Vacation like a Burner

Don’t go to Burning Man.
Go somewhere else and tell everyone you’d rather be at Burning Man.

Since 2009, each year I’ve done one of three things: 

  • Gone on a cruise
  • Gone to Edinburgh for the Fringe 
  • Gone to Burning Man

Let me begin with cruising because that’s what most people think they understand the best. 


Turtles live in a house only slightly bigger than they are.

Decide for yourself if you want to go on a cruise 

Going on a cruise is living like a sea turtle. First you check into a room that is only slightly bigger than you are. Then your new home and you lumber around the ocean looking for something to do as you forage for food. 

Finally, by some mysterious mechanism, you manage to find your way back to exactly where you started so you can feel like your life is going nowhere.

In short, a cruise is a vacation from ambition and responsibility.

If you’ve seen an ad for a cruise and then go on one, I can guarantee nothing will surprise you (except by the fact that only the cabin attendants and stage performers are as fit as the cruisers in the ads). Cruising can be very affordable if you can avoid the casino, the art auctions, the bars and all the other contrivances they have for separating you from your money. 

As you can see, I can disparage cruises with as much gusto as any comedian who refers to them as “floating petri dishes.” 

My only credibility problem is that I’ve been on 24 cruises over the decades so clearly I think they have something going for them.


Two pages of the 452 total in the catalog of shows from the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe

Definitely go to the Edinburgh Fringe

Unlike cruising, you might not have heard of the Edinburgh Fringe unless you live in Great Britain. The Fringe promotes itself as “the world’s largest open access arts festival.”

“World’s largest” means that this year (2022) 49,827 artists from 58 nations will be performing in 3,478 shows across more than 300 venues citywide between the 5th and the 29th of August. If you click on this link while the Fringe is on, you can see a list of this year’s shows.

Continue readingVacation like a Burner

Make Games Not War

Who Dies the Neatest

I was born in Philadelphia in 1952. Back then my parents and all their peers saw no problem with my buddies and me playing “War”  in the streets using very realistic looking cap guns and rifles with rubber bayonets. 

My dad had fought the Japanese in World War Two. My mom and her father (but not her mother) escaped Fasist Italy in the late 1930’s. Everyone knew the difference between “make believe” and “for real.” And, they knew the importance of letting children play. It was a time and place of peace and sanity.

Things changed for me when I turned seven because we moved to rural New Jersey where I had no male friends. Sharon (a year older than me)  and her younger sister Jo Ann were the only play pals that my sister and I had. This is what I recall of then:

The three girls want me to play “House” with them. The idea is that one of us will be daddy, another mommy and the remaining two are the kids. Then the “grown-ups” pretend they are the perfect parents that we wish we had and the “kids” pretend to be the perfect kids we wish that we were.

“That’s stupid,” I say. “Where’s the fun in that?” The rules are unclear and you don’t know when you win, if ever.

I explain that to play “War” all we have to do is try to kill each other. Whoever survives wins. I have cap guns, rifles and hand grenades enough for all of us. Obviously, a lot more fun and it’s clear who wins.

“Okay,” Sharon says. “Go ahead and shoot me.”

“What? It’s no fun unless you put up a fight.”

“I don’t want to fight. Just shoot me.”

So, I shoot her with my cap gun. She’s asking for it, after all.

“Oh my God,” Sharon cries. “I’ve been shot.” She grabs her gut and bends half-over. “What will happen to me? To us? Our children? I won’t live long enough for us to have children!”

Sharon stumbles forward, coughs up spittle; her eyes fill with tears. She collapses on the grass. She gasps for air.

Continue reading “Make Games Not War”

Let’s Keep Talking

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is rk4fd.jpg

This is a postcard from a fellow human who is uniquely identify as RK4FD. I talked to him via Morse Code on 7,030 Kilohertz. at 00:18 Coordinated Universal Time on 19 February 2022. I told him I am in New Jersey and he told me he was transmitting 1,000 watts. That’s all I know about him other than that we are both humans and he was alive at that moment in time.

