Monday, November 29, 2010

Holiday Blackout

It's the holiday season and I feel the need to set proper expectations for the wonderful people who read this blog. If you happen to drive past my home during this time of year, don't expect much. In fact, if it's possible to have negative expectations, have them. I will not be held responsible for any disappointment caused by the obvious lack of Christmas spirit typically expressed by the average homeowner.

So there, you've been warned.

During the holidays I do not adorn my gutters with thousands of flashing colored lights that threaten the northeastern U.S. power grid. Nor will I place an inflatable Santa or Frosty or Snow Globe on my front lawn. No candy cane fence to guide visitors to my front walk. No wooden deer wearing red holiday scarfs. No nothing that would be confused with the festive norm most homes exhibit at this time of year.

But please don't mistake me for some sort of holiday lighting display Scrooge. I celebrate like everyone else, one glass of eggnog at a time. I'd love a grand presentation for all to see -- in fact, I'd like nothing more. The real reason I don't participate in such things is that I basically suck at putting it all together -- in other words, I'm festively challenged. It's embarrassing to admit, but I'm not man enough to hang with many of my neighbors. In the world of sports, they say: Go hard or go home. Well, I choose to go home. Actually, I choose to go inside my home when Santa's on his way. The reality is that there's only one thing worse than not putting up holiday lights and that is doing a half-assed job of putting up holiday lights. That's what scares me the most.

It doesn't take a genius to realize that outdoor holiday decorating is as testosterone-charged as any winter activity. Year after year it's an electical pissing contest to see who can put up the best show for all the neighbors to see. I applaud those who can pull it off, though I think they may have unseen help. Like the shoemaker who received assistance from a band of shoemaking elves, it's not hard to believe that some of the most elaborate displays in the neighborhood are the handiwork of otherwordly beings. If you buy the theory that aliens helped build the pyramids in Egypt, is it that big of a stretch to think they may have had their hand in the erection of your neighbor's front yard winter wonderland?

Obviously, there's some jealousy involved. Like I said, I wish I could transform my property into a miniature Oglebay every year, but that's just not practical. I noticed the other day a county courts van slowly moving down the highway with a handful of men who did someting bad and now had to pick up trash as restitution -- community service, I think they call it. Why does community service always have to be picking sandwich wrappers and cigarette butts off the city streets? Why couldn't they do something to really serve the community? Like cutting my lawn, shoveling my drive or, I don't know, maybe assisting with the installment of my most amazing holiday lighting display so my neighbors could be jealous of me for once?

And isn't that what the season is really all about? Good will towards men be damned. I want all men to have ill will towards me because my house looks so freakin' awesome and they can't stand my greatness.

But guess what? That ain't happening. Not this year, not next.

So for anyone not reading this but wanting to know why I'm not decorating this year, I'll just tell them, "I've decided to go green, so suck it Clark Griswold."

When Black Friday Comes

Have you ever had something happen to you -- something so dramatic and disturbing -- that you needed several days to overcome the trauma before you were ready to talk about it openly?

I have.

I call it "Last Friday." Others might know it by its common name, "Black Friday, 2010."

Six days have passed since I experienced what no man should. Six days since I lost a chunk of my soul.

My story begins like most stories, at the beginning. It was Thanksgiving Day. Our family celebrated at my parent's house. My mother decided to attempt a traditional turkey dinner.

Though I give her credit, it's been hard to wash away the memories of the last time she hosted this remembrance of that crazy feast between pilgrims and indians about four hundred years ago. As I recall, my mother decided to cook a large turkey breast in the oven. Seems harmless enough. But, when she decided to cook all of the other dinner items in the same oven, things got a little crowded, slowing the actual cooking to a crawl. The wait was painful that day. We were supposed to eat at around three. It wasn't until sometime after seven that the breast was finally finished in the microwave.

