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).