Saturday, November 29, 2014

It's not greed, it's not racist, get over yourself and save a buck

I may not be the single most objective person to speak on this topic, since I'm likely the biggest capitalist to anyone that would even read this, but I'm going to do it anyway. I'm really up to my eyeballs in Black Friday hatred and my disdain for those people rivals theirs for the day itself. I was about to keep quiet until an acquaintance went over a line I wasn't sure I had. I heard it called National Greed and Consumption Day. I thought it was a clever, tongue-in-cheek way to reference our gluttonous American nature... until I realized she wasn't being tongue-in-cheek at all. Then I heard that Whoopi Goldberg, in her infinite wisdom, decided to challenge the use of the word "black" in Black Friday. So here we are.

Let's talk about some fundamentals of the day. First and foremost, the word black (in Black Friday) has never been, isn't now, and never will be associated with African Americans. Not everything black is about people with darker skin colors. If people want equality, stop drawing lines in the sand that have nothing to do with race. I think nighttime is racist because the night sky looks black too. Get over it. It has to do with the financial crisis of 1869. That's the origin of the term. Let's move on...

Retail workers. This one gets deep. People complain that they have to work. No they don't. You always have a choice, your choices have repercussions. I had to work on Black Friday in 2006. I was deployed to the Middle East. That was absolutely not a choice. Do you think that serving in the military is more noble than a retail worker? Then you're slighting the very people you're trying to defend in the first place. I've seen more attacks in the aisles of Best Buy than in my time in uniform, for starters, but all joking aside, retail and commerce make this world go 'round. Don't take away from that. Next, many retail workers volunteer. In 2002, I worked Black Friday at Best Buy and made over $400 in one single day - ONE. SINGLE. DAY. And I was in my early 20s, when that was a big bump. It was a long, grueling day, but we don't go to work for the rainbows and unicorn farts, do we? We go for the money. Because of Black Friday, and all holiday shopping, stores hire seasonal help - that puts people to work. But let's leverage the power of greed to counter lowering the unemployment rate, even if temporarily.

As for them even being open Thanksgiving night, let me just ask you one question. Have you ever run out of an ingredient Thanksgiving morning and run to the grocery store to grab it before company arrived? Did you complain on behalf of the plight of shelf stockers everywhere? If you did go to a store and not complain, then you don't get to complain about Black Friday sale shopping. It can't be ok for them to be open on the morning of Thanksgiving because it works for you and you bitch later in the night because you just don't happen to need a TV this year,

It's time for the meat. Black Friday by the numbers. I find that many of the people complaining are those who are anti-capitalist and little more left leaning on the political spectrum (I'm not leveling a blanket charge, just saying that by and large that is my observation). These are the same people that tend to complain about how anyone even a hair's width below the 1% are getting screwed by the system on any given day. So, my lefty friends, let's talk about why Black Friday is fiscally important, since the only thing in the world that's not an opinion is how 1 plus 1 equals 2.

In 2013, Black Friday shoppers numbered 141 million individuals. The total receipt was $57.4 billion, plus an additional $1.2 billion online. I'd round, but for the sake of being accurate, we'll call it $58.6 billion. That's equivalent to the GDP of Afghanistan. Before you think I'm fueling your fire, consider what that means. We spend more on that day than the average of any other Friday in the holiday season and way more than the average of all other Fridays throughout the calendar year. And that number of sales goes up as does the amount of shoppers.

More people are doing more shopping, but getting more things for their money. That is higher revenue for stores, more inventory throughput which requires higher manufacturing. Any inflation in prices beyond reasonable profit margins gets diminished so people's dollars are even closer to buying the actual value, not the inflated perceived value based on MSRP gouging. Simply put, more things are made, transported and displayed which ramps up operations for manufacturers, delivery systems and shelf stockers. Point of sale manufacturers often provide additional terminals for stores temporarily (at a fee so they make more), and everyone from the cashier to the store manager pulls more hours and they make more. This is fueled by consumer habits that you call greed.

Greed, according to the Oxford Dictionary is "intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth, power, or food." Considering that many people spend for Christmas/Holiday gifts, it's less greed than you may imagine. Sure, I've been known to buy for myself on Black Friday so I won't pretend it's all selfless, of course. But let's call a spade a spade here, people are buying when it's cheaper. Is this to get more? Maybe in the 1990s when we were all riding high. In 2014, many people use Black Friday, not to get more things, but to finally get the things they weren't able to get otherwise. Stores have even marketed based on that principle.

So since everyone feels this day is based on greed, you'd rather ignore all points of economic stimulus, shut down the spending so we can be gluttonous on food instead and make your fellow American pay full price later or not get it at all. You'd rather see retail workers at home, earning nothing instead of out in the world making money. You'd rather see people work harder on other days and use credit to get the things they want instead of getting it at 40% off at 4am on Black Friday.

You have the option, you can just stay home. You don't have to rail against every idea that's unpopular for your personal situation. Just sleep in. Problem solved. You talk about it being the day after Thanksgiving. Maybe people are giving thanks that they can get their kid the laptop for his school work because it's so cheap. Maybe people are thankful for the extra hours or time-and-a-half pay. Maybe people are thankful for the seasonal job. These are examples and theoretical, but they aren't covered under your "one size fits all" statement that Black Friday is the devil.

There are place where capitalism is ruled out and a sharing economic of socialism or communism is employed and the only place that works, is on paper. In the real world, people want choices. You have the choice to shop or not shop. American wants to shop, as evidenced by $60b in a 24 hours period.

So next year, I'm going to shop. I'm going to capitalize on the deals because I'm a capitalist. And I'm going to make sure I exercise my right to freely participate in a free market and use my freedom of speech to tell you about it. The only time I didn't have the right do it, I was defending everyone else's right to bitch about it. So, I'm going to put those rights to good use.

You're welcome to join me, ignore me, or unfriend me. You're not permitted to call me names or attack me. Your freedoms extend to the point they impinge on mine. What will you do?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The uniform within

The impact of Veteran's Day for me changes every year. For my whole life, I understood its purpose but never really felt it. Once I was in the military that all changed, although from my cushy desk job in South Carolina, it's hard to accept being lumped in with those who really change things every day. After the first deployment, that all changed. In 2012, Veteran's Day was also 4 months and 2 days from my last day in uniform. It was close enough to being over that I really looked backwards on my time. 2013, of course, was the first in 10 years where I wasn't wearing the uniform. I wrote a post called "On being just a veteran" and promptly got put in my place by my old mentors who never stop keeping watch.

Now, it's been 508 days since Staff Sergeant Viglione officially became Mr. Viglione and 612 days since I watched Keesler Air Force Base disappear behind me for the last time. I've been slowly moving, notch-by-notch on the sliding scale. I learned that I can't be all SSgt Viglione in the civilian world. People just don't understand that rigidity, and often don't appreciate it. I worked to return to the civilian version of me.