Five days later Russia invaded Ukraine.


“War is what happens when language fails.”
– Margaret Atwood


I am an amateur radio operator, N2BA, first licensed in 1966.

I am an avid contester meaning that I like entering competitions where hams try to see how many different people they can talk to all over the world.

The marvelous thing about radio contests is that although fiercely competitive, you win by helping your competitors win.

For example, imagine it is mid-February 2022 and you are competing in the ARRL DX CONTEST with Paul Bogachev, RK4FD, 9 hours drive south-east of Moscow. He has an amazing shortwave station that has logged 156,007 contacts between December 21, 1987 and February 1, 2022. You won’t be able to win that contest by refusing to talk to him because the winner is the person who talks to the greatest number of people who could possibly beat them.

The information we exchange with each other in a contest is trivial. For example, in the ARRL DX Contest that I did last weekend, I told RK4FD that I was in New Jersey and he told me his transmitter generated a kilowatt of power.

There was a poignancy in our communications this time because it was on the eve of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I talked to 53 stations in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. It didn’t matter the particulars of what information we exchanged. What we were saying underneath it all is:

“We’re still alive and we’re still talking.”

It makes me cry to think that that might not be true for some of us, this time next year.

The problem isn’t that some of us stop talking because we die. That happens every year. That’s when a ham becomes a silent key.

What makes me cry is that this time some of us might die because we’ve stopped talking.

73,

Brooke, N2BA, YN2SX

P. S. Last weekend I made a total of 780 contacts in 98 countries over 12 hours. Below are are the contacts from my log who were in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. Click on the call letters to see their station.

If you want to see who else has participated you can go here. If you see call letters of someone who interests you, you can find them at QRZ.com. If you create an account, you can find their email address. If you email them, perhaps you could ask them to read this article, translate it into their native language and pass it along.

That’s my idea of a contest for 2022. I call it: Let’s Keep Talking.

