Everybody Gets a Medal! (Except my Sister)

It’s become fashionable to observe that we have adopted a societal philosophy of, “Everybody gets a medal!”  This shift in mindset is driven by our need to ensure that, “everyone’s OK”.  In fact, if memory serves, there was a book published back in the 1970’s entitled, “I’m OK, You’re OK”, which I never had the opportunity to read, but, if I had to guess, it was of the self-help, feel-good, affirmation genre.  It was published at the dawn of the “Everybody gets a medal” movement.

Now, I haven’t collected a ton of trophies and medals over the years, but I’ve earned a few: some for baseball, some for football, even some for ballroom dancing – yeah, that’s right, ballroom dancing.  Growing up in the 1960’s and 1970’s, these trophies and medals were awarded for winning.  In fact, I can vividly recall not earning a trophy as a member of the first baseball team on which I played.  The tradition, in my hometown, was for the manager to treat the entire team to ice cream at “Homer’s Ice Cream”, after winning a game.  My team  lost every single game that season, until the very last game, which we won.  Yep, we headed to “Homer’s” for triple-dip ice cream cones; we were making up for a lot of ice cream-less Saturday’s.

In contrast, my kids collected a lot more hardware than I did, as they toiled on fields of sport in the 1990’s and 2000’s.  I’m not even sure kids learn ballroom dancing, anymore.  Many of these medals were “participation trophies”, in which every kid who played earned an award.  The idea was that kids would feel badly if they didn’t win a medal.  I think the opposite is true: a trophy awarded simply for participating offers little value to the participant; there is no sense of accomplishment.  When managing tee-ball and young baseball teams, in which we didn’t keep score, lest we identify winners and losers, I was often asked by the kids, “Did we win today?”  They knew who won the game; they kept score in their heads, even thought the final score was not recorded for posterity in a scorebook.

What’s wrong with a bit of healthy competition?  The lesson that there are are winners and there are losers in a contest is a pretty useful lesson to learn, as youngsters prepare for life in the real world.  And, winning is a pretty nice feeling.  We should all be afforded the opportunity to experience “. . .the thrill of victory. . .”, as highlighted by ABC’s Wide World of Sports program back in the 1970’s.  And, there’s value in getting a taste of “. . .the agony of defeat. . .”, as is also reflected in that same show introduction.  However, I wouldn’t wish anyone to truly experience that show’s manifestation of “agony”, which is a downhill ski racer’s head-banging journey down a mountain.

A recent conversation with my sister suggests that not everyone has received a medal.  She claims not to have received a trophy or medal, ever.  She, as I did, came of age in the era of awarding medals for winning.  Still, it’s hard to believe that she didn’t stumble across a trophy or medal somewhere along the way.  Hell, even Major League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, after a 108-year drought.  I’d hate to think that she faces that kind of time, before earning her first medal.  Let me just say this, Kathy: Medal or no medal, you’re a winner in my book!




Separate Checks?

Is it me?  Be honest.

More frequently than I care to admit, when dining out with my wife of thirty-three years, the waiter or waitress, when it’s time to present the bill, asks, “Will this be separate checks? Or, all on one?”

My question is, what vibe am I emitting that causes these servers to decide that there is a distinct possibility that I wish to share the bill with this delightful woman with whom I am dining?  There appear to me to be several potential reasons, including:

  • They have me pegged as a “cheap bastard”.
  • It’s “restaurant policy” to ask this question of everyone.
  • My wife appears to be the decision-maker in our little band.
  • The server is young and experienced, and doesn’t fully understand the “ways of the world”.
  • The server recognizes me as one who has skipped-out on paying the bill in the past (aka “Dine ‘n Dash”).
  • The way I am dressed suggests that I am unable to pay the entire bill.

Allow me to speak categorically to these possible explanations for posing this ridiculous question to me.

It’s probably not fair to disavow the “cheap bastard” label, absent independent verification.  It’s kinda’ like thumping your chest, and touting what a good guy you are; someone else should be weighing-in as to your “good guy-ness” (are you listening, Trump?).  I certainly welcome those who know me personally to offer their support to me on this front.  But, examining my body of work as dispassionately as is possible, I don’t believe that I have earned the “cheap bastard” label.  Sure, on occasion I might undertip a bit, but generally that’s driven by a math error, rather than some other, more nefarious motive.

