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?

(As appearing on The Today Show Parenting site)
http://community.today.com/parentingteam/post/i-am-my-fathers-son

My father was not your Ozzie and Harriet type of dad. Never coached a little league game. Never taught me to ride a bicycle. Didn’t take me on college tours or help with algebra homework. Didn’t wear cardigans, smoke a pipe or drink martinis. No camping, no house repairs, no trips abroad or broad observations on life.

But even though he was no troop leader or corporate bigwig, he gave me the world even when he sometimes had nothing to give. Showering me with unconditional love and never leaving me emotionally out in the cold. Never asking, demanding or requiring a single apology or explanation even when he deserved them time and again. Always rising to the occasion and demonstrating pride in my achievements.

He taught me to be kind to everyone and generous to all. Never to tip less than 20%. To always keep your car trunk clean and your fuel tank full. To never become self-involved or self-loathing. To always find humor in everything especially the Marx Brothers and Mel Brooks. Never to fret over what might have been but to focus on what possibly still may be.

Even as he battles cancer at 81 years old, he still starts our daily conversations off by asking me how I feel, and what he can do for me. My concerns are his concerns, and my happiness is his happiness. 3,000 miles apart and through his voice, I can feel the gentle way he used to run his strong hands over my fresh summer crew-cut.

And it’s for these reasons and a thousand more than I wanted to be a dad. To embrace everything he was to me and deliver all that – and more – to my children morning, noon and night. To be prepared for the seismic and microscopic changes fatherhood would, and continue to bring.

You see… even though he wasn’t the traditional dad with a leather tool belt and a bag full of answers, he equipped me with all those human tools essential for being a good dad. To listen to, and learn from, your children even when you’re feeling down, or out of ideas. To let them go left and right, and be right by their side always. To tell the truth even when the truth hurts, and then to take away the hurt before it scars.

And, most importantly, to take delight in seeing your son evolve as the type of dad beyond your own comprehension.

You see, unlike him, I have coached. I have led the college tour circuit from state to state. I am a whiz at homework help and can even pull off the occasional cardigan. I riotously cheer from the stands and from the sidelines. I can paint a room, wield a hammer and even help sell Girl Scout cookies. And I can jump rope and hopscotch with the best of them.

You see, that seismic change from “me” to “them” (and really “us”) was there from my start. My father had instilled that sense of something bigger than myself within me. He had no father in his life… I had a dad bigger than life. And that prepared me for that ground-shaking shift to fatherhood.

Life changes in profound ways when you have kids. Parenthood makes everything feel bigger and smaller, louder and softer, happier and scarier all the time. It’s a topsy and turvy existence as if you fell through a rabbit hole and ended up in place where you’re always chasing time. Chasing time so you can slow it to a crawl and make every second and minute count.

But from the time I was small, I knew fatherhood was my calling. And that’s because of my dad. I saw it in his eyes every time he looked at me. That sense of purpose and the unbridled wonder of it all.

And if I’ve given to my daughters even a small amount of what my father has given to me, one day, I know they’ll understand what every parent sees each and every time they look into their child’s eyes. The stars, the moon and the infinite possibilities of a trillion lifetimes.

(as appearing on The Washington Post Parenting site :
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2016/03/21/107-days-until-my-she-graduates-from-college-heres-why-that-numbers-significant/

As I write this, there are 107 days until my daughter graduates from college. So will nearly two million other young adults. But, for me, this number of days holds so much significance. Because it is the same number of days that my daughter spent in the neonatal intensive care unit before she came home. What once seemed impossible is not only possible, it’s real.

One hundred and seven days. Over 9 million seconds, 154,000 minutes. Staggering numbers for a child born at 24 and a half weeks, 715 grams. It seems it’s been a numbers game since the day she was born. The question I have asked since that first of those 107 days: will the numbers add up to a life well lived?

The odds were against her. The issues, from possible brain bleeds to cerebral palsy, blindness, learning disabilities. The percentages of micro-preemies that don’t survive. The number of children needing lifetime medical care and support. Numbers after numbers stacked against us, against her.

There was constant discussion of the numbers. Watching monitors, examining charts, the daily onslaught of medical statistics. The ongoing shifting levels in oxygen, lipids, fluid intakes, a virtual statistical algorithm that never seemed to add up in our favor, her favor. How do you calculate the future?

