My time in the sun

January 28th, 2008 by John Morris

Today, a friend asked me for a good joke or a blog about sports. I’ll try to do better with the sport story than I did with the joke.

I played baseball and usually made the all star teams each year. The usual outcome for most young athletes is to ascend to new levels where the competition is stronger, and if like me, they become a backup player.

First base was my station. Being smaller, I played more like a hockey goalie and let nothing past me. When I went to the “teener” league, I was teamed with the most talented ballplayer I ever played with, Kevin Sarkissian. He was a first baseman; a gifted pitcher and hit the ball a ton. His was the starting position at first when not pitching. I played first when he pitched or entered games late or not at all.

In our last year of eligibility, we were battling for the league championship. Kevin was usually money when he pitched, and we were optimistic about our chances. Too bad we didn’t inform the other team. We led most of the game, but they stayed close. I was patrolling first base with one goal: to do what I had to do to help my team win.

Kevin’s usual control had failed him in the final inning, and the other team had the bases loaded with the tying run on third and two outs. 

The usual trash talking was going on between me and their runner on first. The hitter was someone who could be counted on to deliver the goods. A cloud of dread seemed to grip our team.

The batter ran the count to 3 & 1. Kevin’s next pitch jammed the right handed batter with what would have easily been ball four. The ball struck his bat before he could get it out of the way.

I watched a fast moving, seeing eye grounder trying to snake it way around first base. The runner took off and tried to spook me as he ran past me. My next move had to be instinctual. The voice of my boyhood next door neighbor, Dom Guerreri flashed in my head, “Go to where the ball will be; not where it is.” Chaos seemed to swirl all around the field with me in the vortex. I could hear the noise but not the words.

I ran to the place I selected and dropped to my knees. I slammed my massive first-baseman’s mitt on the ball. The ball stay out of the glove’s pocket, but at least, it stopped moving. I picked the ball up with my bare hand; ran to the base and stomped it ceremoniously.

A magical moment followed. My team huddled around me like I had won the game. I hadn’t; we did. My contribution was to not screw it up when my time came.

Again I quote, Dom Guerreri, “Know what you’re going to do with the ball before it’s hit to you.” It was good advice then and translates well in many of life’s other situations.

A good read or a good listen

January 23rd, 2008 by John Morris

My brother and I swapped books on CD. I gave him one by my favorite, still breathing author, James Lee Burke. He loaned me a CD that threw me: The Dog Whisperer. This is a strange choice since I don’t see what pet owners see in their pets and would rather not interact with others’ “best friends”. What could this CD have for me?

 I slammed it in my pickup’s stereo and hoped for the best. I was surprised by how much I got out of it. The parallel between training dogs and people’s self-improvement is remarkable. I was impressed by the comparison between how bad lead dogs affect their pack and how bad bosses affect their charges. Dead on-point.

 Lesson learned: try different things outside your comfort zone. You may be right which just reinforces your existing belief. Or you may learn to like something different which expands your boundaries.

The great ones make it look easy

January 19th, 2008 by John Morris

There was this old guitar player on TV. His hands traveled the strings smoothly and effortlessly. I imagined the guitar was  somehow magical, and in my hands, it would look the same. A short reality check later, I realized this musican earned his status as a great one because he made a difficult task look easy.

As I was learning how to paint signs with a brush and paint, my early efforts were labored and the results substandard. I’d watch the master sign painters for clues to their mastery. Unlike me, their strokes were fast and fluid. The letters almost seemed to make themselves. What thinner was used? How did the brush handle spin in the artisans’ hands? How did they finish off a stroke? Although they would answer any question asked, the message always was to practice until it became natural. There were no short cuts.

It was good advice in the moment and for a lifetime.

My cole slaw story

January 12th, 2008 by John Morris

One of my jobs is to coordinate our contractors’ training seminars. They last just a day, but the preparation includes securing a location and getting a caterer. I’ve done it a hundred times and learned from each of them. One time I learned a bunch about the culture of others.

The location was deep country Bubba-land, Lorton, VA. The day started out well and all looked favorable for a quality day when the caterer arrived on-time with lunch. I was tipped off that this is barbecue country, and the American Barbecue Grill was its Mecca. It was an easy decision to go with them because most would be pleased and no one would complain.

I helped the caterer set the food on the long tables; slipped him a standard tip and rang the chow bell.