Serious restaurateurs these days are acknowledged for performing market research, in order to better position themselves for success, in the extremely-competitive world of dining.  The landscape of dining options is endless, and restaurants come and go constantly.  Therefore, I find it far-fetched to believe that “restaurant policy” would dictate that servers should ask whether separate checks are desired; I’m certain that market research would reveal that many diners would find this question to be insulting.

As to the question of which of us is best equipped, between my wife and I, to perform the largely-ceremonial duties of paying the dinner check, allow me to say (in case she’s reading this) that I have tremendous respect for her decision-making skills, and she’s also highly-intelligent, and attractive, and kind to small animals. . .blah, blah, blah.  Nonetheless, at the risk of seeming to be sexist, I believe that the default ought to be that the gentleman at the table should be served with the bill – the full bill!

I’m willing to concede that many servers these days are indeed young and inexperienced; if they weren’t young and inexperienced, likely they would be toiling in some other, meaningless, although better-compensated job, which wouldn’t require them to serve food to strangers.  Allow me to clarify for the record (in case servers are reading this) that waiting tables is an honorable profession, requiring sharp decision-making skills, and a high level of intelligence, and attractiveness, and being kind to small animals. . .blah, blah, blah.  Young and inexperienced servers can perhaps be forgiven for not fully understanding the potentially sexist rule I outlined in the previous paragraph, but their chosen profession (at least for the moment) includes understanding and executing that rule effectively.  I will allow them to to be young and inexperienced in other ways, but not in this specific task, proper execution of which is a critical success factor in performing their job well.

I won’t dignify the question of my character with respect to past “Dine ‘n Dash” incidents with an answer – they simply never happened!  And, I don’t believe most restaurants are sophisticated enough to properly maintain a “Most Wanted” list of prior deadbeats.  I do remember an old “Seinfeld” episode, in which a picture of Jerry’s face was pasted on the wall of a retail establishment, after he bounced a check there.  I can’t say that I’ve ever seen one of those in real life, however.  Although, as I think back, I did once drive away from a gas station without paying.  In fairness to me, this was after midnight, on my way home from the hospital, after attending to the birth of my daughter, and I was in a bit of a haze.  I think I also drove away from a gas station with the pump hanging out of my gas-tank.  Boy, it sure sounds as if I’ve wreaked some real havoc at gas stations (Ryan Lochte is nodding his head along with me on this one).

The final potential issue is with my fashion-sense – specifically, whether or not my attire is appropriate for a dinner-date with my wife.  I do try to dress appropriately when going out in public, which is something I can’t say about all my fellow-travelers.  In fact, I participated in the firing of an employee, who, after showing up several hours late, was dressed in pajamas, with his stripper-girlfriend in tow.  I think we made the right decision in firing that young man.  I have felt, at times, improperly dressed, but never to the point of feeling as if the server was eyeing me suspiciously, wondering if I would actually pay the bill.

I have felt unfairly singled-out on the occasions of being asked the “Separate Checks?” question, but I know for a fact that I am not alone.  Just this morning, I witnessed a server asking another gentleman that very question. Of course, it was at breakfast-time; perhaps that raises a whole other set of questions.



Fatherly Advice

A Father’s Day missive to my children. . .

Every father wants to believe that his children hear and absorb the fatherly advice that he dispenses.  Therefore, I was most gratified to hear from my youngest, Emily, upon her recent graduation from the University of Michigan, that as her class valedictorian was sharing advice from her (recently-deceased) father, she was reflecting upon the equally-memorable advice which I had provided.  In fairness, her classmate set the bar pretty low, sharing such banalaties as, “Always do your best,” and “Work hard,” and “Be kind to others.”  Now, this woman’s father had the clear strategic advantage of having recently expired.  I will suffer for my art (and, my fatherly advice), but I must draw the line here.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, Emily quickly recalled two bits of advice which I had provided to her over time, and which had apparently resonated with her.  The first:

