Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Living The Dream...

"Living the dream."  That's how a former co-worker of mine would typically respond to clients, sales prospects and co-workers who asked, "Hey, whatcha up to?"

"How's it going?", they'd ask.  "Living the dream", he'd say.  That's it.  Most people understood.  I thought I understood.  Based on my limited ability to read a situation, it took me several months to realize that most of the time his response was sarcastic - that he really wasn't living the dream.  In fact, he was living the total opposite of the dream.

I was young and na├»ve.  At the time, I was in my early 30's.  The co-worker I'm referring to was probably in his mid 40's.  In your mid 40's something happens from a career standpoint that makes you realize if it hasn't gotten better by now, it's probably never going to get better.  You may as well have fun with it.  So, "living the dream" was his way of taking a mocking jab at the reality of his sad existence, at least the one he was getting paid for. 

That same co-worker is probably in his late 50's now.  Some days I wonder if his response has changed since I knew him.  Out of curiosity, I've come close to calling him at work and asking "How you doing?"  Maybe he's sacked the sarcasm and taken a more direct approach to answering the question.  Something like, "What difference does it make?"  Or, "I wish I knew."

As for me, I'm now in my mid 40's.  Though I've never once responded to a co-worker or client with a sarcastic "Living the dream", I've thought about it.  And worse, the statement now makes perfect sense to me.

I'm sure I'm not the only person who ever had career regrets.  From about sixth grade on I wanted to be a writer.  In my high school years I narrowed it down to becoming a newspaper reporter, probably focusing on sports.  I wrote for the school newspaper and became Editor-In-Chief my senior year.  In college I joined the staff of the daily student-run newspaper and graduated with a journalism degree.  After graduation, I thought about getting some experience at a local weekly paper.  Broadcasting school crossed my mind as well.  Maybe I could host a sports talk show, do play-by-play or produce a television or radio pre or post-game segment for one of my Cleveland pro sports teams.

None of these "aspirations" were ever acted upon. 

So, the other day I'm with my parents at my son's baseball game.  LeBron James made the announcement that he would be returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers the night before.  We started talking about it and my mother blurts out, "You should be on the radio talking about this." 

"I don't like to call in to radio shows."

"No," she continued.  "I mean, you should be one of those talk show hosts.  You know so much about sports."

"No Mom, I don't know that much about sports."

"Yes you do.  You just told me all about LeBron."  She was borderline arguing with me at this point.

"I'm just an average fan.  Plus, I'm not all that great in front of a microphone.  Karaoke is kind of the outer limit of my stage prowess."

"Well, I think you'd be great.  You've always loved sports."

She wouldn't let it go.  "That's ridiculous.  Telling me I should be a sports talk show host because I like sports is like telling a fat guy he should be a chef because he likes food.  Or telling someone who wears too much make-up that they should become a circus clown."

"I'm just saying..."  The "I'm just saying" is her way of hoping that I think about it on my own later and realize how right she was and how wrong I was.  Then, according to her script, I'd call one of the local radio stations and demand they give me the afternoon drive talk show slot.  The station management would ask about my qualifications and I'd reply confidently with "Well, I've always loved sports."  Can it possibly be more complex than that?

This kind of thing happens a lot to me.

A couple of friends think I should send my "tape" in for voiceover work - books on tape to be exact.  After explaining that no one uses "tape" anymore, I tell them that a professionally done voice demo can cost in excess of $2,000.  "So, are you willing to invest in me by becoming my sponsor?  Because I'm not shelling out two grand so I can later tell you a story about how much it cost me to get turned down by recording studios and ad agencies - I'd rather have that disappointment be on your dime."

Maybe I'm just not a risk taker.  Or maybe I'm just smarter than everyone else.  Nothing ventured, nothing lost.

It may not have turned out exactly liked I had hoped or planned, but at 47 my life is nothing to complain about.  I have a great wife, great kids, a delusional mother who thinks I'm the most talented son in the world, a job and LeBron is coming back. 

Yes, I can honestly say I'm living the dream.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

217 Days...

Based on extensive research, my last blog post here was November 27, 2013.  Today is July 3, 2014, which means I've gone 217 days between entries.  If I had stopped shaving for 217 days, my beard would be at least a quarter inch long.  If I had dieted for 217 days, I would probably be trying to figure out a way to gain a few pounds because I'd lost too much weight.

