Snow Day

Day two of my capitivity.  Blizzard conditions! Ice! Thunder! Thunder and snow???  How strange!!!

This isn’t a fun snow day. No fluffy flakes of snow waiting to be transformed into smiling snowmen. No sledding in the park. This is ice. Treacherous. Dangerous. Stay in your house and off the streets – ice! And for a ‘follow-up’ they’re predicting blizzard-like conditions. How wonderful!

Looking out my lonely window

Our offices were closed yesterday afternoon and we’re home today and maybe tomorrow, too.  Snow days were fun as a kid but working from home while also watching weather reports “ad nauseam” and keeping one eye looking out the window is exhausting. This ‘multi-tasking’ is very challenging. I’m also thinking about all the work piling up at my office that couldn’t be transported home. So much for telecommuting (or whatever it’s called).

Plus I don’t know why but I can’t stop looking at the weather and I’m afraid that I’m becoming obsessed. I’m concerned about folks who have to work in this mess (my nephew particularly) but also healthcare workers, police, road crews, mail carriers (the irony here is that I won’t risk falling down trying to walk to my mailbox to get the mail that the mail carrier risked his life to deliver). What’s really crazy is that retail stores are open today. How miserable for the Walmart/Target/Macy’s associates that risk life and limb to get to a store that is likely empty. But God forbid that someone not “show up” for work! So much for common sense.

I just finished a conference call with our manufacturing partners in Guadalajara, Mexico – it’s 80 degrees and sunny there. On the contrary, we’re expecting -6 degrees tonight and 12″ to 20″ of snow. So it’s time for a little ‘pity party’. I think I’ll take a break from work. I’ll have some hot chocolate and maybe some cookies or a muffin. Perhaps I can ‘eat’ myself happy. 

Snow days were fun as a kid. Now I just feel like I’m under ‘house arrest’. “Oh, look it’s starting to snow again!”

I guess after my snack and my nap I’ll work on my jigsaw puzzle. I don’t know, maybe this isn’t so bad after all…



Why I Hate Wii®

We were recently given a Wii® game.  Our daughter and son-in-law thought that we could get more use out of it than they had.  The Wii® Sports is fun and pretty easy (the beginner level stuff, anyway).  I now have a Wii® mini-me.  He’s tall and slender with glasses and gray hair.  He seems very excited to try new Wii® things.  This morning I thought I (he) would try Wii® Fit. 

Now I hate Wii®.  Here’s why: It mocked me!  The Wii® “trainer” who started out as my friend actually mocked me!  First “he” checked my age, height and weight and was very complimentary.  Because of my excellent BMI my “trainer” suggested I begin with some balance exercises.  I figured that would be a cinch – WRONG!  Immediately soccer balls started coming at my head and I had to try to “head them” but then other things came at me (shoes and panda heads I think – it was all a blur!) and I was supposed to avoid that stuff.  Let me tell you it’s harder than it sounds.  Needless to say, I didn’t do well.  And my “trainer” (I call him Ivan now – as in ‘Ivan the Terrible’) kept telling me to “try again”.  “Okay Ivan, you get up on this board and YOU try to balance!” 

It went down hill from there.  Ivan actually asked me if I trip and fall down a lot?  What an a**hole!  But I did keep trying.  The next test was downhill skiing – another disaster.  Then I tried some stretching while “maintaining my balance” (in theory).  Again – horrific.  And all the while Ivan kept taunting me, “Try harder!” “Did you step off the balance board?” “That’s cheating!”  By then I had enough.  “Screw you, Ivan!”  My poor mini-me Denis look so dejected each time I (he) would fail.  He would literally (virtually?) cover his little eyes and hang his head after every miserable attempt.  I just couldn’t take anymore. 

And then, the final humiliation – my Wii® age:  68 years!  If I had any strength left, I would have thrown the Wii® out the window.  At least I got my heart rate up!  I guess I’ll stick to Wii® beginner bowling – at least my little Wii® Denis is very happy when he gets the occasional strike. 

Who knew ‘virtual life’ could be so cruel?  I guess reality’s not so bad after all.