So, kudos to her for getting back on the horse. And extra-large kudos to me for allowing her a second chance. Though I'm sure she was hell-bent on redemption, something other than that actually happened.

This time my mother would not make us wait for our Thanksgiving meal. In fact, so efficient was the cooking of the turkey, she called us at home two hours before we were supposed to arrive, to tell us the little meat button thermometer thingy had popped up from the skin of the roasting poultry.

Now, when the button pops, in theory the cooking should cease. I made this point abundtantly clear while I had my mother on the phone. "Take it out of the oven NOW!" Abundant enough, don't you think?

Unfortunately, my mother ignored my command and the cooking continued. In fact, the cooking continued...until our family arrived. As we entered my parent's home, I quickly shed my jacket and shoes and made my way to the oven. But, like a paramedic arriving at the scene of a major auto accident after stopping for ice cream along the way, I was unable to help the poor, dried up bird, looking more like the winner of "Survivor Great Lakes" than a Thanksgiving meal.

"I told you to take it out! Why didn't you take it out?" I shouted.

Maybe if I was allergic to moist and tasty meat this all would be considered acceptable. But I have no such affliction.

After dinner my wife and I discussed the fact that we had yet to do any of our Christmas shopping. She had reviewed a number of "Black Friday" circulars that came inside our morning paper. A few items on our kids' wish list were available as "doorbuster" specials at places like Toys R Us, Target, Walmart and Best Buy.

Seeing that this may be our only opportunity to get such items at such a low cost, I asked my wife if she wanted to accept the challenge and be a part of the shopping mayhem early the next morning. She agreed and plans were set. To Target at 4 a.m., then Walmart at 5 a.m. Then, home by six with a trunk-full of doorbuster loot.


The next morning we woke at 3:30. Second thoughts crept into my head, but only for a moment. We were doing this -- no turning back. Turning back was for pussies. I would later find out turning back was for pussies and smart people.

There was no time to shower. We dressed, climbed into the minivan and headed to our neighborhood Target. On the way, my wife reviewed the circulars -- one last opportunity to check the game plan. All systems were go.

Then, we turned into the main parking lot.

Holy crap. Target was about ten minutes from opening. The other stores in the plaza were many hours from opening, yet we took one of the last spaces in the lot. It was cold and the walk to the storefront was long. As we approached the main entrance we noticed people were already on their way in. A line had formed. A long line. No, a really long line. We made our way to the back of the now crazy-long line that wrapped all the way to the back of the building. Forget second thoughts, doubt now reared it's ugly headed and started to laugh in my general direction.

All along the perimeter of the building were remnants of people who decided that showing up at 4 a.m. for a 4 a.m. opening just might be just a little too late. Tents, chairs and litter decorated the outside of the building. Like the Mayans, these mysterious people were now long gone -- inside and most likely buying one of the four doorbuster 82" Plasma TVs that were selling for 15 bucks a piece.

By the time we got inside, there were no carts left. My wife hijacked a cart left alone near the bras -- apparantly there were no doorbusters in female underwear.

We followed a swarm of people back to electronics. Everyone with the same agenda -- televisions, game systems, computers. About fifty feet from paydirt we hit gridlock. I told my wife to hold onto the cart in case she suddenly found herself swept into the undertow of a mad rush of cartless people. The cartless have their own rules. They sweep impatiently around those using carts, like motorcyclist on the highway, passing without any care for rules and etiquette.

The crush of people was more intense as we neared the electronics desk. This is most assuredly how a worker bee feels as he approaches the queen in the hive.

So close, yet so far.

Something came over me. I knew our cart was holding us back. In a moment of selflessness, I asked me wife to let go of the cart so that she could get closer to the electronics aisle. There, someone would be able to help her, to answer her questions and perhaps guide her to the XBox 360 our son had on his list. It was a doorbuster afterall. She let go and looked back at me, but only for a moment, then she was gone into a sea of shoppers. I prayed the gods of retail would keep her safe.

