Retirement, year two: When your net catches you

In a couple of weeks I’ll celebrate two years into my retirement and just in time for that anniversary I’ve been faced with a little change. Three months after I walked out of my full-time job for the last time in 2016, I began a part-time position at Automotive News in their video news department. They came to me looking for someone with many years of network TV news experience to give them a hand.

On Monday, that came to an end with a morning phone call from my boss and I wasn’t surprised since there really wasn’t much for me to do there anymore. It was fun while it lasted and I have to admit, I did feel bad to see the job end because it was a nice little glidepath between working fulltime and being totally retired.  My livelihood certainly depend on this job..I planned well for retirement…but it certainly did wonders for my self-esteem and mental health. But not my diet. With the office a block from Detroit’s Eastern Market and all of its food emporiums, one never faced a work day hungry.

I posted this change on Linkedin and Twitter and the response was heartwarming, supportive but not surprising….because I’ve always had faith in my network of friends, associates, colleagues and folks I’ve been in contact with over the years.  Still, I received an unbelievable number of messages and comments consoling me, promising to keep eyes and ears out for any opportunities, complimenting me on my skills and predicting I wouldn’t “be on the bench” very long. I heard from people with whom I hadn’t had any direct contact in ages but still, they were kind enough to take the time out of their days to buck me up or simply write something supportive.  People who do that are quality people. They’re people who know the shoe may be on their foot one day. I hope it never happens, but if it does I will reciprocate the support.

In this world where it’s so easy to tear down people, spew negativity, and show selfishness we need to take care of each other. Even if it’s a quick line, post, text, email or..yes..a call.

No..the loss of my little part-time job was not cataclysmic at this stage in my life, but my network simply took it as an unfortunate setback in my life and these wonderful people knew I might be feeling badly and need a few kind words.

Retirement? From the fulltime rat race? Yes. But we must never retire from the fulltime effort to take care of each other.

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Spilling the World Cup

world cup russia 2018 wallpaper-2018I guess I’m mildly interested in World Cup soccer, although given my past I should be a total fanatic. Indeed, my soccer/football/futbol, your choice, was such a part of my life it affected the college.

Back in the 60’s they didn’t have the soccer leagues they have now. I think that’s because the minivan wasn’t invented until 1984 so moms who would have been tasked with ferrying youthful kickers had no viable means of transportation.

I tried Little League Baseball, but if you’re dad’s not the manager, you basically only get to play the two innings required in the regulations and are relegated to playing right field because no ball ever reaches right field except for when the shortstop throws his relay 12 feet above the first baseman’s head.

I dabbled in soccer in day camp but it was a Jewish day camp and I quickly tired of the counselor whining, “what!?!” every time I made some sort of mistake. That didn’t kill my enthusiasm for a sport that required no use of the hands and encouraged bopping the ball with your head.

In junior high I tried out for the school team and made it! That’s the good news. The bad news was the coach never scheduled any games against other schools. Development slowed after that.

eg69soccerBy the time I got to high school, my luck changed. The previous year’s varsity won the championship and then all but a couple of players graduated. The Martin Van Buren High School soccer team was officially in a rebuilding mode. A bunch of us took advantage of this situation and Coach Marvin “Killer” Diller decided that most everyone who tried out made the squad.  Before he could figure out my true skill level I quickly bought a team jacket and affixed my “VB” varsity letter.

My junior year I sat on the bench and only got in one game for 12 seconds while a regular threw up.

Aside from myself, at 5’6” and 120 pounds, there was another lightweight named Daryl, about my same size, and we kept the bench more than warmed, awaiting our chance.  It  was hard to crack the lineup because ahead of us were the Riofrio twins from Ecuador who could do everything with a soccer ball but make it dance the cha cha. Then there was an Armenian named Sirkus who felt no pain. Every. You could kick him in the face with the ball a dozen times and he’d shake it off.  After the Riofrios and Sirkus, the depth chart quickly descended to a talent level that could fairly be labeled, “none.”