Hurry Up and Wait

Poolside in Cancun

Ever have one of those days (weeks) where everything required “hurrying” and then “waiting”?  I’m (sort of) stuck in Mexico right now on a jobsite – Cancun, actually.  We were supposed to deliver store fixtures and begin installation yesterday morning but…  Well, this is Mexico and every time I work here I’m reminded that we Americans do not rule the world, regardless of what we might have been taught to believe. Something about flooded roads and trucks not being allowed to pass through certain areas have caused delays.  My contact Ernesto keeps telling me everything is OKAY.  But somehow I’m starting to lose confidence in his assurances.  Actually it’s kind of refreshing to know that we Americans (by the way Mexicans are Americans, too) are NOT the grand imperialists that some people would have you believe, but that’s another story.

Anyway my Spanish is very limited and my patience is even less so, but I’m trying to “chill out”.  This might all be a test.  How much can I really relax and “let go”?  Am I really able to “unwind” and just wait for things to work themselves out?  NO SÉ? 

Now before you start feeling too sorry for me let me tell you that the weather is better than predicted (70% chance of rain), the food is wonderful (shrimp tacos), the hotel is fabulous (pool bar) and the beach is just outside my door.  But still I want to get my work done and get home – WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME? Most people would kill to be “stuck” in a place like this but I just want to go home.  I’m told my granddaughter Anna prayed for “Pawpaw in Mexico” last night and that she misses me – “I miss you too, Anna!”  Plus I feel guilty – guilty for not working, guilty for enjoying the beach and the pool without Deb, guilty for spending company pesos on food and (maybe alcohol) while no real work is happening.  And guilty for being looked upon as an IMPORTANT AMERICAN BUSINESSMAN by these nice Mexican folks that have been waiting on me ‘hand and foot’ and are just are trying to eke out a decent living wage. 

In the meantime, I guess  I’ll go back to the beach or pool and try to tip as generously as possible to ease some of my guilt.  Also it seems that the occasional Corona seems to ease my conscience as well.  “Uno cerveza por favor”!  My high school Spanish teacher, Sister Madeline, would be so proud!



Jerks and Killers

Years ago my wife told me that all people were either basically good or basically bad.  In her explanation she gave the following examples:  Good = saints and various kind people.  Bad = jerks and killers.  It’s an understatement to say that those are pretty broad categories.  My kids and I have laughed at this pronouncement ever since but I’ve been married to Deborah for over 35 years now and I understand that to her it makes perfect sense.  I suppose that if humans and pigs share 99% of the same DNA then it’s not unreasonable to believe that saints and kind people and jerks and killers belong in the same behavioral categories.  I just hope Deb includes me in the “good” category.

Today I would like to focus on the jerks and killers. 

Lately at work someone has been brewing very weak coffee.  We have a ‘state of the art’ brewing system that a trained chimp could operate and yet EVERY morning I pour a cup of weak-ass coffee because some jerk can’t follow the simple instructions.  Hey stupid – you might as well drink hot water!  I’ve yet to discover who the jerk that can’t make coffee is.  But I have my suspicions.

There is a traffic merge near my office where EVERY night some jerks feel the need to stop.  YOU DON’T NEED TO STOP – IT’S A MERGE!  All these jerks are doing is holding up traffic. This is a daily annoyance.  For the love of God – read the sign.  Keep the traffic moving!  Of course my honking and yelling never seems to positively influence the offenders. 

My next door neighbor’s lawn looks like a cross between a mole farm and a prairie grass preserve.  Hey hillbilly – if you don’t want to take care of your lawn then don’t have one!  Move to an apartment or condo development where they take care of that sort of thing for you.  Look around jerk neighbor – you’re the only one whose lawn looks like a toxic waste dump. 

At the gym I attend there are several jerks but the one that is most offensive is the crazy guy that jumps from machine to machine and then becomes noticeably irritated, muttering curse words under his breath, when someone else decides to use the equipment that he had planned on “jumping to” next.  This guy might be slightly unstable (his appearance would tend to make you think so) but regardless he’s a jerk supreme. 

So when do jerks cross the line and become killers?  Do all jerks have the capacity for murder?  And should I be concerned about the jerk at the gym “snapping” and killing me for using a piece of equipment that he planned on using next?

