In A World Where The Truth Hides, So Do The People.

“The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.”

Winston Churchill

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.

Years ago, I was in a plane on a doctor-ordered trip. I was going to Aruba because, as he said, “So supposing we hit the body with a tremendous… whether it’s ultraviolet or just a very powerful light… (sic and suppose you go to a very warm place) and get the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or some other way….” I was sick with a bad cold and wanted drugs to beat it back. Usually when I got a cold it turned from viral to bacterial. He knew so much this doc, I trusted him.

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:

Chemtrails

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,”!

AIDS

Of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t add in that AIDS was created to kill African Americans and the LGBT community.

Apollo 11

The moon landing was staged

Global Warming

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”.

Huh?

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

Collectively. Why is this so hard to understand?

In the end, the truth remains.

Will we?

A Journey Of A Thousand Daydreams Begins On A Credible Horse

Leadership is a funny thing sometimes.

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.

Credibility.

(Echo)

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.

In The Fields Of My Life, Lies The Answer

In the distance…

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!”

Waving

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

kerplooey

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.

Right beside a burning car.

When The Wheels Fall Off, What Do We Do?

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!”

“Bu-

“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.

Break-squealing.

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:

“Be careful!”

“Careful!!!!!!!!!!”

…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”

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.

Agility: More Valuable Than Revenue

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.

  1. Offer music lessons to kids in the area. (with yours truly as the sole teacher)
  2. Record bands
  3. Sell products.

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:

  1. Provide incredible, thrilling experience that is customer focused (cant’s stress this enough)
  2. 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).
  3. Don’t be afraid of your eblasts, they reinforce messages
  4. Have a strong SEO presence. Index that site!
  5. Maps, Maps, maps. For a physical location, if you aren’t on maps, you aren’t visible. Update as much as possible
  6. Google Ads, Yelp (I hate them) and any site online that will help with your web presence.
  7. 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?

How to Live The Business Of Your Dreams

Brick and Mortar Stores

As the saying goes, live the life of your dreams, right? Well, how about to live the life of your dreams, for us business owners we must live the business of our dreams!

According to SBA.gov:

  • The 28 million small businesses in America account for 54% of all U.S. sales.
  • Small businesses provide 55% of all jobs and 66% of all net new jobs since the 1970s.
  • The 600,000 plus franchised small businesses in the U.S. account for 40% of all retail sales and provide jobs for some 8 million people.
  • The small business sector in America occupies 30-50% of all commercial space, an estimated 20-34 billion square feet.

AND

According to a sort of out of date 2013 article by Forbes: “Approximately 543,000 new businesses get started each month.”

So: Small business is big business for the US economy.

On Main Street, the reasons for starting a small business vary. It goes from the passionate & talented technician who wants to set out on his/her own, to the talented seamstress with a fashion line, to all sorts of retail ideas, online stores, services… you name it, there is a business for it. However, not all businesses are meant to be. That said, not all established businesses are meant to be. In fact, your business will not last forever! That is fact that is not talked about or promoted because, like life, who wants to talk about a business’ imminent death? You’ve opened your doors and are ready to sell your widgets! The sky is the limit, not the sky is falling.

Let’s live the business of your dreams. This means do whatever it takes to bring the customers in. Do all the necessary things to make them thrilled and be evangelists! I’ll boil it down to 3 things to be successful in any market and any economy.

Profit Margin

If you were to sell a widget or a service or an internet service widget, can you prove that you can monetize it? If so, who else did it and what was their outcome? Sometimes the most innovative products and services aren’t sellable. Take virtual reality, out 50 years ago, The Sword Of Damocles was as amazing and innovative as it was completely impractical. Was there a market for it? Probably not. Today the market for virtual reality is set to hit billions dollars which makes sense since consumer demand coupled with consumers having access to technology to support the headsets. More recently in the 90’s Nintendo and a company called Virtuality Group unleashed their virtual reality headsets actually selling units but the tech or demand wasn’t there yet. It took over 50 years for ideas to catch up with the technology.

Next with the product that you know can sell, how much can you sell it for and for how much profit? You can’t sell one slice of pizza and be a profitable business. Know how much you make on each transaction and track it.

Marketing

 

So you have a great widget/ service and know there is a market for it that can make you money and be profitable. Are you going to open the doors and be profitable without anyone knowing about you? You have to market it! Marketing is simply the means to which you find your customer. So where is best? Well if there are 100’s of billions of people on the internet, you can be rest assured that your marketing forum is right in front of you! But these days SEO, Adwords and such are expensive. Look into ways to do all this yourself and you will save thousands and market your stuff without breaking the bank.

