“Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this sun [or son] of York”. ~Shakespeare from Richard III
John Steinback’s “The Winter of our Discontent” is a story about moral crisis. It’s fitting to make a parallel here that then that we, as individuals in a grand scheme here in the US are, leaving a true winter of discontent into a spring of hope.
I had to stop reading the news recently. Not because I didn’t want to- it was filled with opinion & pointless un-facts, if that’s even a word. There is an alternate universe that poses right beside us at all times that if you do not agree with someone you must then find facts that support your opinion and share them relentlessly. The demigods of Blather, in a unabating pursuit of righteousness & narcissism have won on both sides of the aisle. However, I know goodness still exists. Goodness amidst our collective mental unwellness.
Recently, I have become obsessed with Clubhouse, an audio-only app that promotes conversation and connects you with people around the world. This simple idea (people speaking to people) is an enormous hit because it removes the nonsense from a social post, it removes the “look at me” 6 second nonsense of tiktok (although that is addictive & I admit entertaining) and connects you with people from all walks of life on topics you are passionate about. It’s in Beta, meaning it’s just released and is invite only but currently there are 10 million people on the app and a bunch of Clubhouse celebrities emerging. Time is finite on it- but people are spending all day in rooms.
The reason why its so successful is because it truly unlocks the seratonin as your heart beats a little faster to go “on stage”. The acknowledgment from your peers as you engage unlocks self esteem & the support you get from new follows on your social is actually meaningful. What I am saying is that you are posting to people that truly connect with your work or ideals. Real Time.
Would Clubhouse be so successful if we weren’t in semi-worldwide lockdown? If there wasn’t a silent mental health epidemic happening on every part of the planet? Where touch is now forbidden? Or if here in the US, would it be so popular in the best of times when we weren’t flying flags of a demigod & burning the truth for the sake of politics?
This past winter, now almost over, was filled with a morbid curiosity unprecedented in my lifetime. We challenged ourselves to find unthinkable un-truths, fought with each other in a silent civil war, ruined industries with feigned leadership, destroyed dreams without planning and sold books about how we forged a strong path forward while people died.
Leadership matters. If we can’t believe our leaders than what do we stand for as one people?
While we enter a “Spring of Hope” removing the memory of the winter of discontent, let’s remember what we learned in this cold, icy place. We’ve learned that our educational foundation using books & educators in classrooms needs to be updated to utilize Educational Tech (EdTech) that engages students of all ages, all backgrounds and abilities. On that same note, we know that students need the live classroom to develop & hurt their self esteem. (I put both of those in there because they both go together for growth). School is a microcosm of society with clicks, chicks, dudes and drama. Just like real life, lets get back to it.
Second, politics aside, leaders of both aisles will have to wrestle with the fact that people are starting to hate capitalism and the free market. I am a strong proponent of working your craft & letting the “market” determine your success just the same as I acknowledge Darwinism. It’s namely the Gen Z crowd growing up that will have a huge say in policy here out. All the Millenials and Gen Z have seen in the past 10 years (in their opinion on opportunity) is a huge heaping pile of burning economic garbage and they will be left cleaning it up. In that heap of burning tires lies true progress, but they can’t see it because they don’t understand life as previous generations see it. Nor were some (most?) of the kids taught about how you need to “work your way up”.
I see a pile of garbage, I sift through it to find the gold & fix pain. They see it as broken & unkept & “unfair”.
If there is anything this past year has taught me, it’s that the most precious resource, your family, is fragile. Our mental health is fragile. Touch is a human need.
We take our way of life for granted. Bread is stocked magically in the aisle and when we need to wipe our bums, toilet paper is there. When it’s taken away, we have a moment of consciousness that all our soccer practice-straight-A-savings-account-weight-loss-sitcom-watching-tik-tok-facebook-fake-outrage world is set ablaze.
Nothing in life matters without who you love and who loves you.
Take a second, look around. If you don’t have someone near you and you are upset about it, feel lost or feel like hurting yourself there is hope. You can also call 1-800-273-TALK or comment on this post.
Hope is around the corner. The roaring 20’s are coming. Hang. In. There.
I’ll never forget March 12th, 2020. Milan closed. In my gut, I knew NYC was next.
For almost 20 years, I built a world that included over 10,000 people, seemingly millions of hours and hundreds of thousands ideas shared. In those 20 years, there are businesses like mine that took measures to build financial firewalls in case there was a revenue dam break or a new customer implosion. Any successful business that scales over time has systems for continuous improvement and also a backbone that is unwavering and unstoppable.
When winter comes, we are already prepared. We have a savings to fall back on and a plan. We all have a bet that things will operate in a certain way even in the worst of times. At worst we can just make it up as we go along, my favorite. But what happens when the unexpected & impossible happens? What happens when you are forced to close your doors by no fault of your own & no notice? What happens when the one thing that you promised (a safe learning room) is challenged and no longer valid? How do you plan for that and pivot?
I own and operate a music school called Real Brave and we have 3 locations in NY/ NJ
In short, you can’t plan for a worldwide pandemic shutdown and no one did, including every government apparently. This is the story of my pandemic pivot and the new economy.
I was driving along the Harlem River Drive late for a meeting. It was March 12th 2020 at 2:45 PM and I was meeting a banker regarding a new cash flow loan for my newest location on the Upper East Side. Like my bank account, I only had a certain amount of time before time ran out for this meeting. I was driving annoyed, in traffic and staring into space. The world was about to change the next day with mandatory shutdowns and I had to get this meeting in. In my 2017 Jeep, a manual transmission no less, traffic isn’t fun to begin with. I leaned on the clutch as we began to move.
2:46 I could still make it, Imused silently. The 96th street exit was 1 mile up. I yawned mightily as I was on my 90th hour worked that week trying to make a business that existed in person to go online in total.
Then something caught my eye. In my rear view, a patrol car zoomed out from an exit and squeezed past oncoming traffic into the hazard lane. I thought, “this should be interesting”. I keep my eyes peeled in my side mirror as the police car “BWEEEEEEPED” loudly 2 times to get people to move and then it raced forward.
Then something crazy happened, a small sedan moved in the opposite direction he was supposed to move in and crashed into the trooper. Everything then happened so quickly I couldn’t think.
In an instant, the beat up sedan crashed into the trooper and I could see the look of fright in my road-stained side mirror as he bounced off the trooper and right into my rear fender. Instinctively, I moved quickly away from the driver and he sped up and bounced off my rear wheel again catching air in the process. Unbelievably, he came back down jumping up and down and the trooper “BWEEEEEEEPED” in a surprisingly mad way, stopping the car to get out.
Meanwhile, I stopped my Jeep to see my fender on the road and everyone moving away from me as if I had car rabies. Time stopped, I was in an accident.
It gets better, the kid in the car didn’t have a license or insurance and I totally missed my meeting. I started making calls to my business locations about the issue saying I’d be offline for a bit as I sorted this out. They obliged and went to work on the issue at hand- getting everyone online for their next appointment. With the shutdown happening the next day, I had to get all 1100+ scheduled appointments online using my staff. Now I am in an accident, had to wait here for God-knows-how-long and let my people do the work. This was foreshadowing for the story to come.
After speaking with the officers, getting in the police car to exchange information, shaking hands and patting backs, I decided to go back home. On my ride, 2 hours delayed, I rescheduled my bank appointment and also spoke to each location. We had a plan to get everyone online and we all crossed our fingers it would work.
That night I got insanely sick and it came on so quick I was petrified. High temperature and a slight trouble breathing. I got up from my sweat soaked sheets the next morning to start work but I just couldn’t. Fatigue, cloudyness… I just needed to sleep. My wife was concerned too- was this the ‘vid? Hearing the news chatter and how it was really contagious, did I get this from my chance accident encounter? I felt absolutely fine before that.
Long story short, the business went on without me while I was sick. When I woke up 3 days later feeling sort of manageable, I logged in to see the damage with one eye open. It was bad.
We lost half our customers.
On one phone I was calling to see if I could get Azithromycin from my doctor (or any) while texting staff, customers and my business coach. I went from reeling despair to unbridled confidence that I had to get through this. It was a roller coaster of intense emotion, anger, gratitude for the success up until now and acceptance that this may work out or may not. In one day I went from successful 2 million dollar a year business to 50% down and dropping. I stopped all transactions from going through in my business accounts, stopped tax transactions, bill payments and stopped all credit card transactions. I left messages for my landlords, spoke to business friends about what they were doing & handling this and while the news chirped on in the background.
Everything I worked for was evaporating.
I had endless meetings with staff via Google Meet while I quarantined (I had no idea if I was sick with COVID) and I wasn’t going to miss any more time in the business while I went to the horror show that was the area hospital. No, my back was against the wall and I was going to survive this.
Thing is, besides all the additional hours I spent on this, half my customers were legitimately not interested in online lessons. No matter what we did, we weren’t getting traction and in our surveys, customers were telling us that they wanted to see how this would all play out. They wanted to wait “a few weeks” until it all calmed down. The other half loved it. We were very successful in keeping them online but as the weeks dragged on, I felt we needed an extra offer in the online lessons to keep them engaged. They even admitted in surveys that it was getting stale using Meet.
To me, it would be months before everything reopened. It’s easy to shut down but opening up would be much harder. And: what would opening back up be like? What sort of regulation and safety nightmare would we be walking into if it was as bad as they said it was? After about week 2 of shut down, I decided to pour all my time and resources into building the online offering. I decided to put everything I could into PracticePad and to never let those lessons be stale.
PracticePad, pre pandemic, was our online homework book, basically. I built it from scratch with my staff and a developer overseas in 2017. We had instructors input notes and link YouTube videos in it and was a great way to illustrate a competitive advantage. If the instructors were savvy enough, we would have them make custom video tutorials for students as well, but it wasn’t a great process for the instructor because of the site’s limitations.
I hired a developer to rebuild PracticePad and add a Zoom-like or Google Meet video room feature into it. I put a rush order on it and we began right away in April. I began announcing the “success” of our online lessons every day in emails to our base and on social. Everyday, I worked with the developers to push out the video feature and from concept to beta launch we were live in the summer.
But by then, the country was burning. The economy and politics were affecting all of us deeply as we were all burrowed in our houses here on the east coast. But in that burrowing, I created a subscription feature in PracticePad that enabled customers to sign up from all over the world. We added gamification features where students could earn points. We recorded hundreds of videos for our curriculum that instructors could share and made a social feature inside of it so one instructor could share his tutorials with other teachers so they could use them.
We now have about 500 students in the platform learning from the comfort of their home. A few hundred students came back to in-person classes when we were allowed to open in August but many hundreds of students either disappeared from our radar, weren’t interested in coming back or worse. I actually was on the phone with one person who was at the hospital with Covid. Worse than worse, many instructors did not want to come back to work. While companies like Salesforce were proudly letting their employees work from home while happily paying their absurd Manhattan rents, us small businesses had to tackle the idea that if it was possible, let your employees work from home if they want. It was a gamble. And a game changer. I still had my own absurd rents though.
Employees, all artists, now have the freedom to work from home. It changes the commute picture. It changes the time off challenges. It changes “who is going to pick up my son from daycare?” issues. I think the future of work from home is bright.
In all, my pandemic period was the darkest and the brightest moment of my life. With my back up against the wall, I wasn’t an owner of an insanely successful private music school with three locations and a non profit organization that helped formerly homeless students get access to music lessons. I was now an Edtech founder with a video room platform to host our lessons to anyone in the world AND that brick and mortar business. Instead of a local economy with a fixed market, we were now able to go into a worldwide economy and share our gifts with millions of people.
Although the final chapter hasn’t been written for Real Brave and we have a long way back to prepandemic profitability, I am not looking back. My whole day is outside of the in-person business and focused on the PracticePad opportunity. The in-person business now runs completely on its own with the changes we made in our systems because of the pandemic. What if I hadn’t gotten into the accident and hadn’t gotten sick? I probably would have found a way to make all the people that quit offers they couldn’t refuse. Alas, that wasn’t meant to be. Because of that car wreck/ business moment: PracticePad is reborn.
I am an accidental Edtech founder now; pushed into the unknown out of our survival instincts hoping to reemerge stronger, with more opportunity and unlimited chances to succeed. In a car wreck of an economy, an accidental founder.
A pandemic that brought me and my business to its knees made me rethink how to run the business and what opportunities lie within the unknown. That’s the beauty of the free market society.
Within our panic, lies the genius of tomorrow in the heaping car accidents of uncertainty.
I recently moved my personal office to a bigger room inside one of my business locations. It also freed up ample wall real estate for me to decorate it and I took the opportunity to place some old photos and artwork that hits me straight in the feels when I need inspiration. That wall and specifically those feels are the topic of discussion today,
I believe that there are no coincidences in life and that in order to make one’s way through your “said” life to success it takes a combination of who you are, where you came from and what you do with it all. I’ll go into this further in a bit, but in my family’s long history dating back to our actual records of the early 1800’s, I have ancestors that have built businesses, amassed great fortunes and have mostly lost it all. There was my great grandfather’s shipping business that we believe was confiscated by the federal government due to WWI trade issues, there was a school formed in the south, there was a construction company that folded on another side of the family and also some significant wealth from my mother’s side of the family in Europe. When the aforementioned shipping business failed, my great grandparents “travelled Europe looking for backers in a new business” that failed to get traction.