In 107 days, she will graduate from college.

More than 21 years ago, would I have ever thought to entertain that notion, say those words? I put my faith in miracles and modern medicine, believing we could beat the odds. Beat them into submission. Every minute an eternity, every second one more hurdle. Decisions at every corner of the NICU. How much to fight and when to give in. To never give in.

Scores of doctors and nurses, rehabilitation therapists and physician assistants moving in and out of her life day in, day out. Committed and concerned, they could buoy your beliefs and deflate your dreams in a single morning. A catastrophic brain bleed mistakenly diagnosed. Heart medicine to close a valve not what the doctor ordered so surgery at five weeks. A rollercoaster ride with seemingly no end.

And then there is that moment when she doesn’t wake up for days after surgery. When you pin a doctor against a wall at 2 a.m. pouring out your anger, frustration, fears and hopes in a single invective that rails against the possible dying of the light. Exhausted physically, emotionally, financially with seemingly nothing more to give. And it all seems bleak and barren and broken. When dreams seem to dissolve and dissipate.

But suddenly, when the seconds, minutes and days seem like a blur, she opens her eyes. And you see the resolve, the tenacity and the will in someone not yet weighing two pounds. Who is a featherweight champ fighting a heavyweight fight. Who is ready. Who is ready for something bigger than we ever could have imagined.

And the seconds, minutes and hours move faster and faster as this tiny person leads you toward home. As she tips the seesaw in her direction. As she opens her tired eyes and transforms those tiny incremental numbers into something solid, something tangible. As the numbers add up and one man, one woman and one child become a family of three.

And then 107 days later, one day before her actual due date, frightened and excited husband and wife will cautiously take that one step from that NICU toward the elevator, down to the lobby and out the hospital doors. With a child bundled in blankets of joy and love as she makes the journey home with her parents at the wheel.

In 107 days, she will graduate from college, and we will watch our 21-year old daughter walk across the stage, clutching her diploma and beginning the next stage of this remarkable life. Over 9 million seconds and 154,000 minutes from now. With no limitations, only the expectations she has for herself.

Four years of liberal arts learning about the world and herself will have led to the first of many milestone moments. The strength incubated in those 107 days in that NICU isolette has prepared her for new chapters, new worlds.

But this time, as we watch those 107 days fade into the past, and we prepare for that final ride from campus to home, she will be in the driver’s seat. The open road within her sight and the infinite expanse of the universe awaiting the next 107 days, months and hopefully years of her life.

(as published in Your Teen for parents Magazine, March/April 2016

When Parenting Styles Conflict

“Dad, can you drive me to Lisa’s house? Have to be there in ten.”

“Sure. Let me get my keys.”

As I open the garage door, thundering, urgent feet resound above my head.

“Where are you going?”

“I’m taking Kate to Lisa’s house. She has to be there in five.”

“I said she couldn’t go unless she picked up her clothes from the bathroom floor. She’s playing you again. Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!”

And so it begins again. Two parents divided by one child. Opposing sides within the privacy of our four walls. No winners in a no-win game.

Teenagers have you coming and going time and again. Urban guerillas in skinny jeans and high tops, they unconsciously (consciously) work the schisms, large and small, between parents to gain advantage. And while parents often remain fortified in joint resolve, one’s ability to continuously negotiate and mitigate the damage can fracture a marriage.

I get it. As of child of parents who were never on the same page or reading from the same book, my siblings and I quickly understood that dad’s “yes” meant mom’s “no,” and vice versa We were off to race our bikes (or the movies) as they argued about the whos, whys and hows.

And it got worse. Once divorced, we did the math… division multiplied the ways we could win, and win big. Two homes… two sets of rules. You’re always on spring break when the marriage lies broken apart. Because what’s left when you can’t agree on what’s right for your kids?

When our children are babies, daily baths and dreaming of a rosy future keep cooing parents perfectly in sync. But as time moves on, and children enter their hormonal teens, diapering and daily naps evaporate into frantic discussions about when they can drive the car and whom they may date.

My wife and I… we see the big picture. We check and double check on our agreed-to checklist of what is right, and what is wrong. We check with each other before finalizing any big decisions. Face to face… in texts… on the phone… day in, day out. And most of time, we have peaceful nights on our peaceful lane.