First thing, secure a beverage

When I was a young father, I sometimes prepared a Caesar salad for the family, from scratch, a habit I picked up from my own father, who had performed such a task, on occasion.  I invited my kids to assist me in the preparation, and, as a part of the ritual, I would ask them to name the first step in a successful preparation of a Caesar salad.  Initially, they might suggest mashing the garlic (not the anchovies, which I was forbidden from using, although I myself enjoy anchovies in my Caesar salad – the fillets, not the silvery ones with the heads recently removed – that’s a bit too authentic for me), or gently tearing the Romaine lettuce.  But, after I had corrected them every single time, and indicated that, no, the very first step in the process of preparing a Caesar salad was, in fact, “securing a beverage”, they came to embrace the concept of ensuring that, before beginning the process, the chef has, within easy reach, a beverage of his choice.  My choice typically was a scotch, on the rocks, with a twist.  But, any beverage will do, as long as it satisfies the chef’s desire.

This bit of wisdom rises to the level of solid fatherly advice, if viewed as a parable.  Taking the time before beginning a task to step back, pour yourself a drink, and reflect upon the task at hand, I believe, is a sensible approach to tackling any challenge.

And the second:

Don’t be a douchebag

I think it’s hard to argue with this advice; one might take issue with the crudeness of the language.  I mean, nobody likes a douchebag.  A kinder, gentler approach might be, “Be kind to others”, or even “Don’t be a jerk”.  But I believe that the jarring nature of the language itself serves a singular purpose.  “Tell them in no uncertain terms what you think of their ideas, Harry!” isn’t nearly as effective as “Give ’em Hell, Harry!”.  The frank, blunt-edged nature of this phrase delivers the goods, quite effectively, I believe.  But, perhaps by unfurling this phrase I have in fact violated its very dictum – ironic, no?

Emily then asked me what my third piece of advice was.  Perhaps, as I am, Emily is a student of the “Rule of Three”.  The rule of three is neatly defined in a Wikipedia post, which indicates:

The rule of three or power of three is a writing principle that suggests that things that come in threes are funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things.[1] The reader or audience of this form of text is also thereby more likely to remember the information. This is because having three entities combines both brevity and rhythm with having the smallest amount of information to create a pattern.[2][3] It makes the author or speaker appear knowledgeable while being both simple and catchy.

I’ve given some thought to developing the third leg to be added to my Fatherly Advice stool.  Here are some of the options I have been considering:

Steely Dan is awesome

Clearly, I’m a fan of Steely Dan.  My prime music-listening years coincided with Steely Dan’s most productive years.  Their funky, sophisticated, horn-infused sound appealed to me, and still does; I’m more likely to fire-up Steely Dan on Spotify or Pandora than any other artist.  Don’t judge me.  But, even I might be hard-pressed to characterize this as fatherly advice.  I recognize that there are many performing artists out there, and, over time, Steely Dan’s music might not be considered relevant, or hip.  And, what exactly, is the message conveyed by this wisdom?  That the child should listen to more Steely Dan?  In any event, I’m already covering this ground via a weekly email delivering a link to a specific Steely Dan song contained in a YouTube video on “Steely Dan Wednesday”.  So. . .problem solved.

Find ways to amuse yourself

As you can see by the subhead of the title of this blog, this is a past-time which is meaningful to me.  In a discussion with Emily about discovering your passion (covered in the final suggestion), she asked me what I was passionate about.  It was a good question, and one which I recommend each of us consider from time to time.  It speaks to what drives each of us; why we get out of bed in the morning; what satisfies us.  After considering her question, I responded that my goal was to amuse myself.  And, I spend a ridiculous amount of time and energy doing just that.  Now, I hesitate to adopt this practice as the third critical element of my fatherly advice, because I fear it may not be global enough; it may not be of interest to my kids, or to others.

Spend time discovering your passion

I actually suggested this one to Emily in response to her question.  It seems a little weak-kneed to me, upon reflection.  It’s basically a shrug of the shoulders, and a suggestion that “I don’t know what to say, so you figure it out”.  Perhaps a better way to position this third component would be, “This space available”, or “TBD”.  This one’s a wildcard, if you will, and everyone has the opportunity, and the responsibility, to fill in the blanks, according to their own desires and objectives.

I am willing to dispense my fatherly advice whenever necessary, and I am available for hire as a commencement speaker.