I then played the host role making sure the lines were orderly and all were in good spirits. Shortly after the first dozen or so contractors were through the line, I noticed they had not returned to their seats. I decided to find out what was causing the bottleneck. I approached one guy and asked if anything was wrong. He asked, “Where’s the cole slaw?” “Oh”, I said, “I didn’t order any cole slaw.” Then there was this moment you hear about when all movement stops and a deafening silence fills the room. “You didn’t order any cole slaw!”, started ringing in my ears. As the din died down, I heard someone with a honey-sweet, southern accent say, “Must be a Yankee!”

The message was barbecue meats and cole slaw are an inseparable pair in the South. If you had barbeue, you had to have cole shaw.

It was a moment for the ages.

Another Christmas story

January 12th, 2008 by John Morris

Being a parent is a lifelong commitment. If you’re lucky, you’ll know what you’re doing just about the time the job concludes. It’s after this time when you get some real rewards. Having adult children is a real blast. They’re your children and interesting people merged as one.

One of the real preqs is the adult interaction including slightly messing a little with their heads. Here’s one example.

A week before Christmas, I was rushing down the streets in the nearby college town. I was two steps past the small boutique when it hit me. The most perfect green, retro football Eagles shirt ever was presented, I believed, just for me in the front window to purchase for my daughter. It was displayed with a matching hoodie. I snapped the shirt up; brought it home and wrapped it for the big day’s presentation.

Fast forward to the Sunday before Christmas. When I picked up my daughter, she was wearing that Eagles hoodie matching the shirt I purchased. She displayed it proudly for the remarkable gear it was. When she told me this line of unusual apparel was only available in an exclusive shoppe in her beloved New York neighborhood, I kept my composure and waited for the right moment to spring my trap.

When the present was opened, my daughter let out a yelp of disbelief. She was obviously pleased. Her first words were, “Where did you get this?” With big smile in place, I told her I got it at a small boutique nearby that has the exclusive on the line.

The old Dad was more than pleased with himself.

My year overseas

January 12th, 2008 by John Morris

That’s how I once referred to my tour of Army duty in Vietnam. I did this from the time I returned until my awakening as a Veteran.

At my first stateside duty station, the company was populated mostly by Soldiers who had not been to Vietnam yet. I arrived there with three other returning Vietnam Veterans. It was easier for us to use an euphemism rather than risk resentment by saying, “When I was in Vietnam”. It was an effective muzzling we inflicted on ourselves.

The year was 1967, and in public, we Soldiers played invisible to avoid confrontation. Our antagonists would single out the smaller ones of us – like me - to confront. No matter who did what, the Soldiers would be blamed. Again, saying the right thing was prudent.

 In civilian life, I just kept it going for about two decades. I’d not mention my Vietnam service; I’d just say, “My year overseas”. My main intention was to prove that Vietnam had not affected me. I lost that battle.

It is a good thing that our returning service people speak freely and proudly about their services in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is the way it should be.

Is tea the new coffee?

January 11th, 2008 by John Morris

I hope not. I like the being part of a small group of tea enthusiasts living in coffee-land.

Many years ago, I drank ten cups of coffee a day until my stomach sent me a warning. I switched to tea and had no more problems.

My beginnings as a tea snob really came during my China visit in 2002. Up until then, I was a straight up English variety guy: black tea dust enclosed in small paper pouches.

In China, my son introduced me to loose, whole leaf green tea. This method frees the tea flavor from the leaves. The world of tea was opened to me, and I went full tilt into tea snobbery.

When I run across another power tea drinker, we swap tips about our preferences. From these tips and experimenting, I discovered gunpowder, jasmine, oolong and many other varieties. I monitored my body reactions to each and became savvy enough to use them for their fullest.

Awhile back, the news hit that tea’s anti-oxidants were a good thing to add to the body human. I became an information kiosk for my friends and co-workers spreading the gospel of tea.

And to think it all started when an errant tea leaf fell into the emperor’s water cup.

10 good reasons to visit China.

January 6th, 2008 by John Morris

Hit this hot link to review the top ten cities of China.

In 2002, I heeded the call of my son, Adam to visit him in #5 Tianjin, China. We had a blast traveling the country. During our odyssey, we also visited #10 ChongQing and#3 Guanzhou. Other notable stops like Chungdu didn’t make the cut, but this is an indication of how many great stops away the traveler in China.

If you have several hours, I’ll tell you more about my Chinese adventure.

 Better yet, visit China and then tell me about your trip.

