Discovering My COVID-10 Humbling

I went charging into the COVID-19 stay-at-home period like a 5-year old with a tasting spoon at a Baskin-Robbins Ice Shop.

So many choices and ways to reboot my life, alter my values, ramp up my self-improvement activities. I was excited, and the world was my oyster.

Instead, I discovered what I’d call the COVID-10.

Granted, I did read several excellent books and started a new exercise routine, but somehow my version of Kryptonite, ice cream, found a way back into the freezer.

I like to consider myself self-motivated and disciplined. The sun rarely beats me up in the morning, I always return the shopping cart to the corral, and I make a list nearly every day – even weekend. Ice cream, however, melts my willpower into a puddle of goo.

It started innocently. A small scoop after a hard day of pulling weeds in the yard or maybe following an extra-long bike ride. But like all weaknesses, the erosion quickly slipped from an occasional treat to an outright psychological dependency.

Exercising when you are older is a different formula. No matter how far you ride or how long you work out, you can’t seem to outpace cheats. Sometimes I’m riding along and picture an ice cream drumstick with scrawny stick legs running a few paces behind, taunting me all the way.

“You can ride, but you can’t hide,” he says. “I’m going to get you.”

And he’s right. As the sun goes down and I’m unwinding, I hear a distant drumbeat from across the house. It begins slowly.

“Drumstick, drumstick, drumstick…” it says.

Minutes pass, but the noise returns only louder. After half an hour, I’d swear I was the troubled protagonist in Edgar Allen Poe’s classic short story, The Tell-Tale Heart.

“Drumstick, drumstick, drumstick…” the beat continues, growing louder between my ears.

I fidget in my seat, try to refocus on the pages of spy novel I’m reading. Eventually, however, I’m under the hypnotic beat and standing in the middle of the kitchen. As the freezer drawer opens, light spreads across the freeze bin, revealing a cornucopia of artic-temperature treasures. For some reason, the drumsticks seem to draw a few extra rays of light, calling me to them.

I fold.

Moments later, my book cast aside like the cellophane wrapper once protecting the ice cream, I dive in. Guilt must add several tantalizing layers of flavor because the forbidden fruit (ice cream in this case) never tastes as good as that first bite. The second isn’t too bad, either. Rarely do I remember anything beyond that point. 

I’m not alone. I’m hearing from friends about their ways of dealing with self-imposed isolation. The closing of schools, in particular, put some in a new position.

One wrote during the stay-at-home, “don’t judge my recyclables, I’m homeschooling.”

Our battle with COVID is a serious challenge. And while we need to follow medical professionals’ advice, I’m not sure covering your mouth with an ice cream cone is the preferred strategy.

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Masks May Alter Entertainment Forever

COVID-19 is infecting my perception of reality, and I fear I may never recover. 

I now live in a world where watching an old episode of the 90’s television show Friends begs me to wonder where the social distancing is. Or while enjoying the climactic scene in When Harry Met Sally, I ponder why they are not wearing masks. And finally, the opening moments for the Brady Bunch now looks remarkably normal, much like an everyday Zoom conference. 

Who thought the masked criminal Bane from Gotham City would suddenly look, eh, normal? Suddenly Batman looks surprisingly vulnerable with his exposed chin. 

If masks continue to be a needed protective element for an extended period, can we expect producers to add a CGI mask to the upcoming James Bond movie? 

Imagine Daniel Craig sauntering up to the roulette table, and the evil mastermind sits across the playing surface. They exchange the knowing the looks of predators sizing each other up. Craig lights up a cigarette and introduces himself to the players.  

“Name’s Bond, James Bond.”

“What? I can’t hear you through your mask.”

“BOND, JAMES BOND.”

“What? James Blonde? Who has a name like that?

“Bond. B. O. N. D.”“Wayne Bond you said?”

Author Ian Fleming would be spinning in his grave like the license plate of Bond’s trademark Aston Martin DB5 in Goldfinger. 

