Things I’ve Done For Money…

I started working as a kid. I had a newspaper route when I was 12 or 13 years-old. I rode my bicycle and threw newspapers, ideally on to front porches, but more often into shrubberies or the occasional gutter. I think I earned about $30.00 a month and because this was a daily paper, I suppose I was making about $1.00 a day. I had several other part-time jobs while in high school which according to my parents would build character and net some savings. No real savings were ever realized and as for the character, well let’s just say that I met a few characters along the way.

As an adult, I’ve had some less than stellar jobs but the absolute worst job was as the T.V. man at our local hospital. Deb and I had just had our second child and her part-time job became more part-time. Because we had a new baby and a not quite two year-old I decided to take a second job and work a few evenings a week to make some additional money. I found a job in the ‘Help-Wanted’ ads and the “no experience necessary but a clean appearance and a good personality, a plus” seemed tailor-made for me.

Because our local Catholic hospital didn’t have the funds to equip rooms with televisions, there was a company that provided this service for a fee. My job was to “sell” television to the patients. Let me explain: for $2.00 a night I would turn the television on in the patient’s room with a special key. It was the 1980’s and this was not cable television just the 4 or 5 local channels. Maybe 6 channels if you counted UHF. The lady that owned the television business was scary (think Cruella Deville) and because this was a CASH ONLY business I was responsible for any shortages which would ultimately be deducted from my paltry paycheck. Further humiliation resulted from the gold blazer that I was forced to wear which was 2 sizes too big. This blazer made me look a theater page but identified me as THE T.V. GUY. Many of my customers in fact looked forward to seeing me. I suppose recovering alone in the hospital without your soap operas or “Price Is Right” or “Dallas” would have been a struggle. Of course there were some sad nights, like when someone didn’t have the $2.00 and my ‘magic key’ would have to darken their room. Or any night in the ‘Psych’ ward. Truth be told, I sometimes turned on T.V.’s for folks that couldn’t afford the fee.

HumilityBecause this was the local hospital in my hometown I often encountered people who I knew. Trying to explain why I had sunk to such a lowly position in life could be quite humiliating. One particularly awkward evening was when I encountered my best friend’s wife in labor (the fathers-to-be were always good customers – they looked forward to any distraction from the business at hand). I will always remember the night my friend’s son was born with a smile.

I only kept that job for a few months. We figured out how to better manage our meager incomes and I got to spend more time with our little boy and our infant daughter. Thinking back, I believe that the greatest benefit of that job was the lesson in humility that I learned. Certainly we needed the money but that was soon gone. The lesson in humility remains to this day.




Miss Manners, Wherefore art thou?

Judith Martin gives advice on etiquette under the pseudonym of Miss Manners. Back in the day, when I actually subscribed to a newspaper, I regularly read her column. Sometimes I was amused by her responses, always delivered in third person. “Gentle Reader, Miss Manners does not approve”. Often I was confused by her archaic approach to modern situations. But lately I find myself longing for the kind of simple courtesy that Miss Manners holds in such high regard.

mannersI recently got home from a business trip. Encountering boorish behavior is nothing new. What’s surprising is that it seems to be more and more the rule rather than the exception. Here’s a sampling of some of what I witnessed:

  • A guy jumped in front of a group of us at the airport parking shuttle bus pick-up (we were huddled together in sub-zero temperatures desperately trying to stay warm and had been waiting in the cold for 15 minutes). As he shoved his way past the rest of us he explained to the driver that he couldn’t possibly wait for the next bus because he had overslept.
  • A lady at the airport security check point insisted her yapping little dog be “treated with respect” – her words. She was demanding this respect from fellow travelers in a very loud and angry voice. Apparently some other passenger had frowned at the aforementioned puppy.
  • A flight attendant told a beleaguered traveler that he would have to gate check his bag because “you people bring too much carry-on stuff “ and “it’s not our job to accommodate all of this!” In fairness it was a very full flight but the poor guy was just asking what he should/could do.

I know that we live in busy world. But can’t we be busy and courteous? Can’t we hurry and still be mannerly?

This is often my own struggle. And my great shame is that I could see myself in each of these individuals – the offenders; not the offended. My impatience, disregard for others feelings, and my self-importance was reflected in each of these actions. I believe that Miss Manners would, more often than not, disapprove of my behavior. What can I do? What should I do???

