It’s a Mad World: Old-School Edition

I’d like time to stand still. I’d like to believe that the summer season moves as slowly now as it did when I was young, but it won’t. It starts, and before you know it, it’s over.

School bells ring again. Seasons change, and we brace ourselves for our frigid and blustery north eastern punishment.

Time standing still is a ridiculous notion, and this year it’s taken a hard hit. The high school girl has morphed into a college student, and the boy once contained in the confines of a back yard is about to start his high school adventure.

Time has done everything but stand still.

Ticking Clocks

Clocks keep ticking, and the gray (hairs) keep coming. Is it a downhill slope? Or a future getting brighter?

The world goes mad, but you have to tell yourself that things will be OK, that the future is so bright that the shades should be worn at all times. I’ve spent the summer ducking and dodging stories of planes being shot out of the sky, fury fueled riots a la Rodney King, movie stars taking their own lives, and increasing gun violence in our local cities.

But such news is often hard to avoid. Everyone is consumed with it. We all love dirty laundry.

Most times, I manage to avoid the murder, mayhem, and disaster that make up the news bylines of our society, practicing what’s called The Low Information Diet. I usually don’t see any news stories other than weather, and when I do, I look at it with a jaded eye.

It’s all about stopping the noise.

The bad news keeps coming, but I’ll just look to my past for the good. No one, myself included, wants to live in the past, but I keep thinking what a great idea to make regular visits there. We sit around my cousin’s house on Sunday morning and reminisce over our coffee and toast, and draw the conclusion that some of the “good ‘ol days” were, in fact, just damn good.

Am I the father of a high school graduate? It doesn’t seem plausible, really. I was just playing ball the other day, with my friends, in my grandmother’s yard. School was out. Summer was full on. I was sliding into home. Catching fly balls past the fruit trees.

It had to be just the other day. Not decades ago. That’s how I remember it.

Goodnight-MoonIn what seems just a few days later, my kids were in their pajamas, falling asleep in their beds. I was reading them bedtime stories. Goodnight, Moon. Remember?

High school? College? Purely a figment of my imagination. Time can’t pass that quickly.

Cinderella Story

On a road trip with my wife’s brother into the heart of the Adirondacks, it felt like we were on a rocket ship back into the 1980’s, listening to one “hair band” after another. A bright, blue sky drive up the Northway, making a stab at the anthems of our youth.

I’m sure we heard Cinderella. “You don’t know what you’ve got, ’till it’s gone”. Loud and sonic, ripping down the highway.

Man, in that moment, I felt like a kid again.

It’s a lyric about love, but it could easily be a lyric about everything.

You don’t know what you’ve got. Does anybody?

I know what I’ve got. A college student. A kid heading to the 9th grade. A twenty-one year marriage.

I also know what else I have. An increasing disbelief that it all passes by so quickly. That the breakneck pace of life can’t just slow a bit, to briefly take in the glory of another summer.

Today was a gorgeous day, with a little time spent on the back deck. My wife had selected a Pandora station that played Tears For Fear’s “Mad World”. As I listened, sitting in my Adirondack chair in a bath of sunlight, the song sounded as fresh today as it did in 1983.

It was a mad world then. You could still call it a mad world. How else to explain the passage of time, making up your life, that rolls through in a blink of an eye?

Enjoy yourself, my friends. As my Nonna used to say, with a gleam in her eye – “It’s later than you think.”

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How To Bury Your Time Wasters

In the last post, I said that resolutions were a non-factor for me – that I only had a recurring one concerning traditions that need to be kept, and that was it. Frankly, I had no desire to join an army of “resolutionists” whose numbers would dwindle by each passing week.

But that wasn’t true. I lied. I’d actually like to add one resolution, if you will, that would boost all other resolutions if I decided to make them.

acquavivaStop wasting time.

All around us, you can hear the cry of the chronically overwhelmed.

“I have no time.”

“I’m just sooooo busy.”

“Ain’t nobody got time for that.” (A personal favorite)

But when you tell the truth, a high percentage of people who declare they are too busy for the important spend a good chunk of their days on activities that add zero to their lives. And I’m as guilty as anyone else.

As a newly proclaimed resolutionist, I intend to step up my game where I’ve begun, and to start in the areas that I need to. That means burying time wasters. And there’s plenty of them that we can shovel some dirt on.

Let’s get crackin’. Here are examples of time I am no longer willing to waste. Starting….now.

The Evening News – Walter Cronkite and Peter Jennings are long gone. There is no longer a reason to immerse yourself in the time wasting activity of the news. Most of it is sensationalized to bring in more advertising revenue, and it seems the only purpose is to increase the American public’s “worry factor”. About things most of us don’t have to worry about.

