Love is a Mother

© 2007 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published in International Family Magazine

After we decided to move to Tokyo but before we all did, I went by myself to find us a home. I started by looking at playgrounds and parks.

Arisugawa Park is a lovely place, named for a Japanese prince. It has a flowing stream that starts at the top of a hill and ends at the bottom with a fishing pond. Its wonderful playground had many barefoot children playing in the clean dirt and on an assortment of equipment.

I observed two mothers and their young boys.

One mother looked Japanese and the other American. Their sons were playing on the swings. The boys were trying to go as high as possible. After a few minutes of building momentum, the Japanese boy flung himself from the swing. His mother saw this yet seemed unconcerned but the American mom interrupted the conversation, ran to her own child, and began scolding him. “Don’t you dare do what he is doing! You will hurt yourself.”

She returned to her friend. They resumed chatting and the two boys resumed swinging. As the Japanese boy would fly from the swing the American boy would look at his mother pleadingly. Twice more she interrupted her conversation to remind her son of what harm might come to him if he were to attempt a similar stunt.

Her behavior was beginning to annoy her Japanese girlfriend.

Then something amazing happened.

The Japanese boy went flying farther than ever before. He landed on a tree root and fell forward. He cut his chin on the trunk.

He began to bleed and cry.

The American mom immediately started to run, but her Japanese friend grabbed her by the arm and pulled her behind a bush. The Japanese mom watched her son intently through the leaves. As the boy looked around frantically, it was clear that he had no idea where his mother was hiding. The crying lasted but twenty seconds and the bleeding perhaps another thirty. Soon he composed himself, wiped the blood from his chin, and returned to the swing. While he still would jump from it, he now seemed to be more interested in precision than distance.

Breaking free, the American mom ran to her son. Waving her finger, she said, “See. That is what can happen to you.”

The American boy stopped swinging altogether. Then he began crying.

The Japanese mom wanted to continue their conversation, yet her American friend was too upset.

I made a point of walking past them on the way out of the park. I overheard the American woman say, “But I love my son too much.”

If you believe that loving someone and protecting them from all harm are the same thing, then you can love someone too much.

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Party Time

© 2007 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published in International Family Magazine

Have you ever held a party and had your first guest show up 45 minutes late? Did you have feelings of rejection and doubt? Perhaps nobody would come? Perhaps nobody likes you? Perhaps nobody ever did and they just got tired of being polite?

In some cultures, the feelings of others are more important than one’s own convenience.

John was a recent college graduate who was a member of my trading group when we moved from New York to Tokyo in 1992. The real estate market had recently crashed and with the housing budget provided by our employer, John was able to rent a three-bedroom apartment in Roppongi, the most desirable part of the city. Most Japanese “salarymen” could never aspire to live in such a place, even at the peak of their careers.

John decided to have a house warming party for himself.

He printed glossy invitations and handed them to everyone in the office. We were mostly Westerners and mostly male so, to balance the mix, he gave one to every beautiful young woman he ran across in Tokyo.

At 7:30 the doorbell rang. Fifty beautiful young women crowded the street in front of his apartment.

For more than an hour, John was the only male at his party and everyone felt a bit creepy, especially John. The women elected their best English speaker, “So, what is the deal? Is this party just all of us… and you?” John tried to explain that he’d invited lots of guys, but the ladies didn’t understand.

When the first male guest arrived after 9 PM he was greeted with a good deal of attention from the young women. By midnight, the sexes were fairly even and the party started to warm up. But John wasn’t having much fun because the females were shunning him.

In retrospect, John’s best tactic might have been to have a female friend play the role of host and for John to come to his own party at precisely 7:30. The women who arrived with him would not have viewed John not as creepy but rather as one of the rarest of all creatures: A Western male who was considerate of the feelings of others.

 

 

 

Arrive at the stated time. If you are the only one then you are either considerate or Japanese or both.

