1/8 Mile

A runner no more–at least not now. From my freshman year in high school through my late 30s I thought of myself as a runner. One of my many facets. As late as age 37 I ran a 5k averaging better than 7:40 per mile. No land speed record but respectable.

Fast forward to this past Sunday. I formally gave up running for biking four years ago due to back problems. But I had just bought a new pair of running shoes and wanted to see what kind of shape I am in. The Scene: Running track at the local high school. Just me and a quarter mile oval. Warmed up by walking a lap. Too cocky to stretch.

The gun sounds and they are off. Half way around the oval am huffing and puffing as if I ran 2 marathons. My back aches. A lot of good the biking has done. I decide I cannot stop now but I am allergic to sharp pain. What to do?

Eight times around the track. 1/8 mile jogging, 1/8 mile walking. Eight times around. 2 miles. This sucks.

More to come. I have promised myself that.

Small Things Are Small

Don’t make something a big annoyance when it is truly small. There are enough big things in the world to get angry/frustrated about. The equivalent of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. I adopted this philosophy years ago and for a long while it served me well. Lately however, everything remotely negative bothers me. I hate it.

I hit bottom on Sunday over 13 cents. Yes, 13 cents.

I went to a store to exchange 2 shirts for a different size. Exactly the same shirts. In the old days before the introduction of advanced technology to help stores track inventory, the clerk would have taken the old shirts out of the bag, put the new ones in, wished me well and sent me on my merry way. Instead the clerk had to “return’ the large shirts and I repurchased the medium ones. As I reached for the bag to take my shirts and go the guy said “thirteen cents”.  He took in the stunned expression on my face and repeated “thirteen cents”. It turned out that this branch of a big box sporting goods was in a higher sales tax town than where I had originally bought the shirts.

No amount of debating skill could dissuade my new nemesis from his chants of 13 cents/sales tax. Over and over he repeated those words. I left the store muttering and angry. Fortunately it was a 60 degree day in late November in Chicago. I did my Yoga breathing –no, not really — and went on to enjoy the day.

Small things are small.

I Played Hookey

I did not go to work last Friday. I took my first nonweekend day off in five months. I do not count the day I took for the Jewish holiday during which I fasted and atoned for my sins. That was work of a different kind.

No, on Friday I declared a real vacation day and called my friend Paul to see if he could come out and play. Paul and I had had a tradition of seeing the latest Bond movies as soon as they came out. It was time to renew that tradition.

Not only did Paul move some appointments so we could play he added the very excellent idea of shooting pool for a couple of hours before the movie. In beautiful downtown Chicago there is a theater that also has a Lucky Strike bowling alley and pool hall inside. Is this a great country or what!

Pool, spending time with a good friend and the best James Bond movie in many a year. What a great afternoon.

A Special Bat Mitzvah

On Saturday night we attended the bat mitzvah of our friend’s daughter. In several ways this Jewish right of passage into adulthood was like many others but then there were layers of subtext.

At a basic level, friends and family gathered at the synagogue to listen to the bat mitzvah girl lead the service, read from the bible and give a speech about her bible portion. After the service there was a party with drinks, hors d’oeurvres, dancing and dinner. Yet in significant ways this was different than many of the others I have experienced.

First, there was THE SMILE. Michelle beamed. Her smile was so wide, so bright, so full of life and joy and it came so naturally. It lit up the room. She radiated confidence and performed gracefully. There was the cantor with the operatic voice. The rabbi with the calming, steady tone. The voice that at the same time spoke with wisdom, truthfulness and a a dash of humor. His remarks about the service added knowledge and his remarks about the family added pathos.

The back story of this family is both tragic and uplifting. Michelle and her older brother lost their mother and my friend lost his wife and soul mate about three and a half years ago after a long illness. Jean was quite a character. She was fun, quite the drinker in her youth (they met at a bar), warm, engaging driven, devoted to her family and tough as nails. Two quick Jean stories. As I was one of the last of my friends to get married and start my own family, I would often show up at events with friends alone. Jean never failed to make me feel like a part of her family. Then there was the time we were playing miniature golf with the kids who could not have been more than 3 at the time. Someone was careless and hit a ball onto our putting green which rolled past her son. Instantly Jean charges off club in hand very loudly giving the errant couple a piece of her mind and ensuring the safety of her children on that course for generations to come.

Jean and my friend complemented each other like few couples you will ever meet. He is one of the nicest, sweetest, and friendliest people in the world. In our early adult years he would have story after story about the person he struck up a conversation with on the bus, street or bar. Organized…not so much. Jean filled in places for him and he for her.

Since the day she died, he has done everything, sacrificed everything for this children and done a phenomenal job. They are both good kids, bright with good friends and just generally doing very well.

Jean’s spirit was there Saturday night. She left a legacy. Two great young people. And oh that SMILE.

51 and Counting

One of life’s little moments on a puddle jumper to beautiful Canton Ohio.

I had an aisle seat and the elderly man across from me kept talking to the woman in front of me. Being the mench that I try to be I offered my seat to the woman asking if she would prefer to sit across from her husband. I was taken aback when she firmly said NO until she informed me that she was sitting next to her grandchild who she found to be much better company than her husband.

He the regaled me with the story that they have been married for 51 years and…as he paused…he would do it allover again. If that line had been on TV or in a movie I would have gagged. He was sincere and quite happy.

P.S. Just when I thought nothing more could happen on a trip to Canton, I witnessed 20 or so people greet three soldiers in uniform returning home. It was quite the evening.

