Friday, June 12, 2015

One Thousand Gratitudes, Part XXII: 475-451

Hello, again and thank you for coming back.


Four Hundred Seventy-Five: the lesson behind the phrase “It’s business.”

      I work in sales and by “work in sales” I mean I get paid, in a sense, to beat the competition.

      I can’t imagine a scenario -- in my job or in any other like it -- where the proverbial clean sweep can be achieved. Too many moving pieces, too many missed opportunities, and too many overall variables prohibit it.

      I wake -- as my colleagues and competitors do -- every morning, though, and focus on my best circumstance(s) to take cases from the other guys. Or in some scenarios, my aim centers on keeping my cases protected.

      I attack each morning, each afternoon, each week, each month, and each period with the same objective: growing my business and feeding my family. Never does the day provide enough hours. Seldom do successes come with the desired swiftness. The thing is a grind and the grind is the thing. With so many pieces in flux, one constant rains down on the ears of those of us on the streets: “It’s business.”

      Truth resides in that phrase. Truth rings out from it and sometimes truth hides inside of it.

      In my line of work, I work for the industry leader. My company has always had that title and if I could look into a crystal ball I would see a fortune that told of how that would never change. I work for the industry leader because my company hires the best people, holds the highest product-standards, and provides the best service. I know this because I have been a customer of my company’s just as I have been a customer of its competitors. My company has economic transparency and a commitment to safety. The other guys do not.

      By no stretch does this indicate that we operate with perfection. To the contrary in fact. We have glitches in our systems. We lag in software. We err.

      Since my company has been around the longest and has been number one for so many years, this means that we have not pleased every customer. In fact we have outright pissed off more than I know. The fact remains, though, that every competitor out there exists as a knockoff of sorts and in some cases they have made their name by attacking one or more of our deficiencies.

      This has created a trend of sorts and that trend means one thing: By choosing our (largest competitor) you’re not choosing us, which certain niches of the customer base have embraced. Because of this trend and because of sundry other reasons, our competitor has seen success. It doesn’t matter how you slice it, though. It’s all going to come back to that favorite phrase: “It’s business.”

      When I met with my boss for my first performance review, he highlighted my strengths and my areas for improvement.

      “You’ve got to have a thicker skin,” he said.

      I’ve tried to keep that in my mind, but when the precious seconds of the minutes tick away and your plan for growth and your efforts to correct mistakes all but consume you, it can be hard to remember that, in most cases, customer choices aren’t personal.

      In some, however, they are, and this was the case for me in January 2014 when a friend of my wife’s entered my customer base. This friend had a partner with industry experience and they’d dabbled in the idea of said customer-base entry for years, even to the extent of attempting to lure me into one of their key positions by having my wife and I over for a home-cooked meal, wherein plans and ideas were shared.

      When their endeavor saw real daylight, the idea of using me and my company was all but discarded with phrases like, “If we were to ever use you” and “We’ll keep you in the loop.”

      As they broke ground I showed them some of our services, and bucking the trend of many of their niche-industry counterparts, they went with me, and for 15 months I worked my tail off for them, more often than not to the tune of no compensation.

      I did it because I was hungry. I did it because I supported their endeavor. I did it because of the relationship, and I did it on blind faith that one day my hard work for them might pay off.

      Then, hiding behind the sneaky phone call of one wife to another, they announced they planned to quit me. I tried to give the partner the opportunity to tell me face to face, but he either could not or would not without his wife present. I asked them not to. I told them their chief complaint could be addressed. I all but begged for them not to leave me, but I could see it on their faces that the decision had been made.

      In a final fit of cowardice, the partner avoided my outreach then delivered the darting correspondence that can be called only one thing: a lie.

      At the end of their list of straw-grasping reasons and false claims came the token catchphrase we’ve all come to be familiar with: “It’s business.”

      I’ve heard the warning about not doing business with friends and I’ve ignored it and seldom have I not suffered as a result of my arrogance. In this case, I presumed there to be a buffer. I presumed that the quote/unquote friendship resembled some sort of tertiary field that separated me and the partners’ endeavor. I thought we could do business on the basis of supporting one another. I thought we would develop a partnership. I thought we might enjoy success together. I dreamed of being their best representative.

      In the end I learned that I had to learn the lesson through ignorance, too, before it would register with conviction.