I’m going to start by remembering that simple courtesy is a luxury I can afford. I should be able get to my destination on time and also be kind to strangers. I believe that I can put others needs ahead of my own and still achieve my goals

 Gentle Readers, I promise to try harder to please Miss Manners.



Cuidad de Mexico Sin Mi Amor (Mexico City Without My Love)

It probably sounds cliche but what I enjoyed most about living last year in England was being there with my wife.

imageToday I’m leaving Mexico City on a trip that was mostly business but after 15 or 20 visits to Mexico (I’ve lost count) I finally visited the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Although the churches are beautiful – actually three – old, newer, and newest – and the rest of the gardens and plaza are amazing it was a bit of an empty experience without Deb. Such is the life of a traveling business person in love with their spouse.

Still in love after all of these years!

We’ll get to Mexico City together but until then I’ll have the memories of London, Edinburgh, Rome, Paris, and Madrid. And truth be told my best times with my wife are the days that are ordinary. Those days in which time seems to stand still; those days that are golden just because we can afford to waste time (which is never really a waste when we’re together).

imageSo today I was privileged to trod the steps of Juan Diego who in 1531 spoke with the Virgin Mary and witnessed the miracle that Mexicans still honor today. But while walking this holy place I was keenly aware of another miracle that happened in 1973 – Debbie loved Denis!

I’m headed home tonight. And after 40years the miracle continues.




Road Sage

I’ve come to a conclusion about bad drivers: none of them is ever me. RoadRage

I find myself screaming nearly every day on my commute to work: “What’s wrong with you?” or “Hang up your phone and drive!” or “Hey jerk, you just ran a red light!” or “What is your hurry; where’s the fire?” or “Why can’t you hurry up, I don’t have all day here?”

So many people to yell at; so many mistakes to point out. It’s exhausting! By the time I reach my office in the morning I can barely pour that first cup of coffee. I feel as if I’ve already worked half a day. Somehow I forge ahead confident in my superior driving technique. I am keenly aware of the bad drivers and can spot them immediately. Beware of the following:

The Radio Singer – this person is rehearsing for their big break on American Idol and they often forget that they are actually behind the wheel of a car. Sometimes they need a friendly toot at a stop light that has already turned green while they’re hitting their high note. Repeated honk-honk-honking can sometimes move them along.

The Bobber & Weaver – this person seems uncertain just what those painted lines on the freeway mean. They often bank their car from side to side in any (sometimes multiple) lane(s). Repeated honk-honk-honking makes them look around and only aggravates the situation.

The Slow Middle Laner – this driver only drives in the middle lane and annoyingly drives the speed limit. Apparently they have never heard of the 5-over rule; which of course means you can always drive at least 5 miles over the speed limit (even in the slow lane). In Illinois it’s the 10-over rule. Repeated honk-honk-honking only seems to strengthen their resolve.

The Braker – this guy hits his brakes every time he sees ANY tail light come on. It doesn’t matter if the illuminated tail light is a half mile ahead. This of course creates a chain reaction for other Brakers (and necessitates the use of curse words for the good drivers like me). Repeated honk-honk-honking just creates more braking.

The Tailgater – this person follows too closely behind the person if front of him (or her). Also known as “riding one’s butt”. This driver believes that they can accelerate the car in front simply by pushing them down the road. This rarely works (See The Slow Middle
Laner above). Repeated honk-honk-honking rarely works either.

The Cell Phone Talker – this driver is so enthralled in some conversation that they often SLOW DOWN to listen. Repeated honk-honk-honking can sometimes jolt them into consciousness and safe-driving.

The Makeup Artist – this driver is usually a woman (although not exclusively) who uses her morning commute as an opportunity to prepare herself to look lovely for the day. Repeated honk-honk-honking can really screw up her ability to apply her mascara properly.

Last year we lived in England. Sometimes I miss life there, with the narrow roads, left-hand driving, right-hand steering wheels. I knew there that I was the bad driver. It also recently occured to me that all the honk-honk-honking in the U.K. might have been directed at me.

Maybe it’s time for a foreign road trip. I could probably use a little humility. On the other hand, it’s good to be the smartest driver on the road.



What Happened???

I’ve been told that there are three kinds of people:

Those that make things happen. Those that watch things happen. And those that say “what happened?”

Lately I feel that I have fallen into that third category.