Within the 2020 pandemic, I’ve been working overtime to save my business. My story isn’t worth a fortune yet but it has the bones to be. I am committed to learning from the past and wind up in a different place.
This past week, we celebrated the birth of the civil rights icon, MLK. One of my favorite U2 songs, practically unknown to all, is the last track on the album “The Unforgettable Fire”. Slow and steady & entitled “MLK”, a synth plays a drone and Bono sings:
And may your dreams
If the thundercloud
So let it rain
Rain down on him”
As a child, and not realizing the imagery or what Bono meant, I used to find comfort in it as I drifted off to sleep. Sometimes I would put it on repeat and wake up to it in the morning. Sometimes I would put it on while I mindlessly cleaned my room. It was never lost on me who MLK was, how he was mercilessly gunned down nor his message. Like many, I keep his story and that song close to my heart.
In later years, I found it suitable to use that U2 song as a hymn to lull my children to sleep, regardless of the meaning. To this day, they remember the late nights and my sweet voice drifting from their siblings room in the dead of a sleepless night, echoing in the hallways and softly caressing their imaginations to slumber without knowing it.
The myth and the man, Martin Luther King, ever the preacher, spoke to his people in words to lift them up and will always be known for it. One such speech, he spoke of “shattered dreams” in a sermon back in 1959,
“Our sermon today brings us face to face with one of the most agonizing problems of human experience. Very few, if any, of us are able to see all of our hopes fulfilled. So many of the hopes and promises of our mortal days are unrealized. Each of us, like Shubert, begins composing a symphony that is never finished. There is much truth in George Frederick Watts’ imaginative portrayal of Hope in his picture entitled Hope. He depicts Hope as seated atop our planet, but her head is sadly bowed and her fingers are plucking one unbroken harp string. Who has not had to face the agony of blasted hopes and shattered dreams?”
I am not meant to understand the deep seeded roots of inequality as a white male in this world having not experienced this incredible cruelty, nor will I ever. The tragedy here is not lost on me, however. This existence we have, this precious life we are given is a gift- and sometimes it’s a dagger. To the well-to-do life is a sweet dream always fulfilled with luxury. To those stuck in the middle, like me, it’s about lifting your life from the clutches of class and to never look back. Lifting your family from nothing to something special takes timed commitment and certainty- all of which I didn’t have. I was and am determined to succeed and pass that success down.
In January of 2007, I was sitting at my desk at my newly opened music studio, rife with ideas. I am the son of working professional parents from Queens, NY and like I mentioned, I don’t have the burden of racial injustice that Mr King would rally peacefully against. Nor would I have the stain of racism to hold my dreams back. I was just a middle class kid without a college degree, without connections or money. I had Dreams. I had it as my will and fire.
I sat there looking out on a huge parking lot while people walked by, peering in at me. Like a puppy on display, I’d wave back hoping the community would adopt me. I had the dreams of building a business I could barely afford at the time and had miraculously put it together with credit cards and a small loan from my mother. I had one thing: hope for a better future. Hope was my currency.
Around this time, Barack Obama announced his candidacy for President of the United States and what was striking about the man besides the fact that he would be the first African American president, was his oratory. He spoke of hope and how we need to be the change we seek. This language isn’t new, but borrowed and cleverly and astutely put together. Like millions around the world, My wife Melissa and I followed his words closely because of what they meant to us. Our future was so uncertain and the path was completely unclear. The words were comforting and the politics took a backseat. It wasn’t necessarily the man but the ideals that guided me forward. I wrote a song about those ideals and dreamed of a day where I could have that same impact. This is something that stays with me still to do this day, engrained like a hot iron on my soul. The beginnings of his message of inspiration and hope are ingrained in the culture of my company.
Obama’s first introduction to the nation was a few years earlier where his keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention had passages like this“…the pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too… (sic) We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America. In the end, that’s what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or do we participate in a politics of hope?
… (sic)I’m not talking about blind optimism here… That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about something more substantial. It’s the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs. The hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores. The hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta. The hope of a millworker’s son who dares to defy the odds. The hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too.
Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope! In the end, that is God’s greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation. A belief in things not seen. A belief that there are better days ahead. aren’t a nation of blue states or red states- we are the United States…”
This speech rallied the convention to a fury and caused all the pundits to take a second look at the man who would eventually have the courage to run. This speech resulted in a manifesto from Obama, “The Audacity of Hope” and that speech was about hope in things to come; no matter the circumstances. To this day it moves me.
Obama’s inspiration for the speech & book stems from a sermon by Reverend Wright, who borrowed King’s inspiration from that same George Frederick Watts painting that inspired MLK. That painting is called “Hope” and is depicted here below.
The tragedy of humanity is that we are self aware, meaning, that we are the only species that we know of that is constantly aware of who we are, what is happening to us and in a constant feedback awareness loop of our feelings, desires and outcomes. Other than simple mammals, say my dog Harley, that not only does not understand that he is a dog, but doesnt know he exists or why he does anything.
Suffering, it can be argued is necessary; without it life would be boring and mundane. Ironically without suffering, hope doesn’t exist. We have to be aware that we are suffering at times in order to find hope.
There are also concepts, philosophies and constructs that we as humans have created to explain the unexplainable. This idea of Hope is one.
Hope is the idea that there is something on the horizon that is better and man. There is the idea of “hope” all over biblical texts so it’s no wonder why the faithful take to the idea. Psalms 91 is God’s way of telling us that whoever runs to Him and seeks His divine protection will be saved from calamity and destruction.
Nothing is saving us from anything, sorry. You yourself have the power to create and destroy.
So this suffering, albeit conceived short or bleak, long and sharp or painful and extended is the result of action. Actions untaken, taken away or given to you.
Humans, therefore, are forced to endure endless suffering if we aren’t careful to look for hope. But if we take stock in where we came from to where we are today…maybe, just maybe we will find inspiration and solace… and hope.
Art conveys suffering more often than not in the physical form and in music. Vincent Van Gogh and his long suffering mental illness became real life art with his self portrait of his bandaged head covering the ear he had cut off in a fit of depression-rage. Beethoven reportedly suffering from bipolar disorder with his only solace: composing music. It’s in art that feeling is conveyed to the indifferent. It’s so that those that feel pain can transmit it to others in code so we can wrap ourselves in a deeper understanding of our own purpose.
It’s so that I can listen to music and feel joy or pain then lose myself in a visual art to find deeper meaning for me. Suffering is selfish and so is hope.
Perhaps suffering could be perceived in the pursuit of achieving success. Donald Arthur Mattingly is a long standing baseball favorite here in New York City and played for the NY Yankees; a both love and hated franchise known for their success in the mid 20th century. Sports, like art, has its champions, talents and failures. It also commands to have leadership and inspiration which is why Mattingly is so beloved. He was an immense talent during my childhood that lifted an ailing team and made us believe in bringing a championship to NY again. His promise was cut short by injury and his hope of raising a championship flag as the leader of an organization was realized a year after his retirement. To this day, the swing of his bat and the sound of the thundering crowd as he hit his only postseason home run echoes in my mind. The camera shook as he rounded the bases and everyone in NY cried as their baseball son tried to reach his dreams.
I am a strange mix of artist, type A personality and a completely competitive athlete. A lot speaks to me and it comes from my upbringing and my ancestors. Sports, it seems, comes from my fathers side of the family. Art comes from my mom’s side.
So borrowing from Obama’s line in his “Audacity of Hope” speech “The hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores”, I come from a long line of artists stretched from all over the globe. If it wasn’t for America, there is a good chance that I wouldn’t exist in 2 ways.
I physically wouldn’t be here- I am a mix of Spanish, Irish, German, Italian, Scottish and Eastern European roots. The beauty of America is in the blood we keep not the blood we spill.
I wouldn’t have a voice and the ability to express myself because without these people, art may not be physically in my DNA
The ancestors on my mothers side ironically were mostly well off. Digging deeper into 3 generations before me, there seemed to be wealth, despair and the loss of that wealth as I mentioned. They, in turn, looked for a better life and came by sea to find it. They searched for hope in a free society like billions of us have for generations.
On my Mothers side, we can go as far back as 1840 when Isabella Imbrechts (from Scotland) was born in the mid 1800s and was traveling from Columbia to South America where her Father was the British Consul back in England. Turns out the ship she was on sunk killing almost everyone onboard- except for her. She was 18 years old at the time which is telling of our culture today, isn’t it? We (not me) barely let our children out of sight into the next room while we “helicopter parent” after them. After rescue, Isabella was to stay in Cuba until arrangements could be made to bring her back to the UK but as fate would have it she fell in love with the British Consulate Tomas Cabellero.
Isabella had a few children, one of them Tomasa Caballero who married James Rhode, a German educator who had moved from Europe to Mexico then to Havana Cuba in the mid 1800’s. Ironically, James died of a cold later. Coronavirus in it’s earlier more silent cousin.
Tomasa & James had 7 children before his untimely death. One of them: my great grandmother Amanda. Her sister, Zoe was a painter and the mystery of her life in particular is one that has been haunting my dreams as of late.
Not much is known about Zoe other than those paintings that have survived her. Many are oil on canvas and have survived through the years having been kept by my Great Aunt Sylvia and upon her death distributed amongst the family. Many were reproductions of famous paintings at the turn of the 20th century and had a desperation to them that couldn’t be described. I remember as a child staring up at what seemed to be a huge work depicting a woman running in a field desperate to, what looked to me, run away from something. The image of her face etched into my heart to this day.
Or the florals that should bring light into your life but rather, seemed to scream isolation and darkness. Having found a picture of her recently (here to the right), her portrait doesn’t scream depression or any sort of artist but it’s interesting to me to have connected the face to the art.
Separately, music was rampant in the family. Carnegie Hall, performances for famous people of the time, instruction at the highest level and at the best facilities were common for her family members and generations removed, I feel this is where I have gotten my own love of music from.
I can relate to the darker side of art and understand where my propensity to push my limits in that darkness lies. My art was in music and I always pushed myself to go there and scoop out the sadness and like a producer-friend of mine had described to me, “Be yourself- the best artists in the world are naked” meaning- don’t hide what you truly are. In the end though- all of my songs sounded the alarm of hope through my voice.
I kept works of art in my house that were inspiring and dark at the same time. A Picasso reprint that I’ve had in my living room for 20 years “The Old Guitarist” depicting a blind old man sitting cross legged and playing guitar is one. Turns out that there is a connection between Watts (Hope painter) and Picasso. Even though Watts’s work was seen as old and too out of touch by fellow artists of his time, his use of “symbolism” and “expressionism” garnered respect from the European Modernists, notably the young Picasso, who copied Hope’s intentionally distorted features and broad sweeps of blue in “the Old Guitarist” seen here.
This brings us to the present day, a few days ago. I was sitting in my office and taking a breather from the mountain of work I had placed upon myself. The man that had started a business in 2006 in that small, freezing cold studio looking out on the world has given rise to an impossible story it seems. A life-changing company with multiple locations and limitless potential at times. My ancestors are looking down on me with a photo album in their hands of all the mistakes and lost fortunes. Do they hold a map of a journey to start anew? Was this was the point of all that strife?
I sat there looking at artwork that I had brought from home to hang on my walls thinking that sometimes it takes generations to achieve goals. Was it my great great grandfathers dying wish to have his business reincarnate into what I have today? Is it like a seed dropped from a plant that over time evolves into that flower that it wasn’t meant to be?
In particular, I had brought three recent pieces to my office. The reprint of the Picasso painting seen above, a 100 year old oil painting Zoe made that had been in the family and a framed Don Mattingly jersey.
That one painting in particular that I had taken from home was painted by my Great-Great Aunt Zoe and was a fit not only because of it’s hue- but also because it calmed me. For whatever reason I decided to text my mom about it: I needed the name of the painting.
As I waited for the answer, the conversation went on with some pleasantries and then this:
Once I googled the name of the painting, I immediately found the background on it and was floored.
I mean, chills up and down my spine.
It seems that my life had come full circle in some ways.
The 100 year old painting passed down to me, that was sitting in my office, painted by my ancestor was one of significant meaning not only to the family but had inspired generations of leaders and conversation. It, perhaps, was one of the few oil on canvas reproductions left!
It had emboldened a young black man to have the audacity to speak about a country where people were treated equally in a sermon to his faithful. Then years later to the man who would become President, the hope to inspire the imagination of a just future including me, my vision of my company and the future for it.
To me, it was a representation of the future and in it, one of the few times that you see something like this from period pieces, the woman holds a musical instrument Lyre with one string left. So symbolic considering where I am in life- a pandemic has brought my music business to its knees and has faced a reckoning; a possible sentence.
