plopfizz

As I sat down on the toilet for my daily quiet time, cellphone in one hand, iPad in another, I suddenly had a strange sensation. Like that sleepover prank when someone sticks your finger in warm water.

But it wasn’t my finger and it definitely wasn’t warm.

I jumped quickly to me feet, as a small puddle formed around my ankles. I looked right…left… then right at my crotch.

I had wet balls.

To go along with my sagging middle, I now had saggy balls. I was virtually drooping from head to toe, and everything in between was going down for the count. My slow descent had begun, and it hit me and the toilet water like a ton of bricks.

I thought about who to call, where to click. Forget Bejeweled… my family jewels were now body surfing as I furiously surfed the Web.

Should I call my brother, my best friend, my tennis buddies? I could just imagine the conversation.

“Hey, how’s work? Did you see Doctor Strange? What’s doing in the market? Do your testicles float or sink?”

My wife lay in bed on the other side of the bathroom door. Surely, she would understand… surely, she could understand the degradation and have pity on this pity party I was about to throw.

But after decades of tweezing, waxing, mammograms, pap smears and those damn stirrups, how could this temporary spritz ever rise to the occasion? She had been poked, prodded, pinched and pushed… I would be left all wet and out in the cold.

I retreated to my porcelain throne to ponder my piscine predicament.

After moments of solitude and two rounds of Candy Crush, I realized it wasn’t just the drip, drip of time leaving my balls dripping wet. It was so much more… the snoring, the ear hair, the endless spot checks for bald spots. And the constant need to pee from morning to night.

Once a whiz kid at arcane facts and figures, I was now a whizzing figure at rest stops, coffee shops and gas stations. My bladder, along with my bank account, was barely full before it immediately needed to be emptied.

Forget about minding my P’s and Q’s, I was constantly in a queue to pee. Here a pee, there a pee, everywhere a pee, pee. Real-life SAT questions calculating speed, distance and time to see not when the train would arrive in the station but rather should you run to the bathroom before the train left the station. Would you make it home dry?

Just the thought makes me chuckle, but you know where that leads.

This year for the holidays, I asked my family for one of those electric hair clippers. You know, the ones with attachments for the eyebrows, ears, nose (and possibly one to slit your sagging throat). My 16-year old was mortified.

“Dad, are you kidding? You don’t want one of those things.”

“Yes, I do. I saw one in Bed, Bath and Beyond. It does everything!”

“That’s disgusting! Please don’t ever bring that up again!”

This was beyond her thinking or her already distorted view of her graying father. But all I could think of was the gentle whirr of the motor and the clear view from my ear to my brain.

And it doesn’t stop with hair removal. I have Googled everything from Spanx for men to adult braces. If I am turning into the Ty-D-Bowl man, then good God, I am balls to the wall not going down with the ship.

I have bought promotional miracle pillows to stop the snore but, according to my wife, I may find the pillow firmly over my face one morning. I have Dead Sea scrubs that are like a death tax on my bank account. I am a middle-class spelunker, searching the crevices and crags of my middle-aged body.

I have stood long in the local pharmacy aisle of dyes and tints, contemplating showing up at parent-teacher conference with Guy Fieri meets Billy Idol hair. (Do Billy Idol references show my age?) Too old for punk but too young for the last waltz.

Hair loss leaves me terrified, and my kids and wife know this.

“Dad, is that a bald spot on the top of your head?”
“Dad, I think your hair is thinning a bit.”
“Dad, where’s your hat?”
“Honey, is that your hair in the drain?”

The very thought leaves me breathless (like a spinning class off the chain) and so off I drive to my hair stylist (yes, I use a hair stylist), leaping furiously into the chair. Eyes agog, mirror and anticipation in hand, I offer myself and scalp up to public scrutiny. A seeker of truth in a land of Samson-level devastation.

“Juanita, let me have it. I can take it though I am not sure my side part can.”

She dives into my scalp with combs and brushes, my own personal Indiana Jones searching through the graying bush of a soon-to-be ancient world.

“You are fine. Your hairline is fine. I think your family is just pushing your buttons. By the way, your shirt button just popped open.”

I leap to my compression-socked feet elated… the thought of receding hairlines and crease lines, descending anatomy and ascending cholesterol – things for another morning or night jitterbugging with Father Time.