Imagine being in Hollywood today. How do you manage to put out a product in today’s mask-populated environment? Doing so risks dating scenes like bell bottoms, and long sideburns did for the ’70s. Imagine Thomas Magnum with his trademark mustache hidden behind a coordinated Hawaiian shirt.

Today’s network newscasts are already there. Watching a national news report this week, I noticed all the reporters were wearing protective masks. I appreciate their gesture, but I’m feeling relatively safe watching from my television at home. 

Look, I’m all in wearing a mask, but you must admit getting dressed each day is more challenging. Is my blue mask clean? Will it complement this t-shirt? So many new decisions. 

And in true American fashion, we figured out how to monetized the space for advertising or branding. Somehow it took COVID coming to the shores of the USA for someone to spot an opportunity – a place where people’s eyeballs would be focused and then use the space to drive messaging. God bless the American entrepreneur.  

Who would have thought Birdwell, the maker of generations of board shorts for surfers, would repurpose fabric into making patterned masks? And people would gladly pay top dollars to wear them?

As masks are becoming a fashion item, materials and creative designs are popping up galore. Entire companies are springing up, turning scraps of fabric into immense fortunes. Again, God bless the American entrepreneur.

As for Hollywood, they have their hands full. Imagine the scene where Goldfinger has James Bond, masked up and strapped a table, a laser encroaching closer.

“Goldfinger, I know about operation grand slam.”

“Did he say something?”

Cut to credits. 

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Father’s Day Gets No Respect

Father’s Day is the Rodney Dangerfield of holidays.

Thanksgiving gets a parade, Mardi Gras gets beads, and the Fourth of July gets fireworks.

Father’s Day gets a tie.

Maybe not so much in these COVID-19 work-from-home days, but you get the idea. A tie is tough to pair with grey sweatpants and a wrinkled white t-shirt.

Speaking as a father, becoming one continues to get heavy rotation on my greatest hits or moments in my life. From the day my son first wheeled by past me, his eyes wide open and as stoic as a sack of Rooster potatoes to my daughter proudly announcing her arrival in the delivery room. Electricity could not jolt my soul more.

Being a father is not a biological exercise. Yes, science demands male and female elements fertilize. Genetic or not, being a father is about stepping up into a role versus making a biological connection. And the job description includes love, care, and large quantities of caffeine.

“Don’t worry,” said the nurse changing our son’s first diaper. “They won’t break.”

His legs anchored in her right hand, her left hand slid a drink-sized coaster diaper below him. Her words did little to reassure me. I might as well be wrestling an angry alligator with the shallow level of confidence I carried.

But guess what? Both our kids survived me and my significant shortcomings as one posing as a responsible adult. One time my wife and I played a tennis set before we realized we left our son sleeping in his car seat on top of a green electrical transformer box.

Or when my wife spotted me down the third base line at a minor league baseball game, our daughter dangling upside down from my arm and me reaching out to catch a foul ball. I caught both the ball and hell.

My wife carriers the mom gene. She instinctively knows what to say, when to say it, and when to bring out love. She also knows when to bring down the hammer of discipline with a surgeon’s precision – swift, narrow, and tremendously effective.

Dads use two speeds – neither particularly useful. Overreact or no reaction. Our hammer is more like a horse running around in a hospital, breaking things as it figures out a solution. And I broke a lot of gurneys.

But as humbling as being a father can be, I would not trade the ride for anything. The hand-written cards, the stuffed animals, and the first attempt at cupcakes from an and Easy-Bake Oven are all moments adding deep meaning to my life.

Both our kids are now adults. And remarkably, both are well-adjusted, mature, and genuinely good people from the inside out. I would – and do – trust them with everything. Granted, most of the credit goes to their mom (May’s big holiday), but I like to think I might’ve had the tiniest bit of influence.

As for ties, both have exceptional taste. I’m sure the colors will match my t-shirt just fine.

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When In Doubt, Act Like A Dog

I am convinced dogs are indeed man’s best friend.

My friend is ill. He’s wrestling with challenges capable of melting most of us in our flip-flops. And he never complains, taking life one day and one step at a time.