So today I stand here with all of this non coincidence- my affection for the song MLK, his story and his sermon about hope, Barack Obama’s inspiration by a reverend’s sermon, inspired by MLK and which resulted in the love for the painting. It also inspired his message of hope and the fact that my family had an artist, like me, who painted her “hope” on a canvas to rid the demons she probably had inside & encapsulate it for me to place it on my music studio wall for generations to come. To make the impossible more impossible, “Hope” by Watts was the inspiration for the Picasso painting “The Old Guitarist” which I’ve also had in my possession and have hung them up…
… side by side. Without prompting… without knowing the significance of either.
If there are no coincidences what are the odds of that happening?
There is no greater accomplishment than discovering meaning. Life itself is random and fledgling while being impossible, incredible and fulfilling because we are just simply alive.
What if my moment exists because I am meant to just continue the story my ancestors started or like our nation’s forefathers have asserted: “To form a more perfect Union” only the “union” in question is the my unity in the grand story- not just mine?
In 100 years when I am gone, how does my story affect my great grandson? How do I make sure that any future riches I obtain is the family’s to keep and not stories left to the annals of time as a waste?
Mostly: how do I use this moment of awareness as the vehicle to take me to that perfect union of destiny, purpose, meaning, and definition?
If there are no coincidences, then surely my whole life is a result of energies that I could never understand nor try to. My life, our lives, are predetermined by our willingness to be open to possibilities, by the mistakes of our past generations and our passions to build better lives than what was left for us.
Yes, poverty is a weight and absolutely it defines generations. But what if you can look to the past and discover that what is inside of you is there for a reason and it is up to you to tap into it?
Every day, there are clues hung that you are on the right path or the wrong path. I think I have found the clues that tell me I am on the right path.
This feels like an eternal truth.
It is up to us to be aware that they exist and listen for clues. Look inwards for the beat, outwards in your environment for the path
Hope is the hymn that will forge my future. Thank you Great Great Aunt Zoe.
Almost 20 years ago with shaggy hair, side burns and old shoes, I looked like a time traveling detective from a 70’s crime drama in the year of our Lord 2003. Unbeknownst to me, being a professional musician for 10 years prior had afforded me many start up and entrepreneurial lessons. Starting a band (kind of like partners), creating music and getting it to the market (product development, marketing and sales), performance (drinking) and of course music agents, music managers and record deals (negotiation, leadership, strategy, employment, planning and more drinking until blackout).
Like a failed brand though, there was no path to viability. You could hear us saying in band meetings held at Musician’s Conference Rooms or what we all know as Bars “When we are famous, I hope we will _______”. We would place eggs into a basket, put our fingers in our ears, say “lalalalalala” and hope for the best. There was no strategy. We would find a manager and agents of musician-y stuff so we could create our music… then everything would be fine… work itself out. This would go on for years and years for me and millions of musicians. We hoped for the best.
In March amidst a pandemic and almost 20 years removed from any of those Musician Conference Room decisions, I found myself surrounded with “smarter” people than me sticking their fingers in their ears saying, “I mean we don’t know what will ultimately happen but this is temporary, it will magically go away. When we reopen again, everything will be fine, let’s hope for the curve to be on a downward trend and hope for the best. We are doing a great job.”
I heard this over and over again. Would nod slowly. Then die a little inside.
I have never… let me repeat this… never been so certain of something in my life as I was in March. No, things would not get better soon. How were things going to get better? Also, it just wouldn’t be just this, right? We would have to do other things to stop whatever was happening. I mean, how do you just turn off this economic faucet? Then turn it on? When it gets “better” does “better” mean things would look different on the other side? Who was in charge here?
Do you hear how insane that sounds from a strategy and certainty standpoint? It’s wrought with complete generalizations. Like a general in a war room giving a command: “Ok hit them here, here, and here.”
Someone raises their hand in the back. “With what sir, we are the Peace Corps.”
“Peace Corps?! Dammit, well goddammit, hit ’em with everything you got DAMMIT”. Then he storms out of the room. 50 hippies plan to just “be there for everyone”. Send in the hippies, Sarge!
Say I open a business selling widgets. My business isn’t doing well so I apply for a loan. My widget is a cartoonish-like, big red boxing glove that sits on a platform with a blinking red button. Every time you push the button, it punches you in the face or the balls if you have them. I go to the bank, fill out a loan application form, sign it with a signature that looks like I killed a bug on the page then hand it to the loan professional.
He would lean back on his chair. His name is Mr Cares-Act. (Hyphenated name, mom and dad divorced) He’s a big, stupid, balding, burly stereotypical dopey white man in his fifties, suspenders, giant belly and with a cigar in his mouth. He’d make it look like he’s reading it then say, “100k. How will you pay me the money back?”
I would say, “Well I hope to sell a lot of widgets and turn this thing around! I think people need a good slap in the face these days!”
He leans forward quickly, stamps the loan application and says “Kid, you got it. Go get em, I hope you get there.”
He gives me money. Doesn’t know how I will pay it back. Doesn’t know if I need it. He has zero numbers on what our market looks like, zero strategy, zero nothing. Just a thing that punches you in the face. Or the nuts, whatever you prefer. #Innovation
For a bank, hope is not a strategy. They want reassurance they will get their money back and a reasonable return on their investment.
Generalized Statement Alert: When any entrepreneurial lad or lass sets out to make a place in the world, there is a plan. Even a half-baked plan. But there is one… and most times they are changing the plan constantly. There is also a bunch of people that will buy their widgets with certainty. These are people that are ok with getting punched in the face-balls.
EVEN MORE IMPORTANT is the vision. When I set out to do something I can see it materializing before me. I can see the customers, see the potential, see everything. I then plan it out and have a direction.
Back to March 2020 and the lockdown, I saw nothing. A black void. The black void was being filled with sayings on the TV like “V shaped recovery” and “Temporary” and “Slow the Curve” and “Cuomo Has A Nipple Ring” (gross). My first reaction was, you can’t close an economy, it will have ripple effects. What would the ripple effects be for me?
Well… 2 things. One, to prevent the ripple effect for zero revenue and bankruptcy, as in a complete shutdown, I would bring my business online. I had to innovate and felt no one was going to save me. This was plausible and would save my company from complete meltdown… but here is the thing: some people would like it some people would hate it. We would be completely changing how our service was delivered. It’s like as if Amazon were to roll out that drone delivery program immediately and all you saw was millions of drones in the sky. This would frighten some people and for others be no big deal. Aluminum hats and conspiracy theories aside, it’s a huge change in how they deliver.
Or if every car was FORCED to be electric. It would make millions of people angry because there are some old school, die hard grease monkey’s out there. People would choose their sides. Maybe the peasants would revolt.
The market would decide.
And decide they did, almost 40% of our business evaporated. But (surprise!) 56% because of financial and 44% because, well, they didn’t like our offer.
I saw most of this coming in March and made a decision to be strategic. I took whatever remaining cash we had and invested it in an online platform that would revolutionize the business for what I saw for 1 to 2 years of chaos just in case we weren’t going back to normal. This way, we would have the original business model when “normalcy” returned and now a shiny new one. Best part is that the shiny new one would save the business and bring in new customers until “we hoped” for normalcy to return. More importantly, I spent time the past few months looking for a new type of customer.
That’s the important idea here: my old customer may disappear forever. That’s an issue the economy is facing. That customer that felt it was completely safe to drop off their kids at my studio, let the safe environment do its thing and let all the safe things happen? Well there is a certain percentage of people (40%) that do not feel safe coming back!!!!
Oh, what about money you ask? Hmmm, 56% of my customers left for financial reasons? Because 40 million people lost their jobs recently and some of those people may never get their job back, people lost their ability to pay my company for our service! Locally in the NYC area, 1/4 of the deaths in the country have been recorded. Combine that with social unrest, really divided leadership and Governors with nipple rings, we have a mess. So when you look at a local economy that is totally depressed, do you hope that you open up and everything will be back to normal?
No you can’t assume it.
THEN you have the boondoggle of government interference. Now, the right response was to shut the economy down to slow the curve. Initially we thought this was a few weeks. Now three months later: I am still not “allowed” to open. With America’s official “Caught With Our Pants Down” fiscal stimulus and because the federal response has been “leave it to the states”(let’s face it you’d have to suspend the constitution to make a nation stay at home), local governments have had a haphazard response in each state. Locally in the NYC area, we have the hottest of the hotbeds here, so we have a shit sandwich of a response because of the millions of different needs, groups and communities all piled on top of each other. Specifically: Open in phases and when you do, enact specific restrictions. Also: do it at 50% or less capacity until we say and let’s hope this will work for a tad.
Folks, that’s just not sustainable. Most of us didn’t sign up fo this. I surely didn’t when I opened my business. Sadly, many people died in this country because of this predicament. I wanted so bad to trust our leadership in that they knew what they were doing. Jury is out, they were most definitely caught with their pants down and it’s now a trending hashtag on Twitter, one argument after another on Facebook and wonderful fodder for conspiracy idiots.
This is a scary moment that will define a generation. Millennials have now been through 2 major recessions and were dipshits to begin with according to renowned experts like my Dad (ok boomer). My good ole folks: Generation X? We are smoking bongs in the corner, just chilling and waiting for the dust to settle. No biggie, a phone to us is a thing you call people with and play dates are stupid. Go rub some dirt in it, America! Be careful though, don’t get hurt. Wear a helmet America!
Me? I have numbers on my new market, somewhat realistic potential in our plan and a kinda-future. I do not have certainty for my kids (Gen Z) as they go back to school. I looked at my kids the other day as we were at the store. We all had masks on. What were they thinking? Were they ok with this? What will this do to them? What are the adults in the room doing?
We are hoping for a return to normal.
I have news: there will be no normal “soon”. You can’t turn off the water to the hose and hope the liquid to come out immediately after months of non use. The 100 foot line has to fill with water and the trapped air in the line has to be forced out.
Then you remember: Uh oh, I hope I turned the water off from inside the house over the winter… is the line cracked? I hope this works!!
We all have that moment where someone says to us “HEY! You are really good at making tiny miniaturized chain smoking sea turtle robots. You should make a business out of that!”
“HEY, Iove that sandwhich you make. The one where there are 2 friend chicken cutlets and in the middle of that is a hamburger patty, salt, pickles, onions too. You should make a business out of that!”
In some ways, I’ve always been a business owner just didn’t realize it. I’ve had people say similar things to me like the above. When I was 11, a few buddies up the street had their own paper route and my Dad thought I was capable enough of running my own route because he did when he was a kid. Meanwhile, I was about as disorganized and disheveled as you can get. If you ordered me in a store, I would come 100 pieces, no directions, a shelf would splinter when you forced it into place and I would fall apart after 2 weeks. I think that store makes billions with bendy shelves, it’s called Ikea. Back to paper routes!
What’s a paper route, you ask? Friend, why, it’s child labor! How did paper routes come about and what’s a “paper”? A paper, or the regional pronunciation “Paypa” is a newspaper. That’s something like the infamous “Failing NY Times” Or the “Jeff Bezos’ Wash Post” or an informative paypa like the “NY POST”. What’s in a Paypa?
Well, all sorts of stuff. Like words and pictures and ads. Some Paypas have more pictures than words. Some have all ads and big words. Some have no ads and little words. Also, Paypas tell the story about yesterday and all the things that happened yesterday. Years ago, this was the only way people could find out about yesterday.
“What happen yesterday, dear?”
Dad, crosses his legs has he opens the “paypa”. Smoke emanates from his mouth as his cigarrette dangles from his lips. A lady, in an apron, serves him a stiff drink that she lays next to him on the table. Ice hits against the glass with a cold clang. Two small, laughing kids with Davy Crocket hats on run through the cigarette smoke and a small dog runs by as well. The B&W TV is off and everything looks all 1950’s black-and-white.
“Well dear, looks like some criminals are in the big house and some coppers got ’em. Tell you what, I’m gonna go down to the Gin House and meet the boys for some drinks.”
“That’s nice dear.”
And that’s how people got the news.
What about today? Do people read about yesterday today?
Well, no silly. We read about today, now.
Well what about yesterday? How do we find out about the past?
We can find out about yesterday now.
Sure! All you have to do is look up yesterday right now on your phone and you can read all about yesterday and the day before. Plus all of the yesterday’s before yesterday.
Wait, you mean that I can read about today and yesterday and all of the days before yesterday right now?BTW, who are you talking to?
Ok! Does a Paypa have today on it… today?
Sadly, no. Just yesterday.
Is everything true?
Nope it’s all fake news
(and that’s how you kill an industry)
So, what’s a paperboy? Oh, that’s an 11 year old boy that distributes papers on a Paper Route.
A Paper Route is where our story begins.
If you do a quick search on “origins of paper routes usa”, you get all sorts of interesting articles, websites and historical factoids of this noble child profession. Let me give you my version of it. Paper routes started with the “boy” on the corner yelling “extra, extra” read all about it and then after The Great Depression, these kids, were pushing “Paypas” on every street corner for a Nickel. This is a roundabout way of saying for many years even before the Great Depression, men in suits figured out that paying “paypaboys”was good business.