But all it takes is an umpteenth request to drop off, pick up and clean up a sleepover mess from our it’s-all-about-me 14-year old and… what makes our house a home suddenly leaves hairline cracks in our foundation.

Suddenly, it’s…

Didn’t I know my daughter just went to the mall yesterday?
Why did I get hoodwinked into driving four of her friends all over?
Why do I need to always be so likeable?
Who raised me… wolves?

The last question sets off heated discussions about parenting style and substance well into the night. Suddenly, we are like two clan members fighting over ancestral moral territory that neither of us really cares to defend. While our teenage daughter softly slumbers, dreaming of Shawn Mendes and Ray-Bans, we are left existentially exhausted in a king-sized bed torn asunder.

It’s so funny. We seem so in tune. Treat our child badly and we’re steadfast allies taking no prisoners. Medical emergency? We are a well-trained triage team moving in perfect unison. Boyfriend troubles? Mom heals a broken heart while dad runs to Baskin-Robbins to soothe the wound.

But in seizing the role of good cop, have I forced my wife into the unwanted role of suburban shrew? We are both nurturing, honest and funny; homebodies who love being with our teenage daughters for dinner or open discussions.

But our high-school and college-age daughters see the fundamental differences in our personalities and parenting styles. My “don’t worry, be happy” attitude. My wife’s common-sense, firmer approach. My extroverted exuberance. Her introverted resiliency. Her strengths. My strengths. Our strengths, and our weaknesses.

So maybe next time I’ll text my wife before I drive my daughter… better to be safely aligned than have to say you’re sorry.

As featured on the Good Men Project.

http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/bernie-sanders-is-a-muggle-wat/

To the generation who grew up mesmerized and transfixed by the magical, mystical world of Harry Potter, and who now flood the webosphere with incantations, clearly under an intoxicating revolutionary spell, I unfortunately need to let you in on a secret… Bernie Sanders is a Muggle.

Even with the glowing white locks of Professor Dumbledore and the sage pontifications of a wizened wizard as old as time, he possesses no potions or mandrake root to end all the ills and vices brought on by the Dark Lord (aka Lloyd Blankfein) and his evil corporate followers at Goldman Sachs. He cannot just wave his wand of phoenix feathers and make the middle class rise and the “1%” fall.

He’s just like you and me, an ordinary person living in a world where 24/7 newsfeed fears frighten us. And while as a president, he can propose how to spend trillions of dollars on what he desires for the American people – free healthcare, free public college – Fort Knox is not Gringotts. College debt cannot be replaced with governmental insolvency. We cannot overtax and over promise to leave our country under water.

Enthusiasm is exhilarating and just like Hogwarts’ students standing eagerly at King’s Cross Station, we should all be excited about a future that waits beyond the wall. We should all want to break down the walls of racism and xenophobia, greed and middle-aged complacency. But just like a box of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, with the sweet can also come the bitter… the bitter taste of disappointment from unrealized legislation or budgetary shortfalls.

It’s easy to hate bumbling bureaucrats and authoritative technocrats that stagnate and stall progress. Umbridges and Fudges who feed off the status quo. Who restrict and constrict in an effort to maintain established power. Regular people with regulatory power.

But I have tell you… Bernie Sanders is one of those bureaucrats. Most of his career has been spent in the deathly hallowed halls of governmental edifices and sitting on committee after committee. He is part and parcel of the governmental juggernaut he continues to rail against.

To foster innovation, promote learning and protect our freedoms, it will take more than revolutionary recriminations and a cave inimicum spell to keep enemies from our shores. It will take real leadership and global experience.

I would like to believe hipsters in skinny jeans fueled by shouts of “Incendio!” will set a fire under Middle America orthodoxy… but what will rise from the ashes of a ruined, bloated economy? Not sure “feeling the bern” will feel all that good for tens of millions of Americans working good corporate jobs and sending their children off to college, public and private.

No invisibility cloak will protect us from the realities of downsizing and outsourcing. It will take collective, practical solutions to address this global problem. Slaying political dragons is one thing… decimating the Affordable Care Act is another. For a generation used to downloading free music and apps, the best things in life aren’t always free. Everyone has to pay in the end.

So I leave you with this… it’s okay that Bernie is a Muggle like you and me. Ordinary citizens can do extraordinary things. A boy scarred by life’s injustices and circumstance can change the world. Good can triumph over evil polluters and foreign despots. There is always magic in the making.