Buying from the right people

January 1st, 2008 by John Morris

This posting is all about evaluating good sales people . It is no where near the definitive work on the subject. It’s more of an insider’s view of how to spot the good ones doing their jobs.

Follow the bouncing ball:

1. do they function as your agent even thought they are employed by the business where you plan to buy?

2. do they assist you even if there’s no sale possible?

3. would you describe yourself as a customer for life after the sale?

Getting three yeses is phenomenal, but getting as little as one is enough to set the sales person – and the company – in the top 10% and deserve your patronage.

Reward the passing sales person with your business even if he leaves the first company.  As the twig is bent, so grows the tree. The sales person will usually have the right mindset once they’ve done it correctly.

Give the first company a chance after your sales person leaves their employ. If you find they promote the right attitude in their sales staff, they’re winners and deserve your loyalty.

Let me know if you found this humble exercise in advice giving useful. It okay with me if you use another checklist to evaluate those who sell to you. What is important is to make them live up to a high standard.

Final thought: We are all in sales.

How I met my wife.

January 1st, 2008 by John Morris

December 31 marks the day my wife and I met. The year was 1968.

At first, that day was going to hell quickly.

My beloved MGB roadster would not start let alone run. This was common since this model was meant more for fun drives on weekends than reliable transportation. I bummed a ride from an Army buddy to his hometown. This granted me some hope to revive my day since I had a date there that night. He agreed to double with me so I’d have wheels.

My friend, Mac’s other agenda was for me to meet an assortment of childhood friends and mentors. We drove from Scout leaders to first employers to school principals. When time became an issue, I asked that we go to his home to prepare for the night. He said one more stop was needed.

We were greeted at the front door of a suburban home by my future mother-in-law. I know now I was not her idea of son-in-law material.

I still remember the first time I saw my wife. She was a petite women with long blonde hair worn in a bun formation called the Peebles. Her features were beyond pleasing, and I knew instantly I wanted to know her better. I blurted out an invitation to go dancing the following weekend which I think she accepted more out of surprise than interest.

Mac & I drove to his house where I called my date for the evening. She told a story of trying to phone me at the fort. Seems she had a party to attend near the same fort I had left four hours ago. When I suggested it sounded like fun, I got the real message: we weren’t going out together this night. “Call me again.”, she said. “Sure.”, I said. “No chance.”, I thought.

Mac insisted I call the nice young lady I had just met. I argued I didn’t want to impose at such a late time. I really didn’t want to lose my chance with this gal. But I had forgotten how much Mac liked creating offbeat situations. He called the lady and made a case for a mercy date for me. To my delight, she agreed.  I learned later her Mom talked her into it.  I worried she was not comfortable with the situation.  Even I liked a little more lead-in time.

The date went well, and we married 20 months later. And yes, we’re still married.

Update: it’s 2018 and the 50th year anniversary of meeting is this New Year’s Eve.

I have often referred to the first time we went out as the world’s most successful pity date.


The old boy writing this blog wears many hats: Vietnam Veteran, husband & father, salesman and techno-dude. After my service with the Army Security Agency, I operated a sign company for nineteen years, The sign industry changed after CAD/CAM machines made the task easy enough for the non-talented. I sold my company and never looked back.

Life has granted me a life partner better than I deserve. My wife, Lyn is a transplanted Kansas gal. Her bliss is teaching kindergarten and first grade.

I am the most proud of my children. My son, Adam lives an international life teaching English and living in Sozhou, China. He is married to one of life's truly lovely women, Yuri Kim. My daughter, Beth grew up in a small town and found her way in life means working and living in major cities like Chicago and New York. She and her life partner, Julie Sterling married in LaJolla, California in 2010.

I like getting the newest gadgets, but also I like to use things until they are useless, i.e., my last personal car was an 88 Honda Prelude Si.

I wrote a Vietnam Veteran newsletter for nine years. During this journey, I learned I like to write. It is a harmless exercise that rewards honest effort while tolerating failure gracefully. I been away from it for too long. My son gave me the blog, and it was a lifeline back to writing.

My best advice is to show the world what you can do but to accept only your opinion of who and what you are.

Update: In August 2008, my job became one of the half-million jobs that went away that month. I took the following year getting the home ready for my official retirement.

In October 2009, I took a part-time job as a saleman at the vaulted Maxwell's Hardware.

On November 29, 2011, I reached my 66th birthday, and I officially started Social Security. I intend to stay with Maxwell's as long as I can contribute.