      I learned it alright and my family’s learning it along with me now. This transgression took place over a month ago, and I’m still recovering from it. Unfortunately my wife has probably had the worst of it since she has to hear about it from me and play along with her friend like nothing happened, like it didn’t matter, like the whole thing was layered in irrelevance.

      My struggle is taking a gratitude away from the experience. I suppose it has something to do with keeping my guard up and recognizing the transparency in words and in people. I suppose it means facing the cold reality that nobody gives a shit about you and yours, especially if it means -- or worse: feigns -- the protection of their own.

Four Hundred Seventy-Four: the descent of a friend’s health and my obvious choice to learn from it
      I have a family friend I’ve known for 30 years. His body has told him that, sans change, he will cease to live. I can’t say anything more about it. The simplicity of the message resonates.

Four Hundred Seventy-Three: knowing “Bron-Yr-Aur” was written for me

      In July 1970 Jimmy Page wrote this song. Led Zeppelin III lists it as an outtake. Fifty-six months later it saw the light of day as track eight on Physical Graffiti, the band’s sixth studio release. I’d just been born two months prior. Page wrote it for the yet-to-be-conceived biggest fan the band would ever know and then, it the chilly winter of ’75 the gang let loose with the cut, knowing that I had entered the world.

      True story.

      Google it if you must.

Four Hundred Seventy-Two: being able to lie on the Internet and quasi-get-away-with-it

      Start a blog if you don’t believe me. Nobody reads that shit. You can lie all day. You’re your own audience of one. Symptoms may include severe depression, but who gives a damn? You be publishin’!

Four Hundred Seventy-One: unnamed friend #27

      Where to start with this guy…

      Here: I’ve never met a dude more in tune with the needs and wants of others.

      I’ve never had a buddy so crisp in the recall of the things going on in people’s lives. I’ve never met a guy so generous in gesture, so flexible in motive, so eager to seek the best for his comrades.

      I’ve never had a buddy be so positive in every walk of life.

      I’ve never had a buddy so daring and I’ve never had a buddy so fascinating.

      I’ve never had a buddy I could call the best hallucinogenic-drug partner before I met this guy, and I’ve never enjoyed myself so much in someone else’s company.

      I’ve never had a buddy understand how I felt regarding the ripple effect among friends that the age at which you marry and have children determines.

      I couldn’t be happier to have this buddy experience that same phenomenon with me and I couldn’t be happier to have children the same age (and the same gender) as this buddy. I couldn’t be happier that this buddy’s wife is close with my wife.

      And I couldn’t be happier to think of someone I’d rather grow old (with our kids) with than this buddy.
      I was grateful enough to meet him (by proxy) over 30 years ago. I was grateful to become pals with him in high school. I’m grateful to still call him a friend today.

Four Hundred Seventy: Keith “Jonesy” Jones

      You probably already know that I think the National Hockey League has the choice, superior, almighty product of the sporting world. Having a good crew at the desk makes it even better and none do the breakdown job better than Keith Jones.

      Jonesy’s quick, articulate, intelligent, and full of original commentary. A couple of the other figures at that desk get rotated in an out, but Jonesy’s the mainstay and for good reason: He’s the best in the business. Picture Steve Young on the Monday Night Football set. Now imagine Young doing what Young does five-plus nights a week without all of the concussion symptoms and the condescension (Note: Love hurts, Trent Dilfer. Love hurts.).

Four Hundred Sixty-Nine: Liam McHugh

      I don’t say this to be mean, but this kid came out of nowhere and has just been killing it for the NHL on NBC. He’s the lead anchor, CBS’ James Brown in football, if you will. He’s smooth, well-spoken, energetic, and warm. I had little idea who Liam McHugh was three years ago. Now he’s a nightly staple and I’d vote for keeping it that way.

Four Hundred Sixty-Eight: Mike Milbury

      Some people don’t dig on Mike Milbury. I think he’s awesome. He’s kind of ogre-y, kind of explosive (although I think he’s learned to temper it), and blunt. My goaltender -- along with many others -- likes to hate on him. He once called him an amiable dunce.