(What’s a Nickel? )
(Shhhh listen to the story)
Let’s fast forward because let’s face it, the story isn’t that exciting and the facts are blurry. My dad used to tell me about his “paypa route” in New Milford, NJ. How he had approximately 60 customers, how they would tip him handsomely and how his route was the envy of the town. It was a great way to save money.
Fast forward again now to about 1986. The kids up the block from me, entrepreneurial bastards, had a paper route… and money. They would talk about all the things they would buy with money. Well, I wanted in on that! (Maybe a chain smoking turtle toy business would come later)
So my parents set it up. The guy that was the boss of the route was set up for an interview with me and I couldn’t wait. My friends said “he was a jerk” but I was such a nube, it didn’t matter to me.
I’ll never forget it. At the time of the interview, I anxiously awaited his arrival and he didn’t dissapoint.
Zooming around the corner, like an 80’s badass from a John Cusack movie screeched a red Iroc Camaro Z28 with lightning bolts on the side and T-tops. Loud mufflers screamed “my penis is so tiny!” as he pulled across the street revving his engine. 80’s music blared from the t-top roofs as a driver sat in the its seat contemplating something. He was late, and from the looks of it being late and owning a paper route was cool.
That is until he stepped out of the Camaro 5 minutes later.
The small man with the most tiniest of penises shut off the engine and daintily got out of the car. His grey Members Only jacket, white converse and tight acid washed jeans moved him across our lawn up to the steps. He had magnificent tinted RayBans on that just barely showed his eyes as he got closer. His grey toupée was hastily arranged over his stupid looking face. He lumbered up the steps, thinking he was the hottest shit in the toilet.
He rang the doorbell.
My mom answered with her usual wonderfulness and sing songy hello. He introduced himself, grunted and walked in.
The next is part is blurry, so I will give you the summary: As you could imagine, he was a complete jerk. He gave me the rundown of my responsibilities:
My responsibilities: deliva’ the paypa and collect.
If I messed up anything it came out of my pay.
So bear with me for a second and let me explain this job. (remember, I am 11) The small pouched Mr Eif gave me a stretch of land not to far away from my house. Much like the Dutch bought Manhattan for $24 from the Lenape Indians, I was given the luxury of a stretch of land and it was “my route”. I would deliver “paypas” to about 35 houses every day, 7 days a week. Then every Friday, I would go to each customers and “collect”. This meant, ring the doorbell, say “collecting” and the nice person would come to the door and pay me.
Simple right? What could possibly go wrong?
Well for starters, I had to get up at 5:30 am before school to put the paypas together. Lumbering upstairs to my front door, I would bring the satchel of paypas inside and begin my rubberbanding. 1 paypa, 2 paypa, 10, 34 OUCH (rubber band snapped and pinched me).
With my fingers dirty with newspaypa ink, I would scratch my nose and forget the ink stain on it. Then I would throw them paypas into the Daily News bag Mr Eif gave me and strap them on my super-fresh silver Mongoose. Like Pee Wee Herman, I rode past the burning car on the side of the street by the fields and on my way to 60th Ave. Getting to the top of the route, here is where the work begins: Aiming your throw.
On a paypaboy’s best days you hit every stoop. In 2 years of my route that happened about 1 time. What you wanted as a paypaboy was to ride past the house and like a magical movie moment, hit the stoop just as Mr American Dad was coming out in his PJ’s and pipe. He would then wave to you and say, “Thanks Son!”
The paypa boy would then continue on and deliver the news to his customers right on time, right on their stoop.
This wasn’t my experience.
It was cold, dark and I was scared. Since it was October, it didn’t get light out until about 6:30 but I had to get ready for school so it was important for me to get the route done by 7, eat, finish the homework I didn’t do and such. I don’t think I showered until I was 14 so I didn’t have to worry about cleaning myself. Ah, to be a little boy again! There was dirt on top of dirt.
In my element, I would throw a paper from my fast-pedaling bike, a wind would take the paypa behind a customer’s thorn bush. I would stop my mongoose, sigh, get off my bike. Then other paypas would spill out of the bag and I would reach behind a thorn bush and rip my face in half.
Or I would ride my mongoose, throw a paper and the rubber band would break sending it in a thousand pieces all over NYC or their front stoop. I would heavily sigh, get off my bike, the rest of the paypas would spill out the bag and the wind would take them down the street where cars would run over them. Running up the customer’s steps, I would hastily arrange the paypas on the step then run after the other wind-swept paypas like an idiot. It must have been funny to watch.
Or, my favorite, I wouldn’t watch the weather or “plastic bag” the paypas. Then as I am riding I would throw each one on their step only to end the route with the skies opening up and each paypa getting soaked.
Collecting, I would hear it from the customers. “My paypa was soaked” or “I never got all of my paypa” or “you never delivered it” or “it was funny watching you run like an idiot after paypas” or whatever.
Then Mr Eif would arrive on a Sunday to get his paypa whore’s money. That’s what he was, he was a “Paypa Pimp”.
He would show up the same every week “vroom, door slam, doorbell, toupe, jerk, raybans” and lecture me on how bad I was at my job and dock my pay.
Imagine that! If you mess up, meaning, if the collections were off, he would take money away from me!
As a boss today, this is unconscionable. I mean if I was given this superpower and it was acceptable today, do you know how much money I would be able to take from people not doing tasks in their job? I would be a ga-billionaire. But alas, I didn’t drive a camaro or have a toupe so I was not allowed in the Eif hall of management shame. Back to the story:
It never got better. I just didn’t have the where-with-all to do this job right. First, I was 11. Second, I was getting completely ripped apart by this guy (my boss). It just didn’t help.
My parents saw the effect the man had on my work and also recognized that this man was a thief. He would dock all my pay some weeks. They tried to catch him several times in his thievery but he outsmarted them somehow every time. I don’t remember how.
Thing is, the route taught valuable lessons. I saved $500 in 2 years to buy a RAD electric guitar that I had wanted and an amp. I look back at my comic book collection and baseball card collection and remember the cash in my hand from collections and the smell of the burning it was doing to my rubberband-smacked hands.
I learned the value of a dollar. I learned responsibility. I learned people can be really hard on you. I learned about mistakes and their effects. I learned that I didn’t like it when people treated others with disregard which I could have never learned if I didn’t experience it. I also learned what it was like to have people rely on you.
At 11 years old.
Now, I was very bad at this job- I am not pretending that perhaps Mr Eif’s sternness wasn’t unwarranted at times but there is a difference between effective management and just being a turd. He was a turd, he took advantage of kids and knew it.
Thing is, I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.
I look at my kids and I don’t want them to get hurt like I did. That’s the number one parental ideal that we all have. What my experience tells me, from one paypa boy to you:
Let them get hurt. Let them fail. Let them learn from complete failure.
Guide them, protect them from injury and anything that is inappropriate but those early mornings of experience taught me lessons that I could never forget. The American value of working hard and achieving what you want is disappearing fast. It’s gone because of people like Small Pouched Mr Eif and millions of people that took advantage of workers only because of power. It’s disappearing because when there is a perceived value but no one believes in it anymore, then it will dry up and go away.
As an employer today, it is virtually impossible to justify Mr Eif’s actions. Government intervention in the workplace because of people like him makes it harder to just let the workers work and it’s because of people like Small Pouched Mr Eif. Neither of these things are good for the workplace. The bottom line here is that there are lessons to be learned from strife. I’m not suggesting that we surgically keep things like harassment in place or god forbid racial injustice or even unequal pay. Working your way up, overcoming steep obstacles, responsibility and true critical thinking is drying up in the workplace. Common sense is certainly not common either. What we don’t need is more sleep stations so 31 year old Timmy can get some num nums and his blankey before his TPS reports are done.
At a very simple level, you have to admit that the most difficult things that you and I experience in life help us grow as people. That time I was nearly kidnapped as a child? Even writing that makes me wince, but it made me street smart and painfully aware of my surroundings; forced me to understand human nature. Do I want molesters walking the street freely and accept that my kids need to experience the same thing? Hell no. Do I now know what exists in the world? Possibly. That time I failed Biology? It was my fault, I went to summer school. My parents didn’t call the teacher and scream at them for my mistakes. That time I didn’t make the team? I didn’t perform well enough to make it, it wasn’t the coaches fault. That time I got fired? I didn’t do my job well enough, it was my fault.
It’s my responsibility to learn from my own mistakes. Papers flying down the street and all.
Experiences make the person. Artificially removing the potential for experiences to happen removes the potential for learning. That’s a hard thing for people to understand, but it’s true. I am sure that in the “biggest, fairest city in the world” fantasy that certain people have in leadership, they are trying to do the right thing because there are really awful circumstances that need to be addressed.
Let’s just treat the world’s issues top to bottom, not just treat the symptoms with drugs that don’t work.
I finish this blog post as the country burns and yearns but keep one thing close to heart. If a nation’s youth can do anything, it can learn from their parents mistakes but most importantly their own. So when an enterprising young man or woman wants to do something, let them. We can all sit back and watch as they run down the street chasing after the newspapers that fell out of their bag knowing that those are lessons that will stick with them forever.
I love it when prominent people go on “live internet” (modern day Live TV) and talk about the facts. All the facts they know! So many. I also never knew my friends could research so much on the interwebs to find all the hidden facts. All of them. So many factoids and golden nuggets of hidden truth.
The light idea was very good advice. I spent many days in the light under my skin, inside my body. So much so, I had third degree burns from not wearing sunscreen while standing on the equator waving back at God in the clouds. Alas, this was many years ago. After that doctor-ordered trip to Aruba, where I could see clearly that the earth was flat on the plane trip back, a good friend of mine burst into my tiny Astoria apartment and plopped in my lap a book called “Behold A Pale Horse”
He whispered, “Read it”. He then sprouted Dragon wings and flew away crashing out the window.
My cold wasn’t quite gone and and had just gotten off my doctor ordered disinfectant injection while I sat in my apartment dumbfounded by what my friend was telling me about this book. Written by William Cooper, a former United States Naval Intelligence Briefing Team member, he wrote this bio-novel divulging classified and secret information about how the Illuminati ran the world, how the first Bush administration used the New World order to push American power and details a secret treaty between aliens and the Eisenhower administration.
Not people from Mexico- the Aliens from another planet. Just wanted to clear that up, screw Mexicans let’s build the wall that is already built.
I was enthralled with the book, reading it between lunch breaks and at night with my friends dissecting it and going through it chapter by chapter. We all were having a blast talking about this secret society that lived right before our eyes as if elves lived in garbage cans popping up to spy on us.
Not long after my push into the white underbelly of this, Cooper was killed in a shootout which only pushed me a little further into the darkness. “How could this have happened? It proves that this was true,” we all said as we downed the 32nd beer of the night (each).
During 9/11 times, theories about “controlled demolition” were abound too. How the wealthy Bin Laden family and the Bush numero dos administration were in lock step with each other and how they used to spoon at night at the White House in the Lincoln bedroom. How did I know this? Well I saw it on the web with the interboobs.
This is certified, A-Numero-Uno, without a doubt, my personal plunge into conspiracy theory land.
The land of Merlin, where toast is burned on one side but fine on the other, where the peasants revolt against the king and knights use pogo sticks to jump over the fire strewn moat. In this land, everything you know is turned upside down. In this land, we burn witches because it’s really the right thing to do, right? I mean F these women that disagree with us and our view of God!
Back in reality, I started living life, getting older and I stopped drinking 32 beers a night in local dives. I started a family with my beautiful adoring wife. Started a business. Bought a house. 2 cars. Picket fence.
In the rearview in one of my cars, “Behold a Pale Horse” is in the dustbin of my pink oily hamburger brain. I nod to it as I drive away as I would any movie I saw the night before whether it be Motel Hell or Stargate. Anything that you enjoy and is touting the underbelly of society in it is most likely written by a someone with a wonderful hamburger brain. The type of person that enjoys pineapple on their pizza. The type of person that has 2 years of food in an underground bunker. The type of person that is a little “nanu nanu”, live well and prosper, “let me put on my fuzzy costume because this is real”, not an escape.
Am I against conspiracy stories? No, I think it’s fine to have it exist. There is nothing wrong with a man or woman who writes a book about their whispering secret voices, how they have the inner story on the way things really are. If you notice, they are all being held down by “secret arms” that prevent them from getting their stories out. There is truth… to some of it. Meaning, there may be something in there that’s true. But who know what that is? IT COULD BE that William Cooper saw something different. It could also be that he had psychological problems. Who knows?
I mean I think that there is a family on my block that are vampires. They never have any trash, they only come out to wash their cars in the shadows of early morning (never in the daylight) and they put big black plastic bags out once a week filled with the remains of the virgins they consumed the night before. How do I know this? Well, I just do.
Like Scott Stapp, reknowned singer of the multi platinum band Creed, whose music makes slugs move a little faster to get away from it when a meathead blasts it and whose overall theme makes my intestines boil, once had an epiphany on national internet (modern day live NBC): “they are after me”.