From there I took my cart and turned down another less busy aisle -- baby furniture. I circled back and waited. After about ten minutes went by. I decided I needed to find my wife. I left the cart near the lightbulbs, another safe zone, and threw myself into the growing hoard in electronics. I pushed through the mass of bodies, up and down each packed aisle. Then, as I was about to give up, I saw her. I caught a break, found an opening in the throng and slid in to save her. I pulled her by the arm back through the opening before it closed on us for good.

"Are you alright?"

"Yes, I think. Are you?"

"Of course. Any luck?"

"No. We should go."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes. Is that okay?"

"It's fine with me. You don't need any bras, light bulbs or baby furniture, do you?"



We left the store as quickly as we came. Actually quicker because we didn't have to wait in line to get out.

Once outside my wife started to cry, to breakdown.

"What? What happened back there?" I begged.

No response.

I knew that my wife needed time to heal. I needed time to heal.

So, it's been six days. Six long, hard days.

I still feel disappointment and regret.

No disappointment bigger than not seeing two 300-pound women fighting over the last doorbuster Sing-a-ma-jig. And no regret bigger than picking up a pack of clear 60-watt lightbulbs for the ceiling fan in the master bedroom that we actually needed. Now I have to go out again for the lightbulbs. Dammit.

Next year, on Black Friday 2011, I'm sleeping in. And, if I want to see 300-pound women throwing down over some useless piece of crap, I'll watch me some Jerry Springer.

As for this year. I could blame myself, but we all know the turkey made me do it.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Come On Feel The Noise...

Ever wonder about those obnoxious sound barriers that seem to be popping up all over the highway these days?

To me it takes all the fun out of a long car ride. I used to be able to look forward to driving past beautiful brand new housing developments perched right along the side of the interstate -- and I'd wonder if maybe the developments were colonies of deaf people who didn't care where their house stood. I've since learned that most of the people who live near the highway have at least average hearing. And, it was their choice to live so close to the hum of the highway.

It's hard to believe that a fifteen foot slab of faux bricks is really going to make any difference in the noise level. Call me crazy, but it's not like those folks woke up one morning and said, "dang, where did that busy eight-lane road come from?" I'd think that anyone who buys a home within that proximity to that much noise must on some level like it. So, why are we trying to stop them from hearing it? And with our tax dollars to boot.

I say, give 'em what they asked for. But if you must put up barriers, at least make 'em clear, so I can see who I'm pissing off.

Do What You Love...

Today is a momentus day in my life. You wanna know why? Because today is the day I decided to take a stand. Today is the day I decided to look out for number one.

For those who know me, it might seem hard to believe that I've never achieved complete career satisfaction. Sure I've tried. I've pretended to be interested and engaged. But the reality is I've never once taken the advice of many very super-smart, super-successful people. They tell me, "do what you love." And, I've ignored this advice like a man ignore's his wife. This has always held me back.

As a salesperson, I've spent the most valuable hours of my week doing things I don't love. Like calling people who don't want to talk to me. Or, meeting with people who don't want to meet with me. Driving to and from places that didn't even pay for the gas I was using. Wasting time. Wasting my life.

Until now.

And what is it that I love to do? Eat. I absolutely love to eat. Mass consumption is my specialty.

Secondly, I love to watch people eat. Give me a "Man Versus Food" marathon on the Travel Channel and I'm one freakin' happy fat boy.

So, here's the big announcement. It's the perfect melding of my two true loves. I've decided to dedicate my life to competitive eating and will open the nation's first training center for these underappreciated and overfed athletes. Granted, this is all still in the planning stages and could fall apart if the financial backing fails to come through, or if I lose interest. Actually, the losing interest issue is the greater of the two threats. Losing interest in things is another of my downfalls. It started with the pet newt I had - that I killed - when I was ten, and I've been in my own personal battle with the disease ever since. Losing interest is hereditary. My father became a model airplane hobbyist during my youth. He successfully started to build four separate gas-powered model airplanes during that phase in his life. Not a single one ever made it to the runway. The last two (one yellow and one red) still sit in my parents' basement, caked with dust from thirty-five or so years of waiting to be completed.

