Saturday, February 1, 2014

Mid Life Crisis? No problem! So many ways to deal with it

“I’m definitely going through something.” Wow have I heard that statement from so many different people over the last few years. While some folks might be afraid to label it a mid life crisis if it looks like a duck, quacks likes like a duck, you probably need a cocktail to wash the reality down. I really don’t think my contemporaries are freaking out about this particular new stage of life. Most people recognize that this is a good time to be alive and soon enough the kids will be gone and we’ll reflect longingly on these days when the entire family lived under one roof. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean we’re not lamenting the passing of our own youth. We are. From what I’ve witnessed there are so many reasons a person might be “going through something “ and there are even more ways to react to what you might be going through. But whatever you want to call it or however you choose to deal with it, it’s undeniable that we are definitely “going through something.”

I’ve observed and experienced numerous different reactions to the mid life crisis and before I break down my essay into reasons for the “change” and the reactions that the “change” might bring please know that I’m not judging any one in this critique. Well, that might not be entirely true because I am laughing about so much of what I see and I have to admit to a fair amount of angst on a personal level from starting to entertain thoughts regarding my own mortality. In the past two months I've buried a good friend and had surgery on my abdomen so that empowers me to become incredibly reflective. As always, as long as we can laugh at our surroundings and ourselves maybe these events won’t be the death of us yet.

So why are we so upset? So many books and articles have been written about the subject I should question what can I possibly add to a body of work that fills 75% of a Barnes & Noble self-help section? Lacking a degree in either sociology or clinical psychology I only have empirical evidence yet so much of what I have witnessed probably resembles your own experiences. There are 45 million US members of Generation X. We aren’t the narcissists of Generation Y who think everything should be catered to them and we’re still the generation that laughed with Eddie Murphy and call Kurt Cobain one of our own. Maybe it’s a stretch to say we’re still cool, but we still think we are so tough crap. The fact that we also propelled numerous Lionel Richie songs to the top of the charts remains a stain on our record so we’ll ignore a few missteps along the way.

The most base reason to have a mid life crisis is when you start to question if your best days are behind you or in front of you and let’s face it, on the other side of 45 that might be a question most people don’t want to ask themselves. As I often do I found the secrets to one of life’s mysteries on a sitcom. On the last episode of Scrubs (before they came out with that super weird final final season set seven years in the future) the main character, JD, had one of his lame epiphanies that his future was unwritten. His future was his own to bravely make, the world was his oyster waiting to be opened. Whatever and shut the fuck up! What struck me about this lame scene was the montage they played as he looked to his future; all the events he would have to look forward to in his life were laid out before him. As Peter Gabriel’s Book of Love was playing in the background JD looked out to witness the highlights of his future: his wedding day, kissing his wife’s pregnant belly, and his kids celebrating Christmas with his bests friends’ kids. In other words, there is absolutely nothing going on in our lives at this moment that he would be looking forward to. As most of you know when you live with a teenager those cute scenes change to arguments ranging from homework to basic hygiene (which really shouldn’t be an argument but remarkably still is). Book of Love? Give me a break, it’s more like the Stones 19th Nervous Breakdown aka “Mother’s Little Helper” should be playing in the background of our lives. By the way in 2014 “Mother’s Little Helper” has a simple name. We call it vodka.

The kids really do drive so much of this anxiety and it applies to both sexes. As a man I’m coming to realize I’m no longer the dominant male physical specimen in my own house. And while that has some upside as the kids can shovel the driveway as opposed to waiting for me to do it, I have passed the mantel of big, strong Dad because these boys are becoming physically stronger than I am today. Am I lying around depressed because my son is a better skier, runner and baseball player than I am? No. But do I miss being able to run a marathon? Yes and watching my kids surpass me physically reminds me of my own diminishing physical prowess. Once I was viewed as the Uber Dad, blessed with super powers and designated protector of the family. Today I’m often viewed as the jailer who limits access to the car keys and the person who unplugs the X-Box when I get sick of them staring at it for six straight hours. As for a stay at home Mom, once the kids are closer to leaving home everything starts to change. For sixteen years a mother has been the dominant person in their child’s life and now that teenager is so much less dependent on that parent and worse, often outwardly rejects their mother’s counsel on virtually everything. Even though Mom is right 98% of the time she’s treated like the village idiot. Moreover, it’s already troubling that your kids don’t need you as much in their lives, but being that stay at home parent often covered up many of the other holes in that parent’s life. In particular if the kids don’t need you all the time how are you going to fill that time? Raising kids was so all consuming that ten years ago you didn’t have five minutes to have a spare thought. Now you do have time and often the thoughts are what happened to the dreams I once had and what do I do with the rest of my life?

So those are some real happy thoughts right there. If you weren’t going through something when you started reading this you probably are right now. Sorry to bum you out. Now let’s have some fun as we examine the different ways to deal with the mid life crisis. Once again please don’t think I’m being overly critical as I’m just as guilty of numerous violations as most people I know.

The Inertia Safety. Everyone knows someone in this place. This person can’t change and desperately does not want to. They spent countless hours complaining about how things have changed and they pine away for things to return to the way they once were when the kids were young and adult friendships weren’t so strained by competition. This person only has classic rock on their iPod, buys tons of lottery tickets hoping that winning will relieve the pain (and it might). They complain how easy kids have it today and how things were so much harder in their youth. Harder but better dammit because of the values those hard times instilled! This Gen Xer is just gearing up to turn into someone from my seventy-eight year old father’s generation who long for the old days when every one was white, Christian, straight and male.

The Explorer. This person is on the opposite side of the spectrum from the Inertia Safety. The explorer is open to change, is looking for new things and anxious to try them. There are so many different levels of the explorer. On one level you have someone who tries seemingly harmless things, a new hair color, new color contacts lenses, and other examples you see portrayed in pop culture. Maybe they buy a convertible or a pickup truck they simply don’t need but they always wanted to own. Then there are less superficial and much more dangerous ways to be an explorer. Sometimes it’s an extramarital affair and this affair can be either heter or homosexual in nature. Other times our friends explore deeper uses of chemical substances. Former teetotalers (spelling from Wikipedia) start smoking pot on a weekly basis and pot smokers start doing cocaine to get through the day. Other parents find solace in taking their kids' meds. Maybe the networks should reverse those public announcements warning parents about teens raiding medicine cabinets when we’re the ones stealing drugs not prescribed for us. Let’s face it, explorers can go a long way off course once they leave the straight, and often mind numbingly boring path, their life has been on for the past twenty-five years. Some exploring has healthy ramifications, maybe a person follows a new spiritual path that brings them peace or maybe they find a new career that brings them excitement. The one explorer that drives me nuts is the person trying to enjoy only things and ideas that they think will make their kids like them. For example, if you are the parent that only listens to your kids’ favorite music and attempts to dress like them then you really are heading down the wrong path. Some things really are just meant for teenagers and when you’re the mom at the school message center dressed in the same outfit as the sophomore girls that is the opposite of Martha Stewart. In other words, “It’s not a good thing.”

The Physical Transformation aka The Fighter. I really do admire this person and aspire to be like them. This individual has decided the best way to deal with mid life is to get into incredibly physical shape and defy the aging gods. Hiring the personal trainer, kick boxing lessons, and a steady diet of kale and organic everything. These are the highlights of the fighter as they rage, rage against the dying of the light. Maybe they can fire up the knees for one more marathon or even better, an Olympic Triathlon. Throw in some regular Botox work and maybe a pair of new boobs and you might witness a total physical transformation that is simply awesome. The only downside is the body often isn’t ready for the Krav Maga (Israeli commando workout offered all over suburbia) training. One moment you are dominating the 20 year olds in your kick boxing class, the next moment your sensei is carrying you to the emergency room as your Achilles tendon snapped like a piece of dry linguini.

The Reversion. This Gen Xer is the most commonplace and draws much of its characteristics from the other labels we’ve previously discussed. This individual loved their past so much they are going to attempt to relive it right now. They’re up for a drink at any time of the day, any day of the week. Remember how you went out to bars any night of the week regardless of work in your 20’s? The reversion feels that way at 45. If you had such incredible fun in those early days of college and adulthood it stands to reason that those activities remain just as much fun today regardless of age. On one level I understand the logic. This person isn’t suffering from inertia, they’re taking action against their angst. They’ve engaged the world and they’re excited about it. Likewise, they’re often willing to explore new things like new bars, new music, new cocktails and if you’re the lucky spouse, new sexual positions. However, the reversion has one enormous downside, they need you to go out with them. The most vital aspect of our bar hopping days in the 90’s was the gang we did it with. There was never a shortage of wingmen/women willing to hit the town and drink Jager shots from an ice luge. Today the reversion flies through friends because most contemporaries can’t keep up with them. The hangovers are too crippling and it’s too hard to rebound to do it again the next night. The problem for the reversion is he/she believes this mythical time machine behavior is going to bring everyone back to a time of great happiness. Who knows? Maybe it will make the reversion feel rejuvenated and alive, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the reversion’s friends will find the same happiness in the same behavior. I love the reversion because the rock star behavior appeals to me and inspires me. I also hate the reversion because eventually I’m out past 1 am for the 3rd time in two weeks and that dog just don’t hunt no more.

