Note Passing In Class: 21st Century Style

I am in a business meeting with 4 other people. At one point two start giggling. They were emailing each other from one end of the table to the other about nothing that had to do with our meeting.

Some people never leave high school…but their technology gets better.


I do not make New Years resolutions. I never keep them and if I need to do something better or stop doing something I am not the type that needs an artificial start date.

However, before the holidays the word Generosity popped into my head. I resolved to consider this as a resolution. I decided to try it out without announcing it to anyone but myself and see how well I do. I am failing so far. Thankfully there are 49 weeks left in this year and, hopefully, many years left in my life to get this right.

So, what do I mean by generosity? Certainly the monetary definition holds. I will try to contribute to charities at least at the same level I have in the past despite the damage done to my retirement portfolio.

There is also generosity of time. Especially as it relates to my son who will leave for college in the fall I want to give as much time as he will take. I will also for the rest of my life need to make time for my autistic sister who is not dealing well with the death of our mother and needs as much family time as possible. I need to find more time with my wife. It will be just the two of us in the house starting next year and we should start finding more things to do together now. The other time issue will be others who may need a moment or an afternoon or even a day of my time that will make their lives better. Figuring out where this time will come from given a fairly packed schedule will be challenging.

However important money and time are I believe they pale in comparison to generosity of spirit. By this I mean being more aware of what and how I say things to people as well as how I interpret their words and actions. It also means sharing emotions which I often keep bottled up. This facet of generosity will be the most difficult for me. I find that I am programmed to respond to certain people and circumstances based on years of history. I am short or condescending to people including people I care about–especially people I care about. A scientific 6 week study of ME has revealed that even though I am aware of the desire to be generous of spirit I often fell into familiar traps. I liken it to having one of those out-of -body experiences in which I hover over my self and watch myself speak in ways I know are wrong. Good thing that I am perfect in all other ways!

So I have decided to go public with this Generosity thing so others can hold me accountable as part of my plot to be successful with this endeavor.

I am also offering it up to the rest of the world.  Generosity of spirit, time and money could go a long way to making this a better place to live.

Mid-January Observations

Many will remember  the week from January 18-24 as the week of  The Inauguration.  Big  Crowds, Big Event, Big History. Followed by the First Days In Office. Others will remember another week of dreary, bitter cold winter weather.

I did not get to see the events in Washington on Tuesday. Nor was I drawn to them. I am not much of a Big Events guy but I love the day-to day sightings of life.

This is what I noticed this past week.

Monday was Martin Luther King Day. For me it was a rare day in which I would work in our downtown office as opposed to the suburban hinterland that is my workhome most days.  For kids and many parents it was a day off.

The doors to the parking garage elevator were closing when I heard steps and at the last moment I determined to hold the door for them. That burst of  basic urban etiquette brought  a Monday morning treat. A man and his 5 year old daughter entered. She was a cute little girl with an angelic face and curly blond hair. The treat was being able to observe these two for the length of a 4 floor elevator ride. He was talking about how they needed to stop in his office and then he would take her to breakfast. She did not care about breakfast. She was looking  up at him with that adoring  gaze that girls of that age give to fathers. It is a gaze from a world in a vastly different dimension than the world of teenagers–boys at least. I hope the dad enjoyed the moment as much as I did.

On Tuesday, like millions I had an opportunity to observe a  a tall, strong, African American take charge. In my case this person was female and a board member of a relatively new client of mine. I had met this woman briefly one time but had no sense of her. She is highly intelligent,  thoughtful, purposeful and as ready to listen as to state her opinion. I was very impressed and look forward to working with her more.

On Friday morning I was at the Drury Inns in Chesterfield, Mo. I was leaving the lobby after partaking of the breakfast buffet. As the elevator doors opened– it was my week for elevator encounters– out walks this woman followed milliseconds later by her Great Dane. Rumor has it that the dog ate the man who came by to tell the woman of the motel’s no pets policy.

Friday night I saw the look on my son’s face as he entered his friend David’s house to find 20 friends and his parents yelling surprise. We were celebrating his 18th birthday. His  look of surprise rivaled mine the moment I realized that I have an 18 year old child.

Saturday morning was another single digit Chicago winter morning. Instead of my usual sleeping in I met a client for breakfast which led to three observations.

First, is the Drake Hotel where my client is staying. The Drake is one of those old elegant hotels from a long ago time that has managed to survive and thrive. It is known for the Cape Cod restaurant and the magnificent view of Oak Street Beach, one of the city’s finest. I love the old world style of this hotel and while I pass it frequently I had not been inside for years.

On my drive home on Lake Shore Drive I get to see much of Lincoln Park. What I noticed most on this early morning with a temperature of 5 degrees and a wind chill well below zero was the number of runners out on my favorite running path. There were the people running by themselves but I was more drawn to a group of 6 that were talking, even laughing as they ran. A group takes coordination and commitment and, in this weather, a touch of insanity. In my running days, about 15 years and more ago, I would run outside as long as the temps were 20+. I found anything colder to be too painful. And yet here these people were.