But today I stand here before you to proclaim that there will be no dust on this dream.

My school will be known as "Eat U." I will provide an outlet for the large-appetited -- a much-needed platform for these gastric marvels. Our motto: "Education and Motivation without Regurgitation."

I'll need to tie in with a local caterer to provide professional training materials -- things like hot dogs, pizza, apple pie, steak, buffalo wings, meatballs and mountain oysters to name a few. With the volume of crap food we'll need for our classes, maybe I should bring the catering in-house.

Just a gut feeling, but I don't think that finding students will be a problem. However, tracking down instructors might be. I mean, how many Kobiyashis and Joey Chestnuts are there out there? I might have to revert to second tier and lesser-knowns like Eric "The Red" Denmark, Crazylegs Conti and female sensation Sonya Thomas.

To fill the gap, I'd take myself away from some of my administrative duties, suit up and teach. I myself have never been a competitive eater, though I've managed to set personal standards for pierogies (24), olives (green and black 255) and pizza (half sheet) in single sittings. Never used a clock. In that respect, I'm self-taught. But, where is it mandated that coaches ever needed to have played the game professionally? Just ask Vince Lombardi or Paul Brown in football. Or Earl Weaver and Jim Leyland in baseball. Actually, only Leyland will answer because he's the only one still able to convert oxygen to carbon dioxide. Getting your answers from the others will require a Ouji board. But I can assure you that the dead group of coaches would agree that it's not mandatory to learn the finer points of eating 100 kosher dill pickles in three minutes from someone who actually did it himself.

I really have this all figured out. It's a great idea. I'm sure it would work. Only problem is that I have no idea how to get started. And, it seems like too much trouble to figure it out. Waaaayy too much trouble.

Oh well, you know what they say. Like father, like son.

Monday, November 8, 2010

I Heart Dayton...

Stop me if you've heard this one...

A Cleveland-based sales rep goes to visit with a prospect in downtown Dayton, Ohio and...

You had your opportunity.

So, I'm in Dayton last Friday trying to sell someone something they actually need (gasp!). I know, I know, it goes against everything I ever learned during my sales career. Up until now, I've only heard of prospects like this. Yet there I was, face to face with this rarest of rare beasts. I thought about how I would attack. I'd stare her down, give her my carefully crafted sales pitch, fold my arms and wait for her answer -- a resounding "yes." I expected her to unwrap a new set of Mont Blanc pens for the occasion, the kind you use when you're signing the Declaration of Independence or a pre-nup. I know they used quills when they signed the Declaration of Independence, but please just submit to my own personal vision of how the proceedings should have proceeded. It's my dream and if I say Freddie Krueger has suction cups on his fingers, then Freddie Krueger has suction cups on his fingers.


Unfortunately, before any of this could occur, my prospect, the one who needed what I was selling, cut me off at the pass.

"We've already allocated our budget for 2011, but I'd really like to hear what you have to say."

That's what she said. Dammit. So, no matter how well I attack, there's no way I'm winning the battle. No way. It's like she put up one of those invisible, impenetrable force field shield thingies that they use in Sci-Fi movies. I was cooked.

The good news is that I didn't let it faze me. I had the best pitch prepared, so I used it. It dazzled her for sure, but only in a way that caused her to say, "I like this a lot. Maybe in 2012."

Maybe in 2012? Maybe in 2012 we'll all be dead.

We wrapped up our useless conversation in about an hour and fifteen. My car would not be towed afterall, having put it in front of a meter on a side street about fifty yards from where I was meeting with the non-prospect. Before heading into the meeting, I had placed two shiny quarters into the box and received two hours of parking in downtown Dayton. You can't get that kind of value anywhere. Not Columbus. Not Cleveland. Probably not even Toledo. I was pleased.