But before I go, I need to use the bathroom. You never know about the traffic on the way home.

shush-1

I made my way through Grand Central Station, looking forward to meeting my daughter for the commute home. No longer a college student, she was now a full-fledged commuter. 7:18 in; 5:28 home. Like those old gray men in their gray flannel suits.

But I had made her wait for me today because I had a late meeting and so we were taking the 6:34 home. But I was excited at the thought of adult conversation with my now-adult daughter over the hour ride from metropolis to suburban sprawl.

“I got the track wrong. We are on 118, not 116. Train leaves four minutes later than I thought. Let’s go to the front car as my car is parked right across from where it stops at the station.”

My daughter nodded and made her way with me to the front car. She was a bit off kilter as I had taken her out of her daily rhythm of time and car. But she hustled along next to me, ear buds prepped and ready for the ride home.

We slid into the two-seater and began conversing. Well, me conversing and her ready to nod off or tune me out with some music. But I would have none of that. We are commuting buddies and she was going to get me for the whole hour.

With a minute left until the doors closed, a man entered the train and proceeded to the six-seater across from us. With his coat still half wrapped around his body, he spun in our direction.

“Shush! No talking. This is the quiet car. Shush!”

I looked at him in amazement. The train was still in the station. Polite conversation echoed throughout the car. But this middle management dictator would have none of it.

I glared at him, ready to turn the quiet car into the “go f*&% yourself car.” But my daughter tugged on my arm and so, I maintained my steely gaze as the doors closed, heading toward home.

Instead of philosophical banter and humorous quips with my ponytailed companion, I remained transfixed on my commuting combatant, ready to trash talk him all the way from NYC to Connecticut.

With furious fingers, I texted my wife with a full blow-by-blow account of the situation. I texted more in ten minutes than I had in the past year. My fingers flew over the keys. No mellow suburbanite for me… my non-gentrified Brooklyn roots had emerged and I was one step from keying this guy’s car at the commuter lot.

My silent fingers did the talking.

“Who the f%*& does he think he is? The doors hadn’t even closed. He had just walked on the train. I think he’s wearing a toup. Now’s he sitting in his tee shirt with his button-down fully open. What gives him the f*&ing right to undress in the quiet car? I am going to rip his f*&ing head off!”

My daughter rolled her eyes. My wife told me to calm down. I wrote notes to my daughter like we were in middle school.

ASSHOLE!

It took all my sanity not to launch a spitball in his direction.

My daughter looked at me as if I were a man possessed. And I was. But why? WHY?

Maybe it was the excitement of my first commuter ride with my daughter. Of seeing her looking beautiful and professional striding through the throngs, wearing her red coat and big smile. The anticipation of equals having a conversation about equal rights and our mutual fear of the far right.

I had no problem with the quiet car… I had a problem with the loudmouth sitting across from me!

As I perused a work presentation, still shooting incendiary looks at the snoozing schmuck sitting across from me, I concocted ruses, plans and a possible uppercut to his weak chin. I counted the minutes to the next stop where I would break the silence with a stream of invective that would send him his shushing across the snow banks that lined the station.

What was I thinking? AND WHY?

Was it my utter distaste for undeserved rudeness? Of someone’s self-interest at the expense of civility and good humor? Of one’s need to police their fellow citizens not for public good, but for personal gratification? Of being incapable of seeing beyond the nose buried in your iPad by looking around at the individuals seated to the left, right, front, back?

And then I had to laugh… quietly to myself.

I had to laugh at my absurdity for letting this man-in-white-tee bring on a dark mood. I had to laugh for taking time out of my limited time on this planet for planned retribution. I had to laugh for focusing on what bothered me across the aisle instead of on the cherished person sitting next to me.

The shusher? He got off at Stamford, shirt still open. I stayed put, miles to home and light years ahead.

spinning-dreidel

An innocuous email. A simple request. What could be so bad?

“Looking to burn off those latkes from Chanukah? Join us and other fellow congregants for an afternoon of spinning.”

My mind began to turn. The idea intriguing. I mean, I did consume bushels of potatoes over the holidays. Why not bite?

