Midweek Musings – Multi-Tools

It was many (many) years ago that I purchased a Leatherman Wave multi-tool after my buddy had spent months raving about his. So many years and lives later I must say, I feel naked without it on my belt.

I hesitate to even wager a guess at how many times in a given day I find myself reaching for it.

I do just about everything with it. I’ve repaired guitars, worked on computers, and opened more boxes and assembled more toys than I could ever count.

I’ve used it as a hammer, a door stop, a means of steadying a stubborn nail in a cramped space as I feebly try to hammer it into place. I’ve removed splinters and trimmed branches. I’ve sliced, diced, filed, shaved, and sawed just about anything you can do that to and probably things you shouldn’t.

I could probably perform minor to moderate surgery with nothing but my trusty Leatherman and a copy of Gray’s Anatomy.

Which brings me to my musing for today: Are you a multi-tool?

It’s something to strive towards.

Some may frame this concept as the old cliché that says “jack of all trades but master of none” but I don’t particularly care for that description. It suggests that by its very definition a “jack of all trades” is not or cannot be a master in and themselves.

I believe flexibility, fluidity, and adaptability to be among the most valuable character traits we can have in life, professionally or personally.

Just a cursory review of the most successful people in the world will show that very few of them are “just a hammer” or “just a flat-head screwdriver.” Those that may have been typically have clear enough vision to surround themselves with a bevy of multi-tools.

Organizations, both large and small, in every industry have armies of employees with titles like “Manager – Special Projects and Design” or “Project Specialist.” As a matter of fact, mine is “Communications and Projects Specialists.”

These titles beg the question: “So what does someone with such a title actually do?”

Well…pretty much anything.

In my case I prepare a great deal of internal and external communications collateral. It could be security white sheets, new business development proposals, internal training and education guides, data documents for clients or just a sign telling everyone when the next pot luck will be.

I also manage extensive and complex international travel logistics involving flights, planning executive-level meetings, conferences, and events around the world. I help our team by ensuring their travel visas and passports are in order and that everything has been handled to ensure they are able to get to and from anywhere in the world in order to serve our clients.

I do graphic design, new employee on-boarding, negotiate vendor contracts. Ask me in an hour and I’ll have three more, seemingly complexly unrelated tasks to knock out.

One of my most recent projects has been to create a step-by-step, easy-to-understand, all-encompassing guidebook for how our new expense management software solution works because of course the materials provided were anything but.

My company relies on me to fill gaps no matter where they may open. I’m the Leatherman multi-tool on my company’s belt.

This is most certainly the case for independent small business owners, like Ashley Newman of Houston’s Ashley Newman Photography.

A brilliant and creative photographer and storyteller, her passion led her to take a big step into the world of creating her own company to manage full-time.

In the two years or so since she made that decision it is safe to say that she is anything but “just” a photographer.

In addition to standing behind the camera Ashley has had to develop skills in web design and development. She is her own social media marketing and communications manager charged with developing and implementing multi-platform campaigns while defining and targeting market segments and audiences. Small business owners like her must be accountants, financial planners, and logistics specialists.

They have to vet and manage their vendors, handle purchasing, new technology assessment and implementation…oh and in Ashley’s case being a spouse, a parent, a friend, and everything else that life throws at us every day.

Multi-tools are, by design, masters of being able to do anything and everything whenever the moment calls for it to do be done.

Job seekers will immediately distinguish themselves from other applicants by demonstrating their ability to be entrusted with critical but diverse challenges while delivering superlative results.

An existing employee will make themselves essential an invaluable within their organization by showing a willingness to take on any new challenge no matter how foreign or “outside of their job description.”

Small businesses become successful larger businesses when they are led by someone willing to push themselves beyond the core activity that drove them to start the company in the first place.

So again I’ll ask: are you a multi-tool?

We should all be!

That’s it for today!

Be Well and Kind,

Jason

The More Things Change…The More Things Change

Things are different with me these days.

I have changed quite a bit over the recent past due to two distinct reasons.

Growing up, my family escaped the worst of nature’s wrath. As a child I watched a neighbor’s tree get ripped from the ground but nothing really happened to our house. We had various flooding events as I grew up but again nothing really impacted us.

Tropical Storm Alison flooded my apartment but very few of my possessions were destroyed. We only had about 8 inches of water and it came in so slowly that I was able to get my valuables off the ground. My car needed a good washing. That was about it.

Katrina and Rita didn’t directly impact us either.

Ike knocked out another neighbor’s tree and destroyed part of their house and both cars but we were only out of electricity for about 6 hours. We had a little water seep into one room.

My parents were without power for about 2 weeks but they sat on the patio and grilled, came over to do laundry, and everyone was relatively ok. I had other friends who lived in a cul de sac full of outdoorsy folks so they had a huge block party with everyone emptying their deep freezers and firing up the grills and smokers.

Then the Tax Day Floods came. My parents were not flooded out of their home  but they were flooded in. It was impossible to reach their door without a boat. It took over a week for the water to drain. Getting my dad’s medication was a bit of a challenge. I was worried about what would happen if I needed to get to them or get them out in an emergency.

Just like that, things were starting to hit much closer to home and it seemed as if these events were experiencing a crescendo.

Still, afterwards everything went back to normal and such concerns faded to the background again.

Enter Harvey.

We are closing in on one year since Hurricane Harvey hit Houston. It’s amazing to think about that because of how much the storm still seems to linger over so many of our lives.

There are homes yet to be repaired. There are people yet to determine what to do with their houses and where they’ll live. Some kids are still waiting for their schools to reopen.

Before the storm, a new strip centering being built meant everyone wondered if there would be a Starbucks or a Kohl’s but now then news of a new real estate development project is greeted with questions about flood mediation. Citizens that never once thought about things like how an empty patch of grass helps control water flow have become comment thread activists on the NextDoor app. We’ve all gotten a crash course in city planning and civil engineering.

Looking back Harvey does not seem like an isolated incident. Rather, it seems like the most recent in a series of ever-building events.

Reality hit me at about 4:00 am on the morning of the storm when I left the house looking for batteries and a flashlight. It was the first in a flurry of shots I would receive over the coming days and weeks.

The experience of trying to provide and protect my family during and after the storm, of trying to manage the logistics of things like finding pharmacies and grocery stores that were both open AND accessible, of finding gas, of finding something to put the gas in, of learning how to use a generator, of trying to keep Oliver cool and entertained…all of that has changed me.

Before Harvey I had some tools in the garage, a couple extension cords, a decent drill, an old roll of duct tape, and that was about it. I had a couple flashlights, one broken, and another in need of batteries.

Since that Saturday morning, I’ve amassed a generator, a dozen cords, fans, a stack of power bricks, flashlights of every variety, batteries, cases of water, half a dozen gas cans, and I just invested in a freezer. I have a pair of thick tactical boots that served me incredibly well throughout the storm and afterwards.

If I see a sale on water, I grab it. If I see a clearance price on a power brick, head lamp, batteries, I take it.

I pay closer attention to things like how much of my medication I have at any given time and try not to wait until the day before to call in the refill. I keep tabs on things like how much paper towel, water, and batteries I have. I have a full tank of propane and now I have a smoker…as much for the joy of outdoor cooking as for being able to cook without electricity. I’ve always been a bit of a weather buff but now even more so.

Of course all of this “prepping” may be for pointless. Let’s face it, Another will come and when it does there will only be so much we can do. The storm could flood my house wash away my precious stockpiles.

Yet, I do these things because I’m different now.

So too have I noticed a sharp change in myself for another reason.

Columbine, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Aurora, Tucson, the Sikh Temple, Sandy Hook, Boston, Charleston, San Bernardino, Orlando, Dallas, Ft. Lauderdale, Vegas, Sutherland Springs, Parkland, Santa Fe, 2-inch bulletproof glass at the bank, metal detectors at the ballpark, “see something say something” and everything in between have chipped away any sense of comfort I had when out in public.

I am different now.

Mind you, I was not raised in a fantasy world where crime didn’t exist. My comfortably middle-class upbringing did not obstruct my view of reality. People got shot, robbed, raped, stabbed, and beat up. A schoolmate’s father went into a rage one night and murdered his mother as my classmate watched.

But I was never so aware or alert as I have become as these events have occurred one after the other. Much as with Harvey, the Santa Fe shooting seems like another step in a seemingly endless progression, one that keeps getting closer.

So now when I get out of the car I look in all directions. I go inside and scan the room. Where are the exits? Is it crowded? Does anything seem “off?” My ears are wide open listening for shouting, loud pops or bangs. I try not to focus so much on my shopping list that I lose track of where I am in the store, who is around me, and whether or not I can move freely and quickly if the need arises.

I like to take Oliver shopping with me. We have a ball describing things we see, singing, greeting other shoppers and store employees. Best of all, we usually come home with a toy.

On such a day out we found ourselves at the local Wal-Mart.

This particular visit began much like any other. I got out of the car; glanced around the parking lot, and pulled Oliver from his seat. We danced our way into the store and got as far as the frozen food section before we heard a wild alarm and people shouting. It was much louder than the ones heard when a customer walks out with a shirt that still had the security tag on it. It was scary. People around me ducked for cover, one woman fell flat on her stomach, hands over her head.

