always thought that losing an icon was a terrible thing. I sadly remember that stretch in 2016 when several musicians and actors that dominated the formative years of my life started dropping like flies. FB was flooded with people my age imploring God and the Universe to stop taking our idols. Prince, David Bowie, William “Father Mulcahy” Christopher, Gene Wilder, John Glenn, Arnold Palmer, Dan “Grizzly Adams” Haggerty, Muhammad Ali, the list is so terribly long and sad. But they all left a happy memory with me if not a reminder that life is fleeting and I am getting older. I always could reflect on their impact on my life and smile. It’s not the worst thing in life.

The worst thing is actually finding out that someone you looked up to is not the person you thought they were.

I had the pleasure of being great friends with a guy who was the son of a professional basketball player. A Boston Celtic, the replacement for the great Bill Russell, Mr. Hank aka “High Henry” Finkel. My friend had grown up in an affluent neighborhood North of Boston populated by many famous Bruins, Red Sox, Patriots, and Celtics players and he knew all of them and their kids.

When I first met him, I was enamored by his childhood friends and I prodded him constantly for info on them. I am not a celebrity chaser at all, I just wanted to know more about some players that I grew up idolizing. In particular was a certain baseball player, an absolute legend from the 70’s and 80’s that my Dad and I practically bonded over when I was a kid. My friend told me, actually warned me first, that I wouldn’t like what he had to tell me. I insisted. He told me a harrowing tale of a guy who smiled for the cameras and the fans but mercilessly beat his wife and children on occasion…losing streaks in particular. I was crushed when I heard this, as an adult mind you, that an icon of my youth was a great ball player, but a very bad man. Not one for hindsight, I’m pretty sure that I wish I had never learned this.

We live in the information age, as the saying goes. I contend that in some cases there is such a thing as too much information. I stop short of wishing for ignorance but I can think of so many instances where “new information” or “old family secrets” have destroyed a person that at one time gave me a warm and fuzzy. From the late Uncle that you just learned cheated on your beloved Aunt, to the knowledge that a young President that used to reign over the empire of “Camelot” was actually a pill-popping whore-monger, the list is almost endless and equally sad.

The job of role-model is a barnacle on the hull of celebrity. To be fair, other than elected officials, it is unrealistic to expect actors, athletes, musicians, etc., to be anything more than human. They’re really just people like you and I. I fondly remember the scene in a Bronx Tale, where Sonny challenges young “C” on his idolization of Mickey Mantle. “Does he pay your rent? No, he’s just a regular guy. What’s he do for you?” The boy was disillusioned, but it was the day he realized an important truth. That Mickey Mantle was just a ballplayer.

But OJ Simpson was just a football player…and he almost divided the country in half. And cost me a friendship.

I used to go to the same Barber Shop every Tuesday in the 90’s. I had hair back then. I was good friends with the Barber. Every haircut consisted of small talk and I would always find myself drawn to his wedding picture on the mantle before me. The tall, thin white guy with the pretty African American Wife. I never thought twice about him being married to a black woman. Then the OJ trial happened, and you can only imagine that Barber Shops across the country buzzed about it for months. One day, as the trial was close to an end, my Barber and I became engaged in the conversation as well. I offered up, in my own informed opinion, that I thought OJ was guilty. The room got colder than my ex-wife’s side of the bed. My haircut was over and I was asked to leave. I resisted, asking my friend why he was acting this way, and he said “You know my situation! How can I interact with you now?” I was stunned. I asked him:

“By situation…do you mean that because your wife is black then you have to support OJ? That’s preposterous!”

“Well, you believe he’s guilty because he’s black, don’t you?” How do you argue with that kind of logic? I paid for my haircut and I haven’t seen him since. I guess I’m a racist. My real takeaway is that many in the black community couldn’t accept that such a positive role model as OJ could be guilty of such a crime and their disappointment had morphed into anger and denial.

Facts:

I was disgusted when I heard that Bing Crosby beat his kids.
I was bothered when Eddie Murphy got busted with a tranny prostitute.
I was let down when I found out that our founding fathers owned slaves.
I was pissed when I learned Obama went to a church led by an America-hating minister.
I was disappointed when Mark Maguire and Barry Bonds did Steroids.
I was horrified when Michael Richards went on a racial tirade onstage.
I was shocked when Mel Gibson went off on an anti-Semitic public rant.
I was embarrassed when our president was caught on tape talking like a frat-boy about molesting women.
But at the end of the day, It’s just the new norm. People are not what they seem and they probably never were. The latest and perhaps most disappointing entry of late is Mr. Bill Cosby.