So, with mind racing but ass sitting, I confirmed my attendance. No pain, and definitely no more gain.

I knew how to ride a bicycle. I fondly recalled those days with my brand new five-speed, riding to Walter Reed Junior High School with my trumpet precariously perched on the back. (Okay, who am I kidding? There was a reason I failed seventh-grade band… I never brought the trumpet home). But I rode that bike from one end of the San Fernando Valley to the other.

And when I got my first Schwinn ten-speed, I was hooked. I remember riding for charity – 35 miles sponsored by Jack in the Box. Every five miles I received a “healthy” snack – cheeseburgers, fries, the coveted Breakfast Jack.

So what could an hour of spinning really do to a seasoned rider – of years gone by – like myself?

And then… the emails began. Guidance on how not to chafe. Instructions on the special shoes. Advice on racing tights vs. sweat pants. What did I get myself into?

But I had made the leap and was ready to spin right round even if I landed right in the emergency room.

The day of, I came prepared. No Lycra but loose workout shorts and mid-brief underwear. Water bottle? Check. Warm-up jacket? Check. Lisinopril? Check.

As I entered the spin-emporium, I suddenly realized I was as old as the hills I was about to climb. Hebrews still in their ‘30s fashionably attired with zero-percent body fat. The old man and the sea… of lululemon.

Why hadn’t I set up an emergency “get out of spin class” call with my wife? Could I suddenly claim an old football injury? (Like I played high-school football…yeah, right!) Could I quickly slink off to the Trader Joe’s next door or, better yet, the deli across the street?

But it was too late. Recognized by fellow congregants, there was no way out.

I made my way into the sweat tent… I mean, spin room… watching as taut legs spun in perfect unison. I made my way to the back where the new spinners were perched on their bikes. Let the games begin.

But first, I had to get on the saddle. Really, a small, tiny saddle of a seat. How was my latke-enriched tuches, genealogically formed by previous generations of chicken-fat eating Jews, going to fit on this bike? If you could call it a bike.

And there were those pedals. As I tried to lock in, I almost went flying off. I searched the pulsating room for help. A young woman saw my plight and clipped me in. I had no idea how I was ever going to get out.

Just then, I noticed ear plugs going in all around me. Were they worried about my impending cries for help?

“It gets loud. You’ll need these,” a fellow congregant said to me. She offered me a pair.

“And don’t forget about weights behind you.”

Okay, I knew about the weight behind. But then I noticed her pointing to weights tucked behind the teeny, weeny seat. Was I supposed to add weight training perched on this tiny, moving pogo stick?

The lights went down. The music came up. And we began to ride. A spotlight. A microphoned, pony-tailed Amazon. And with her every command, the room rode faster. Katy Perry blasting from the stratosphere.

“I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire…”

People were up. They were down. They were moving left and right. Was this a Nuremberg rally or an exercise class?

I continued to ride at a middle-aged pace, balancing my petrified cheeks on that precarious seat. Did I dare to ascend like the rest? Was I ready to roar? Oh oh oh oh.. oy!

And then it happened. The instructor walked toward me. Was this 8th-grade gym class all over again? When I had to demonstrate how to mount the pommel horse?  Because all I remember of that day was flying through the air, hitting my head and somehow ending up twisted around the parallel bars.

Was I fated to eternal communal humiliation?

I took a deep, gasping breath and looked at our fearless spin leader. A double thumbs-up. I turned around, seeing if it was meant for an imaginary rider behind me. No, it was for me.

Acclamation from this spinning god had me pedaling with the abandon of youth. Who cared about a possible myocardial infarction? I was a dreidel on Ecstasy. It was Studio 54 all over again!

(I also knew there were at least two cardiologists in the room… heck… it was a synagogue-sponsored event).

For the next 30 minutes, I hit those pedals, elevating my body, spirit and double chin closer and closer to heaven.

I was 13 again. I pumped. I grabbed those weights… well, just one weight since I dropped the other one on the floor. I was a spinning top at the top of my game.

Then, in what seemed like a moment, it all decelerated to a close… with inspirational quotes and leonine stretches. Prayers for a better you, a better world, the hope of new songs from Katy Perry.

But I kept riding. Like I couldn’t be stopped. Like there was no tomorrow or yesterday. I was one with the bike, and the bike was one with me.