When Scott Stapp, genius incarnate’s infamous “they are all after me video” surfaced online, I not only danced for a few days on the back of a meathead’s truck for awhile, I may have mused that even if the band had better lyrics, a better singer, a different guitarist, different songs but the same drummer- they still would have sucked.
But I digress.
Mr Scotty Scott was the latest B tiered celebrity toting the “illuminati”, basically. The list is endless and for the sake of the three fingers that I use to type, here are a few:
This of course is the very real issue that planes in the sky have chemicals in them that control people. It must be true because Billy Corgan believes. “Believe in me,”!
Of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t add in that AIDS was created to kill African Americans and the LGBT community.
The moon landing was staged
Fraud, of course
Which leads us to vaccines. We all know that vaccines are filled with chemicals that kill you and/ or cause autism. Why? Well, Jenny McCarthy told us (and many more people). Well, all vaccines are bad for children except for the new coronavirus vaccine we are all waiting at home for. That said, maybe all vaccines are bad and prevent us from living our true lives. All I know is I don’t have measles and probably will never get it.
Now, sitting in our afternoon pajamas, after changing out of our morning pajamas, we fold our evening pajamas and wash our dinner pajamas thinking, “I can’t wait for the ‘rona vaccine to come because then everything will be back to normal.”
Right? Everything will get back to normal! Or will it? Or were we waiting for the curve to slow? I like curves, just not this one. What are we waiting for? Is the story changing? Is the truth… truth-ier?
Now Live Internet (current day Live TV or as we know it: Twitter) is reporting that the virus was born in a lab. My wife Melissa and I were discussing it in our late afternoon pajamas one day over the bottle of wine that we have been opening a little earlier every day as “a conspiracy theory that makes sense”.
Or that the blue states are trying to kill the economy so Joe Biden will win the election.
The alternative-fact industry that we live in is consuming us. We used to live in a world where facts were facts. 1×1=1 type of facts. 1+1=2 facts. Not the “if johnny had 3 apples and ate 1 apple, how many apples does he have left? If you get this you are a genius!!” factoids we are sharing on our facebookery.
So this brings us full circle to the quote at the top of the article:
“The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.”
There are two sides to every story but there aren’t two sets of facts to every story. We are in a world now where there is a new normal that has been setup by very smart politicians, very eager patrons of democracy to believe in something different, very smart attorneys & figureheads making the Live Internet (New Nightline) bend to its will.
People are passionate about the things they believe in and some will go to great means to make it so their truth is revealed, packaged and sold for a good dollar. Those same people will read my writing here and say I am part of a left-winged conspiracy to shield the truth. That the “media” tells a story through a tinged lens that distorts the real truth!
You know what the “lamestream” media is guilty of? BREAKING NEWS FLASH: Reporting. Because it kills me to watch or read anything that reports inaccuracies. And that’s all they do. They report the stupidly said thing and then talk about the “stupidly said” thing about how it’s stupid and not real. Both sides DO IT! Before I go into this more, let me just backtrack for a second. This is REALLY important to me.
After 9/11 George W Bush stood on the mound that was the Trade Center and was now a tomb for people that I knew and for thousands of others. He famously said that “America today is on bended knee for the lives that were lost here, for the workers who work here, for the families who mourn. This nation stands with the good people of New York City, NJ and CT. We mourn the loss of thousands of our citizens.”
Someone yells something…
Bush continues, “I can hear you!”
The workers scream and clap.
“I can hear you, the rest of the world hears you and the people that knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!”
More claps, screams. Adulation.
I wasn’t a W fan and in many ways I am still not a W fan. Like many, the wars that encapsulated the country soon after were bitter pills to swallow. But that moment and the way he carried himself, to me, helped bring a nation together.
“We are all NY” was the saying. We pulled together. We gave blood. We enlisted in the army. We helped each other. It was a terrible year that followed. I am not a geopolitical analyst so I won’t go further.
Besides storming area 51 with water guns against the American military, we have a choice everyday. Leadership these days is leading the charge. National leadership.
I saw ‘rona as Trump’s moment to stand up on that terrible mound like W did and fix 3 years of weirdness. It was a moment that I thought could bring a nation together like we did for those few months in 2001 and early 2002 until we were ripped apart again by politics. I was hoping for his bullhorn moment. But I am left with nothing but #Obamagate.
The nation needs hope. We need local and national leaders to put away the aluminum foil hats and get us back on our feet again. The left is down on one side of the burning mound demanding the Green Deal’s time is now while the right is on the other side popping chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine. The Rand Pauls of the world are swimming in the river and inviting everyone in while holding meetings without masks on and the Reporters are on live TV in the middle of a park talking to the camera with a Cobra Commander mask on. Are we wearing Cobra Commander masks or not? Is the curve flattened or is it a ploy to destroy the economy so that Biden wins? Is Obama part of a huge cover up that tried to kill the Trump campaign? Are 90k people dead from the corona or not? Is it airborne or not? Will schools stay closed forever? Will NYC landlords ever get their tenants back or not? Is the new normal the normal that we normally see everyday or is this the normal that we wished for like so many germaphobes want? Howie Mandel must be very happy.
I want nothing more than someone to stand on National Internet (New Fox News) and just report something that makes sense. Something I can sink my teeth into as real. There are now two sides of facts for every story and it’s everyone’s fault.
It’s your fault and it’s mine.
It’s the video you watched for 2 minutes on Facebook because someone captioned it “food for thought”
It’s the ad Zuckerberg let happen on Facebook that promoted “one weird trick that you never knew about, click here!”
It’s the “article”, that got passed around like a bong in your first apartment and commented on incessantly where the vitriol of a nation lives.
It’s in the “All In with Chris Hayes armpit, Maddow Show bluster, Ingraham Angle screams, Hannity farts that we all smell which corrupts the facts.
So now that there are no facts, just talking heads wearing their own aluminum foil hats… what does a nation do? What does a nation do when one person says their state is making decisions in science and another makes a polar opposite decision based in another science? What do we do when we see an economy implode after 2 months of closing? What about the millions of lives temporarily destroyed? What about another “important” person saying on Twitter “this is all for the better good” all-the-while moving the goalposts farther and farther back? What do we do when thousands of people are dying every day but no one has a clear answer on why we are doing what we are doing??
I know what you are thinking. No, I didn’t just get back from my week of running naked in the desert at Burning Man after watching the third documentary on how GMO’s are turning our livers into alien wombs so the next generation can live again. I just want someone coherent to calm everyone down so we can have direction. That’s not blue state or red state, black or white, rich or poor or Beatles v Nickleback.
It’s just a desire to have hope in leadership and hope in truth.
If “The truth is incontrovertible”, then it should be ok to dust ourselves off and get back out in the world.
If “Malice may attack it,” then we are the most educated civilization in the world. There surely is a point where someone yells from the back “hey… um this is stupid!” Then, a slow clap (you have to love slow clap!)
Regarding the reporting line before I went into Bush’s speech: Reporters report. That’s the beauty of the media. Yes, yes some reporters aren’t reporting but adding opinions, sure. But don’t mistake the opinion shows on the TV as news. The infuriating stuff to me is when some leader goes on Live Internet (old ABC) and talks about something clearly false and then it’s debated and argued incessantly for weeks.
It was false. End of story. Stop reporting it.
I want this leader to grab a bullhorn, this leader who more than half the nation “dislikes” supposedly, and say something consistent that is like a warm cup of tea on a cold, wintery day. A good back rub. A “It’s gonna be ok, champ! Here’s why”. Then we all mow each others lawns, give blood and be good citizens again”
When “ignorance may deride it”? We see ignorance for what it is and SEE THROUGH IT
We, as a society, crave it. When it’s a leader that we tire of or mistrust, we collectively throw our hands up and become unbearably enraged at nothing, unable to understand facts, directions and are unwilling to listen to each other. But when asked to lead ourselves in any situation, we sometimes collectively blush, turn to one side and put our hands up in a “No, no, not me”, laughing type of way. Someone then gets up to lead and inevitably the peanut gallery starts up in the corner whispering in three’s and fours, “Well, she can’t lead she’s a whore!” or a male saying, ” That guy, he’s a horse’s ass, he couldn’t lead water down a drain. And he’s a whore, I am jealous.”
I’ve been a leader of an organization now for the past 15 years and if I am being honest, 15 of those years have been ripe with hand wringing. The first 10 years were about finding my expertise and getting people to believe in this thing I was offering because I was an “expert”. Let’s start with that because without expertise and one more thing, there is no leadership. Or so I thought.
I remember being a scholar in a small business coaching program sponsored by Goldman Sach’s called “10,000 Small Businesses” in 2016. First, my name is not synonymous with scholar. When I was in school, it was more of a place to eat lunch, make friends and daydream. This guy wasn’t on the fast track to college and wasn’t a Mr Smarty Pants Do Goody Gooder. I was accepted into the 10k program on achievements in business and we were each awarded the name “scholars”. I rode in the first day of class as an expert on horseback to Laguardia College on a cold January day in Long Island City Queens and, as a scholarly expert, dismounted off the horse in a off-putting scholarly way, threw my long braided hair back and attached Mr Ed to a railing nearest the 7 train. (Wouldn’t this be a sight to see).
Anyway, I took my scholarly self and my king’s ransom of no-knowledge up to the 7th floor where the first day of class was. Hereto, furthermore and other King’s-type words herein, an associate scholar of the same business ilk used the word “credibility” in a overly long, arduous, blowhard answer to what the word business means to him and it struck me like a slap in the face. I don’t remember a single thing he said but I immediately googled “credibility”.
Credddbibi (backspace backspace backspace backspace) I typed in my phone misspelling the words. If I had all the time back in my life from my two stupid thumbs misspelling words on my phone.
Crebibilititytyy. How do I spell it?
Google tells me, “did you mean CREDIBILITY?” Then Google says “I say you did, here are the results anyway. Get new thumbs!”
Credibility: the quality of being trusted and believed in.
A warm fuzzy feeling hits the back of my head and buzzes down to my appendix.
The room’s discussion blacked out to just me thinking aloud in my head.
What a great word to describe the journey I’ve been on in business and in life (these words echo in my mind). I didn’t see myself as a leader yet because I didn’t believe in my expert-ness and had been seeking out this so-called credibility my WHOLE life. To be known for something and to be sought out for it because YOU are the chosen one. The one to lead the peasants to the land of Evermore on this quest, Sir Idiot. Dost thou take thy?
The whole room is black now with just a spotlight on me. From the cradle to the casket, we are seeking credibility in what we do and how we do it. I can really only speak for myself in the sense that I am not a sociologist and, quite frankly don’t want to do research. I tried it in the beginning of my post-bloggery and it was exhausting. I think from the highest tier of society to the lowest tier we all seek credibility whether we know it or not. Well, maybe the more affluent seek it while the less inherent it; pasted on their backs like a scarlet letter.
I sat there in the 10k classroom, “King Scholar”, in my cape of lies. I came out of my daydream as the black faded and the spotlight went away.
What the heck am I doing here?
Like most daydreams, it’s like my ears shut off and the classroom went away. All I could think of was the thing in my mind at that moment. And that was the issue in school as a kid. My mind wandered and it was tough to control. No matter how perilous the situation was, the inner voice took charge and was always pushing the buttons in my brain to shut down.
Fade in: “But sir, he is failing biology” says a man as he looks up from blinking lights in a Star Wars like uniform working for the Galactic Emperor on a substantial part of the ship with lots of blinking lights… which in the 1970’s meant “this is computer stuff!”. More blinking and beeping the better. People walking in the background holding papers with nothing in it. A pair of people talking in the distance. Lots of workers looking at blinking lights on the numerous consoles.
The man, wearing a hat with a short brim looks up at an older man with a face chiseled out of stone that made mirrors cry. In a British accent he sneered in harsh baritone, “That is not relevant right now.” Ominous music plays in the distance.
Close up of his face as stone teeth whispers, “Stickball”
The sitting man, concerned about biology, concerned about summer school, turned to the stone man, “but sir”
“SILENCE!” the stone eyes shouted through stone teeth. The room once a flitter with bustling feet, blinking lights and words was now hushed as something fell over it. Like when a nun in full nun costume walks into a room of screaming kids in catholic school; just the sight of her was a horror story.
Stone chin continued: “Stickball” He had an insane glimmer in his eye as he looked at nothing straight ahead. He quickly looked down at the man at the desk with a glare that made the man’s balls shrink. In a movie-whisper, stone lips said: “stickbaaaaaaaaaaaallllllllll”
The man, frightened for his life, turned sheepishly towards the blinking lights and stick shift-like 70’s controls and pushed a red button. The “No biology, dream of stickball” button. And so, the adolescent child dreams of stickball in his biology class and fails the next test.
Yes, this is my brain. No, it’s not good.
But I’ve survived this long. I’ve had this conviction to be this way my whole life. Scholar or no scholar, this guy be a-dreamin’!
