Hell of a Guy
If everything seems under control, you're not going fast enough. - Mario Andretti

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Growing Up Took 39 Years


Thursday, as we flew back from Louisville to Baltimore, I closed my eyes and thought about what a lucky guy I am.  At this point in my life I am happier than I have ever been, and I also realize how incredibly fortunate I have been.  The gods have surely smiled upon this man in so many ways; I am truly blessed.  Allow me to look back for just a minute or two? 

As written earlier, I grew up in Baltimore during the ‘50s and ‘60s and life seemed much simpler then – at least looking back from this point in the “now.”  I’ll set the stage by giving you a short biographical sketch and I think you will see where this is going.  The guy sitting at this laptop struggling to find the keys with the correct letters on them barely made it through high school.  It wasn’t because of the lack of learning skills, but moreover the lack of drive.  I epitomized the term “under achiever,” in fact, I may have been the poster child for it.  I was not into erudition in any form and I did not enjoy high school.

I attended high school at The Baltimore City College from February 1959 to February 1962, in the next to last February graduating class.  Many of you may wonder about this, but it is a fact that prior to 1963 Baltimore City Public Schools had February graduating classes.  Honest!

“City,” as it was affectionately known by those who attended classes there, is located at 33rd Street and the Alameda, just a couple of blocks from where Baltimore’s old Memorial Stadium was located.  Memorial Stadium was the home field of the real NFL Colts.  That team departed this earth in the 1970s when the devil moved them somewhere outside of Maryland into some backwater town.  That slight deviation aside, grades at City were given numerically rather than by standards of A, B, C or D.  In those days a passing grade was “60.”  This brilliant dude, aka the “Under Achiever,” (and I haven’t verified this but believe it is very close to the actual) had an average throughout high school of somewhere in the neighborhood of “62.”  I didn’t qualify for the college prep course, and I didn’t care about it.  My senior year of high school, especially the last semester, consisted of four classes – English, chemistry, trigonometry and physical education.  I flunked trig, but had passed the algebra course in the first semester of my senior year and the two grades averaged over 60 allowing me to graduate.

In our house all one needed to do was to maintain behavior consistent with the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments.  Education was important, but being a good Christian was eminently more important.  Shoot, that was a piece a cake, and it required very little effort on my part.  Hell, any under achiever can be a good Christian.

Very fortunately for me, my parents passed along to their children a high level of innate intelligence.  That is the only way I can explain how this guy managed to get where he is today.  After high school I managed to obtain twenty-two college credits.  Eleven of those college credits came to me by using the last year of my G.I. Bill eligibility and the money it provided me, and only because I needed the funds (my real estate career could be termed as less than stellar).  My first college experience took place at the University of Baltimore in the fall of 1962.  I was working as a full-time teller at the Equitable Trust Company in Baltimore.  I enrolled at U of B in the pre-law program because it sounded upscale and cool.  I took four courses – English, Speech, Comparative Religion, and a history course of some kind, I think?  Anyway, within a month I was down to just the speech class and finished it with a grade of “C,” and then opted out of the scene.  Six months later I did a really dumb thing, I enlisted in the Air Force.

Lackland AFB, San Antonio, Texas – it took me about an hour, having arrived there at about 4am, to realize the significance of the grievous error in judgment I had made concerning the decision to serve my country.  I cannot tell you how many times during the early morning hours of September 17, 1963 I asked myself, “What the hell were you thinking?”  If you get the idea I was an under achiever in high school, you should really get a kick out of my service career.

After basic training and a “technical school” at Lackland Air force Base, I was assigned to duty in Upstate New York at Griffiss AFB, just outside of the city of Rome.  I got to the base on January 19, 1964.  There was about three feet of snow on the ground, and it was piled so high cars had little red Styrofoam balls stuck on the tips of their antennas so you could see them coming up the road over the snow banks at intersections.  My disgust for the weather only exacerbated my disdain for the military.  I was dwelling in the land of “Woe-is-Me.”  It was so cold that I used to keep bologna, bread and mayonnaise in the snow just outside the window near my barrack’s bunk, without any worry of it spoiling.  Many mornings it was well below zero.  Not long after arriving at Griffiss I found a four-year calendar that I could keep folded up in my wallet.  I checked off the days as they passed – one by one, and did it for the remainder of the four years. 

I had a varied career with the Air Force.  I began as an Air Policeman (their idea, not mine).  My police work consisted of directing traffic or standing guard in a weapons area.  I loathed the Air Force.  With some manipulation on my part, the Air Force accepted my lack of interest in performing police duties and assigned me to work as a recreation specialist at the Silver Wings Service Club.  This duty was more to my kind of thinking, at the time, as to what work really should be.