QSO: 3528 CW2022-02-19 0001 N2BA 599 NJEU4E599 500
QSO: 7030 CW2022-02-19 0018 N2BA 599 NJRK4FD599 KW
QSO: 7015 CW2022-02-19 0038 N2BA 599 NJUW1M599 KW
QSO: 14040 CW2022-02-19 1543 N2BA 599 NJRA3AN599 100
QSO: 14040 CW2022-02-19 1544 N2BA 599 NJUR8RF599 200
QSO: 14040 CW2022-02-19 1546 N2BA 599 NJUW1M599 KW
QSO: 14040 CW2022-02-19 1547 N2BA 599 NJUR5QU599 100
QSO: 14040 CW2022-02-19 1548 N2BA 599 NJEW8AX599 80
QSO: 14040 CW2022-02-19 1548 N2BA 599 NJRL6C599 100
QSO: 14040 CW2022-02-19 1548 N2BA 599 NJUA6CC599 KW
QSO: 14040 CW2022-02-19 1549 N2BA 599 NJR4KO599 KW
QSO: 14040 CW2022-02-19 1549 N2BA 599 NJRM2E599 KW
QSO: 21047 CW2022-02-19 1556 N2BA 599 NJUB7K599 KW
QSO: 21047 CW2022-02-19 1602 N2BA 599 NJUW0K599 KW
QSO: 21047 CW2022-02-19 1604 N2BA 599 NJUX0FF599 200
QSO: 14038 CW2022-02-19 1641 N2BA 599 NJUY7NR599 100
QSO: 14033 CW2022-02-19 1643 N2BA 599 NJR5AJ599 KW
QSO: 14033 CW2022-02-19 1643 N2BA 599 NJRU3A599 KW
QSO: 14033 CW2022-02-19 1643 N2BA 599 NJUW1M599 KW
QSO: 14033 CW2022-02-19 1644 N2BA 599 NJUX1BZ599 100
QSO: 14033 CW2022-02-19 1645 N2BA 599 NJRM6Y599 500
QSO: 14033 CW2022-02-19 1646 N2BA 599 NJEV1R599 KW
QSO: 14033 CW2022-02-19 1646 N2BA 599 NJR6DJM599 KW
QSO: 14033 CW2022-02-19 1649 N2BA 599 NJRC3W599 KW
QSO: 14033 CW2022-02-19 1650 N2BA 599 NJEU1DX599 100
QSO: 14033 CW2022-02-19 1650 N2BA 599 NJRT4G599 KW
QSO: 14033 CW2022-02-19 1653 N2BA 599 NJUR7MZ599 100
QSO: 14033 CW2022-02-19 1654 N2BA 599 NJUV5U599 KW
QSO: 14033 CW2022-02-19 1655 N2BA 599 NJUT4U599 KW
QSO: 14033 CW2022-02-19 1655 N2BA 599 NJUT5VX599 100
QSO: 14033 CW2022-02-19 1658 N2BA 599 NJEW1I599 K
QSO: 14033 CW2022-02-19 1659 N2BA 599 NJUW0K599 D
QSO: 14033 CW2022-02-19 1701 N2BA 599 NJUY1HY599 KW
QSO: 3516 CW2022-02-19 2350 N2BA 599 NJRW7K599 KW
QSO: 3520 CW2022-02-19 2351 N2BA 599 NJUW1M599 KW
QSO: 1834 CW2022-02-20 0133 N2BA 599 NJUT6UD599 KW
QSO: 1836 CW2022-02-20 0208 N2BA 599 NJRT4G599 KW
QSO: 14030 CW2022-02-20 1600 N2BA 599 NJR8TT599 K
QSO: 14023 CW2022-02-20 1603 N2BA 599 NJRA2F599 500
QSO: 21047 CW2022-02-20 1609 N2BA 599 NJEU1A599 KW
QSO: 21095 CW2022-02-20 1609 N2BA 599 NJUA2FZ599 KW
QSO: 14084 CW2022-02-20 1616 N2BA 599 NJRC7A599 KW
QSO: 14084 CW2022-02-20 1620 N2BA 599 NJUC7A599 KW
QSO: 14084 CW2022-02-20 1622 N2BA 599 NJRN6MA599 100
QSO: 14084 CW2022-02-20 1623 N2BA 599 NJR5DT599 KW
QSO: 14084 CW2022-02-20 1625 N2BA 599 NJEU3A599 500
QSO: 14049 CW2022-02-20 1645 N2BA 599 NJRN3P599 100
QSO: 14049 CW2022-02-20 1647 N2BA 599 NJUS7UK599 100
QSO: 14049 CW2022-02-20 1645 N2BA 599 NJRN3P599 100
QSO: 14049 CW2022-02-20 1655 N2BA 599 NJRC6U599 K
QSO: 7059 CW2022-02-20 2218 N2BA 599 NJEU1A599 KW
QSO: 14020 CW2022-02-20 2245 N2BA 599 NJUA0DX599 KW
QSO: 7002 CW2022-02-20 2321 N2BA 599 NJRW1A599 KW
QSO: 7027 CW2022-02-20 2325 N2BA 599 NJRM2U599 KW

What would a prequel to Halt and Catch Fire look like?

I’m 69 years old and I have a confession.

I’ve watched very little TV and I don’t feel like I’ve missed anything.

That’s why I’m surprised that a TV series, Halt and Catch Fire, has changed the dramatic arc of my life this late in the game.

It is the story of boomers in their prime who built the foundation for the modern world — personal computers, video games, social networks, the world-wide-web, internet search, and more.

And yet, what was the coming-of-age story for these people?