Stop watching stories about derailing trains or tornadoes touching down. Unless it’s happening in your house or neighborhood, the long term effects on you are minimal.

The Local News – Indulging in this is worse than watching national news. Want to hear about stabbings, shootings, and car accidents in your surrounding towns and cities? This is the place to be! Ugh. Serious waste of precious time. The only saving grace for our local news is the personality of a couple of very good meteorologists in the area, one in particular that helps animals in shelters.

Now that the Polar Vortex is upon us, they are even more excitable.

Other Television – This one may prove a little difficult. My wife and I are big Seinfeld fans, notably fans of the syndicated re-runs that are on every night. So easy to lose an hour to this one.

And sports programming can wind up being a giant time suck as well. Between football and baseball, I know I spend hours in front of the TV, soaking up all the athletic entertainment that I can.

My television habits will be a work in progress. Stay tuned…

Email – let’s face it, there are emails, meetings, and more emails – the majority being a complete waste of everyone’s time, but that never stops it from happening. In my line of work, the only activities that matter are helping clients and pitching prospects. End of story. Everything else will add little value to what my customers do, or my bottom line. These two activities must take up the majority of my day. I will no longer allow this line to be crossed. The email black hole must be stopped.

Social Media – Facebook, with its unlimited potential for negativity, political bickering, and general pointlessness, is actually useful for me keeping up with friends and family that don’t live in the area. What was once the ultimate time suck for me is now a medium that I’m logged in and logging off for 10 minutes every couple of days.

To stop wasting time I want my usage to drop even further, with the exception of sharing posts like this one. It’s a beautiful thing.

While I still plan to get notifications from people that a) live far away, or b) actually say something worth caring about, I really don’t have that many Facebook “friends” to begin with so it should only take me a few minutes, tops.

Other Minutiae Of Life – Small talk. Chit chat. Idle gossip. Feeding the rumor mill. We’ve all done this, right?

Time waster. Time waster. Time waster.

Have you ever been in the middle of a conversation and just wanted to walk away?

But you didn’t, because you were taught to be polite?

I’m going to start walking away. And not perpetuating negativity. Not letting anybody waste my time.

Because time is finite. There’s only so much left.

I’m going to turn my TV off. Brian Williams will become a stranger to me. Jerry Seinfeld may, as well. It will be so hard to say goodbye.

The time to just “watch” has passed me by. I’ve said it before – life is short. The game has nearly been decided. The clock is burning down. It’s hard to take action on the truly important because of the little things. And if that’s the case, don’t let those little things include the evening news and mindless internet surfing.

The quality of your life depends on it.

Winning at the Lottery of Life

diceWhether fair or not, there’s a lingering stereotype that Italian Americans can be fond of the activity of gambling. While I will admit to playing an occasional football game, poker match, or horse race in the past, wagering my money is not something I do anymore.

However, when the Powerball or state lottery here in New York rise to obscene dollar amounts in prize money, most of my office mates (and myself) pool our money and go buy some tickets for the win.

When I was younger, I used to take my Grandfather to the local mom and pop grocery where he could play his lottery games. He liked to win (and he did hit big a couple of times), but he mostly liked to play for fun.

We play for fun as well, but I find it interesting how people can become overwhelmed with an urge to play all the time, for the remote chance at millions. Because that one big score will change your life and make all of your problems disappear.

If we could only win.

That one prize takes all of the issues of life, the ones that consistently beat you down, and makes them go away. Forever.

I’ve heard it from people who don’t have two nickels to rub together. And from people with asset portfolios in the seven figure range. Interesting, right?

For most, the lottery is nothing but a pipe dream. We can play, but we won’t win. We can fantasize about the new house, fancy car, and exotic trip, but chances are we’ll be going to work the next day.

Should that depress you?

The answer to that question should be “no”. Because in the lottery of life,  you have already won.

You live in America. As much as our government tries to make a mockery of our systems, it’s still the best country you can call “home”.

We are in a time of unprecedented technology. Our every need and desire can be met. You, and you alone, can determine the level of your prosperity. All you need is hustle.

Here’s my favorite quote, that I will take credit for and believe to be the truth:

Any day you are above ground, in good health, and able to enjoy the company of friends and family, it’s a good day.

See? You have officially won the lottery!!

I can tell you, now at 50 years old, I have hit the lottery numerous times. You’ll guess that I’ll mention my wife and kids here, and you would be right.

How and when and where I met my wife was truly a lottery score. Nothing but total blind luck. I can only thank the alignment of the planets that night for finally getting me that “right place, right time” moment.