If the shirt fits - wear it!

Unfortunately Debbie doesn’t have any answers for those questions.  So rather than worry about being killed by some jerk.  I’ve decided to work hard on not becoming a jerk myself and eventually a killer.  I suppose the whole jerk/killer thing could be a slippery slope. 

And now I’m wondering if I am considered a jerk by others?  Someone might be writing about me at this precise moment. 

I’m the jerk that bitches about the coffee EVERY morning.  I’m the jerk that honks at drivers EVERY night.  I’m the jerk that gives my neighbor the ‘cold shoulder’ because of his inferior lawn care ability.  And I’m the jerk at the gym that jumps on a piece of equipment right before someone else was planning on using it.    

Oh no!  I may not be a good person after all.  Don’t tell Debbie.  But please help me before I kill someone!  Your prayers will be appreciated.



Bill, Silent Guy, and Dumb-Dumb

Last week I was at a Macy’s Store in Milwaukee for a Designer Accessories Shop installation.  That’s what I do or I should say that’s what the company that I work for does.  We manufacture and install custom retail store fixtures.  As the V.P. of Operations I have project managers that are working all over the country (and sometimes internationally) setting up new stores or handling remodels.  Often our customers’ shops are inside a department store – we call those ‘shop in shops’ (don’t blame me – I didn’t make up that name).  Occasionally when my project management teams are spread too thin I will go to installations to meet with a customer rep or just to make certain everything is completed correctly. 

That’s what I was doing this past week.  I usually don’t announce to the installation crew that I’m a V.P. because it tends to make people nervous.  I’m just Denis.  Last week the crew that was at the Macy’s store was ‘contracted out’ – meaning that are not employees but instead they are hired for a specific location.  We may or may not ever work together again. 

I was told by the Installation Company that Mike would be the supervisor of the crew.  When I arrived and asked for Mike I was greeted by Bill who explained that Mike was not there.  Bill seemed okay so I wasn’t too concerned.  His ‘crew’ consisted of two others that I nicknamed ‘Silent Guy’ and ‘Dumb-Dumb’.  Let me explain:  First of all, I know that it’s not nice to call people names but for the record I only called them names in my head (or behind their backs – I have manners).  Secondly, ‘Silent Guy’ never spoke – he only sort of grunted.  And thirdly, well – we’ll get to ‘Dumb-Dumb’ later.

Initially things went well.  Our truck was on time.  The dock was available.  The store personnel were friendly and cooperative.  But as the morning progressed it became painfully obvious that Bill and his crew were  S   L   O   W !  I couldn’t have lit a fire under their asses with a blowtorch.  And time was slipping away!  Plus I discovered Dumb-Dumb down in the stockroom arguing with the ‘Trash Lady’ about why he should have to “breakdown” cardboard boxes!  Really Dumb-Dumb, you’re going to argue with the 80 year old lady who is kind enough to help you?  Taking care of your trash is not her job!  The store was scheduled to open at 10:00AM and after 2-1/2 hours of slowly dragging stuff to the sales floor, unpacking fixtures and wiping things down “at a snail’s pace” I finally (kind of) lost my cool.  We had 30 minutes to clear the aisles, remove all the debris, and make the space ready for the store opening.  Concerned that the store managers as well as my customer contact would “flip out” because everything was in complete disarray – I yelled at Bill and crew.  I told them to stop what they were doing (whatever that was) and to get EVERYTHING cleaned up, cleared out, and ready for merchandise.  Bill explained that they didn’t usually do things that way and I responded that “today is a new day – we’re doing it MY WAY”.  I went into full V.P. mode!

Within a few minutes the space was much more to my liking.  Lots of clearing, cleaning and straightening was happening.  The merchandise specialist arrived and began arranging handbags.  While Bill and his ‘crew’ were still sulking, I was strutting around quite pleased with my command of the situation.  Then it happened…

The Operations Manager for Macy’s came by to ask if everything would be ready to go by 10:00AM.  I was certain I was ready for a verbal “beat down” because of my installation crew’s lack of efficiency and orderliness.  Instead her reply was:  SUPER-DEE-DUPER!  And then she proceeded to tell me how much she enjoyed working with Bill and “The Boys” – what great guys they were; how they made each install easy because they were so relaxed in their approach. That it was ALWAYS a stress-free experience for all involved.  That all the store personnel LOVED working with them, etc. etc.  And that I was really smart to have hired them because she wouldn’t want anyone else working in her store.  I sheepishly thanked her knowing full well that Bill and his ‘crew’ heard every word she had said.