As I watched I could not help but remember my freshman year in 1970 at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. In Humanities 101 that was required of all students, Professor Peter Vari said:

“Let us begin with a question: What does it mean to be human? It is vitally important that you understand what it means to be human because the job of the engineer is to rebuild the modern world every generation. It is more important that you understand what it means to be human than the students in humanities departments because although they talk a good game, you get shit done and we all have to live in the world that you build.”

Contrast those words with these:

“The sole objective of the professional manager is to maximize the net present value of the wealth of the owners.”

Those were the first words out of my finance professor’s mouth a decade later as I began working on an MBA in Finance from New York University.

Because of what I learned at engineering school I knew this finance professor didn’t have a formula for business.

He had a formula for evil.

Business isn’t about maximizing anything for any one stakeholder, but rather keeping everyone satisfied: customers, employees, investors, vendors, creditors, regulators, the public — everyone. And owners come last, not first. That’s not a statement of moral or economic philosophy but rather a legal and accounting fact. It’s called retained earnings; a claim on what’s left over at the end of the day.

Engineers who know what it means to be human know that it’s not the NPV of the future that counts.

What counts is the future impact of what you are building today.

It seems many engineers have forgotten that, and so-called “financial engineers” are the worst offenders.

I know because my career arc took me to Wall Street in the 1980’s so I got to rub elbows with these folk. It’s telling that every single securities firm that I worked for between 1982 and 2014 has either been shut down by regulators because of nefarious activities or needed a government bailout because of spectacularly bad decisions.

That’s what happens when you concentrate on the present value of an imagined future rather than the future implications of what you are working on today. As Joe MacMillan in H&CF says, “Computers aren’t the thing, they are the thing that leads to the thing.”

Similarly, sub-prime mortgages aren’t the thing that gets you a bonus today. They are the thing that leads to the financial collapse in 2008. Student loans that can’t be discharged in bankruptcy aren’t the thing that gets you a degree today today. They are the thing that leads to the a million students who are considering never returning to college post-pandemic.

And, for me, Halt and Catch Fire isn’t the thing I merely watched, but the thing that led to an interest in screenwriting.

In 1963, my 6th grade teacher, Mr. Rieur, taught me that we must pay attention and learn not just in school during our Act I but also from life in Act II because in Act III we all must teach those coming up behind us otherwise civilization ceases to advance.

In 1966 I spent a summer with my granddad, who was a journalist, and my grandmother, who was an artist and entrepreneur. After listening to dozens of their stories of adventure — each of which had a lesson to teach — I asked them, “How can I live a life of adventure?”

“It’s easy,” my grandmother said. “When you have a choice, choose adventure. The problem is, most people think adventure is the thing that promises the most excitement. They are wrong. Adventure is the thing where you don’t know what is going to happen next.”

“Your job,” she continued, “is to have stories for your grandchildren. And remember, the worse it gets, the better the story.” Since then I’ve known my job in my old age would be to tell stories that will help young people make sense of the world we’ll be leaving them.

But, what’s the best way to tell such stories to the widest audience?

H&CF gave me the answer.

The series begins with slick visionary ex-IBM salesman, Joe MacMillan, walking into a class of young people and saying, “Let me start by asking you a question. How many of you desire to be computer engineers?”

The series ends more than a decade later (spoiler alert) with Joe MacMillan, now a professor of Humanities, walking into a class of young people and saying, “Let me start by asking you a question.”… fade to black. THE END.

“What does it mean to be human?” I blurted out, as my wife will attest. They were my professor’s words on my first day at college words that swirled around in my head for all four seasons — the obvious question that MacMillan must have asked.

It was in that moment that I had a vision of a new series that follows the lives of young people who all attended a class like the one I had freshman year at Rose. The engine behind H&CF is “Computers aren’t the thing; they are the thing that leads to the thing.” Similarly, the engine for the series that I envision is “Educators and technologists who don’t know what it means to be human can build a world that even they won’t want to live in.”