I’m certain there are other characters and most of the people I know do not fit neatly into any one category. Instead peoples’ behavior manifests many diverse characteristics of the different labels at different times. Most important I think the behavior and the angst surrounding the mid life crisis miss the larger point, which is I believe that this period of life isn’t worthy of the anxiety we allow it to bring into our lives.

In 2007 the cover story for The Economist’s year end issue was something called the U-Bend. The essence of the story is that age 46 represents the nadir of adult happiness. The article explains that happiness actually increases as we age despite what we were originally lead to believe. Once we pass 46 the way we view the world changes for the better. Maybe we’ll be a little less hard on ourselves, more accepting of our own limitations, and more understanding towards others which it turn, should make us happier. I don’t know if that thesis will prove correct and I take exception with the last point as I plan on celebrating Festivus and the airing of the grievances for at least another decade. Still, I rather look forward to a brighter and happier tomorrow than hanging on to a romanticized remembrance of my past.

So what’s my remedy for the mid life angst? It’s mostly the explorer. We need to keep trying new things where we can find new meanings to inspire us. Keep going to the theater, see new movies when they come out. Change the dials on your car radio to something different. Instead of always going to Florida in the winter, go to Arizona. I’m not saying change everything because I know there are things we look forward to in life every year. Maybe it’s the start of golf season, opening day at the beach club, or the first Giants home game in the fall. All those days are great and I have no doubt they are the type of events that bring us great joy. My point is we need to be open to finding new events and ideas that can lift our spirits just as much. So many of the things we look forward towards are simply repeats. We’ve done all of them numerous times and as great as they are, maybe we could be a little more willing to try something new. We don’t need to give up the things we love, it’s just a matter of avoiding the rigidity that makes us unwilling to try new things.

But that’s what I think and I’m certain it may not apply to anyone or everyone. So don’t hold back. Be whoever you want to be whether that means you’re angry with your friends for changing or you’re about to sign up for a pole dancing lessons. Whatever it takes to get you going. But if you need a wingman in the city on Wednesday night, call someone else. I’ve got to go to work in the morning.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Tale of Two Christmas Cards

I love receiving Christmas cards, or if you are so inclined, Holiday cards. It may seem overly quaint but seeing how families grow and change year after year makes me feel like there is still a connection to many of these old acquaintances. At one time or another I might have considered the sender a good friend and though we don't really write, speak, text, tweet, IM, or post on one another's Facebook wall I truly do appreciate not being dropped off their address list and still receiving a card. Of all the Christmas cards I receive my favorite type of card to receive is the card with the written family update.

The family update cards are something I look forward to every year. In my heart I know these cards were not written with the intent to make me feel bad about myself and all of our failings as a family but sometimes I wonder. The most common update is how great the kids are doing though I once read the supposed transcript of a family discussing how they had grown closer to God over the previous year. Nevertheless, whatever the topic, it seems humility is continually in short supply.

What follows is an amalgamation of all the different family update cards we've received over the years and a suspected "truth" update that I suspect might hold a little more veracity.

What a year it's been! Can't believe how quickly 365 days go by. As we find ourselves joyfully preparing for the coming of Christ (Hope to see many of you at Midnight Mass next week) it's worth reflecting on all of our blessing over the year.

What a year it's been! Time really does fly because I can't believe I got this damn old so fast. Can't believe we have to fight with the kids about going to Church on Christmas. The only time they saw the inside of a Church last year was when we dragged them to their nephew's Baptism. You'd think we were asking the to donate a pint of blood which I'm certain they'd rather do than get dressed up and stand in the back of the Church lobby. We're never remotely on time for Christmas Mass and we still have yet to find a seat.

Senior year has arrived for our oldest son _______ (Chipper, Bradley, Donovan) and we're so proud he's handling all the pressure so well. College choices were weighing on our young man so we're delighted to announce he has decided to attend Williams and turned down the offer from the stuffed shirts at Yale. We all felt Williams had the best combination of academics and athletics and as a letter man in three varsity sports ________ (Chipper, Bradley, Donovan) will be able to pursue the glory on the playing field he enjoyed so much during high school.

The most exciting thing to look forward to is _______ (Mike, Jim, Petey) finally leaving the house when/if he graduates this spring. That kid has exhausted us for 19 years and we'll be thrilled if he goes to any college as long as it's one he has to leave this house to attend. I'm not holding out much hope he'll make a full year at any school without being sent home but I'll take any break I can get. We love the kid but we won't miss his proclivity for smelling like a used jock strap, trashing my car, and leaving porn around his room. Teenagers have an all consuming superior attitude and I can't wait for him to go out into the real world and get his ass handed to him. The one thing I will miss when he's gone is his Aderall prescription. Since he stopped taking those puppies in Sophomore year those tiny capsules have become a staple of my every day routine. I don't know how I'll make it through a day at the office without them...

Our daughter _______ (Brittany, Hannah, Annibel) has truly transformed into a beautiful young woman. We were so proud of her as she went away this past summer on an eight week Spanish language immersion course in Costa Rica. But juggling the demands of academics and the temptation of so many attractive suitors is a challenge for a young woman and we are so proud of _______ (Brittany, Hannah, Annibel) for handling it so well. Her fall highlight was the Homecoming semi-formal dance. As that most beautiful creature descending down the stairs to meet her date a tear rolled down my cheek as I couldn't believe how my baby girl had grown. As parents we looked at her with such pride. She is truly one of God's greatest gifts to us.

I think that puberty and ravaging hormones have finally turned my daughter into a lunatic. It hard to believe my own offspring could treat me with such contempt but ______ (Sue, Jane, Mary-Patrick) never fails to amaze. Even more unfathomable is her ability to insult us yet continue to spend our money like it's her own. Between the clothes, iPads and that eight week "spa" to deal with her eating disorder she has almost wiped out my savings. I think the worst part of the year was the Homecoming dance where her outfit looked like something you'd buy on Halloween in the slutty vixen section of the store. As horrifying and inappropriate as her fashion choices were, her date was even less inspiring. The idea of this pierced nose, tattoo covered loser slobbering all over my daughter was unbearable. It left me in a prisoner's dilemma choice. I could pray that she might heed my years of advice regarding prudence or hand her a box of condoms because I didn't want any of that boy's DNA joining our family lineage.

And how can we not mention the baby! What greater gift in life is there than becoming a parent again at our age. Thirty-one months ago the arrival of little ________ (Deven, Harris, Gavin) reopened an entire world to us and now we have the opportunity to relive so many of life's most joyous moments: Strolling through the park, going to music class, nursing. The possibilities for this child are endless. It's hard to say what talents little ________ (Deven, Harris, Gavin) may have at this point? Reading, music, puzzles? All these activities are things he truly loves. Still, of all the things that make him happy I'll bet it's sleeping every night with his Mommy.

Can't forget the youngest though often times I do. Although he's almost three my wife still treats ______ (Rick, Doug, Peyton Manning Junior) like an infant. Given the infrequency of coitus over the past years I'm still not convinced that little bastard is even mine. There's lots I've forgotten from when the other kids were that young so I can't be certain but I worry this kid is just plain dumb. Crayons up his nose, poop on the walls and he keeps sticking my remote controls in the dog's water dish. I'm a patient man but I'm reaching my breaking point. That kid has been in my bed every night since he was born and I get in trouble for waking him up when I close the front door to leave for work at 4:30 am? Last, the breast feeding has got to stop. For the kid and for all of humanity who has to watch. My wife's boobs are like my hairline. Their visual heyday was in the 90's.

Still it's not all about the kids as my wife and I were able to sneak away for a romantic getaway down in Turks and Caicos. It's so invigorating to break away from the daily routine to rediscover why we fell in love in the first place. I don't want to brag but based on our week there the good folks at the Kama Sutra have asked us to write a new chapter for the soon to be released update. Never forget the woman you fell in love with. It is through our love, fidelity and faith that both of us will find the overwhelming love of Christ this Christmas season.

Another year older and closer to the grave. Hard to believe we're still married given the mutual disdain we hold for one another. To say we're going through the motions would give us too much credit. It's not like we have nothing in common. We both despise our neighbors and love vodka so we definitely have things to talk about. Likewise we did manage to grab some time away from the kids. The problem was that time was spent with our marriage counselor and I can say that I didn't feel better for the experience. It seems we're paying for "safe space" to tell one another how unhappy we are. At least it's "safe." It's not all bad because she still hasn't discovered my second cell phone and third credit card that I use for my mistress and my bookie. Quite frankly those are the two healthiest relationships I've had in years.

Have a joyful and blessed Christmas. You and yours will be in our prayers this season.

Cheers to you! Make certain the beer is cold and never stops running. If you can spare a good thought please pray that the Giants cover against the Eagles next week. If that baby comes in it'll save my ass from financial ruin.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Business Travel

I don’t travel for work all that much and that’s kind of a blessing and a curse. I truly believe that leaving the office and going to other cities is good for the soul. Not only does it allow me to expand my knowledge, it makes me a little less egotistical as I actually consider the possibility that there might be one or two reasons to work some other place than Manhattan (for someone else of course). Still, I like going home most every night and most true road warriors quickly tire of the endless travel their respective professions require. I’ve never slept as well in a hotel as I have in my own bed and I’ve stayed in some swanky places. That doesn’t mean I never leave the office because I do attend a number of business conferences every year sometimes as a customer and sometimes as a potential customers. I’ve been working for over twenty years so despite my lack of constant travel I have racked up the miles over the course of my career and I’ve certainly garnered a few stories and other nuggets of information over the course of these journeys.