Innovation

Once you are in business, as in people are paying you cold hard cash for stuff you do, innovate. Don’t do the same thing everyday and expect the same results. Constantly innovate around your services and products to ensure that you are adding value to the consumers experience. Some simple examples are:

  1. Sunday Football “adult beverages”. Hanging out at your favorite store that’s not a bar? Sure.
  2. Wine for clients in the waiting area. I am not proposing getting your clients drunk- just showing you another example.
  3. Coffee. See? Non alcoholic example!

Point is, by providing free services to help your customers, you add more value to their experience. Especially if you do something they really love! To get a business live the business of your dreams you need to get in the zone. Make sure that the zone includes, a product/ service that people want, one that you can sell easily and make a great profit off of, that you can market effectively and are constantly innovating around.

 

 

The Three Habits Of Bad Listeners

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meetings, communication and listening

I’m home from a grueling day of just about everything a business owner has to do at his shop and I take a few minutes to let the day sink in. One thing sticks out in my mind: the frustration of that day’s communication. And it wasn’t lack thereof! As a team we were effectively speaking to each other, following up excellently in all aspects, asking great questions and our meetings were recently fantastic.

I was exhausted from the different modes of communication it took to reach everyone on the team.

My experience of the different types of listers are different from some of the basic research I’ve done on the “science” of listening but here is one I grabbed from skillsyouneed.com

The three main types of listening most common in interpersonal communication are:
-Informational Listening (Listening to Learn)
-Critical Listening (Listening to Evaluate and Analyze)
-Therapeutic or Empathetic Listening (Listening to Understand Feeling and Emotion)

This is fantastic information but there isn’t enough listening going on around me. Here’s my take on the types of listening most common in interpersonal communication in business:

1. The Listener who is only thinking about what to say next. None of these are great, but this is by far one of the most challenging. I could be in deep conversation about any subject but the main person in the conversation other than me will take most of the time while I am offering whatever solution, story, interesting blurb or suggestion imagining a retort THEN getting excited once they find the retort trying to barge in and push you off your soapbox. It’s half excitement about what they have to say next and the other half is excitement about what they are going to say.
2. The topic hijacker- As a leader of countless meetings, I pride myself on timing them and making sure we stay on topic.

There is nothing more annoying to me than a meeting at a workplace that goes way off topic and worse gets nothing done regarding the original point of the meeting. After listening to points of view of others, the topic hijacker will start off pretty good then lose everyone in an instant when they take the conversation to the moon, the stars and the outlying galaxies leaving us on earth scratching our heads on where that person went. Steering the conversation back is always a challenge because everyone likes the bright shiny objects that fly before our eyes.
3. The agreer. This is the person around the office that generally listens with a slight grin but a far off look in their eyes. They usually have something to say like, “Yeah, definitely, definitely.”

Of course, this is all mostly just poking fun at real situations. There are obviously truths to the classic classification of the types of listeners in the world. In addition, I am sure that there are many incredible listeners in the workplace and maybe I am just experiencing some abnormalities. As someone that prides myself on being a good, emphatic listener, it’s hard to manage the wide range of listening habits when all I want sometimes is people just to come to my side. That is, to ask follow up questions, be engaging, stay on topic, offer solutions and be present. How much is that to ask?

No, Millennials Aren’t The Problem In The Workplace

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Daniel Powers Jr Business Coaching If you are a business owner or the leader of an HR department or just someone hiring, you are looking at a workforce that is fundamentally different than years past. The Greatest Generation has laid the foundation for the structure and values this capitalistic country was founded on. Baby boomers have mostly receded into retirement, Generation Me… to be honest I am not sure what they contributed to the country, Generation X, Y (my generation) we (I assume) are the proud owners of the current economy holding most of the mortgages, jobs, businesses, debt and stress. Then there are Millennials and Generation Z.

“Millennials”. I am growing to dislike how that word is used as a derogatory term. To prepare for this post, let’s ask some questions. Are you a business person or owner hiring? Have you tried to hire people recently and found that they don’t connect with your business, don’t have a work ethic or don’t care? Are you frustrated because “Millennials” come and go plus can’t make a commitment?

Does anyone relate to this?

Well I may have news for you. The problem isn’t Millennials. The problem may be you or your company’s culture.