And that’s because I couldn’t get my shoes unlocked from those pedals. Where’s an orthopedist in bike shorts when you need him?

c43152290

(as appearing on Medium: https://medium.com/@theburbman/dad-for-choice-and-i-choose-hillary-clinton-2b979c3e0f6d#.a4mfb37zh)

By all statistical demographic accounts, I should be a Donald Trump supporter. Middle-aged, white suburban dad. Middle management job. Living in the middle of a one-way lane toward impending retirement.

But I am not, and never could be. The simple reason… my daughters.

I am a father by choice, the greatest one I have ever made… and a man for choice. That means my daughters’ complete and unrestrained control of their lives, their futures, their bodies.

My wife and I did not bring them into this world to be subjugated, diminished or regulated to earn less than the boys next door. They are the very best of us, and deserve all the rights, liberties and freedoms guaranteed by our laws and the Supreme Court. They don’t deserve to be led by a man that would grope not only their bodies, but their spirits.

How could I support a man who boxes them in by weight and height, bra size and waist measurements? A man who sees limits and gender stereotypes when I see their unlimited capabilities, unfettered possibilities? A man who only sees black and white while they respect and embrace all the colors of the rainbow coalition?

Roe vs. Wade changed everything for the young women of my era who grew up after its passage. Women who could go off to college, becoming doctors, lawyers, chief executives… and stay-at-home moms legally protected in the difficult decisions they sometimes may have to make.

I still have so many women friends – older, wiser, Democrat and Republican – who have loving marriages and thriving children who would have had to severely alter their life’s trajectories, their current happiness because of an unwanted pregnancy when they were in high school and college.  Where would they be today at 50, 55, 60 if they had been legally forced into motherhood decades upon decades earlier?

Young women and men should be able to express themselves creatively, physically sexually without government intrusion into their personal decisions, as hard and life-changing as they may be. They should soak in everything the world has to offer, not be forced to be anchored to a decision they are ill-prepared emotionally, physically or financially to handle.

I may be graying but my gray matter has not constricted with age. And our daughters cannot be constricted by archaic rules or misinterpreted religious doctrines decried by blasphemous men. Who gave them the right to tell my daughters what is right… or wrong?

Hillary Clinton understands this. When she exclaimed “Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights,” she gave voice to billions of men and women who believe in a just and equitable playing field. Where my daughters can run as fast as any son, and can run businesses, homes and their own lives.

When she said “I believe that the rights of women and girls is the unfinished business of the 21st century,” I know nothing I could achieve in business sector or personally would equal the achievements of my daughters and that’s why equality of the sexes is the bottom line in this election.

While I work tirelessly to put a roof over their heads, shoes on their feet and love in their hearts… while I work enthusiastically to support their educational pursuits and global dreams no matter how big or small… while I relentlessly offer comfort, care and unwavering commitment on good days and bad, only my single vote can possibly help ensure that their minds and bodies remain within their control.

And that is why I am voting for Hillary Clinton.

I am voting for Hillary Clinton because of her experience, her empathy and her judgment.

I am with Hillary because she has the foresight and insight to see beyond the horizon, and is not narrow-minded, thin-skinned and myopic.

I am standing with her because she stands not in front of, but side-by-side with the women in my life who I treasure, admire and respect.

And yes, I am voting for her because she is a woman who is for choice… and understands all the choices my daughters will have to make day in, day out for the rest of their lives.

So come this November, I will be up bright and early to cast my ballot for Hillary Clinton. I will wear the pin, carry the sign and happily shoulder my responsibility to be the father I need to be if my daughters are to have their choices legally protected, morally valued and future-ready.

And I hope there will be dads like me, shoulder to shoulder, doing the same. Because if you really love your daughters and truly support their right to choose, is there any other choice but Hillary?

55-ima

(as appearing on The Huffington Post site: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/57dca07ae4b0d5920b5b2bb4?timestamp=1474078095514)

“Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you!”

“Thanks Mom.”

“I can’t believe my boy is 55 years old.”

“Neither can I. I still think I’m 25. How are things? Still raining in Florida?”

“Stopped raining yesterday. Played canasta last night. I couldn’t be stopped. Won $7.00.”