Remembering Mom


 As we think about our mothers, I believe we remember them at a specific point in time in our lives, which then fixes them at a specific age in their own life.  As I remember my mom, I’ve got her fixed in her early 40’s, which places her forever in the early 1970’s, and me in my pre-teens.  Mom certainly enjoyed many different phases in her life, having lived more than 86 years, beginning in 1929.  But, she will forever be 42-years-old to me, living in 1971, complete with its unfortunate fashion choices and active political landscape.

My memories of Mom include her being a Den Leader for my Cub Scout pack, and dragging me and my brothers and sister to sort clothes at the church in the summer for the fall rummage sale.  She was also a regular at our Little League baseball games, and concerts and theatrical performances.  We were also likely the last family in North America to fly bedsheets from a clothesline in the backyard, even though there was a perfectly serviceable dryer in the basement.  The sheets on the line created a significant obstacle during our whiffle ball games.  As if things weren’t difficult enough navigating around the rose garden.

During that period, my parents entertained at home quite a bit, and we kids were recruited to act as waiters, delivering cocktails and emptying ashtrays – remember smoking at cocktail parties?  It was a nice glimpse into the adult world for us, and entertaining at times to see our friends’ parents a bit tipsy.

My mom was also a big sports fan.  Some may question her fan loyalties, as evidenced by the picture at the top of this column – I mean, everybody knows that baseball fan support in Chicago is clearly determined by geography: if you live north of Madison Street, you’re a Cubs fan, and if you live south of Madison, you’re a White Sox fan.  As far as I can recall, when Mom lived in Chicago, she never lived south of Madison Street.  But, I digress.  She loved watching tennis, and golf.  And, I remember watching roller derby with her.  You can argue whether or not roller derby is truly a sport – as I recall, it was mostly soap opera, with a little bit of skating and punching tossed in.

But Mom’s favorite sport was probably college basketball.  She had to root for the Jayhawks (easy to do right now, as they are currently ranked No. 1 in the nation) as 75% of her children are graduates of the University of Kansas.  And, she certainly lived most recently in the right place, very close to Chapel Hill and Durham, North Carolina.  She rooted quite vigorously for both UNC and Duke, except when they played each other, at which time she landed squarely in the corner of the Tarheels.  You may have noticed that her funeral announcement was printed on Carolina blue card stock.

I don’t know enough about Mom’s life B.C. (i.e. “Before Children”), except that she grew up in Chicago, where her father owned a retail store, learned to play the flute, lived for a time in San Mateo, California, graduated from Northwestern University, taught elementary school briefly, and married my dad in 1952.  I can recall some things about Mom’s life after we children moved on.  Mom helped out a bit with our two sons when they were very young in Chicago,  and she and my dad lived in Southern California for a while, before retiring back in the Chicago area.  Then, they headed to Chapel Hill, and ultimately, met their great-grandson, Wyatt, a couple of years ago.

As I said, my mom will always be 42-years-old to me; that’s where my memories of her are housed.  I love you, Mom.



My “Hate-Affair” with Cars


American men are supposed to have a love affair with cars.  I don’t; never have.  Particularly ironic since I lived in Detroit for ten years.  Perhaps you can blame my feelings on the fact that the first car I owned was a baby-blue, 1977 AMC Pacer Wagon.  Think Wayne and Garth in, “Wayne’s World”.  Think John Denver’s character in, “Oh, God!”.  The Pacer was always utilized for comedic effect; James Bond never drove one.  Consider the level of self-loathing such a purchase might inspire.  I bought it from my dad, for $3,000.  That was a lot of money for a penniless college student in 1979.   AMC produced some ridiculous vehicles in the ’70’s.  My Pacer Wagon, which my roommate labeled, “the rolling aquarium”, wasn’t even the silliest car AMC marketed; my older brother drove a brown, 1972 Gremlin, with its bizarre take on a back seat.  That’s right. . .we were a two-AMC family.