Oliver shouted, “Daddy! What’s that noise!?” Instinctively I grabbed him tight and turned my head towards the source while also slowly walking in a direction from which I could quickly make a dart for the exit if things went south.

I made a game of it by telling him it was the “Wal-Mart Police” who must have “arrested” a little boy for being too crazy in the store. (Everywhere we go has its own police force. There’s McDonald’s Police, Kroger Police, Target Police, Zoo Police. They all arrest crazy toddlers who drive their fathers bonkers. That’s how I roll. Sue me. Haha)

Whatever it was turned out to be nothing but for a few moments I thought things were going in a different direction.

That moment reaffirms my insecurities about letting Oliver out of my sight as much as it does my concern of taking him out. I don’t want him to go anywhere without me. Granted, a big part of this is because I want to spend every second I can with him. He’s my son and beyond loving him, I really do like him. He’s three years old and already my best friend.

The other side of that is the fear of something bad happening and me not being there for him. The idea of sending him off to school is nerve-racking.

And it isn’t like I could necessarily “save” him from anything. What am I going to do? I don’t carry a gun. I’ve never even held one and despite having memorized every training montage from every Rocky movie I have yet to “eat lightning or crap thunder.”

I have a hard time swatting a roach. (What? They’re freakish creatures. Some of them can FLY! Did you know that?! Evolution isn’t all it’s cracked up to be sometimes.)

The fact is that if something is going to happen to Oliver then it should happen to me. If he’s sick then we’re sick. If he’s happy then we’re happy. If he’s frustrated then we’re frustrated. If he gets to go to the zoo then I get to go to the zoo.

We’re in this together.

And just like that, Reality comes back to throw another stiff jab.

I can stockpile all the AAs and water bottles in the world and I can keep Oliver in my arms 24/7 but I can’t really keep anything from happening can I? I can’t really prepare for anything can I?

I couldn’t have prevented Harvey from flooding my house anymore than I was able to keep it from happening to my parents down the street. If my house was going to flood it was going to flood.

If someone had shot up that Wal-Mart then all I would have been able to do is scoop Oliver up and try to get the hell out of there. Maybe we would have. Maybe I would have tripped over my own feet and fallen into the display of value size Heinz ketchup while dozens of people trampled us on their way out. Maybe something worse happens.

And so I am different now.

I am different because while I always accepted that I have no control over any tragedy that life may bring I had never truly allowed that feeling to get deep inside of me. I pushed all that aside, tucked it away deep in the back of my mind and as such my lack of preemptive action didn’t really mean much.

Now? I wallow in the ironic futility of so much preparedness.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t live in some constant state of fear. I’ve not spent the last ten months stockpiling arms and MREs while researching how to capture rainwater and fashion gas masks from Downy dryer sheets. (Gain smells better, don’t you think?)

There are no plans to build a bunker beneath The Cathedral.

It just makes sense to always have an extra box of AAs around, mostly so I have enough to keep Oliver’s trains chugging.

Why wait to run out of water or anything really, and have to pay full price when you can stock up during a sale?

I can’t wait to get the new freezer on Saturday. It was purchased as much for being able to take advantage of sales as anything else.

I’ll be able to stock up on Oliver’s Eggos du jour. My dad can buy all the Digiorno frozen pizzas he wants and come Thanksgiving, I’ll be able to grab an extra one for later in the year!

But reality is never so far away that it’s truly in the back of my mind. The freezer, like everything else I’ve collected over the year, will come in handy when the next storm arrives.

Every generation debates whether or not the world has changed, whether things were “different back then.”

The world might be different. It might not be.

But I am different now.

 

Be Well and Kind,

jason

 

 

Wednesday Morning Musings – Amazon Prime Wardrobe

Until Sunday, I’d worn the same pair of athletic shoes for fifteen years. It was time. Having a toddler with a relentless, almost maniacal, energy demands I have proper footwear to keep up.

This meant doing one of the things I dread the most: go to a store.

With a sigh of surrender I packed Young Master Oliver up and off we went to our local tan shopping center. I’ll look for shoes, maybe a pair of pants, and of course find a wicked cool toy for the young lad.

2 hours and 5 stores later what did we find? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Oh they had inventory but nothing that fit or looked right. I did find one shirt that was kind of sort of but not entirely ok…and it cost almost as much as my mobile phone bill.

When we returned home weary from the excursion, I glanced at my phone and realized something marvelous.

Amazon rolled out a new benefit for subscribers of their Prime subscription service. Prime Wardrobe allows customers to have up to 8 items sent to them, free of charge, in order to try them on and see how they look, feel, and fit. You can then return what you don’t want in the same packaging it came in with the included prepaid label. You’re only charged for what you keep.

I ordered 6 pair of sneakers. They arrived on Sunday. 30 minutes later and I found my sneakers, right in the comfort of my living room. I packed up the rest in their original resealable box and by Monday they were on their way back to Bezos and the gang. Simultaneously, another Prime Wardrobe box was being sent my way with 8 pair of pants.

I may never visit a store again.

I mention this not to throw even more business to Amazon but to highlight a strategy and philosophy that Amazon has embraced since its birth: make it easy for the customer to do business with you.

If it’s more difficult than it’s worth to purchase something then I’m not going to purchase it. I’ll either do without or I’ll find somewhere else to buy it.

Something as simple as a return can be a make-or-break moment for a retailer.

How simple is the process?

Does the customer service rep show reluctance towards accepting the item?

How many people have to walk to the register and enter codes and approve the transaction?

I returned a pair of defective headphones to my local Wal-Mart less than 48 hours after receiving them. I had the original packaging and receipt and even the protective stickers were still on headphones. It took 45 minutes, not including driving to the store, parking, and driving home.

First I got in the line with a massive sign having above it that read “online purchases and returns HERE.” Then, after about 10 minutes I was told “That’s not a line. That sign doesn’t mean anything. You have to get in this line.”

So I waited in that line….and waited.

Then the rep paged someone in electronics to ask about serial numbers and whether they accept returns on these particular headphones.

The electronics rep didn’t know so they paged someone else. Meanwhile my rep paged another rep. While this was all playing out I googled information on the serial numbers and went to walmart.com to find their return policy. I gave the representative the information she was looking for. She then paged a third person, presumably a manager, who came over to approve the return, issue my refund, and sent me on my way.

It seems every time I try to give my money to another retailer I walk away thinking “I should have just bought this from Amazon.” This trip was no different because by the time I walked back to my car I had placed an order for new headphones from Amazon.

Whether it’s  a matter of just wanting to get it over with and avoid waiting two days or if I’m attempting to “support independent local businesses,” it always seems that I go through more trouble than it was worth. I couldn’t find what I was looking for despite being told it was in stock. The item was defective and the return process was tedious. No one in the store could answer questions about the item they purportedly specialize in selling and supporting.

So what ends up happening? I order it from Amazon anyway. I’ve almost entirely stopped bothering with brick-and-mortar retailers.

News and opinion pieces are published, seemingly on an hourly basis, bemoaning the continuing struggles and failures of our beloved retail stores in the wake of Amazon’s rise. Steeped in nostalgia, these pieces attempt to evoke some measure of Rockwellian tender longing for some bygone era that I’m not convinced ever actually existed.

What will happen to our society in the absence of our most cherished centers of community, the shopping mall?

Every click of the “Place Your Order” button is another dagger into the heart of the retailing traditions that have bound our culture of commerce for centuries.

Or maybe, Amazon just makes it easier to buy stuff.

Now, I don’t expect a small independent shopkeeper to have the selection or buying power of Amazon but what about a store like Wal-Mart?

Amazon has approximately 330 domestic facilities devoted to fulfillment, warehousing, returns, sorting, and delivery with $51 billion in 2018 1st quarter revenue.

Wal-Mart has 42 distribution centers and over 4000 locations, not including Sam’s Club. They reported over $120 billion in revenue for over the same period.

Despite having every resource available and over twice the revenue, Wal-Mart continues to struggle with both their in-store customer service as well as their e-commerce platform.

Wal-Mart has every resource needed to offer a Prime Wardrobe service. Wal-Mart has just a robust product selection as Amazon. Wal-Mart revolutionized logistics and supply chain. Wal-Mart, like Amazon, allows third-party vendors to sell items through its website. They employ over 1 million people in the United States while Amazon’s entire workforce is less than half that figure.

Their acquisitions of Bonobos , was supposed to signal a new era in which they would attract a fashion-savvy and younger customer base away from other retailers. Yet, Bonobos’ servers aren’t exactly failing beneath the traffic of all these new online orders.

Bonobos’ website boasts that if you happen to live near a one of their “Guideshop” you can try your clothes on before buying them. You can even return online purchases at these local storefronts.

Wal-Mart and Bonobos aren’t exactly disrupting the marketplace with these bold strategies.

The Prime Wardrobe program, by contrast, is another example of Amazon being more creative, more forward-thinking, and more willing to take risks on ideas that seem unheard of to traditional retailers.

I mean really? Who thinks it is a good idea to just ship product to a customer without them paying for it first? It’s so absurd that it’s brilliant.