Sometimes the only thing worse than not knowing is knowing.

But my friend has a dog at his side.

My friend is surrounded by family and people who would eagerly walk across burning coals to help him. Loving, kind, and unique he is. There is no forming mold to break. He is a hand-crafted one of a kind canvas of a living, breathing masterpiece. Life, love, and the drinking in of all of life’s most interesting offerings shaped his unique soul.

But no matter what, his caramel-colored friend is there to share the journey.

Dogs are remarkably intuitive. They see what can’t be seen, feel what can’t be felt, and hear what can’t be said. They are both mystical and real at the same time.

Sitting on my friend’s back porch the other night, his dog invites herself to a cushion. Her head gently drops into my friend’s lap, his hand softly receiving her gift. His thin, long fingers scratch the short hairs between her ears, his words, and attention never distracted. They’ve been doing this so long time neither notices.

Cool summer nights are rare. Like the subtle temperature difference resulting from a few extra ice cubes in your iced tea, you notice. This night Mother Nature is generous.

My friend is good – good in the sense of managing the biggest challenge in his life. He’s collected and rational, exactly like we say we would be – but also admit to ourselves highly unlikely. Confidence is borne internally, birthed from rough roads, broken loves, and repeatedly experiencing the crescendos and dead cat bounces of life.

Taking a deep breath, my friend’s dog settles in for an extended moment. Does she know what is going on in his head, the voice of distraction he hears becoming more vocal each day? Does she know from his touch where his mind wanders?

I like to believe so.

Call it what you will, but God put man and dogs together for a reason. Yes, there is the caveman theory of protection and help chase down wild game, but something other exists. Dogs own a corner in our hearts and souls like no other.

A lull arrives on the back deck, and the night sounds creeping in around us. My friend’s dog offers the slightest of movements, inviting further attention. The long thin fingers unknowingly respond to the silent, shared conversation between them. I’m alone.

When someone you love is in pain, you will do anything to help. Say jump on a flight with an hour’s notice, send them the last shirt you own, or drop off a plate of cookies. In response to the emptiness we feel, actions become our go-to solution.

But sometimes, all we need to do is follow a dog’s lead and be there.

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We Must Move From Platitudes To Progress

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I am not sure what to think or feel. I can’t.

The brutal death of George Floyd leaves me numb, stunned. As much as watching his death triggers revulsion to my core, I recognize I am not equipped to appreciate systemic racism fully. I am a white male born in the 20th century. In some ways, I am an unintentional cog in the cruel machinery perpetuating the condition of systemic racism. History proves silence is every bit as dangerous as physical actions against another.

I am from an immigrant home. Unknownst to me, my skin color would provide me with both opportunities and advantages as I chased my God-given and constitutional rights of the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. In my world, if I kept my nose down, worked hard, told the truth, and stayed out of trouble, my efforts would translate into me realizing my dreams.

Our home was wide open and loving. My mother knew she was an outsider and was always welcoming of others. And for us to treat anyone differently was not even on the radar. I never once heard an unkind word uttered about someone’s race, creed, or religion. And I thought that was the way of the world outside our home.

But I was wrong.

As an adult, I learned there was a big ugly world running below the surface. Moving around the country, I began to recognize there were hurtful judgments placed on others for unmerited reasons. And the more I learned, the more I read, the more I realized I could never fully appreciate the pain and injustice. Imagination is a poor translator of the painful reality of systemic racism. To fully understand racism or discrimination, you must be the recipient of the injustice.

I hope and pray the death of George Floyd is a watershed moment for our nation.

In the past several week’s we’ve seen a black man, Ahmaud Arbery, attacked with vicious intent while running along a street in Georgia. He died, I believe, because of his skin color and the prejudices riding shotgun in the pickup truck tailing him.

And the image of George Floyd’s death cannot be unseen.

Floyd was not in custody for a violent crime. Nor was he considered a threat to society. One does not need to connect too many dots to see a picture of systemic racism come into focus. Being black should not be a crime he paid for with his life.

America is better than this. Humanity is better than this.

