Being Polite Goes a Long Way

“Being polite goes a long way.”

-Dad

My Uncle Ron was my mom’s younger brother and only sibling. As a child and well into adulthood, Uncle Ron was rebel, a tough guy with a soft spot and loomed larger than life. He was about 6 feet tall and carried a husky frame. He had a tattoo of a sky-diving bunny with the word “Paratrooper” under it. I believe he got it while stationed in Korea serving in the Army.

As a kid, all my brothers and I saw was a guy who was cool as fuck.

Uncle Ron worked as a machinist at Anheuser Busch in Newark. If you have ever gone on a brewery tour at a Busch Gardens location, he was one of the guys responsible for keeping the line going, filling the cans and bottles and popping a top on them at the end. Watching the line in operation was mechanical poetry.

Before OSHA was established and safety was more of an advisory than a rule, there were many places where you could get hurt in a machine shop. While fabricating a part, Uncle Ron was hit in the white of his eye with a projectile. Like most tough guys, he just washed his eye and kept working.

Later that day, he felt that something was still irritating his eye and went to a doctor. The doctor agreed that something was still there and referred him to an eye surgeon near Orange, NJ. He asked my dad to drive him and my dad simply said to me “Let’s go. I’m taking Uncle Ron to the doctors.”

To this day, I’m always up for a road trip.

I honestly don’t remember much about the doctor’s visit other than it would take an hour or so. My father said that there was diner across the street and we were going there to get a bit to eat.

As we walked in to the diner, my dad let me right to the counter. He said “Michael, you can get whatever you want.” Now, this was a big deal. Dad was a no-frills guy and this departure was rare.

What the hell…I was going for it.

“May I get a chocolate milkshake?”, I asked – with a little smile on my face.

“Yes you may.”

Geez, was I excited.

The waitress behind the counter approached.

“What can I get you two gentlemen?”

“Coffee, black, please.” my father replied.

“And for you, hon?”

I turned to my dad, looking for one last approval.

“You can tell her, Michael”

That was all I needed – green to go.

“May I have a chocolate milkshake, please?”

A big smile came to her face.

“I’ll get those for you right away!”

Dad’s was simple. Invert cup, place on saucer, add coffee. The stronger, the better. When dad perked his coffee at home in the Farberware pot, it was strong enough to melt a spoon like you’d see in a Looney Tunes cartoon.

The waitress came over with a pot of coffee and my milkshake. I was in my total glory as I saw this fancy fountain glass filled with my shake. I noticed she had one more vessel – the steel cup that the she used to mix the milkshake.

“There’s a little more in there for you, hon.”

“Thank you!” I gleefully replied. I looked inside and there was almost enough for a second shake.

The waitress then turned to my dad and remarked, “Such good manners.”

You’d thought my dad just won an Oscar for directing.

After she walked away, I asked my dad why she gave me some extra shake.

“Because of your manners. You said ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Being polite goes a long way.”

I never forgot that lesson. To this day, I go out of my way to be polite. Sometimes it’s acknowledged and sometimes it isn’t. Bottom line is that it didn’t cost me a thing to be polite. From a business executive to a person who holds a door for me, they will always get a polite gesture.

This lesson was passed from me to my daughters. There is a glow of pride when I hear either of them say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to someone. I feel that it was a small gesture that goes a long way.

Epiphany

Epiphany School, Cliffside Park, NJ circa 1964

January 6th is the Feast of the Epiphany to the Christian world. Having grown up in a Roman Catholic home, the word ‘epiphany’ had an extended meaning: it was the name of our parish church.

As a child of the 60’s, many parishes had their own school, and, you guessed it – I went to Epiphany School.

K through 8.

9 years. 9 loooong years.

Whoa! I started slipping back to my repressed memories. But I digress.

Other than being a feast day in the church, it’s also known as Three Kings Day, Little Christmas, and other terms to commemorate the three wise men visiting the newborn Jesus and bringing gifts.

Religious aspects aside, Mirriam-Webster defines the word:

epiphany

noun epiph·a·ny \i-ˈpi-fə-nē\

·  capitalized :  January 6 observed as a church festival in commemoration of the coming of the Magi as the first manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles or in the Eastern Church in commemoration of the baptism of Christ

·  2 :  an appearance or manifestation especially of a divine being

·  3 a (1) :  a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something (2) :  an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking (3) :  an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure b :  a revealing scene or moment

Today, I want to focus on the third definition.

The day of January 6th has two additional meanings for me.

On that day in 1976, my father sat my brother and me down for a talk in our living room. We were 15 and 17, respectively. I knew this was going to be about something important because my dad was not a ‘family meeting’ type.