Lastly, I needed salt to melt the several inches thick ice on the steps leading to our front door. As I walked through Home Depot I realized that a very small percentage of people dress to go to the Drake and then find themselves hauling 50 pound bags of salt at the hardware store.

A big/little thing I did enjoy this week was hearing the phrase “President Obama”.

2 A.M. (Part I)

 Part I of a novella about I an hour I rarely visit.

The wee hours of the morning are not my hours. I do not stay up to see them nor wake up that early. Most nights I am asleep by 11—midnight if it is not a “school” night.

So why when on vacation—for me,a time to catch up on sleep not a time to go wild — was I staring 2 am in the face twice in three nights? It all comes down to family.

Night One

I snore—or so I am told. Snorers never see, or hear, the evidence of their crime. At home when this occurs I am punched, shaken or both until I roll over and stop or one of us escapes to the extra bedroom. On vacation I disturb/annoy/cause to keep awake two family members not just one there is no extra room to escape to. We were packed on that night in two “queen” beds that were the size of twins and I was—or so I am told—particularly loud. Fortunately my wife rejected my son’s idea of putting a pillow over my head. (His intent was to muffle the sound not to end it permanently in that One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest way.)

In general I am the flexible one in the family meaning that I will do what is necessary to make things work. It is by no means universally true but I have allowed it to become my role. I am the one most likely to bend, to be the round peg fitting into the square peg so that we can move on. But I digress. ( Frequent readers have likely noticed that I like to digress and follow tangents rather than just tell a story from start to finish. Someday I will blog about my maternal grandmother Kate. As a young adult in my 20s and 30s I would have long conversations with her consisting of her talking for 30 -40 minutes and me saying ye or uh-hu every so often. She would start with a question but rather than wait for an answer she would explore every available tangent to the question and/or possible answer until I would lose track of the original question. But not Kate. She would always end up back where she started. It was an amazing superpower. But I digress further.)

So here it was Sunday night, our second on vacation. We had had a great day but it was turning into a difficult night. I snored loudly and frequently despite being shaken and stirred. After absorbing much whining, all justified, I wordlessly took my book and went out on the terrace where there were two chairs and a light. My unspoken thought was to give them the opportunity to fall asleep. Beyond that I had no plan.

It was 2 am. 2 became 3 and then 4. I experienced the relative quiet of the resort at those hours. I was surprised that even at those hours there would be the occasional clomping sound of someone crossing the wooden bridges that led from the pool area to the rooms.

Sitting out on the balcony over time I became more and more chilled. By 4 am I was downright cold. I went into the room to put on a sweater. To my surprise while my son was fast asleep, my wife was wide awake.. She was worried about me. All that time I thought I sacrificing and it was for naught.

4 AM. Time for sleep.

Until the next 2 AM encounter.

You Know It Is Cold When…

You land in a city where the temperature is 12 degrees and that is 20 degrees warmer than where you left.

You Have Your Toe To Think About

If I only had a dollar for every time I heard someone say those words.

As those words hung in the air I knew I had to contemplate and then write about this unusual collection of letters and words. But what to say?

The back story is rather prosaic if not a bit embarrassing. I occasionally stub my toe. I guess that I do not always pick up my feet when I walk. Over the course of a year this might happen 3-4 times. And yet…

An epidemic occurred while on my vacation, while beach walking. In all at least half a dozen times. On one walk alone it happened 4 times. Same big toe on my left foot. It hurt, though not as much as the blow to my ego when at the third time on this walk the stub was instantaneously followed by a face first fall onto the beach…in front of three startled kids who had been working on a sand castle immediately to the left of where I hit sand. Another toe foot over I would have crushed them and destroyed the castle in one fantastic act of the ridiculously clumsy (I am contemplating starting a club of the RC as we will be called).

While wiping the sand off in the ocean, my mind was overwhelmed with two thoughts. First I could not rid myself of the image of the concerned mother of the children who in an excited voice either came over to see if I was OK or to yell at me for nearly destroying her family. It was hard to tell because she spoke in one of the many languages of the world I do not speak. The second was that I still had half a mile to go while dealing with a sore toe and the desire to remain vertical.

After returning to my lounge chair on the beach and going horizontal by choice, I began debating the merits of the words stubbed and jammed. Stubbing one’s toe conjures images of being clumsy and pathetic while one jams their toe in some act of manly athleticism.

I digress. I told you that the back story was prosaic.

It truly was the words and not what led to them that I find interesting. It must be the uniqueness of the combination. Or the image of toe contemplations similar to the navel contemplations of the 1960s.

All I know is when those words floated across the warm air from my wife’s beach chair to mine I felt that these would be words I would always remember. And probably never hear again.

Bob And Elvis


Two men.

One I have known since second grade (45 years ago), was best man at my wedding, ate ribs at his home when we were kids, shared countless growing up experiences from adolescents to teens to young men to middle age, and even had his dad and my mom spend much of their lives together.