But we don’t need magical thinking to make magic happen. Flowery rhetoric is not the same as results. To make things grow, to identify concrete paths to solve everyday problems, to keep those death-panel eaters from taking the White House, we may just need a Muggle with the brains, tenacity and common-sense answers we’ve been looking for.

And as any Harry Potter fan knows, that’s Hermione. Need I say more?

 

Chinese Food Container

Four teenage girls piled into my car, clad in their Mario Brothers matching outfits – one set of green, one set red. The ritual of Halloween parties and trick-or-treating (more of a coming together of suburban teenage texters and tweeters) now officially over, the girls with their straightened hair and braces-less shiny white teeth Snapchatted and Instagrammed about where the fun would continue. Diners and peoples’ dens were all up for discussion.

“Dad, we’re hungry. Can we order Chinese?”

“No candy? Your bags look empty. I figured you’d be sugared out.”

“Dad, nobody trick or treats anymore. It’s not like we’re in middle school.”

My daughter put me in my place… which was chauffeur to the future coeds of America.

“What does everyone want? I have the restaurant on speed dial?”

(My daughter has the Chinese take-out on speed dial? She doesn’t even have me on speed dial.)

The orders flew through the car. Sesame Chicken. Lo Mein. Egg Rolls. More Sesame Chicken. It was a smorgasbord and I was footing (or should I say, careening toward) the bill).

Off we flew to the restaurant, as the girls megaphoned every song, volume be damned, they heard on the radio. I surrendered my debit card, picked up the bags (yes, bags of food) and off we went, full throttle toward home.

“Dad, do you mind if some boys come by for Chinese? They don’t want to go to the diner.”

“Okay, did you text mom?”

“All done, she said it is up to you.” (Game, set, match to my wife.)

“Will there be enough food?”

(There was enough food for most of the neighborhood and then some, but the Jewish father in me asked – God forbid, we didn’t have enough food.)

“Not a problem, dad. We are set. And thanks for doing this. You’re the best!”

Thanks… Best… I was in heaven. All it took were those long eyelashes, dimples and a few kind words and I would have flown my daughter and her friends to China first class clad in the latest from Abercrombie. I was a sucker when I was being sucked up to.

Suddenly emboldened and feeling like one of the Luigi and Mario party of freshman fillies, I made my way into the conversation.

“So, is Lisa still going out with Brent?”

Screech… You could hear a pin drop. The glare coming from the seat next to me abruptly took me from World’s Best Dad to the daddy dungeon. I had crossed the line from being cool to being iced out. The silence was more deafening than the suburban woods at night.

As we pulled into the driveway, and the girls made their way of the car, my daughter lingered, her big brown eyes locked on the side of my head.

“What were you thinking?”

“I just asked a question. I’ve known all those girls since they were five.”

“You cannot talk about anyone, dating, boys, girls, clothes, parties, anything now that I am in high school. No questions in front of my friends. It is so… icky.”

As she walked through the garage into the house, I sat there for a minute. When had I become icky? We always talk about everything and anything. Always a daddy’s girl… when did my being her favorite pop go flat? Had I walked into an adolescent twilight zone known as high school?

I stumbled into the house, playing bits of the car ride over and over in my head. My wife, who had created a virtual Chinese buffet of coordinated cutlery and plates in the kitchen, was waiting for me in the living room.

“What did you say? She just got me in the bathroom.”

“I just asked about two of her friends. I think I put my foot in it. I think she hates me.”

“She doesn’t hate you. I got the head nod, which meant leave the kitchen at once. No talking, no opening of cartons, no napkin folding.”

“What should we do now? Should we leave? Where’s the closest exit?”

My wife and I made our way up to our bedroom. The days of tea parties and tinker toys were over. Dress-up now involved heels and mascara from the mall, not crinkly polyester costumes from the Disney Store. Hand holding was meant for teenaged boys who suddenly had grown taller than the girls. It was time to let go, not time for “Let It Go.”

About an hour later, as we heard the last opening and closing of the garage doors, my daughter slipped into our room lit only by the TV screen. She had come upstairs for her toothbrush, the other girls already ensconced in the guest room downstairs for a night of no sleep and hopefully no drama.