Back in the early 1990’s I traveled much more than I do now. That makes sense because when you are young and don’t have kids you’re much more willing to take the show on the road, particularly if you can expense the entire journey. But being young isn’t what made business travel different in the 90s, it was the way companies viewed business conferences. Back then a business conference really was a boondoggle in every sense of the word. A typical business junket included at least two rounds of golf on some fantastic course, expensive wines and the food was over the top. I remember scarfing down plates of shrimp that were larger than baseballs. Bring your wife/girlfriend and the sponsor would have her set up for a few spa treatments while we attended the few presentations that made it seem like we were actually working. It was crazy fun and an absolute waste of corporate resources.

On the other hand I had other wild experiences early in my career when I worked for companies that did not have the money to waste on lobsters and personalized golf shirts. In fact, back then most of my friends had incredible stories about the training trips we all took back when we started out in the business world. Personally, I started my first job two weeks after I graduated college and I had to drive down to the MacIntosh Inn in King of Prussia, PA to learn how to sell photocopiers to a world still grasping the demise of the ditto machine. I had no idea what to expect and I didn’t know anyone else in the training class. I checked into my double room alone and I probably cried myself to sleep realizing how foolish I was to leave college after only four years. In retrospect I should have stretched that gig out as long as possible! Anyhow, when I opened my eyes in the morning there was some dude in the bed eighteen inches away from me. WTF! I was absolutely stunned having no idea that the company was doubling us up in these $49 nightly rooms. Now as I was processing the situation the guy jumped up out of bed to introduce himself and he was butt naked. For the rest of my life as a professional I will never forget how the first moments of my career started, with me staring at some guy’s package wondering if this strange dude took advantage of me while I was sleeping. The rest of my training week was very similar to the stories my contemporaries told me from their training weeks in their respective professions: meetings and product classes all day and absolute debauchery at night. The three women in my training group were stalked by the fourteen guys like treasures Indian Jones would be searching for. One friend told me the story of how a long term affair started in her training group of pharmaceutical sales people. Two married trainees (but not married to one another) hooked up at their first training off-site and they continued to get together ever few months when the company brought the class back for further product training. She even ended up pregnant from one of their “seminars” which was somewhat difficult to explain to her particular spouse.

Fortunately I found my way into an industry that let us have our own hotel rooms when we were on the road and now enough time has passed that I’ve learned enough about business conference behavior to write a book, or at least a blog post. Today’s conferences are far from the boondoggles of twenty years ago and there are good reasons for that. First, companies are run much more tightly and wasting money on rounds of golf when you’re laying off employees is not considered good corporate behavior. Also, as professionals we all work much harder than we did in the past. If I’m going to leave the office for a few days it better be worth my time. Now the “fun” part of the conference is on the weekend. Sorry, the weekend is my time and if the choice is a round of golf in Scottsdale on Saturday and a late return Sunday night, I’ll grab the Friday night flight and head home. I’ve already had four meals with my fellow attendees and I don’t think they’ll miss me. But it’s more than not being a boondoggle, business conferences are now profit centers for the sponsoring company so expenses are kept to a minimum while generating revenue is the goal. To ring the cash register the conference host company now places the bar in the exhibit hall where sponsors have paid big bucks to have a lame little table where they are desperate to interact with potential customers. This concept really makes sense and it’s a wonder it took so long for conference hosts to realize this. The attendees are the exact group sponsors want to pitch to and here are hundreds of us who make decisions about how our companies spend money. The exhibit hall sponsors staffing these tables are interesting folks. Their companies wrote big checks for them to be at the conference so they better return having made some contacts with potential customers. To lure you to their table they’ll put out swag they hope you’ll find appealing. Unfortunately too many sponsors have the same idea of what kind of toys we’ll find interesting. Here’s a hint, I don’t need any more pens, stuffed animals wearing a shirt with your corporate logo, or another travel mug. Now if you’ve got a cute masseuse manning the massage chair, I might spare you a few minutes of my time. Actually I always walk the aisles in the exhibit halls; I feel like I should make a token effort to see if anything catches my interest. The trick is to avoid making eye contact with any of the sponsors as they’re frantic to get your business card and even more desperate to take you to dinner. If they lock eyes with you might get trapped for the next thirty minutes listening to how their business process will revolutionize the industry. Even worse they’ll probably call you six times the following week suggesting they come visit your office with their regional head of sales. It makes me feel like the sponsor is showing me off to his boss just as a guy shows off his new girlfriend to his ex. “Look who I made friends with!!”

No one is ever going to ask me to organize their conference but I’m certain all these companies would benefit from my years of experience. First let’s talk about my favorite subject, food. There is all kind of food available during the course of the day outside the conference rooms and most of it is fantastic. I love sugar cookies, Arizona Iced Tea, and chicken empanadas. However it just seems all the food should consistently serve one purpose, to keep you awake. When you put out the soft pretzel station in the middle of the day you better spike the coffee because I’m going down. Walking back into a dark conference room for my fourth power point presentation of the day after woofing down three mini burritos is a guaranteed nap. I don’t care if you’ve raised Steve Jobs from the grave and he’s explaining the next great business revolution, my eyes won’t stay open. Still it’s more than the grazing choices during the day, what about the offsite dinner? Over the past ten years I’ve been incredibly fortunate because I usually bring the same co-worker to all the conferences I attend and she is an all star. Everyone asks us to dinner because they know if she’s at their table it’s going to be a fun night and typically I’m just riding her coattails. However, often I’ve been honored to be invited to the executive dinner with the top people from the hosting company. My fellow attendees often ride me pretty hard about abandoning them for dinner at the big boy table but I really appreciate these meals. Because these are senior executives you might think these are very stiff gatherings but you’d be wrong. I’m not saying we’re doing keg stands but usually it’s an interesting group and I actually enjoy hearing about someone else’s business and their goals and challenges. My issue is our host taking us somewhere really far from the conference. On the one hand I’ve been at the same conference center since 7 am so I’m thrilled to get off campus; however it’s the long bus ride that becomes the issue. These days I always travel alone so I don’t have my wife to come to ride with me in the two seater on the bus and I haven’t really had a chance to meet my future dinner companions. Instead it’s random chance whom you’re going to be sitting with for the ride out to dinner and if the ride is over forty minutes and you’re stuck with an introvert as your travel buddy that’s just an exercise in pain. Would it be rude for me to pull out my iPod because we’re both dying out here? On the way home it’s easy, I’ve met these folks and the free flowing wine has loosened all our vocal chords but wow have I suffered on the outbound journey. So you've got three choices: put a traveling bar on the bus, give us all iPads for the long journey or pick a restaurant close to the conference. Any of those three work for me.

Speaking of cocktail hour, the drinking aspect of business conferences is quite interesting. It is my belief that professionals behave remarkably different than they do at home when it comes to enjoying a few adult beverages. It is too simplistic to say that professionals are unchained animals when they're on the road and away from the spouse and children. I'm not saying that I haven't seen some folks get fairly nutty but I've found that the single folks are the ones who play hardest on the road. Once I was at a conference just south of Ft. Lauderdale which is almost an hour north of South Beach. Don't think for a second the distance deterred these single folks from heading that way and returning to the hotel at 5:30 the next morning. Party on rock stars! Still, most professionals attending a conference are well aware they are on display and representing more than themselves. While they probably drink for six hours straight they usually keep it together within reason (except for the time we all ended up in an Indian casino at 4 am). On the show 30 Rock Alec Baldwin's character, Jack Donaghy, referred to it as "business drunk" implying that if your drinking is part of your job you really can't be held fully responsible for your actions that come from drinking. That seem a fiction to me but people getting "business sick" the next day is 100% reality. The comedy, as always, is the 8 am morning session on day 2 is a ghost town no matter how many Tylenols are in the gift baskets.

I've probably spent too much time discussing food and drink when today's conferences really are about work and profits for the host company. To insure a successful conference sponsoring companies need speakers who draw people to the conference and help turn a profit. I've been fortunate to hear numerous famous speakers over the years and I found very few were actually worth the hype. In fact, speakers I expected the most from often left me wanting and others of who I had low expectations were surprisingly engaging. For example, I thought a renowned orator like President Clinton would knock our socks off describing the Clinton Global Initiative and instead his presentation was disjointed and unfocused. Conversely George W. Bush was extremely quick to answer audience questions and was remarkably witty and self deprecating. Other speakers who were mediocre include Sen. Bob Dole, Bill Belichick, Deepak Chopra and former White House Chief of Staff James Baker. However the dubious distinction for worst keynote speaker has to go to Bill Rancic, winner of season one on Donald Trump's The Apprentice. I had exceedingly low expectations and he didn't even come close to meeting them. Did Trump pay the conference sponsor to give the guy something to do because I can't imagine any one writing a check to this guy tell his "inspiring" story. The best speakers I have ever had the honor of hearing were author Michael Lewis, Hank Paulson, former Navy Seal and author Eric Greitens and Gen. Colin Powell. General Powell’s story is amazing and let's face it, people from both sides of the aisle hold him in extremely high regard. Regardless I really loved hearing the stories from the conference sponsors detailing the requirements for each keynote speaker. I couldn’t get enough of the details explaining that the general only is flown on a G-4 and it is to be fully stocked with Minute Maid orange juice. Tropicana need not apply.