As shocking as they may or may not sound, let me say it one more time “Yes you are the problem”. So let’s pretend I am right for a few minutes to explore it. First maybe visit Simon Sinek’s viral video going around about the Millennial generation as a prerequisite for this blog. The parallels are the same- it’s still our fault, or maybe your company’s fault that we aren’t relating to them or just setting them up to fail. Here are a few ideas to help you clarify the “why” here. I’ll put them in question form:

  1. Do you have a positive and fun culture? As I’ve written before, it’s incredibly important to have a culture at work that makes people want to show up and be present. It’s not enough in this day and age to just offer a job and be successful and I can (almost) guarantee that if you create a culture where everyone is valued, where everyone has weekly check-ins and status in the company that employees will not only want to work for you, but even go so far to take a pay cut for the future rewards. People want to be a part of something special.
  2. You (or your company reps) spend too much time blaming other people? If you you have high turnover, you probably need to look at your hiring process, revisit what your ideal employee is and maybe your company value set. Then specifically what in your culture should be. I’ve visited incredible organizations that are taking the lead here and revamping what they give to their employees. I’ve seen some head scratchers like nap cubicles, a free barista in the lobby, unlimited snacks and a full bar setup a la “Mad Men”. Point is, employees have more options today. They are more educated and therefore more picky. Instead of asking why do you want them to work for you, why do they want to work for you?
  3. What is your company vision? Is your company vision juicy? Meaning, when you tell it to people or perspective employees, their eyes become huge and they immediately start weeping tears of joy? That may be ridiculous (obviously) but how close can you get to not only thrilling your customers but your employees.

We have a responsibility as employers to revamp our companies to not only reflect our values, but to confirm it so it’s a reflection of our employees values. In a world where we are consuming more information and performing more tasks within 1 minute than most people 40 years ago would consume in a month, how can we possibly have ask our employees to just show up for work? What’s in it for them?

(Please check out the links in this article. They truly support the points.)

 

 

Compete On Service Not Price.

Amid the reports that Target will report a 43% loss in profits and the reason for that is their lack of focus on price, ie being the lowest, the inspiration for this article arose. In the circle of small businesses that I am coaching, that are friends of mine or advisors to me personally, there is a defined group of businesses that have to compete on price to survive. In fact, in Queens, NY which has a highly immigrant population that in some cases has a culture of bargaining for everything, price can be a very critical thing (especially with inflation and regulations to consider here in the US). For instance, I will never pay the sticker price for a car again and am still kicking myself for a few transactions I’ve made with car dealers where I could have saved more. I am not going to say that bargaining is something we business owners should be doing but will insist that in this day and age it shouldn’t define your business. Identify who you want to sell to and if that customer is big on price, well you have to have good prices or bargain with them at the counter. If your audience isn’t so big on the price- it’s a different story and sometimes it’s the most freeing thing in the world of business. Charging what you want when you want.

Specifically for me, I remember when I first opened how most of the early adopters negotiated price. My favorite thing to this date was this conversation:

Customer: “How much?”

Me: (Price)

Customer: “What? (fake exasperation and devastation) That’s too much! What’s my price? (wink)”

Me: “Uuuuuh, same price I just said?”

Thus began a back and forth of bargaining and in the beginning, I did fall for it. Many times a customer would have an incredible offer for me such as, “I have 3 people that I will bring here if you just give me X price.” I was so desperate to be accepted in the neighborhood and meant well. I would try to appease the bargainers and then the customer would bring the 3 people they referred and those customers would do the exact same thing! Alas, my price was not my price. To them, my then sole proprietorship wasn’t worth anything. There was no perceived value and they took advantage of a green, wet behind the ears dope.

Here’s the thing, the minute I took that price away and raised it then stopped bargaining, those customers went away and the type of customer went away. Yes, sales dragged for a bit, but eventually my customer came in. One that accepted the price, saw the value and understood what we were offering. By then I hired employees and had to teach them that the moment when a customer pushes back on price is not the moment of bargaining it’s a moment where we stand firm.

The price is the price. It’s a powerful way to communicate in an age where commodities are abundant and service is king.

We all know that you have to understand your customer and when I began to understand the culture of my base, I realized that bargaining in some parts of the world is ingrained in the culture. It’s what people grow up with, understand and accept as a part of life. This idea that “the price is the price” is a mostly American capitalist value and sometimes not taken well. Again, being in Queens in the early beginnings of my business and having a decent sample size of my initial customers an fresh batch of immigrant population, this idea was rubbish to some people and “American values” were not theirs. To me, it’s not American values, it’s just a way to do business.

As FUAD I. KHURI states in an article I found dating back to 1969 on the etiquette of bargaining that it’s “as economically favorable.., it breeds hostility, rivalry, and distrust” but also detailing a bit of give and get. Giving something to the customer, such as the gift of compromise or even a gift before the transaction is a type of bargaining on a psychological level. You are opening the doors of trust and if they allow it, a possible transaction. Using my car analogy from the beginning, they give too much in the beginning then light you on fire at the stake in the end. My issue is, the car dealers want you to trust them, but the people themselves that are selling the cars are so untrustworthy that I am suspicious as soon as I walk in the door. Anyone that is my salesperson, smells of 1,000 cigarettes and smoke with a gravely voice packaged in a hastily thrown together suit is not my type of sales person. But that industry breeds those types of people and has a Bazaar mentality. They ready for the bargaining fight, understand the 5th grade math of car leasing better than most people and are looking for the loopholes in your fighting words to make their deal.