So while traditional retailers continue to rebrand their private label clothing lines or develop new pricing strategies in hopes of attracting customers that have long since fled, they ignore what Amazon teaches them every day: make it easy for your customers to do business with you and they will keep doing business with you.

Too many companies are entrenched in a belief that business should be done on their terms and then struggle with the reality that business is being done elsewhere.

The marketplace is no different than our normal lives. Agility and flexibility are two of the most important attributes to have.

That’s it for today. Have a great rest of the week!

Be Well and Kind,
Jason

The Face of Fatherhood

We have seen an incredible wave of progressive movements aimed at challenging conventional roles and ideas in recent history. From what constitutes “beauty” and “gender” to what constitutes “bullying” and even what “presidential” means.

Those discussions are certainly beneficial to the ambiguous and distant collective we call “society” but they are essential to we the individuals who comprise that society.

And so too, I’ve taken notice of another, not so vociferous, movement that is creeping its way into the zeitgeist: the roles individuals play within a given family structure and fatherhood in particular.

It’s been somewhat refreshing to see commercials feature fathers in rolls that don’t depict them as sofa-riding oafs. A favorite of mine is the “Glass Full of Smiles” spot from Minute Maid that shows a dad and his daughter enjoying a refreshing glass of juice as she draws with her crayons. It’s pretty adorable with its ”to the fridge!” ending.

There have been a few others peppered into the mix but they seldom earn the attention or praise that similar advertising campaigns earn when they feature people of color when children with special needs are shown in Sunday circulars. When fathers or husbands are depicted as uninvolved or clueless, these ads fail to receive the same level of ire and criticism as those that attempt to embrace diversity but fail miserably leaving us to wonder who would actually sign off on such ads.

Now, before we get too deep, I really want to take a moment and be clear. There’s no direct or literal correlation being made between fatherhood or husbandry and centuries of mistreatment, persecution, slavery, civil rights abuses, and other such atrocities upon humanity.
This is simply an observation I’m making about current trends in marketing and advertising and how I believe they both reflect and shape our collective attitudes and biases.

I bring gender, physical, and racial/ethnic diversity into the topic to simply discuss how mass marketing has begun an unprecedented shift away from the white wife/husband with two kids in a suburban home aesthetic and towards an image that attempts to be more indicative of ALL our realities.
It wasn’t that long ago that the world was turned on its head by Sammy Davis Jr. kissing Archie Bunker. Now we find ourselves with TV shows featuring people of color, homosexuals, children with cerebral palsy.

So then, has the time not come to also include the roles each individual plays within a marriage? Should we not examine further what fatherhood looks like and then attempt to both reflect and encourage the positive aspects of it?

I’m a child of baby boomers, a Gen Xer as they say. I grew up with the latch-key kids, though I was not one myself. I grew up with a strong mother and father where she stayed at home managing the operations of our household and my father worked just as hard outside the home to fund those operations. Neither was emotionally unavailable. Neither ever too busy to play or talk or anything else. I had it good.

Being of my generation I also grew up bombarded with messages about deadbeat dads and how many children there are without a strong male role model…about how many African American children grew up with only their moms because their fathers were in prison.

TV dads like Steven Keaton (Family Ties) or Jason Seaver (Growing Pains) gave way to Homer Simpson, Al Bundy, and so forth.

Mothers are typically depicted as the ones who have to come and clean up the mess left in the wake of these bumbling fathers. Mothers are the problem-solvers, the multi-taskers, the heroes.

And rightly so. I’m a big fan of mothers. Some of the people I most admire are women who are, all at once, mothers, business owners, educators, artists, students, musicians, and so much more. Mother is indeed the name for God on the lips and hearts of all children. But where does that leave fathers?

Are mothers always the blessed angels and fathers always the couch potatoes?

Certainly not.

I know many a mother for whose children my heart aches. These children will never know the intimate love felt between a child and both their parents.

I know many a mother whose children sit in soiled diapers, hungry (for food and for attention) while mom flips through the TV channels yelling “stop touching that”.

And so too do I know many a father who come home weary from a long day but still anxious to embrace their children and give piggyback rides. Count me among them.

So too, do I know many a father who wake up for the late night bottle feedings, the nightmares, and the “hey I just want to play even though it’s 2 am” moments that come with babies. Count me among them.

Acknowledging one does not have to come at the expense of the other. We can celebrate the sanctity of motherhood without dismissing the fact that dads are pretty neat too. We can also talk about the challenges that arise from those parents who struggle with or refuse to embrace their sacred and privileged responsibilities without painting such a wide brush that it smears the ones that do.

I joke among my friends that I am the most handsome housewife they’ll ever meet. (Haha It’s probably not true, I’m not that handsome but the joke plays well.)

I do “husband/guy stuff” like making sure the cars get in for service (I’m not so much of a “real” man that I can do it myself haha). I assemble toys and furniture (like the crib my soon-to-be-three-year-old never used). I lug stuff around…at least as much as my twice-operated-on back will allow.

But, I also do the laundry, careful to ensure darks with darks/whites with whites as well as the proper amounts of detergent, softener, and dryer sheets.

I clean toilets and polish fixtures. I dust and mop and vacuum every week. (Vacuums…a favorite topic of mine. I could write volumes so don’t get me started haha)

I do the shopping…some would say I’ve become a bit “extreme” in my coupon strategies.

If there’s a dish yo I’ll clean it…or at least put it in the dishwasher.

Balance the checkbook, pay the bills, stay on top of maintenance schedules for things around the house like those darn vacuums (yes folks, you do have to clean and vacuum your vacuums) HVAC components, the yard, trees, etc…all that stuff. Some of it is “man/husband” stuff but a lot of it is traditionally thought of as “mom/wife” stuff.

the whole world in my hands – Photograph by Ashley Newman Photography

More than anything however, the one thing that I am most proud, passionate, and unyielding about, is the relationship I have and want to continue building with my son.

I dote on him. I love shopping for his clothes. I massage him with baby lotion. (I love the smell of baby lotion and cologne) I enjoy dancing with him and turning myself into the most ridiculous sack of humanity ever just to get a giggle out of him. Bath time is party time.

He fascinates me. It has been a marvel to watch the way he has evolved from a tiny infant into a real person with a voice and a personality all his own. I love peeking around a corner to watch and listen as he talks in different voices for each dinosaur and dump truck as they carry on discussions about any given topic. His creativity is astounding and gives me boundless pride.

I am a father the way my father was before me. I don’t know any other way to do it, nor do I care to learn honestly.

While mothers are typically seen as the nurturing, kind-hearted, and doting of the two parents fathers, well…we have to teach our children to be strong and tough because the world is a dangerous and merciless place. I believe I can accomplish the latter by embodying the former.

I can’t be “that” dad who rules the house with an iron fist from a recliner. Why would I want to be? I don’t want to be the kind of father who sets demands and defines punishments instead of expectations and rationales. The latter can almost entirely erase the need for the former.

Now, I say that, not to tell anyone what kind of dad or parent they should be but to point out that the role I play is hardly the one that many of my peers, and perhaps many of you reading this, have come to understand a father to be. It is certainly not the kind of father I generally see depicted on television….other than the bumbling part. I am perhaps one of the clumsiest people you will ever meet. I fell through the ceiling once. I’m certain I’d fall through the floor if it were possible.

I’ve never, ever, assembled a piece of furniture without having to disassemble it at least once because I did something backwards.

So, anyway, haha…to my original point: why are these depictions of men not criticized for being unproductive and unhealthy? Why are men not more effectively and positively represented in mass media?

I think a great deal of that has to do with who the ads are targeted towards.

Men and fathers are still not the primary audience for commercials promoting baby diapers or other products. We aren’t the ones that marketing departments think about when they are putting together a campaign for household cleaners, laundry detergent, vacuum cleaners, and whatnot.

Watch the commercials. In many respects they would fit as nicely into a break from Leave it to Beaver as they do now.  They are typically Caucasian women (though as mentioned an increasing number of women of color) and often with a baby on their hip or playing nearby. These ladies pull the laundry out and smell the wonder that is spring air or lavender romance or whatever silly name they’ve attached to a product. They wear heels while vacuuming.

Now these commercials are often criticized as being unrelatable and unrealistic and for sure, they absolutely are.

I don’t wear heels when I vacuum. I wear sneakers or Dr. Martens, cargo shorts, and a toddler on my shoulders. I don’t smell the laundry because I don’t have time. I have a dozen other loads of laundry to get through, a roast in the oven, Alexa telling me my son’s chicken nuggets are ready, and oh my god why is the dog barking?!

And yet, just a quick glance through the personal products section of any given store provides a horrible insight into what companies think of men.

Action Blast! Adventure Advanced! EXTREME DRY!

Wait, what…Dark Temptation?! I’m not sure what’s going on there.

Again we see these notions of men being aggressive and dominant reaffirmed in something so simple as soap and personal hygiene products. I don’t want to smell extreme. The only adventures I go on involve coupons and fighting through hoards of crazed shoppers to get my detergent deal where I spend 50 cents per jug when regular price is 6.99….talk about EXTREME!