I have a different suggestion for headline speakers though I know it will never work. My idea is to bring academics who are known for their outstanding lectures. I left college over twenty years ago but there were specific professors we absolutely loved for their lectures. They would command the attention of the hall and put on an intellectual show often bringing their lecture to a conclusion most unexpected. These academics teach and lecture as a career so they are comfortable in front of the room, they know their material better than most every one, and they've most likely heard and answered every question attendees can ask of them. Alas, it seems conference hosts will always rely on big names to encourage people to sign up and I can't really blame them. If there are two equal conferences and the keynote for one is Tony Blair and the other is NYU's best corporate finance professor I’m going to choose the former Prime Minister every time.

Regardless of the speaker's bio, every presentation has similar characteristics. For example, whatever the topic each presenter needs to know they've got about 4 minutes to keep our attention. If we're not interested after four minutes we'll stay, but our heads will be pointed downwards so we're can stare at our iPads. We might work, play Angry Birds on mute, or even blog, but we're done listening so don't waste time when you get up there. Start that presentation with a bang! Of course one way to do that is with the audio music that plays while you approach the stage. I've always enjoyed listening to the music professional baseball players choose for themselves to be played when they step in the batter's box; it opens a window into their personality. From their musical selections I've concluded that Derek Jeter remains contemporary and hip, Nick Swisher is a redneck, and Mark Texiera is into being a parent playing his daughter's favorite Miley Cyrus song. Conference presenters should be able to choose their introducing music as well. If I heard the 1974 classic Kung Fu Fighting by Carl Douglas while the new head of business development walked to the podium, I'd be listening as the choice would be so random. Then it would be the presenter’s job to explain the song choice in the first few minutes or we're back on our crackberries.

Recently I turned down an invitation to a conference I've attended in the past and historically enjoyed. In this case I was not a customer of the sponsoring company and I was beginning to feel like a free loader enjoying their largess. I guess that means no gift bag with local salsa and company logo golf balls. So it looks like I can call it a year for my business travel. Just as well. I’m always fearfully I’ll end back in a double room in King of Prussia PA and that was an experience I have no interest in repeating.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Look I know Bruce is not the global star we make him out to be in the tristate area. I'm not as naive as you might think I am and I get it that even around here fewer and fewer people are buying his CDs (though I don't know a single person who actually purchases music any other way than online) and exploring the lyrics. However if you are one of these fans like me, you grew up with Bruce and marveled at his story telling talents and lyrical prowess. Today we find ourselves a lot older and Bruce is 62. For the past 15 years his albums have taken on difficult subjects and he writes more and more about the challenges in life. So my first question is did Bruce become a pessimist? Bruce wrote Born to Run when he was 25. It's been almost 40 years and we've all changed in ways too numerous to even contemplate, and part of growing up and older is facing more challenges from life. Everyone understands these facts of life. Still, is Bruce, and tramps like us, are we all still born to run?

Some people always screw up what Bruce is singing about. The height of not paying attention was when President Reagan's 1984 campaign was using Born in the USA as a campaign song. Sure the refrain sounds patriotic when it stands alone, but the song is about Vietnam veterans struggling in America. In the context of the rest of the song the refrain is more like a cry of "What the heck? I was born here, served my country, and I still can't catch a goddamn break!" I've heard Born in the USA performed by Bruce alone on a 12 string guitar numerous times and the pain he attempts to convey is palpable when he performs it in this manner. I often wonder if he regretted going with the full band, rock n' roll version on the album because the message of the song was missed by more than half the country. Certainly Reagan's campaign manager didn't bother to read the lyrics, nor did he know that Bruce was a lifelong liberal Democrat who subsequently asked the campaign to stop using his song.

Going back to my original question, let's look at the last three studio albums: Wrecking Ball, Working on a Dream, and Magic. Again, not really three albums a casual Bruce fan is all that familiar with. The title track of Magic wasn't about the mystery of the unknown or the sense of wonder a magician brings to an audience. Instead the "magic" that Bruce sings about are the illusions that shroud the truth. At the time much of the illusions he was referencing were the policies of the Bush administration that lead the country to an Iraqi invasion. Clearly Bruce did not believe the rationales President Bush gave for going to war. Much of the album touched on these subjects including veterans from the Iraq war coming home and facing challenges reacclimating to the regular life. The track Last to Die (for a mistake) makes it pretty clear where Bruce stands. While other tracks aren't so dire the overall tone is not uplifting. I think we'll throw this album in the pessimistic bucket.

The next album really isn't difficult to characterize at all. The title Working on a Dream really sums up the album. Here is a person in his late 50s (at the time) and he remains an optimist who sees so many possibilities in front of him regardless of age. Plenty of tracks celebrating his marriage and family. In Kingdom of Days he writes "I look to you and you're mine for always/ we laugh beneath the covers as we count the wrinkles and the grays." This Life highlights "This life, and all the rest. With you I have been blessed." Of course other tracks reflect feelings about morbid subjects but I don't think anyone would characterize this album as anything other than optimistic.

So assuming the score is tied, one optimistic album against one pessimistic album, how does Bruce's current effort break the tie? Optimism and pessimism battle one another all throughout the course of Wrecking Ball. The pessimism isn't hard to understand. The most important member of the E Street band and one of Springsteen's best friends died eight months prior to the album's release. The phrase "hard times come" is a lyric in numerous songs and so many of the tracks reflect on all the difficulties in life. Just look at the titles of some of the tracks like Shackled and Drawn, The Depression, Rocky Ground, and Death to my Hometown. That's just a sample and the subject across these tracks is pretty consistent: hard times indeed. In Rocky Ground Bruce writes, "You try to sleep, you toss and turn the bottom's dropping out/where you once had faith now there's only doubt/you pray for guidance only silence now meets your prayers/ the morning breaks you awake but no one's there." Or off the title track he sings in Wrecking Ball about "all our youth and beauty being given to the dust," and our "best hopes and desires are scattered to the wind." Those are pretty nasty places to find yourself. So why isn't this a slam dunk pessimistic album? Actually it isn't because if there is one consistent theme from Springsteen (especially since The Rising) it's this: Rise up!

The Rising kept that theme all throughout the album that was an emotional answer to a terrible time in American history and the Rise Up! theme rings through on this album as well. The track Rocky Ground covers hard places we can be in life but all throughout the song Bruce keeps singing "There's a new day coming" and that day is to be viewed a chance for redemption, a chance to break from all our past misery and hard times. Again the title track, Wrecking Ball captures both pessimism and optimism and in turn boldly gives all those hard times the finger and says, "Bring it on!" I don't know if I want to tempt the fates and turn to life and say, “Give me your best shot!” but I love that Bruce does. Maybe it's the 20 year age gap between us that makes Bruce a lot less intimidated by life than I am. Look at him, he's 62, second marriage, just lost Clarence, his youth and beauty are diminishing and he stares ahead and says "Fuck it, bring it." That's brave, and inspiring and above all else, optimistic.

So are tramps like us still born to run? I still don't know the answer but I'm glad the question remains? It would be much more depressing if the answer was a definite negative. Strangely I'm not head over heels over the actual song Born to Run but I certainly respect its extremely exalted status in rock history. Nevertheless if you've been to a Springsteen concert in the last five years you already know that nothing has changed. We all jump out of our seats, sing "au-oh, au-oh" during Out in the Street, and "whooo-oohoo" with Badlands. I think that's the ultimate appeal of the shows. It isn't that it transports us to the 1980's when we were wide-eye kids who were ready to take on the world. Instead it takes us as we are right now and reminds us we can still bring it.

And that's the real dichotomy and I believe it's calculated. Bruce concerts are meant to be uplifting and optimist. You won't get people to spend $120 a ticket if they show up and you bum them out. Concert Bruce is “Rise up! Are you alive out there!?!” and big horns in 10th Avenue Freeze Out. That is what brings people back night after night and year after year. The new albums, the struggles and the pessimism, that's for the artist. The fanatical among us will purchase, listen and maybe even blog about Bruce's most recent effort. But the casual fan will hear the first single and only remember the refrain (In the latest CD the refrain would be We Take Care of our Own - very upbeat).

So that's it. Bruce is a little like Seinfeld's two face girlfriend. Under the proper lighting she was hotsy-totsy, yet in different places, hotsy-notsy. Bruce in concert is good time party Bruce who loves investment bankers who can afford his ticket prices for 4 nights in a row. On his albums he is pensive Bruce and takes a more dour stance and writes about life’s struggles. Where do we fit? Despite getting older we survived our hard times and guess what? We're still getting together, we still know how to scream, and singing at the top of our lungs still brings us joy today.

