Calming an impatient heart

At the first spot I stopped, an old man clasp his hands together across his chest, casually leaned his head back, and closed his eyes. In the next stop, packed with people nudged up against each other in tiny chairs, the teen next to me bent forward with his headphones on and scrolled through his music playlist.

I had to make a number of stops a couple weeks ago to my local garage to get my car worked on and then to the barbershop and I couldn’t help but notice that everyone else seemed to be dealing with “the wait” better than me.

Besides the old man and teenager, two men talked lazily about what they planned for the upcoming weekend and a guy my age whistled a show tune like he had all the time in the world.

And then there was me, my right leg restlessly moving up and down and my eyes bouncing up every few seconds to try to make eye contact to see if it was my turn. I’d sit for a few minutes and then stand-up abruptly to walk to the door to look out the window. I couldn’t go anywhere. My phone was dying and I couldn’t call anyone. Where did I think I was going? Who did I think I was going to call?

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Trashing a good story

The old man’s eyesight was fading and he couldn’t get around well without his walker, but you could usually find him each day on the front porch of the local grille. He’d be dressed in a pair of denim bib overalls and soiled work boots gently rocking back and forth in an old rocking chair. He’d show up late afternoon and within a half hour or so, you’d find a small group of locals circled around him on stools listening intently to his every word.

The man served as a B-17 bombardier during World War II and spent most of his life farming in the small Virginia community and had a lifetime of stories. As a young reporter, new to the area, I came to count on his stories and perspective.

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I spent hours listening to him. You’d tell him a story that you thought was of particular interest and he’d come back with three or four better ones. He had a story for every day of the week and two for Sunday. The topic didn’t matter, he’d start talking and I’d be drawn-in immediately to whatever story he was telling.

He told stories about growing up dirt poor and taking care of his six brothers and sisters; how he managed to scrape together enough money for an education; and how “a young hick” like he used to call himself, came to travel to Paris and Rome and still found his way home to his wife and a life as a country farmer.

You’d ask him about his day and he had a way of making something as simple as taking his garbage to the local dump sound like poetry. Fast forward to this week. I was going through some old papers and couldn’t help, but think about the old man. I love a good story, so much so that I hoard them. I have stacks and stacks of stories, some related to my job, others dealing with topics that I want to write about in the future, and still others touching on self-help topics.

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You’re only 21 once!

I’m having a panic attack.

It’s not your normal kind of attack. I’m not stressing over work or home. It’s not a mid-life crisis. I have no desire to run into work, throw my laptop onto my boss’ desk and get on the first plane to Hawaii or the Maldives or run to the nearest car dealer and come home with a flashy new convertible. I have to admit the trip to Hawaii wouldn’t be half bad.

No, I’m panicking, because in a few days my daughter will turn 21. I’m extremely happy for her, but I’m having a tough time with the milestone. I’ve known this day has been coming. She’s matured in front of my eyes from a bright-eyed, studious high school student to an energetic, passionate, young woman full of ideas and beliefs on how to make the world a better place. She’s mature beyond her years and wiser than some people twice or three times her age.

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Living in a viral age: Hello Germany

airplane-paper-2648958_640When I was a kid, I would take out a piece of composition paper from one of my school notebooks and fold it into an airplane. I would be especially careful to keep the folds crisp, like I had steamed them with a hot iron. I would repeat this process, making a hangar-full of planes, coloring and designing them with lightening bolts and flags.

When I was finally ready, I would run to our small porch and have competitions to see which plane would fly the farthest. I would heave each plane as far forward in the air as I could. Most attempts would start off strong and then spiral out of control into a nosedive. When I was really lucky, a plane would hit a little bit of a breeze, build-up even more speed, and take off down the hill and land in my neighbor’s pasture.

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Barcelona on my mind

backpack-1482611_640The leather strap first caught my attention. I next noticed the intricate flower design cut into the side of the handbag. We had been walking down Las Ramblas, the tree-lined 1.2 kilometer pedestrian street in Central Barcelona for only a few minutes but I had promised my wife that I would bring her back something special from the trip. Spain is famous for its homemade leather products, including wallets, belts and shoes so the handbag jumped out at me right away.

When I attempted to ask the the woman manning the kiosk about the price of the handbag with the little bit of Spanish I still remembered from high school and college, she gently rolled her eyes, gave me a mischievous smile and told me in the in the best Queen’s English that the handbag would be priceless to the right person.