As a recreation specialist I was trained to perform sensitive duties – those requiring a high level of intelligence, superior hand/eye coordination, public speaking skills (my one and only successfully completed college course came in handy), and a keen ability to converse with people – I got to supervise pool tournaments, pinochle tournaments and domino tournaments.  My innate skills (defined by some as my ability to Bullshit) were almost immediately recognized when I called the numbers for the Bingo nights we had at least once every other week.  Can’t you just hear my melodic voice speaking into the microphone and over the PA system…..”I-18,” “B-4,” “O-74?”  I was damn good.  So good, in fact, that I was promoted (much to the chagrin of my First Sergeant) to Airman 1st Class, or E-4 to those in the know.  Don’t let anyone ever tell you that BS doesn’t get you anything.  I know it works.

September 15, 1967, now here was a day.  At about 7am on that beautiful day, I put on my “Dress Blues” and made my way to the “Separation Office,” signed the form declining to re-enlist for a second four-year commitment, along with a pile of other forms, collected my last check from my rich uncle, headed out to the Mohawk Valley Municipal Airport where I boarded the last plane I would fly on until the fall of 1978, and flew home to Friendship International Airport, now BWI, near Baltimore.  What a great day that was.  Out of the Air Force and ready to begin living for real.

Over the years I have had a couple of jobs.  I worked for a finance company under my former wife’s uncle at a whopping salary of $325 per month, and hated it almost as much as the Air Force.  A year later I began making the big bucks when I started to work for Crown Petroleum in Baltimore, where I was paid $106 per week, and loved it.  Crown moved me to Richmond, Virginia in 1971 and then Crown fired me in 1973 – Friday, April 13th, to be exact.  From Crown I went into the residential real estate business and stayed in it for seven years.  Believe me when I tell you, the real estate business is not one for under achievers.  In it one makes exactly what one is worth, and I did.  It was the closest I have ever come to bankruptcy. 

There were a couple of jobs beyond my real estate years (I did have pretty business cards) before I landed with my current company.  I worked for Western Auto on two different occasions between June 1980 and January 1983.  In between the two I had a mere thirty-day job opportunity/failure with a small gasoline retailer in Richmond.  On the thirty-first day my new boss decided he had erred in hiring me, and on the flimsiest of trumped up reasons let me go…I was fired yet again and begged my former employer, Western Auto, to take me back.  After being off for four months, November 1980 to March 1981, I began working for Western Auto.  I really didn’t like working for Western Auto so when a friend put me on to a job opening with a furniture manufacturer out of Conway, Arkansas I applied.  I interviewed for the job in December 1982, and not knowing exactly what I said or did to get a job offer, I started working for Virco Mfg. Corporation (now Virco Inc.) on January 17, 1983.

Virco was love at first sight.  I had a job, a real job with a real company.  I found myself loving every aspect of my job and my company.  The employees became family.  My customers became friends.  I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning and go to work.  I thrived.  Something had come over me.  I became an “Achiever.”  You must understand this was new ground for me.  After three years as a sales rep I was made a region sales manager with my company and have held the position for twenty years.  This guy with about a total of four cerebellum cells has been so very fortunate to have landed where he has.  My income is far and away more than I ever thought I would or could earn.  I still love what I do, and believe I do it well.

So, there it is in a nutshell.  I enjoy a station in my life that most with my background could only have wished to attain.  What a fortunate man I am and recognize it and am thankful for it.  As for my present state of mind – how I view me and how happy I am to just “be” – I must thank my daughter and wife for getting me to the Millennium Workshops in Dallas.  I owe so much to the people there who allowed me, vis-à-vis the workshop program, to explore me and to get to know me as I could not have on my own.  We tend to fear what we don’t know.  Millennium asks, “What are you pretending not to know?”

I found out what I didn’t know.  Are you next?  http://www.millennium3education.com

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Thunder Over Louisville - a celebration


Yesterday was a terrifically wonderful day for Nancy and me.  We are here in Louisville, Kentucky to attend a conference that begins on Monday.  Yesterday was the kickoff for this year’s Kentucky Derby celebration.  I had no idea what to expect but understood this day’s events would be memorable.  As I walked outside the hotel Saturday morning about 6:30, I noticed several people placing lawn chairs and coolers in places where the river could be seen and laying claim to spots for the activities that were to begin later in the day.  “Thunder Over Louisville” refers to a fireworks display launched from two huge barges out on the Ohio River, the boundary line between Indiana and Kentucky.  The festivities began about 3pm with the commencement of an air show that lasted for nearly six hours. 