Still the question remains, are we still born to run? While the simple answer is yes the reality is much more complicated. Bruce was 25 years old when he wrote those words and 25 year olds believe they are entitled to do everything they were "born to" do forever. I think the passing of time has demonstrated that now we've got to survive and endure if we want to be able to keep doing something we were "born to" do. In this case we've got to make it through all those hard times and challenges if we want to keep running. That's the overall optimistic message on this CD. Land of Hope and Dreams has become a concert mainstay for 12 years but finally appears on this CD as a studio track. Here dreams will not be thwarted, and faith will be rewarded but even that is too polyanna. As Wrecking Ball commands, "Hold tight to your anger, hold tight to your anger, don't fall to your fears." If we want to keep running in 2012 and beyond it's going to take all of it: faith, dreams, anger and keeping our fears at bay. Regardless, it ought to be a hell of a ride.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The 40 Year-Old Newlyweds

Funny year for me as I had two friends get married on the same day this spring. I don't think weddings are funny (though they are a great source of comedy). It's funny because weddings were something that stopped for me about 10 years ago. Being in my mid 40's it seems all of my contemporaries were married years ago. It just seemed crazy that my last two unmarried friends would actually have their long awaited weddings on the same day.

By my count there are four major categories of weddings. First you have the early in life weddings which consist of two single people in their mid 20's to early 30s. Second is the work wedding where you really don't know the groom/bride that well but you work with their parents. Third is the marriage of your friends' children which I'm still too young to have attended but it's coming fast. And the fourth is the middle age wedding which seems to be the gig I'm attending more than anything else these days.

The first weddings I attending in the 90's were just crazy. Two young people getting married, tons of engagement parties and showers leading up to the momentous occasion. The big day would approach and all your college/beach/home friends would slowly pull into the wedding town. Lots of drinking, a round of golf followed by even more drinking. Six guys in one hotel room and no one even brought a wedding gift. A rehearsal dinner where everyone attempted to make certain the groom was entirely polluted so he'd be beyond hungover for his wedding day. In hindsight it would have better for the parents of the bride if we were never invited. They should have paid for all of us to go to Vegas for the weekend and leave their future son-in-law alone.

What's even more interesting was the amount of money this wedding cost. Typically the bride's family was spending more than a small fortune for their daughter to feel like a fairy princess on her special day. Not only were the groom's friend unworthy of such largess, these friends were likely to be the cause of any embarrassing scenes that might ruin princess's special day. And the poor behavior of a bunch of 20 somethings wasn't the craziest aspect of the wedding, instead it was the money. It's only in the hindsight of 20 years when the married couple is choking on a mortgage and college tuitions where the couple might really wish the bride's parents had given them a check as opposed to the party. The wedding was a seven hour event. That check could pay for more than a few years of college. Given the choice today I would have been married in the back yard with a couple of kegs. Heck, I would have even sprung for the totally disgruntled local high school kids who had the way-too-cool alternative rock band.

Things are so much different today as I'm started to attend "work weddings." It's a funny situation where I'm invited either by colleagues even though I really don't know their kids, or I'm inviting to someone in the office's wedding because I'm their manager. In both cases I barely know anyone and the invite feels entirely obligatory. Either way I feel one hundred years old. Now it's no shock my behavior has toned down in every aspect of my life in the last 15 years but now we're stuck at tables with people we don't know and forced to make small talk with other distant connections from some other boring place. In such cases I often rely on the "Where do you two go on your Honeymoon?" question to get the conversation going. It's topical and people never tire of speaking about themselves. Works every time.

Skipping over the marriages of my contemporaries' kids, I have attended quite a few middle aged marriages in the past few years. These marriages are similar to those marriages we attended in our 20s except we usually are much better behaved and they are not nearly as extravagant. The toned down expense makes sense. For the most part a middle aged couple getting married are paying for the reception themselves and that really focuses the bride and groom on what is absolutely necessary. The "over the top" elements are gone and if this is the bride's second wedding I wonder if she realized how spoiled it was to ask Daddy for a string quartet to play during the intermissions of the 20 piece band's set. God forbid there be no music during the dining period, cost be damned! Instead everything is done smarter. Receptions are held at the house, the ipod replaces the DJ/band, or even smarter the actual wedding is just immediate family and after the honeymoon a casual party is held for all their friends back at the house.

Despite the lack of pageantry what stands out for me is how much better middle aged people know one another when they get married. When you get married young you tend to view the world in rose colored glasses. Your careers are going to soar, your kids will be beautiful and healthy and you'll spend every Christmas with your family because how could your spouse expect you to miss it? Hard questions are often not considered or simply put off. This doesn't happen when people court in their 40s. People state their expectations very early in relationships because they know it's vital to get buy-in from a potential partner or it's time to jump ship. I think these two people are much more of a "team" when they actually get married than two starry eyed twenty-five year olds. Their agreement of how they spend their newly joint assets on a reception really reflects their connection and maturity.

Now even though the reception is relatively sober (there are glaring exceptions) middle aged weddings still come with some traditional events like a bachelor party. The most recent bachelor party was a perfect reflection of who we have become. We met on a Friday morning at a casino for a round of golf to be followed by dinner and attended a Jerry Seinfeld show. The entire event was remarkably mature and I'm not certain if we've become wise or boring at this point of our lives. I assume it is a little of both.

In a few short year's we'll start attending weddings for our friends' kids. Likewise we're likely to attend a 20th anniversary party for a couple whose wedding we attended in our 20s. Either way I'm excited because every wedding rocks. You share laughs, stories and drink. Doesn't matter to me if the music comes from an ipod or a 20 piece band, or if the beer comes from a keg in the backyard or the country club bar. It's always good to see everyone if we're not hazing the groom.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Coming Soon! The 20th College Reunion

It's about six weeks until I attend my 20th college reunion and the same time frame rings true for many of my contemporaries out in suburbia. My email is buzzing with questions, "Are you going?", "Who's coming?", "Where are you staying?", "Kids?" Of course I'm going and so are you. Look, we don't see these people any more because the weddings are over and we're unlikely to be invited to their kids' weddings. Not to be maudlin but we're more likely to hook up with the college gang at a funeral as opposed to any thing else so you've got to hit reunion. And the 20th college reunion seems like a big one even if the 25th reunion is officially a bigger deal. Looking back at the previous reunions they just don't seem to measure up to the 20th. The 5th reunion was my favorite because it was an absolute regression where we thought we were still in college and we drank like it. It was an excuse to see old friends and party like it's 1989. We didn't care that the university set up our class party under a tent in the parking lot because amenities weren't that important to us back then. We were 27 years old and still had our sea legs for rocking all night and so many of the old haunts around campus remained the same. Only a couple of people were married and fewer had kids so there was absolutely nothing holding us back (and believe me, nothing did. People brought back their favorite bongs and still knew how to work them.). Interestingly enough a few of us had younger siblings attend the same school and their graduation was a week before our reunion so we had consecutive weekends of jumping in the hot tub time machine.

The 10th reunion was rocking but the pace slowed. While we still ripped through shot glasses at the Tombs on Friday night, the hangovers the next day were just crippling. The Saturday night affair was tame because so much of the class jumped out of the gate way too hard on Friday night and the after effects showed. Where the spirit was willing, the body just couldn't follow. It was somewhat of a turning point because for one of the first times you really felt old visiting a place you always associated with being young. But what the 10th reunion really was just a continuation to all the weddings we were going to every summer. We saw our college gang often over those years as at least three of them would get married every spring/summer and you'd probably be invited to two of those weddings. Reunion was the same party without the embarrassing bridesmaid dresses.

Things changed dramatically at the 15th reunion. A fair number of people didn't bother going because we were winding down the wedding cycle. They had spent a reasonable chunk of money traveling to all these weddings over the years and most of us had logistical issues regarding who would watch our kids in our absence. On the other hand I think some personal embarrassment started to keep people away. That marriage all your friends came to ended in divorce in two short years or maybe your career was still unstarted and you were intimidated by all these masters of the universe. Introducing yourself as a "stay at home parent" felt embarrassing when your former roommate just made partner at her law firm. For many people it was easy to find a reason to stay away. Those of us who came found we had grown up quite a bit as we stayed in hotels instead of dorms, we had dinner reservations instead of pizza boxes and we even managed to attend the all class picnic. Keg stands were out, glad handing faculty was in. What really struck me was how much better the women looked than the men. Everyone was still on the south side of 40 and while the hairlines were receding I don't think the women were missing the opportunity dress up and highlight what all the men had passed over all those years ago. It was a little comedic that the guys were dressed casually and the women were totally decked out but it was undeniable, the women simply looked better.

What do I expect to see at my 20th? Actually I don't expect too much different from my 15th. However the things that will be different with be relatively surprising. I don't know what it will be and it won't be shocking or scandalous but I do expect the unexpected. Something along the lines of the girl who was the meekest and quietest person in school will have married the hottest and loudest boy toy around, or one of the guys will have decided to botox early rendering him completely unrecognizable. I'm hoping my most conservative, right wing classmate shows up with a ponytail, an earring and finally understands why social welfare is reasonable and necessary. All those scenarios will provide outstanding talking points and I'm certainly looking forward to those kinds of surprises.