“Boys, starting today, I won’t be living here anymore. I’ll be moving up by grandma and grandpa.”

Because of the timing, the words came as a shock, but not a surprise.

I really can’t recall what he or my brother said for the next minute or two until I zoned back in.

“Michael, I want you to look out for your brothers and both of you to help your mom out as much as you can.”

For my whole life that I was able to comprehend words, my father had been telling me that I was ‘number-one son’, to ‘set a good example for your brothers’ and ‘if something happens to me, I expect you to be the man of the family’. Today, I assumed the job he was prepping me for all along – just not the way I expected it to happen.

Back in 1970, my father and mother separated for about 2 months. Because I was 11 at the time, I was sad but didn’t understand the dynamics of their relationship. In the following six years, I had a front seat for the disintegration of their marriage.

That chapter was closing and we were all embarking on new chapter of our family life. I always thought I was older than my years but the burden my father laid on me that day was almost tangible. I knew things were never going to be the same, and in some ways, that was good as it was painful to my mom and my brothers.

On that day, the Feast of the Epiphany, I was having another epiphany – exact to the definition above; it was the first seismic shift of my life. My father left our home for the second and final time.

‘Number-one son, you’re the man of the house now.’

“I love you, too.”

My dad and I, Hunter Mountain, New York in Fall of 1992

As one of many sons who lost a father, I was particularly drawn to watch the tribute of the late President George H.W. Bush. I had been moved by several other Presidential passings, but this one was special because it contained a eulogy for a President by his son, who also served as President.

I was reminded of my dad’s final day. It was February 6, 2013

In a phone call I made to him the night before, to bolster his spirits, I told him, ‘Dad, I don’t care if you have one day, a year or ten years to live – I just want them to be the best you can have.’

The next day, my dad, his wife Barbara and I took a ride up to meet with his oncologist in Albany. He had undergone a chemo-embolization procedure for a tumor in his liver on New Year’s Eve past in Syracuse. The prognosis was encouraging and we were meeting with the doctor to see what the next steps would be. She told us that he could receive another treatment in a week or two, and that may shrink the tumor even further, allowing for a possible resection.

Upon hearing the news, dad said, “I don’t know. I don’t want to be a bother to anyone.”

I said straight out “Dad, did you have some other plans, because it’s not a bother to me.”

He relented, so we had a date in mid-February to take another drive further upstate and receive another round of chemo.

It was 1pm and before we left for home, he wanted to get some lunch at the VA’s cafeteria. For some odd reason, that’s when most of the kitchen staff took their break, so we decided to head back to the town of Catskill and have lunch at the diner.

Dad had a simple American cheese omelette. His appetite wasn’t as hearty as it used to be, so he only ate half and had the rest of it wrapped to take home.

He was using a light walker, because since he received his initial round of chemo, he needed something stable to support himself. We got in the car for the ten-minute ride home.

After his original diagnosis of a tumor on his liver, he told me “I didn’t think I’d ever have cancer. I thought it was going to be ‘the big one’, like a heart attack, and I’d be gone.”

That was not the time to remind him that despite taking blood pressure meds for as long as I can remember, his doctors always said his heart and cardio system were strong; it might have killed a lesser man.

The President stood at the podium, and spoke of his final conversation with his father

“Last Friday, when I was told he had minutes to live, I called him…I said ‘Dad, I love you and you’ve been a wonderful father.'”

“And the last words he would ever say on earth were ‘I love you, too.'”

To conclude his eulogy, the President said:

“(W)e are going to miss you. Your decency, sincerity and kind soul will stay with us forever. So through our tears, let us know the blessings of knowing and loving you, a great and noble man, the best father a son or daughter could have and, in our grief, let us smile knowing that dad is hugging Robin and holding mom’s hand again.”

And with that, the 43rd President descended from the podium, and as he passed his father’s flag-draped casket, he patted it gently twice before returning to the pew with his family.

We arrived back at home

Barbara and I exited the car first and I went to give my dad a hand after setting up his walker. He said, “I’m slow and I don’t want to slow you both down.” Barbara and I walked a few paces ahead and went up the three steps to the porch.

Suddenly, I heard a thud. I turned to see that dad had fallen backwards and struck his head. As he laid unconscious for a few seconds, I rushed down to his side and called to Barbara to dial 9-1-1.

He wasn’t breathing, and for the first and only time in my life, I did CPR. He started to breathe again, but he was obviously stunned and unaware of his surroundings.

I said “Dad, dad. I’m here.”