If you go back through the archives of this site, and read about other members of my family (especially the Sicilians), you’ll know that I practically owned the lottery growing up.

And the “friend lottery” is an example of where I continually cash in. My buddy Mike and I hung out for nearly 30 years before his passing in 2012. I can’t emphasize enough what a wonderful friend he was, and how fortunate I was to know him.

Lottery winners just don’t get that lucky.

Many of us will rate ourselves and our level of importance by the things we collect. The titles we acquire. The promotions we achieve. The time spent at the companies we work for.

The trinkets and toys that fill our lives. The stuff that lottery dreams are made of.

It all would be easier if our numbers would just come in. Life is a game of chance, God’s game. We already have the best of luck if we’re here, and get the chance to play.

You already know the truth. A lottery cash prize would be the icing on an already extraordinary cake.

Just play for fun. Because you’ve already won.

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How “Old School” Still Brings Value To The Table

Midnight Special host Robert Smith AKA Wolfman Jack. Courtesy of Wikipedia
Midnight Special host Robert Smith AKA Wolfman Jack. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Old School.

It makes people groan a little bit and roll their eyes. And mutter to themselves, “Oh God. Really??”.

Want to insult someone? Whisper behind their back, “He’s so Old School”.

I’m curious as to how this bad rap came about. Really, is it that bad to embrace the past, keep tradition alive, and keep the fires of old school lessons burning?

You wouldn’t want to be trapped in the 70’s, I understand that. Modern advancement and technology is a wonderful thing, a blessing.

I’ll give an example. When I was a kid, I had pen pals. If you’ve never heard that phrase before, don’t worry, it’s just because you’re young. But, pen pals were guys and (hopefully) girls that you wrote letters to, with similar interests, usually in other parts of the country or world.

Write. With a pen. On paper. Then you had to stuff the letter into an envelope. And put a stamp on it.

And here’s the best part. The last phase of this project was to take the letter and walk it out to a mailbox for delivery. At times the mailbox was close, other times not so much. Then, the recipient would probably receive that letter in several days.

The Beauty of Modern Life

Here’s where the modern (mostly) trumps the Old School. Now when I write a letter, I can compose it on my laptop, and skip all the other steps. To send that letter, the Post Office need not get involved. I can do it by pushing a button, and it’ll be received in two seconds. Two seconds!!

Email…is amazing.

And I also know that the letter has been opened and read! With a pen pal, how could you possibly know? Hypothetically, that letter could have gone straight from the mailbox to the fire pit.

Modern technology, if its not abused, makes you more productive and efficient. I’m all for it.

Old School Value

An example of the value of old school thinking can also be drawn from my youth. On weekend nights, I would typically stay over and my grandparents‘ house, and you could find me up late watching one of my favorite TV shows, a musical variety program called The Midnight Special.

Midnight Special featured all of the big music acts from the 70s, and I would lay on the living room floor, in my feetie pajamas, mesmerized by the large console TV with live concert footage from my favorite bands.

Only one issue. It was on late. Remember, it was the Midnight Special.

Many times, my Grandmother would try to get me off to bed before the show was over. I’d ask her why.

“It’s late and you need your sleep”.

There was no arguing that position. My Grandmother was old-school smart.

There was no need for her to quote from a study, but the eggheads at the National Sleep Foundation find that if you are sleep deprived for any length of time, you won’t stay healthy and/or bad things can happen.

Here’s my point. Common sense and old school thinking eventually merge on the super highway of living a quality life. And when you combine them with smart modern efficiencies, well, now you can really blow it up.

Whether it’s work ethic, exercise, eating vegetables, holding traditions, raising kids, money issues, or just learning how to take a breath and age gracefully: the raw simplicity of the old school just works.

The Super Combo of Old and New

Like I implied, working old school common sense and ethics with modern advances is a win-win. Don’t just make anything overly comfy or convenient. Students of the old school, no matter their age, tend to shun practices that will turn them into cream puffs.

Examples:

Old School – Still listening to the beautiful and funky sounds from the 70s and 80s. There’s nothing better.

New Age – My, that’s a large and impressive (read: space destroying) album collection you have. You do know you can listen to Kool & The Gang on an iPod, right?

The new school is more efficient here. This example is solid and remarkable. What has happened with music seems to be a necessary part of life. But I think that’s the exception rather than the rule. Read on:

Old School – This smart phone does everything. Damn, how did I live without it? Oh, I do need to put it down occasionally so I can actually enjoy my real life.

New Age – Hopeless. Never, ever puts the phone down. Especially when around friends and family. In the future, won’t see that water fountain straight ahead, or that school bus bearing down on him. Tragic.