But seriously, credibility is important. As a parent, you can’t have authority without the little people taking you seriously. Like my dad, who was a figure of authority but over time got lazy with it. The “I am going to count to three!” stuff? I would invariably be somewhere in the apartment cutting the heads off my sisters dolls with a knife and she was obviously upset. He didn’t care so much about the dolls and my sister but how it was such an inconvenience to him that he had to stop watching TV. Laying on the couch, twirling his hair with a finger he would yell, “Now stop it now, ok? Ima count to 3”
In the beginning, you didn’t let him get to three. After my parents divorced and this wasn’t as important to him, “I’m gonna count to three. 1, 2…
2 annd 1/2
2 and 3/4
2 and 7/8th
Finally we would stop after 2 and 9/16th. Then, I would begin again 2 minutes later with the “sawing of the heads”.
In school, credibility is important as a teacher. You want people to believe when you say you will do something- you do it. And that you know what you are doing. This is why I failed Biology in High School. Not because I didn’t deserve it, I probably did. Because that teacher was such a raging jerk, she had to do it or no one would take her seriously. She promised she would and delivered. Her dark forces had prevailed. Her credibility restored. She was the dark lord of cow eyeballs and mitochondria.
Landlords, have their own sort of credibility too. Pay rent or you don’t have a place to live. Can you trust that to be reality? Well, don’t pay and find out what happens!
It’s the believability portion of credibility that is important and is all knowing. There’s no integrity for the future scholar in biology whilst failing but the wisdom that the failing scholar gains from the lesson is invaluable. Landlords aren’t trustworthy or reliable but if you don’t pay your rent, they will come after you- after all, remember the lease you signed? If I don’t enforce the rules, there is no credibility!
For me, I had no credibility when I first started out in business. I was a well-intentioned, underperforming, dream-fed young man looking for his thing. What I perceived that which was holding me back was my lack of a formal education. What was pushing me forward was my yearning for specific, specialized knowledge. In fact, a saying that I made up, was this “primary aim” from a business course after I started Real Brave was:
In the silence of my mind lies the blueprint and inner peace is my hearts desire for greater specialized knowledge.
Did credibility come from specialized knowledge which then would lead me via horseback to the land of Leadership? I left Laguardia college and the cold winter air and got back on my horse. I galloped up Queens Blvd to the bridge and this thought never left my mind. It was my quest to find out. After all, what does a long haired, borderline-educated musician from Queens with huge ambition have to lose? I needed the thing that proved my worthiness. I wanted to become something greater than anything I could see around me and needed to find out. Horseback riding hurts, ouch.
I think I gained credibility around the time I started leading coincidentally. When I mean leading, it’s more of a state of grace. I look at leadership in some organizations and some people, men and woman alike, they lead with an iron first. That leadership is about being strict, it’s about rules, my way or the highway, do it or die no matter if its devoid of facts or a path. As a rule follower, I get this. I am a rule follower to the point of distraction. If I don’t follow the rules in the middle of following all the rules and its subsets of rules, I ask myself, “am I following the rules? Let me check.” Wash, repeat.
Whether you are part of any organization or not, we all understand the idea of the boss. I actually had someone say this to me once, “Don’t forget- I am the boss.” This happened in a conversation about nothing, by the way. I had to look for the cameras to see if I am being pranked. I laughed incredulously, “what does that have to do-“
He beamed, “I am the boss!” and stomped away like a 400 pound baby. This is leadership too. Just leadership- misunderstood, reconstructed to a person’s belief. “If I am this way and mean it, they will do”. I have seen a lot of this and we all have, right? I quit a job once to a boss that ran a Chrysler dealership and as I was leaving I yelled across the showroom floor, “Hey Lenny, how’s that rash doing?”
He was walking across the showroom floor with meaningless papers in his hand with his hair-helmet hairdo and man-cologne. He stopped and looked as if he didn’t hear me.
“You rubbing that ointment in like a told you to?”
Laughs from the 20+ people.
I had my say. Boy, I told him. (Eyeroll) Didn’t have to be that way but sometimes the peasants revolt.
I could go on, but a lot of the leadership I met had no credibility. They were just assholes in a king’s garb. Then there was the leadership I was looking for. I wanted to inspire like some of the other great bosses/ leaders in my day too. Their great quality? They were people we could look up to, they cared a great deal when they spoke to you, they believed in you and most importantly they led their lives in a way that you cared about. They walked the walk and talked the talk. I’m also not saying that you go to work and sleep in a cocoon of comfort and not do your job. Leadership pushes for an environment that inspires and motivates everyone to excel. Yes, do your job and do it well. You are here and you believe in our mission wholeheartedly because it connects deeply to your soul.
Think about the bosses/ leaders that you didn’t like that threw verbal spears off their perch of nonsense. They mostly didn’t believe what they were saying, were being cruel for the sake of being cruel and were only interested in their own well being. This to me is an absence of leadership and credibility. If there is no value system in an organization, a way of being and a point to it, then there is no organization. Values organize leadership and credibility is the creed read from the mountaintop to the kingdom.
Somewhere along the line, some person mistook insistence and pushiness for leadership and other people followed suit for generations (oh the irony). A lot of people in life may know what they are talking about in their industry but all they know about leadership is to use fear to motivate people.
Fear in leadership is the “if you don’t do this the hand will smack”. Fear is the truth by which many people hold on to and when a leader, albeit a boss or other, peddles fear as the method by which they will lead, we all cringe and obey.
Peddling fear is the worst use of leadership by any definition. Leadership isn’t all sunshine, puppy dogs, butterflies, ice cream and rainbows by any means but the aspirational use of language to compel anyone is by far a better use of leadership. Doing as I say and backing it up.
Fear isn’t the leadership I was looking for in my life. To me, there is idealism that meets pragmatism. There is dedication to values and vision. There is the invisible hand that guides everyone and, when necessary, a strict push in a direction. The Kingdom’s People need to be led, not pushed constantly.
People want answers to and to have someone be held accountable. That’s normal.
“Well that’s Jack’s fault, he admitted it”.
Most issues in life stop when someone says, “OK, people! This is my bad, let’s move on.” Then the Kingdom’s people stop for a second, murmor “oh, that’s good- responsibility” and continue to their train ride, potato chips and Hulu. It’s ok to take responsibility. It won’t hurt your credibility if you do.
My horse ride to credibility, holding the torch of my own personal freedom, the ability to lead someone to a higher value system? That comes from the way you lead your life. Rules? They exist and they are the framework for the better good.
Visions that expel fear and invite comfort for a future that bears fruit? That comes from the journey of a thousand mistakes that I hold near and dear to my heart.
Inspiration to move the Kingdom’s people? It was born from accomplishing tough things. From my inception, I have looked at what is impossible and strove for it on horseback.
Strong values? Well ask my mom about that. I inherited strong values and brought them to the workplace.
So, yes, I have the credibility to back up my leadership at my company. I have a history of understanding, compassion and a strict adherence to rules. I understand the plight of the people because of my HIStory (thanks MJ) and have a grip on what makes for a great workplace.
I keep the word credibility scribbled on a card in my wallet. Actually I do this because there are days I cannot remember the word “credibility” and have to search for it to remind my oozing brain what it is so I can use it in conference calls. BUT- when I fall from a knights sword and the police are going through my wallet for clues as to who I am they will either think it’s a clue to a horrific murder mystery they are trying to solve or a clue as to who I am. I am pretty sure I will be charged with murder, though. That’s so me.
…..Alas, if on my journey I stray from the noble quest, I have surrounded myself with people that would remind me on a daily basis “You are going the wrong way” and point me back to the muddy, rock strewn path. Who you surround yourself paints a picture of who your future self will be.
Don’t be afraid to lead. No one will throw rocks. No one will disavow you, but they may push back. We need fearless leaders in this world more than ever so we can rebuild the kingdom, towns, refineries, factories and bars to the days where everything was what it should be. That glimmering palace on a hill, forged deep in the recess of your wandering, aching mind.
Around the beginning of March, I was excited to have hired someone to redo a portion of our backyard. It wasn’t a decision that came lightly and I had saved over time to be able to do this. When we first bought the house, the backyard was a sticking point. I always loved the idea of redoing it, while my wife didn’t see the vision yet. There are certain things she sees well and a number of things I see well; we combine our hodgepodge of dreams together and form a life. That’s how this house works, anyway.
Our back yard is carved out of a mountain. 20 feet from the back of the house is a steep incline up. Through rock, strange growth and some grass, it leads to a clearing at the top of the hill which is state land. Behind that is miles of forest. When I first saw this almost 10 years ago, I fell in love with it.
Growing up in Flushing, NY my parents found a similar State-Park type of back yard. The connected houses in the piled-upon city intersected with a driveway in the back that we all shared behind each small 2 bedroom connected house. Past that you stepped on a small 20×20 back yard which then ended right on state land. The houses were so small and thin that we practically were all on top of each other. City living in the suburbs.
I remember distinctly as a child the wonder at this incredible play-opportunity. There was a huge field behind the house that was mostly old dry weeds that looked like golden wheat. Only if you snapped off this wheat and tried to eat it you’d probably get really sick. If you gazed out from my moms room which overlooked it, you would see what seemed like a mile of moving wheat waving in the wind. The wheat was old weeds, but I felt I was in a country pasture in Kansas. I was 7, give me a break. I didn’t see the buildings and houses popping up right over it not even a half mile away.
Every once in a while, my friends and I would venture out into the weeds to play man-hunt, some strange new version of tag or just go treasure hunting. Generations past had dumped everything you could imagine back there. TV’s, old electronics, bodies- you name it. Sometimes, I would wake in the morning and see a car burning back there. I remember feeling this very real sense of awe when that happened. Come to think of it- did I live in a Mad Max wasteland where all the wonders of the world were actually horrors? That would explain the worry from my mothers face when we would venture out there.
“Going out into the field, mom!” waving goodbye eagerly as if I am going out on a venture in search of the holy grail. Train conductor, walks past me looking at his watch saying, “you’d better hop along son or you’ll miss it.”
My mom waving worriedly “make sure to wipe off the ticks!” Wiping a tear away from her nurses’ uniform and realizing something as she walks backwards to her car that will bring her to her nightshift. “Dinner is on the table.”
Turning again, “I love you!”
I turn and wave enthusiastically. The scene’s music is loud and at a high point.
I turn and then plunge into the “Field of Dreams” weeds like a tiny Shoeless Joe disappearing with a slight “woosh” sound. Not on my way to heaven but in it none the less. My mom drives away to her double night shift. What the hell is a double night shift?Somewhere in the distance, you can hear footsteps breaking through old weeds, the cracking of branches and the unmistakable laughter of children.
That’s what I imagine when I look into my own backyard present day. Sans, imaginary train conductor and weird weeds of course. Standing there in 2012 however, looking at the amount of work that needed to be done, I was all for it. I remember my wife Melissa thinking I was coo-coo for cocoa puffs- but I was serious and dead set on making a childhood.
“No, the kids will love it. Trust me.”
Trust me she did and here we are all these years later. Took me 2 years to clean up half the yard. I put in a patio, planted bushes. Cleaned years of neglect.
One year, we had a little extra money and I convinced her that we should get a pool. I settled on a small 12×17 above ground pool that we would put off the deck. After 2 weeks of dreams that all the kids would jump from their windows and willingly commit suicide into our pool, we set out to do it. Being severely budget strapped, I needed to be mom-creative.
I get this house creativity from my mom. She was a single mother in Flushing during the late 80’s early 90’s. Everything was on the table for her to do herself after a 45 hour shift at the hospital. My favorite was the time when she was patching a hole in the bathroom wall. I remember walking up the stairs from my room in the basement and hearing the scratch-scratch of someone doing something fix-related there. At the top of the stairs, I closed the door with a “creak” and took the one step towards the bathroom door. Here, my mom fresh from her night shift looks at me and brightens immediately.
I ask, “What’re you doin?”
“Fixing a hole!” (a la Beatles?)
Plaster dripping off of a kitchen spatula, covering what looks to be a hole (How does a hole just appear or pop up in a bathroom?), I can’t help but ask:
“Mom, why are you stuffing newspaper into the hole?”
It was just as ingenious way to get the plaster to stick and to use it as insulation as equally dangerous it probably was. I imagined thousands of holes in the house and the walls filled with newspaper. One match strike and
I hugged her tight, asked if I could help and ran quickly out of the house.
This type of ingenuity stuck with me as a homeowner. No, I didn’t hire a pool company. No! That would be too easy. I would self contract this thing and save a few thousand. Looking at the pool project, I found 2 crazy people and they agreed to flatten the area with some machines they rented- or stole, who knows? They half finished the project and I needed to rent a machine to complete it. Then I found a person on Craigslist to put up the pool. This guy, to this day, is my favorite.
He arrived in an old truck that was filled with junk inside and out. I think I saw newspapers, pots, old appliances and a creepy naked doll plastered up against the backseat glass. The kind that opened their eyes when you picked them up? When he pulled up, each person in my house eagerly came to the window that looked out over the front lawn of the house and the street to see his truck. The kids were eager because this was “the pool guy” I had been talking about for weeks.
The pool will be built! Hooray for bob-vila-dad!