Today I got a message from someone I do some work with. It said, "Thank you Jason, for all you've done for our country! The discipline and education you learned while ensuring our safety and freedom, has proven invaluable for our team. Thank you for what you did then and thank you for what you do now! #MomentOfAppreciation"

Two days ago I was at MetLife Stadium for the New York Jets game. The MetLife sign was camouflaged. Military members from cadets to Colonels were all over the place. There was a flyover. The announcers mentioned it several times. I was full of emotion, some of which bubbled over more than once. It wasn't sadness, it wasn't happiness. It wasn't anything any particular. It was just a lot of whatever it was.

Linda sees me work my company's accounts, my business development, graduate school, my freelance work and make time for her and my family and friends. A few weeks ago, I was speaking with my mother about packing my grandmother's house for her move and I said that we'll get it done, whatever it takes. If I gotta stay up late into the night, that's what we do. She commented about that no quit, keep working attitude. I've heard that a lot since starting my company.

I feel like the pendulum has finally come to rest in the middle for me. I went from young, corporate bonehead that was a hot shot (in my mind) to USAF reality check. It was all about me and my bank account and then it became about everyone except me. My personal good to the greater good. My transition just about covered the range of human endeavor. And now I'm a civilian again, but not the same one.

I'm different at my core. My values have changed, at my core. Not surprisingly, they've changed in concert with the core values of the Air Force. Integrity First, Service Before Self, Excellence in All We Do. Those 3 things are in me through and through. 10 years of service instilled them in me, not as doctrine, but as actual values. What I mean to say is that I found value in them and adopted them.

I guess I always thought that Mr. Viglione and Sergeant Viglione were like Jekyll and Hyde (or Hyde and Jekyll, as the case may be). I thought they were mutually exclusive. I buried the old me in favor of the military me, the disciplined me, the focused me. And I took the uniform off and left Sgt Viglione at Keesler and became a bearded entrepreneur. But none of that is true. Sure there are parts of corporate me that are gone forever and some of the most extremely "blue" parts of the Staff Sergeant have subsided. But they both live in me. As an aside, my little brown book of AFI 36-2618 is still never far away.

I wear that uniform every day in the person I am. You don't see my stripes on my arm, but they are in my thoughts, in my decisions, and in my treatment of others. Staff Sergeant Viglione isn't gone; he's just part of Mr. Viglione.

None of that would have been possible without the guidance of people above me on both parts of life. People who truly taught and mentored me. It was these folks that helped me learn, appreciate and live these values rather than just memorizing and regurgitating them. I've been truly blessed with so many people to look up to.

So as I get thanked for my service today, I want everyone who has had a hand in my successes over the years (as a person) to take your part of the credit for making who I am.

As for my still uniformed brothers and sisters, I'm a phone call, email, text message away if you ever need SSgt Viglione.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Go ahead, sneeze on me

Downside to working in social media is that I can't take a FB hiatus. A large portion of my feed is Ebola panic. Panic, for the record, is defined as - sudden uncontrollable fear or anxiety, often causing wildly unthinking. That's not worry. That's not concern. Panic is unhealthy and, often, dangerous.

I am disappointed in reaction of the people I surround myself with. I'll preface the rest with this:

  • Ebola is a nasty bug
  • I am concerned about Ebola
  • I'm not minimizing people's fears
  • Misinformation is NEVER productive
  • Fear is not license to say things that are untrue
Moving along. I hear lots of things that are just wrong. People talk about the spread in ways that aren't opinion, they are just facts and they are incorrect ones. Your fear does not dictate the reality of how the disease is spread. Saying "well I think I can catch it if you sneeze on me" doesn't make it so. Would you say that to someone with HIV? No. That would be ignorant. It's just not airborne. It's just not. Not sure what else to say. Believe it or not. Your call I guess. The moon is also not made of cheese. 

2nd - There is a 21 day incubation period. If someone has it, they show no symptoms, don't know, can't transmit, can't test for it. So asking why they came back in? Before symptoms show up, you appear 100% healthy. You could be on day 5 of Ebola right now and not have a clue.

3rd - Nobody is coming to the US from Liberia or Mali. They come through Brussels, along with other people from the places in Europe. We don't have the right to order another country (that's not an infected country) to shut down flights. And what's to stop them from going from Mali to Brussels to England to the US? You want every international flight shut down? Our FAA controls US flights. We cannot dictate how every country in the world operates. Remember when we got involved in Iraq, Afghanistan, South America, Syria, Egypt, etc, etc, etc and you all screamed that we need to stop playing world police? Me too. Rearranging the flight patterns of the globe is more than a little like playing world police. 

There have been 9 cases of Ebola in the US and only 1 has died. You keep those people in Africa and you've relegated them to a fate of death. We can treat them here and help. Canada has given a test serum. You cannot leave people in a country knowing full well they will not get the proper care there and die. America is better than that. We do not lie down and crawl so we don't get hurt. We help others, especially our own. These care workers went to Africa to help people and Americans want to abandon them, out of fright. Let them die so you can sleep. Shame on you. You think being in Iraq and Afghanistan was a picnic? You think sweating my ass off in a country that wouldn't stop exploding while 7,000 miles away from my family was a vacation? But when someone in that country cheers at the sight of you and just wants to hug you for all you've done, you remember - it's got nothing to do with you.

Something needs to be done. Spreading misinformation and panic is not that something. Playing FAA to the globe is not that something. Treating people like they're meaningless and leaving them to die in Africa without proper care is not that something. Pre-screening, follow-ups, quarantines when necessary, destruction of affected items - those are all some things. Officials don't want you to panic because running around screaming with your hair on fire is just not productive. The sky is not falling. It's not good, but it's not the end either. Quit with the revelations talk.

Up to 49,000 people die from the flu each year. In 28 years no less than 3,000 have died in a year. In it's weakest year, the flu killed 333 times more people than have even caught Ebola. ONE person has died in the US from Ebola. Hundreds of thousands get the flu EVERY year. 9 people got Ebola in the US. Which are you more scared of? 

I'm not saying to ignore it. Just use the right facts and consider the consequences and logistics required to meet all of your demands. And think about the risks you take every day - not wearing a seatbelt, texting while driving, raise your hand if you've had unprotected sex with someone you didn't know well enough to be doing that with, maybe a couple beers too many before going home. All more likely to kill you than Ebola - all things Americans do every day.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Adjust your focus

In May of 2014, there was one thing anyone could talk about. It was Michael Sam and the fact that he was the first openly gay NFL player. I was unfazed by the news from start to finish. Some people called me callous for not being proud that he had the courage to be openly gay in an organization like the NFL. I saw many statuses, tweets and overheard people say that people who don't think he's a hero must not support gay rights.

Here's why I didn't care: if our association is football, then what you do sexually has no bearing on my life. There is really only one person on this planet whose sexuality is important to me - Linda, because I'm marrying her. If she turned out to be gay, that would seriously get in the way of our married life. But from family to friends to acquaintances, I really don't care. We scream for equality and then draw lines in the sand.