The other  was the King of Rock and Roll. Yes, that Elvis.

I have celebrated the birthday of one of these two every year for decades. The rest of the world has celebrated the other’s. It is talked about in the papers on radio and and TV. (You can guess which is which.)

For some odd reason it only hit me this year that January 8 is the day for both Bob and Elvis–listed in order of importance to me though I am a huge fan of the King of Rock and Roll.

I did not have time to fly to Memphis this year to weep at Elvis’ grave.  I did call all 3 of Bob’s phone numbers and left birthday wishes.

The even stranger twist to all of this is that now I realize that both a close friend and I share birth dates with legends of Rock and Roll. Sir Paul McCartney and I have that connection.

So So belated HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Bob and dead Elvis.

And come June when you hear about Sir Paul, think of me.

Caution X 2

If a company puts up warning signs do the powers that be think that they are no longer liable if something happens? There is no other explanation for the two side by side signs on the doors leading from my office to the parking lot.

Caution. Watch For Falling Ice.

Caution. Slippery Pavement.

I do not know about you but I am not talented enough to watch for both falling ice and slippery pavement at the same time.

Happy New Year

I know that I am 8 days late but belated Happy New Year from Punta Cana.


The Swimmer

In 1968 “The Swimmer” was a movie starring Burt Lancaster  as a man who swam to his suburbia home from a party by swimming though all the swimming pools lined up one after the other in people’s backyards. This was all I had know about the movie last week before googling the movie and finding more.

A summary of the movie taken from the NY Times has this to say:

John Cheever’s “misery in suburbia” short stories, brief and to the point, have always proven excellent TV fodder. Director Frank Perry’s The Swimmer, adapted for the screen by Perry’s wife Eleanor, is a rare, and for the most part successful, attempt at offering a Cheever story in feature-length form. Dressed only in swimming trunks throughout the film, Burt Lancaster plays a wealthy, middle-aged advertising man, embarked on a long and revelatory journey through suburban Connecticut. Lancaster slowly makes his way to his split-level home by travelling from house to house, and from swimming pool to swimming pool. At each stop, Lancaster comes face to face with an incident in his past. Informing Kim Hunter that he once harbored a secret love for her, Lancaster is mildly upset by Hunter’s indifference. Elderly Cornelia Otis Skinner is incensed at Lancaster’s intrusion in her backyard and orders him to leave. At the next home, Lancaster tries to seduce the nubile Janet Landgard, who’d once baby-sat for his daughters, but she regards him as a silly old man. And so it goes: as each subsequent suburbanite peels off his self-protective veneer, Lancaster grows more and more disillusioned with what he thought was his ideal lifestyle. 

Excerpts from the the 1968 NY Times movie review written by Vincent Canby adds:

Neddy Merrill, an aging country club Lothario, decides one afternoon to swim home across the county. As he makes his way through one friend’s pool and then another, portaging across lawn, garden and highway, it becomes increasingly apparent that gung-ho Neddy is a failure, a man whose vision of life has always been slightly bent, as if refracted through water. Neddy is swimming through his past to the nameless horror of an unrefracted present….

It’s too bad that—because of factors over which he has no control—Lancaster is not better in the role. He does have the physique of the aging athlete who has kept his form, if not the youthful texture of his skin. However, try as he might; he simply can’t project Neddy Merrill’s vulnerability as a foolish, ridiculous WASP.

Why my fascination with a 40 year old movie I have never seen? Last week in Punta Cana in a very small way I emulated the physical aspect of the movie by swimming from near the lobby of the resort to the beach by swimming through the various pools. My trip had more to do with being able to say I did this than any concerns about the failure of my middle class suburban lifestyle. I would not mind, however, being referred to at least once as an aging Lothario or having the physique of an aging athlete.

I made my way top the furthest corner of the furthest pool and quietly slipped into the water. I began. I am not a swimmer by training but made it through the first pool with minimal stops to catch my breadth. After climbing out and diving into the second pool I was starting to breath heavily and my stops became more frequent. 

As I stood at the edge of the third and last pool I contemplated the gulf between the middle middle class and the upper middle class. This last pool was technically off limits to me because though part of the same resort I was illegally about to enter the Club section. I think the people in this section had a special lounge to go to,  additional amenities of various kinds, and certainly their private pools. (The only amenity I coveted was that they had beds lining the pool for lounging in the sun. These were tres cool.) The other thing about the people in this section is that they hardly moved. They used their expansive pool as a large wading area if they ever got out of their outdoor beds at all.

Anyways, nothing was going to stop me from completing my mission. Well, almost nothing except the resort employee who came over as I was 3/4 of the way through this pool to let me know that I was not welcome. I am guessing that the splashing noise made by my swimming disturbed the sensibilities of the Clubbies and they sent for security to remove the trespasser. The employee was actually quite nice and apologetic. I did not even look around to see the reactions of the suburbanites Clubbies. I was not going to give them the satisfaction. Let’s see them swim the resort end to end. Of course they wouldn’t. Then they would have to mix with the masses.