The man oozed out of the jalopy and you can see him pile junk back into the truck that fell out when he did. The green Ram, about 25 years old, had seen about a million miles of road. The guy that stepped on to my lawn, shirtless and lean like a steak on a summer day, hadn’t seen a tooth in a long time.
I immediately panicked.
Melissa shot me a look that said, “Who the hell did you hire?”
The kids were ecstatic and dancing in the living room singing a made up song about a pool and farts. I was thinking about packing my bags and leaving.
I tapped my wife on the back and kissed her forehead in a “I got this don’t worry” way and headed to the door completely not knowing what I was doing. He was standing there on that early May day, no shirt on, rain falling off his strangely chiseled body. We both looked at each other and acknowledged our faces with a slight nod. Something growled in the distance.
Leg up on one porch step, jeans ripped from a tiger, cigarette dangling from his mouth he said, “alright where is this fuckin’ pool?”
I brought him around back where I had brought 6 tons of sand via wheelbarrow the day before like a lumbering idiot. We worked out a plan so that he would flatten the rest of the area, put up the pool, install the vinyl covering and fill it for a price that even I felt guilty about. He was fine with it, cigarette drooping from the side of his mouth, ash falling against his bare chest. The last day he was with us he had to fill the pool with water. I will never forget him barefoot in the cold water, tiger-ripped jeans rolled up, pushing out out the vinyl covering so there were no lines. It was pouring out and the rain was soaking the already soaked rain. You could barely see the man with no shirt on, cigarette in the corner of his mouth, without shoes on and working diligently.
Lightning blazed and thunder barked in the distance.
I opened the screen door to the deck slightly. We all peeked out, 3 kids, myself and my wife. Rain pattered down hard slapping the deck and hitting my leg. Lighting, thunder again.
“Maybe you should stop?” I asked stupidly, fearful for my life. Fearful also that I may have a dead man floating in the pool soon from a lightning strike. How do I explain the dead man to the kids? Do they swim in the completed pool after? Does the man that built the pool and died in it haunt it underwater like some spirit of the deep? “No honey, there isn’t a shirtless, toothless man haunting the bottom of the pool”
“I swear it dad, I swear!”
It was mind numbingly crazy to watch. By some miracle, the cigarette was completely lit, dry as a bone and slight puffs of Marlboro man smoke emanated from his soaked face. He completed the task and didn’t die. This is how I rate most of my house projects now: 0-10 how much will I die from this?
So when I found someone to redo the rest of the yard this past month (prepandemic), I keep these lessons close to heart. Yes, Mr Amazing (the name we have for the shirtless, toothless pool guy) was actually a really good guy and did pretty OK work for the money, yes I inherited my mom’s propensity to stuff paper into the wall to patch it up to save money (because we were both low on it), but also keep in mind that I didn’t want to half ass it.
It hurt not to be able to get the current backyard project started because of ‘Rona. It would be irresponsible to start that project when I didn’t know what would happen to the rest of humanity in a week’s time. I tabled that project and stare at it each morning longingly.
Like my parents, I want a yard for the kids so they can live in it. I had the honor to be a latch-key kid. I am part of a generation that wasn’t afraid of sticking their fingers into an outlet to see what would happen with their parents around the corner and I sure as hell wanted to find all the ticks in the field behind my house and let them feed on me.
My childhood backyard holds a secret that no one understands. In the waving weeds, beneath the trees outstretched to the skies, under the square mile of dumped debris and probably a slew of dead gangster bodies lies my childhood. Also- graffiti on rocks. What a bitchin’ 80’s thing to have in your field!
Unafraid, unwilling to accept boredom, we set out like a movie to find our imaginations rolling in the grasses of the world. Imaginary gunfights, climbing weed-trees that had thorns on them so big I think one impaled a friend and we left him to die. The group of us, a half baked friendship from a 1980’s movie where wedgies, noogies and punches in the face were pretty often a part of our lives, we found freedom. The freedom of imagination in a field of weeds.
Staring at my backyard this morning, I still remember the smell of my childhood and I think there is still dirt in my fingernails from those days. The smell was a wind that swept up our imaginations and pushed us further into the fields. Pushed us further away from the reality of homework that we didn’t do, imminent parental divorce, tests that I didn’t study for or any responsibility besides cleaning our rooms or being nice to our sisters. Once a doorbell was rung in my 80’s childhood, before it was finished ringing we were out the door and running into the fields.
I know my kids will never have my childhood- they have their version of it and I am ok with it. I want to build out the backyard for them, I want to use paper machines to bulldoze the rocks and build my own escalator to the top of the hill made of sticks just to make them see the potential of creativity in childhood. As a society, most parents today want our kids to either grow up too soon or stay young too long. Where is the field of dreams for these kids?
I know that I will probably not be able to build out the rest of the yard for them anytime soon. My heart breaks a little because I want them to be able to enjoy it before it’s too late. Thing is it’s already too late. We just finished throwing out all the toys, cleaned out all the rooms of childhood memories. We have some for safe keeping but the days are dwindling and the nights seems to be getting shorter.
If I could go back to one thing in my life and bring my kids with me, I would bring them back to those Flushing days. Where no one knew where I was hiding, where the wind was at my back and the field was pushing me forward to catch up to my friends; laughing- and not a care in the world.
It took me 10 minutes to log in to my blog which I hadn’t posted anything to in almost 2 years. Prior to our pandemic “new normal’, one that is straight out of a movie script, it felt like most of my day was spent trying to log into a website and not knowing the password. Or my favorite, I log into a website and they need to confirm my email. Which email? WHO KNOWS BUDDY whatever you inputted isn’t the one! I used to be frustrated and exasperated with that nonsense. Lucky me, I then got into the habit of using my password software so it aligned better with my multiple website-using day. Most times still- it’s a password and username fight that uses vital brain resources even before I start work. Thankfully, I figured this password out for my blog using my password super powers, I reset it with a god-awful password I could never remember like my password generator told me to do and here we are in word land.
We live in the Matrix, I am becoming more an more aware of that. Beep beep, boop device in hand, get your TPS reports in. Neo was aware that something was off. I am too sometimes.
This blog is more akin to dusting off the bike that had been in my garage for the last year and bringing it outside for the first time since “1 year ago me”. Remember “1 year ago you?” The problems you had like, “oh I have to drive to work today!” Or my favorite “Why is this Kardashian doing (whatever)” My bike, these times… all have similarities.
First to the bike. My kids have been inside and on our property for weeks and I wanted to do something that didn’t involve a screen, me acting like “tech support” with a device problem, scrolling through 2 thousand movie pictures on Netflix then getting frustrated and not picking anything or pleading with my dog Harley not to follow my wife around for fear of his life. If you want to see something funny, imagine a grown man on his hands and knees talking to a dog as if the canine understood and spoke english fluently. That’s either the definition of insanity or the stay-at-home-order blues.
It’s a gorgeous day- maybe a Sunday, at this point who knows? I bring the bike out of the garage and 1 year of sawdust from various beginner home carpentry projects immediately flies off with a slight push from the trees. The invisible hands that push the air around gently scoop off 1 layer of flakes into my 12 year old daughters mouth and she makes a face, sticking her tongue out and pretend-coughing. My 9 year old son begins with questions.
“What day is it again?”, I ask myself.
I finally wipe off my bike a little and hop on it. Tires are flat. I had spent the afternoon cleaning the garage for this moment. One of the key bike ride deflators is that moment when you realize “the tires are flat”. Then think, “oh, I’ll just get the tire pump.” Usually in days past- in years past- when I was riding regularly, this caused me to sift through garage inventory like a person desperate for food in an apocalypse-type movie: pushing aside cans with disregard for their safety on the shelf I am destroying, throwing around recycling left on my tools in haste or, for no reason, opening bins that we are giving away just to see if I put it in there like an insane person. Lucky for me, I had the wherewithal to clean the whole garage first just so I can make sure that this movie moment doesn’t happen.
I grab the tire pump carefully placed in a spot that I would remember and bring it outside. Here my amazingly question-laden son asks me how the pump works and in the process of placing the piece that brings air into the tire, I completely smash my hand whilst trying to close the clamp. Fire enrages my knuckles as a bead of sweat falls down my face. I smell dust under the layer of sawdust. Dust has a very dusty kind of smell, it turns out. My hand has a cut but isn’t bleeding. It just pulses red, dry from a thousand hand washes today and reminds me to be careful. My hand grows a face and talks to me, “Be careful!”. The face goes away and I blink out of my daze back to reality.
“Are you ok, Dad?”
“Are we leaving soon, Dad?”
Happy with my bike, I tend to my kids bikes and turn my hands into shredded skin because I wasn’t taking my time. The valve is always in the wrong spot, the tire isn’t positioned correctly. By the end of pumping air into three bikes, I had a system- it was mostly: take your time, be methodical, stay calm. Anyone who has pumped air into three bike’s tires should know that you are completely exhausted by the time you are done, you aren’t sure which bike has a hole in the tire and your hands are completely raw at this point.
I decide to take a break from our bike ride. I am tired from this bike ride and we haven’t even started. Is this why no one rides a bike anymore and it’s better to be in our living rooms on a stationary bike while a mostly naked woman screams at us on a 12″ LED screen to pedal harder?
Sitting down, drinking water on this (Monday? What day IS it?), I was looking ahead at the ride we had. Lots of hills- probably some complaining. My 9 year old son had done pretty well on the 2 mile ride we had the other day while I ran. The thing about Ringwood, the town where I live, nothing is flat and everything is on a hill. There are houses in my neighborhood that are on such steep inclines that the houses look sideways and off kilter even though you know it’s probably totally fine on the inside. I always imagine people in those houses on grappling hooks as they climb into bed and babies taped to the walls so they don’t slide out of the house.
With my sneakers tied, I then ask kindly that the kids get a drink of water before they leave, which they oblige. They are so good sometimes- especially when they are hanging with their parents. All I want to do is dig a hole and crawl into it after a long day of work- that’s what it was like pre-pandemic. Now, we are together all the time and I am so thankful we are here together. In this together. They think they are just “off from school” doing “school at home” between Spongebob and stupid YouTubers. I don’t know what that means just yet. Don’t get me started about the TikToc breakout dances that occur spontaneously for no reason.
We all sit on the big wood porch in the front of my house. I had it installed a few years ago because my wife wanted it- and I did too. It runs the whole face of the house to the edge and makes us look really fancy.
“Tuesday?” I think “No it’s definitely Sunday.”
The kids take big gulps of their water. My generation has completely driven into our kids minds that if they don’t take a sip of water before they go anywhere, they will die immediately. In 2020, our kids generation is the “most hydrated generation” in the history of mankind. I am constantly trying to make them stop drinking water.
I take a sip of water and put my cup behind a post on the porch. We get up and walk proudly to our newly inflated bikes. “Do I hear hissing from one of those tires?”, I think. No somewhere in the distance someone is using an electric leaf blower to futilely blow 5 leaves into a pile.
I smile and think back to all the “go get ’em” coaching days when they were tykes and how every 5 minutes it felt like we were asking them to get water. I only yelled that at the kids when I ran out of things to do in whatever sports practice I was coaching or when they seemed bored. We never had that as kids (God I sound like my Dad when I say that). I remember going out as a latchkey kid in the 1980’s in the AM and coming back mid afternoon to eat. I remember being so thirsty that a gallon of milk on a 90 degree day went down smooth (“milk was a bad choice ~ Ron Burgundy”). Point is, they will survive a 40 minute bike ride but I am so used to asking them to get water before we even pick underwear off the floor in the bathroom, it’s ingrained into my soul.
“Get a glass of water and PICK UP THAT UNDERWEAR!”
“DRINK WATER FIRST OR EVERYONE DIES!!”
We head off in this fine (Sunday, I think- or Monday… DAMMIT!) and the wind is in my hair, whistling through the gigantic helmet I have on. It looks like I am wearing an orange bomb on my head. Like I happily attached an orange bomb on my head to ride around the neighborhood with. It’s not even my heImet. In the garage cleaning, I also wanted to find my helmet which was to no avail. So I tried my 9 year old son’s helmet on and it fit. This either means he has an gigantic head or I have a head the size of child. This makes me uneasy but I strap the orange bomb on my head and coax my son to wear his sisters old helmet with flowers on it. He’s, for whatever reason, totally fine with that. Meanwhile 20 minutes before I told him he needs to wear sneakers on a bike ride, not socks and he complained like I asked him to make the shoes in a sweatshop downstairs and then and only then once he had made shoes for him and the rest of America so Nike can sell it for a profit could we go on a bike ride. He happily straps his flower helmet on and jumps on his bike. His sister then makes fun of his manhood.
This is going great.
We all jump on our bikes and then do that weird circling thing all bikers do when they start out. We circle each other to get ready. I see neighbors down the block riding next to neighbors on this fine social distancing day and accept that. It’s ok? Sure.
I realize about 100 feet away from the house that my chain is broken. I look down as I go down a hill at a 40 degree angle to my certain death as the bike starts to pick up speed. Almost in a dream I look down as the bike wobbles a little. The chain waves to me like “Haha, forgot to look at me, you ASS! Now you die.”