He repeatedly gasped “Help me, Michael. Help me, Michael.” in a muted tone. I held his hand and tried to reassure him as I waited for the EMTs to arrive. It seemed like only a minute or two when the techs got there, but I couldn’t say for sure. In rural New York state, it might have been ten.

They had him packed up on the gurney and were ready to go to the nearest trauma center, which ironically was in Albany – 40 miles north and a just half-mile from the VA hospital we were at earlier. They were meeting the medi-vac at a local field a few minutes away.

I’m sure that as a private pilot, dad would be happy that his last trip was a helicopter ride.

Barbara and I got into my car and we sped off to Albany again. So many thoughts were whirling through my head that I don’t specifically remember anything about the drive. One exception was the call that I received from the attending doctor at the ER when we were only a mile away.

He said my dad had a DNR (do not resuscitate order) and I was the holder of his health proxy. Unless I said otherwise, they were not going to intubate him. I asked the doctor to do so until we got there so he and the staff could properly apprise Barbara and I of dad’s state and prognosis.

Dr. Pacheco said that it wasn’t good. Dad struck his head and was bleeding into his brain. Even if he did survive the procedure to stop the bleeding, he may not survive a long rehabilitation given his cancer prognosis.

Once they stabilized him, we went in to see him. It was exactly the scene he did not want to endure, with the tubes and multitude of monitors.

Although they were his wishes, never underestimate the weight of holding a person’s life in your hands. That weight was placed on my shoulders as I signed the paperwork necessary for the medical personnel to begin to shut down the machines that were keeping him alive.

Within two or three minutes, he took his final breath. There were no words, and no time to converse. All we needed to say had been said.

In the weeks after his passing, I found this tucked away.

Maybe, they were not his words, but they served as a sentiment dad wished to convey. I took it as if he were speaking to me – as a dad to his son.

I know he loved me, his “number one son”, to echo the fictional detective, Charlie Chan.

I love you, too, Dad.

The First Monday in October

With all the ruckus these days in the news, you may think this has to do with the latest SCOTUS nominee.

United States Supreme Court building by Joe Ravi, CC-BY-SA 3.0

Not this time.

October 1st is my ‘dog whistle’ signalling the end of Summer and the start of the 4th quarter.

This month contains some of my favorite weather days of the year. I can still take the top down, enjoy copious amounts of sunshine, get a little color on my face, and feel an underlying chill in the air on a 77F day.

It’s a month for planning – or, should I say, continuing to adjust my plan. It’s like New Years Day, without the hangovers and resolution-y stuff.

It’s a time that I sometimes ask ‘Didn’t this year just fly by?’

It’s a signal that the days are getting shorter, by which I mean that there are still 24 hours in a day but they have more compulsory events – be they legal, societal or familial.

I love this month for so many reasons and the one I relate most to is the feeling.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Maya Angelou

I’ll enjoy my days a little more, work harder to finish the last calendar days of 2018 strong, and worry less about these pesky ‘what ifs’.

Our Supreme Court may be taking the next nine months to deliberate on the cases before it; I just don’t have the time to sit on my ass and ponder my days away.

Thank you, October.

Death of a Marriage

On May 17, 1978, I walked into our kitchen and sat down on the right side of the table. My mom was sitting on the left side – her usual spot over the past 15 years.

She started to cry. I had seen her very emotional in the same room and the same kitchen table countless times before. After taking a drag of her cigarette, she put her face into her other hand.

“Mom, what’s wrong?” I knew it was about dad.

“Today, our divorce is final.”

Years of turmoil in the making, the day had finally come.

“Isn’t that a good thing? It’s finally over, right?”

The fights, the yelling, the tears, and all the negativity. My view was that of relief for her. I wanted to understand.

“Don’t you see?! My marriage is over! I’m just sad.”, her voice tailing off.

“Michael, your father and I were married over 20 years and this is a big deal – even though it may be the right thing to do doesn’t make me any happier that it happened.”

I was beginning to get the picture. She was in mourning; the questions, the second-guessing, a struggle to undo the wrongs of the past. What could she have changed, even if she could? Where was HER happy ending and would it ever come to her.

“I’m sorry, Mom…is there anything I can do?”

“No, I’m just glad you here. I’ll be fine – it will just take some time to get used to the idea.”

My dad had left on January 6, 1976, but here it was twenty-eight months later and Mom was coming to grips that this part of her life was over and uncertainty of the future was enveloping her.

Her mother had been diagnosed with cancer late in the fall of 1976. When Mom wasn’t working, she was taking care of my grandmother. All of the conflicting emotions were taking their toll.