Still, that's on the margin. What I expect to find is the men have aged much harder (think bald and heavy set) while I suspect many of the women will continue to look great. Total stereotyping on my part but the women I know in my part of the country are totally focused for reunion regardless of what school they attended. They are dieting, hiring personal trainers and highlighting the grey right out of their hair. This is their chance to show that even after forty years they've still got it going on. And for all those guys who ignored or just plain dissed them in college, well they missed their chance to have a wife who brings home the bacon, fries it up in the pan, and you know the rest...

Quick segue for a funny story. A few years back a friend was going back for some kind of reunion so she spend the week on the full spa touch up. She did it all. Mani, pedi, wash, cut, color and wax. When the husband saw the bill he didn't question the price. It was the Brazilian wax that made him wonder who she was trying to impress...

I also expect a more active singles scene because there are plenty of divorced folks now. Being divorced is no longer a source of embarrassment when you cross forty. Actually it's not shocking that some of those weddings you attended didn't work out. If your friend couldn't keep it in his pants before, or if she was a domineering bitch in the first place, you really can't be stunned they stayed that way after they got married and subsequently, their marriages ended. At reunion I fully expect to see the cougars bring their A game and go right after their single classmates. After all, you already know one another so the awkward ritual introductions single people go through at suburban bars is unnecessary. Combine that with the romantic longing for the past, lots of alcohol, and hotel rooms already paid for. In short, it's a lock.

Otherwise who knows? More people are bringing their kids because they want to show them off. The only problem there is parents often believe other people are really excited to meet their kids when after the 30 second introduction the desire is over. Whatever the case I'm excited. Break out the Grecian Formula and squeeze into those Spanx. Set the ipod to Janet Jackson and pour the cabernet sauvignon. We're coming back! Flawed but wiser. Heavier but confident. We're just a walking set of contradictions but this is who we became. It'll be good to see you.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Frozen Flashback, April 3, 2010, Morristown, New Jersey

They called it The Greatest Game Never Played and for 21 years any one with any knowledge of the original event would have agreed with the description. The 1989 New Jersey State Championship game was never played because one of the participating schools, Delbarton School, was quarantined by state officials because of a measles outbreak. Interestingly enough, that was the only measles outbreak in North America in the last 21 years as well. St. Joe's of Montavle, New Jersey was left without and opponent and both teams were named co-champions. A solution that satisfied no one.

After a newspaper article appearing last March commemorating the 20th anniversary of the cancellation, the idea of actually playing the game picked up momentum. Fortunately a number of Delbarton alumni worked for both the NHL and the New Jersey Devils and once those organizations threw their weight behind the concept, the Frozen Flashback was barreling down the tracks. The official NHL charity, Hockey Fights Cancer, got involved and suddenly over $250,000 was raised.

The game was this past Saturday and it was awesome. I didn't play having graduated from Delbarton prior to 1989 but my younger brother was a senior on that team in 1989 and I did play with most of the players when they were underclassmen. In short, I consider myself a member of the Delbarton hockey family so I really think I appreciate everything that went down leading up the actual game last Saturday.

The game was thrilling. Final score 3-2 Delbarton. But the box score is probably the least compelling part of the story. The money raised, the causes served, and the camaraderie and the intensity of all the players were apparent to everyone who watched from the stands. Still numerous events are staged for charity and most people write a check, nod politely and attempt to give the tickets away to some junior staffer at the office. But this game was different. This game captured the national media; it was the most emailed story from the Wall Street Journal online the week of March 20th. People who knew no one from either school heard the story and were fascinated at the concept and the reason why is simple enough.

Every one wants one more shot.

Obviously we all miss the idea of being young looking at a world full of possibilities but that's not what I mean. Everyone knows that Ponce de Leon was wrong and it's impossible to turn back the clock. Delbarton and St. Joe's weren't going back in time, instead they were finally getting closure. No more what ifs, should haves, or if onlys. They got to step up to the plate and take their cuts and in the end, what more can you ask?

If you ask around it's stunning how most youthful regrets center around the athletic field. It's tempting to think a failed romance would bring the most angst and it certainly does at the time it's happening but by middle age you realize it was fairly unlikely you were going to marry your high school sweetheart. Even if Marty McFly and Doc Brown had their DeLorean time machine for you and you could go back and ask that special someone to the prom before JP Flynn beat you to the punch it's doubtful you'd be together today. Face it, experience has shown how much happened to you in your life between that moment and the time you actually got married. A million other things would have to break right for you to be together today and the odds those things would have happened are one in a million. You should also be wise enough to know marrying the girl you loved so much at 16 would not guarantee anything about being happily married today.

But reflecting on the failed athletic endeavor isn't like that. Nothing in the present changes if you had won except one thing. On that particular day in your life when you played the actual game you'd be a winner and that feeling stays with you forever. We know this to be true because the loss still gnaws at you twenty five years later. We don't reflect on the lost game as to how it would affect our life today. The fact that you didn't get the promotion to regional manager has nothing to do with losing a tennis match in the 16 and under singles in 1992. Likewise your wife and kids don't love you any less even though you were cut from the varsity soccer team as a senior in 1986. Instead every person remembers the one game they lost and how much it hurt and the only reason they still think about it is because it would have meant the world to them on that day if they had won.

That's what brought out the intensity at the Frozen Flashback. That's why I saw grown men throwing quick, hard jabs when battling for the puck in the corner and that's why any player screening the goalie got a cross check in the back. Both teams wanted this so badly you could feel their hunger. All the players trained for months to get here, waking up at dawn and skating outdoors at 5:45 in the morning to retrain their muscles and hone their skills. Everyone is overworked, underpaid and no one has any "me" time thanks to the overenthusiastic way we throw ourselves into our kids' lives. No one hits a bucket of golf balls on a Saturday when their kid has a kindergarten tee ball game scheduled. However, this game meant so much that these overtired professionals found the time, got into shape, and gave up their Saturday nights to scrimmage other old man teams in preparation for the day when it would finally be decided.

The game had it all: quality goaltending, plenty of penalties, and an outcome in doubt right to the final horn. But for all of us in the stands it just brought back something beautiful and painful at the same time. The pain it brought back was the jealousy to be replaying our own athletic Waterloo. The beauty it brought back was the hunger to give it one more shot. Just dreaming about it makes you young and innocent again. Alas we know it will always remain a dream but at least we all watched a dream come true for a bunch of middle age guys who made it happen. It looked like it tasted better than anything you could possibly imagine.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Jimmy Buffett, November 24, 2009, MSG, New York, NY

It's a tired phrase but it's worth using here for obvious reasons. Ladies and Gentlemen, Jimmy Buffett has jumped the shark.

Not certain when the phrase came into play but it had its fifteen minutes of fame which were officially over as soon as VH1 came out with a show called Jumped the Shark where comedians discussed celebrity mishaps and made snarky remarks. Wait a minute, isn't that every VH1 show? Nevertheless the phrase "jump the shark" refers to the moment that something once considered interesting and hip, ceases to be cool. The original reference comes from the show Happy Days when the Fonz jumped a shark on water skis (yes he wore his leather jacket when he was on water skis). Up to that point Happy Days was a cool show but once the Fonz was airborne on water skis, defying death by shark and sporting a leather jacket, the show suddenly was considered ridiculous. Other examples include Seinfeld when George's finance, Susan, died, Cheers when Diane left and super stud Sam chased fat Rebecca, and Imus in the Morning when he got sober. Things that never jumped the shark include The Bob Newhart Show, Taxi and Neil Patrick Harris (which is impressive as he was a child actor in the 80's).

Interestingly enough there was a website called but then TV Guide bought the site and the concept of “jumping the shark" jumped the shark. The current phrase is "bone the fish" and if you're interested in what the cyber space community thinks of your favorite shows check out the site

That brings us to Buffett in 2009. Look I'm not comparing this version of Jimmy to the 1985 version where he probably did few lines and smoked an entire bowl minutes before taking stage. Those days are gone for all of us and it would be ludicrous to expect to see a 62 year old guy put on that kind of show. However, the concert this year was a far cry from the stadium shows of just a few years ago and there is a perfect word to describe the entire act: tired.

Jimmy looked and sounded tired, the set was lame and tired and even the crowd seemed remarkably tired. Before Buffett shows at the Garden the tailgating aspect moves to a few of the surrounding bars. Over the years I've always gotten a kick out of the costumes and people drinking out of fishbowls. This year, no coconut bras, no grass skirts and precious few cheeseburger hats. And during the show the crowd sat 70% of the time, even for real crowd pleasers like Cheeseburger in Paradise (a song which I actually despise).

Maybe it's because Buffett is more of a brand than a musical act. It isn't a news flash to his fan base but the shows really are just a means to move product. Margaretville® brand Tequila and Rum, Landshark beer and $50 official Buffett Hawaiian shirts. The man is a brilliant marketer and he's selling escapism. Who doesn't dream of dropping the stress, moving to Anguilla and sticking your toes in the sand? But years of the same ad libs, the same outdated cultural references, it just seemed spent.