The next car I owned was purchased with my wife, concurrent with our getting married, and moving to a new apartment.  I remember it as an extremely hectic, change-centric time in my life, imposing significant financial pressures on me.  The car, a 1984 Sunbird, was a relatively serviceable vehicle, for a reasonably long period of time.  It was one of the few cars I owned whose useful life outlived its debt payments.  The clearest memory I have of the Sunbird was the day it expired.  I was driving to my office in downtown Chicago from our home in the Northern suburbs, on the Kennedy Expressway, when it simply quit.  I had it towed to a garage somewhere on the north side of Chicago, where the mechanic later rattled off the long list of issues which would need to be fixed on the car.  I pictured him pulling the hand-crank on an old-fashioned calculator as he detailed each item to be fixed.  I said, “No, no, you don’t understand, I just want to get the thing running again, I’m not aiming for museum-quality.”

“That’s what I’m describing for you,” he responded.

“Well, the car is probably not worth that much,” I speculated.

The mechanic shrugged, and said, “I know a guy who comes in here sometimes; he’d probably give me $100 for the car.”

I considered that, and asked, “This guy who comes in here sometimes – do you think he would give you $200 for it?”

“No, I’m pretty sure he would only give me $100 for it,” he said.

And that was that.


Our next purchase, intended to accommodate our growing family, was a late-80’s-era Ford Escort Station Wagon.  At least, we thought we were buying a station wagon.  Those of you who are familiar with late-80’s-era Ford Escort Station Wagons will understand that that particular vehicle was a tiny little crackerbox of a car, and can in no way whatsoever be described as a station wagon.


Our first foray into the minivan world was with a Nissan Quest.  It was very much like every other minivan ever produced; nothing whatsoever distinctive about it.


After the Sunbird expired, in the interest of minimizing cost, I opted for a Dodge Neon.  My wife insisted that the Neon, particularly in red, the color I chose, was a “Chick Car”; she may have been right.  It didn’t help that the car didn’t have power windows, a rarity in the late ’90’s.  I vowed never to make that mistake again.


With the coming of the new millenium (actually those who have devoted their lives to the study of calendar dynamics – who are called what? Calendarologists? – insist that the new millenium began on January 1, 2001, although if you recall, the Y2K furor occurred a year earlier), I purchased a 2000 Malibu, which lasted a solid twelve years, and clipped 200,000 miles, with only a minor bit of rust near the end of its life.  Now, you would think that kind of longevity would have provided me with some small sense of satisfaction.  Nope, cars suck!  Why couldn’t that car have provided another three or 4 years of faithful service before being smacked by an unsafe driver as I was entering a parking lot?  “Totaled” was the insurance company’s unceremonious conclusion.

Conversion Van

Now this next one was an interesting purchase – a Chevrolet Conversion Van, complete with a TV screen for the kids to watch videos and play games while we traveled.  The downside of this car was that, when we weren’t traveling, we were using it to run errands, to the grocery store and to the cleaners.  That is, until my wife decided that I should drive it to work every day, some thirty miles or so into Center City, Philadelphia, from our home in the Northern suburbs; her idea of a joke, I’m sure; not the most cost-effective commuter vehicle.  I also remember my daughter walking up to the front of the car (not possible in a normal-sized passenger car), at about age four or 5, and accidentally stepping on the cupcakes we had purchased for my wife’s birthday.  I thought that was funny, and that it would be a precious family memory for years to come, as I served the smashed cupcakes that evening.  I was wrong; my wife was not amused.


We went through three or 4 of these Chevrolet Trailblazers, upgrading to a newer, improved model every couple of years, all the while steadily increasing our monthly payment (they call it “rolling over” your loan in the automotive financing business), until we reached the point where it would have been less expensive for us to have financed the purchase of a helicopter.


Next in our lineup of expensive hunks of metal was a 2009 Saturn Vue, a minivan produced by a company slated for extinction.  If you’ve ever tried to repair something that is no longer being produced you know the challenges we have faced with this fine vehicle.  Those of you who own Edsels can appreciate the issue.


And, finally, the 2012 Ford Fusion.  It’s not a bad car, and I have to say that technology has come a long way in the last twelve years, at least in the area of sound systems.  But the proof of the pudding will lie in its ability to hold up for at least twenty years, without requiring more than $50 in annual maintenance cost, and log more than 500,000 miles.  That’s a car I could truly love.

