© 2009 Brooke Allen

Originally published in International FamilyMagazine

Republished in Folks Magazine on 11/7/09.

I was working as a computer programmer at Rutgers University when I saw the perfect job advertised by American Airlines. It had everything that I wanted: interesting work, decent pay, and free travel everywhere American flew.

I sent a letter outlining my skills, and offered to write a resume if they found me interesting. They did not request a resume, but they did call me in for an interview. I thought that it went very well.

A month later, a “thanks but no thanks” letter arrived.

This was disappointing. I called Walter, the hiring manager and asked what was wrong, and why I didn’t get the offer. He said it was just a matter of competition; there was someone better.

I asked what I could have done to be better than the competition. He said it wasn’t likely there was anything I could have done. The person they hired came from the software vendor who had been servicing their account for years. He already knew their needs better than anyone else could have.

“So, why did you interview me?”

“Because the Human Resources department requires that we run an ad and interview three people before we make an offer.”

That made sense.

At the university, I wrote a computer column for a monthly newsletter. Every few weeks I would put out a document about some programming technique or software package.

I put Walter on the distribution list for all my publications. Then I forgot all about him.

Six months later he called me.

“I have a job for you.”


“There is only one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“Get me off that damn mailing list.”

“No problem. I can start in two weeks.”

“We can’t move that fast. It will take six weeks minimum.”


“We have to run and ad and interview three people. But the job is yours.”

If you don’t get what you want, don’t forget to ask why.

Things VS People

© 2009 Brooke Allen
Originally published October, 2009, in International Family Magazine
Republished in Folks Magazine on 10/24/09.

When I was 16, my dad told me to get in the car – we were going for a ride. We drove to Bolek’s Foreign Car Service. My dad told Bolek that his son needed to learn how to work and he would drop me there every Saturday morning. He told Bolek that I wasn’t worth anything so he shouldn’t pay me anything. He gave Bolek $100 as an advance against any damage I might do. Then he drove off.

Over the next year I learned to get my hands dirty, how to use tools, and how things worked.

– – –

When my dad had a problem, we went to visit Frank at Frank’s hardware store.

Frank was a problem solver and his store was a huge collection of tools and parts for solving problems.

“Looks like this is a job for a ¾ inch bit and a stove bolt.” “I’d use a rubber coupling and a hose clamp.” “An arc welder is better for that than acetylene.”

– – –

Decades later, I became a dad too.

– – –

I sat next to a four-year-old girl at a neighbor’s dinner table.

“I hate broccoli. How come I never get what I want? I hate you.” She began pounding the table and crying.

While her parents were in the kitchen making her French fries, I turned to her and asked, “Wow. How do you do that?”

Her crying stopped abruptly and she gave me a sly smile. “You want to yell and make a lot of noise. Don’t stop. It really helps if you can cry.”

“But, why do I want to do that?”

“Because that way you get what you want.”

A young boy was given a present by his divorced dad at Cub Scout camp.

“But mommy gave me two presents, and both of them were nicer than this.” He wrinkled his nose.

The dad frowned, “You don’t think this is the only thing I got you, do you?” That afternoon, the father left the camp to go shopping.

– – –

I sat on the abandoned lifeguard chair as I watched a young girl run across the sand.

She twisted her ankle and fell in a heap.

She began crying hysterically.

Suddenly she stopped, stood, and looked around. Her father was far away; out of earshot.

She collapsed again and bawled even louder.

She stood again. Her father had wandered off so she resumed joyfully running down the beach.

– – –

Today, I can tell you what everything in a hardware store is used for.

But I am terrible at getting other people to do what I want.

Teach your children to manipulate things, not people.


(And the best way to teach them not to manipulate people is to not let them manipulate you.)

What am I?

© 2009 Brooke Allen

Originally published August, 2009, in International Family Magazine

My friend in college, Debra, asked me, “What are you?”

I did not understand the question.

“What are you? How hard can that be? I’m Jewish, what are you?”

I said I was not religious.

“Neither am I. Just tell me what you are?”

I had not been raised with a religion… in fact; it had not been mentioned, kind of like sushi. I was 25 before I had even heard of sushi.

I asked my parents, “What am I?”

My mom said, “Brooke.” She laughed.

“I know that, but what am I relative to you?”

“Our son.”

“But what religion am I?”

“We don’t know. You haven’t told us.”

“How can I not even know what religion I am?”