As I packed my bags, the non-prospect asked if I needed anthing for the four-hour trip back to Cleveland. Water? Pop? Potato chips?

"Well, I have some water back in the car, so no to the first two. But, I'll take the potato chips for sure. Thanks."

She proceeded to tell me they were Dayton's finest chip, Mike-Sell's. I'm always down for a local chip. But, since I can't let go of ideas I had years earlier, I asked if she knew anyone who could get me a meeting with the Mike-Sell's people. If I could just get in to see someone and explain my idea of using discarded chips to be crushed, re-packaged and sold with dip I'd be sitting pretty. You dump the crumbs into the dip, mix it with a spoon and voila, instant snack. I do it all the time when I get to the end of a bag of chips. No waste at all.

Unfortunately, she didn't have a contact at the potato chip company. But, she asked me to wait in the lobby. She promised to be right back. About five minutes later, she brought me a half-eaten container of chip dip.

"You have to have dip to go with your chips, right?" she said.

"This is easily the strangest parting gift I've ever received from an almost customer." I didn't know what else to say. It almost made the loss of the sale bearable. "Thank you very much."

So, I said my goodbyes to the non-customer and proceeded to my car with my bag of chips and dip, about a two-minute walk across the street.

I opened the back door, slung my computer case on my daughter's car seat and started to open the bag of chips when I noticed a shit-ton of broken glass on the other side of the back seat.


I had been in a hurry to get to my meeting. I left my GPS on, still attached to the windshield. And, my iPhone was on the passenger seat in plain site. Like a display case for thieves. How stupid was I? It was a smash and grab without me in the car. They took both items and some CDs. I had a big hole in my back passenger window. I'm in a town I barely know. Fuck me.

I decided to go back to the office of the non-prospect to call the cops. I almost left my computer case in the car before I realized no matter how well I locked the doors, most thieves wouldn't have to use another brick to get in. I grabbed my bag. And the chips and dip combo. They weren't getting away with that, no sir.

My non-customer was mortified when I told her the story of my car being broken into. She gave me use of the conference room phone. I made some calls. To my wife, asking her to have my phone service shut down. To my insurance company. And, to the Dayton PD. They were busy, so they would call me back. How bout that? The loss of the GPS and cell phone were on my homeowner's insurance policy. That's a $500 deductible. Guess that's not happening. My windown had a zero deductible. Finally, something besides the free chips and dip was going right for me today. Problem was no one local could do the work on Friday night. So, I scheduled something with an auto glass company in Cleveland for Saturday afternoon.

The cops called back about a half hour later. They asked a few questions, determined I wasn't worth a face-to-face report, and suggested I go to to fill out my online report. What the hell? They have no problem dealing with me face-to-face when they pull me over for speeding. But they can't do it when I get robbed? And, apparantly, they didn't give a shit about the glass all over their street. Whatever.

So, with that all wrapped up, I pack up again to leave. As I exited, my non-customer was waiting outside in her non-broken-into car. "Get in. I'll take you to Walmart for some tape and plastic."

First chips and dip, now tape and plastic. I think I'm falling in love.

With tape and a plastic tarp, I began the process of covering my window for the long ride home. It seems easy. It turned out looking more like a Christmas present that my five-year-old wrapped during a night terror. I used half the roll of tape and there were still holes, but it was servicable.

I said said goodbye to my non-customer again. This time hopefully would be the last. I thanked her for sticking it out with me on a Friday night. She apologized for what had happened in her city. That seemed nice.

This drive would be long. This drive would be noisy. But two things made it all worth it. Their names were chips and dip.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

No Twirling Allowed

Why has no one invented splatter-free pasta sauce? We have mobile phones with apps that do everything but wipe your ass, but we can't figure out a way to keep a white shirt clean?