Through all this I began using Instagram.

I had an account but it lay fallow for year. When I founded a small promotions and record label (Cathedral Records) I began using my account a bit more to share photos of the studio, of artists I was helping to promote, of instruments, etc.

Then I started sharing photos of the food I cook. (I’m a passionate home chef). And of course, like any proud dad, the baby pics started to elbow their way in. Using Instagram and Facebook gave us a way to easily give my family and few friends the opportunity to sort of tag along as my son and I went through our days together. I’d never used a hashtag on Instagram but I had come up with one that I began slapping on my photos after seeing so many tags about motherhood: #FaceOfFatherhood.

The Face of Fatherhood isn’t always cute and giggly. haha

I thought it had a nice ring to it and summed up what I thought these photos of our adventures together were “saying”…if they were saying anything at all.

As the weeks and months and passed I began getting comments from friends and colleagues about how close my son and I are. How it’s so special to see a man so attached to his son. How it’s so obvious that he and I share a special bond.  I started to look at these selfies with different eyes and I began to realize that these photos were saying something. They were depicting something special.

Thus, I switched my Instagram to “public” and began using it more often. I was curious about this whole hashtag thing so I started adding different ones and all of the sudden I was greeted by an entire world of men modeling healthy, positive, and relatable images of what it is to be a father.

Stereotypes are being challenged with every “heart” and each one leads to another.

I’ve seen men of color, most often portrayed as these incarcerated dead beat dads, braiding their daughters’ hair and cuddling with their kids reading a book.

I’ve seen strong, well-built guys that would otherwise seem like some “dumb-jock” painting his adorable daughter’s tiny toe nails.

I’ve seen out-of-shape “every-guys” grinning like the proverbial cheshire cat as they toss their toddlers in the air.

One of my favorites is a gentleman with a big burly bearded chef who hunts and prepares these gorgeous meals. He has a gang of daughters who he photographs even more often than his meals and he can’t stop gushing over them. This big bad woodsmen just melts when his children are around.

Indeed the face of fatherhood takes many forms.

It is reassuring to see so many men sharing their experiences, their devotion, and their love. Something so simple as a selfie can say so much.

We are here and if no one else will tell our story, we will tell it ourselves. And if many won’t listen, it doesn’t matter, because our children are listening and they will tell their children, and eventually it will be The Story.

Keep it up dads. Our work is the only work that matters.

Until next time,

Be Well and Kind…and give your kids an extra tight hug today.

 

Jason

 

The Art of the Deal – Life Lessons in Negotiations

Negotiations are a part of life.

We negotiate often without even really thinking of it such terms. All our interpersonal dealings involve some form of winning and losing…someone gets what they want and someone surrenders something.

A job interview, for instance, is most certainly a negotiation. You’re selling yourself, they are selling themselves but they already work there so they are in somewhat of a position of power. You need them to like you more than they need you to like them…typically speaking. You can certainly turn it around and look at is as they’re the ones who are looking for help. Right? You get my drift though.

Asking your employer for a raise, talking about potential vacation spots with the spouse, even walking through the grocery store looking at what’s on sale or being featured this week…all of it can be boiled down to an old west duel between two dusty cowboys each unwilling to yield even a step.

Now in another life many years ago, I worked in retail management and sales. I’ve been married for nearly 15 years. Lots of negotiating….to say nothing of the years I spent as a young boy trying to smooth-talk my way into a later curfew or an extra few bucks for a day out with my friends at the mall.

However, just yesterday I found myself in the most heated and anxious battle of wits I’ve ever encountered. And I must admit…the other man won.

Allow me to set the stage:

It was about 4:45 pm…a day like any other. Left the office, drove home, traffic was not horrific, the weather rather pleasant. I entered my home to find my mother putting the finishing touches on what would be a splendid meal, (arroz con pollo y platanitos) while my father sat with my precious son watching television and playing with Lincoln Logs.

I heard the joyous cries from down the hall: Dadddddyyyyy!!!!!! A warm embrace, peck on the cheek and our afternoon began with a diaper change, assembling some train tracks, and discussing the finer aspects of his day spent enjoying all the finest appointments of toddlerdom.

A bit of time passed and, as has been the norm since his arrival, our recently adopted eufy robovac Alfred (HIGHLY recommended by the way) was summoned. My son, Young Master Oliver, adores his friend Alfred and they spend hours together…Alfred vacuuming and Oliver dancing and jumping around him while “feeding” him bits of popcorn or anything else he comes upon.

After a short while, Oliver wanted to take Alfred into the Cathedral. (The Cathedral is the large studio room ideally used for recording music but in the almost years since my son’s sacred birth has become more of a parking lot for wagons, strollers, and a candy-apple red Jaguar).

Now I didn’t want Alfred in the Cathedral…or Oliver for that matter. There are instrument and speaker cables, computers, valuable guitars, and there are bottles of wine (that we just found out last night he can reach! So I guess that should be “were” bottles of wine).

So like any parent I say “No, don’t go in there. You and Alfred stay over here.”

And so it began. Our negotiations.

Yes! Daddy…I want to take Alfred to the Cathedral!

No son. Stay over here. There’s plenty for you and Alfred to do.

Oooh Daddy, I want to take Alfred.

No son. Come on. Let’s go outside and do stuff. It’s pretty. Leave Alfred be for now.

NOOO! Alfred.

Oliver don’t….stop. Wait. Don’t take Oliver in there. No.

Heeeheeheee

Oliver I mean it. Stop that.

Heeeheehee YES! Daddy, I’m taking Alfred to the room!

Ok that’s enough. I mean it. Stop right there!

Now I have him. He’s cornered. Yes he took Alfred into the Cathedral but he hasn’t turned him on. We aren’t past the point of no return. This isn’t a hardcore punishment situation here. Rather, it’s an “opportunity” to correct behavior, assert my role as father and provide precious, gentle yet firm, guidance.

We’re negotiating.

He wants to play with Alfred in The Cathedral.

I want him to leave Alfred alone and do something else….or at the very least, bring Alfred back to the living room and kitchen area.

Son. Don’t turn Alfred on. Don’t press that button. I mean it. Pick him up and let’s go.

Yes.

Yes? Yes what?

I want to press the button.

Now mind you, he says this not in an aggressive manner. Rather, a sweet pleading tone…it’s a ploy. Don’t buy into it.

I’m too smart for it though. I’m on to him and this little act. I’ve seen it plenty of times over the years. I lived through the sales floor at Guitar Center. I can get through this no problem.

Son. No. We aren’t pressing the button. We are going to go get socks and shoes and go outside! (happy enthusiast voice!)

I’ll preeeesssss the buuuutttttoon.

(Seriously? Am I in a cartoon?)

My son’s index finger is literally hovering about two centimeters above Alfred’s seemingly eager, and perhaps even mockingly, blue lit button. Oliver’s eyes are locked onto my own. A grin has now come across his demented little face.

I know this play. It’s the “I’m cute” play. Girls used this on me for years! You know how many apartment moves I’ve done? How many errands I’ve run? How many discounts I gave at GC because of the “I’m cute” game?

Plenty….and I’ve learned my lesson.

I’m 42 year old man, married, homeowner, tax payer, voter, business owner, and aspiring-something-or-other. No way the “I’m cute” thing is going to work on me at this stage in life.

Son. Seriously. Get away from Alfred. We’re not pushing the button. We’re not letting him vacuum in here. We’re going to the living room. Pick him….gently….and bring him back to the living room. We’ll go do something else for now. Maybe later we’ll bring Alfred in here but now.

My voice is beginning to take a bit more bass, my posture a little more rigid. I have about 3 feet on him so it’s easy to lean over him….for now at least. Inside of a year he’ll be nine feet tall so I’ll need a different strategy. But for now I have this.

Physical posture is important in these things so I try to assert myself without being menacing.

I’ll ppppuuuush the button….

Oliver. Do. Not. Push. That. Button.

Now we’re at the stalemate.

Silence takes over.

We’re those two gunfighters in the New Mexico sun.

Eyes locked. His finger hovers over the button. Alfred’s blue light letting me know whose side he’s on.

I stare deeply into my son’s eyes.

I got this.

My face tenses up. His grin seems to grow by another nine inches, Alfred’s blue power light signaling whatever everyone but me seems to already know.

Silence continues. I stiffen up a bit more hoping it’s the little bit to put me over the top.

His hand drops another millimeter or so closer to the button.

I feel it coming up from inside me. A tickle perhaps…emanating from my Dr. Marten’s that quickly leaps up to my spine but I fight it back.

I tighten up again. I’m not losing this.

I recall all the lessons I learned in that boiler room of a sales floor where one wrong move meant losing profit margins and gross sales figures…everything that made the world go round both as a store and as an commission employee.

I’m staring a hole through him but then the tickle returned and it rose into my chest and I knew what Oliver and Alfred had known the whole time: that for all my posturing, for all my sad little attempts at being stronger than a toddler, I had lost.

I just didn’t know until that moment.

I lost before I even followed them into the Cathedral.

I lost before I even brought Alfred into our home.

Hell, I lost almost three years ago.

My stern face gave way to giggly defeat and Oliver pushed the button in glorious victory.