Let me explain: We have just recently moved back to the United States after living in England for most of this year and are still adjusting to our new/old life here (and haven’t completely unpacked). Our son just got married last week to a lovely young woman and we are still on an emotional high from that beautiful day. We had a presidential election for which I had to vote an absentee ballot because Monday after the wedding I left for a week in Mexico City to help establish a new division for my employer. I haven’t even lost my British accent (I honestly never had one, but now I do say brilliant, keen and lovely too often) and I find myself voting for an American President and trying to learn Spanish (again) all at the same time. Dios mio!

I need things to  S L O W  D O W N  a bit.  And I need to get off of this emotional rollercoaster. I am happy to be home from England and sad to have left our lovely (there I’ve said it again) life there. I am thankful for the love that Tyson and Colleen have found and resentful that the Air Force cancelled his assignment at a nearby installation so that now they begin their new life together away from family and friends. I am proud to live in a country that allows me the freedom to vote my conscience and disillusioned by the bishops and priests of my Church with their thinly veiled vitriolic attempts to control my vote (“Give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”). Clearly it didn’t work anyway – 51% of Catholics voted for the President. As far as my new assignment with our Mexican division, for all of the reported lawlessness in Mexico I find the people that I’m working with to be well educated, professional, and hard-working but government regulations make employing them a monumental task (plus my aforementioned poor Spanish skills which only adds to my frustration and a nasty case of Montezuma’s Revenge – ugh!).

So I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed and a little lost(?). I’m sure I’ll catch up soon – on sleep, on correspondence, on social engagements, on our un-packing. But until then I suppose I’ll find myself scratching my head and asking, “what happened???”.



Thumbs Up!

After high school I worked at a big box discount store. I attended a local college and was able to live at home and work part-time – lucky me! Anyway, before leaving for work one afternoon I was roped into helping my mom wash windows. She was struggling to open (or close) a window and while she pushed outside on one sash I pulled on the other from the inside. The ‘stuck window’ broke free and then I managed to smash both of my thumbs between the panes (which should be called pains). Needless to say, I was injured. Both thumbs were bleeding; both thumb nails were split and the ensuing pain was intolerable. BUT YOU CAN NEVER CALL IN SICK TO WORK. Or so was the mantra of my parents (who grew up during the depression and lived through WWII).

So Mom wrapped both thumbs with splints, enough gauze to bandage a head wound and nearly a mile of tape after applying copious amounts of Mercurochrome. And off I went to work.

It turns that opposable thumbs do give us humans a distinct advantage over other species. I couldn’t tie my own shoes. Driving was more than a bit of a challenge (in retrospect my bandaged thumbs were custom-made for hitch hiking). Eating was nearly impossible. Opening a door was comical. But by golly I reported to work as scheduled!

While deflecting questions about “what happened” and avoiding stares from customers and co-workers I quietly sulked and performed my duties (to the best of my abilities). I was assigned to the Paint and Hardware Department so carrying gallons of paint with my thumbs bandaged was particularly challenging. As I was carrying a can of paint, with both thumbs outstretched to the sky, a cute young co-worker from the Health and Beauty Aids Department happened by. She saw me, took one look, and a with a wink and a giggle, proclaimed to all that could hear, “Thumbs up!” With that she skipped off completely pleased with herself, laughing all the way. While I initially fumed, I soon began to realize the absurdity of the situation and my appearance and I began to laugh, too.

The truth is I was intrigued by her quick wit and captivated by her smile. And she had the most beautiful greens eyes I had ever seen. I hunted her down in a stockroom, called her a smart ass and then we both had a good laugh. Laughing at myself eased my pain. It’s amazing how cathartic self-deprecation can be. And that beautiful young lady helped me to see that all those years ago.

I think about her often. And the day that changed my life. You see I married the girl from Health and Beauty Aids. And I thank God that she still makes me laugh today (usually at myself).



Lucky Man

The past several weeks have been particularly challenging. Work has been crazy – staff performance issues; vendor failures; unreasonable customer expectations. The tension in our office is palpable. On a personal level several friends are facing serious health issues – some of which are heartbreaking and completely hopeless. One aunt recently suffered a stroke and another slips further into the murky waters of Alzheimer’s each day. Our friends who are consecrated religious sisters are facing a showdown (of sorts) with church hierarchy in St. Louis. Our beloved priest here in England has been hospitalized with serious mental health issues (and he seemed to be the most sane priest I’d met in years!). A trip to Rome for Deb’s birthday had to be canceled/rescheduled due to the chaos at work. The hostility between friends and family members over the upcoming November elections in the U.S. is escalating. And I miss my grandkids desperately.