Indeed, our team was so horrible when a visiting team made the journey from the other side of Queens to play us at home, they were so upset at how easy it was to beat us they jumped on our bench after the game until it broke. Most of the members of that team had immigrated to NYC from Armenia and were therefore excellent players. In their best broken English they chanted, “you horrible, horrible. Bus ride not worth it. Horrible, horrible, suck!”

By my senior year enough of the good players graduated that I finally won a starting spot as a left winger. Swell. But the season didn’t start until Thanksgiving because New York City teachers went on strike. Killer Diller attempted to hold workouts at a public park near the school but once the union steward found out he put a quick end to that. Naturally, with no practices, our team was totally unable to improve from crappy to mediocre.

First game of the season I ran on the field..my first as a starter, and did not distinguish myself. I had a few chances but being such a little guy, it was easy for almost any opponent to steal the ball from me or knock me on my skinny ass.  Coach Diller pulled me and in his lispy way whined “Eddie, you were so much better in practice.” No kidding. In practice there were no Bulgarian goons from another school trying to kill me.

I started one other game after which fate stepped in and saved me. I landed a part time after school job as the stock boy in the linens and domestics department at the S. Klein department store at the nearby Lake Success Shopping Center. When I informed Coach Diller I was quitting the team in favor of folding towels and table cloths he squeeked, “but you finally just became a starter after sitting on the bench for a year!”  I could swear that was just for show and that he secretly turned to no one in particular and mouthed “Yes!”

For some reason I still thought I had a future in soccer and when it came time to choose a college I picked SUNY Oswego because it had a strong soccer program.  But again, it was not to be. I went to the first meeting of the soccer team where Coach Peterson made the profound announcement that “remember, academics means absolutely nothing. Soccer means everything!” I turned around and walked out the room never to return.  A couple of weeks before that meeting I landed a job as a DJ at the campus radio station and made the instant decision that if I couldn’t play soccer, I would pursue a position that required no use of my feet or head…just my brain and mouth! And that’s what I’ve done every day since that fateful day in 1969. Indeed, over a wonderful 45 year career I believe I reached my GOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLL!

Standing up for office furniture

Being semi-retired, my attendance in the office is only semi-regular. That means I can only stand..or sit..guard over my workspace semi-regularly. So I was only mildly surprised, but thoroughly disappointed when I showed up the other day after a few days away to find my chair in two pieces, on the floor with two screws sitting on my desk. No explanation until my boss happened by and I pointed to  the wreckage while giving him a questioning look.  He kinda laughed as he explained the person who sits across the aisle from me had a “chair emergency” while I was gone and grabbed my chair. That meant the carnage on the floor was actually her chair and not mine. My chair was under her butt.1db0ebb3-25ff-41c0-99a5-30a16c75c7c7

After an embarrassed apology my chair was returned and the victim of the “chair emergency” got a spare chair from some other office.

barrellsIt all got me thinking not only about how important our office furniture is to us but how it can also be used as just another form of bullshit one-upsmanship.

Cases in point.

At a former employer..a large corporation…office furniture was doled out according to your “band” or pay level. A vice president or above got a big office with a defined furniture formula of a walnut partner desk, meeting table with four chairs and a credenza for displaying photos, awards and free shit from media events.

The formula cascaded down quickly to a counter with 6 drawers and a meeting table all the way down to a cube with two file cabinets, a counter and a trash can. Actually, that’s about as much space as most anyone needs to do most jobs.  When I was promoted to a glass office with 6 overhead bins and nine drawers I just dumped crap in them that I didn’t want to take home. I did use two drawers for files and another for my lunch.

varideskOne day things suddenly changed. A co-worker decided she needed to stand while she worked and got the office manager to order one of those Varidesks. Maybe you’ve seen them. You plop it on your real desk then raise or lower it to a comfortable level. Pretty cool. The cheapest one is about 400 bucks. After a few weeks it looked like Varidesks were growing wild. They started popping up all over the office. Short people, tall people, busy people, people who didn’t do 3 minutes of work a day all decided they would be more productive if they could just have the option to stand while they surfed Zappos for shoes, played Solitaire or screwed off on the boss’s dime in any number of ways. At one point I could hear at least one standee emulate Mr. Ed because she was sleeping standing up and snoring like an old nag.