A wise man once said (probably not one with a toddler I’m guessing) that you should never enter into a negotiation without knowing how it’s going to end. You have to know you’re going to walk away with what you want or you’re going to walk away period, having given up nothing.

Yeah. That doesn’t work with Young Master Oliver.

Until Next Time,

Be Well and Kind,

Jason

Russ Freed – Carving Out a New Chapter in Life and Business One Handcrafted Wooden Bowl at a Time

Russ Freed is never at a loss for words. His passion for carving out stories from his eclectic and successful life in business is as elegant and complex as the array of hand-crafted woodwork to which he has devoted this chapter of his life.

A New Jersey native who earned his B.S. from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania Russ may not at first glance appear to be the sort of person who would so enthusiastically embrace Texas, or woodworking for that matter.  However, if anything is true about Russ Freed it’s that in business as in life, one must cultivate opportunities, embrace change, and follow your passions wherever they may lead.

For over twenty years he had a successful career within the chemicals industry that found him traveling the country until 2001 found him at somewhat of a crossroads, both figuratively and literally. Leaving the company he co-founded and sold, as well as his career in the rearview mirror, Russ decided to hit the open road on a cross country motorcycle trip from Houston to Canada and back again. Perhaps weary from the long journey, he agreed to take a step into his next professional adventure, this time in the auto industry where he became one of the most successful sales representatives within the Audi dealer network.

Over 10 years and countless cars later however, Russ needed another challenge, another story to tell. This new journey however would mean going back to the beginning, to his childhood learning woodwork at his father’s side.

Russ fondly recalls his youth and initiation into the world of woodwork:

“When I was a kid, I enjoyed helping my Dad with his various projects around the house.  If we needed a fire pit to barbeque hotdogs and burgers, my Dad made it.  Need a fence around the house? Sure, let’s build it.  So, at a very early age, I remember a picture of me at age 4 with a set of plastic ‘tools.’   Using saws and hammers, and other tools was second-nature for me.”

This DIY spirit planted by his father started Russ on a path that has seen him craft everything from custom cabinetry and fine furniture to one-of-a-kind jewelry boxes like the one he made as a birthday gift for his then girlfriend Amy, who is now his wife of 37 years.

Russ credits his father with not only inspiring his woodworking but also as being his biggest influence in life and business.

“He taught me the importance of honesty, integrity, and a solid work ethic, which have led me ably in my entire career. He taught me the importance of staying true to your values, regardless of outside forces to sway you away from center.”

Completely self-taught aside from the tutelage provided by his father, Russ has developed and refined the philosophy that guides his woodworking by pouring through every issue of the classic Fine Woodworking Magazine and imbibing everything from great woodworker and writer James Krenov. Russ enthusiastically describes his affinity for those old magazine articles and how he’s kept so many copies of articles:
“I was mesmerized by this magazine and bought all of the older issues I had not seen, and read them over and over again.  I still have hundreds of articles I cut out through the years in a dozen binders as referral guides.”

Years of working in his garage finally ceded to a proper woodworking shop when Russ and his wife made the move to Montgomery County where they designed and built what the couple hopes will be their forever home after years of living inside the Houston Loop.

Where the magic happens

Russ, finally free to explore the depth and range of his inspiration and talents in a proper workspace made the decision to devote himself full-time to crafting wood. The result was establishing a new company (nearly 25 years after his first) Baxter Blue Woodworks, named for his chief assistant, a Wheaten Terrier.

Russ was always hesitant to sell his work but was finally prodded into doing so by friends and family. His work was inspired by his creative spirit and love of crafting wood, not by a desire for profit but reconnecting with an old friend would help bring a new mission and purpose to his life and work…one which was close to his heart.

Nancy Riviere, a dear friend he met during his tenure with Audi, created WIGOUT, a non-profit organization that provides cancer patients with wigs, scarves, and hats as they battle breast cancer and other diseases being treated with chemotherapy. Nancy herself is a two-time breast cancer survivor who selflessly started the organization during her second bout with the horrific disease.

After having lost his mother to breast cancer at an early age and his wife’s recent battle with the disease, Russ decided to donate all profits to this incredible organization and with that, Baxter Blue Woodworks found its role within the marketplace and community.

Baxter Blue Woodworks focuses on custom one-of-a-kind cheese boards, cutting boards, and fine lathe-turned bowls. Armed with his successful career in sales and marketing and development and implementation of business strategies Russ has set out on his newest and perhaps most important chapter in his life and business.

Though new to social media and ecommerce, Russ has the benefit of a lifetime spent in developing sales and marketing strategies, establishing brand awareness, and cultivating customer loyalty. By approaching his customers with the same individual care and attention to detail that he does each piece of wood in his workshop he is able to both educate and inspire his clients. Like his finely lathe-turned bowls, each customer is unique with their own expectations, tastes, and style. As Russ puts it, “I find that too many artists and craftsmen in the world have amazing talents and skills, but don’t successfully communicate their talent to the outside world.  I have seen countless examples of amazing work at craft shows that doesn’t get sold because the artist doesn’t know how to relate to their buyer.” He continues, “Fortunately, my career experience of selling, managing others to sell, and teaching sales training, have all helped me in my new venture.  Engaging customers when they are looking at my woodworks helps us to form a bond that makes them want to buy something.”

While Baxter Blue specializes in a variety of bowls and boards, Russ is also able to provide unique custom work such as a one-of-kind coffee table he is currently working on for one of his clients. These custom orders provide Russ to further showcase his skill while still keeping with his belief in avoiding mass-production of identical pieces. For Russ the creative component of wood working is as essential as the wood itself. His commitment to quality, originality, and honoring the uniqueness of each piece of word he uses shines in everything he creates from a simple cheese board made of maple to a gorgeous custom made coffee table made from a massive plank of walnut.

“It’s hard to explain, like a musician trying to explain how they write a song,” Russ states. “But, the grain pattern, color, and texture of the wood all seem to combine to send me signals as to what that piece of wood should become.”

Currently Baxter Blue can be found every first and third weekend at the Farmers Market in The Woodlands, TX where Russ enjoys engaging everyone that walks by to answer questions about his work, tell the stories behind each piece, and spin yarns about with the same care and joy he spins his gorgeous bowls. Though new to social media strategies, he is finding success in sharing his stories through Facebook and Instagram and is looking forward to establishing a new ecommerce site for Baxter Blue in order to further expand his presence in the marketplace.

While some may not see a connection between his extensive background in the chemicals industry or the automotive industry with his current life as a wood worker, Russ is enthusiastic about how much his background continues to form the foundation of Baxter Blue’s current and future success.
He has six key points that he credits for his success throughout his career:

  1. Working harder than anyone else because I was far from being the brightest among my coworkers
  2. Develop a reputation for being straightforward and consistent
  3. Honesty and Integrity
  4. Fast response to customers and coworkers, people know they can count on him
  5. Take your work seriously but not yourself
  6. Value “street smarts” as much as any formal education…it’s important to be able to quickly assess individuals and have common sense.

When all is said and done, while Russ may be humble about Baxter Blue’s future growth, his commitment to quality, devotion to his craft and to his customers, and the mission of assisting Wig Out all ensure that Baxter Blue Woodwork will be as successful a venture as everything else Russ has engaged in during his long career.

 

Visit Russ at the The Woodlands Farmer’s Market at Grogan’s Mill every first and third weekend of the month, reach out via Facebook, Instagram, or visit Baxter Blue online at www.baxterbluewoodworks.com.

The Lunch Table

Through the years and miles between us
It’s been a long and lonely ride
But if I got that call in the dead of the night
I’d be right by your side
– Jon Bon Jovi

Each one of us is a brain, and an athlete
And basket case, and a princess, and a criminal
– The Breakfast Club

 

Not long ago I wrote about “pals”, the tragic loss we felt within our group and how that tribe molded so much of who I am.

Today I want to talk about furniture…and how a simple table can form and maintain bonds far beyond anyone could imagine.

I was not a particularly happy student. At home I was loved and cherished but when I left for school every day I entered a very lonely and isolated world.

Every year kids looked forward to picture day but for me it was perhaps the most traumatic day of the year. All the kids ordered these huge packs that included dozens of wallet-size photos that they would trade amongst their friends. My mother was always encouraging me to order such a package and it was always so difficult to try and temper her enthusiasm because really, I had no with whom to trade.

This point was never driven home so deeply than when I offered to trade with one elementary school classmate in particular. He had already given his out and told me “I may be your best friend but you’re not my best friend. You know that right?”

He did accept the photo from me but a few hours later I saw it on the hallway floor where he tossed it away with some trash.

That comment came to dominate all my relationships…even to this day, as silly as that may seem.

By sophomore year I’d become quite isolated. I had a couple friends and that was about it. I didn’t really fit in anywhere.

I played sports with some measure of ability but far below the level needed to be accepted into that crowd.

I was smart but a bit of an underachiever and thus the “GPA” kids, for the most part, also seemed to shun me.