Mourning a Best Friend

© 2007 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published in International Family Magazine

The first time I saw my dad cry was when Tallulah died. She was named after Tallulah Bankhead, the actress, because of their similarity of voice and propensity to drink from inappropriate vessels.[1]

Just as the best therapy following a miscarriage or stillbirth is to work on a replacement, my folks went downtown immediately and picked up Pookie.

My sister and I loved Pookie. She had only one neurosis. While she was indifferent to cars, she hated motorcycles and whenever she would catch up with one, she would try to puncture its back tire with her teeth.

We buried her in the backyard. This time I cried.

Then there was Charlie Brown, as dumb as a coconut and if you knocked on the top of the head he sounded like one. It is ironic that we gave CB to some astrophysicists who moved to Colorado; you’d think they would want be around smarties.

Tramp walked into our lives from the woods in the back. He played dumb and he fooled us for a season. Minutes after you would walk away he’d be tangled in the rope around the tree. I caught him out one day by watching from inside the house instead of going to his rescue. After twenty minutes of pitiable whining and yelping he stopped abruptly and unwound himself. He spent the afternoon playing at the end of his tether. One day Tramp returned to the woods and we never saw him again. We probably weren’t smart enough for him. He should have been the one to go to Colorado.

My wife doesn’t feel the way I do about dogs. She will tell you that she likes your dog, but she is just being polite. She doesn’t mean that she will like your dog if you give it to her. You’ve got to walk them or they crap in the house. They don’t last forever so they eventually crap out on you completely.

Once we all went to see My Dog Skip, a wonderful movie about a young boy whose emotional life was rescued by a dog. At the end our sons and I were crying. Eve’s arms were crossed and her head was shaking, “We’re not getting a dog. We’re not getting a dog.”

I’m sorry that my sons never had a dog. Dogs love life and are genetically engineered to be your friend. They aren’t as durable as you so they are likely to kick off before you do.

 

You can learn a lot about living and dying from a dog.[2]


[1] Ms. Bankhead famously drank champagne from her slipper at the Ritz hotel in London.

[2] Thorton Wilder said it better, “Many who have spent a lifetime in it can tell us less of love than the child that lost a dog yesterday.”

Fire Was No Stranger to Tokyo

© 2007 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com

Just before noon on September 1st, 1923, an earthquake struck Tokyo. Since so many people were using fire to cook their lunch, nearly the entire city was set ablaze. High winds (there was a typhoon just off the coast) spread the fires rapidly. More than half a million homes were destroyed and nearly two million people were left homeless. Over one hundred thousand perished.

During World War II, the 20th and 21st bomber commands repeatedly firebombed the city. On a single night (March 10, 1945) 279 B-29s Superfortress bombers destroyed 25% of the city and claimed another 100,000 lives.

In 1990 we moved from New York City to Tokyo. We had mixed feelings about finding a place near a Minato-ku firehouse. In New York, we had lived down the block from Engine Company # 5 where the friendly firefighters would let our children climb on their truck whenever we passed. On the other hand, we were frequently woken by their sirens.

Yet we never heard a single fire truck or even saw one on the streets of Tokyo for the nearly three years we lived there. To this day I can not tell you what one sounds like.

One night, we were having dinner at Tony Roma’s Place for Ribs (which is right next to the Hard Rock Café in Roppongi). At the adjacent table was an obviously American couple. We asked if they were tourists.

“Not exactly.”

“Are you on business?”

“Kind of.”

It turns out he was a fireman from Dallas, Texas. A philanthropist had paid for 50 firefighters (one from each State) to come to Tokyo to learn from the Japanese.

“How is it going?”

“Kind of weird.”  On Sunday night they had had a cocktail reception. Monday morning they visited a firehouse where they discovered that Japanese fire trucks were just like American, only smaller.

That afternoon the firefighters were taken to the Tokyo headquarters. They had expected to find high-tech computers but instead they were shown something out of the 50’s; a map with push-pins.

From Monday afternoon until the day when we met them (Thursday), the 50 firefighters were treated to boring lectures by the Fire Chief for all of Tokyo. Eventually they couldn’t take it any more and one of them asked, “When can we go out on a call?”