Lately I have not been in a happy place.

I spoke to a friend in New York the other day and she said, “I’m just so tired!” “I’m tired of politics; I’m tired of the people I work with; and I’m tired of always trying to be the voice of reason.” “I just want to tell everyone to go to hell and leave me alone!” I share her pain.

I must admit that burying my head in the sand is appealing at times but I just can’t do that. So I pick my battles. I stay quiet (yes I do!) at times. I encourage those that I love. I influence those that I can. And I thank God for what I have been given. And I realize how lucky I am.

I have been blessed with an amazing wife – who has given me an amazing life. And we still love each other (some days I make it hard for her) after all these years.

I have been blessed with remarkable children, who are kind, loving, responsible adults. They have learned compassion from their mother and determination from me.

I have been blessed with beautiful  grandchildren who are as loving as the parents who are raising them. And the joy that they bring me is boundless.

I have been blessed with a family that surrounds me with love. We are connected emotionally and spiritually even though we are physically apart.

I have been blessed with friends that have NEVER let me down. They have stood the test of time. They are the “family” I have chosen.

Things may not always go my way. And some days go ‘from bad to worse’. But I have a wife who supports me; a family that claims me; and friends who stand by me. And a faith that sustains me.

Sharing this crazy life with the one that makes the crazy fun…

For the most part, I believe that we make our own luck in this life. Things don’t just happen – we make them happen. The choices we make; the opportunities we take (or don’t) all determine what life holds. Even the disasters, hardships and setbacks that we face are ours to deal with (or not). We can ‘be lucky’ if we choose to be but we can’t do it all alone – we need our family, friends and faith. Sometimes we just need to readjust our perceptions.

So I know that sometimes life can be tough but I am reminded every day that I am still a lucky man.



International Man of Mystery

My job requires travel. I visit factories, construction sites, and customers wherever and whenever necessary. In the last three weeks I’ve been to Portugal, Germany and France. This week I travel to Spain. Next week perhaps a return trip to Germany or a quick trip to Italy. Based in England most of my travel is one day trips – one L O N G  D A Y ! I’m not complaining (well maybe a little bit) but traveling the way I do requires leaving my house here in England at 2:30 or 3:00 AM to catch a flight and spending most of the day traveling (planes, trains, and automobiles). Then I return the same day at midnight (or 1:00 or 1:30AM – technically the next morning) only to repeat the process the next week or several days later. Eventually it catches up with you.

Of course on the weekends Deb and I like to see as much of England as we can, so we stay busy traveling around here, too. And I love it (mostly)!

You won’t find this in any Holiday Inn Express Lobby

My continental travels are almost always comical at some point. Like the time in Spain I was looking for a rest room: “Donde esta el bano, por favor?” only to be directed to the swimming suits or bath towels in a major department store. Turns out ‘aseo’ is the Spanish word for restroom – seems I was asking where I could take a bath. Or in Portugal when I spread some kind of creamy cheese all over my bread thinking it was butter. My hosts were quite amused – apparently you eat it with a spoon like yoghurt. In Germany I have stayed in a hotel (?) that looks like something out of Grimm’s Fairytales. I got busted taking pictures of the dining room and lobby. The proprietor must have thought I was some kind of corporate hotel spy: “Was ist los!!??” I just thought the place was quaint but didn’t know a way to politely tell her without sounding insulting.

So I stumble along, nodding, smiling, pointing at items on menus, signs, and maps. God only knows what kind of idiot I must appear to be to my “new friends”. But even though most of my international travel contains much mystery, I occasionally learn something new along the way and try to remember it for next time. And I pray that my guardian angel is multilingual. I miss the ease of traveling in the U.S. but sometimes even that can be challenging, so I tuck my ‘Rick Steves Guide to Europe’ in my briefcase along with my Google Translator app and trudge along. How lost can I get?

Safe Travels,


English to English Translation

I’m learning to speak English (proper English) but more importantly I’m learning to understand it. There have been a few embarrassing moments (like when I asked a work mate what his brother’s medical speciality was upon learning he was an M.D. – turns out M.D. means Managing Director – I think he’s a real estate developer) but more often I just vaguely understand what is being said. So I am often dependent upon context clues but I’m learning some new words and old words with new meanings (to me anyway).