The use of the video screen in a concert is a recent phenomenon and some artists know how to work it (see Paisley, Brad) and others are struggling. While Jimmy did use it well on two separate occasions, it was usually more annoying than anything else. For example during the first three songs the screen showed a continuous loop of waves breaking onto the beach. I kept waiting for something to happen. Couldn't a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model burst out of the surf, or even some one dressed up like a marlin? Instead it was the same scene for fifteen minutes. The two occasions where Buffett got a rise out of the crowd was showing video of the USS New York during Southern Cross and again showing the last out of the World Series during Last Man Standing. The World Series scene woke up the crowd as we chanted JIM-MY BUF-FETT to the same cadence we chant DER-REK JE-TER. If you want to grab a New York crowd it's so easy. Show the World Trade Center, the Yankees or the Rangers. These are the things that stir our passions, positively or negatively, but we certainly won't sit on our hands when any of these visions are displayed.

I'm not saying it was a terrible night because there were some highlights and good comedy, but not nearly enough. I always enjoy the excess and there was plenty on hand. I sat next to a biker woman who rode in from Pennsylvania. She was so pumped and had knocked off more than a few prior to the show but midway through the show, she was out cold in her seat. That looked like a nasty return trip on a motorcycle.

Likewise there are some aspects from a Buffett concert that remain awesome no matter how many times you've seen the show. Tonight these things didn't disappoint and they include watching the crowd make fins in unison with their hands during Fins, mixing the Beatles' Shake It Up Baby into We Are the People Our Parents Warned Us About, and of course, Margaretville still sounds great in concert all these years later. Another highlight for me was hearing My Head Hurts, My Feet Stink, and I Don't Love Jesus in concert for the first time. I've been going to Buffett concerts for over twenty years so I love hearing old songs live for the first time.

One last interesting Buffett concert fact. For years Jimmy has been broadcasting all his concerts live over his website and his Sirius Satellite radio channel. His hard core fans listen to the concerts and chat on fan boards during the show. What I didn’t know was that thirty minutes after the concert ends his Sirius station rebroadcasts the show. How crazy is that when you’ve been at the concert. By the time I got to my car I was listening to the show I had just attended. Talk about déjà vu!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Brad Paisley, October 21, 2009, MSG, New York, NY

Tonight is a night I've been looking forward to for over a year. Four words: Brad Paisley in concert. Let me tell you this guy has got it all. Great songs, outstanding guitar work, and hilarious videos playing in back of him the entire time. On top of that he always brings talented opening acts that people recognize. Tonight it's Dierks Bently which I'm certain you haven't heard of unless you listen to country radio but trust me, he's big. Four out of the eleven songs he sings tonight are legitimate singles played on country radio on heavy rotation. Other acts that I've seen open for Brad include Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, and Jewel. C'mon that's some legit star power thus making Brad one of the few acts that doesn't waste my time before he takes the stage.

I've brought three friends with me tonight who simply do not want to be here. I think they feel sorry for me as every year I send out an email asking someone to go with me to see Brad Paisley and every year the responses range from ridicule to pity. These guys are sophisticated Manhattanites so I'm very interested in their reactions. It's kind of like I've got a sociology experiment going on here with these middle aged test subjects... I can't imagine they'll like Dierks Bentley because that's pretty hardcore country. Songs about Jesus, tractors and guns don't resonate all that well in New York. I'm interested in how they like Brad Paisley and his brand of country which closely borders rock.

Before the concert we went to Brother Jimmy's bar next to MSG and from the look of the crowd you would never would believe we were still in Manhattan. It looked like a flannel convention sponsored by Pabst Blue Ribbon. It was an unbelievable sight and I learned an important lesson. It seems expensive hunting gear is acceptable concert attire. I never knew that! It raises a long time question for me. Are these people real red necks or are they professionals like me who burst out of their rural closet whenever they get the chance?

As I mentioned earlier the video screens in back of the band are a HUGE part of the show. The band interacts with the screens throughout the show. Andy Griffin (yes indeed, Matlock does have lines in one particular song) and Taylor Swift appear on screens to sing parts of songs, or in Taylor's case, play guitar hero on screen while Brad rips through solos on another song. My favorite use of the video screens is during his instrumental songs. While he's ripping through these solos a cartoon he drew plays in the background and the cartoon is choreographed to fit the song. It's remarkably well done.

I have to admit to being a bit conflicted about the video screens. Here is my favorite guy and I should be the old guy screaming, "In my day it was all about the music, man!" Instead I'm captivated like the member of the MTV generation that I must acknowledge being part of. I wish I could totally focus on watching the band because that's what I paid for but I can't help but watching the screens. Sometimes there is just too much comedy going onscreen (William Shatner pretending to be Brad's father) to focus on the live performance.

Now the one thing that we all loved were our seats as we were in the ninth row on the floor. The picture next to this paragraph was taken with an iphone from our seats and it isn't a close up. We were that close. The crazy thing is I didn't know where the seats were until I picked up the tickets at will call two hours before the show. I joined the Brad Paisley fan club so I would have access to advance ticket sales and what the club does to discourage scalpers is not disclose the location of your seats until you pick up your tickets. I expected relatively good seats but because the stage has a ramp up the middle often times we were less than six feet away from the band. I've been to a ton of shows in my life but here I was, my favorite performer and I'm sitting in the best seats I've ever had. Very, very cool!

So in the end my contemporaries admitted to enjoying themselves though that might have been the beer talking. The video screens kept their interest and helped covey the themes of each particular song as these guys never heard the lyrics before. One friend commented he couldn't believe how he could look around the crowd and see all of us who knew ever word to every song. He might have mentioned something about these people being as dumb as sheep but I'll choose to ignore that.

Nevertheless, to a man they all said they'd be willing to come again next year.

But only if I bought the beer...

South Beach, FL, October 10, 2009

I don't get away much and it had been a long time since I went anywhere without my kids but if I had to pick a place it would still be South Beach. So many benefits and so few negatives (cost being one). The Miami airport is nearby and probably a direct flight from everywhere in the US. No passports, no vaccinations and no inhibitions. It's South Beach!

A friend from my Miami office picked us up at the airport and the first thing I noticed was the case on her blackberry. It was covered in shiny glitter stones and it simply screamed, MIAMI!!!! I thought it was awesome and I wouldn't relax until I found one for my wife's phone (for a whopping $20). I'm certain this cover is now available everywhere on Greenwich Avenue but believe me as someone who is always behind a trend as opposed to out front, when we bought it my wife was the only 40 year old woman walking around Fairfield county with a bling cell phone cover.

We lucked into our hotel which turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. My wife and I stayed at the Mondrian on the inter coastal and I swear I'm not lying when I say I was the oldest guy there. This place was awesome! Around the pool there cabanas for rent with crystal chandeliers hanging three stories high. There were couches and pillows spread across enormous oriental rugs by the pool as well. The entire scene looked like the set of Caligula or maybe what Studio 54 would have looked like had they set it up outside. Our other friends stayed at the Ritz-Carlton on the beach which was very nice but very different. If my mother were to go to South Beach she would demand to stay at the Ritz and that, in a nutshell was the difference between the two hotels.

That isn't to say we didn't get a kick out of the crowd of at the Ritz. The one day we were there the pool was full of older guys from the Midwest who stayed in the pool drinking beers for 6 straight hours. I didn't keep track and I shudder at the thought but I could swear a few of them never left the pool despite downing beers for hours at a time. The Ritz's pool is a salt water pool and maybe salt water pools are just like the ocean but that's getting pretty comfortable. They were bombed and beyond sun burned but most of all they were high comedy.

Now the people at the Mondorian were everything I'm not. Think young, hip, and Latin. Around the pool everyone was sporting some ink and for the women there should have been a silicone contest. Hello doctor! The women at the pool wore high heels with their bikinis and so many of them smoked I thought I was in a Russ Meyer time warp. Ridiculously hot poolside waitresses would bring bottles of Krystal to people in the pool so half the people in the water were holding champagne glasses. Lots of bling and serious sunglasses. Some of the sunglasses were bedazzlers from Tiffany while others looked like they just came off the set of Logan's Run. Just wild.

On the elevator we met some of the guys from the band Better than Ezra who were staying at the hotel for 2 nights as they had an upcoming show in Miami. The hotel was rocking so hard in the evening it wasn't a surprise to see a young rock band deciding this was the place to be. Of course the irony of someone like me being anywhere close to this wasn't lost on me. We came home from dinner to find the place just jumping. Crowds behind velvet ropes waiting to get in, music pulsating loud enough to shake the walls, and we were dying to check out the scene. However, given our age, the time, the full day of sun and cocktails we never made it down from our room as we collapsed once we saw our bed. Some days this old dog just can't dance no matter how good the party sounded.

South Beach has high end hotels and restaurants to match we hit a few of them. I'm no foodie but I've always been open to trying new dishes and I'm very susceptible to the phrase, "specialty of the house." After ordering the lobster banana I think I'm going to be a little more discriminating. You might think lobster and bananas don't ever mix and you know something, you'd be right. Fortunately there was enough wine to cleanse my palette and the waiter made up for it by sending us to Mango's.

Mango's is a Crazy dance bar right along the Ocean. The line was huge, the people were a little seedy and the women were falling out of their dresses. I counted four separate areas to go wild in. Two dance clubs upstairs, a 15 piece salsa band in the back with 4 scantily clad women playing different instruments (I somehow doubt these instruments were plugged in). The locals were ready to pounce in the dance clubs and if you left your wife to get a drink it would take about twenty seconds for one of the local young studs to sidle up to your woman and start busting a move with her. But the real action was at the main bar where all kinds of dancers let it rip. We watched break dancers, roided up bodybuilders shimmying for the ladies, and a Michael Jackson impersonator. The MJ dancer was awesome and with the help of his backup dancers he reenacted the videos from Beat It and Thriller. After 3 days in South Beach I thought I was ready for anything but I certainly didn't expect the Thriller dance.