We don't look at the first tall person to do something because being tall is a non-issue. And being tall could help or hinder your ability and any particular position. Who was the first guy that doesn't like broccoli to be in an elected position? 

Michael Sam is a defensive end on the football field, the only thing any fan should care about. What he does behind closed doors, whether it's love a man, play Xbox, collect stamps, day trade or cook a mean omelet, is of no consequence to anyone. Instead of viewing him as a gay football player, why not view him as a football player? See? No title means no discrimination. 

Here's the really fun part. This guy is 7 weeks into his first season in the NFL and he's been cut from 2 teams. Looks like the only thing that matters to the world - his talent as a DE - doesn't really exist. And what do all the headlines say? Of course "Sam, the first openly gay player to be drafted by an NFL team, signed with the Cowboys on..." So many other players get cut from practice squads and nobody bats an eye. But this guy is gay so we need to know. This is not headline making stuff here. This is just a guy who needs to be better at his job. His sexuality has no bearing on any of this. Is your plumber gay? Maybe your accountant is transgender. I'm pretty sure the garbage man is bisexual. See? None of it matters. They're PEOPLE.

So to all the people who champion his cause, I think it's time to adjust your focus. Stop talking about the most intimate part of his life that's outside the boundaries of how you know him. Don't make an issue so you can say there should be no issue. Just say nothing at all and save a step. I'm glad people of all sexualities are getting the rights to do whatever they see fit. That is specifically why I don't make a scene about it. It's how THEY see fit and it's got absolutely nothing to do with me.

It's the same reason why I think that Michael Vick is a shitty human being, but a good quarterback. It's not up to the NFL to punish him; it's up to the legal system. You don't get fired when you get a DUI. So, Vick was taken care of and is back to work. I didn't care what went on in the oval office with a cigar and a blue dress. Maybe that's why he balanced the budget.

So let's focus on people's ability to do whatever thing we've hired them to do and move on with our lives so they can move on with theirs. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Columbus Day views

It's the time of year where we rewind the clocks 500 years and call for the head of Christopher Columbus because of how he treated people. We do so as Americans, in America from behind the keyboards of modern day computers and smartphones. We pretend that the actions of Christopher Columbus can be measured by the social behavior measuring stick of today.

The only iniquity is the inequity given here. I'm not running around looking for Native Americans to kill and I'm not trying to further destroy their culture. I don't exactly take to the streets to condone his behavior. I'm not one of the proud Italians who calls him a hero. However, like everything else in this country, our efforts are done with blind ignorance and hyperbolic reaction.

Here is what I mean. People leave comments like "On Columbus Day, walk into someone's home and take their TV." That's theft. Taking land 500 years ago may also have been by today's standards, but not as much then. Why? Well... we have laws and statutes today that create a divide between right and wrong. That didn't exist then. There was no legal and illegal. There was just right and wrong as determined my moral compass. That's subjective. Some people think abortion is wrong, some think marijuana is right. That list goes on for days. That is why laws are created (and changed) because people need guidance to level the playing field, and as we evolve we adjust the laws accordingly (think gay marriage and marijuana usage).

Go back 500 years to the time of Columbus. People thought the world was flat. That's the construct within which they thought. They were wrong and they learned. Just as we learned slavery was wrong many years later and then women's rights, civil rights, sexual rights and so on. So we evolve.

Go back further. How dare cavemen behave the way they did? There are many things in history that were wrong. The Crusades weren't exactly the pinnacle of diplomacy and treating each other with respect. The Jews were treated like shit by Egyptians. Non Muslims are at risk by a portion of Muslims today.

When you were 1 year old you used to shit yourself. Now you learned to wipe your own ass. If you're 30 and still shit yourself, you have severe problems. But we don't hold you accountable for what went on 28 years ago. Under that framework for that part of your personal evolution, that was normal. Then you learned and adapted, as have we.

Did the Native Americans (who are still called in Indians by so many lobbying for the removal of Columbus Day - figure that shit out) get the shaft? Sure they did. Can we re-write history? Nope. So what can we do? There are a few things.

  1. Give land to the Native Americans. We tried that and still do. However, every time new communities are build on reservations by American taxpayers, there are reports of rampant vandalism and destruction by the citizens out of spite. 
  2. Allow Native Americans to live amongst the rest of us have prosperous lives like anyone else. Oh, that's not even an issue because nobody is excluded. But many don't want to pay taxes to the system that shafted them so many years ago so they're given reservation land and in that case, see #1.
  3. Any American can give up their land/home/property/etc to a Native American because they feel that bad and that strongly against Columbus. I don't see many people leaving to return to their native countries. But if Columbus was such a prick and you think he shouldn't have done what he did, then return the land to the Native Americans and go back. Let's undo it if you want to undo it. Yeah, that's gonna happen.
You just can't scream from the rooftops about how horrible this all is while you live in America. You cannot assuage guilt with some intangible suggestion. "It shouldn't be a holiday. He was a genocidal maniac. Take if off the books." So your solution is opening the post office and sending people to work on a regular Monday? That is the fix action for genocide? Are you kidding me? Oh wait, that's the slacktivist version. Let me yell REALLY loud so people feel my fervor and then I don't have to actually do anything at all. Why not run a click campaign or change your profile photo while you're at it?

Look, I'm not in the business of ethnic cleansing. If someone did today what Columbus did 500 years ago, I'd take up the sword and defend the cause. The point here is that you cannot judge someone 500 years ago by today's standard. What if we reenacted prohibition? That doesn't make sense in 2014. Shit, it didn't make sense in the 1920s either.

You can't change mistakes, but you can learn from them. And let's face facts; there are parts of Columbus' actions that worked out really well for a lot of people also.

Oh and before you make him out to be 100% bad, remember that he didn't set out to do all this. Truthfully, he was looking for India. The guy was lost. Hitler killed people on purpose. He targeted people and murdered them en masse. Columbus tried a new route, got lost, stumbled on some land that seemed underdeveloped and tried to make something of it. And the closest he got on any of his 4 voyages was Cuba. 

So if you take away Columbus Day, what have you really done to fix the mistakes made in history? The concept of not honoring the man makes you feel better? Ok. If that's your stance then so be it. Just admit that's for you and your own sense of misguided guilt (since you did nothing wrong) and it's not for the people for which you're lobbying in the first place. 

We really need to start thinking critically and stop screaming about basically nothing. Action/Impact. Think about it.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

It's really not about me at all

It is amazing how I've changed my stance on what my life is about so many times. When I was younger I wanted to swim through a sea of gold a la Scrooge McDuck because my bottom line was the bottom line. When 9/11 happened and I lost everything (job, tuition, future, intact family, mental stability and more), I became truly acquainted with the frailty of life and the fruitless pursuit of financial gains. I joined the military and saw that my version of having nothing differed greatly from many other people's versions. Everything we did was for others; and we do it for little pay comparatively to what we sacrifice. My mentality really became about giving back.