Bill Cosby is a unique story. He was a role model to millions of people regardless of skin pigmentation. He didn’t fall into being a role model, he set the framework. He kept it clean, he worked with children, created positive Television programming, spun wonderful yarns of his beloved wife Camile and his flawed but great kids. He did cable comedy and only swore once. He even defied stereotypes and created a hit TV show about a powerful, affluent power couple with a bunch of kids. His superpower was solving any major issue in 22 minutes once a week. A true icon, I admit I looked up to him.

Today, I just looked at him as he did the “perp-walk” from court after being convicted on all charges of sexual assault on a multitude of female victims. Yup, good ole Dr. Huxtable was dropping Mickey’s in their drinks and then slipping them his famous “Pudding Pop”. Another disgraced icon to contend with. A younger me may be disappointed or disillusioned, but this me is not. He’s just a man. A flawed man. A ruined man. My only disappointment is that I allowed myself to look up to him.

Nothing surprises me anymore. In this age of endless information and instant gratification, I can’t even control what I know about people. My real role models have always been the non-famous among us; the great teachers, hard-working parents, and broke philanthropists who volunteer their time and energy to bettering the world. Celebrity is a height that can only lead to a long fall and a painful landing. My advice, keep your feet planted firmly on the ground secure in the knowledge that if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

the other shoe

If you have been following me recently you will know that I have been doing some part-time work for a friend. It has been an overall good experience for me. In addition to having a little bit of money to play with it has also given my ego, in particular, that section that controls not feeling like a useless piece of shit, a boost. I would like to say that it has been an awesome experience but there a few downsides. For starters, it is 2 1/2 to 3 hours away depending on traffic. It is not without expense, it is at least a tank of gas plus food for 2 days which cuts into the overall “worthwhile” of it. It also requires that I stay with my friend who works there also for up to 2 nights a week. He and his wife are the ones who offered it in the first place, making this even possible and claim they enjoy the company but I feel like a burden. That’s the way I’m wired. I’m not paranoid, but I know that when I watch football and the players are in a huddle…yeah they’re talking about me.
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I also haven’t gotten too excited because let’s face it, I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I fully expected a wrinkle and it came the week before last.

As I was leaving on Thursday I checked in with my friend and boss to let him know that I was leaving for the week. He turned to me and asked me to close his office door. Here we go, I thought, the other shoe.

“You’re getting expensive,” he said. “I want to help you out but I really don’t have it in the budget right now”. He looked upset, I knew that he was genuinely conflicted. I never actually considered this to be any more than a “we’ll see how long it lasts” scenario I played it cool. But inside I was a little miffed. I wanted to explain what I’ve been working on, the contribution I’ve made and the slew of compliments his CFO has given me. But I stopped myself.  Instead, I told him that I would only be available on Monday the following (last) week. I politely told him that if he doesn’t need me, just tell me and I’ll be ok. We left it that we would talk about it Monday. I managed to successfully leave his office without reverting to the old me.

The old me would have been reactionary, upset, filled with a sense of dread and lament wrong decisions made…both real and imaginary. That was when I was a slave to a -paycheck, in fear of harming my family, forced to “suck-it-up” for the benefit of others. I’m not that guy anymore because I don’t have that situation anymore. The new me doesn’t need the job, I just like the job. By choice or otherwise, I am now in a position where I can choose what I do for money and if it doesn’t work out I will find something. The bar is set pretty low but I it is oddly liberating.

I am also blazing a new trail in that I am using my knowledge of reading people. I know that Ben is happy with what I’ve been doing and he likes having me around. I know him enough to know that he can get creative if he wants in how he compensates me.

It also occurred to me that my work has and will speak for itself. I know, not think, that I have found a niche and have worked on an area of his business, with some solid success, that he didn’t even know he needed. He knows it now. So last Monday morning, early, I called him and told him that I wouldn’t be in. 6 hours of driving for 1 day was just silly. He understood. I sat back this week to see what would develop.

As of Friday morning, I had received 3 emails from the CFO and 2 texts from Ben asking me when I was available to come in this coming week. I simply responded Why, do you need me?

It seems he does.

Job and pride both intact, I think I like how the new me handled this one.

 

 

Acceptance

I want to thank those of you that read and interacted with me on my recent “you don’t look sick” series. The series started out as my take on having a condition but not allowing it to define me. I allowed it to morph into my telling that basic story that has pervaded my entire blog but in greater detail. In a sense, I told my whole story.