You can accomplish a lot in 217 days.  Unfortunately, nothing gets accomplished when one stops writing.

Here's what happens instead.  First, and this is almost always the case, I run into people who I see only at sporting or school events for my kids.  I genuinely like these people, mostly because they don't get upset when I contact them to make them aware I have a new blog entry.  Because we're social friends, they don't expect anything other than a nice conversation at whatever event we're attending together.  I don't need to call these people just to say hi.  I don't need to help them build a deck or harvest their orchard.  These are my "holiday picture" friends.  I've never seen a bad holiday picture.  We only take pictures of the good parts of holidays.  So, these are my "holiday picture" friends.  They literally don't have a bad side.  But for all their positive attributes, these same people put all sorts of pressure on me by asking when my next blog piece will be coming out.  The first words out of their mouths are always: "Hey, when are you going to do some more blogging?"  I typically deflect by claiming to be too busy with work, then I quickly change the subject by asking, "You really read it?"  And even though I know they'll say yes, I wait for their response to ask "Why?"

In reality, only my friends (the regular and holiday picture kind) and select relatives that I haven't offended in my writings actually read this blog.  I suppose I could blame some marketing glitch, but I understand just how all this works: I write it, then Facebook and email anyone who hasn't implicitly said to never contact them again about the blog.  That's it.  No advertising campaign.  No public service announcement.  Just me, contacting anyone I know who will read it because I've been encouraged just enough to keep doing this...every 217 days. 

But, for those who do receive the notification that a new blog entry is out there, I'm sure it's like getting a chain letter or email.  You kind of have to open it.  The guilt will suffocate you if you don't.  The difference is, my blog articles don't come with disclaimers like: "Failure to read this blog will result in a year of pure hell where you'll lose your job, your spouse, your house and your car keys.  But, if you read it, you will receive $1,000 checks from former grade school classmates for no real reason every week for the rest of the year."  No, it doesn't go like that.  Instead my blog comes with a more subtle and unwritten warning - "Basically, if you don't read what Steve poured his heart into for hours and days, and comment on how great it was the next time you see him in public, you'll probably force him to lose hope and give up.  If you don't read it, the disappointment will hurl him into a black hole of despair and you won't ever see or hear from him again." 

There it is in a nutshell.  So, what is this "black hole of despair"?  Glad you asked.

This is how it'll go down.  I'll gas up my silver 2012 Ford Fusion with premium unleaded and just start driving...west.  I won't even clean out the fast food bags first.  And once I start driving, I won't stop, except for bathroom breaks and more gas (and Slim Jims and Cherry Coke), until I reach Jackson Hole Wyoming.  This should take me two to three days depending on how long it takes me to shower in the gas station's bathroom sink - and stop crying.  Once I arrive in Jackson Hole, I'll officially change my name to Gus Reardon and will take up smoking.  And I'll smoke everything - cigarettes (filtered and unfiltered), cigars, pipes and even hookah.  If it can be smoked, I'll smoke it.  I'll even buy a really good used charcoal smoker and only eat foods that are smoked.  After a while, the locals of Jackson Hole will nickname me "Smokey".  Gus "Smokey" Reardon.  I'll make a living trick roping and gun spinning for tourists.  It'll pay just enough to afford a back closet at Hungry Jack's General Store.  Oddly, the owner of Hungry Jack's is a fellow named Lynn, who is not in the least bit interesting.     

Occasionally, I'll think about my former life and my family.  If I have anything left over after paying Lynn and buying various meats, I'll send them a check.  I won't ever explain who Uncle Gus is in the letters I'll mail with the checks.  Some days I'll contemplate going to Jackson Hole library to get on the internet and start writing again.  But my hands are too sore and tender from rope practice that I end up talking myself out of it.

Then, one day an old friend of mine from my Ohio days will come across me during one of my shows.  Without saying anything, he'll knock me cold from behind with one of my own guns, feed me sedatives, cover me with a burlap sack and deliver me back to Cleveland in the back of his SUV.

I'll try to do better than blogging once every 217 days.  Even if you don't care about what I write, please pretend to read it and I promise I won't be upset if you ask me when I'll be blogging again.  I really don't want to have to go to Jackson Hole.  And, I don't want to have to leave my family behind.  But, I may just change my name to Gus Reardon anyway.