The divorce decree was just another milestone that tried my mother’s fortitude.

Other trials were on the dark horizon, and today was hers. We all need time to mourn a death, whether we knew it was coming, and if it was a blessing blessing or curse. I let my mom have her mourning period but stayed close by because I knew she needed me.

Thursday’s Child Vlog – Episode 001: Roots

Before there was recycling, per se, you used to be able to get money. It’s not like there was a deposit back in those days. He just used to collect bottles and turn them in. That was one of his particular things and he was a little bit more of a, I don’t know, if you want to say, an early entrepreneur or…

Hey, good afternoon. It’s twenty-sixth of May, two thousand and seventeen, and I wanted to do something – I’m going to call this, I think, this particular episode “Roots”. Because, well, I was reminded while on the phone with my cousin – and I only have, let’s say four first cousins – which is really kind of strange I mean, I think that’s OK. I do have a pretty good extended family. But, only four first cousins and we were pretty tight for a long time because we only lived about a mile from each other.

And they were here and in Fort Lee, in case you’re wondering. I am at Madonna Cemetery. Here today it’s kind of a little bit cloudy, a little bit sunny, and I figure I’d take advantage of the sun.

I got to see my cousins a lot because of the close proximity. What is it? I think I’ve heard it said that the cousins are like brothers and sisters you didn’t have. Well, we’re kind of that way. They’re all girls, and there were us four boys – my brothers and I. I was talking to one of my cousins who lives down in Charleston, South Carolina, and during the summer they’ve got a place up in Vermont.

Anyway, she gave me a call, and we caught up a little bit. We’re just talking about things – reminiscing a little bit about the family and all and I’m just going to give you a peek back here.

There happens to be mausoleum with my name on it. Well, at least my last name and it’s kind of a big deal because here in the cemetery, there are a lot of headstones but not a whole lot of mausoleums.

My great grandparents are interred here Silvestro and Eusebia. When we talk about being an immigrant country – and believe me I’m not getting political or anything like that, because that’s a very hot topic – but yeah.

All of my immigrant relatives arrived here in the 1880’s, 1890’s, and so. But Silvestro, on my father’s side – he was kind of like, you can’t call him an ‘anchor baby’ because I think when he was a teenager – and I know somebody in the family or correct me if I’m wrong – when he was a teenager, he was sent by his father Michele, over here to the United States and took up residence in what is now East Harlem, Spanish Harlem, up in the 110’s in that area and all and they did whatever they could and he made somewhere around twelve trips back and forth between here in the United States and back to Italy because there are just, maybe, thirty five miles or so northeast of Naples, it was a pretty big deal.

He would come up, go back and forth and he sponsored a lot of people my great-grandmother, Eusebia, she is interred here. But my grandfather and many of his other sibs were all born here in New York City and what have you. They came across in 1915 to Fort Lee and that became where they lived.

My grandmother’s side of the family, they also were in Fort Lee and believe it or not, that side of the family – they were friends back in the “old country”.

Anyway, how does this all work out to roots? There I was in, I forgot where the house exactly was, might have been Ho-Ho-Kus or something. Somebody had a picture of Yankee stadium being built. Now on my grandmother’s side of the family, they owned a stone and gravel and sand company, like all Italians, right?

My grandfather had the distinct honor of driving in the second truckload of sand to what’s being built at that time, Yankee Stadium, back in the 20’s.

Every time that I would hear something like “The House that Ruth Built”, he was to say hey what about Grandpa Albert? Well, that was the deal, he drove it in and I saw this picture and I’ll throw it up on the video here so you can take a look at it.

Everybody’s got a story as to where they came from. When I went back to see some of the things that my grandfather or my great-grandfather had done – I mean he used to collect bottles long before there was recycling, per se. He used to be able to get money; it’s not like there was a deposit back in those days. He just used to collect bottles and turn them in. That was one of his particular things. And he was a little bit more of, I don’t know, if you want to say, an early entrepreneur. My grandfather – not so much he was more of an employee type. And my father he was a little bit of both because while he was an employee, he was doing the dutiful thing every so often he would venture out and try a little something on his own.

So, I think that I probably have a little bit more of my great-grandfather – at least, on my dad’s side of the family.

I mean it doesn’t really matter where you start, or how old you are. Take a look at Silvestro – he was sixteen, seventeen, eighteen years old? Me I’m fifty seven. You can keep on restarting, it doesn’t matter how many times you restart. It’s just that you keep on going for it, and that’s important.