Walmart, Home Depot and other superstores have a bargaining mentality. They built businesses on price and continue to obliterate small business margins because of it. Most clothing retail also have to compete on price. Last time I went to Kohls, everyhing was 30% off on top of the 70% off they were offering everything. Last time I checked my 5th grade math, 30% off plus 70% off is FREE. How do you compete with that? It wasn’t free, but damn close. You can’t necessarily open a new hardware store and expect to keep up with Lowes or Home depot sales. It’s a low margin business even lower now that when we think of getting “stuff” for the house we think of home depot not the “hardware store” as we did days gone by. It’s a slow growth industry with Ibis reporting 1.8% annual growth anyway.

Point is this. in the world of $800 Iphones that we all have in our pockets and will run to the store every year to buy, price isn’t king. In your business, depending on the industry, you can have the prices you want to offer as long as you can offer the customers value. You can’t have a retail operation that competes with Walmart on price because they’ve spent more money in one day on burning their brand into our minds (value value value) that you may make this year. You can, however, open a successful boutique that offers a certain quality and service that Walmart doesn’t offer. You’ll just cater to a tiny niche and have a harder time finding your customer.

 

 

 

 

 

Business Is Changing. The New Revolution is Here.

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It’s become increasingly apparent to me that the playbook for business owners has changed and no one really announced it. The landscape has changed, the formats have changed, the “rules” of marketing have changed. Forget the nonsense that you read in “the” expert magazines and on the blogs & podcasts. A new revolution in business is here. And it could be good for small business if we play our cards right.

A revolution is successful when the people charge the castle, so to speak, and take back their country and give it back to the people. However, most of these tales begin with the struggle of the people and end with their vindication, sometimes the untold story is that the people give the power to another leader who is corrupted with filthy riches, blinded by misperception and the process starts all over again.

Here in America, the old guard in business ie Macy’s, Sears and others are failing because of a revolution of the people and by the new businesses themselves that are taking their place. The people chose to buy elsewhere. The new business conglomerates are taking down the old guard of large fancy stores, big fancy displays and people that spray you with sticky perfume. They are replacing it with something completely new and we are accepting that change!`

At a Anthony Robbins seminar recently, he began to speak to us matter-of-factly about this. The biggest business in hospitality owns no real estate (Airbnb) and the biggest provider of transportation in the US owns no cars (Uber)! It gets more incredible as you go down the list. Amazon holds the largest proportion of internet sales at 33% and the closest competitor to them is Walmart (7.4%) who just improved their market share by .04% last quarter because they are seeing the writing on the wall. Sears, once the biggest stores in the world are now crumbling do to lack of vision and leadership losing $6 billion in sales since 2012. That’s billion with a B.

This is perhaps a bit of a relic in terms of examples, but Blockbuster was the king of rentals. Their company had the opportunity of a lifetime to buy Netflix for a paltry sum in the early 2000’s but declined to do it because leadership couldn’t see it’s worth. Think about that! Netflix’s revenue is 8.8 billion today, Blockbuster went bust 8 years after that fateful decision and Netflix with other companies are changing the way we watch TV.

The new giants of business are taking down the old guard one by one. How are they doing it?

Embracing innovation.

Now all this ingenuity isn’t to say that it’s hurting small business because it is. There’s an incredible man that owns a shoe store by my Queens, NY music studio and one day I went in there to buy something. He had just made a huge expansion of his store and he was doing well because of the smart investments he made but also I could tell he was a good businessman. Anyway, I asked him how he was surviving Amazon which has a stranglehold on all retail. He stopped what he was doing, and I’ll never forget this, opened his arms wide as if shrugging and giving up at the same time. He then said, “they are killing small business.”

Since I love a good business back and forth, I asked “why??”

He said simply, “Nike puts out a line of sneakers. I buy them at cost and sell them for a smaller margin than I can afford now.” He pauses as if swallowing a bitter pill.

I say, “ok?”

The store owner looks at me and pleads, “Amazon buys those same sneakers at the same price I did, then sells them below cost.

That exchange is an example of how innovation can hurt people. I get it, because one company has a stranglehold on an industry it disrupts everything, can put businesses out of business and sometimes ruin lives. This gentleman from the shoe store will survive if he continues to innovate his service to compete in the New Revolution. He won’t survive if he markets like he did 10 years ago, sells like he did 10 years ago and even how he pays his bills 10 years ago.

Be forward looking for your product or service. You won’t be able to survive the new revolution if you don’t adjust, measure, change and repeat.

Stand at the tower always.