“Just wanted to let you know we cleaned up. About to go downstairs.”

“Okay. Don’t stay up too late. Try and get some sleep.”

“Will do… and by the way, thanks for everything. We all really appreciate it. My friends think you’re the best!”

And that was worth more than its weight in egg rolls.

watching-tv

Chugging along on the elliptical, seeming to go nowhere yet moving as fast as I could, I didn’t hear the familiar voice calling my name.

“What’s going on? You look like you’ve dropped some pounds.”

“Yep. Trying to get to the gym every day. Not always so easy. Work is crazy. Kids’ practices drive me crazy. But not complaining… at least the economy is doing well.”

Are you kidding? Obama is destroying everything. Last year, we had to pay $20,000 more in taxes. I mean, we had a phenomenal year. But if I had known we had to pay more taxes, we wouldn’t have gone on vacation six times. We definitely would have rethought that last trip. I mean,  say goodbye Copenhagen! Damn Obama!”

Before I could answer or close my mouth agape in moral disbelief, I noticed Fox News glaring at me from the front of my friend’s elliptical. As if they were x-raying my left-leaning ideological soul. Perpetually on and ready to arm my friend with all the facts and figures, however twisted, that could hurl me across the gym and into the liberal primordial soup that was obviously clogging my arteries and brain.

Making haste to my high intensity training class where I would be required to squat as low as possible without tumbling head first into the wall, I reflected on the frightening absurdity of my previous conversation. Was our President possibly the greatest ogre in history because someone clearly able to take six mega-vacations in one year could have been forced to miss some overpriced salmon in the land of Hans Christian Andersen?

Or rather couldn’t the argument be made that those six pricey jaunts from the shores of France to the Caribbean required a fruit basket and a handwritten note forthwith to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for the 17,000+ Dow?

Throughout our suburban landscape, politics rear their left, right and libertarian heads in the stands, on the courts and on grocery and Starbucks lines. A cacophonous political debate that divides those split-level neighbors on every and any issue open to discussion and discourse. Getting the mail? It’s the nuclear agreement with Iran and Val-Pak. Shoveling the snow again? Let’s pile on our thoughts about climate change. Selecting a paint color? Hey, it’s all about choice.

The more I listen, the more I’m amazed that I live in an enclave of opinionated hyperbole and college-educated hysteria. Doesn’t matter what side of the street or aisle you sit on. There’s no middle in the middle of our suburban cul de sacs.

Republican friends argue vehemently against gun control while demanding greater fiscal control and controlling our borders. Forget that they were once stoned out of their heads on acid listening to Jeff Beck. Now it’s the world according to Glenn Beck and his chalkboard of xenophobic criticism. Forget the sixties. They are now approaching their ‘60s, and it’s time to lipo the fat from themselves and the federal government.

Democrats stand firm on unfettered abortion rights and the universal right to marry whomever you love wherever you want. But park too close to their overpriced car at Whole Foods and they turn into limousine liberals from hell. Forget the masses when there is overpriced fruit and vegetables on sale… picked by those illegal immigrants who you supposedly champion.

Both sides go at it at morning Pilates and during nighttime commutes home. On social media and at social events, storming off with a click or into their sports cars. And they back up every verbal volley (gleaned from their favorite pundits) as they trade backhands at weekly tennis.

Just tell someone on the other side you are supporting Hillary or Chris Christie (or Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, even Trump) and the proverbial gloves come off. It’s war (just not in Iran or Syria, please).

Hillary killed those people in Benghazi. What has she done in her career? She sold Israel under the bus. It will just be the Mr. Bill Show all over again!”

“Christie is a bully. New Jersey is in worse condition than ever. Have you heard of Bridgegate? And who needed Obama to bail him out when Hurricane Sandy hit?”

And while I am not surprised by the unbridled tenor and lack of timidity that enter our public discourse, I am baffled by the transformative and metamorphic evolution of my neighbors and friends. People who lost sight of the other side when they acquired their piece of the rock (or a big rock on their finger). I mean, how can you rail against the Affordable Care Act when Planned Parenthood was your main source of birth control during college?

Why can’t we love our neighbors even when our neighbors drone on about the use of drones in an MSNBC or Fox News trance? Why can’t we love our God’s little ½-acre without denying the climate is changing?

‘Cause what’s left when you always have to be right?

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