I’ll leave you with this on this Memorial Day weekend, a little thank you to all of the people who have fought for our country. I even saw my great-grandfather – and if I go on Ancestry.com – he had signed up for, I guess. He was eligible to fight in the Army. This was his new place. Wasn’t so happy about coming over but I think once he got here, he made the best of it.

There’s a lesson to be learned there. Have a wonderful weekend, thank you for taking your time, and I’ll see you next time around.

The Force Re-Awakens

It was early Friday afternoon just before Father’s Day in 2001.

I just got a call from my daughter’s school. The nurse told me that Julia was not feeling well after lunch and needed to be picked up. Because my wife was a principal at a school herself, she couldn’t leave and I was the only obvious choice. I was a general manager of an industrial supply about 45 minutes away and knew I had to leave ASAP.

Since 1992, I worked for a former client and friend of mine. I was the outside programmer for the company and he was their executive VP. We first met in March of 1982 and installed their first company computer system. Back then, it was a big deal. I was only 22 years old and looked younger. Business cred was hard to come by in you looked like Mark Zuckerberg in the early ’80s.

From the time the computer was installed, my friend and I enjoyed a wonderful working relationship. He was 20 years my senior and was polished like a Don Draper character. I considered him a mentor and confidant for the next 20 years. As our business relationship grew, so did our personal relationship. He saw me get married, we had many dinners and was a friend to me in good and bad times throughout.

My friend encouraged me to start my own computer software company and he was one of my first clients. He watched my little group grow from 1 to 4 people and revenue of a whopping $125,000. (Hey, I was just a kid!).

Then came 1987. The stock market plunged, housing crashed and the good economic times came to an abrupt end – well, for me, specifically. My little company was reduced to me and my part-time bookkeeper, Patty. Clients trimmed their computing budgets and my invoices were paid after everything else. In the later 80’s, computing was still a bit of a luxury to small businesses.

I hobbled along until late 1991. My core business clients had dwindled to a scant few and I was looking for some safe harbor. Coincidentally, in November that year, the majority owner of the industrial supply company passed away and my friend was given the opportunity to buy out the heirs. Knowing that my friend was a solid #2 behind his partner, I suggested that we talk about our ‘options’.

We had a meeting in January just after the New Year. I asked my friend for a job, for lack of a better word. I was still able to do some consulting on the side to supplement my income but my main focus was going to be my ‘job’. It didn’t take more than a few months to see that my consulting was only providing me 5-10 hours a week and I was spending 40-50 at my job. I asked my friend if I could go full time. After some convincing, he agreed.

I saw the company grow under his leadership from a $15 million to a $26 million company. Personally, I moved up into the #5 spot as the general manager of administration and accounting. The big turning point for me was 1994.

My friend and I usually had an early breakfast meeting once a week at a local New Jersey diner. The topics were wide-ranging from personal to business. Later in the year, I had a frank conversation with him. It had to do with the technological vision I had for the company. Since 1982, I had been the programmer of all apllications. I was starting to see a shift in the computing landscape.

‘We need to consider hiring an outside programming company. I can’t effectively do this anymore.’

My friend said that I was a great programmer and if I was sure that’s what I wanted to do.

‘In the not-too-distant future, kids half my age will be programming with pictures. We need something that’s more comprehensive to run the business.’

I didn’t realize it then but this was the dawn of networked computing. (One morning, we were reading the papers at the front counter and I saw an advertisement. It was for Sony. At the bottom in large letters was “http://www.sony.com”. I picked up the full-page ad, turned it to him and pointed out the URL and said “This is going to replace toll-free numbers.)

My friend said, ‘Mike, I trust you. Find some companies that program for supply houses and we’ll evaluate them.’

12 years earlier, I was the software vendor for the company. Now, I was the employee shopping for the next software vendor.

Over the next several months and into early 1995, we saw many demos, went to vendor’s meetings and even dropped in on clients of the select vendors. We chose to work with a company who had a great deal of supply house technology experience.

After months of conversion, preparation, training, installation of hardware and the headaches the come along with a new software system, we were ready to go live. It was Monday, July 3 1995. In all candor, it wasn’t the smoothest or most perfect scene, but we all hung in and made the conversion to the new system. I survived the onslaught of criticism and profanity hurled at me and even picked up a convert or two along the way. Nothing tests your mettle like adversity.

Months had passed and the new system was humming along and my native co-workers were fairly calm. I succeeded in this year-long odyssey of moving the entire company over to a new way of doing things that put more responsibility in the hands of the user rather than a top-down hierarchy.

I also did something less-apparent: I obsolesced my position.