In my uptight and reactionary way, I had forgotten where I was.  This was Wisconsin not New York.  Not L.A.  These folks at this Macy’s loved ‘shooting the breeze’ with the installers.  They were more interested in knowing about the fish that Bill had caught at his cabin up north than whether or not everything was perfect in the shop at 10:00AM.  The Packers upcoming football season took precedence over the placement of fixtures.  In Wisconsin Aaron Rodgers is way more important than Michael Kors.

I had forgotten the most important rule of customer service – Don’t treat people the way you want to be treated – Treat them the way they want to be treated.  Bill and his ‘crew’ remembered that.

So who’s the Dumb-Dumb now? 



Don’t Worry – Be Happy!

I’m a natural-born worrier. My mom is a worrier. My grandpa (her dad) was a worrier. So I come from a long line of worriers. I’m sometimes frustrated that others (Deborah) don’t seem to worry at all. I actually worry that she’s not worrying enough! Okay so I’m a little neurotic – and I’m worried about that, too.  So you see worry ‘breeds’ more worry.

Don’t confuse my worrisome nature with fear. I’m not really afraid of much (except that some people don’t worry enough). But fear is different. I know that I will face heartache and disappointment in my life. I know that there will be great sadness at times. I realize that I can’t control ANYTHING except my response/reaction/acceptance of the shitty stuff that life sometimes deals. And I’m (mostly) okay with that. Prayer helps. So do loved ones. And the knowledge that we are basically equipped to handle most of life’s challenges.

But I worry about stupid stuff that doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. AND I know that my worrying won’t help anyway. So why worry? Or as Deb suggests, “don’t worry so much”. I wish it were that easy – to “let go and let God'”. To “not sweat the small stuff”. To “relax”. It’s easier said than done. And of course, as I’ve said, I worry about worrying. Am I taking years off my life? Am I sapping the fun out of life’s little joyful moments because I’m worried about some foolish things? Probably.

I’m trying – really trying to be more relaxed. Starting today I’m going to not let inconsenquential stuff drive me so crazy. As God is my witness – I AM GOING TO BECOME CAREFREE. I’ll let others do the worrying for a change (maybe even for good?)

Of course right now I’m sitting in an airport terminal and a baby is crawling on the floor – YES, the filthy floor at the gate and the mother is oblivious to the harm she may be doing to this child. Did I mention that said baby is also putting her hands in her mouth? Fat little hands on filthy floor – fat little hands in mouth! Geez! I want to go ‘Purell’ myself after witnessing this. Hey lady, why not just lay your baby down on the public restroom floor? Plus there’s a guy with his shoes off! Big, gross, hairy feet – crawling baby. I think I just threw up in my mouth a little bit!

Holy crap – this not worrying thing is going to be harder than I thought.



“The Customer’s Always Right” – right?

There’s an old adage that says, “The Customer’s Always Right”.  I grew up believing that.  And in retail stores, as in most businesses, customers ultimately pay the employees salaries. Without customers, there is no business!

Working from that premise I decided to take my complaint to The Store Manager.  The Store Manager is one of those lofty individuals that can say YES after other store employees, that have been programmed to do so, say NO.  So when I ask to “speak to the Store Manager” I’ve come to expect that my concern/complaint/issue will be given the proper solemn important attention that it deserves.  After all, MY PROBLEM is of the utmost significance to me, and therefore should be to The Store Manager as well.

Well that’s where I was wrong!  Let me give you a little background:  At issue is the fact that while still under warranty our television lost video and audio reception.  It was wrongly diagnosed twice by The BIG BOX STORE’s repair dude and the manufacturer’s Support Team and finally after more than 6 months of on-again off-again T.V. it was determined that the panel is bad (whatever that means?).  Of course now our television is no longer under warranty.  Had the correct problem been identified back in February, parts and repairs would have been covered.  Now we are looking at a $1,280.00 part plus labor costs of several hundred dollars!   