Emotions and the Rational Man

In my post college young adult years I believed in rational man. While I laughed, cried, got angry, etc. for the most part I believed that dealing thoughtfully and logically with people and events would lead to the right outcome. Disagreements could be worked out rationally. There was no useful place for strong emotions. They just got in the way. It might have been the B-school training. It might have been working in a public accounting firm. (For the record, I was not a working accountant). Of course it might just have been me — making me someone who would likely go to B school and work in a public accounting firm.

While I practiced this philosophy in my life generally, I was certain that it applied at work. Work was where you went to do the job. In my case that meant crunching a bunch of numbers, learning some “cool” regulations and coming up with clever solutions to present to clients. Just the facts, ma’am.

An article in the Wall Street Journal about emotions in the workplace reawakened memories of my journey beyond  rational man. The article discussed the need for leaders to harness emotions in business and to understand the power of the emotional messages they send. Though it was later in my career that I heard the phrase “capturing the hearts and minds of employees” I intuitively learned this lesson as I progressed into greater levels of responsibility at work and began to mature as a person.

It may be helpful to know that I consult with companies about how they pay people. Few things in life are more personal that pay. I eventually learned how important it is to connect with my clients on an emotional level in order for them to better accept my rational work. As I began to manage people I also came to recognize that my people had a need and desire to be encouraged and congratulated when they are doing a good job. When they need correction I am most effective when my approach recognizes their humanity.

I learned what to do and what not to do from the best. One of my first managers called me in to review a report I had drafted. As I worked through the doorway, my report came flying towards me followed by the words, “this is a piece of shit”. A different manager took the time to help me prepare for my part of a big client presentation, made sure that the client knew what my contributions to the project had been and bought me a congratulatory drink after the meeting. For one of these people I would walk through walls to do what needed to be done. The other got my minimal efforts. Guess which one was which.

I believe that I have also evolved beyond pure rational man in my non-work life. I suspect that my wife and son might say that I am generally at one end of the continuum or the other. Too much rational or pure emotion. People that know me casually  probably see me as quiet, relatively unemotional. My friends get to experience more of the range. But we can explore this further in another post.

Joys of Business Travel

I travel to some fascinating places for work. Today was Washington DC. Problem is that I was in and out in a day. Woke up at 4:30 to stand in a long security line before catching an an early plane. Stand in taxi line, get to client, work for 6 hours, sit in traffic back to the airport, miss scheduled flight, eat bad airport food, get home at 10. The thing is that I do this several times a month. Wish I got to see some of the cities I visit. Washington is one of my favs.

In the could be worse category, at least I was not one of the people at O’Hare waiting to go somewhere as I was heading home. The place was packed. One 40ish couple commandeered some floor space, stretched out and fell asleep. I need to carry a camera with me. The image was priceless.

I did get home in time to talk baseball with my son  before he went to sleep (Cubs resigned Ramirez and Woods). Sleep sounds good. My turn now.

Friday Nights Bite

Friday nights have been hard for a long time now. I am typically exhausted by the end of the workweek. I often leave late, the traffic is bad, tonight it was raining…you get the picture. On top of that most Fridays for the last two months my wife has had other plans and my son is always with friends.

Most Fridays I come home, eat and crash in front of the TV. Not much life.

On the plus side, now I get to post. I must admit I am feeling better already. Looking forward to the rest of the weekend. Sleep, exercise and time with my son is on the agenda. Life can be good.

Being a Parent of a Teen is Hard

I have a son. I think I was a reasonably good parent until he was 11 or so but I have not figured out how to make it work since then. He turns 16 in a couple of months. He is basically a good, bright kid. But Agggghhhhhh..

Without any further explanation any parent of a teenage boy knows exactly what I mean.

Personal Freedoms and Choices

To get my 15 year old son to think and read about things other than sports — mostly baseball — I have had him pick out an article from the front section of the newspaper. We then discuss what he reads. Last Sunday’s the article connected to a number of thoughts.

Peering beyond Muslim veil in Britain describes how many Muslim women in the UK are choosing to wear a Niqab, a veil that covers all but the eyes. Is this the medieval manifestation of female subjugation or a religious practice? Tony Blair and other political leaders were denouncing the practice. It seems they are worried about the lack of integration into British society and possible radicalism among the Muslim population. Given the subway bombings of the not too distant past who can argue? And yet the woman interviewed was not interesting in converting all to her belief. It was a strongly held personal choice that connected her more closely to her god. What possibly can be wrong with that? Given piercings, colored hair, torn jeans and provocative dress, personally I think I can adjust to someone wearing a niqab.

Same weekend, Friday night, saw the play Inherit the Wind. Loosely based on the scopes monkey trial at which the right to teach evolution in the schools was at trial. (Who would have guesses that almost 100 years later we continue to have the evolution vs. intelligent design debate?) So, what is the main point of the play. Choice. Freedom. The right of one belief system — strict interpretation of the Bible — to make criminal another belief system. Even one based on rational thought and scientific evidence. Is this truly a question of choice? Can we allow anyone to hold a particular belief, share it with others, as long as it causes no harm to those nonbelievers? Or is their a right and wrong. At the end of the play the Hero, the lawyer playing the Clarence Darrow role, quotes from the bible to a cynical journalist. I interpreted this to mean that he had respect for at least part of the other point of view.

To me these two stories intersected on the issues of personal choice and freedoms. On the day that Democrats retook congress and Rumsfeld resigned, it felt apropos to share these thoughts.