We need not let this moment pass without making sure platitudes get turned into real progress.

I may not fully appreciate the pain and indignities others experience, but I know enough to listen to others and act on what I see as wrong. I am proud of the peaceful demonstrators. It is time for our society to push forward. Only then will our nation more fully realize the greatness and opportunities written into both our constitution and human DNA.

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Worldly Lessons for Graduates

(Please note, this column originally published several years ago when my son graduated high school. Being as I didn’t write this — the contents are contributed by friends and family and are generally timeless. I hope sharing with yet another class of graduates will prove helpful. Congratulations to the class of 2020.)

With the end of this school year, my son will graduate from high school and move onto another stage in life in which I’ll most likely play a contributing role at best. No longer will we share the day’s events over the dinner table or hang out on the front step talking. My relationship will be transitioning from parent to consultant in many aspects. In the end, the decisions – and results – will be his and his alone.

While I’m accepting of this development, I realize my work will never be complete. There will always g be an urge for a “just one more thing I want to share” moment.

This moment in time brings me to this week’s column. The random lessons below – written in no particular order – are a culmination not only my life but also from those I value in my life: friends and family. On a Wednesday, I posted this idea for a column on Facebook and within hours received contributions from nearly two dozen individuals around the world. And therein lies the credit for the vast and varied wisdom. 

So as yet another high school class approaches graduation, here are a few final thoughts from those who’ve been there.

The “one more thing….” list:

Always put the newest tires on the front of your car. 

Always do your best – especially when you think no one will notice. People do.

Telling the truth is always easier to remember.

When using a wrench: lefty loosey, righty tighty.

Take action when you first think of it – time has a way of getting away from you.

Remember to regularly tell the important people in your life you love them. 

Regardless of what you hear, God does exist and will be there when you need him most. Really.

Change your oil every 3,500 miles and rotate your tires every other time.

The tip of a shoelace is named an anglet.

Being right isn’t always the most important thing in life.

Moderation is usually the best choice.

You’re not likely to be the smartest person in the room – so don’t act like it.

Count to ten before getting angry. It really works.

What goes around, comes around.

Never spend more than you make.

Don’t eat yellow snow.

If you don’t make mistakes, you don’t make anything.

You will experience failure, and the key is always to fail forward…never repeat a failure

Don’t stand up in a canoe.

If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.

Never underestimate the power of kindness to make a difference in the lives of others.

Treat everyone like you wish to be treated.

Call your momma.

Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does.

Learn to laugh at yourself.

Your beliefs determine your actions; think seriously about what you believe.

Always expect others can change; it is what you would want others to believe of you as well.

You are entitled to your opinion; the world is not obligated to hear it.

If you think you can or you think you can’t – you’re probably right.

You want it, earn it.

Remember you to listen more than you speak – that’s why you have two ears and only one mouth.

Everything is sales. EVERYTHING.

Learn how to prioritize.

Great love and great achievements involve risks.

God first, others second, me third. A hard one but true. 

Believe “failure is not an option,” and you will be a success at everything.

Worry is like a rocking chair: it takes up a lot of energy and doesn’t get anywhere.

No man ever lay on his deathbed wishing he’d spent more time at the office.

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Invest In Your Local Businesses

I hope you are shopping locally whenever possible.

COVID-19 is rewriting the rules for nearly every aspect of our lives. Until a vaccine is developed and widely distributed, we are all in a brand new world. Until then, elementary classrooms will not fill with dozens of students. We won’t be elbowing up to the stage at a concert, and squeezing into the tiny middle seat of an airplane will make us feel strangely threatened.

But we need to make sure we do not lose our connection to the local businesses making up the threads of our community. Doing so could leave this critical fabric in tatters.

While large corporations get the glamor and attention when courting a local community, small businesses quietly go about their activities. No glitz, no massive tax breaks. I would bet if you step out your front door, you can toss a rock into the yard of someone either owning or working for a small business. I know I can.

My wife and I are slowing getting back out as local businesses struggle to reopen. We are both careful and cautious but know we are ultimately responsible for our health. Strangely, a face mask hanging from the rearview mirror of our cars is becoming the norm.