The pendulum swung back the other way, as pendulums often do, as my military years went on. I worked hard and harder. I learned more, helped more, did more, gave more and got nothing more in return. I felt "thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread" (to borrow words from Tolkein). After more than 15 years in a single industry, learning everything I could and preparing to move home I realized that I had a family to think about and I had turned my mind and skills into something worth more money than the measly pittance I was receiving. I started JayVig Media. I was an entrepreneur in charge of my own fate.

For the last 3 years I have been running this fledgling agency, and in earnest for the last 14 months. I work from my home. Linda and I are paying for a wedding worth more than my annual salary while in the military. We don't talk about the number usually and it's not important. What is important is that my company is barely off the ground and yet we can do it. We're fortunate. We have luxury vehicles, a TV in each room, new iPhones each year and basically do everything we want. We could have more, but the room I sit in to type this is my home office that I feel cramped in. Others in this very building use this same room as a bedroom for 2 children. My life is good.

My pendulum has come to rest in the middle. I want more things, of course, we all do. But amassing a fortune isn't important anymore. What I want, financially and materially, is all for a different reason. The success of my wealth is now measured by the opportunity it brings me to enjoy life with important people. Can I do things that make Linda smile? Can I buy things for my parents that they won't buy for themselves? Can I surprise friends and family along the way with tokens that show I think of them? Can we do things together in the limited time we have together in life? These things all cost money and that's what it's used for. We all splurge. I like my gadgets, but that's not what it's about, is it?

I started the fund for Tunnel to Towers earlier this year for several reasons. Reasons I'm not sure I made clear. 9/11/02 was the first anniversary of the day that changed my life for ever and my whole family was still reeling. It's all a blur. By 9/11/03 I was in Mississippi wearing camouflage. The same goes for 9/11/04 - 9/11/12. I healed on my own. I was under no care. I healed slowly and peeled the scab each year alone. I left a tremendous scar. 9/11/13 was just shy of 6 months being home and life was still upside down so it came and went.

This year was to be different. My dad reminded me of my own words just yesterday. “I was in the military and people think I was constantly in danger. I was a communications guy way in the rear. So many military people risk way more. Firefighters put themselves at risk every time they show up to work. I know the pain of that kind of loss. I can’t ease the pain of other families, but if I can help ease financial burdens even a little, then I’ve honored the memory of my uncle and his selflessness. Honestly, it’s the least I can do.”

I can't get back all the years I was away. I can't re-heal in a way is healthier for me. I can only go forward. Giving to others is how I do that. Helping people piece their lives back together with a few extra bucks in their pocket is one less thing for them to worry about. I can't fix what's wrong, but I can be part of the solution, at least.

I've been hitting people over the head with this Tunnel to Towers thing and it falls on deaf ears. I get nothing from it. I make no money. The t-shirts I'm making for donors who also walk, come out of my pocket. The difference from our goal of $5,000 to where we land will be made up from the profits of my company. This event costs me money, lots and lots of it. But it costs me less than what the loss of a loved one costs the families affected.

I've been everyone's help desk for computers, phones, cameras, TVs and everything else with a power cord and an on button and asked for nothing but clicking "like." I truly enjoy knowing helping. I'd be a full time philanthropist if my bankbook supported it. Of all the life changing journeys I've been on throughout my life the internal shift from "more for me" to "more for those who truly need it" has been the hardest and most rewarding.

If anyone has room to help me with this, I truly appreciate it. You cannot begin to imagine what this means to me. Aside from the cause that I firmly believe in, every dollar gives me strength. It lets me know that we haven't forgotten. That our attackers did not demoralize us. That our united front has not dissolved over 13 years. Every dollar beats the shit out of one more demon from all those Septembers ago. Every dollar helps me re-focus on the good and not the shit. Every dollar makes me just a little less angry at the people who caused so much hurt. So that's what I get out of all this. A donation helps fund projects for the wounded and it intangibly helps piece me back together again. I have a lot of catching up to do to after ignoring it for so long. I can't give into that feeling every September anymore.

To all who have given along the way, I owe you a debt of gratitude that I have no idea how to repay.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A friendship evolved

Every so often people touch your lives in such profound ways that you're at a loss for words, and sitting in your office with tears streaming down your face. I, oddly enough, was the one speechless earlier today. To appreciate why this gets an entry on this blog I have to back up... to 1991 (don't worry it jumps ahead very quickly).

I was 12 or 13 and fully immersed in Boy Scouts before it was a political cause du jour and actually taught life skills. I don't mean knot tying and first aid (although both have come in handy over the years). I mean the learning to be a teacher and a learner, civic responsibility and constancy of purpose. Only 2% of all scouts ever make it to Eagle Scout, but that's besides the point. I stayed in through age 18 and my brother followed suit with many of his friends. One was Tim Foster and boy oh boy did I not like Tim. He was 4 years younger than me and a pain in my ass. He didn't listen for shit. He didn't do what he was supposed to. What's worse is that he was friends with my brother. So he was at scouts and at our house and just wouldn't go away

Over the years he calmed down just enough to be tolerable and I usually would tell his father, "Steve, your son is an idiot." He'd laugh and blow cheap cigar smoke at me. He was a different kind of asshole than his son - the good kind. As I got older and migrated more toward hanging with the adults, ignoring Tim got easier.

I'm exaggerating just to make Tim the ass-end of the joke because that's fun for me. The truth is that he was an irritant when we were younger and his father was one of the best guys I knew. But 4 years apart in age meant that Tim and I wouldn't speak for many years, as our lives had no overlap. Our relationship evolved.

Then came maturity and social media. Tim and my brother didn't stay as close over the years as they evolved into different men with different hobbies - no harm, no foul. Tim and I seemed to have more in common. Subsequently, we became friendlier than ever before. Our relationship evolved.

One day, he was arguing the jackass side of Occupy Wall Street and I, the other side. Amidst the fray stepped in a beautiful (and brilliant) arguer and my life would be changed forever. That arguer was my bride-to-be, Linda. I suspect that while you all know the story, you were not all aware it was Tim as the connection point. He vetted each of us to the other and became part of my life story. Our relationship evolved.

Since moving back home, Tim got engaged to Theresa and I got engaged to Linda and we see each other as regularly as we did when we had scout meetings, sans neckerchief and highwater olive drab green pants these days. He asked me to be in his wedding party for his forthcoming wedding and he in mine. Our relationship evolved.

Now, somewhere along the way in the long and winding road of life 9/11 happened and you are all well acquainted with me and my tale of that event, as well as my family's. This year I've been raising money to support the Stephen Siller Tunnel To Towers organization. From their website "The mission of our Foundation is to honor the sacrifice of firefighter Stephen Siller who laid down his life to save others on September 11, 2001. We also honor our military and first responders who continue to make the supreme sacrifice of life and limb for our country."Based on my life experiences during 9/11 and after as part of the military, I had to do something. Finding some good and helping others in all of this was also a way to beat those demons into submission.