I couldn’t help inquiring of the office manager while the company was spending all this money on stand-up desks when budgets were otherwise tight.  She didn’t want to tell me at first but finally admitted that once the first person asked for one others became jealous that a co-worker got something new and they wanted one too…even if there was no physical reason for working standing up. In fact….it wasn’t long before some of the me-too standees realized they couldn’t stand standing and ordered high stools so they could sit at their standups.  I don’t have to tell you once the first stool arrived, more were demanded because why shouldn’t they have what someone else has..even if it’s malaria.

As time went on, I noticed many of those who had stamped their feet for a standup desk caught wind of the “vari” part of the Varidesk and began using its various settings to gradually lower the desk until, after a week or so, the standup desk was simply sitting on top of the sit-at desk and the high stools were shunted into a corner and used as coat racks or just another surface to stack crap.  This left the original Varidesk requestor feeling mighty lonely because she really needed to stand to help ameliorate a painful back condition.  I had to ask her how she felt about the jealous copycats demanding, then abandoning their Varidesks.  Well…she said. It was satisfying that as the one person who actually needed it.. she was the last one standing.

Now I work mainly from home. My wife and I each have our offices..and our own chairs. Invoking the crazy guy in the movie Stripes, we always joke with each other, “you touch my chair…I kill ya.”

 

 

 

Cutting through the bullshit of “busy”

toobusyHow often has your temper boiled while being forced to cool your jets waiting for someone to reply to a simple question, make a deadline or serve you the sandwich you ordered 45 minutes ago? When you ask for the cause of the delay, the reply is usually some variation of “oh, I was busy.”

Busy is a loaded word. It’s loaded mainly with bullshit. Oh, it has actual definitions…which are also bullshit. Dictionary.com contains several meanings for busy:

  1. actively and attentively engaged in work or a pastime.
  2. not at leisure; otherwise engaged
  3. officious; meddlesome; prying
  4. full of or characterized by activity

Let’s examine those definitions. #1 means the person is either working , or not, since you wouldn’t equate a “pastime” with work. A pastime would indicate something you’re doing for pleasure and one wouldn’t be described as “busy” doing something fun…but rather involved in an activity they were able to do because they weren’t so damned busy.

#2 is completely at odds with #1 because now busy is defined as not being at leisure, meaning you’re not involved in a pastime. So what is it? Can you be busy and not busy at the same time doing the same thing?

#3 is incomplete. The complete term is “busy BODY.” Fact is, you can be a meddlesome prick even if you’re not busy. For some, prying into others affairs is a pastime. Uh oh. Does that now make them busy or not if referring to #1 or #2?

#4 simply means you’re doing stuff. Living a life, peeling bananas, catching up on Stormy Daniels films. Does that mean you’re busy, or simply not stationary. Indeed, some folks might argue being stationary is their way of keeping busy.

When someone responds to my second or third inquiry as to why they haven’t responded sooner with “oh I was busy,” I know they’re making it up. Maybe they were, in fact, involved in a pastime…that pastime being too freakin’ lazy to follow through. Maybe they were too busy just blowing you off because they’re immature or arrogant. Perhaps they were engaged in a questionable activity that would get them fired, but use the catchall “busy” to cover up that activity with a word that actually means nothing.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am totally sympathetic to those who at time can be buried under a growing number of tasks and deadlines, but that’s no excuse for being unresponsive. Grow up, prioritize your activities, perhaps send someone further down the list an acknowledgment you received the inquiry and will respond in line with any deadlines that may have been set. If none have been set, ask for a reasonable time frame for completion. But watch out. Often, those pleading they’re busy just want you to come through on your end faster than necessary just so they can get the project off their calendars…and then they can get busy…with their pastimes.