On December 22, 1995, I walked in my friend’s office. It was his tradition to call the company employees in one-by-one and give them their bonus checks. I was the last one.

After he gave me my check and I thanked him, he stated:

‘Well Mike, now I suppose you will be leaving to get a job with [our new software vendor]?’

‘No, I was looking for something more challenging. I want YOUR job.’

He was startled.

‘What would I do?’

‘You own the company. You could do whatever you want.’

He thought I was crazy, or kidding – maybe both. The wasn’t any response.

‘I will let you think about it. I have no intentions of leaving – just looking to take on a greater role.’

We shook hands and I wished he and his family a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

This brief meeting set the tone for the next several years to follow. I found out that my friend, while well-intentioned, was an autocrat. Always a gentleman, but every decision stopped with him. He’d ask every person he met for their opinion but always chose his own in the end.

In summer of 1998, he was diagnosed with a case of double pneumonia that nearly killed him. As he convalesced in the hospital in our town, I visited him with paperwork, reports or just to say ‘hi’. More than just a boss, he was my friend and long-time confidant. About a month after he left the hospital, we were having a light dinner in town.

As a person with a strong Germanic background, he was not one to get all wishy-washy about anything – ever.

After dinner, we took a short walk.

‘Mike, throughout all this ordeal, you have been my one true friend. I know that I cannot continue forever, and you will have a greater role in the company when it’s your turn at bat.’ I thanked him but said that given our long-term business and personal relationship, I felt it was incumbent of me to to the best I could for him and the company.

In the following months, his health improved and strength increased. His words to me became platitudes and he reverted back to the same person he was before being afflicted. I found my interest in doing better starting to wane; I felt like an ’employee’ rather than an ‘entrepreneur within a company’ for the first time. Morale slipped and sales declined. Personally, I had high blood pressure for the first and only time in my life.

With all the new challenges to the business, my friend exerted greater control of the business and decisions lingered on his desk for months without resolution. I made a plea to take some of the burden. So did his VP’s, seeing that the business was lagging.

Knowing that it had been 15 minutes since the school called, I waited nervously in front of my friend’s desk. He was on a business call that did not show signs of ending. Because only he could ‘dismiss’ me, I continued to wait. My friend’s desk was in the center of the sales office and my presence before him was noticed by all the salespersons there.

At the 30 minute mark, his #2 man came to me and asked what was wrong, so I told him. ‘When he gets off the phone, can you tell him I had to get Julia?’. My co-worker agreed, but I knew it was an awkward request to come late on a Friday afternoon. I quickly hopped in my car and took off for my daughter’s school.

16 years ago, mobile cell signal was patchy in some areas. I came out of an underpass and my voicemail indicator went off. I knew what it was about even before I pressed the voicemail button.

‘MICHAEL! I AM HERE AND YOU ARE NOT. CALL ME IMMEDIATELY!’

I have rarely ever hear him this angry. The traffic was building quickly like most Friday afternoons in the summer, so while stuck in traffic, I called the office.

His secretary picked up. ‘It’s Mike, can you put me through to him?’

‘He’s on the phone. Do you want to hold?’

‘I better.’

His secretary checked back with me after 5 minutes and said ‘He’s still on the phone. Do you want want to hold?’

My cellular plan included 30 minutes for $49 per month.

‘I’ll call him back in a few.’

I was in standstill traffic and realized that I may be late to pick up Jules for regular dismissal.

Less than ten minutes passed and I redialed the office.

‘Is he off the phone yet?’, I asked his secretary.

‘Yes, I’ll put you right through.’

My heart was pounding through my chest.

‘WHERE are YOU!?’

‘I was waiting for you to finish your call. Julia is sick and the school called me to pick her up.’

‘BUT I DIDN’T LET YOU LEAVE! YOU SHOULD HAVE WAITED. WE WILL TALK ABOUT THIS ON MONDAY!!’

He slammed the phone down.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. In almost 20 years, he had never been that angry at me. I was shaken, not so much by the yelling, but by how he treated me. I felt that all of my heart and soul poured into my work for him and the company meant nothing. What made it worse was that he couldn’t see my point of view as the father of a sick daughter.

My next two days were awful as I was consumed with doubt, depression and disbelief. On Sunday, Father’s Day, I went outside to take care of the lawn. It gave me time to think and reflect on the events of Friday.

I was raking up small piles of cut grass, cursing under my breath. And then it happened – I just plain snapped. I took the rake and flung it with all my might across the lawn, like a golfer that duffed a shot.

“BY THE TIME JULIA GRADUATES MIDDLE SCHOOL, I WILL NO LONGER BE WORKING AT [the company]!!!”