I reviewed the series this morning, fearful that I had painted too vague a picture and not stayed on point. All in all, I think I said what I wanted to say and stayed on point. I also read the comments and it was then that I realized that I had left something out. Considering that I read Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in High School when two of my best friends died in a fiery car crash I should have recognized that I left out Acceptance.

When I began this blog I was at a low point. The title itself, Superman can’t find a phone booth, was conceived in a hospital bed and suggests the futility of being once-powerful and now without an outlet. As my blogging journey progressed I began to come to grips with my homelessness, financial situation, relationship with my children, deteriorating marriage and place in the world. The one thing I did not embrace was the obvious-to-everyone-but-me fact that my illness was not to be ignored anymore. No amount of positive thinking, Tony Robbins podcasts or denial was going to make me better.

I speak often of the fearless, forge-ahead at all costs attitude that I was able to maintain for so many years. I still maintain that it was the right thing to do. I managed to keep my family worrying about me to a minimum and it allowed me to work for as long as I could. But, I always rejected the notion that it was denial. I joked about it when confronted with it, spinning it back on my detractors with its success rate. Hell, even my doctors begrudgingly admitted that it worked for me. But only recently, perhaps it was today when reading the comments of some bloggers who are “in the know”, it occurred to me that I have moved past the denial phase and have achieved Acceptance. This is a bittersweet step for me.

I can accept that my condition will not go away if I ignore it. But I’ve never really allowed myself to think openly and honestly at what the future holds, even though I know. Years of Dialysis, a possibility of another transplant and a hope for a cure. Without my denial, will I resign myself to this path or fight it?

I can accept that I may never work full-time again. This kills me. But my recent dabble in part-time work, albeit fun, has taken a physical toll. I don’t think it’s a matter of conditioning, my body really can’t take it. Consequently, I have to accept that 2 days of work requires two days of recovery.

I can even accept that I will likely live in my mother’s house until the day I die. It’s technically mine, she is leaving it to me, and she will outlive me anyway so I’m getting my inheritance now.

What I am having difficulty accepting is how lousy I have felt and the lack of breaks between symptomatic episodes. I have always had “flare-ups” of gout, edema, cramping and other fun little side effects of kidney disease. But they passed and I would experience a period of relatively good health. Since this past summer, it has been something almost every day. For a while, I was hopeful that I would improve, be relatively symptom-free and look to the day when I can resume some of my favorite activities; biking, hiking, weight lifting, basketball. Today, as I have spent most of the day on the sofa because my blood pressure is dangerously high, I am lightheaded and dizzy when I stand up and extremely listless and unambitious after a busy, but not that busy day yesterday. I am down, and I never, ever get down.

I don’t know if I can accept that a mere 3 years ago I was playing basketball with teenagers, yet my shoes are now collecting dust.
That I was a part of a mountain bikers group that became great friends but now my bike is sitting sadly in the corner of my garage.
That I was at the gym 4 days a week, moving weight and feeling strong. Lately dragging my ass out of bed counts as Cardio.

Fortunately, I do accept that I will never completely give up. I keep the bike and the shoes not to torture myself but as a reminder of what feeling good feels like. In the event that things turn around, or dare I hope for a medical advance of some kind(?) that these things will be at my disposal again.

I’ve never mixed hope and realism before. So far I can tolerate the taste. It’s not the same type of relationship as giving up and accepting.

A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do

“Hey, I need to talk to you, it’s important. Got a minute?” It was Jay, one of my best customers. Normally a pretty light-hearted guy, he sounded pretty serious.

“Sure, what’s up. Everything OK with the account?” I asked

“Yeah, we’re great. You’re great. Your rep Tracy…not so much.” Tracy, my renegade sales rep from Hell. My Achilles heel, the Red-headed Satan, the turd in my punch bowl. What did she do now? I composed myself and asked what happened with Tracy.

“She just gave me a lengthy seminar on how to beat you out of fees and get a better deal. I feel dirty. You treat me great and my account isn’t in danger. Why did she do that?” He proceeded to tell me how my sales rep, working an account that I brought with me, given to her to maintain it and paid her on it when she didn’t really earn it, had decided to “boost” the account by undermining me and offering him a “better deal” which he didn’t need, didn’t ask for and she wasn’t authorized to offer. I listened intently as he wrapped it up and asked me to see that she never goes into his store again. I agreed and let him get off of the phone. I was beside myself.