“Great. Glad you’re enjoying the club.”

“You know what, Brian? I just realized that you can move into my community. You’ve reached the minimum age. Imagine if you bought a place here. Wouldn’t that be great?”

My birthday joy came to a screeching halt. To paraphrase Groucho, who’d want to join a club where your mom would have you as a member?

It’s not like I hadn’t seen it coming. The sudden checking of boxes on forms where I moved from the 40-54 category to 55 to Social Security age group. The number of cholesterol-lowering statins available to me. The graying of hair from head to toe, and everything in between

With the single tick of the clock, I had become my parents… in their golden, card-playing years. The road to impending retirement lay before me like a Vegas buffet. Everything I could want if I played my canasta cards right.

No longer cool or hip… more likely ready for hip replacement. I had become the walking, talking, slightly limping symbol of the man I once was. How did I get here and why did my mother want me to be there with her?

Would I have to use the golf cart from now on? Cruise the Caribbean? Pop antacids like candy? Refer to my children as “those crazy kids?” It was hard enough realizing that my millennial days were a millennium away… but when did my groove up and go?

Don’t get me wrong. I love my mom, but realizing the age distance between us was narrowing while the distance between my kids and I was widening hit me like a ton of retirement community bricks. When did I become the tail end of the generation gap?

But who was I kidding? My next-door neighbor is almost 18 years older than I am. He is actually only five years younger than my mother. And guess what… I much prefer to hang out with him than listen to the 18-year olds at my gym. To be honest, with their power drinks, tattoos and three-percent body fat, they are like creatures Sigourney Weaver faced in Alien, which was a movie released when I was 18.

In my house, my wife and I don’t debate Katy vs. Taylor but rather the issue about my refusal to join AARP. (Never before 60, I have sworn.) I don’t have her look at my body to marvel at my six-pack but rather to investigate a strange-looking mole or a possible bald spot. Forget self-tanning or manscaping… I prefer that indispensible nose hair clipper in my nightstand.

And my body knows my age more than I do. When I run too much, it’s a trip to the doctor. When I play tennis too aggressively, it’s a trip to the doctor. When I decide to sand and stain the deck, it’s a trip to the doctor. And most of the doctors are so young. Forget Marcus Welby… I’m stripping down for Doogie Howser.

And it’s not like I don’t try to think and act young.

Four years ago, I surprised my eldest daughter and took her to Lollapalooza, a three-day concert in Chicago. VIP tickets with an open bar (not for her), shuttle service and cushy lounge seating. I was in middle-aged heaven with thousands young enough to be my children. But I was alone… a lot. My daughter dove enthusiastically into the youth-pulsating throngs, a sea of Gen X, Y and Z bouncing and bopping in perfect harmony.

I stayed put, feasting on free food and booze. Why mix it up with the hordes when there were mixers and mixed nuts? I looked out of my progressive eyeglasses and saw all the things that could go wrong… my daughter jumped in and experienced all that was right.

In that very moment, I had crossed the chasm from youthful exuberance to existential worry. Even as I took in everything, the 50+ me exhaled fear about her safety and whether she could find me when the masses dispersed.

It was obvious… I had moved well beyond my drug-filled NYC club days and was heading fast and furious to a not-too-distant future of clubs, jacks, hearts and diamonds. A bridge game to eternity, and what lay beyond.

Though we may not admit it, 55 and older shifts us into the fast lane toward 65 and retirement. Yes, Springsteen, Jagger and McCartney are still packing them in but I’m sure their suitcases pack plenty of medicines for the aches and pains tied to aging. I know very few of my fellow 55+ friends who haven’t given up In-N-Out Burger for insoles and letting their pants out.

So maybe it’s time to stop trying to stop time and look forward to the welcoming embrace of those already enjoying retirement living. It may be just around the corner… and around the corner from my mom. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy dinner at 4:30?

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(As appearing on The Huffington Post site:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/bias-in-the-burbs_us_57d6bfa7e4b0eb9a57b7b00d)

As I gingerly lowered myself to the gym mat, over 50 but needing to do at least 50 sit-ups, I heard a conversation taking place near the free weights. Two men in excellent shape having a not-so-great conversation about the Dallas shootings and Black Lives Matter.