One of the people I was most close to, a fellow Beatles fan, was a theater kid and thus I knew some of them but I wasn’t in theater but for a single year and as such I was but a stranger in their strange land. I didn’t get their inside jokes, didn’t share their communal experiences

Despite my musicianship, I did not participate in band so I was I existed only on the fringes of their group.

I didn’t listen to enough heavy metal or cut class. I wasn’t quite strange or anti-social enough to get into those groups despite knowing quite a few of those cats as well.

I was just some sort of nomad, roaming from group to group, ever really being a part of anything.

Then, during the summer between 10th and 11th grade my family made an unexpected move to Florida and I started fresh in a new high school.

Miami Southdridge High School circa 1993
Wendy and I with our friend Robby.

And I loved it actually. Despite my solemn intent to refrain from any social interaction I met my dear “little sister Wendy” and we became inseparable..to the point that if we weren’t actually side by side, teachers would ask us where our other half was. Never romantic with one another, we were bound by our shared experience of having moved from other cities. I had a girlfriend in Deer Park. She had a boyfriend in New York. We loved literature and music and we were both committed to being as miserable as possible until we could return home to our beloveds. Haha. All the while, we became quite happy were carving out our own little niche there in our new school. I continue to cherish her friendship to this day.

Then my family’s life took a very odd turn.

My family had to move BACK to Texas…in the middle of the school year no less.

Within six months I’d been ripped from one school I didn’t like, placed in a school I’d come to love, and then sent back to where I came.

It was incredibly bittersweet to say the least. I was tormented about leaving Wendy and the kids I was just getting to know but I was looking forward to coming back to the girl I’d spent so many days and nights pining for. When I got back though, I was greeted with the unfortunate reality that this relationship was not to be…at least not to be what I had hoped. It happens. We were kids.

And thus I found myself in a sort of limbo. The only thing pulling me back to Deer Park was gone and it only magnified what I had left behind in Miami. Add to that the fact that I had moved back just before mid-term exams at Miami Southridge but arrived in Deer Park just after their mid-terms. Thus my entire first semester did not exist. All of the sudden I was in danger of not graduating.

But then something very odd happened, and I honestly have no recollection of exactly how it happened. I ended up sitting at The Lunch Table with Skip, Honour, and Nikki.

always behind the camera snapping pics of all of us, this is one of the few pics I could find of Honour

I have to assume it was Honour that brought us together. Always the sentimental one, she has an incredible commitment to preserving memories and maintaining that which binds people together. You should see this girl’s scrap books.

Skip and I racing with the wind yeah

Skip and I quickly became fast friends. We both loved music, played guitar, and both like spinning a good yarn. I tried not to hold his love for Metallica against him and just pretended that part of him didn’t exist. haha

Darling Nikki

And then there was Nikki. My dear Nikki. Somehow we managed to have a sort of uncanny mind-meld. We didn’t need to go into details with one another about why we were sad or angry or feeling dejected. We would just sort of lock eyes, understand what we were silently telling one another and know that, in that moment, we would be ok.

The Lunch Table was 45 minutes of paradise. It was shelter from the sort of storm that maybe only teenagers feel. It was the only place I fit in.

This simple table was just like almost every other one in the cafeteria. It sat four and was kind of tucked away on the edge against the wall…and it was miraculous.

All three of my tablemates were a year ahead of me so at the end of the year they were gone. I briefly dated Honour that summer before she went to university, I stood with Skip during his marriage and I hold him and all of Catholicism responsible for the pain that creeps up in my knees whenever it gets chilly out. (So much kneeling and standing, standing and kneeling. Haha) Nikki, too, went off to school and I, well…you read about the tribe I built in the months and years that followed.

All these years later, and this whole Facebook thing takes off and we all reconnect and share pictures of the kids and our food, and argue over Metallica (though there’s really nothing to argue about…but hey, no one’s perfect haha).

The gang back together.

And so here we are, in that place we all find ourselves as our teens morph into our 40s…seemingly overnight. We have our lives, we have our friends, our bills, our receding hairlines…all that stuff.

But we still have each other. That’s never changed.

So there I was last week, pouring through Craigslist as I  do whenever I want to gawk at mid-century record player consoles…you know the kind your grandparents had.

I love them. I fell in love with them when I was a kid at MY grandparents’ house. They had a gorgeous one.

I posted a link to a particularly interesting one…a Motorola that had, not just the phonograph and radio, but a TV! It was gorgeous. Two buddies of mine are also into these so I thought they’d be interested in checking it out.

I barely gave it a second thought and went about my day…that evening I get a call from Nikki. The first thing I thought was “What’s wrong?!”

Other than via Facebook we hadn’t spoken in several months but rather than being a call of distress it was a joyous call that I’ll never forget. She wanted to thank me for the years of friendship, apologize for not bringing Oliver’s birthday present over during the summer (did she not remember Hurricane Harvey? I think there’s more than enough slack to be cut haha) and to say she wanted to get me a belated graduation present.

Seriously? A gift? C’mon.

After much debate I simply told her she should come by the house over the weekend and just spend time with my family and call it even. Why the need for a gift?

Then she rolls out with the fact that she wanted to get me the Motorola console.

I told her she was out of her mind.

She insisted.

I said she was out of her mind. She called back a few minutes later and said it was done and she was delivering it Sunday afternoon.

I told her she was out of her mind.

She assured me she was very much within her mind and that it’s done. She’ll see me on Sunday.

Turns out my Lunch Table friends conspired to make this happen. Honour contacted the lady selling the console, Skip helped load and unload, and then, as promised, Sunday afternoon here come Nikki and Skip, some sort mash up between Santa Claus and Sanford & Son in a pickup with this console tied to the back.

Just like that I am the proud owner of a fully operational 1952 Motorola TS-228 TV complete with original tubes and even the manual.

This gift, this miraculous and unexpected gift, is the most thoughtful surprise I’ve ever received. After Nikki and Skip left yesterday I kept looking at the console sitting in The Cathedral as if it had always been there. I’m in awe. This doesn’t happen to me. I feel like some sort of lottery winner.

 

Mind Blown.

My mom was teary-eyed over how sweet it was and how Nikki had brought Oliver a beautiful frame and even a sweet tent. She just went on and on about how these friends of mine are so amazing and how touching it all is.

And she’s right.

But really, it isn’t even the console. Don’t get me wrong, the console is super rad but it’s what the console means.

It’s like I said, I’ve always struggled with the idea that somehow I’m less important to anyone I know than they are to me. It’s just ingrained in my identity at this point.

I can’t help but resist any hope that somehow I’m as important to someone as they are to me…that I’m on even footing with others. When I try it makes me somehow feel arrogant or full of myself…and more importantly I become vulnerable to so much more disappointment because eventually I’m going to discover that indeed they might be my best friend but I’m not theirs.

Even as a father I look at my son and have to constantly reassure myself that yes, he loves me at least as much as I love him.

Turns out, at least to the kids who shared The Lunch Table with me and the adults they became, I am important. I am valued. They love me as much as I love them.

Thank you dear friends. Thank for you letting me sit at The Lunch Table.

Thank you for helping me seek shelter from the storm.

Thank you for the years of friendship and thank you for forcing me to do my very best Sally Field impression today.

And thanks for this console.

Seriously…it’s freaking rad!

Until Next Time….

Be Well and Kind,

Jason

The Magic Penny – Musings on Love

I’m not a wise man by any means. My life often seems like a complete mess in fact. So, take what I say with whatever grain of idioms you choose.

BUT…I have come to learn a few lessons over the years and perhaps the hardest one is about love.

It’s impossible to demand love or affection. There have been so many times I’ve felt betrayed and resentful towards someone because I felt I had earned their devotion. Damn it, I did everything I was supposed to do. Why don’t they love me back?!

In reality I didn’t always do everything I was supposed to and that begins with acknowledging that people get a say in the matter. I don’t get to decide for them. And maybe, just maybe, I did all I did with a motive beyond genuine love.

Maybe that’s the whole point. Maybe we shouldn’t do things to get something.

It always seemed that the more “justified” i felt in having earned someone’s affection.  The greater my sense of entitlement the further that person pulled away from me. The tighter I clung, the more vicious their resistance.

I see this with parents a lot too…I guess being one I’ve begun to notice it. The family will be in a mall and one of the parents is yanking on the kid, demanding a kiss or a smile, trying to take a photo or whatever. It’s awkward for sure and a little sad when I think about it too long.

No matter the type of relationship, we shouldn’t demand love or affection from anyone. We should aspire to receive it, cherish it when we do, and self-assess when we don’t.

No one is entitled to a kiss from that guy or girl they’re in love with. You can’t force that crush of yours to feel the same way about you. You can’t force your kid to want to cuddle. You can’t even force your boss to respect you.

It’s perhaps been the hardest and most awful feeling I’ve endured…that feeling of wanting someone to love me back, to want to kiss me, to want me the way I wanted them to only be denied. Sitting in that filthy resentment, confusion, and loneliness is crippling.

Try not to end up there.

At some point I suppose we just have to learn to do the whole “letting go” thing. At some point we have to accept that others really do have a choice in the matter. At some point we have to realize that the more we force ourselves upon someone, the more we demand, the less likely we’ll ever receive what I think we all want and need most: to be loved…and to have our love validated.