Here are a few examples:

Shortly after arriving here I was driving to work and listening to the radio. The traffic report warned of a bonnet on the Motorway and that traffic was being diverted to avoid it. I wondered aloud, “Who still wears bonnets?” “Maybe there’s an Amish community nearby?” “And why can’t cars just drive over it?” Of course now I know that a ‘bonnet’ is the hood of a car. Also the ‘boot’ is the trunk. Too bad – because “junk in your boot” just isn’t as poetic!

‘Cheers’ is not just a toast but means ‘thanks’ or ‘good day’. Sort of an all-purpose greeting. Like ciao or aloha.

‘Fancy’ means ‘I would like’ something. As in, “I fancy a cup of tea and a scone!” Whereas  something fancy is ‘posh’. As in, “My favourite Spice Girl is Posh Spice!” Besides, Fancy Spice sounds stupid. ‘Posh Spice’ just sounds a little dated and very 1990’s now that Posh is married to Beckham and they have little Spices and Becks.

‘Mad’ means ‘crazy’. No explanation required unless you’re mad.

‘Brilliant’ – everything and everyone is ‘brilliant’ or wants to be.

‘Keen’ means ‘I love it/I like it/I want it/I covet it’. As in, “I’m keen on Adele’s latest Album.” “Or I’m keen to see Season 3 of Downton Abbey.”

You should never wear a ‘fanny pack’ here in the UK or refer to one – ‘fanny’ means ‘vagina’ and this could be very embarrassing for all involved.

‘Knackered’ means ‘worn out’ or ‘tired’ but getting ‘kicked in the knackers’ means something else entirely.

A ‘bap’ in a bakery is a roll but don’t ask the woman behind the bakery counter if you can see her ‘baps’, that will likely get you a ‘kick in the knackers’!

A ‘bloke’ is a guy. A ‘bird’ is a young woman. A ‘duffer’ is not a golfer but a ‘geezer’. An old lady might be called a ‘twirly’ because they show up at the Post Office at half past eight and exclaim, “Am I too early???” (pronounced twirly)

Of course I’ve learned much of my new English from my work mates but the bulk of it is from watching English television. Probably not the best way to learn the language but at times it is very entertaining. My favourite adverts (they’re not called commercials here) are Aldi or Dulux. They’re brilliant!

I must admit that the accents and regional dialects can be a real challenge. And it’s complicated further by the Welsh, Irish and Scottish folks that we encounter. Just about the time we think we have a handle on the language we encounter a shop clerk or neighbour that we can’t understand. Of course they probably just think that Deb is a ‘twirly’ and that I’m a ‘duffer’.



A Tale of Two Countries

At home again in England after a week of traveling in the United States. And this feels like home now (albeit a quiet one without kids or grandkids) because Deb has filled this place with love and comfort that only her special touch can provide.

So now I’m a man living in two countries at one time. My heart is in both places and my head – well my head bounces back and forth between the two – how to drive; how to speak; what to eat; how to tip; what to watch on the Tele (or T.V.); etc, etc.

Traveling to America with my work-mates was great fun. I felt like a cross between a tour guide and an indulgent parent. In New York between customer visits we managed to see The Word Trade Center, Central Park, Rockefeller Center, Times Square (at least twice), Bryant Park, The Empire State Building, Grand Central Station, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. In St. Louis they were forced to go on “The Denis Wilhelm Boyhood Tour” complete with a drive past most of the important places of my youth. In Las Vegas (well what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas) let’s just say a good time was had by all.

A bittersweet goodbye

A bittersweet goodbye

Of course for me the best part of the trip was the evening I spent with my daughter, son-in-law, granddaughter and grandson. Deb was there, too (she had spent the week with them while I was traveling about). The welcome that I received from Anna and Noah can’t be put into words. It’s suffice to say that their cheers of “Pawpaw, Pawpaw, Pawpaw!” are still ringing in my ears and will live in my heart forever. And my tears of joy were mixed with sorrow the next morning on my departure.

In New York I had the opportunity to attend Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and while there amidst all the grandeur I found myself missing St. Peter Church in Cirencester (our tiny Catholic Church here in England) and wondered if others there were missing their home churches, too. It’s odd (to me) that I didn’t think first of St. Joseph in Cottleville – our U.S. church.

So I’m happy to be back in England and I know that I can leave and return and leave again because there’s a piece of me in both places now. And I believe that’s how it should be.