What does that have to do with anything? Today, in a grand gesture of friendship and selflessness, Tim and Theresa made a donation in lieu of wedding favors for their guests. In full disclosure, earlier this summer they told me they were planning to do this, but that's all I knew. Even planning my own wedding, I don't know what wedding favors cost. Everyone at my wedding is getting a choice between a kazoo and the rollout noisemaker horns. I expect to spend about $47.63. In all seriousness, I hadn't a clue what to expect.

I received an email from Tunnel To Towers saying I had passed the 50% mark (of the $5,000 goal) when just yesterday I was at 36%. When I saw that we were actually at 66% to goal I was blown away and impressed and, subsequently, blubbering at my desk.

A wedding is an event that the world has conditioned us to think is all about the bride and groom, in truth all about the bride. It is the day the couple gets to be selfish and think about themselves. They build the perfect day for themselves and everything else is incidental. My friends chose to take a portion of that day and make it so very much about other people.

And that's the story of how Tim Foster, the world's biggest pain in the ass kid became one of my closest, most trusted, most important friends whom I love dearly. And his bride to be, Theresa... she's pretty fantastic too. Thank you, not just for the donation, not just for the consideration, but for being the kinds of friends that have immersed yourselves in the lives of people around you to the point that all of this is possible.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Happy Birthday

The United States of America turns 238 years old today. Sounds old, right? It's a kid. Maybe a teenager. When you consider the age of many other countries, we are so young. Still learning. Sometimes too big for our britches. We look at our problems and think how bad they all are.

I took from the corporate table many years ago, then I gave back when I served in the military, and now I'm an entrepreneur with a growing company. I've been way up and way down. America has always had my back. I've never felt abandoned. I've never felt the weight of a government that wouldn't let me get back up. I've also been handed nothing along the way.

I think our biggest problem is that we think we are more grown up than we are. Remember when Lady Liberty used to be our mom. Sure she stood there welcoming everyone into her home. She offered to invite our friends and feed everyone and play good host, but we respected her, her rules and her home.

Now we are bratty teenagers who think we know better. People can just walk into our home uninvited. That's just rude. And I'm not saying we shouldn't let them in; but be polite. Ring the bell, wipe your feet and you're welcome to join us. On the other hand, just because someone wanders into the best party on Earth without an invite, we could be less rude about our reaction. I'm not taking a stand on immigration reform here. I'm talking about finding a middle.

We are tough enough to involve ourselves in the fights of other people and we stop bullies. That's noble, but we don't have to become the bully that pummels the original bully when the victim is safe. We share our wealth, our knowledge, our medicine, our strength. We are quick to buy a round of drinks for our friends, but we haven't learned how to do it without getting out of debt. We are the average 18-year old that disconnects between swiping the new credit card and paying the bill at the end of the month.

We are fickle about our friends. We jump from one BFF to another and often find ourselves ousting old friends. Maybe we fall out of love too quickly or maybe, on the other hand, we fall in love too quickly. Once upon a time we helped Afghanistan get rid of the Russians. In that time frame we've become friends with the Russians, stopped hanging out with Afghanistan, helped rebuild some of Afghanistan and stopped being friends with the Russians again.

Our sibling rivalry within ourselves is crazy. We are so individualized. We are constantly focusing so heavily on one thing, that all the other things fall to the wayside. We should probably zoom out a little, make a strategy and fix instead of acting like a bunch of kids on a soccer field chasing the ball in herds.

If you notice, all of the above is dual-sided. Because this isn't political. This isn't spawned by party lines. We do both sides. We are the most polarized we've ever been. And we think we're broken because of it. Our parents didn't think we were broken when we were American teenagers. They wanted to strangle us sometimes and hug us at other times and, probably, always prayed it was just a phase.

So, maybe this is just our phase. The information age has made us grow up faster than those around us. European countries took a thousand years to do what we've done in 238 of them. So maybe all these mistakes will come back to haunt us, we'll spend what is the same as many people's 20s recovering - repairing our credit, saving, figuring out what we want to be when we grow up - and sail into our 30s with a plan to make something of ourselves.

We are a large, diverse, sprawling, unique country. We have much to offer the world and the people in it. We just need to focus on how to do that right.

For all of its problems, I wouldn't want to live anywhere else. We may not be the best country in the world when you look at charts, but when you consider that much of the world comes here for a better life, you realize there's gotta be something to that.

Happy Birthday America. I support you. I thank you. I love you.

Monday, June 09, 2014

One team, one fight

It's been a while since I wrote something socially unpopular, so I guess I was due.

Almost everyone I know takes issue with the Bergdahl situation. I'm not even going to get into facet of who knows what. We are all partially informed, but I've mostly accepted that we will do everything with 100% certainty and polarization, regardless of the amount of information we have. So that's that.

However, I have an opinion that is rooted in my fundamental beliefs of patriotism and brotherhood. So, let me go on record and say that I fully support the decision to bring him home; even in trade for the 5 in Gitmo.

As for those five, let's make it simple. They are inactive graybeards. They've been in holding. They're out of the loop and out of the game. They were not air dropped into the mountains of Afghanistan or Pakistan, never to be heard from again. They are in a compound in Qatar. For those who don't know, Qatar is a sovereign Arab Emirate that is basically the Switzerland of the Global War on Terror/GWOT; or whatever we are calling it these days. I heard The War Against Terror, but I refuse to acronym that one. Anyway, Qatar knows where its bread is buttered and it's not from war mongering. It's from the world's third-largest pocket of natural gas. So they don't want anything to upset the shawarma cart. These 5 antiques will sit in the compound, on which we will have a watchful eye, they'll rot. At least they aren't doing it on our dime anymore.

Now... for the real reason we're all gathered here today. Bergdahl. He's a traitor and un-American and a deserter right? He was a bad troop who left his platoon and doesn't deserve to be in the military anymore right? Maybe you're right on that. But does that mean that we let the enemy be judge, jury and executioner for us? We were gonna boot him out of the military anyway so he belongs a POW? He deserves to be under the loving care of terrorists, extremists, and generally bad people?

You bring him home. You ALWAYS bring him home. Dead or alive. Morally replete or bankrupt. Excellent troop or douchebag extraordinaire. You...bring...him...home. He signed on the line. He did what 0.4% ever do and that's put on the uniform. If he commits negative actions that deserve negative judgments, then WE pass them as a military and according to the uniformed code of military justice. We don't ever abandon one of our own. Who has been given the right to wave their hand and call someone unworthy? We have a system for that. We are not an emirate. Power doesn't rest on the shoulders of one Emir. We are not a monarchy. We aren't even an oligarchy, although the men of his platoon seem to think we are.