      Milbury’s large physical presence adds to his background -- NHL defenseman, coach, and general manager -- and gives him the license and the credentials to say what he feels. I love the honesty of the entire NHL on NBC crew, but Milbury’s has an extra zest about it. If he sees a spade out there, count on him calling it one:



Four Hundred Sixty-Seven: Barry Melrose

      There isn’t much to say about Barry Melrose that hasn’t been already said. The mullet, the gel, the wardrobe, the cadence, the diction, the arrogance.

      I don’t watch much SportsCenter anymore, so I really don’t see much of ol’ Barry, but he -- in a sense -- put pro-hockey analysis on the sports-broadcasting map and I’ll forever be thankful for that.

Four Hundred Sixty-Six: Jeremy “J.R.” Roenick

      Jeremy Roenick’s been one of my hockey favorites for many years, even though he spent many seasons in Chicago (when they didn’t matter and had like six fans) and is still a Blackhawks homer. His passion for the game rides high in the broadcast work that he does, and even though his hair style is like something out of a horror movie and his articulation suffers from having his noodle scrambled too many times, you gotta love J.R. Well, I do, anyway.

Four Hundred Sixty-Five: the freedom to call Michael Irvin a blubbering idiot

      Never have I seen such a self-righteous, self-promoting, self-centered, egocentric piece of shit continue to receive paychecks and air time of the highest regard. The mere glimpse of his face or sound of similarity to his tone makes me shudder. The fur coat he’ll be buried in will be of the finest donkey hide. No one will question that there lies a world-class ass.

Four Hundred Sixty-Four: rhythm

      I got a little. I can play a little. I can hear it pretty well and I give thanks for the lifeblood of the world.

Four Hundred Sixty-Three: South Park clip #9: “Dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb.”



Four Hundred Sixty-Two: bilinguality

      I thanked all of my Spanish teachers here in this series and have mentioned the versatility of taking all of those courses, but I haven’t straight-up said how great speaking another language feels. This ability creates a connection. It initiates, builds, and develops relationships. For that, I am grateful.

Four Hundred Sixty-One: unnamed friend #28

      I’ve known this guy since the early portion of high school. We had a tight bond in our youth, and since graduation our sporadic contact has ensured me that we seldom miss a beat. I’ve kept tabs on this buddy as he made his way in and out of a couple of college towns. I’ve missed out on a lot of his escapades with his Lawrence cohorts, and I never could envision myself having the ability to keep up with him and his college-football-Saturday afternoons.

      We have, however, managed to hang out together once in a while, and I consider myself privileged to have attended the functions associated with his semi-recent wedding weekend.

      The guy’s always managed an impeccable work ethic and now that he has settled into the throes of married bliss I imagine the fruits of his labor will pay great dividends in his family’s home and in their life.

      My friendship with this guy came with an extra token: his kid brother. Junior has maintained some level of friendship with my sister since unnamed friend number 28 and I first started hanging together. I don’t quite understand the entire nature of their relationship, but then I don’t think that they do either.

      At any rate, I’m thankful for my relationship with this guy. I’m happy for him and his success in the work place. I’m thrilled that he found someone he loves and that that someone loves him, too. I’m glad that they landed themselves a beautiful home and have gotten their nuptial feet wet in it.

      Unnamed friend number 28 qualifies as good people. Anybody could tell you that. In my book, he’s great people and I’m honored to have called him a friend for as long as I have.

Four Hundred Sixty: The Kruger Brothers’ “Up18north”

      Every once in a while you come across a song that blows your mind and you make an impulse buy for an album you know you have to have. I did this for this album just so that I could own the title track.

      The rest of the record disappointed me, but I will forever give thanks for having had the fortune of coming across this song.

      Pure beauty.

Four Hundred Fifty-Nine: Cherokee Woods East

      When my folks split and my mom remarried, her second husband’s job moved us to an Atlanta suburb called Lilburn. We bought a piece of land in a neighborhood called Cherokee Woods East and while we waited for a home to be built on it, we lived in a subdivision called Sturbridge Square.

      Our temporary residence lasted for a half of a school year, and then we settled into our joint at 2825 Kinnett Drive. My sister and I went to Annistown Elementary, swam on the neighborhood swim team and made a pile of friends. The new start went from odd to awkward to comfortable to good to fantastic. It began to almost feel like home, even.

      Still, though, I thought of Kansas City, our true home, and in a few short years we returned to it.

      Things are things and they go how they go.