Tracy was always a problem. When this auction had recruited me they were interested in my book of business, my proven ability to grow sales and to lead their sales team. What they did not tell me, until my first day, that I was chiefly responsible for reigning in a “renegade” employee who had been dancing on the brink of insubordination for years but they did not have enough to fire her. Tracy. So it was up to me to control her or find a way to cleanly get rid of her. Of course, the Superman in me wanted to save the day so I tried working with her. I was her manager, she would answer to me, but I would give her every opportunity to present her ideas.

For a while, it worked well. She seemed to accept me and followed my direction. As a hands-on manager we would speak several times per day and before long she was calling me with the results of a sales call or for advice. We butted heads a little bit but I was helping her make money. I threw her a few accounts to maintain. They were free money for her. I had brought the accounts with me but I didn’t have time to work on them. It made sense. Then I caught her in her first lie.

After the sale one day she submitted her commission report. I saw that she was submitting to be paid on an account that I knew for a fact she had not earned. This customer had called me the previous Monday asking to do business with me. So I asked her for some backup; notes in the system, the nature of the conversation in which he committed business, his name, and title. She could provide none of it. I drew a line through it on her sheet and warned her to never try that again. She stormed out. It was on. I wrote her up the next day. At this company, three offenses for the same thing and you are out.

I would get her one more time for the same type of infraction. She was so greedy her judgment was compromised. Customers began to complain to me about her, her inability to take no for an answer, her constant visits and phone calls and her poor service. I spent more time with her, to try to help her, to make her see what she was doing wrong. She pushed me away. She was losing customers and the ones she did keep she squeezed for more. Enter Jay, remember Jay?

Jay was the 3rd generation owner of a small Chevy dealer in Central Massachusetts. His family had never used auctions. I visited Jay often, convinced him to try it, took great care of his needs and he became a regular. When I left that auction for another, his business followed me. He was a loyal customer, a solid account, and a friend. What would motivate her, knowing this story because I told her, to take it upon herself and undermine me? Her offer of lower fees was negligible, he was getting a great deal and had no problem with us making a small margin. He was also an old-fashioned guy, he couldn’t understand how my employee would do such a thing. It was a very big deal. It was also the third strike. I wrote her up again.

The next morning I called her to review her game plan but she didn’t answer. When I walked in I saw her in the GM’s office. She made eye contact through the window then looked away. She was in there for a while. I knew something was up but I waited. Not long after, I was summoned to the GM’s office. She was nowhere to be seen. The GM and AGM asked me to sit down.

I was told that Tracy had called corporate HR and filed a harassment claim against mejjj-2018. Professional Harassment. By writing her up, completely by the book I might add, she claimed that I had created a hostile work environment for her. I asked my managers if they read my report. They had. I asked them if they remembered hiring me to do just that…control or get rid of her? They had. I slumped in my chair, exasperated, and asked what is happening.

They were not as committed to the task at hand as I was. I did my job, I cleaned up the department and made everything equitable and honest. And they were bowing down to her. She had demanded that she does not have to interact with me at all, that I was to have no input on her performance. I vehemently objected. I’m her manager, how is that supposed to work? They were firm in their chickenshit resolve, I was given an ultimatum (#JusJoJan)https://lindaghill.com/2017/12/27/what-is-just-jot-it-january-2018-rules/. Accept those terms or resign, turn in my company phone, laptop and car and I will get 6 months salary.

“You mean hush money right?”

“Don’t be like that” said my manager

“You know this is bullshit right?” He tried to keep a stern look, but I knew he agreed.

“We’ll give you an hour to decide.”

“I’ve already decided. Shove your phone, laptop, and car up her ass because I won’t work like that. You may have lost your balls but mine work just fine. I’m going to clean out my office. Which one of you is driving me home?” I walked out.

In many ways, I made a big mistake that day. I would struggle financially for a while and my wife was less than pleased. She didn’t share my righteous indignation and didn’t recognize how hard it is to look wrong in the face every day. It wasn’t about pride. I took a stand. For better or for worse I did what I felt was right.

It took her ten more years, but Tracy was finally caught stealing and was fired. They actually asked me to come back. They even admitted that I was railroaded. I told them that I was not interested in working for people that failed to support me when I needed them the most.

After all, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.

 

Ego, Omelette’s and getting along

I had the pleasure of doing a charity breakfast Saturday morning. It is one of the commitments I always make sure to keep each year. It is a combined effort between a local church and my Masonic lodge. It is a Santa Breakfast where families come for a nice breakfast and a picture with Santa Clause. I have worked the Omelette station for the last 3 years.