After three nights we were toast so it was time to go home but I left wondering what the local slogan should be. Expect the Unexpected or Just Let It All Hang Out? In terms of describing crazy I think either would be appropriate.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

U2 and Springsteen, Sept 27th and Oct 3, 2009, GIants Stadium, NJ

So I'm combining U2 with Springsteen which I hope isn't too disrespectful to either band. Nevertheless going to Giants Stadium twice in 10 days and seeing two iconic bands who hit their respective peaks at different points in the past century was somewhat redundant.

I've been to a number of shows this year and I've often made fun of how the crowd is often middle aged and well dressed. Likewise I've lamented the fact that the boisterous rock crowd from the past doesn't seem to attend concerts anymore. So as we set up out tailgate before U2 one of the other guys showed us a special cooler he had made specifically to hold six bottles of wine, I suddenly realized it was all about money! Even if U2 or Bruce were popular with the younger set there is no way they could afford to go. U2 general admission tickets on the floor were $250 face and they went for a lot more on StubHub. So can a high school kid with a brand new drivers license afford this? No. Can the seemingly unemployed sons of anarchy types I remember at Who concerts in the 80s afford this? Of course not! Instead tailgating turns into the same catered affair you find at a steeplechase. The only difference between the parking lot at Giants Stadium and the Gold Cup in Virginia, the Radnor Cup off the Main Line, or The Hunt in Essex Fells was the lack of grass beneath our feet. Same clothes, same pinot noir, same bruschetta and even a little of the same lockjaw. As much as I would like to separate myself from this crowd as a "real fan" I have to admit the petite syrah was perfectly aged and the gruyere was exquisite with sliced prosciutto. Thank God they had real wine glasses as the plastic ones really take all the context away.

This was my first U2 concert so I was quite excited and for the most part it was great. I saw U2 play three songs at Giants Stadium back at an Amnesty concert in 1986 and I remember being stunned how Bono had complete control of the entire stadium. Twenty three years later he still does. The band really knows how to work a Stadium show and as much I dislike stadium shows, the energy in the place from that many people was really cool. I loved the music they played before the took the stage. Over the PA they blasted Bowie's Major Tom and the crowd was singing along with the music by song's end. Inspiring choice (the set is supposed to be a spaceship).

Another highlight was working classic songs in their own music. They plugged the Stones Only Rock N Roll into Vertigo and Stand By Me into Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For. The Edge might be the coolest guy in the world and his skull cap look is still bad ass even at his age.

Too much (5 songs) off the new album but I've been saying that at every show. I know they can't hit all the classics but how do you skip Pride? That's like Buffett skipping Margaritaville. Interesting to compare to Springsteen that it seemed people were much more fired up for Sunday Bloody Sunday than Springsteen fans were for Born to Run...

Being U2 they had to do something political and this time the put the imagine of Aung San Suu Kyi on the video screen. Now even though this is quite a well heeled crowd I don't think the audience was so erudite that they read the Economist cover to cover on a weekly basis. Aung San Suu Kyi is the detained leader of the democratic movement in Myanmar. Could 70% of the people here find Myanmar on a map? Let's face it, more people remember Seinfeld's J. Peterman talking about Myanmar and saying, "You may know it as Myanmar but it will always be Burma to me." That's when Elaine went to Myanmar to get his signature on an expense report for George's fur hat. Speaking of which, thank you Larry David for bringing everyone back to Curb Your Enthusiasm this year, even if only briefly.

As for Springsteen his show was great. I loved how he wrote a new song about Giants Stadium to open the show and put the lyrics on the big screen for all the fans. Too often a performer breaks out a new song and because of either a poor sound system or the singer's crippling dependency to prescription drugs, no one understands a word sung. Wrecking Ball was a fun, nostalgic song for all us Jersey folk so by being able to read the words we could get all the subtle jokes in the lyrics.

Highlight of the show was easy. I bought GA tickets off craigslist two days before the show at a discount as five Giants Stadium shows is more supply than demand. I was with my 11 year old, my brother and his wife down on the floor in the back hanging out during the second song when one of Bruce's people came up and asked if that was my son rocking out and would we like to move to the front. He slapped wrist bracelets on us and up the side we went and we were funneled 15 yards from the stage. Unbelievable.

After a few songs up there a different Bruce person called my son over and gave him a photocopy of the setlist for that night. Amazing. Bruce did the entire Born in the USA album that night and while I would have preferred the Darkness album he played the night before you have to be impressed that the band can do so many different songs. Every night he covered one of three specific albums along with a host of other songs. That's just something other bands can't pull off.

Interesting thing I learned about Giants Stadium as this was my first time on the floor after 25 years of Jets games and concerts: there are no bathrooms on the floor level. Never thought about it before as I was never there but the stadium wasn't built for concert goers on the field so there were never any facilities installed down there. Likewise, people on the floor can't move up to the other levels. Instead GA patrons have to walk all the way out the stadium and use port-o-sans out by the parking lot. That wasn't great but it was a small price to pay for being that close to an all time great saying farewell.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Super Diamond, September 26, 2009, New York, NY

Went to see Super Diamond last Saturday and even after everyone telling me how great they would be, the show actually met the hype. Super Diamond is a Neil Diamond tribute band and if you don't think Neil is worthy of tribute you haven't been paying attention to pop culture. Not only did he just release a DVD called Hot August Nights, he's also had a prime time special on CBS in August to promote the DVD and was lionized in the comedy film Saving Silverman a few years ago. Many critics were dismayed by the Oscar snub of that cinematic masterpiece.

However, before I give my review of Super Diamond I have to give serious props to the opening act, Almost Queen. If you are wondering it was not a transvestite band which you'd have to consider based on the name. What a great idea to have a Queen tribute band! I don't care that Bad Company's Paul Rodgers is currently the lead singer of the 2009 version of Queen. When Freddy Mercury died 20 years ago so did Queen. Period. The guys in Almost Queen approach the task with the appropriate combination of musical skill and a great sense of humor. The dude playing Freddy Mercury went all the way in. Super cheesy mustache, white tank, and slicked back hair. Went he spoke to the crowd he addressed us as "darlings." God I hope that mustache was glued on because he'd look like a doofus anywhere else.

They picked great songs: Fat Bottom Girls, Somebody to Love, Under Pressure in addition to the expected classics. Likewise their performances were entirely exaggerated which they had to be if they were to give Queen the proper respect. Fake Freddy's was constantly striking poses with his half mic stand and Brian Maybe was flying on the Guitar with his giant 70s afro. The crowd may have been there for Neil but these boys won everyone over quickly and arguably stole the show from Super Diamond.

Worth mentioning that the Nokia Theater in Times Square is a great theater. Small venue where you stand close if you want or you can sit in the back and still have great seats. Waitresses walk around taking drink orders, 3 separate bars inside the theater, and the tickets were $30. For that kind of setup who needs the real, wrinkled up Neil?

Super Diamond was what you might expect. The five guys dressed like Neil though two of them looked like the were impersonating Elvis thanks to some generous side burns. Nevertheless, all the Neils had sequined shirts with lots of tassels and wavy black hair. I could have stood for more chest hair because I remember Neil had quite the forest growing there in the Jazz Singer. I can't answer if they were all circumcised which might give insight to their respective level of commitment to the tribute. The main Neil was the best looking and his voice was spot on as he sang lead on all the songs.

The crowd was outstanding. Plenty of guys went along and we saw one dude with a black vest over his wide collared paisley shirt. Obviously an older crowd which made me think Courtney Cox should have shot a Cougartown episode there. Quite a few tweens and teens with their mothers and each one looked exceedingly uncomfortable as their mothers started rocking uncontrollably along with Sweet Caroline. I'm all for bringing my kids to concerts but if I'm going to get blitzed and throw my underwear at the stage I'd probably leave junior at home for the night.

Speaking of throwing underwear I couldn't shake the image of the original Neil singing Cherry-Cherry to thousands of teenage girls throwing their thongs at him on stage back in the 70s. If the women in this crowd did that, Super Diamond would have been ducking hundreds of elastic control tops instead. Ain't middle age grand?

Set list was great with every song you'd want to hear. Opened with Hello, Again and closed with America and everyone screamed "Today" and sang the Pledge of Allegiance. The one song that struck me as funny was the ten minute version of Hava Naglia. Now despite the goofy outfits New York is a sophisticated town and I have no doubt 98% of the crowd had attended a Bar Mitzvah or a Jewish wedding so we all know the song and the drill. Numerous women were lifted and carried up and down at some point during the song and everyone had a blast. Still, I'm curious how that plays out in the heartland. My cousin from Sacramento sent me a text before the show telling me I was going to love Super Diamond. Did they do Hava Naglia out there? Would the crowd in Cedar Rapids even know the song? For us it's New York and the day before Yom Kippur so we had fun with it but does the rest of the country?

Bottom line. Next time you hear Super Diamond is in your town grab your granny panties and head on down because we're comin' to America.