      Hindsight fogs the ability to see making CWE work after our mom and her husband divorced, but while they made it work we lived in a great community. I’m thankful for the experience and the people that we met in it.

Four Hundred Fifty-Eight: facing the New York Yankees

      At the halfway point of May I would have been lying to say I’m into the Kansas City Royals baseball season, but when the New York Yankees come to town and I walk past the television to see them down 1-4 in the bottom of the sixth on a Friday night, I get excited. (Update: 1-6, courtesy of a two-RBI Lorenzo Cain single. Lo-Cain!)

      The New York Yankees have -- for as long as I can remember -- embodied many of the very elements of things wrong in sports. They’ve always symbolized some form of evil, dating back to when my young baseball mind dreamt of playing the game at the highest level.

      Through the many years of the Royals’ ineptitude, I treasured the rare failures of New York. Now that Kansas City has displayed competence on the diamond for several seasons, rooting against New York has only become easier. (Update: 1-7. Thanks, Kendrys Morales!)

      It’s the little things.

Four Hundred Fifty-Seven: the dichotomy of technology

      So many things in 2015 have made life amazing. So many of them developed out of our need to have more, be better, do faster. So many of them have glitches and cause us more work than we had before their presence. I love that many of us can smile at such irony.

Four Hundred Fifty-Six: the small rewards of being the second-best parent

      My wife stays home two days a week and these mornings, afternoons, and evenings make the seconds seem like minutes, the minutes drag, and the hours seem both swift and sluggish.

      When I arrive home in the evenings of these days my children display affection, an indication that they missed their dad during the stretch of the coveted Mama days.

      Those moments alone make life worth living.

Four Hundred Fifty-Five: The Spin Doctors

      When the 1990s music scene exploded, my mind went 100 different directions. I embraced the jam scene, tilted my head at the pop stuff, and grimaced at the metal. Somewhere in that mix came The Spin Doctors. For a moment, they represented an easy-going, fun life, and made it seem like anybody could do the songwriting gig.

      That was pretty cool.

Four Hundred Fifty-Four: my brief stint as an novice rock climber

      Right around the time the Spin Doctors celebrated the release of their second album, I found myself trying to fit in in Estes Park, Colorado.

      This scene meant six or 12 dudes to every girl. It meant kicking a hackey sac while drinking coffee in the square outside The Steaming Bean. It meant drinking beer by night and having oneies throughout the day. It also meant being outdoorsy, which posed zero problem in terms of hiking and camping, but at the root of what lots of dudes wanted to do was this hunger to climb rocks.

      I loved the idea of the thrill of that, too.

      I wanted to be hip. I wanted to be renegade. I wanted to be part of the club.

      So at first I borrowed some gear, and did a few climbs. After that I started acquiring my own stuff, developing my talent and increasing the frequency with which I “went out.”

      Had I had a better awareness of my ceiling for such a pastime, I would have capped it at top-roping. I didn’t, though. I went out and summited shit. I almost never led, which meant I trusted the guy that led to put in solid gear and we trusted one another to belay.

      Lemme just tell you something here: Rock climbing is fucking insane. Hell, bouldering is about as safe as bathing with a plugged-in toaster sitting on the tub’s edge. Needless to say, I got stuck a couple of times. And I don’t mean “stuck” as in my shoe got wedged in a crack.

      No.

      When you get “stuck” climbing rocks, this means you have no upward or downward moves available.

      None.

      Like, immediate panic, call in a rescue chopper, get me off of this face, and I’m fine if I never see these people ever again. Just get me outta here.

      This experience can make you soil yourself, and to make it worse the inevitable situation that follows has the cute nickname of “sewing-machine leg.”

      What happens with sewing-machine leg involves your plant foot -- and by “foot” I mean millimeters of one tow crammed into a fraction of a corner of a rubber shoe -- letting you know that it’s running out of gas. It means that the sliver of your leg’s appendage that has held 100 percent of your body weight upright -- and prevented you from maybe falling to your death -- for far too long is now beyond needing rest.

      Don’t get me wrong: I had a handful of incredible climbs, adrenaline rushes that only skydiving trumps. I had some challenging outings, some unenthralling adventures, and some days on the slab that resembled the fool-proof recipe for full-blown panic, the kind of shit that sends people to the nut house. I got out there, though, and I did it, and I stayed hungry.