I remember it like it was yesterday. I had one of those Tony Robbins moments. I decided to take massive actions.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that my inner entrepreneur was being pushed around like an employee. That was completely unacceptable. It put in motion the events that led to my resignation on January 6, 2003.

From the first fling of the rake to that day, every decision I made was for me and in my best interest and that of my family. If my inner resolve were not enough, working 1 mile across the river from Ground Zero on September 11, 2001 changes your life like few other events.

I was on the road to re-becoming an entrepreneur, a fighter, an independent…

“Me”

Thursday’s Child Vlog – Episode 0: Pilot

It’s Earth Day 2017, we’re in the midst of spring here and  I guess this is like my first crack at some video, some sort of content. I’ve been in this neighborhood now  22 years and although I just saw two cars. I used to kid when people ask you, what’s your neighborhood like? I said it’s the kind of place, because, it’s not exactly a cul-de-sac, but there were more people who are runners, joggers, walkers, and they’re taking their bikes out and strapping up their roller blades and stuff and it’s really like, it’s a quiet place to be.

But, seeing it’s April 23rd , there’s Earth Day stuff going on at the park in the center of town. Everywhere I went, I mean I showed at a couple of houses today and I mean celebrations, it was I think a daffodil exhibit up in town.

For me April 23rd is a little bit different you say because it was 30…38 years ago. Get that right? In ’79 yep, April 23rd, 1979, that I got my first job in technology and it kind of changed my life. I was watching this video, hold on – I got to roll it back, I wasn’t watching videos, I was watching TV. What was it? It was Twilight Zone, that’s what it was.

Twilight Zone, late at night, this was the summer of ‘78 and what happened was, this commercial comes on, it was kind of cheesy, it’s like ‘you want to get into the exciting world of computer programming?

Have you been reading help wanted ads lately? Men and women trained as computer programmers and data processing technicians are in big demand.

The Albert Merrill School can prepare you for an exciting computer career in just six months. All or part of your tuition can be covered by government grants or low-cost loans if you qualify. The starting salaries of Albert Merrill graduates ranged between 10,000 and 14,000.

Call for this free career booklet. Learn how you can train for a computer career only six months. Call 246-7130, 246-7130.

And it was up-and-coming, we knew about computers, but it was like in its infancy. I was like ‘oh man I could do something like that’ they said all you have to do is come in and take a test. Well, wouldn’t you know I did and I got all of the answers right except for two and they said ‘yes, if you want you can be a computer programmer’

Well, long story short, I went from just being a guy who passed a normal aptitude test to seven months later I was graduating on the Ides of March. I’ll tell you more about that another time.

Well, it wasn’t more than just five or six weeks later, I had my first interview, a place in Lodi, New Jersey called Home Decor and I got a job. The funny thing was that yesterday, especially with all the spring stuff going on, everybody’s got spring fever, we’re doing some spring cleaning in the house.

Well, I hadn’t thought about this in forever. One of the first things that they teach you in computer school is flowcharting. Well, in going through the attic, there’s book, it was my flowcharting book. I said ‘oh my goodness here it is, 38 years to today’, well one more day.

38 years and that was like the first thing I did, I said you know what, I got to do a video for it, so I decided to take the plunge. Everybody has an origin story, I know that during the spring, every day it’s like a renewal. I wish they wouldn’t do Earth Day is just one day a year, you see how beautiful it is.

Down one of the streets that I live here, and really been kind of blessed being in such a nice quiet pastoral neighborhood. It’s just like a regular home, post-war home. But you get to do this, like this’s where we live. It doesn’t seem like it’s 15 miles from New York City…this quiet neighborhood. Yes, every day should be Earth Day, it shouldn’t just be once a year.

For me, it’s kind of like this constant renewal thing, so one of my stories begins. I have a lot of them, but this particular one because of Earth Day, I think should have a little bit something more special, that’s where we’ll start.

I’ll see you in the next one.

Life Is Too Short To Drink Bad Beer

“Life is too short to drink bad beer.”
-Uncle George

Back in 1981, I spent 10 months and my father’s house in Fort Lee in between living at my childhood home and my first apartment. I affectionately called it “the bachelors pad”. My father, his cousin Anthony and I were roommates and unmarried at that time. If we were a sitcom, it would be ‘The Odd Couple Plus One”.

Unlike my father and cousin Anthony, I wasn’t divorced – in fact, I wasn’t even married yet. I was dating Dawn, and she worked at her uncle’s bar and grill in Wallington named Castagnola’s. She was an undergrad at Seton Hall University and worked at the bar to make extra money for school.