This strikes me as important because — tell me if you’ve noticed — we’ve become so good at automating everything that soon the only job left for us humans will be “being human.” Yet, who among us knows how to do that well?

Because of H&CF I’m studying screenwriting and I’m absolutely loving everything about it. A screenplay is an elegantly simple blueprint for a story and business all rolled into one, which is what I’ve been doing for half a century, just in a different medium.

Because I’m new to the industry, would you consider helping me? I can use readers who can give me notes and experts who can suggest leads on resources. I’d especially love to meet a TV writer or even a showrunner.

Because I just want to tell a story rather than launch a new career I am particularly interested in finding a young writing partner who is in the early stages of building their career.

P. S. If you’ve had anything to do with making Halt and Catch Fire I would absolutely love to meet you so I can thank you for changing my life.

Road trips are wonderful, don’t you think?

roadtrip2010by Brooke Allen

Road trips are wonderful, don’t you think?

That’s what I’m thinking, at least.

That’s to say, when I’m thinking at all.

One nice thing is…
… what was I thinking? Hmmm…
… I know, I was thinking how wonderful it is that there can be thirty miles between one thought and the next. What are those? A herd of moose? Some farmer is raising moose? Those clouds seem ominous. I wonder if we’ll see a tornado this trip. I’ve really got to fart. That dog with his head out the window looks like he is having the time of his life. Davis and Zhenia are asleep; if I squeeze one out I don’t think they’ll notice. There goes a van covered in playa dust.

What is today? Saturday? If it’s Saturday then it’s been a week since the Man burned. If it’s Sunday then it’s been a week since the Temple burned, but we didn’t get to see that. I wonder if I ever will. It can’t be Friday; the traffic doesn’t seem right for a work day. Monday would be too long; it hasn’t been much more than a week since we snuck out of Black Rock City before dawn, ahead of the crowds.

This feels nice; really really nice. It feels like love; as snug as five hippies in a VW bug.

Except that we’re in our white 1996 Isuzu mini-van; three across in the bench seat in the middle. I’m on the right, wedged between my son in the middle and the door on the right. I have a pillow between the window and me to keep my head from rattling against the glass as I drift in and out.

It’s 2010 and my son, Davis, has just graduated from McGill in Montreal with a bachelor’s in physics. He’s fast asleep, head back, not snoring but making the occasional gurgling noises one does as your throat fills with saliva.

Wedged between Davis and the door on the left is Zhenia, a few years younger than Davis. She’s still in college. She’s the black adopted daughter of my best friend, Andy. He’s Ukrainian-American and was named André at birth and that is what he insists people call him now. But when we were housemates in college in the early 1970’s he wanted to be known as Andy. I think he wanted to fit in then. Now, I think he wants to stand out.

Andy’s driving. My wife, Eve, is riding shotgun. She’s my better-than-best best friend – a lover-of-life; my lover. I love our life together.

I feel a seismic disturbance. Davis is fast asleep but Zhenia is stirring and her motions are transmitted through my son’s body to me.

threeofusatburningmanI lean forward to see past my son. Zhenia’s coming up out of slumber. She’s struggling to get her hand in her pocket.

Shit. She’s going for her phone. Please, God, no. We’ve been off-grid for two weeks and it’s been bliss.

It’s a mighty struggle to get her hand into her pocket without waking Davis. She sees that I’m watching her. Softly, she says, “Next time, let’s take our van. It has four captain’s seats in the back.”

I look at her pleadingly. I hope she can feel what I feel and know what I know. Has she learned how to read minds yet? I hope so.

She gives up on her quest. She looks at me for a minute or so. Then she says, “Actually, this is pretty good.” She slumps back, rearranges her pillow and goes silent. I hope it’s insight and not laziness.

I lean back against my pillow and let my mind wander in wonder. Why would a farmer in Iowa raise moose? Does he sell them for meat? Or, do people keep moose as pets. Google knows, I’m sure.