And if he is unfit for military service, does that mean he's unfit for being an American? All of those judging him... how many of you raised your hand and swore to defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic? Maybe he didn't complete his part of the oath, but he stood up and took it. So, who is really ready to cast a stone. If he is unfit for military service, is he unfit for life? Is he not entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, just like every other American? You are ready to condemn him to death.

I've deployed. I was a communications guy in the Air Force. I sat in air conditioned server rooms and often had pools and Starbucks at my disposal. War is hell, right? Despite that, I've felt the pangs of distance. I've wiped away 6 months of middle eastern sand from the corners of my eyes. I've felt that ache of being away - and I had it EASY! What about the people who have it rough? I don't condone him walking away. I don't condone his behavior. I also wasn't there for it, nor have I endured whatever he had in his military role nor am I equipped to survey his mental and emotional landscapes and decided the quality of his faculties.

What I am sure of... is that from one American to another, one service member to another, one human being to another... I am not comfortable pulling on a black leather mask and swinging the axe. He deserved to come home from the enemy.

I think the biggest mistake is that we equate his freedom from his captors to exonerating him of his actions and they don't work in concert. He will be held accountable for his actions, as well he should be. Just remember who has the right to judge and punish him. It's not you and it's not the enemy.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

It CAN be National BBQ day

How many of you flipped out just from reading that title? How could someone be so crude and crass? Wait a damn minute. How could a veteran be so damn crude and crass? What's more - this is a veteran that loved serving and takes it all so personally. He's always posting about being a veteran. He puts up photos all the time that represent his service. He's tattooed dog tags on his ribs. And now this bullshit?

That's right. It CAN be National BBQ Day and I'll tell you why I feel that way.
  1. If you are serving in the military you know that before you enlisted you didn't spend Memorial Day Weekend reflecting on those that already were serving.
  2. Nobody in the military chooses to serve to be remembered. We don't do it to make people stop and thank us. Truth be told, it makes most of us uncomfortable when we get singled out.
  3. We serve to protect the way of life of the average American. If they want to BBQ with their family and that is their version of the American dream, then that's why you raised your right hand. We don't dictate how people should be Americans. We are but humble servants of the principles this country was founded on; not enforcers of our will.
  4. Guilting people into remembering is a terrible tactic that lacks any modicum of class.
I may be a veteran, but before that I'm a person. I think we should encourage people to have their BBQs. Party with friends and family. Not all service members get the chance, and that sucks. I've missed plenty of holidays being overseas deployed or even just being stationed away. But I did that by choice. I can't be mad at the people who made a different choice. And if the civilians back home aren't enjoying beautiful weather, a long weekend, and friends/family; then what the hell are we fighting for in the first place?

Now, much blood was shed and many lives were lost so those grills could be fired up. I truly understand that. And we commercialize the shit out of every holiday. So a little remembrance and honor is not too much to ask. I just don't see any reason to beat people over the head with it. Don't guilt them. Pictures of tombstones and legless veterans will never win hearts and minds. And I don't think those people would want to be used as propaganda anyway (I don't know that, but I'd bet a paycheck on it).

So... how about we act just slightly genteel for once in our lives and educate and remind? Why not say something like, "I hope everyone has a wonderful and safe holiday weekend. If you can see your way clear, take a moment to remember all those who have served and are still servicing and all the sacrifices that have been made along the way." Why does it have to be harsh visuals that strong arm someone into feeling a certain way?

Besides, wouldn't you prefer a genuine thanks instead of one that was coaxed out? I know I would.

Consider this your mentorship from a proud Non-Commissioned Officer. I'll be BBQing thankfully this weekend. We can do both.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Purposeful emotional destruction

The 9/11 museum opens in the next few weeks. It is not in concert with the one that is there currently. This new one is separate and distinct. VIPs go in today for a dedication. This weekend families get a sneak preview. I was on the invite list with my family. I declined.

Over the years I've seen memorials that have been built all over the local area. Most are quiet places of remembrance that remain somber and beautiful. I can respect that. I can handle that. Remembering what it means is good. Remembering those lost is good. Having some central location to go and quietly reflect is good. They all convey some message through the art and eye of the designer.

When the impending opening of this museum and the family invitation to see it early and my lack of presence in the downtown location over most of the years since it happened, I knew I needed the closest thing to a trial run as I could manage.

So, last month Linda and I went into the city one weekday morning. We roamed around downtown and passed my old stomping grounds. I felt a lot like someone who visits the neighborhood they grew up in after they've long since become an adult. We came right up on the WTC plaza, almost without realizing it. The southernmost corner is a block further south than it used to be. There's nothing remotely WTC about it (when your yardstick i s pre-9/11). It looks like any other construction site in the city. Even the building itself is nothing to write home about. It's enormous, but doesn't have anything unique about it. I mean, there isn't another like it exactly, but it's a blue glass building in NY. The old towers were totally unique.

We took a walk up to Liberty Park where I used to sit and eat lunch with my statue friend long before the Zucotti Brothers allowed Occupy Wall Street loonies camp and shit in it. I saw my statue friend (the one I found in Jersey City was a replica by the artist) and instantly got a little sad. He was unchanged and looked really out of place. Someone had used him as a perch for their business cards, which I cleansed him of.

Overall, I was ok, but I felt a lot of it was because our walk around outside just wasn't a good litmus test. So, we chose to go into the existing museum to do a full stress test - because I must be analytical about EVERYTHING in life. We paid an exorbitant amount of money to get in. The front room is full of facts, which were interesting. Then you get into the minute-by-minute, play-by-play of the morning. It is replete with authentic pieces of destruction - a window from a plane, a boarding pass, personal effects, a teddy bear, etc. If you turn away from the right wall of horror you are confronted with floor to ceiling tapestry like printings with snippets of people's stories. Your only escape is a wider opening at the end, which is the home of a large glass enclosure that holds the tattered firefighter gear that marked the end of my visit. It was in the corner near that remnant that I fell to pieces in a way I haven't in many years. But the museum was designed to do that.

After I quickly found Linda and scrambled for an exit and regained my composure, I came to the realization that this test run did not help to inure me to the emotional onslaught I'd be in for at the new museum. I wasn't equipped to do this again. So that's when I decided to decline the invite and tell my folks I wouldn't be joining them.

If you've known me pre and post 9/11, you know that it has had a profound impact on my life, but I'm not prone to breakdowns. I had my moments for that early on, but I've come to terms with all of it. Anniversaries get dicey, but less so each year. My reaction in the city that day was caused by an outside factor; the museum. That was the X-factor. I, with purpose, walked headlong into a brutal assault on my emotions. I gave someone money to apply pressure to my weak spot.