The Fire Chief responded, “We will go out on a call as soon as we have one. We haven’t had a call all week.” Apparently, they hadn’t had one for many weeks.

Eve and I were as flabbergasted. “How do they do that?” we asked.

“We asked the same question?”

And the Fire Chief’s response: “That is what I have been telling you all week.”

“So,” we asked our man from Dallas, “What did he say?”

“We don’t know,” he answered, “None of us were listening.”

So, I can not tell you why they have so few fires in Tokyo these days, but I can tell you why we have dozens, even hundreds, of calls each night in our major cities.

We don’t listen.

If someone is trying to tell you something, you should try to listen.

Mr. Rieur

© 2007 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published in International Family Magazine

RieurIFM-1024x716LevelAdjusted
Mr. Rieur in 2007 at 89 in front of some of the 79,662 photos that he took on his world-wide travels that are now archived at the Consortium Library Library in Anchorage, Alaska.

You most want to be like the person you most admire. That is why, ever since 1963 when I had Mr. Rieur for the sixth grade I have wanted to be a teacher.

His classroom was unlike any other I’d seen before; across the inner wall were terrariums and fish tanks. In the back was a cabinet with his lab equipment and chemical supplies. The ledge by the window was lined with books.

He taught geography with slides and stories of his adventures visiting the places in our syllabus. We saw him standing at the Parthenon as it appeared in our book and then he showed us what Athens looked like from that spot. He taught how to live in the world and love its inhabitants.

We constructed the various types of fire extinguishers described in our science text. Then we used them to put out the fires we would set in the trash can behind the school. Our English assignment was to write a report about the experience.

It seemed like everything was connected to everything else and learning how things worked was fun; about the most fun you could imagine.

Since that time I’ve felt I couldn’t just live a life but I also had to pay attention; not because in the end there will be a test but because someday I’ll be called upon to teach others.

Those who can do, please teach.

P. S. On September 29, 2007, Mr. Rieur celebrates his 90th birthday. Please wish him well.

Sally Would be Proud of Me

© 2007 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published in International Family Magazine

In 1993 I lost a job in Tokyo and returned to the States with a wife and two young children but no work.

Most of my contacts were no longer at the phone numbers in my book and many were unemployed. It appeared our economy was in a recession. A friend arranged for a courtesy interview at a brokerage firm I’d worked at years earlier.

Let’s call the interviewer “Bob”.

Bob began, “I hope we aren’t wasting your time but we have no jobs; there is a hiring freeze.”

“You have no work?”

“We have plenty of work, just no jobs. We can’t hire anyone except consultants on short-term contracts.”

“I would work as a consultant.”

“Are you incorporated?”

“No.”

Bob smiled, “Well then, I’m sorry but we can’t do anything. We only hire people who are incorporated. Thanks for coming in, but I have another meeting to attend to.”

“OK. How long will the meeting take?”

“About half an hour.”

“Well, I have nothing else to do today so perhaps we could talk some more when you get back. I’d be happy to help you if I can… no charge. In the meantime, may I use your phone?”

After he left, I called The Company Corporation, a firm that specializes in incorporating people in Delaware: Cost: $240 on a credit card.

When Bob returned I gave him a piece paper with my Federal Tax ID, “I am now Bravo Alpha, Incorporated.”

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

“That was then. This is now.”

“Why did you do that?”

“Because you said I needed to be incorporated.”

Bob smiled again, “Now I’m afraid you’ve wasted your time and your money. We won’t hire someone unless they are on our approved vendor list and that process takes months.”

I borrowed his phone again and called my friend at Galaxy Systems, an approved vendor. In a few minutes I was his sub-contractor.

Bob began to look worried, “We’re really backed up with work, but how do I know you can do it?”

I said, “That’s easy. I begin doing the work and you decide if I’m doing it as you want it done. At the end of the month, if you don’t think I am worth what I’ve billed, simply cross off my number and write in your own which can be any number including zero.”

Bob seemed shocked, “You would work for free?”