So when you tell me you’re too busy to reply, to respond I know what you’re really busy doing. It’s what a bull does when it squats in the field. I’ll bypass the stink and move on to greener and cleaner pastures.

 

 

Bed, Bath and Beyond Reason

bbandb

Found myself in a Bed, Bath and Beyond today while my wife shopped in the place next door. I like to look around that store because it contains stuff…and people.. that make me laugh..and sigh and glad to be part of a human race that’s constantly looking for silly things to buy to make their lives easier, if only batteries lasted forever.

mypillowNo sooner did I enter and I encountered a couple engaged in a very serious discussion. The husband’s face was intense and his tone of voice similar, I imagine, to how the Secretary of Defense’s might be while explaining to Pres. Trump why we can’t build a wall around Michelle Wolf.  There simply are now POW’s..Prisoners of Wit. Anyway, the wife in the equation seemed defeated as the husband pummeled her with reason after reason why…he just needed to spend 100 bucks… on a My Pillow. I moved along before the eventual surrender.

bbbappliancesMy next stop was in my favorite department. It doesn’t really have a name. It’s just stuff you plug in. Toasters, waffle irons, coffee and espresso/cappuccino makers, toaster ovens, things that whir and spin and mix and mutilate. What gets the most square footage, it seems, are the machines that turn the substances jammed into plastic pods into alleged coffee. Keurigs, Nespressos..whatever. There are rows of these devices and rows and rows and rows and rows of a hundred so-called “flavors” of pods.  podsI

It’s here I encountered my next young couple. They were locked in an earnest discussion about which of these machines to adopt into their family. Having owned a Keurig for several years and sampled scores of different pods of the brown effluent they conjure I felt it might be helpful if I butted in to the couples convo long enough to warn them, “it doesn’t matter what machine you buy or what flavor pod you use, it all tastes like what happens when your sump pump backs up.” Indeed, I tried bold, strong, breakfast, donut shop, hazelnut, mountain top, valley floor, river bed…it all tastes the same…like shit. But I know how it is when you just gotta have something so I let them be, knowing this young couple would soon learn an expensive life lesson.

No sooner had I found my way to the back of the store eyeing the display of electronic door bells, then a nice B,B and B employee put her face three inches from mine, introduced herself and asked what I was looking for. She was very polite and obviously trying hard to do her job so I decided not to reply, “edible Oxy-Clean.” Instead, I thanked her for the offer but I didn’t actually have any money so I was looking for cheap entertainment a chance to smell the vanilla candles.

My last stop was the bathroom supply department. Hanging on the all was a contraption that came in a box with a bunch of attachments and it promised to take the work out of scrubbing my bathroom. All you had to do was keep the batteries charged and use the correct attachment. When the clerk came by I flagged him down and asked if the gizmo worked with Voom. Obviously not a “Cat in the Hat” fan the kid stood slack jawed, thoroughly baffled. I helpfully offered that maybe I’d find Voom-friendly implements in the “Beyond” part of the store.  Without a word he backed away and, I imagine, considered the wording of his resignation letter.”  voom

At that point, it was time to leave the store and meet my wife. She asked if I found anything good. I did. Another story to tell all of you.

Requiem for a hilarious genius

There aren’t many scenarios where one would not only enjoy working the graveyard shift but actually look forward to dragging in their sleep-deprived butts at an hour when most people are tucking their sleepy selves into bed for some proper slumber.

But for two, brief, fleeting, wonderful years, I was blessed with this paradox. The only reason it was so, was because of a hilarious genius named Peter Vesey.