With the opening of them museum getting ever closer, the local media has picked up on it. We've been seeing images of the inside flashing by and it looks horrific. There is a pair of women's pumps on display, still bloody. There is a fire truck that is half destroyed. This is not a somber place of reflection. This is to evoke a reaction of sadness. This is meant to hurt. For people with no connections, and some of whom weren't even born when it happened, this is to make people understand what it felt like. For people like me, it is just a time machine to the worst day of my life. It takes me back to the place that was trying to kill me and brings to the surface the feelings of fear.

When I thought I was overreacting and being too hyper vigilant about those feelings is when a female spokesperson came on TV and said, "If you don't leave here sad, then we have not done our jobs." 9/11 was about purposeful destruction; not of our buildings, but of our will. This museum is about purposeful destruction of our emotions. Maybe the end game is to create a depth of understanding. I've just never been a fan of negative reinforcement, and this is not the way to get me to be.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Turning the tide

Twelve and a half years ago I got up to go to work just like every other day. In the car from Parsippany, NJ to Harrison, NJ. On a PATH train from there to the World Trade Center. Every day from 1999 through most of 2001 was the same. One morning it all changed. You all know the story, by now, of my morning of September 11, 2001. You're all familiar with how my family was affected and the loss. I've talked more than enough about that day to last most of you a lifetime.

Just under 2 years later, I left for Basic Military Training which began another adventure in my life. It was the start of over 3,000 days of active uniformed service in the United States Air Force. It shaped and guided me. It grew me as a person, as a man, as a professional and as an American. It showed me focus, drive, determination and integrity. September of 2003 came and went unnoticed because I was still in the training pipeline and adjusting to military life. In April 2004 I arrived at my first duty station, Shaw AFB in South Carolina. In August of that year, my mood changed and my performance slipped. The next anniversary was creeping up and it was the first time I was away and not preoccupied (I was just doing my USAF job every day). I was directed to speak with someone about it. I was nearly separated from the Air Force after being diagnosed with 9/11 PTSD. I was to be medically discharged. Luckily, other than a month or so before and after the anniversary I was mostly fine and a top performer. I had several people show support for me and was allowed to continue to serve, under care until leadership was sure I was healthy.

Year after year the anniversary would creep up and I would turn off my phone, take the day off and barricade myself in my home. It was a day long balancing act between the overstimulation of the media and depths of silent despair. I'd watch all I could until I couldn't bear anymore and then shut down until the silence was deafening... and repeat. Sometimes I chose a more spiritual route. Distilled spirits were the choice.

And so began the the habit of slinking into obscurity for 24 hours. The weight of the day grew heavier each year instead of healing with time. Being away from friends, family, and those who simply understood the geography of the area made me feel like the only one in my world. I'd share stories with pseudo-anonymity and never directly with people (e.g. blogs and soundbites).

Year after year 9/11 would come up and I'd pull the covers over my head. Year after year I let it terrify me. Year after year we'd step into the ring and I'd forfeit the fight. I let it beat me for 12 anniversaries.

That. Ends. Now.

I'm home. I'm near. I see the near-completed Freedom Tower (or whatever the hell it's called) every day. I no longer have to cower in the shadows from this monster all alone. Quick aside, no disrespect to anyone who was there for me in South Carolina or Mississippi; you all gave me sympathy, but the strength is in the empathy.

This year I'm back with an army of support and steeled resolve that this ominous monster just isn't ready for. It's time you take that terror and hit the bricks. Me, my family, my friends and my company are coming for you. We are going to band together and raise money to give it to those who put it all on the line every day. We're gonna run through Manhattan on September 28th; and we're gonna end right there at ground zero. I miss the skyline and I always will. I miss my Uncle Tommy and I always will. Nothing changes there. But I refuse to crumble every September. Never again.

Anyone is welcome to join me along the way. If you want to join the team or donate to the team you can follow this link - If you want to run with us, stay tuned for more. Or you can come out and cheer us on. Or you can just leave a message to let us know you're crossing your fingers.

This has been a long climb from the darkest corners of my memory. I do appreciate everyone's support. Some call/email/text. Some offer to spend the day with me. Some want to hear stories and learn. You've all helped. Returning to the source was the last piece of the puzzle to really begin the fight to overcome this. And now it's time.

Friday, February 14, 2014

90 years young

Today is a very special day for a very special person in my life. My paternal grandmother and sole surviving grandparent turns 90 today. This woman astounds me. She lives in the upstairs apartment of a 2 family house, alone, in Brooklyn. Up and down she goes, with her cart to the grocery store. She walks to church, however many blocks away. She cooks, cleans and hangs out all on her own. Recently she decided to bring in a cleaning lady, once a month to do the extra work stuff, but other than that, no help.

When I call her, I often get no response because she's out and about, doing whatever a 90 year old does. Sometimes it takes 3 days to get in touch with her. When she calls back, she tells me about all the places she was; some of which include going to Manhattan to window shop at Macy's 34th street, going to a movie or she was at "the beauty parlor."

We were terrified when we couldn't contact her on September 11th. She was already 78 back then. We were eventually relieved to hear she walked back to Brooklyn from Manhattan. Of course, I felt terrible about myself when I did the same thing hours later and felt as if I had just crossed the Mojave, while being 56 years her junior.

She carries a cell phone that she has no idea how to use, but calls me often to ask about this gizmo she heard about on TV. Jason "what's this app they talk about?" or "I see those things on the bottom of the commercial. That's the Facebook you talk about?" 90 years old and still want to know everything she sees. She may not know what she sees initially, but sure as hell understands it when it's explained.

I try to get to Brooklyn to go to lunch with her every so often and as we walk the neighborhood streets, person after person stop to talk say hello and talk to her. EVERYONE says "Oh hi Tess." And she introduces me to all of them the same way, "This is my grandson. He was in the service." HAHA. She says it with this WWII inflection. Of course, she wrote letters to her man while he was serving during the war.

Many years ago we were in Italy together for her 75th birthday. Il Duomo is a church in Florence. The major dome has lights positioned inside the inner rim, hidden from sight. At the drop of handful of Lira (pre Euro days) in a machine, the lights turn on. Being the terrible grandson I am, I tell her that legend states when a person of bountiful faith prays under the dome it will illuminate. She tells me to do it and I remind her that we're lucky the place didn't collapse upon my entry. So she tries, at which point the Lira goes into the machine, lights come on and my poor old Mema thinks she's part of a divine intervention in Italy. In the event you're unfamiliar with Italy, Jesus is really big there. While she thinks she's been touched by the hand of God, I'm in near hysterics and have to leave the church. Later that night, I filled her in on what had happened. She didn't get mad or disappointed. She gave me a whack and told me it's nice not nice to tease my grandmother, especially in church and kissed me because the most important thing to her was the relationship that allowed for that kind of fun.

The presence of hearing aids that she got as she aged have been used a joke that she now has a defense from wet willies from me. Yes, I would give my grandmother wet willies. Don't judge me. It's funny.

On her 65th birthday, the family got her a stripper, which was supposedly hysterical (I obviously wasn't there). When I threatened to get her one again she told me to go ahead; as long as it wasn't the same guy.