Today, as so many local businesses – and by direct relation, neighbors – struggle to regain financial footing, look at your choice of shopping as an investment. When you have a choice, make it local. Invest with the businesses you know whose roots are firmly grounded in your community with blood, sweat, and tears.

As local restaurants began to reopen, my wife and I sought out specific favorites of ours to visit. The driving factor? We wanted to support those we did not want to disappear from our community and lives. Previously our modest dinner might not have made the difference between them being open, but now, it just might. And that would hurt our community.

The other day I needed a can of spray paint. I had three choices – online, a mega store, or one where the store owner lives locally. Doing so, in small part, ensures he will continue to operate his business, hire young local students, and make modest but essential contributions to local charities.

And for the price of a can of gloss clear coat, I cast my vote.

Locally-grown and managed businesses are so much more than the sign on the side of the road. Picture the face of the person who created this dream or where someone landed their first job. Think of the families, depending on these modest businesses for a paycheck. Most shops may be small compared to those making national headlines, but locally and collectively, they are the heartbeat of our community. They are too small to fail.

As we all learn to shape our new reality, let’s commit to spending our dollars with a purpose – one we carry with the respect we do in the voting booth.

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The New Norm Coming Into Focus

The novelty of working from home is over. Oh, so over.

“Sometimes I look up at the computer screen during a video conference and wonder who the old guy that looks like my aunt Thelma is,” said a friend. “Then I realize it is me.”

Video conferencing might only be the tip of the sword.

The COVID-19 crisis is changing our lives in profound ways. If this is a disruption, then it is one akin to a tectonic behavioral shifting occurring within a generational gap. And if most of us experienced the coming of the internet, 9/11, and the Great Financial Crisis of 2009, this event is an attention-getter.

As medically dangerous the COVID-19 crisis is, the forced change in behavior could forever warp how we manage our days. And maybe there are a few positive takeaways.

My wife and I are getting to know each other in ways similar to when we first began dating. Without the constant pressure of having to be somewhere, we find ourselves sitting and talking more. One night we played a game of naming restaurants from our childhoods until the other called uncle. And with most, came a story or memory to share.

I’ve also learned my back might be able to survive multiple workouts a week, but whoever imagined doing a 1,000-piece puzzle would wreak havoc on my spine?

One morning I finished up a video call and realized I was wearing the clothes I’d slept in the night before. How did this happen to someone who is rather particular about his wardrobe and hair? If this is the future, I’m not sure I want to play. I genuinely enjoy a well-tailored suit, sharply pressed shirt and matching tie, and colorful pocket square.

This week another friend joked they’d put on 10 pounds.

“We better hope this does not turn into the COVID-19,” I said.

As much as I try to stick to my exercise routine, I’m beginning to think it might not be the dryer’s fault that my pants are barking.

On the other side of this, I am relearning to read music, reading more books, and carving out moments where I suddenly ask myself, “where did all these birds in the trees show up.”

The Wall Street Journal reports Americans are working more hours than ever during this chapter of work-from-home. On average, people are working up to 3 hours more a day – something I can personally attest. Days start early and run long.

Psychologists point to habits being taking root after 14-days. I’ve lost track. Some days I the only clue I have on what day of the week it is the little letter embossed atop my morning pillbox.

Suddenly I feel naked at the grocery store without a mask. When watching television and someone touches a door handle, I wonder wiped down recently. And a clip of a baseball game crowd doing the wave seems like a lifetime ago.

The world is changing. I guess I can, too.

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Never Forget The Value of Cheer

My grandfather successfully served in World War II yet never lifted a weapon.

Much like today, people were confused, uncertain, and struggling to make sense of their surroundings. And while his war – and the fear of a terrorizing invasion is vastly different from avoiding a deadly virus – he played in an important role helping people get through to next sunrise.

My grandfather, a father to 4 girls and too old to serve in the military, fought the Battle of Britain with the limited tools God gave him – a singing voice and empathetic urge to bring smiles to people’s faces.