“That is a personal choice – you will need to make it yourself. Or not.”

This was frustrating, “Ok, let’s make it simple. How about race? I’m not Black, right?”

My mom said, “I wouldn’t be too sure. There was a lot of fooling around going on. Everyone did it; don’t let them tell you otherwise.”

It was like sparring with a judo master who fades from every thrust.

In total exasperation, I said, “Look, my girlfriend is Jewish, and she wants to know what I am. Let’s start there… I’m not Jewish, right?”

My father became serious, “Do you want me to tell you what I want you to be?”

“Yes.” That would be a start.

“When they come to round up the Jews, I want you to be Jewish.”


My friend in graduate school, Mona Hakim, was born in Bethlehem. When she was young, her family moved to Lebanon to avoid threats against her father’s life. She was going to the American University of Beirut when the civil war started.

She told me that your identity card had your religion printed right on it. Thugs would stop your car, and if you were the wrong religion for that part of town, they would chop your head off and place it on a fence post. Muslims did it. Christians did it.

Some people began blackening out their religion on the ID card. That worked for a while. How could you kill someone if you didn’t know what they were?

It didn’t take long for the thugs to think up an answer. If you were Muslim, and you weren’t proud of it, you deserved to die. Christians felt the same about Christians. They couldn’t agree on much, but they did agree on that one thing… don’t say what you are, and we’ll kill you.

That is when she decided she had to get out of there.

I asked her, “So, what are you?”

She said, “I’m not telling you. I’m through with that shit.”

Turns out, she was Mona – good enough for me.

If you conclude that your problems are caused by members of another group, you had better make sure you are not one of them.

If those others are humans, then you are either one of them, or you are inhuman.

In the Best Interest

© 2009 Brooke Allen
Originally published in International Family Magazine

Republished in Folks Magazine on 10/17/09.

In 1981, I decided to create my own consulting company. It occurred to me that I must learn more about selling if I was to find clients and flourish. For this I took a short sales training class over a weekend. On my next vacation, I visited my grandparents in Cornwall, where we had the following conversation over lunch:

“Grandma, do you remember when my sister and I spent the summer here in 1966?”

“I sure do. That was a great time, wasn’t it?”

“It was.”

I paused for a moment. I wasn’t sure how to begin, “Well, I’ve taken a class on selling. Thinking back on that summer, I believe you were using sales techniques on us.”

“How so?”

“After dinner, you would say something like, ‘Do you want to clean up before dessert or afterwards?’ That is called the alternative choice close.”

She winked at me. “That’s true. Go on.”

“Then there was the time you made a list of all the reasons I should learn horseback riding even though I didn’t want to. Then you gave me the paper and asked me to list the reasons I should not. I couldn’t think of anything.”

She smiled, “That’s called the Benjamin Franklin close.”

“You would say things like, ‘After we go to the art museum, we’ll go for ice cream.’”

“Closing on a minor point.” She even knew the names of these techniques.

“We could never play you off against granddad like we could with our parents. In fact, it seemed to work the other way around. You might say something like, ‘If you promise to clean the table, wash the dishes, and put your clothes away, I’ll then go see if Granddad might take us out for dessert. But we only get this one chance to ask. Is it a deal?’”

She chuckled. “In my day we called that the MacAdoo close. I think it was named after someone called MacAdoo. Car salesmen use it all the time.”

I was stunned. She knew all these things I had just learned a few weeks earlier.

“That summer in 1966 was kind of weird. Ruth and I enjoyed doing chores for you that we hated to do at home. You seemed so appreciative.”

“We enjoyed your company so much and we did appreciate the help.”

“But grandma, you never worked as a saleswoman, did you?”

She laughed. “Well, there was the time that a builder gave us a house. First, he agreed to let us live in his model home. Then, since I helped him sell most of the other houses in the development, he gave us the house as a reward.”

She continued, “When your dad and his brother were very young we came to know Dale Carnegie. I learned a lot from him so I thought I’d apply his techniques to raising our children. They worked.”

What an amazing confession. “Don’t you think you were being manipulative?”

Her answer: “Not at all.” She paused. It seemed that she wanted to phrase her answer just so.

To persuade another of something is not manipulative if you are doing it in their best interests and not just your own.

TV Fatality

An old trashed TV with a smashed screen isolated on a white background.© 2009 Brooke Allen
Originally published in International Family Magazine


In 1960, when I was eight years old, my parents bought a television. It was a black and white console model and it cost my dad about a month’s take-home pay.