She's one of the most generous people I've ever met and wants nothing more than to see her grandkids get married and have kids of their own.

She's in the middle of the pack of 8 other brothers and sisters. She has over 30 nieces and nephews. She can tell you the names, ages, birthdays, wedding anniversaries of all of them; along with all other information, both pertinent and extraneous.

She's about 4 feet 10 inches tall and jokes about shrinking. She's possibly the most adorable person you could know. All of my friends that know her greet her like she's their own grandmother.

I know that 99% of you have stopped reading or just can't appreciate any of this, not knowing her. I know this is out of character for me. But she's 90, healthy, "with it," and so, so, so important to me that I had to let it out. I'm lucky to have her.

Summer of 2011. Not the most flattering picture of me. She hasn't changed a bit since then.

Do you say 'Bah Humbug' too?

And so begins the tradition of couples being overly mushy in the most public of ways. And on the other side of the spectrum, those with hearts icier than a snowman's balls are complaining and railing against "Hallmark Day." Threats of punches to the face turned into pseudo-clever memes and fake heart candies saying, "meh," and calls to action for being loving 364 other days of the year all adorn the timelines the lovelorn, people who are poor litmus tests for their own funniness or those looking to be contrary for the sake of it. We'll skip right over the history buffs who remind us of the massacre. I think either side goes a little over the top, but what is America without extreme polarization and discrepancy on any single topic?

For the record, I like a little Valentine's day. I do, however, recognize that it has been slightly skewed via Hallmark and 1-800-FLOWERS. So what? So has Christmas, Easter, etc, etc, etc. If you celebrate Christmas, do you love Jesus every other day of the year? I mean do you actively celebrate His birth and life? Or do you just give presents. How many actually put out a nativity?

How is celebrating Valentine's Day an indictment on the love we show for one another the rest of the year? I don't see a correlation. There is nothing wrong with paying a little extra attention one day. It doesn't mean that the rest of the year is subpar. If you go berserk on Feb 14th and ignore your partner the rest of the year you have your own problems. But for the rest of us, we actively love whomever is the object of our affection, but one day we choose to make a bigger spectacle of it (Nor'easter storm years notwithstanding).

Let me ask all the negative nancies a question. Do you celebrate birthdays? You must hate that person the rest of the year. You should tell them that you're happy they were born every day, just to validate what you do on their birthday. Oh, but then the birthday wouldn't be special, would it? So it's ok to go a little above and beyond on certain days. I certainly know that my FB Timeline and inbox get flooded with "thank you for your military service" messages on November 11th more than any other day of the year.

Is it that you're alone and miserable? Is that why you hate on Valentine's Day? I feel for you. It sucks to be alone in the face of every happy couple you know. Do you want to punch friends that are more financially successful too? Maybe your negativity and willingness to drag down happy people is part of the reason you're in the spot you are in, in the first place. Maybe. I don't want to assign any "whys" to any of it. Just saying that nastiness has consequences.

Anyway, whether it's overboard or not, it comes from a good place. So let people be happy. I choose to not go totally bananas and the things I like to do are typically a little more private, but that doesn't lessen my intention compared to those that post ad nauseam about it. I suppose that's the only reason I'm not victimized by the "love grinches" out there.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

International Indifference

I'm an Olympics nut. Especially the winter Olympics. I love winter sports over summer in the first place and summer weighs heavily on running so it doesn't capture my attention quite the same way. I grew up a skier and a hockey player. Anyway, I love the Olympics. I'm so happy that NBC Sports Network is nearly 24/7 coverage. It's on in the background as I go about my day so I can see or absorb as much as possible.

Truthfully, I was concerned about the social media reaction leading up to the Olympics. I chose to not say anything because I thought that just may be the spark people needed and I didn't want to be a part of it. I have to say that I was initially pleasantly surprised that nobody said a word about it. Then I got to thinking and realized that indifference may be worse. I ran it through my social media business filter in my mind. We have evangelists that praise companies and as a marketer, I love them; naturally. We have the haters, which most companies are aggravated about, but I love them too. When people scream from the rafters about what they hate most, I can address it for clients and attempt to fix. It's the quiet ones you've gotta worry about. Did they like it or hate it? Enough to stay quiet, but not come back? It's a lot of guessing.

In this case, I have to wonder if people are even aware of the Olympics anymore. Have they lost that much relevance? Once they kicked off, everyone jumped on the Sochi is a shithole bandwagon, but that wasn't enough fuel to even talk about the games themselves. That both surprised and disappointed me.

To each their own, I guess. I point no fingers to the people who don't watch them, but I wish everyone would. I'm amazed by them. I'm sure they're politicized in some ways that I purposefully ignore. I'm sure they're not as wholesome as my rose-colored glasses make them appear. Maybe my shallow view of them is unfair; I don't know. But let me tell you what I see.

  • Countries that are friends or not friends or acquaintances or enemies laying down their swords in the spirit of international competition.
  • Athletes who make almost NO money working their asses off to compete. Most of them are capable of going pro (and some do), but would prefer to do it for passion, love and patriotism.
  • Athletes who, in the training process, know they often have ONE shot, and if they miss it a lifetime of training results in nearly nothing. As a businessman, that's horrible ROI. Who wants to kick a 50-yard field goal through 4-foot wide uprights against the wind?
  • Colors, lights, fun, international brotherhood/sisterhood/siblinghood, fashion, parties, etc. A planet becoming a community, if only for 2 weeks.
  • Pride beyond pride, but not people being prideful. Humble pride? A man as the single representative of his country dancing into the stadium waving the flag of his nation during the opening ceremonies was a level of excitement and pride coupled with humility unlike anything I've ever seen.
  • Against all odds accomplishment - Jamaican bobsled team anyone? They're back this year along with a handful of Caribbean nations - at the winter Olympics.
And the list goes on. Our relationship with Russia is icy, at best, but not for the nest few weeks. Team USA has over 200 athletes. They came in with their Ralph Lauren Team USA sweaters that looked like they were knitted by senile Aunt Irma for Christmas, but they were cheering and chanting and hugging and excited. Fresh faced young Americans ready to accomplish something magical for no reason other than to make their country proud. Some had events to compete in just hours after the ceremonies, but chose to be there anyway. 

As I write this I feel myself romanticizing it, but I don't care. I see enough terrible shit on TV all day every day - killings, war, abductions, drugs, down to arguing over petty things, infidelity, political altercations and more. There is enough junk to focus on. This transcends all that. When was the last time you considered a country like Azerbaijan? And here they are competing. Timor-Leste sent a couple people. Four athletes showed up without a country's endorsement. They are Independent Olympic Participants. Imagine that.

Tune in or tune out. As always, that's your choice. If I could ask one favor, it would be to think about all that it takes to make this happen and why people do it. If you see more than athletic events, give it all a shot. It's refreshing and only happens every 4 years (per season, at least).