Old School – Will use the occasional app to track calories, finances, et al. Wants to ensure things are staying on the right track. Uses tasks to free up time to enjoy with actual humans.

New Age – Apps equal advertising. Look at what I did! I upgraded my iPhone for the 6th time! I saved on my car payment, it’s only $550 a month!!

Old School – Uses social media sparingly. May still think of blue jays when they hear the word “tweet”. Removes people from Facebook that always complain or are excessive braggarts. Uses blogs and websites to advance their agenda. 🙂

New Age – Again, hopeless. Addicted to hashtags. Wants to know via update when you go to the bathroom. Becomes morose and sullen if there are less than 100 “likes” for their latest update. Checks their phone to see what their friends are doing…when they are at a party with the very same friends.

You get this gist. When you temper our coolest and latest with a little old school mentality, the result can be spectacular. Better life, less stress, more health, and you seem a little more informed where you may not have been before. That’s the perception, anyway.

If you prowl the hallways of the Old School, you know better.

That’s my take. What do you think? Is that combination of old and new thinking a necessity these days? Or should I take my head out of 1973? Comments in that little box sure would be nice (ain’t technology great?) !

Chasing Your Version Of “The American Dream”

American Dream this wayThe American Dream is dead.

At least, that’s what I’ve heard. You know the culprits – High fuel prices. A “can’t shake it” unemployment percentage. (And in a 2017 update) The impending automation of just about all of our jobs.

The dream is dead.

Do you disagree with that? I sure do. The time is here where you should try to capture your own slice of this attainable Dream, and the easiest way to do it is go old-school.

Are you ready for old-school? It’s the place where luxuries are luxuries (and not “needs”), and that the ultimate goal of convenience is looked at with a jaded eye.

It’s that crazy place where if the word entitlement even crosses your mind, it’s how you feel entitled to this: the opportunity to grab a job (sometimes two) or start a company and then proceed to scratch, claw, and earn everything that you have.

It’s the school where our previous generations roamed, survived, and subsequently kicked some ass.

As a responsible parent of two kids, I feel it is my duty to inform them of the advantages of old-school thinking and philosophy.

I believe I’m a good parent, but self doubt can creep in, leaving me wondering, “Am I doing enough?”

You can think of this post, if you want, as a letter of love and advice to my children. It is. But, I’ve no doubt that 90% of adults, myself included, can be helped by it as well. For me to do my job as a Dad, the American Dream needs to be outlined in a certain manner: the way it used to be.

You see, kids, back when my grandparents (your great grandparents) were around, they were the embodiment of the American Dream. Emigrating from Italy, they got off a crappy boat to walk our shores and make their lives here, in your city. There were mighty struggles back then, but they made a true success story as entrepreneurs, homeowners, and generally fantastic people.

Here’s where things get interesting for me. While modern Americans decry the Dream as dead, with their own struggles to make ends meet, I’m certain your ancestors would have thrived in an environment that we have today. This is the richest country around, with boat loads of opportunity to do well.

Yes, we had a Recession… but it was far from the Great Depression they lived through. And while this country is involved in wars currently, its arguably not the magnitude of World War II. I’m gonna say they had it a little bit tougher.

Nowadays, life is moving pretty quickly.  The future is beckoning. Everyone wants to know what you’re going to do with your life. Peer pressure will ebb and flow, and the most well meaning people will tell you what you should do, what you should buy – and what you need to do to get it.

Dad Advice – I know it’s unsolicited, but here it is: Get your own version of the American Dream. Be different. Non-conformist. Don’t follow the herd. See the latest version of the Dream as it really is: a sham, a lie perpetrated to us by marketing execs with PhDs, determined to coerce you to part with all of your money – and lead you into a stressful life.

My grandparents did not have much education, but they had wisdom and common sense, in spades. As far as finances and economics, they were brutally smart on what to leave alone. Kids, I have to admire the fact that as I watch you grow up, you look like you will be treading the same path. You care about the environment like Nonna did (for Pete’s sake, she recycled potato chip bags), and you make purchases thoughtfully like she did. Buying things when she needed to.

You’re on the right track. Without a doubt. You want to hear how Nonna and Pop really blew it up? Most of the stuff that you grew up with, that people will tell you are life’s necessities, are in fact the very definition of luxuries. Nonna and Pop did without most of these luxuries – and wound up happy and successful anyway.

Next post: For the kids, and any adults that care to listen, I’ll detail all the stuff – cool, stupid, or completely unnecessary – that my super smart grandparents avoided on the way to forging their version of the Dream in the country they loved. Until then, feel free to liberally use the sharing buttons below to make your friends aware of this wonderful content!