What I could gather between their grunts and my contorted exertions sounded vaguely like George Wallace 1968 meets Donald Trump 2016. Don’t blame the carbs… blame the blacks.

I stopped in the middle of my 39th crunch… was I hearing things or just trying to stop the exercise madness? And why was I surprised?

Among the rhododendrons and roses, at charity events and at sidewalk sales, the uncultured commentary from the cultural elite can sound strangely familiar to cable news punditry. Them against us. The haves and the have-nots. Dividing lines in the subdivisions of home, sweet home.

Was there racism among the rhubarb?

Quasi-bigoted comments can fly through the suburban air like a summer swarm of ladybugs. Everyone has an opinion on color, race, income inequality and religion to express, running the gamut from feverish liberal apologies to clueless conservative condemnations. And sometimes amidst the fragrant flora and fauna of fieldstone living, that song from Avenue Q “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” lilts a little too close to home.

When my children were small, and the Jewish high holidays fell on school days rather than on a weekend, a mom standing next to me at school pick-up had no problem complaining about “them having one more holiday that we have to keep our kids home for.” Forget the fact that my family has been “off” for Christmas our entire lives… Yom Kippur and “the Jews” were upsetting her morning plans.

I have witnessed the subtle, questionable furrowing of Main Street brows when some people walking seem to clash with the town’s high-end store windows. Just enough discomfort to disarm them and hobble their cobblestone gait. But just call it out and they will deny, deny, deny. Didn’t they just drop off last year’s holiday gifts at Goodwill? Wasn’t that enough?

I used to have two friends from town who quoted repeatedly from NPR and ranted against bigotry and racism from cocktail to cocktail. But two more drinks and faint drips of “those people” poured from their lips like cheap Chablis. And if their Hispanic cleaning lady called in sick, there would be hell to pay.

When moral values align with property values, racism, xenophobia, homophobia and every other kind of phobia has space to sprout like weeds in a well-tended garden. Primrose paths may unclutter the overscheduled mind but they can also restrict us from seeing the bigger world – and larger issues – faced by other earthly garden inhabitants.

Suburban white kids blast Kanye and Drake from their newly acquired Jeeps, tossing the n-word around like a football. No relevance, no foul, no reason to take pause or become concerned.

Do these hip-hop chants erase the lines between black and white or rather do they affirm that no ethnic slur is off limits? When does that singular word suddenly transcend Spotify and transform itself into invective?

When I was nine, my second cousin came over to my house. His dad was black and his mom Jewish. As we walked to the local deli for sandwiches, I was enthralled. He was tall and handsome with a towering afro, funny and the coolest guy I had ever met.

But even at nine, I could see some of my 1970’s middle-class neighbors twinge uncomfortably as we walked by. Even the local deli guy seemed to rush us through our order. I was still a child but I immediately recognized instinctual bias baked into the rolls and roast beef.

Has anything changed? In a 2008 editorial in The New York Times, Lawrence Levy said in an Opinion piece “It’s not that most suburbanites are racist, but rather that they tolerate more manifestations of racial bias than their urban and rural counterparts.” And maybe that’s my point. We may be willing to let the slings and arrows of racial profiling fall where they may as long as they don’t pierce the clapboard foundations of our lives.

We march for marriage equality but step gingerly when gay families arrive on the first day of nursery school. We rail against the building of border walls but spend our time constructing fences and alarming our homes. We cry out for the victims of Mother Emanuel Church but stay firmly rooted in the pews of our own houses of worship.

Everyone’s a little bit racist… is that a reasonable explanation for biased asides, innocuous innuendo and sideways glances? Do we get a free pass if we afflict no perceived cost on others? Do our significant property lines and charitable excess shield us from honest reproach?

And in pointing my fingers at some of my suburban neighbors, am I ignoring the white elephant in my living room? Aren’t I guilty of espousing tolerance and understanding behind a screen door of exclusivity?

All my life most of my friends have been white, and I grew up in urban communities in New York and Los Angeles. Almost all of my friends in my suburban town are white. Not black, Chinese, Hispanic or any other ethnic group. I may abhor racism but I seem to masterfully straddle the thin white line between talking the talk and actually walking the walk.