      Then the perfect thing happened: I got good enough that I needed more and more and more gear. I could not afford said gear, or even, really, any of the pieces in the list of gear I needed. I also, it so happened, was at a point in my life where I wasn’t too down with the idea of falling hundreds upon thousands of feet to my death.

      So I quit going out.

(Smith Rock State Park in Bend, Oregon)

      I hung onto my shoes and my belt and my chalk bag and my belay device and took solace in the fact that I had the bare minimum to be invited along on a small climb but could never envision dropping the necessary coin on getting my own rope or starting to acquire protection. And I felt pretty good about my so-called conundrum.

      Then winter came and I saw all of my climbing buddies break out their axes and their cramp-ons and set out to ice climb, and it occurred to me that I might have made the right choice in letting this particular hobby pass me by. It was cool while it lasted, but man…that shit is nuts.

Four Hundred Fifty-Three: Tom Marshall

      Best lyricist of my lifetime. So love his talent.

Four Hundred Fifty-Two: Robert Hunter

      Guy may have inspired Marshall, may have not. Either way, one of the greatest.

Four Hundred Fifty-One: the beautiful hippie girl that waited on us one day at the Main Mall Coffee Shop in Durango

      A buddy and I decided one day that, instead of addressing our list of average-college-day responsibilities, we should put some drugs in our face and drive south. Considering that I had less than a quarter tank of gas, we didn’t make it much further than Farmington Hill. What we did instead was visit the Main Mall Coffee Shop at the peak of lunch hour, which resulted in 31 flavors of awkwardness.

      Somehow, my buddy had an appetite, and somehow he put food in his mouth, chewed it and swallowed. I opted for a chocolate shake, a choice my stomach later rejected, forcing me to deposit the treat in some bushes behind the mall, but before we paid our tabs at the shop, a very serious, very intelligent, very gentle-and-dedicated man by the name of Gary Smith approached us and struck up conversation.

      What he wanted to talk about had something to do with Wanbli Ota line items at the Fort Lewis College student-senate budget meetings. Discussing it with my buddy, the then Editor-in-Chief of the student newspaper held great importance in Smith’s mind because Smith, a Native American, wanted The Independent to cover the fact the student senate appeared to have little interest in demonstrating financial support for Wanbli Ota, the student-run, not-for-profit, cultural-diversity-promotion organization on a college campus in the heart of tribal America.

      My buddy entered the world with a brain that will one day reach a case-study level. His intelligence never ceases to amaze me, and he hunkered down that afternoon and had that conversation with Gary Smith. I did not absorb a single word of it because I could do one thing and one thing only: giggle behind the pages of an unfolded Wall Street Journal.

      Yep. I hid.

      My scrambled noodle raced in 47 directions and it was everything I could do to not profess my love for the girl that waited on us. She had long, thick, dark hair, amber skin, mesmerizing eyes, and a waft of patchouli that followed her every step. I fell flat in love with her the second our gazes connected, and the intensity of my trip already had me contemplating an on-the-spot marriage proposal. When Smith sat between us then, I sensed the serious direction would take and the vibe took a hold of me with such a strong clutch that I could only laugh at the fact that my buddy had to ride this wave. With unbridled determination, I let him ride that thing solo, from the deepest of eddies all the way to the shore.

      And I laughed at an uncontrollable tick from behind the pages of a rag you couldn’t pay me to read for all of the conversation’s length.

      At last, when Smith had left us to our distorted minds, I tried to pitch the intensity of the whole thing to our behind-the-counter server. She didn’t get it, but she knew we were fucked up, so she did what any gorgeous hippie girl would do: She finished her shift and invited us over to her place for a session.

      This was, of course, just what we needed: More drugs before returning to campus to face our education, our newspaper’s legal advisor, a class lecture, and a presentation by my buddy to our legal advisor’s student body.

      At the hippie’s house, Rusted Root’s When I Woke played while several hippie dudes held a mini drum circle in the family room. We were there for most of an hour, and, needless to say, my buddy and I did not make our expected 2:30 appearance in that classroom. Instead, I went to work at 4:00 and worked for eight hours, tripping (and sometimes vomiting) for the duration of the shift.


      That girl, though. She symbolized an uncanny beauty. I never saw her again, and although I don’t recall her name and I can’t quite picture the details of her face, I will always remember and cherish her presence in our afternoon that day.