But, what motivates this particular farmer? I guess we could go back and ask.

I think back to the horse ranch near Provo that we found on the way out. Remember? We stopped and asked if we could ride their horses, and they said, “Sure.” Then we said we didn’t know how to ride and they said, “We’ll teach you.” Now, you remember, don’t you? Surely, you remember that a few years ago their daughter moved out of the house into an apartment she built in the barn just to be closer to her horses. How cool is that?

Road trips are wonderful, don’t you think?

That’s what I’m thinking, at least.

When is you next road trip?

Will you take me with you?

Please.

My Story by Joshua Febres

As told to Brooke Allen and Janusz Gilewicz at the Tick Tock diner in Manhattan on January 7, 2019

johsuaatdinerI was born Josue Febres. I am 40 years old. My life story started in Atlantic City, New Jersey. At fifteen years old I became a provisional boxer, welterweight glove. It was in Paterson where I started boxing.

At 27 years old I had a car accident. In one of my legs and one of my arms I have metal in it so definitely my career was over. From Atlantic City we moved to New York.

Unfortunately I caught cancer in my lungs from smoking cigarettes and I got HIV from messing with a woman.  

I became homeless about three months ago because I lost my mother, my wife and my daughter who got burned in a fire in my apartment. I was sleeping and it was a Saturday night and I fell asleep with a cigarette in my hand. I did what I wasn’t supposed to be doing; sleeping with a cigarette lit in an hand with kids around.

So, unfortunately the house caught on fire. I tried saving my wife and my daughters and my mamma was already telling me to take them out. My mamma was 69 years old so she didn’t care about herself, only about me taking my wife and my baby out. You know how a grandmother is. If a mother is crazy, imagine a grandmother. My baby was an only grandchild she got from her youngest son; the youngest one in the family.

Things went crazy; I almost killed myself, committed suicide twice. I’ve been homeless for maybe three months, no more than that. Life is hard. I sit down sometimes in a corner and I think about what is going on with my life. Who is going to handle my life; who is going to come and rescue me; who is going to help me?

When I was in the hospital they give me what I’m supposed to have. My medications, my psychiatrist; my history. They gave me everything to get back to my life.

But they tell me I can’t have a job because… it can’t be; it can’t be, because of HIV. HIV kills everything.

They don’t want me around nobody because they’re scared; they’re scared. I’m scared too because I’m sick and I don’t want to get nobody sick and I don’t want nobody to think about that. Because I’m sick they are going to get sick. But you cannot catch HIV like that; that easy. HIV has got to be blood transfusion. If not, you’ll never catch it. Same thing happen with Hepatitis-C. I don’t got it, but it’s the same way.

Cancer? I can’t say anything ‘cause it runs in the family. Also, with smoking so. Asthma? I was born an asthmatic as a baby. Diabetes I got; after 25 or 30 years old is when I found out I was a diabetic.

Other than that, I’m happy because I’m still alive.


 

johsuaonstreetMy friend, Janusz, is an artist who I commissioned to paint a portrait for me. We agreed to meet the Tick Tock at 10 A. M. on January 7th, 2019. I arrived early so I struck up a conversation with Joshua, who lives on the grate in front of the restaurant.

Because Joshua seemed hungry I invited him to have breakfast with us. His story was fascinating so he agreed to let us record it on my phone and then Janusz sketched a sign for him. 

Stop by and visit him to learn more. If you hurry up I’m pretty sure he’ll be there on the northwest corner of 34th and 8th. I know he was there Sunday morning, the 13th, when I took this second picture. He gave me $3 and asked me to buy him a coffee with seven sugars. 

Just like him, you might want to tell your story to somebody too. If the people who love you are too busy to listen, you might want to stop by and visit with Joshua. He has time, for now at least.

Listen to his story in his own words.

He has more to say about his life and about his hopes and aspirations on the audio. He says he is a pretty funny guy (which I can confirm) and he can rap in both English and Spanish. 