So, I feel as if I’m missing out on something, not having had that American male love affair with cars.  But, cars suck!  From cradle to grave; from that first moment when your wife says, “Hey, let’s go test-drive cars today,” to that moment when the mechanic says, “No, I’m pretty sure that guy will only give me $100 for the car,” and every step in between, cars provide me absolutely no satisfaction or joy.  But I do like hotdogs and apple pie.



The Royal Gardener



When we moved into our new home a couple of years ago, we inherited the guy who had been cutting the lawn for the previous owner. . .for seventeen years.  As it was late fall when we moved in we allowed the guy, Joe, who was in his mid-60’s, to complete the lawn-cutting season, which amounted to three or four weekly visits.  The next spring I researched lawn-cutting options, and engaged a service to perform the weekly lawn-mowing responsibilities.  The cost was virtually the same as we had been paying the old guy, and I felt as if I wouldn’t have to worry about someone dying, in the course of having our lawn mowed.

My wife pointed out to me one afternoon that Joe was on the job, meaning he was perched on his riding mower, cutting our lawn.  She said, “I thought you hired those other guys to cut the lawn.”

“I did,” I responded.  So I trotted outside to explain to Joe that we had hired another company to provide lawn maintenance services for us, and pointed out that he hadn’t even bothered to provide us with a flyer detailing services he could provide, and, more importantly, the cost he would propose billing us for providing those services.

“But I’ve been cutting this lawn for seventeen years,” he protested.

I replied, “I don’t care.  It’s not as if you’re the Queen; it’s not an appointment for life!  Besides, the guy who hired you doesn’t own this house anymore.”

Joe groused about how the only thing that mattered to me was the cost, while he packed up his equipment.  If he was truly interested in learning about the variables I examined when making my purchase decision, I would have highlighted for him the higher quality of the work that the new team was delivering: they edged the sidewalks and driveways every week, and tidied up the flower beds weekly – something Joe never bothered to do.  I would also have pointed out the professionalism exhibited by the new team: they provided a written estimate, asked that I sign a contract with them, and mailed invoices to me, rather than randomly stuffing a handwritten invoice in my mailbox, as Joe did, which led to it blowing away in the wind on at least one occasion.

This experience caused me to consider the sense of entitlement which exists in many employment or contract situations.  In my own business, we employ a number of workers who possess lifetime job guarantees, provided many years ago.  These employees will no longer be required in the business, as we will be outsourcing certain functions, saving a tremendous amount of cost.  These guarantees, and other entitlements provided in union contracts, as an example, completely ignore economic realities, and instead insist that companies owe their workers a living.

I disagree with that contention, believing throughout my professional career that I needed to “earn my keep”, and reinforce every day with my employer that I was providing value to the organization.  In this way, my employer would feel good about the contributions I was making to the company’s success, and want to continue to employ me.  If I was no longer providing value to the organization I would no longer wish to work for them; I would want to move along to work in a situation in which I was making a contribution, for which I was being fairly compensated.

Isn’t that the “American Way”, in which hard work and effort enables you to advance and improve your circumstances?  I fear that the philosophy of entitlement has found a home in American business with its workforce, and that has a detrimental effect upon business innovation and growth.

Firing Joe may seem like a harsh remedy, after seventeen years of faithful service (to the other guy, not to me), but I would argue that termination was a far more compassionate solution than the fate suffered by other Royal appointees in history, some of whom were beheaded.



Typecasting (Part II)


The hooker with the heart of gold.  The biker who would donate a kidney, if you needed one.  The Goth, misfit youth who takes your daughter to the prom, and stops to rescue a wounded kitten.  Hollywood loves these types of characters, because they play against type.  Very entertaining, yes, but most of the time, not true.  Most of the time, in real life, these characters perform exactly as their stereotypical role demands.

While out driving around town recently, I found myself turning left into a strip mall.  From a left-turn lane.  Heading in the wrong direction.  Yes, I freely admit that I was inadvertently violating a basic traffic law, and endangering myself and other motorists in the bargain.  But, is that any reason for the biker coming directly towards me to violently thrust his arm towards me, middle finger prominently extended?  I can see several of you, there in the back, nodding your heads, saying, “Yes, we agree with the biker’s reaction; today’s rules of the road clearly state that, ‘Upon encountering a motorist who has violated a basic traffic law, the proper reaction is to flip-off said motorist, at a minimum, to be supplemented with shouted epithets, if time permits.'”