Wars can be won and lost at home. Battlefield victories pale in comparison to the collective spirit of those back home. Without a shared purpose or vision, the pain of war can erode the mortar holding together the foundational bricks of the people.

My grandfather was generously known as an entertainer. Nothing professional, but always willing to lead a song or tell a story at the pubs dotting the Scotland and English landscapes. When I think of him, I picture him standing on a chair, belting out traditional folk songs, or telling stories to workers coming off a shift at the local shipbuilding port.

The government split my mother and her family apart during the war, scattering them across different towns as not to allow a single bomb to erase an entire family. And while the sisters lived on rural farms, my grandparents were assigned to work the underground trains in London.

As German bombers scorched the skies, sirens would send people underground for cover. And tunnels beneath the cities became a strategic fall out shelters for Londoners. It was in those musty caverns my grandfather fought the war.

With the muffled sounds of the nightly bombings dripping from above, he would take to a song to lift the spirits of those squatting against walls. My grandfather’s charge was to transport people away from pain and fear and to one free of bombs dropping from the skies above.

I recall the stories of how he would be singing and elevating his voice as the noise above sought to compete as if they knew he was fighting against them. In my imagination – the ones created while hearing the stories told to me as a child – his voice echoes down dark caverns while hundreds of people cover themselves and small children from dust and fragments of falling stone.

As an adult, I now understand my imagination colors these stories in romance, but the key elements remain. His job was to do whatever he could to elevate people’s spirits during a period of great despair and uncertainty. And although never issued a weapon, his tools moved people to want to see the next sunrise.

Today’s world is uncertain. We don’t know what we are dealing with or for how long. But the lessons of my grandfather still apply. We need to keep our spirits up, focus on coming together, and know – if we have the grit – we will see tomorrow’s sunrise.

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Easter Eggs And Making Memories

Baseball is not only American tradition gone silent during this COVID-19 crisis.

Easter Sunday always brings back memories of my brother and me standing in a long horizontal starting line of a hundred other kids, colorful straw baskets in our hands, waiting to race across a field finding and picking up colorful eggs hidden between the grass blades.

This year, this timeless tradition across American communities will not happen as we practice social distancing and shelter at home guidelines.

My memories always feature brilliant colors. Skies painted in radiant blues, white clouds billowing like dancing cotton balls, and breezes slipping by at a whisper’s pace – not too much, not too little.

The Easter egg hunt playing my head is no different. A half-century later and I still see eggs pushing the boundaries anything an artist ever dipped a paintbrush into, grass so green as to make a golf course jealous, and my mother’s dress drinking in all the available sunlight from above, cheering us on from the sidelines.

Yes, at that moment, life was perfect.

I don’t know how many eggs I collected that day or if I ever ate any of them. The moment is about being with my family and friends making memories I would faithfully carry forward with me for a lifetime.

Today we need to not let up on making memories. Yes, we should follow the guidelines in place to protect all of us, but doing so does need to mean living absent of life.

A friend shared he would be using a video tool on his computer to visit with his kids and grandkids on Easter. Don’t think the kids will ever forget the Easter spent seeing their grandparents on a video screen?

We need to understand this window does not equate to putting life on pause. We are exclusively in charge of creating the emotions and memories we experience and take forward. And that comes from plucking the emotional chords hardwired inside each of us. The only way the will sit silent is if we don’t make an effort to strum the strings.

This weekend is a great time to reach out to someone and create a time-traveling memory. Pick up your phone and calling someone you know or love. We all are in this great shared experience of temporary restriction, but without human contact, this moment can result in a painful window of isolation.

Make a few calls this weekend. Send a few texts to friends you’ve not heard from in a good while. And if you can, invite someone to figure out how to use a video conference tool. Memories result from experiences – mainly the actions and interactions with others.

There may not be a field of colorful eggs planted in the grass field of a nearby park, but there are plenty of opportunities to discover memories ahead of us. This point in time is temporary; the memories are forever. The memories you plant today will be yours forever.

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