Use whatever fable or song lyric or idiom you want to express this sentiment.

There are tons.

In this moment though, I shall quote a classic from my Deepwater Elementary School music class:

Love is like a magic penny
Hold it tight and you won’t have any
Spend it, lend it, and you’l have so many
They’ll roll all over the floor
– Malvina Reynolds

Relationships are hard. They’re the hardest things I’ve ever tried to do. I’m no good at them…even with my son who seems to adore me, I find the concept of fatherhood and my relationship with him to be so complex. I’m never quite sure if I’m “doing it right.” Yet, it seems so counter-intuitive. It seems, at least superficially, that it should be quite simple. I love my son, he should love me. But things are never really that easy are they? Though…perhaps they are.

Like I said, I’m not a wise man.

I know I didn’t “do it right” with pretty much any of my friendships and attempts at romantic love through the years…and that’s part of life and all that jazz….the “Wonder Years” or whatever. But the failures hang heavy on my soul and lay the foundation for everything I am and will be…sometimes in a healthy way and sometimes, I guess, not so much.

But if you take anything away from what I write, let it be this: be ok with yourself and be willing to work for love. The kind you get when you force someone’s hand is never real. I’ve been told “I love you” plenty of times in life and at this point I can look back and know when someone meant it and when they said it because I expected it or because they thought I needed to hear it or because they didn’t know what else to say.

When I hear Young Master Oliver say “I love you Dad” I KNOW it’s real. There’s no confusing it.

Anyway, let’s turn on some Ramones or something…seems a little thick and heavy in here….all this talk about love and whatnot. haha

Until Next Time….

Be Well and Kind,

Jason

 

The Season

I have grown up with a father who cherishes baseball. Some kids were told bedtime stories like “Goldilocks” or “Three Little Pigs” but I was cradled while being regaled with stories of him hanging around Yankees spring training in Florida, of Mickey Mantle’s heroic feats, and of Earl Weaver’s passionate belief in The Three-Run Homer.

Some kids grew up quoting chapter and verse while I grew up citing batting averages and RBIs. As popular as “The Goonies” and “Star Wars” were in my house, “Bad News Bears”, “Major League”, “Bull Durham”, and of course “Field of Dreams” were constants.

Music? Terry Cashman’s “Willie, Mickey, and the Duke (Talkin’ Baseball)” was heard as often as the Beatles and Bob Dylan.

His decorated broadcast career included several years as the “Spanish voice of the Houston Astros” so the Astrodome became somewhat of a second home. I marveled at that incredible scoreboard and was shocked when it was torn down in favor of more seats. My childhood was shaped by watching Jose Cruz, Craig Biggio, Ken Caminiti, Jeff Bagwell, Billy Doran, Nolan Ryan, Mike Scott, Brad Ausmus and so many others. When watching at home, the TV volume was always down so I could listen to dad or to Milo call the game on the radio.

Every year we looked forward to spring training. Dad took me to several and those were among my most favorite family outings and come the regular season, I rooted along whether my beloved Astros won or lost.

When the team announced they were moving out of the Astrodome I was shocked but understood. By that time I had come to loathe Astroturf and looked forward to our boys playing on real grass…like God, Nature, and Sparky Anderson intended!

I still vividly remember listening to the radio when the team finally announced Minute Maid’s field dimensions. I scratched out a quick diagram and could not, for the life of me, figure out how it was going to work. 315 to left, 404 to left-center, right-center 376, right 326 and what? A flag pole sitting in centerfield…on top of a hill?! Is that even legal?!

I immediately picked up the phone and called my best friend David to ask if he was listening to the radio and we just couldn’t make sense of any of it.

All these years later it is still the most beautiful and dumbfounding stadium I’ve ever seen. The team seemed to enjoy the move too. We had fantastic lineups throughout the 90s and 2000s that included guys like Roy Oswalt, Billy Wagner, Moises Alou, Randy Johnson, Andy Pettitte, Daryl Kyle, Mike Hampton, and Roger Clemens. They came close to winning the series in 2005; I even had tickets…..to game 5. Ha.

Which brings me to this season…this incredible, magical, transcendent season.

Young Master Oliver in his favorite seat in the house as we make our way inside Minute Maid for one of the many games we enjoyed This Season.

There has never been a question about what my son Oliver and I would be doing at game time. I come home from work and we play a bit, bath, dinner, and then time to cuddle in front of the TV to watch the game.

Every night I would hold him and tell him stories of the great Ken Caminiti and his superhuman plays at third base. I’d run down Jose Altuve’s batting stats. He was told tales of Lunhow’s master plan and how it was all coming together. I’d do my best impression of dad and provide play-by-play for Oliver as he drifted off to sleep. On off days we watched “Major League” and “Field of Dreams”.

 

Then Harvey happened.

My parents’ home, just a few blocks from mine, was completely flooded and while I am so very happy and grateful to be living under the same roof again, this isn’t how I hoped it would happen.

FEMA claims, inspectors, disaster relief…all these things came to be regular themes in our lives but so too were evenings spent watching the Astros.

Now my son AND my dad were sitting with me watching the ballgame…I am indeed a fortunate son.

While everything else was swirling around my family, the Astros were the constant. The Astros provided a calm, joyous diversion that connected three generations together. My dad was once again spinning yarns about baseball of days gone by, when girls were girls and men were men…when starters never came out of the game and how we could indeed use a man like Joe DiMaggio again. I have so thoroughly enjoyed watching Oliver with this little pillow running to the sofa only to stop realizing he had to make a choice: cuddle with his dad or with his grandfather. It was adorable…even when I lost out. Sitting there in front of the TV with my son and my dad, the games took on an otherworldly and poetic nature.

The Astros did this. Baseball did this. The Season did this.

I have a great pal, Jon, who has never really cared about baseball…or sports in general. As the Astros moved into the playoffs he surprisingly found himself wrestling with his rabbit ears and scouring the web for game streams. He would send rapid fire texts throughout each game asking why Hinch yanked a pitcher or telling me how stressed out he was watching each pitch.

He asked questions about rules, about why the catcher keeps walking up to the mound, about why runners are safe or out in any given situation. The exchanges remind me of all the questions I ask him about computer coding, hardware, or things like gun laws and mechanics. Through the season he and I exchanged knowledge in a way I think is perhaps becoming a bit too rare. Our thoughtful explanations and respect of what each of us knows, and more importantly of what each of us doesn’t know, was a real joy. We are better for it…and I think I turned him into a baseball fan!

The Astros did this. Baseball did this. The Season did this.

Just as important, over the course of this season I was brought together with friends I had not seen in years. I literally reunited with my dear friend Chris at the ballpark…where David and I happened to be sitting enjoying a game. Of all the seasons, of all the games, of all the seats, we happened to be just one section over and Chris happened to spot us. Beginning that evening, Chris and I have chatted almost daily…about baseball, about our families, movies, music, our past together, and everything in between. There are no words for how grateful I am to have him as a friend again.

The Astros did this. Baseball did this. The Season did this.

Throughout the season David and I spent hours breaking down the team, strategies, Hinch’s pitching decisions, and almost every discussion ended with “In Lunhow We Trust.”

My dear friend David and his beautiful wife Tina getting to know Young Master Oliver…where else but at the ballgame.

 

Of course all our exuberance and hope was tempered by the unspeakably tragic and inescapable fact that his brother, one of the dearest people I’ve ever known, was fighting an inexhaustible battle with a cancer diagnosis whose prognosis was far less optimistic than our beloved Astros’ season. Each moment we spent rooting for our team, so too were we rooting for Kevin. A passionately Astros fan, all of this became so much bigger than just nine guys playing ball. Somehow how our team allowed us brief moments of escape from this cruel reality but also did it provide a means of facing it. As bittersweet as the team’s amazing success is for us, I’m not sure any of us could have managed the grief without our team.

The Astros did this. Baseball did this. The Season did this.

During the season I was also brought face-to-face with someone else I’d not seen in many years: Dave and Kevin’s cousin, Jennifer.

We met in 2nd grade and from that point until our early 20s she was a fixture in my life. I have no memories of my school years that don’t include her in some capacity. She was actually the one who introduced me to David and to Kevin and Chris and so many others that have meant so much to me and have made such unmistakable imprints on my life, my universe, and everything.

After about 15 years of not seeing one another, what did we talk about? Baseball. The Astros. This Season.

Conversations with someone I never thought I’d see again came as naturally and as easily as if we had never lost touch. So in some ways, while everything around us has changed, perhaps nothing has changed at all.

The Astros did this. Baseball did this. The Season did this.

There were a lot of tears shed last night by a lot of people. I know that when the last out was registered a lot of us held our brother, cousin, son, husband, father, friend Kevin very deeply within our hearts and souls.

I also know that I will always hold, very deep in my heart and soul, that I spent last night with my dear and precious son in my arms and my hero to my right as we watched our team win a world series.

My dad, my son, my friends…we all shared something this season and especially last night. We all received something special from this team: comfort, closeness, escape, inspiration, and joy. And yes, I think we’re stronger for it.

The Astros did this. Baseball did this. The Season did this.

Be Well and Kind…and Thank You Astros!