I believed by moving to a more liberal town, I could hold on to my liberal beliefs. And maybe I have. But are there enough Facebook declarations, clothing drives and charitable color runs to counteract the black-and-white, them vs. us differences in our minds?

We may paint our houses in perfectly matched hues and wallpaper over the cracks in our moral foundations. We may think money and securities will secure a better future for us, our children and our country.

But I leave you with this. One’s quest for a House and Gardens life cannot spackle over a house divided. Because only when our walls come down and we open our minds to confront our own biases will we truly be at home.

 

enter-exit-icons

“Here’s the way I will structure this interview. I will speak and ask you questions for 40 minutes. At the end of the 40 minutes, you will have 15 minutes to ask me questions. We then will end 5 minutes early so I can prepare for my next call. Do you agree? Okay, let’s begin.”

And so my first interview for another role within my company began. After 19 years of working steadily for this company, I had to secure another position based on recent consolidations and resource shifts within our organization. In other words, I was interviewing for my corporate life.

This potential new executive I would be reporting to had obviously taken one of those seminars on how to structure an interview. To ask those questions “inquiring minds” want to know. And as a good corporate citizen, he was adhering to a basic rule on the corporate pathway to success… put the other person on the hot seat before you get burned yourself.

Having been around the corporate block more often than I care to admit, up the corporate ladder and even once down for the count… the questions were nothing I hadn’t handled before. Strengths, weaknesses, value statements… this should be a quick 40 minutes. Let the games begin.

And then it started.

“I am going to give you two words. You must indicate which word best describes your management or performance style. You must choose one of the words. I will not accept any answers in the middle. Let us begin.”

“Strategic or Creative? Doer or Enabler? Bondage or Domination?”

Okay, I wasn’t really asked the third question… but I did feel somewhat constrained, and not in a good way. My home office suddenly felt like a white box in a laboratory where electrodes were monitoring my internal tics to see how I reacted. And the reaction wasn’t good.

The interviewer started another round of questions, more obtuse and psychologically ridiculous than the previous set. I now had to define basic technology terms (I am a seasoned high-tech marketing professional) in ten words or less.

Was this a corporate vocabulary test devised by a second-tier marketing manager with too much time on his hands? Someone drunk on the corporate Kool-Aid who wanted to be the cool new kid in company town?

The sands of my company time running out flashed before my eyes.

“What is Cloud?” (cirrus, cumulus and stratus not acceptable)
“Web?” (What kind of tangled one was he trying to weave?)
“Middleware?” (this interview was wearing thin quickly)

After nearly 30 years as a successful marketer, I was being asked to play Wheel of Fortune for my corporate life. Someone with less experience in a better place – and at the wrong time for me – was now in the position to make me jump through hoops and make every shot at me count.

It was like being asked the proverbial $64,000 plus benefits, paid holidays and 401(K) match game question.

And I realized, like hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of men and women (of a certain age over 50), I did not have the answers for the very first time. I was a middle-aged, middle-class middle manager mired in the midst of it all.

Let’s be honest. I wanted to roar against the absurdity of my precarious situation but wasn’t against lying to keep the paychecks coming. I was sick of being meek like a sacrificial lamb to the corporate slaughter but knew that was impossible when you need to put lamb chops on the table. I wanted to scream and shout and let it all out but desperately wanted to be in and not out the door.

Sick and tired of being tired of people like this, but not well off enough to take two giant steps forward and provide some two-word combinations of my own… suck and wind, f*** and off.

With one child just out of college and one more still to go, I would have to play red light, green light, one, two, ten years more. To pay for my daughter’s basketball games, I would have to stay in the corporate game.

Why had I left myself so exposed financially that the thought of being displaced and replaced rocked the very foundations of suburban life? How many men longing to play Saturday links were instead scouring LinkedIn morning, noon and night? Keeping it all under the covers updating cover letters and figuring out ways to cover the bills just in case, just in case…

The very hint of corporate jettisoning felt like primal abandonment and I desperately wanted to scream at my corporate inquisitor… “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.” But I knew I was willing to take it for that whole 40 minutes if it meant trying to avoid a month of severance and unpaid vacation pay.