So I went to speak to The Store Manager to see what she could do to help me.  After waiting the better part of an hour (several other assistant managers and such tried to intercede on her behalf but I knew that my problem was likely out of their authority to resolve – so I waited) the Store Manager finally arrived clearly annoyed that I had insisted on speaking with only her.  Immediately her demeanor was combative and extremely rude.  When I asked her why she had kept me waiting so long, her response was, “You are not my boss and I don’t have to explain myself to you!” 

Wow!  I worked in retail years ago and that would have been cause for immediate termination ‘back in the day’ but this was THE STORE MANAGER – I guess things have changed.  Wowzer!  Needless to say, she did not appreciate my “rightness” and I am now dealing with her supervisor, and The Better Business Bureau, and The CEO of BIG BOX STORE and God only knows who else.

I’ve been assured, by a VP of BIG BOX Something or other, that EVERYTHING will be repaired at no cost to us, but I’m still waiting.  And I’m still waiting for my letter of apology from The Store Manager.  Hope hell doesn’t freeze over the day that arrives!

Is it so wrong to be right?



Please Hold Your Applause

All three of our children graduated from Homestead High School in Mequon, Wisconsin. Homestead was consistently ranked near the top of all high schools in Wisconsin for academic excellence. We were blessed to live in a community with such a great public high school. Homestead rivaled most private high schools in our area.

During the years our kids went to Homestead there were roughly 1,300 students; so graduating classes were typically about 300-350 kids. Because of the large number of graduates, each year at the graduation ceremonies they would ask all those in attendance to hold their applause until ALL students received their diplomas.

This worked. People complied. Except for the families of black students. Homestead had a minority student population of about 10% – most of those kids were black. There were Hispanic and Asian kids but they probably made up less than 2% of the total student body. So while most of the graduating class’s families sat politely quiet about 8% of those in attendance would cheer loudly for their graduates. I never found this particularly disturbing but it was always interesting to me – there’s probably a sociological study in there somewhere. The clapping and cheering likely only added an additional 20 – 30 minutes to the graduation ceremonies. So no big deal (or so I thought).

Our youngest child Blake was (and still is) an enigma! He was a National Merit Semifinalist. He was offered a full-ride scholarship to Ball State University in Indiana. He had been accepted (and enrolled) into the University of Wisconsin. And yet, we didn’t know until the day of his graduation whether or not he would actully graduate! It seems that he had not done most of his homework or term papers for the last quarter of his senior year. Furthermore not until we received his progress reports (lack of progress is more like it) did we even know that there was a problem.

Needless to say, graduation day for Blake had us on ‘pins and needles’. What would we tell grandparents that had made the trip from Missouri? What would it mean if he didn’t graduate? Would Wisconsin withdraw their acceptance? Would he have to stay home another year? God help us all!

But Blake turned in all his missing assignments; took make-up tests, finished term papers. And we waited. Because grading wasn’t complete until the Friday before Sunday’s graduation, we wouldn’t know whether his “make-up work” would work.

So on Sunday we sat in the Field House listening as names were announced (and I was silently cursing the fact that our last name begins with a “W” because we had to wait through nearly the entire alphabet). We sat for what seemed like days – and then a miracle: “BLAKE WILHELM”! And then the cheers! Why were people cheering for Blake? And why was it all the black families? And with that, I witnessed another miracle, Blake parading in with Honor Cords; not only had he graduated but he apparently managed to do work good enough to make the honor roll. I was torn between being relieved, proud and wanting to strangle him with those gold cords!

And why were the black families cheering for him anyway? Did they know what he had managed to pull off? Did they admire his ability to overcome his obstacles? Or did they just love Blake because he’s such a great kid? NO – none of the above. Turns out that Blake had gone to every black kid in his graduating class and asked them to ask their families to cheer when (if) his name was announced.

Life with Blake has always been like a roller-coaster – lots of ups and downs. But the ride is a hell of a lot of fun! Thanks for the ride Blake – I love you (and I’m still cheering, too).