Alright, I deserved it.  But, if it were Hollywood’s version of “biker-guy” astride that Harley (actually, I have no idea if the biker in question was astride a Harley; not being a biker guy I have no idea what make his motorcycle was), he would have lightly tapped his horn in warning, and gently gestured to me to return to my proper lane, offering a friendly wave as I did so, and as he motored along past me.  So Hollywood, in their quest to provide that cinematic twist, which moviegoers find so entertaining, gets it wrong.

And the hooker with the heart of gold?  Sorry, that’s not in their nature.  Now, I do not personally know any hookers, with either a heart of gold, or the other kind.  So, perhaps I’m passing judgment here that is undeserved, but I read the papers, and the hookers I read about are being arrested for, you know, prostitution, and not charming businessmen and concierges alike.

And the Goth, misfit youth?  Nope, he’s not coming near my daughter.  And she wouldn’t have him near her.

It works the other way, too.  If you saw the movie, “Ted”, you know what I’m talking about.  In my experience, teddy-bears are soft and cuddly, and don’t smoke weed, and date slutty cashiers.  So don’t feel badly when you encounter a stereotypical character, and immediately form an opinion about that person, based upon long-held beliefs; 98% of the time that opinion will ring true.



A Lifetime Game of Gin


My daughter and I are engaged in a lifetime game of gin.  Currently, she is beating me by a score of 915 to 870 – not an insurmountable lead, but given that we play infrequently these days, one that is likely to stand for quite a while.  We began playing several years ago, when she was a surly teenager, and I was searching for a way to calm her.  She’s now twenty years old, and off at college.

In the early days of our lifetime game, we played a lot.  We began playing on July 9, 2008, and five of the 10 index cards containing our game tallies were completed during that first year.  As you can see, we’ve slowed our pace somewhat.  She’s also less surly at twenty than she was a few years ago.  And, perhaps I am as well.

Gin is a great game to relax the mind and to relieve stress.  While playing gin, one must focus to a degree on strategies and progress towards the goal.  It doesn’t require the level of concentration demanded when performing open-heart surgery.  But it does require more attention than, say, mopping a floor.  The rules of gin are fairly simple, as is the ultimate goal of the game.  And, a game can be completed in a matter of minutes, providing a quick and easy study-break.

Our game has commenced at times without a word; one or the other of us would simply pull a deck of cards out of the drawer, and motion to the other to sit at the table, and begin dealing the cards.  It is rare that an invitation to play has been declined.

Why did we begin logging game scores, almost immediately upon beginning our lifetime game of gin?  Why didn’t we simply play the game for fun?  We’re both pretty competitive, and it seemed a natural thing to do, to want to keep score.  There are no participation trophies here, this game is for keeps.  I recall coaching my kids’ baseball teams, when we weren’t supposed to keep score; every game was a tie.  We weren’t fooling anyone – the kids kept score in their heads – they knew who won and who lost. 

The game score has been pretty close over the years; at times I took a commanding lead, and at other times my daughter crested well ahead of me,  We’ve had sessions during which one or the other of us has won ten straight games.  The oddsmakers couldn’t predict those results.  She’s held this lead for a while now.  But, given the chance, I know I can catch up.  And, there’s time – a lifetime.



What’s in a Name?

Perhaps you’ve acquired a nickname or two over the years, as I have.  Most of mine have been pretty unimaginative, usually playing off my last name, “Southern”, or my initials, “BS”; some are unprintable.  A former colleague of mine called me “Slingblade,” or “Blade” for short, for a time, although I can’t for the life of me recall why.  I’ve also been referred to affectionately as, “Beans”, a play on the word beancounter, sometimes used derisively to refer to accountants, which is my day job.

I’ve supplied some nicknames to others, including one of which I’m particularly proud: I anointed a younger co-worker with the name, “Skippy”, because his hair sort of stuck up at an angle, and skewed him younger than he really was; he simply looked like a “Skippy”, lifted straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.  Another member of our staff was called, “Snappy”, because he snapped his fingers as he wandered down a hallway.   “Stumpy” was another nickname applied in an office in which I have worked, attached to one who was physically pretty short, and, well, stumpy.