Oprah says live your best life. Suze Orman offers practical financial advice for a rainy day. And I hear it. Platitudes and pundits offering you the tools and tips to weather any storm. But I wonder… have they been asked to define themselves while the corporate clock marks one’s time?

If they have, then I’m listening… in ten words or less. Time starts now.

Lost Wallet

As I made my way out of my town’s budget-go-bust pet store (where kibble costs an arm and a paw), I saw a wallet near my front tire.

Nice wallet, I thought as the angel and devil that perpetually sit on my shoulders began to waken from slumber. Could it be the windfall I longed for after losing last night’s Powerball? Could it possess all the treasures of the world… or at least a Black American Express? Could I finally afford this overpriced, gluten-free, antibiotic-free, anything-but-free dog food?

As I came to my senses (and the angel knocked the devil out once again), I began to look for the owner. Opening the wallet, and quickly moving past the cash, I found a debit card, driver’s license and Saks Fifth Avenue card.

Putting aside thoughts of Ferragamo loafers and a Gucci belt, I began to Google the person’s name and address in hopes of identifying the mysterious woman (of excellent taste) behind the lost wallet.

Bingo… two phones number. Argh… two disconnected numbers. Hmm… this would be harder than I imagined.

I put my search skills to the test. 20 minutes later led to a new address in a neighboring town. But no phone number.

So I entered the address into my GPS and took off in pursuit of the rightful owner. Forget my business conference call. Ignore the sushi lunch special on the way… I was bound for parts unknown (but known to my GPS). I was on a mission made possible by Google.

Pulling into the driveway, I walked up to the door and rang the bell. Dogs began to bark furiously. A good sign… she was a dog lover just like me. I waited. And I waited.

Finally, the sound of feet followed by two false eyelashed peepers peering through the upper glass of the front door. I held up the wallet in triumph. The door flew open in joyous acceptance

“I found your wallet!”

“Thank you. I must have dropped it by the pet store.”

“I’m glad to return it. It took me a while to locate you. I couldn’t find your phone number as you must have moved.”

“Do you want my phone number?”

The question caught me by surprise. I was here… why did I need the number?

“Well, I’m happy I could return it to you.”

“And my rouge?”

“What?”

“Where’s my rouge? Didn’t you find my rouge?”

I stepped backward, my cheeks ruddy as if I was slapped in my face. What was this lady’s make up?

Shaking my head “no” in disbelief and disgust, I quickly walked back to my car trying to understand her thinking. I had found her bank card, license, credit cards and cash. Why the focus on face powder and a brush?

My mind exploded with questions. Where was the cul-de-sac courtesy of days gone by? The gratitude and offer of fresh-squeezed lemonade… a handshake, a hug, a heartfelt hosanna? Why the focus on transient things when kindness came knocking?

Her focus on colored talc colored my judgment of this woman and my suburban world. Did we live in a town and times marred by material minutiae? I had no intent or interest to take the money and run but I did want to run as fast as I could from her quizzical, inward gaze.

It feels like every day is a test of one’s patience and collegiality with a suburban community at a civility war with itself. Blocking of strip mall exits to respond to texts… Suburbans plowing through four-way stops on freshly plowed roads… cacophonous cellphone chattering at checkout lines. As if no one else existed. As if no one should care.

I’ve witnessed parents furtively pushing their toddlers ahead on country fair rides. Trader Joe’s tantrums by suburban moms over discontinued frozen dinners. Dads in debate over little league batting line-ups. Bad behavior in the land of birds and honeybees.

Why so rude? And not just about missing “rouge” but everything and anything? Had we lost our ability to look beyond the carefully coiffured images we had constructed for public viewing? I was taught to give my shirt to a stranger in need, not tie myself up in a straitjacket of me, myself and I.

But before I stop believing in the kindness of strangers, I will take moment and look down. Who knows what’s waiting for you the next time you discover something lost. Maybe a cold drink, a slice of warm homemade pie and a friendly face among the green, green grasses of my suburban home.

Now wouldn’t that be refreshing?

The Shameful Sheep

shit storms, shame, and stories that make you cringe

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Lost in Suburbia

based on the syndicated humor column by Tracy Beckerman

Snarky in the Suburbs

Middle aged, Uncool and Not Bringing Sexy Back