Entertainment Value

One of the guys on my staff has told me that he comes to work sometimes purely for the entertainment value.  I have to admit that sometimes I do too.  Our office is probably not unique with its assortment of odd inhabitants but they’re the ones that I have to deal with everyday; so it’s all I know.  Some days are weirder than others and usually all you can do is laugh (screaming and cussing is frowned upon even when justified – stupid HR rules). 

There is a person in our office that appears to be a cross between “Doc Brown” from “Back to the Future” and ‘The Clown’ from Stephen King’s “It”.  But he acts stranger than either of those characters.  There’s the ‘Office Know-It-All’ – if you ask that person for the time, they tell you how to build a watch.  No office would be complete without the ‘Brown-noser’, although as the boss I’m only slightly annoyed by this one.  But then of course, there’s the woman who always gives ‘left-handed compliments’ – she can insult you with a smile!  At times I am truly in awe of her ‘gift’.  And then there are our customers and vendors – we have, “The Drama Queen”, “The Jerk-ass” and there’s the overbearingly loud woman, who if she were Native American would be named, ‘One Who Shouts Constantly’ – even her e-mails are in ALL CAPS!  I could go on and on.  And I’m sure they all have their opinions of me – no matter how wrong they are.

The good news is that for every weirdo in any building there are at least two normal people (or people like me that think they’re normal) and of course the weirdos in every office have weirdo friends that think that they’re normal (like me) – don’t think about this too long or you’ll get a headache. 

What a wonderful world we live in!  A world where we can come to work and be entertained by others’ odd behavior and appearance or we can be the entertainers.  Either way it makes work fun and I believe that it helps relieve stress.  As the boss, I like to think of myself as a benevolent dictator – I try to allow a certain amount of foolishess in the workplace.  So if we can laugh at one another and be playful without being hurtful then I’ll be the ‘biggest duck in the puddle’.  Some things are off-limits and common sense should always prevail.  But let’s all try to lighten-up.

Personally I’m glad that God has a sense of humor – he created me didn’t he?  And if I can provide some entertainment value for my staff, customers, and vendors so be it.  Just take it easy on the skinny-leg jokes!  YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE.



It’s Not The Heat; It’s The Humidity

We’re having a heat wave in Saint Louis right now.  Triple digit temperatures with heat indexes nearing 120 degrees.  When people complain about the heat around here, you often hear other people say, “It’s not the heat; it’s the humidity”.  We actually make excuses for the weather – like somehow the heat doesn’t mean to be so hot; “if it just weren’t for that darn humidity!”

How often do we all make excuses (or allowances) for other people’s bad behavior or bad manners or bad mood?  I used to make excuses for my kids all the time – “he’s tired” or “she didn’t mean to…” or “he’s just being a boy”.  And we make excuses for bad adult behavior, too – “everybody knows not to talk to her before she’s had her coffee”.  Often women will make excuses for their husbands – “he doesn’t know how to do anything around the house”.  REALLY?  Doesn’t know or doesn’t want to know?

My point is that we seldom hold people accountable for their actions.  If someone behaves badly there MUST be a reason – something is beyond their control.  Or maybe if I really took the time to figure out what was bothering them, then I could help.  Or perhaps I just misunderstood what they said or did, etc., etc.  I have a friend that CONSTANTLY makes allowances for everyone.  She has such a good heart and is so trusting that she always believes in the goodness of others.  I used to joke that in High School she was probably voted ‘Most Likely to Date a Serial Killer’.  She shames me with her kindness!

Now I know that I tend to be a little cynical at times and I might sometimes jump to the conclusion that someone is just being a lout.  But really, I think that sometimes some people are just being a–holes.  I don’t know; maybe they just like being jerks.  But I for one refuse to accept boorish behavior.  Sadness, grief, pain, heartache – okay.  Simply being bombastic because you can?  Take it somewhere else! 

Starting today, I am going on notice that I will no longer tolerate, accommodate, or otherwise make excuses for ANYONE that can’t be civil or won’t grow up and deal with their own issues.  IT IS THE HEAT AND THE HUMIDITY!  DEAL WITH IT!

Sorry for the rant but this heat has really taken a toll on me.  I usually don’t go on like this…