She went on to compliment me on my exquisite taste and extolled the craftsmanship of the handbag maker. We went back and forth for a minute or two, but I inevitably ended up passing on the bag. I was looking for a different style of bag and her asking price, as I suspected, was too high. However, the woman and I continued to talk for another five minutes with a familiarity that surprised me. She joked with me that I looked like a shorter Harry Connick Jr. — she obviously needed glasses, my wife will get a good laugh at that one — and in a motherly tone, warned me to watch out for the hordes of people and the occasional pickpocket in the street. While relatively safe, Las Ramblas still has its share of pickpockets who feast on the tourists wandering aimlessly up-and-down the street.

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Seeing 20/20

The optometrist clicked on the lens and asked: “Which is better, line 1 or line 2?” We had been at this game for ten minutes, but to me it felt like an hour. I squinted my eyes together hoping it would help and, when it didn’t, I admitted to the doctor that I had no clue. In mock frustration, I added, “you’re the doctor, you tell me.”

glasses-928465_640The young doctor laughed at my lame attempt at sarcasm, but I really wasn’t joking. Getting your eyes checked annually is a good thing and I appreciate my eyesight, but I’ve come to dread the test. If you’ve been to an optometrist or ophthalmologist lately or wear contact lenses or glasses, you know what I’m talking about.

The doctor enters the room and runs through a flurry of tests all with the purpose or goal of seeing you fail. And oh, how I fail. Yes, I get that they have a “method to their madness,” but they need to test and prod for your weak points. Where is your point of failure?

For someone with poor vision like me, I spend the entire visit straining to be perfect and second guessing myself. I can make-out the third, fourth and fifth letters in the fifth line, but I’m guessing on the first two letters. Was the first letter an O or a Q? And what about the second: an E or a C? Does that count?

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Thinking like a millennial

I’m jealous of the millennial generation.

I’m not jealous of their thirst for technology, freedom, or age. Oh it would be fun to be 21, 25 or 30 for a day, to take another spin or two around the clock, but I’m comfortable in my own skin, approaching middle age.

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With more than 92 million of them, millennials rank as the largest in U.S. history and have come of age during a time of extreme global, technological, and economic change. Thanks to that change, they have a unique set of experiences and expectations different than any other generation.

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Two types of people: Which are you?

The woman looked like she had just come from a weekend at the spa. If not straight from the lap of luxury, then she looked like she certainly came from the dressing room of Georgio Armani, Saks Fifth Avenue, or Nieman Marcus. Everything about her gleamed and sparkled, from the bangles around her wrist to the gold on her fingers.

I could have easily imagined her stepping onto a runway, modeling the latest designer fashion, or even into a chauffeured limousine, not an office supply store in the middle of Southeastern Pennsylvania. I watched her enter the store ― it was hard not to notice her ― but my interest soon waned and I went back to searching for ink for my printer. I didn’t give her another glance until I watched her jump in line, in front of a young couple with two toddlers. I started to say something but stopped myself when the store manager waved to open up two additional check-out lines.

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I soon was on my way, but I couldn’t get the woman and her thoughtlessness out of my head. I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt. I thought to myself: “Maybe she didn’t see the line of people snaking around the corner and, yes, the couple she jumped in front of were distracted by their two toddlers.” Of course, the devilish side of me said, “damn straight, she saw the line, how could she not see the line of people waiting to be served, she just thought she was more important.”

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Superman versus Batman? Who ya got?

We jostled each other in line to go back into school from our morning recess. The bell always seemed to ring too soon. I’m not sure who started it, but everyone started chiming in with an opinion on their favorite superhero. One kid cried out Superman. Another yelled Batman.

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When together, comic book publisher DC Comics called them “The World’s Finest” as they worked to fight the Joker and Lex Luthor and all that’s wrong in the world. When against each other, they each brought something different to the fight.

The Man of Steel was “faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound” and to boot he could shoot lasers out of his eyes. On the other hand, Batman possessed no superpowers; but relied on his genius intellect, physical prowess, martial arts abilities, knowledge of science and technology, vast wealth, and indomitable will.

Hence, my classmates’ fight.

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The art of the negotiation: The shootout at the O.K. Corral

I look him over coldly, head to toe. I pay close attention to the little beads of sweat forming on his brow and the twitch of his hands. He does the same to me. We’re both trying to read each other, to get a sense of the other guy.

We’re two cold-hearted gunslingers from the American Old West. In another time, we would have been in Dodge City, Kansas, or Tombstone, Arizona, facing off in a real life duel. Instead, we’re two men facing off in, well, a mattress store in suburbia.

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He’s a salesman, looking to add to his weekly sales total and push up his commission. I’m a customer looking to make the best possible deal. If we walked outside right now guns drawn, we’d probably get run over on this hot 90-degree day by a pimply-faced teenager fighting for a parking spot in front of the new frozen yogurt stand or by a soccer mom or dad in a huge tank-like SUV going to the LA Fitness gym. Continue reading “The art of the negotiation: The shootout at the O.K. Corral”