Professional Tradesman

1200px-1963_volvo_122s_b18_4-door_sedan_(2016-01-04)_02It is 1968.

I have just turned 16.

It’s a Saturday.

My father says, “Hop in the car.”

“Where are we going?” I ask.

“You’ll find out when we get there.” He drives. I sit in silence and look out the window.

“There” turns out to be Bolek’s Foreign Car Repair where Bolek is the Polish mechanic who services my parent’s blue Volvo 122S.

“This is my son,” my dad says. Bolek looks curious. “He needs to learn how to work and get his hands dirty. I’m going to drop him here every Saturday, and you give him something to do.”

Then my father takes a $100 bill from his wallet and says, “Don’t pay him anything; he isn’t worth anything. This is to cover any damage that he does.”

My dad drives off. Bolek looks at me blankly. Neither of us know what just happened.

Bolek looks around and spies a broom. “Here,” he says, “clean up the shop.”

On the way home my father says that every man needs both a trade and a profession.

He says most people don’t know the difference between the two, especially professionals.

A trade, he says, is where a craftsman sells his skilled labor for money. Tradesmen are limited in how much money they can make by the market value for their skills, the demand for those skills and the number of hours they can work. What a tradesman wants is an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.

A professional, on the other hand, is paid for something quite different.

A professional, he says, is paid for putting the interests of others ahead of his own. You should always be honest in all your dealings and in most cases jump at the opportunity to put the interests of others ahead of your own because it usually pays better, but not always.

Sometimes the business you work for might be destroyed by so-called professional managers. At other times they can even destroy the whole economy.

During those times it is important to be a skilled craftsman so you can trade an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.

I have no idea what he is talking about.


 

I graduated from Rutgers in 1974 with a degree in Mathematics and I got a job as a computer programmer. Starting in 1982 I went to school in the evenings and graduated with an MBA in Finance from NYU in 1986. Merrill Lynch hired me as a manager. It paid better than programming but was less soul-satisfying because the job mostly involved fighting for resources whereas previously I’d been a “resource” people fought over.

That job took me to Japan in 1990. While I was there the Nikkei dropped from above 38,000 to below 16,400. Then I was let go.

I returned to the States in August 1993 with a wife, two kids and no permanent place of residence. The economy was in recession and I found only one guy who was willing to talk to me. He said he had no jobs but he’d give me the opportunity to practice interviewing.


 

IBM_Model_M_Space_Saving_Keyboard.png“I’m sorry but we have no jobs,” he says. “We need programmers but we have a hiring freeze.”

“Then how does the work get done.”

“We use contractors,” he says.

“I’d work on a contract.”

“Are you incorporated,” he asks.

“No. Do you need me to be incorporated?”

“Yes, we do. I’m sorry to have wasted your time but we can’t hire you. Now I have a meeting to go to.”

“May I use your phone while you are gone.”

“Sure.”

I call the 800 number for The Company Corporation.

I say, “I’d like to incorporate in Delaware.”

She says, “Will that be Visa or MasterCard.”

When the manager returns, I say, “I’m now Bravo Alpha, Incorporated.” I write my new Federal Employee ID number on a scrap of paper and slide it across the desk to him.

“I thought you said you weren’t incorporated.”

I say, “That was then. This is now.”

He says, “OK, how much do you want to make?”

I say, “One hundred dollars an hour.”

He says, “The most we pay is $87.50.”

I say, “I’ll take it.”

He says, “How do I know you are any good?”

I say, “I guarantee my work. If at the end of the month you don’t think I am worth what I billed you then cross off my number and write in any number you want, including zero.”

He says, “When can you start.”

I say, “A week from Monday.”

He says, “Good.”

Two weeks after I was hired he was fired. There wasn’t enough money for both of us so they decided to keep the guy who was doing the work.

Boy, it felt good to be a tradesman again.