One of the things that Dawn’s Uncle ‘Cass’ used to take pride in what is the quality of the beer that flowed from his taps. The Heineken that he served on tap was the freshest, cleanest tasting draft beer I ever tasted.

Being one who always marched to his own drum, Cass would introduce some new and different things to his menu. One day, Dawn told me that he had a new beer called Amstel. She called it ‘Heineken light’ since it was from Holland and imported by the same company as Heineken.

The first time that I tasted Amstel, I thought that was pretty good even though it was a light beer. I had tried others like Miller Lite, but they were mostly pretty lousy beers, in my opinion. Amstel had a rich flavor and tasted much like it’s Dutch cousin Heineken but had less calories.

After tasting Amstel at the bar, I looked for it at my local liquor store. Because it was brand-new, it was pretty easy to find. I bought a six-pack and proceeded to bring it home.

When I walked in the door, I was surprised to see my uncle George – who is my father’s brother. Uncle George always had a certain air about him. He was a taller, fuller man who had this presence whenever he spoke. You could always tell that my uncle was around just by his voice.

What is apparent is that he was the oldest in the family and was quite the authority figure. He used to work for the United States information agency and retired young. He took his booming presence to the stage and was an actor in a couple of the local theater groups. I was used to love to watch him perform because he was quite a character.

Uncle George used to live next-door in the duplex apartment of our house. In the mid-70s, he and my Aunt Margaret got divorced. He bought a place down in Naples, Florida, hopped in his VW convertible and drove off.

Uncle George asked what I had in the bag as I walked over to the refrigerator. I told him that it was a new beer called Amstel. He was quite a beer aficionado, as long as the beer was Budweiser, or at the very least, domestic. As I remember, he never quite fancied imported beers. Maybe it’s because of the cost and he was a hearty consumer of beer. In fact, as he walked my cousin Laura down the aisle at her wedding, the men in our family were making ‘pfft’ sounds as if they were opening tall-boys in honor.

Uncle George asked me more about the beer. When I told him that it was a light beer, there was this look of disgust that came across his face. I tried to reassure him that it was really a good beer. I opened up a bottle and poured it into the Stein and handed it over to him. With one long pull, over half the beer was gone.

I distinctly remember him saying: “Michael, that’s pretty good beer.”

Knowing Uncle George, that was like getting a top Zagat rating.

When I told him that a six-pack cost about four bucks, he thought it was pretty expensive but probably worth it. Uncle George was always full of handy advice and would pontificate often with ease. He then gave me a piece of advice I’ve never forgotten:

“Life is too short to drink bad beer.”

Whether he knew it or not, that may have been the deepest thing he ever said to me.

I don’t know if he ever passed that on to his brother. For my entire life, dad was a committed PBR man. My grandfather was a Ballantine (beer, not ale) drinker, especially when there was a Yankee game on Channel 11.

In the last 35 years, I can’t say that I always drink the best beer but for some reason, my uncle’s words echo in my head and I wind up choosing a decent beer when I’m out at a bar or restaurant. There’s nothing like having an ice-cold beer on a hot summer day or robust ale when the days are cooler.

For me back then, it was a right of passage. Today, it seems a little bit more like a way of life. Wine and liquor have their place and time but it’s beer that brings folks together – to watch a game, to enjoy at a picnic or barbecue or just casually hang out among friends.

And to my Uncle George, who recently turned 90, salute!

Day 42: The Rover

40.970190, -74.096528

I’m starting to get the hang on my personal new world order. I’ve heard “As long as I’m here, it doesn’t matter where here is.” So, as long as I have my bag of tricks – tools ‘n’ tech – I’m all set to continue on this rover life.

One of the things that my current office teaches is “Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.” Well, I would like to add a codicil: “Change the way you look at people and the way people look at you changes.”

Situated in a mobile office, per se, allows me to interact with my environment that cannot be equaled by sitting in an office all day.

This is not a new idea. However, if you couple it with a new business approach, it’s dynamic and my personal growth is exponential.

I’ve been to London, seen seven wonders. I know to trip is just to falI used to rock it, sometimes I’d roll it. I always knew what it was for.
~ Jimmy Page, Robert Plant from ‘The Rover’ by Led Zeppelin

Other than the physical aspect of roving around is to allow my mind wander a bit. A little creative daydreaming isn’t a bad thing, but one caveat is I have to treat it like a balanced diet: everything in moderation. I have this hunger for thoughts and ideas to a point of obsession so I find that it’s better to spend my ‘daydream calories’ wisely.