Military aircraft of all shapes and sizes flew overhead and out over the river.  Fighter jets and vintage aircraft in a display that took my breath away, pounded my ears, and even shook the balcony and building where about thirty of us stood watching.  The roar of an F-16 as the afterburner kicks in is deafening.  The Navy’s Blue Angels put on an incredible display of flight skills as they danced across the sky in various choreographed formations.  To see jet fighters shoot straight up into the sky for several thousands of feet is unbelievable.  Anyone who has piloted a Cessna knows it cannot be done in that aircraft, yet these planes are so very powerful they can fly on their sides for great distances defying gravity, it appears.  One has to wonder what keeps them up in the air – loss of lift and all that stuff we laymen think keeps planes aloft seems to be impossible when a plane flies with its wings perpendicular to the earth.  It is a conundrum, albeit a spectacular one.

So, about six-hundred beers later, the fireworks began.  Just about 9:30pm, from a barge in the middle of the river, there was a great boom and it was on.  I don’t know that I possess the words to describe what I saw.  For nearly twenty minutes the sky was lit up with multiple explosions of brilliant light and bright colors; some went high into the sky and others stayed lower near the shimmering water, and colors of reds, whites, greens, purples and oranges.  Straight up they flew and cascaded down over the water, a cacophony of sound and light.  Howitzers, manned by National Guardsmen, on a bridge stretching across the Ohio were fired for added affect, I suppose, with fire bellowing from the barrels and the blast echoing down the river.  Unbelievable!  Then as quickly as it started, it stopped.  Applause rippled through the estimated 800,000 people watching from both shores of the Ohio.  We, on the ninth floor balcony, sat in awe.  Just as we began to turn to move inside the hotel room, Thunder erupted, an encore, and the show went on for another ten minutes or so.  It is without a doubt the most spectacular show of its kind I have ever had the privilege to witness, and one I hope one day to see again.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Life is not measured by the breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.


I get many e-mails with stories that make me think.  I get some that make me cry.  This is one that moistens the eyes, for sure.


Babs Miller was bagging some early potatoes for me.
I noticed a small boy, delicate of bone and feature, ragged but clean, hungrily apprising a basket of freshly picked green peas.

I paid for my potatoes but was also drawn to the display of fresh green peas. I am a pushover for creamed peas
and new potatoes. Pondering the peas, I couldn’t help overhearing the conversation between Mr. Miller and
the ragged boy next to me.

“Hello Barry, how are you today?”
“H’lo, Mr. Miller. Fine, thank ya. Jus’ admirin’ them peas.
Sure look good.”

“They are good, Barry. How’s your Ma?”
“Fine. Gittin’ stronger alla’ time.”

“Good. Anything I can help you with?”
“No, Sir. Jus’ admirin’ them peas.”

Would you like to take some home?”
“No, Sir. Got nuthin’ to pay for ‘em with.”

“Well, what have you to trade me for some of those peas?”
“All I got’s my prize marble here.”
“Is that right? Let me see it.”
“Here ‘tis. She’s a dandy.”

“I can see that. Hmmmmm, only thing is this one is blue and I sort of go for red. Do you have a red one like this at home?”

“Not zackley, but almost.”
“Tell you what. Take this sack of peas home with you and next trip this way let me look at that red marble.”
“Sure will. Thanks Mr. Miller.”

Mrs. Miller, who had been standing nearby, came over to help me.  With a smile she said, “There are two other boys like him in our community, all three are in very poor circumstances. Jim just loves to bargain with them for peas, apples, tomatoes, or whatever. When they come back with their red marbles, and they always do, he decides he doesn’t like red after all and he sends them home with a bag of produce for a green marble or an orange one, perhaps.”

I left the stand smiling to myself, impressed with this man. A short time later I moved to Colorado but I never forgot the story of this man, the boys, and their bartering.  Several years went by, each more rapid than the previous one. Recently I had occasion to visit some old friends in that Idaho community and while I was there learned that Mr. Miller had died. They were having his viewing that evening and knowing my friends wanted to go, I agreed to accompany them. Upon arrival at the mortuary we fell into line to meet the relatives of the deceased and to offer whatever words of comfort we could.

Ahead of us in line were three young men. One was in an army uniform and the other two wore nice haircuts, dark suits and white shirts… all very professional looking.

They approached Mrs. Miller, standing composed and smiling by her husband’s casket. Each of the young men hugged her, kissed her on the cheek, spoke briefly with her and moved on to the casket.