Jason

 

Sometimes you just gotta laugh

I go through life with an old sitcom-style laugh track in the background. Maybe it’s because I grew up watching Three’s Company, All in the Family, Good Times, Diff’rent Strokes, and the rest on TV.

Hurricane Harvey provided very few moments of laughter but there was one. There was one moment that when I look back a hearty laugh arises from my worn soul.

The rain broke and gave way to the vile humidity and oppressive heat that Houston loves to bathe us in. From that perspective at least, everything was back to normal.

Inside the house though there was anything but normal. My recording studio, The Cathedral, had become a staging area for my family’s “recovery” efforts. Bags, boxes, piles of stuff were stacked and thrown everywhere. With no power, there was no way to make a dent in the mountain of laundry that was growing by the hour. All my guitars had been packed and stacked in a corner while amplifiers and recording equipment had been moved from their places when I thought we were going to take on water.

It was hot, dank even, inside the house with only two fans to move air in any given room that we happened to be in at the moment. We all carried flashlights and LED lanterns from room to room, the wife fashioned one by wrapping one of those headband lights around a gallon jug of water…pretty nifty!

We had however, and thankfully, gotten water and sewer service back so my mom was busy cleaning up the kitchen, washing whatever dishes had piled up.

Now a couple years before, shortly after the wife and I purchased our home, I installed a new (what was supposed to be an upgraded) faucet. I was never a fan of it myself. It didn’t swivel smoothly and the buttons that shifted from shower to standard flow were very stiff and required a lot of effort to get either button fully engaged. My mom had been struggling with them the whole time since moving in.

Anyway, it was a crazy day. To say that the scene was cacophonous would be more than a bit mild.

Every conversation and movement was against a backdrop that included a growling generator, all of us shouting to be heard over it and each other. My son, “Young Master” Oliver, chimed in as only he can. That boy’s voice can bring tears of joy and laughter as easily as it can bring pain and torment. That day, as every during this ordeal brought more of the later for certain.

So there we are. That’s the moment.

Mom cleaning up in the kitchen, the wife doing her best to keep Oliver busy and quiet, Dad wanting to know what everyone wants for dinner, and every time I stood still for more than 3 seconds I was assaulted with questions, statements, concerns, what if’s, how to’s, and so many desperate pleas from Oliver to just hold him…it was absolute chaos.

I left to go on a “run” looking for roads out of the neighborhood that led to gas for that generator, milk, and anything else that would be of use in this new environment that wasn’t quite Mad Max or Walking Dead but certainly a bit too reminiscent for my tastes. I honestly have no idea what I went to grab or do, but I left for a few minutes to get something or other.

When I returned, my dad was walking out of the house ready to leave for the one restaurant I found that was both open and accessible. As he greeted me at the car he said “I dunno son, talk to your mother. There’s a problem with the kitchen faucet…something about the pressure or water coming out…I don’t know what it is.”

I walked in, assuming it was those damn buttons again and against that grinding generator that was just a few feet away from the kitchen window I found my mom looking more than a little dejected and concerned. I asked if it was the buttons and she said “oh no son, I’m so sorry! I think I broke the faucet!”

How do you break a faucet? Surely it’s not broken. Surely.

Now my mother can be a bit frantic and anxious, she worries a lot about everyone’s well being and she carries the weight of the world on her shoulders sometimes.

I was certain her discomfort in that moment was born more of the overall situation and that the faucet was just “stuck” or something….but when she turned the faucet handle I immediately realized this was not the case.

The faucet took off like a missile, water shooting up beneath it propelling it towards the ceiling. I would describe it as majestic……if it weren’t my damn faucet ascending towards the heavens and water exploding all over the kitchen.

My mother starts to shout about how she’s so sorry and that we need a plumber, and she will never use the faucet again, and that my whole world has been turned upside down by her mere presence in my home.
In the background the generator’s snarl seems to get even louder.

Is it toying with me?

Oliver’s screams from the other room are combated by the wife’s pleas that are failing to placate his unwavering demands for who knows what. Peppa Pig? Do you want Peppa Pig? No?! Dinosaur? Do you want your dinosaur? What about George? NO!? What is it? Oh god help us all, what is it?!

Amidst all the turmoil I rush to turn the water off and, robbed of its propellant, the faucet clatters into the sink.

I desperately try to reassure my mother than she neither broke the faucet nor has she introduced even a sliver of discomfort or inconvenience to my life. I remember confidently saying “Hold on Ma, it’s nothing. Just let me grab the toolbox.”

I sprint through the recovery area, out the door, into the garage, grab my tools, and sprint back through the obstacle course like I’m auditioning for American Ninja Warrior: Que Pasa Harvey Edition.

 

 

Back in the kitchen I examine the faucet and see that it has a tiny hex bolt that holds it to the base. Obviously it’s just come loose.

Obviously.

My mom is in rapid fire mode. She must have twisted it too much. She must have used it too much. She must have pulled it too much. Call a plumber. She’ll pay for it. (Where we would get a plumber in the midst of a state of disaster I have no idea but that’s not a topic for this moment.)

I again reassure her that it’s nothing. Just a quick flick of the wrist to tighten the bolt and we’re back in business.
I find the right hex key, tighten things up and BAM.

Fixed!

“Ma, look. It’s done. There’s nothing to worry about. It was just loose.”

And with that, I turn the faucet handle.

And…..sky rocket in flight!

Damn thing took off like a Saturn missile…water EVERYWHERE. The faucet seriously almost hit the ceiling this time.

I can’t help it this time. Now I’M the one screaming…the wife hears from the next room.

What’s going on?!

My mom is screaming about a plumber.

The baby is screaming about I don’t know what.

I quickly shut the faucet, get under the counter and cut the water altogether.

And the generator chugs along….seriously, I think it’s getting louder.

My mom, frantically, desperately even, is begging me to call a plumber and to let her pay for it.

I try, as best I can, to calm everything down and say “Ma, there are no plumbers right now. I just need to run over to Home Depot real quick. We’ll have a new faucet in half an hour. Just let me do this.”

“I’ll pay for it!!!!!”

“That’s fine Ma, I just gotta run to the store.”

I go to grab my keys and realize, “crap…dad took my car.”

“Honey, where are your keys?!”

“What?!”

“Your keys! To the car…where are they?!”

“WHAT?!”

The generator is mocking me right now.
I run back towards the wife and ask about the keys. They are, of course, where they “always” are…but I never drive her car so that means nothing to me.

Turns out they are in her bag, on the stool.

Gotcha.

Now I’m in business. I race over to Home Depot, covered in water. I run in and ask the guy where the faucets are. I get a “um…I think…wait…let me ask…”

“Nevermind, I’ll find them.”

When I do I’m greeted by about 538 different models.

Awesome. This is what I need right now.

I pick one out after giving the decision about 9 seconds of thought. I bought a Moen…because you know, buy it for life. 😉

I pay and race home.

Mom is waiting for me.

She’ll pay for it.

Plumber.

Oliver screaming. Wife, “where did you go?”

F#*CK(#NG GENERATOR.

I start at the business of taking apart the Saturn Faucet. There are parts everywhere, water everywhere, toolbox on the counter….all the tools I mistakenly grabbed are now tossed about the floor and counters.

Dad comes home with the food.

“Foods here! Come and eat! Wait, what are you doing son?!”

“What?! HUH?!”

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”

I hate this generator.

My mom starts answering the question…she broke the faucet, she wanted a plumber, the water is everywhere, the Saturn missile, she’ll pay for it, all of it in painstaking detail in two languages.”

“Son, are you sure you know how to do that?”
Yeah pop.

“Well, come and eat.”

“I’ll eat in a second, I just have to finish this.”

“Ok, well I’m eating. This looks good. Leslie! Come eat, this food is amazing!”

“I’ll wait for Jason.”

Baby screams, mom nervous. That damn generator.

After about 30 minutes I’m back up and running with a faucet that works, and stays put.

I bring my mom over and beg her to try it.

“I see it. It’s very nice. You did a good job.”

“Ma, that’s not enough. I need you to use it. I need you to try it out and see that it works. It’s actually better than the other one.”

“No I see it. It’s nice.”

I know that if I don’t win this battle, she may never actually use the faucet again.

She reluctantly turns the water on, just a bit. She presses both buttons and actually says, “Oh, this is nice. It is so much easier than the other!”

FINALLY! Something goes right.

During all of this I hear my dad at the table. “MMMMM….damn son, this is good food! This place is great. MMM….come and eat some of this! WOW.”

Now my mom is starting to relax a bit and she’s going on about how proud she is that I could swap the faucets so quickly and I tell her I learned from the best.

Growing up my mom was the “handyman” of our house. She installed door knobs, and painted, and did plumbing, faucets…she was awesome.

She smiles and begins to use the sink.

YES!!!

By that time dad had finished eating and was ready to tackle Oliver and take him to play. My mom, though still insisting she pay for the faucet, was moving about taking care of this and that.

The missus and I sat down to eat…and yes, the food was damn good.

And the generator continued to serenade us. No quarter asked, no mercy given.

-final laugh, cue credits and theme song, this show was filmed before a live studio audience-