LinkedIn as Artist’s Medium (and congratulate me on my work anniversary while you are at it)

airship-1140366_1920
Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/airship-city-mushroom-steampunk-1140366/

I have discovered that LinkedIn is an amazing new absurdist medium for creative expression.

I started to realize the potential of LinkedIn as Artist’s Medium in February, 2014, when I retired from Wall Street. After updating my end-date for my old job, on a whim I added a new position:

HamsterWheel
I know, it’s a hamster wheel and not a rat in a race, but it’s the same idea.

MY NEW LINKEDIN POSITION ENTERED FEBRUARY, 2014:

Title: Rat

Company: Rat Race

Dates: July, 1968 – February, 2014.

I was just having fun. I didn’t expect anything to happen. Who looks at anything anyone writes on their LinkedIn profile anyway? The modal message is, “See how great I am.” That is only slightly less annoying than Facebook, where everyone is screaming “Look at me (and what I ate for lunch).” Yuck.

But after I officially retired as Rat from The Rat Race I immediately began receiving the most charming notes from people. I reconnected with some people I hadn’t talked to in a long time and made some new friends.

It was wonderful for a while, But, then it died down.

Then I added a new entry called Human at Human Race, that runs from October, 1952, to present.

I got a new flurry of new messages, and it was all good again.

For a while. Continue reading “LinkedIn as Artist’s Medium (and congratulate me on my work anniversary while you are at it)”

In Praise of Talking to Strangers, Gun Safety, and Pheromone Blink 182

BarkerCohen

In September, 2014, I returned from Europe on the QM2.

While working out in the gym I noticed that a man lifting weights next to me was covered head-to-toe in tattoos.

I said, “Great tats,” and asked if I could look at them. He said, “Sure” and for perhaps 15 minutes he showed them to me and explained what each meant.

I asked him what he did and he said he was a drummer. After gigging in Europe he was returning to the States and liked traveling by ship because the rooms were so sound-proof that he could practice without disturbing neighbors.

After he excusing himself he left for dinner. Another man who had been watching us said this to me, “I’m the drummer in the ship’s orchestra and that man is my hero. Do you know who he is?”

I said that I did not, and he said that I’d been talking to Travis Barker, whom he considers the greatest drummer who ever lived.

When I got home I looked up Travis on Wikipedia and was very impressed by his accomplishments. I also learned that another reason he preferred ships is because from childhood he was deathly afraid of flying, imagining he’d die in a crash one day. And then, on September 19, 2008 he was only one of two survivors of a plane crash.
See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Travis_Barker

The ship’s drummer had been stalking Travis and hadn’t yet worked up the courage to speak to him. I too had once been deathly afraid of speaking to strangers but in 1970, at age 18, I’d begun hitch-hiking. Talking to strangers comes with the territory and the unwritten contract of the road is that while the ride might be free you have to be more interesting than the radio.

One of my proudest moments as a parent came decades ago when we asked our son in the first grade what had happened in school that day.

He said, “A policeman talked to us, but he’s stupid.” We asked how so, and he said, “The policeman said drugs are bad and we shouldn’t talk to strangers. He’s stupid because some drugs are good and everyone is a stranger until you talk to them.”

I’m reminded of this story because yesterday my now-adult son sent me a link to a promotional video for a new show where Sasha Baron Cohen tricks pro-gun lobbyists (and the congressmen they keep in their pocket) to show their true colors by convincing them to support a program to give automatic weapons to toddlers.

If you are charged with raising toddlers into adulthood (or training lobbyists and congressmen to be humans) then I offer these three rules regarding talking to strangers:

  • Talk to strangers because everyone is a stranger until you talk to them.
  • Don’t be an idiot.
  • Don’t be evil.

You might think that not being an idiot and not being evil are good rules that can be assumed without saying.

But, apparently I’m wrong.

As evidence, consider watching the promotional video for Showtime’s new show.

And while you do, look for the reference to Blink 182.