I have a moment of wonder as my kids speed away about 70 miles an hour down the hill. They say most accidents happen a block from your house and as I pass my house and try to hit my breaks, they squeal. My kids breaks squeal too because we haven’t used our bikes in 7 months. Chains whirling on their end, breaks squealing, all three of us head to certain doom at the bottom of the hill. My bike starts to speed up as I am certain the chain is stable- I had kicked it to the side and it stayed up against the wall of the protective aluminum that’s built into it. I look up again and my son is using his feet to slow him down.
“BREAKS” I yell and I see him pick his feet up and apply breaks.
We survive this somehow. I feel like a bad parent as we all pull to the side of the road huffing and puffing. Mind you, this is supposed to be fun and it’s only been 2 minutes since we left the house. I flip my bike upside down and begin to try to attach my chain to the bike teeth. My son, asks, “Got it, Dad??” (meaning, did you fix it yet?) immediately.
Like most things in life, I don’t know what the hell I am doing. I “expertly” pull the chain around and see that there is some sort of mechanism that guides the chain around the teeth in each gear. I troubleshoot how to get the damn thing on, spin the pedal a few times and after a few minutes, we are set to go. In the back of my mind, I have already imagined the chain getting stuck in the rear wheel which then catapults me into a bears mouth hiding to the side on one of the trails.
The rest of the ride was fun. When most of the parents in America would be screaming:
…the only thing I screamed is we stay together on the same side of the road and I was content. And in a moment of almost pure rage, I was incredulous when the kids stopped as a car went by. I was a football field ahead of them when I realized I didn’t hear their bikes’ breaks honking. I pulled to the side as a 1989 Blue Buick with a passenger that had a mask on rode past me at a respectful speed. We didn’t look at each other.
Why isn’t anyone looking at each other recently?
The kids pull up out of breath but having a blast. With their Dad, on a (WHAT DAY IS THIS?)
I ask, “Why did you stop?”
My daughter picks a wedgie and say, “Car”
I grimace and say, “baby, you can ride when there is a car, you just have to be way on the side of the road.”
Oh, I laugh to myself. Did I tell them this rule? Or is this a suburban society rule that we must protect our children from anything that will hurt them? Car comes kids, STOP. It’s too dangerous to ride next to danger. Because, danger.
We finish the rest of the bike ride laughing and genuinely having a great time.
I hadn’t had a day off in 3 weeks and I needed that time with them. During these past three weeks, the unthinkable has been brought to reality and the new normal is there is no normal; only an abnormal normalcy. A simple bike ride is akin to the daily struggles that I now face everyday. My chain is broken, we are on tires that may go flat any minute and I am riding downhill with my kids in front of me on their own bikes that have issues. They are hooting and hollering, hands up, face to the wind loving that moment; I am fearing for their life. They are living it without fear. This fear that I feel brings us all to a place of growth and on the other side of that is where we are supposed to be. The freedom they feel is a youth that is an unknowing and headed towards “life”.
I want to live that way, but I can’t shake the “reality”.
On a unsuspecting day in what seems like 40 years ago, on March 5th, I was having lunch by myself at a local pizzeria next to one of my music studios. I own a business, have had tremendous success and was just in a meeting talking about our growth. It was the first time in my life I didn’t need to worry about next week. I was still living month to month because as an entrepreneur, I guarantee hundreds of thousands of dollars a month in payroll and other expenses. I was, at that lunch moment, mildly concerned about Covid and followed it closely like most news. I am an avid political junkie and just understand ethics in general. I also watch what I eat pretty well and on that day I was having Salmon for lunch which at any pizzeria means “we charge you triple for ‘dis, boss”.
Then, taking my first bite- I’ll never forget this moment:
First headline I read is something like “Milan Calling for Lockdown”.
My heart dropped immediately because I knew
A. That’s not good. B. This is coming our way.
You don’t lockdown a free nation. Sure, you lockdown China because it’s CHINA and who knows what is really happening over there because it’s China. I know nothing about China, but our president knows so much!
I don’t need to go on a tangent about the virus, be political about it, assert false hoods or factoids or go on a rant about vaccines and their importance or why we weren’t prepared. We are here because we are here and now what do we do? The chain fell off before we started riding our bike- we just didn’t see it. Or maybe we did but were too busy changing our passwords? Now we are headed downhill fast and we needed leadership with foresight to get us through. At the highest levels and in our households. Each of us has a role to play, now.
But what happens when we fix the unattached chain or in this case slow the curve? If the curve stays high enough, and for all my positive-loving, oversharing, “chin up partner”, tik tocking, insta- influencer, YouTube creator, Netflix-binging, #FakeNews loving, TrumperTrumpy, FeelTheBern, #FightFor15, #metoo, new-Iphone people out there:
What do we obsess on now? Because to me, nothing is important anymore except the new normal and defining it. If Dr Fauci, America’s non Dr Phil doctor or whatever the leader of the free world is doing to make him who he is, says, “we may never get back to normal”… then back track to redefine that statement… but still say we may have a sub normal. Where do we go from here?
If it’s a dressing down of the regular HAVETODOTHISNOW and IHAVETOPICKUPTHEKIDS-panic of our lives, then this is a good reset. But usually with a reset, there is a bounce back. You can’t tell me that we are going to hit a reset button and not have the computer reboot to the same old screen and settings I am used to . He is in effect suggesting that I may reset the Matrix we live in and wake up in a new reality. He is suggesting that I may have to reset the password but when I log back in, it’s to a different website that I was used to. One where my business, the one I’ve worked on for 15 years doesn’t exist. One where normality is different. One where people are happy wearing masks in public.
I tried to wear a mask in public once. I created a Batman costume way back in a Halloween party in the year 2000 because I just wanted to take pictures with the stupid mask on and say to my friends, “I am Batman.” I just thought me saying that is hilarious. The mask was the exact type of mask that you would expect the modern day Batman would wear. Very rubber looking, tiny eye slits that reveled the whites of your eyes so you looked bizarre and a slit for your mouth.
“I am Batman”, I said as we tried to get in a bar. The bouncer, all 400 pounds of him, wasn’t happy with me.
“You can’t go in the bar with a mask on.” He went on to explain to my beer-filled mind that women in the bar would be at risk. Someone could, potentially, do something to a lady in the bar and the cameras wouldn’t be able to identify the attacker. “I am not accusing you, man. Just can’t go in there with a mask on. If you want to get in, you have to take it off.” It was a pre #metoo moment and he did well.
I’ve never been in a situation where a bouncer, stereotypically a Steve Austin type character that will crush you with his eyelids, pontificated on the harrowing situation women are in when it comes to men in tights and their safety. He was right though, I took off the mask and walked inside. My hair does this wildly funny thing where it turns in to a hair helmet or stands stright up whenever I have a hat on. With a mask on you ask? Utter chaos.
Now we head into a society where we are being asked to wear a mask everyday. People post on Facebook their new trendy mask. My google ad feed has this weird new trend for N95 masks that won’t go away. For all you that care, I keep ads on because I am not only an entrepreneur but a marketer too. I am always looking at ad trends and such.
Masks on, gigantic helmets on that hold in our fear, we are all on our bikes. It feels like we are past the hill and on an upswing. Now we have to pedal harder. Our legs burn, we switch gears as a society. We see our kids in front of us, again, hands spread out taking in the beautiful air that some patients in nearby hospitals are struggling to take in. Chin up, you say to yourself.
There is a beauty to life that we are all missing every single day. Every minute that passes in this new normal, I am looking ahead to the future as I ride forward. I couldn’t have imagined that a tiny virus, microscopic and unseeable would tear at the fabric of our lives. My life’s fabric is torn. What was certain is now uncertain. Certainty was that in a rough economic time, we would survive. People would cut back, other people would take their place, customers would replace customers, cuts would replace damage, working capital (money in my bank account) would suffer a little but ultimately I would survive.
The unthinkable is that everything just stops. STOPS!
When you have a business, you plan for uncertainty. Me, being a kid from Queens that grew my business from scratch using credit, I would take out a loan. I would get the loan and pay it back. I have some cash too, a line of credit.
But what do you do when you are stopped from doing business?
In normal times when the bike that you are riding is fine but needs repairs, you have something called “business interruption insurance”. Let me tell you something, this is a pyramid scheme that I am happy to pay into. A few months ago, my Queens location had a neighbor that went up in a fire 2 doors down. I watched helplessly as firefighter saved my place and others from doom. I knew that business interruption insurance would be there to pay for everything and my salary. Everything would be ok.
In our new normal, some insurance liability calculator person figured out years ago that a pandemic wasn’t something the industry could cover so they excluded it from every policy. They saw perhaps that we were woefully unprepared for a pandemic besides a pleading community of advocates; most notably Bill Gates standing on a stage at a TedTalks type thing while we all ate popcorn and noted “he’s so smart, give me more your knowledge Mr Gates”. Then youTube goes to the next video and we open the potato chip bag mindlessly filling our brains with people talking at us and not to the very thing that we need it to- our collective understanding.
I may lose everything. A lot of people may lose everything in this. What keeps me going is that picture in my mind of my kids going downhill on bikes that are probably unsafe using helmets that don’t fit, probably a little under watered and not a care in the world.
What I want is a way forward and a way through this. To do that, I will go with the flow and ride this thing to the end with the rest of you. I will also make sure that I am doing the things to prepare myself for the next phase. After cleaning out my garage and finding the tools to prepare for that, I will stand like a fighter does in the ring and like Neo does in the Matrix, glasses on, badass look on and extend my arm.
Then and only then, I will extend my hand and with a flick of the wrist, dare this virus and whatever the world has to throw everything it has at me.
I’ve taken time over the past 6-9 months to really think about the state of business and attracting customers whether it’s for my own business for @realbraveinc and its multiple locations or for the greater NYC area’s small businesses. Since I opened my doors in 2006 as a bright eyed, wet behind the ears entrepreneur, I’ve found a world today turned upside down in marketing, in sales, in customer approach and in vision. I set out to start a huge company that made everyone’s lives better with simple tools and approach. Life is much more complicated today.
In 2006, I borrowed my sister’s 4 year old Dell computer and bought a used Quickbooks merchant program complete with a scanner, a cash drawer and a receipt printer. I had file cabinets set up for filing. I had a landline phone and a DSL internet line. I was also the only employee so whenever someone found us they’d always turn their eyes to the side looking for other people when I had sales pitches that included “we”. 2006 was also wrought with uncertainty. Post 9/11 everyone was still pinching their pocketbooks and trust was in no uncertain terms something you had to earn big time. Entrepreneurship wasn’t as sexy as it is today.
I multitasked as Real Brave’s only employee and had 3 products/ services to offer to find my own way in business.
Offer music lessons to kids in the area. (with yours truly as the sole teacher)
Number 1 was solid. I was trustworthy, had a great way with people and really understood how to take care of my customers. (who knew years later that I would have dozens of employees who teach and I no longer do) Number 2, well that brought in much needed cash but forced me to work at night as well as during the day. Number 3, I sold instruments but branched out into soundproofing installation, looked into selling new LCD TV’s, drop-shipped on Ebay- you name it, I tried it.
It was after 2 years of trying everything, that I decided to hone in on what I was good at and where I thought I could have an excellent chance of building that company that made everyone’s lives better, as I first envisioned. I started building what real brave is today, an excellent school for music discovery.
The marketing tools that got me here are archaic today except for one thing: Google. I recently had a meeting with my rep Jeff at Reach Local which handles a lot of our online marketing strategy and he acknowledged that what got us to be successful (Google Adwords & Maps) isn’t going to be the only marketing tactic that makes us successful moving forward. A marketing strategy that compliments each other and assists the customer to get them to our page is the way to go. It’s a 7 prong strategy with some of these tactics… so listen up:
Provide incredible, thrilling experience that is customer focused (cant’s stress this enough)
Make your social imprint strong and consistent. Advertise on social but don’t break the bank. Our most successful posts are the ones that focus on the Joy of Real Brave (smiling, fun posts).
Don’t be afraid of your eblasts, they reinforce messages
Have a strong SEO presence. Index that site!
Maps, Maps, maps. For a physical location, if you aren’t on maps, you aren’t visible. Update as much as possible
Google Ads, Yelp (I hate them) and any site online that will help with your web presence.
Reward customers that refer.
After all this, have a great system for the sales funnel so that when you get an email, you can reply within an hour (within 10 min if possible). If you get a phone call, have a CRM that you can use to remind you to call that person back. Have a place to communicate with your team.
Even though 2006 feels like a million years ago, we’ve come so far to automate marketing tools but it always comes back to the systems you use to track customers data, their contact info and such. In this day and age of Yelp (I hate them), it’s more important than ever to have a clear customer service experience that people will enjoy and understand when issues arise. Being flexible is the most important aspect to today’s successful business. The ability to pivot in business, marketing and customer service provides us with the ability to scale. Agility is almost as valuable as revenue. With it, you can accomplish anything. Did I mention I hate Yelp?