I have fun cooking, joking with the kids, messing with the parents and I meet new people every year. I really enjoy it, and I was asked back after the first year due to my entertainment value. Omelette stations are like fireworks. For some reason, people can’t get enough of watching someone make one. People “ooooh” and “aaaaahhh” as it develops. They want to talk about it with you, tell you how they “could never do it” and “would end up with scrambled eggs.” Some even ask if they can watch, as if I would send them away until it’s ready. It is so incredibly easy for me, I have over 20 years of cooking experience. A saute’ pan is like an extension of my right arm. Which enables me to “bring it” on the big finale…the flip. It is so easy to do but people love it.

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This year my usual partner in eggs didn’t make it. I was asked to work with the Minister’s son. Eli is a tall, smart, good-looking kid who claimed to know how to make an omelette. He made the first one for a lovely old woman and she was delighted. He was very pleased with himself. I thought it was awful. Not in a mean way but he could do so much better. Then came my turn to make one. When I was done, flip and all, I realized that I was being watched by a whole bunch of people. Eli looked at me and said: “I want mine to look like that”. I showed him by walking him through the next 2 that he made. They were better but not good. Finally, he said, “I like making them my way.” I assured him that it was fine. It’s a church breakfast, who cares. Then I saw a chance for a teachable moment.

“Eli, at 21 have you learned everything you are going to learn? Or are you going to be open to new ideas? Because every day that you are not learning something from someone is a wasted day.” He smiled and silently acknowledged that I was right.

The next few were a collaboration and he picked it up fast. We also had fun doing it. By the end of the breakfast he was putting out some nice looking and tasty food, and he was smiling. He even pulled off “the flip” a few times. At the end of the breakfast, his Dad Kevin came over and told Eli how well he did. Eli punched me in the arm and said: “I owe it to the master here”. After Kevin left I said: “you had a little ego at first didn’t you?”

“Yup.”

“But when you put it aside you learned something right?”

“I sure did, and I’m glad that I met you today.”

“Eli, the pleasure was all mine.”

Ego is in all of us. I maintain that it is as ugly and destructive, and green, as envy. Most of us keep it largely in check, only allowing it to rear its ugly head when our fragility is truly challenged. It comes out at small moments and places as well, like an omelette station. My ego wanted me to make every omelette, to not share the job, to have all of the accolades to myself. But I didn’t, I told the ugly side of me to stay inside and let me handle it.

Ego is not the same as pride. Flashback twenty years. I was driving around town in my convertible mustang with some friends and some jerk I didn’t know pulled up next to me and started making fun of my car. Not me personally, just my car. My friends started jawing with his friends and at the next light, we pulled into the parking lot of a local watering hole.

The way that the kid got out of his car suggested that a fight was pending. He took off his shirt and removed all doubt. Then, comically, he took off his shoes. The door to the bar opened and the people spilled out into the parking lot. I removed my shirt, to his apparent shock I was in a hell of a lot better shape than he was and a lot bigger. I left my shoes on. I saw the look on his face and he quickly caught himself and put his tough guy face on again. My friends were ready but didn’t engage and I became aware that I was to be the one to fight this kid. I didn’t want to but there was a lot of pressure and a lot of eyes on me. I knew that if it got bad I would have back up so I walked, shirtless and determined, towards my nameless foe.

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We squared off. He was talking some kind of smack, I still didn’t even know why he wanted to fight me, but here we were. I circled in a defensive posture, sizing him up for how many skills he might possess. He looked scared and a little drunk. Finally, he made the mistake of telling me in a loud voice, for the crowd’s benefit, that he was going to “kick my ass.”

Again, I didn’t want to fight this kid. I hated fighting. But my ego, or my pride, sure wanted a piece of this kid. Then I heard my dad’s voice in my ear, his familiar saying resonating if you punch an asshole in the mouth he’s still an asshole. I dropped my fists and said “I have a better idea. Why don’t you put your fists down, your shoes on and let’s have a beer instead.”

“You don’t want to fight?” he asked. Looking around for a reaction from the crowd.

“I can, but do I have to?” He shook his head. I watched him put his clothes back on, I buttoned my shirt and nodded towards the door of the pub. We, and our thankful friends parted a sea of disappointed bar patrons and drank for 2 hours. I didn’t make a friend that night but I avoided making an enemy.

I went home that night with my ego in check, and my pride intact.