It changed my life.

I could now entertain myself without friends, family, books or using my imagination. I could pretty much have fun without doing anything.

It started slowly but by the end of the decade that box had taken over our family. We would even watch television while eating dinner.[1]

In September of 1970 I went off to college in Indiana. For nine months I did not watch one second of television.

While flying home I practiced the first words I would say to my parents, “I have lived the greater part of a year without television. I will stay the summer in your house because I don’t have enough money to stay somewhere else, but I warn you that I refuse to watch television with you. There are so many more important things to say and do.” After my time away, I had so much I wanted to discuss with my folks, and the thought of competing with Laugh In, Ed Sullivan and the Million Dollar Movie both scared and sickened me.

“Dad, there is something I must say to you.”

“Sure, son. But first, are you still into ham radio?”

“Yes.” There was an amateur radio club at my college and I’d remained active.

“Do you still keep a junk box?”

“Yes.” A junk box is a large chest in which electronics enthusiasts place old equipment from which they hope to someday cannibalize parts. In the ninth grade I had taken apart a discarded television and rewired it as my first short-wave transmitter. Using Morse code, I’d been able to contact people in every state and dozens of countries with that “homebrew” transmitter.

“I’m glad,” he said. “The television is in the barn.”

It was in pretty good shape except that there was a bullet hole through the picture tube.

My family had figured out the same thing I had. One evening, after dinner, my dad gathered my mom and my sister around the TV and he shot it.

Usually, the best way to end an addiction is cold turkey.

[1] Warning: Extremely dangerous — do not try this at home.


© 2008 Brooke Allen
Originally published in International Family Magazine

When my grandparents lived in Bogotá, Grandma became bored.

My grandfather told her that she could spend $1,000 (which was a fair bit of money in the Depression) on a hobby, but it would have to pay for itself.

She decided to become a painter.

She would have to sell her paintings to buy more art supplies if she was to continue to paint after the original money ran out.

This meant that she would have to become good enough that people would buy her paintings.

Eventually she made so much money she couldn’t spend it all on art supplies so she started buying real estate.

Some artists become attached to their work and hate to sell it.

Grandma Anne was the opposite. She said,

Everyone will compliment your work, but when they write a check, you know they are sincere.

Great Grandfather, Great Grandmother, Great Depression

© 2008 Brooke Allen
Originally published in International Family Magazine

As I detailed in the story How Grandmother Won Granddad in a Beauty Contest my grandparents met on a blind date in New York City in the 1920’s and decided to marry within a week.

Granddad Tom was sent to Havana to open an office for United Press International. He became El Presidente Local for the U. P. I. in Cuba.

When he returned near the end of the decade he was handed a 40% pay cut even though the cost of living was higher in New York City than in Cuba.

If that wasn’t bad enough, in October of 1929, the Stock Market crashed and the economy began a long slide into what became the Great Depression. Granddad survived multiple rounds of layoffs by accepting further pay cuts.

Grandmother Anne realized that they couldn’t afford rent on Granddad’s dwindling salary, so she took a job as a receptionist with a developer who was building houses on the farm next to their rented home in White Plains. Soon she was managing four salesmen. She received 2 ½ percent in commission on every home sold.

To help care for the children, she found a lovely couple at the unemployment office. The wife was a nurse trained in Canada but without a license to practice in New York. Her husband was a handyman.  She exchanged room and board for childcare and yard work.

Grandmother convinced the developer to build (at cost) a model home for them with an extra room for their tenants. She became a stellar saleswoman in her own right. Before long, her commissions had completely covered the construction costs, and the home was theirs outright.

Granddad wrote to a friend that the Great Depression had been unbelievably good to them. Before the Crash they had had high hopes, but owning a house ‘free and clear’ in just a few years was inconceivable. Where could they have found a trained nurse and groundskeeper simply by letting them live in a spare bedroom and join them for meals? Freed of the burden of paying bills, the young couple soon saved enough money working odd-jobs to buy a gas station and start their own business. Because most of his coworkers had either been laid off (or quit rather than take a pay cut), Granddad had no competition as senior positions became available. His career took off.

In the 1920’s my grandparents had had Great Plans.

During the Great Depression they just tried to survive.

Sometimes just surviving is the winningest strategy of all.