Some guys don’t really fit their nicknames.  A boss of mine was known universally as the folksy, “Griff”, a shortened version of his last name, but, although he was a nice guy, he was a bit stiff and formal to be a “Griff”; he truly was his first name, “Howard”.

Physical abnormalities, ethnicity (a colleague of Italian descent quite naturally became, “The Italian Stallion”), and supposed defects, such as occasional stuttering (the latter earned the bearer the honorary title of, “Flounder”) all became fodder for crafting nicknames.  Recall the sacred ritual depicted in “Animal House”, in which each incoming fraternity pledge was assigned a nickname; “Flounder” brought that to mind.

A little guy I grew up with became, “Scooter”, presumably because he could scoot underneath defenders on the football field.  Another friend, born in the United States, but with Chinese parents was nicknamed, “Fuji”, after a character on “McHale’s Navy”; never mind that that character was Japanese.

The importance of nicknames cannot be underestimated in the world of sports.  Consider for a moment, David (“Deacon”) Jones; or, Dick (“Night Train”) Lane; or, William (“The Refrigerator”) Perry; or, Elroy (“Crazylegs”) Hirsch; or, Joe (“Broadway Joe”) Namath; or, Chuck (“Concrete Charlie”) Bednarik; or Joe (“Mean Joe”) Greene; or, Pete (“Pistol Pete”) Maravich; or “Michael (“Air Jordan”); or Julius (“Dr. J”) Erving; or Earvin (“Magic”) Johnson; or Eldrick (“Tiger”) Woods – betcha’ didn’t know his real name was, Eldrick!  It’s a bit more open to debate whether or not success in business or other fields hinges upon having a cool nickname.

In thinking back to my own fraternity experience, I cannot recall many cool nicknames.  A few come to mind, including, “Bosco” (no idea where that came from); “Rabbit” (apparently related to an old book title); and “Waylon” (a consequence of rhyming with a last name).  I blame the lack of creative nicknames in my fraternity on the fact that many of the guys’ real names were pretty colorful, or unusual in their own right.  Included were “Blake” (memorialized as, “Buh-Lahk-ay” in Key & Peele’s rendition of “The Substitute Teacher”), “Ced” (short for Cedric, I believe), “Slade”, “Tag” (a shortened version of a middle name, “Taggart”), “Ernie”, and “Wood”.  With names like those, who needs nicknames?





The Piano Teacher in the Green Peugeot

When I wanted to learn to play a musical instrument as a youngster, my mom insisted that I take piano lessons for at least two years first.  This technical musical training, she believed, would properly ground me for future musical success.  And so, I took piano lessons from Miss Logeman, a spinster in her 70’s who drove an old green Peugeot.

For two years, Miss Logeman picked me up at school at lunchtime, and drove me to our house for my piano lesson, and then dropped me off back at school when we were done.  This two-year stretch was in the late 1960’s, or early 1970’s.  Although I successfully graduated from my piano lessons, and even performed in a recital or two, I no longer possess the skills necessary to bang out even the most rudimentary tune on the piano.

I indeed went on to learn to play the clarinet (and eventually the tenor saxophone), and played in school bands and orchestras for the remaining years of elementary school, high school, and even in college.  I still have those instruments, and dust them off occasionally, and can still play capably.  But the piano, not so much.

One piece I recall working on for a very long period of time was called, “The Whale”, which calls for a flourish at the finish, requiring the pianist (thank God there’s no “Auto-Correct” function at play here, such as you might experience when texting) to conclude the piece by crossing over with his right hand to play the final note near the far-left-hand-side of the keyboard.  Very theatrical indeed!

But the most memorable part of my piano lesson experience was the car driven by Miss Logeman: a green Peugeot.  Although my dad later purchased a Peugeot himself (not lime-green, mind you), at that time that was a pretty exotic vehicle.  I don’t believe Peugeot had any dealerships in the U.S. at that time; securing one had to be a complicated process.  Not as complicated as “The Whale”, of course, but nonetheless a pretty bold choice for a spinster piano teacher in her 70’s.  I wonder if she set out to find one in green.