Her misty light blue eyes followed them as, one by one, each young man stopped briefly and placed his own warm hand over the cold pale hand in the casket. Each left the mortuary awkwardly, wiping his eyes.

Our turn came to meet Mrs. Miller. I told her who I was and mentioned the story she had told me about the marbles. With her eyes glistening, she took my hand and led me to the casket.

“Those three young men who just left were the boys I told you about! They just told me how they appreciated the things Jim “traded” them. Now, at last, when Jim could not change his mind about color or size ... they came to pay their debt.”

“We’ve never had a great deal of the wealth of this world,” she confided, “but right now, Jim would consider himself the richest man in Idaho.”

With loving gentleness she lifted the lifeless fingers of her deceased husband. Resting underneath were three exquisitely shined red marbles.

Moral: We will not be remembered by our words, but by our kind deeds.  Life is not measured by the breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath.

Today I wish you a day of ordinary miracles ... A fresh pot of coffee you didn’t make yourself ... An unexpected phone call from an old friend …Green stoplights on your way to work…The fastest line at the grocery store…A good sing-along song on the radio…Your keys right where you left them.

They say it takes a minute to find a special person; An hour to appreciate them; A day to love them, But an entire life to forget them.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

April 18th - Update in the Life of a HOAG


Today is April 18, 2006.  It is time I sat down and jotted a few notes as to what is going on in my life since I last posted an entry to this site.  So, here it is.

A few things have passed since my last entry.  I, along with some of my most favorite people on the planet, made a trip to Las Vegas, the land of glitter and silicone, lost souls and people that wish they were as happy as they wish you to think they are.  We arrived in Las Vegas at about 7pm on April 7th.  About an hour and half later, we arrived at Bally’s, about two miles from the airport.  The seventh being a Friday night in Las Vegas – as well as the rest of the world – had the streets filled with vehicles of every make and size.  We moved at the speed of snail for almost the entire trip from airport to hotel.  I, of course, kept my cool.  My intrepid mate did not, but stuck by her assessment it was me and not her who harbored the issue of frustration at the amount of time we were sitting still in the traffic.

Alas!  We made it to the hotel, managed to get into a room, albeit one with a Murphy bed (the kind that folds up into the wall), as opposed to the king-bed room we paid for.  This room was tagged as a “mini-suite” and it was, but being as one rarely stays in the room the “mini” was lost on us.  Nonetheless, we enjoyed the stature of the suite and most certainly the view from the twenty-fourth floor.

Las Vegas is one of those places everyone needs to visit.  I believe you either love the place or could simply walk away from it and not miss it.  I am of the latter group.  Other than the fact that I was there with my favorite person in world and a daughter and son-in-law, I could have not gone and been happy sucking down a brewski or two in beautiful downtown Berkeley Springs, WV, population 711.  The highlight of the trip for me was that I got to see the “Ka” version of the Cirque du Soleil.  That was outstandingly awesome and I will pass it along as highly recommended.

This is a town for all people.  I caught glimpse of the beautiful people, as well as the not so beautiful.  I saw the thin, the fat, the young and the old, people of every ethnicity, color and religion.  I heard many foreign accents and domestic dialects.  I stared at hundreds of beautiful woman and handsome men.  This is the ultimate people watching venue.

I passed by a couple in deep conversation in the lobby of the hotel on Sunday morning.  As I walked passed them I overheard the guy saying, “I would love for you to go to my room, but I am not going to pay you.”  About ten minutes later, as I waited for the valet to bring my car, she pranced out of the hotel and hailed a cab.  Such is life, I suppose, in Las Vegas.  The residents are trying to make a living and the visitors are trying to score a win.

This boy walked away breaking even.  I bet nothing, put no money in any of the ten thousand slot machines parked in every nook and cranny in Clark County, Nevada, and managed not to call any of the hundreds of “escort services” available to tourists, as advertised on handouts passed out by men and women looking very much, a nasty judgment on my part, like the now controversial “illegals” that permeate the nightly news shows.

All in all, Las Vegas was okay.  Highlights included, besides the Cirque du Soleil, a theme park type ride at the top of the Stratosphere Tower that had us hanging over the side of the tower and looking down at the ground 810 feet below, great beer at the Big Dog, walking through and gawking at the opulence of the mega-hotels (gamblers wonder who is paying for them, since they always leave with more than they brought).  I would go back, perhaps not any time soon, but I could go there again.  If that should eventuate, my sole purpose would be to see the other Cirque du Soleil shows and maybe grab a couple more beers at Big Dogs. 

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