At the time I was co-producing CNN’s morning show called “Daybreak.” The newcast aired from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. which meant we reported to work at the cruel hour of 1 a.m. to prepare it. When our executive producer moved on, Peter replaced her. His reputation as a brilliant broadcast journalist preceded his arrival and the team was excited for the chance to work with Peter and learn from him. We never anticipated he would also make working while others were sleeping so much fun.

Our pre-show meetings instantly transformed from robotically listing available stories, reporter packages and expected satellite feeds to uproarious discussions filled with Peter’s humor, logic and spot-on guidance while he constantly challenged us to try new production methods, accelerating the show’s pace, sharpening our writing and above all, creating a newscast that engaged and informed our viewers that hooked them to the screen.

We had fun critiquing the material, to the extent of Peter’s ability to create verbal caricatures of several correspondents. One, in particular, made every piece sound like an industrial film, intoning like a mechanical voice. We were sometimes a little cruel in our critiques but all in good fun while honestly assessing their strength and worthiness to make air.

In the control room, he ruled calmly and decisively while tossing in crackling bon mots to keep the crew loose and engaged.

Peter took a personal interest in all of us, always inquiring about our lives, families, health and career goals. He also didn’t take any shit. Anchors with an attitude were quickly shut down.  Officiousness was dealt with an immediate smackdown. My favorite example:

The supervising producer sat across from Peter. There was perhaps one-foot between them. This was the 80’s so there was an attractive Trimline wall phone at each work station. One-inch separated Peter and the supervisor’s wall phone. Peter’s phone rang and when he picked it up, the voice on the other end of the line was the supervisor… only inches away. Instead of saying “hello,” Peter reached over to the supervisor’s phone, yanked it off the wall and tossed in in the trash and said, “what was it you wanted?” I’ve never stopped laughing about this in 30 years.

There weren’t many food options in the middle of the night and I’m a crappy eater anyway, so I gravitated towards the emaciated Polish sausages available at the small cafeteria located in the odd atrium that separated CNN from CNN Headline News. Of course, Peter silently took note of my foolish food choice and parked it away for future use. That came to pass when I moved on from Daybreak to a reporting position. Near the end of our shift Peter announced the team had a little going away gift for me. He brought out a rectangular cake pan covered in foil. Oh…a going away cake..how cool. Oh sure, there was a nice cake with vanilla frosting…and a big, fat raw Polish sausage sticking out of  the middle. It brought tears to my eyes.

But now my eyes are tear filled again and my heart broken with the news Peter passed away after a short illness.

I hadn’t spoken to Peter in many, many years and a couple of months ago the director on our show passed along his number to me and said Peter would welcome a call. I didn’t make it. Believe it or not, I simply felt shy about it. Peter would have set me straight…and asked if I was still eating those stupid sausages. I would have welcomed that.

 

 

My four-step Starbucks sensitivity training

starbucksIt shouldn’t take four hours of training to knock some sense into employees of Starbucks or any company about how to treat people fairly.

I can name that tune in 4 quick steps.

1-Be agnostic about a person’s appearance. We’re all pretty much the same except for the shade of wrapping.

2-You are not better than anyone. In the case of a Starbucks employee, you fill cups with hot or cold drinks and serve them to people. In exchange, they give you money, a credit or debit card.  You may be serving a Nobel Prize winner, a talented artist, someone who is disabled or a single parent trying like hell to raise a kid and pay the bills alone and all they’re hoping for is a place to grab a brief respite in peace with a caffeinated drink that will help them keep from falling over from fatigue and stress. 

3-If a person isn’t making a fuss, a mess or a racket, leave them alone. They may just need a moment to catch their breath, get out of the rain or an easily found place to meet someone. If they don’t buy something this time around, your goodwill may translate into a future transaction.

4- Whatever your title or classification, be proud of your position, do a good job, earn your money and be a good representative of your place of employment. You don’t? It’s simple. You’re fired.