“Not exactly. If it turns out that what I am doing is not worth anything to you then I will ask you what I’m doing wrong. Learning what I am doing wrong is worth a month of my time.”

“How much do you want to make?”

“One hundred dollars per hour.”

Bob sighed, “That’s too bad because we are only allowed to pay a maximum of $87.50 per hour.”

“I would accept that.”

“But I thought you wanted to make $100 per hour.”

“I do. But I would accept $87.50. I would even accept $25 because I would rather work than not.”

Bob was incredulous, “OK, I guess I don’t see a reason not to hire you immediately except that it will take us weeks to get a contract written and approval isn’t certain.”

“No problem. I’m happy to start right away and bear the risk that you are never able pay me.”

I began work immediately. It sure felt better than being unemployed. The contract was approved and I was paid in full.

If someone says they want to do something, remove all their reasons for not doing it and they will see no other choice.

If you know you are worth something but an employer isn’t sure, then work on approval.

When you are stuck, think “What Would My Mentor Do?”

Learning How to Land a Job

© 2007 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published in International Family Magazine

A mentor is someone who stands out in your mind as a model for your own behavior. If you find yourself thinking “What Would Sally Do?” then Sally is a mentor. Here is the story of my Sally.

In 1979, my boss asked for my help in replacing a secretary. Rather than pay a fee to an agency, Ted hired a temp and then advertised in the New York Times. We were flooded with resumes and some of these candidates had amazing credentials. He asked for my help in organizing the interviews so that he could make sure of hiring the best person.

One could type 130 words per minute. Another couldn’t type quite that fast but took dictation. Many had Bachelors degrees and a few had their Masters. I created a standardized form on which to record each candidate’s skills.

One day Sally rang our bell. She told our temp she wanted to drop off her resume in person.

“While I’m here, may I introduce myself to the hiring manager?”

Ted agreed to see her and asked me to attend. I’m glad he did.

“Tell me about your education.”

“I graduated from high school last year and I’ve had six months at secretarial school.”

Ted was unimpressed. “How fast can you type?”

“I’m not sure; perhaps 40 words per minute.”

“Hmmm. We have candidates with graduate degrees in English who can type over 100 words per minute.”

“Do you need me to have a degree and type that fast?”

“I don’t know, but it can’t hurt. Can you take dictation?”

“No. Do you give dictation?”

Ted stroked his chin. “Not yet, but some of these women can take dictation so I’m thinking about learning how to do it.”

“OK. If you want to learn how to give dictation, I’ll learn how to take it.”

Ted rose to say goodbye. I could tell that since he had not bothered to write anything in the skills survey he had no interest in her.

Sally stood, shook his hand and said, “May I ask a question?”

“Sure.”

“That girl who let me in; is she the one who is leaving or is she a temp?”

“She’s a temp. My previous secretary has already left.”

Sally looked directly at Ted, “I can do what she is doing and that is the kind of work I want to do. Tell her not to come in tomorrow and I will do her job for free while we both continue our search.”

Ted pulled me aside, “Can you think of a reason I should not take her up on this?”

Sally arrived the next day. She helped organize all the candidates and found typing and dictation tests for Ted to administer. Perhaps a dozen candidates made it into Ted’s final round and every one of them was better educated with stronger skills than Sally. Even with so many choices, Ted still couldn’t decide.

In the meantime Sally did everything that Ted wanted done. She couldn’t type very fast but fast enough. She made plenty of mistakes but she recognized them herself and corrected them. If asked for something at quitting time she didn’t do it first thing in the morning; she stayed late and did it.

After Sally had been working for two weeks, Ted pulled me into his office. “Can you think of a reason I should not give this job to Sally. After all, she’s already doing it.”

Ted hired her and gave her back pay from the day she first walked through our door.

I think that young woman taught me more about how to find work than anyone else.

Things I learned from Sally:

 

Don’t do the interview; do the job.

 

If you don’t like rejection, make offers that are hard to refuse.

 

Attitude trumps skill.

 

The best person for a job is the appropriate person for the job.

 

Work first and you shall receive.