Today is flip-over day

February 29th, 2008 by John Morris

I have no – repeat no – February 29s left until I retire.

I keep track of the time left until I retire using years and months. Keeping track of the days seems too troublesome.

 Since I was born on the 29th, I declare this to be my official “flip-over” day each month.

Along with no more leap days left, I have only three years and nine months.

Rock on, boomers!!!

It’s usually the little kindnesses.

February 25th, 2008 by John Morris

In my year as the President of the local Rotary Club, I could choose who presented the annual scholarships at the high school commencement. That year, I chose myself. It sounded like fun.

The scene was a replay of every high school’s graduation night. Wearing their rental caps and gowns, the students sat on metal chairs in the football field . The stadium was filled with their energy and hope.

Adorning families and friends sat in the nearby bleachers. A long, wooden dais was decorated in the blue and gold school colors. It rose two feet above the end zone’s turf. The thirty people handing out scholarships sat in military lines radiated outward from the lectern on the dais’ epicenter.

Beforehand, the officials passed down the rules we presenters were to follow. We were to use the three “Bs” of public speaking: Begin, Be brief, Be seated. Keep it simple and quick: say who we were; who we represented and describe the scholarship. Then we could reveal the winners’ names and wait until they came to the dais for their prize. 

I mulled about what I would say as I sat silently on my chair allowing the event to swirl around me. During my wait, I listened to other presenters who did or did not follow the rules.

As my time arrived, I realized I was facing my largest audience by about a hundredfold. The nerves in my forehead started to tingle, and the thumping in my chest alerting me I was close to a panic attack.

The smiling faces of the students had a calming effect on me. It reminded me why I was there and who were the real stars at this event.

My words followed the three Bs edict. “Rotary Club awards two scholarships each year, Blah, blah, blah.”

The first winner’s name was announced. My eyes swept the sea of students until one cap rose higher than it had been. The young woman struggled past her classmates’ legs blocking her access. She then drifted down the aisle toward the dais.

For no reason, I stepped down from the dais and walked to the student. I presented her the lovely certificate along with my handshake and returned to the microphone. I called the second name and repeated the award drill as before.

The response of the audience caught me by surprise. It sounded like thunder. I reasoned, that when it’s your applause, it sounds louder than it real is.

The endless ceremony did end right after the traditional flinging of caps by the graduates.

While walking out of the stadium with the crowd, a stranger seemed to be tracking me down. He grabbed my hand and pumped it vigoriously. He said the highlight of his night was when one of the presenters showed enough humanity to step down from the dais and walk to the student instead of standing and waiting. I tried to thank him for his kind words but was interrupted by others who offered similar words of approval. 

It was not my plan to grandstand or distract from the event’s solemnness. I really didn’t want to attract any attention at all.

On reflection, I realized the imperialistic manner of other presenters may have made my simple gesture seemed more down-to-earth.

I knew I was right, but more importantly, I could trust my instincts.

When fits of self-doubt arise, I remember this night, and the self-doubt dissipates.

2/3 of the work is done by 1/3 of the people.

February 22nd, 2008 by John Morris

Businesses learned this truism years ago. They just kept giving their better workers more work until they buckled. A burnout epidemic followed. But so what, they’d just hire another hot shot and start the cycle again. This method kept the hirelings down to a bare minimum.

During computer’s early years, one programmer quit his job with the following message, “I want to go somewhere where the shortest measurement of time is a season”.

I imagine this poor fellow just got overwhelmed with the need for bigger, faster, cheaper. You finish this week’s  crushing amount of work and remaining on your desk is a new and larger batch to do next week. Get it right the first time or fall further behind.

I don’t have an answer to help anyone avoid getting overwhelmed at work. I’m not good at it enough at it to offer advice. Sure, there are lots of books on “working smarter”, but my work day doesn’t fall in line to match my plans. The work day has its own pace.

The really bad news is I don’t expect it to get any easier.

Seven out of ten people make up the statistics they quote.

February 19th, 2008 by John Morris

Think about it.

Men are from Mars, and we don’t like shopping.

February 16th, 2008 by John Morris

One day, I asked my wife, “Want to go to Staples? I need a printer cartridge.” We were in and out in minutes when the wife said, “Let’s go look at furniture.” She said she wanted a stand for our wide screen TV. I don’t mind buying, but  shopping to me is tedious. I guess I’m just not good at it.

We toured the store with their ever-helpful associate. Most of the choices were too fancy or just plain blah, but we did find one we both liked. As I was paying Ms. Ever-helpful Associate, I scanned the store for my wife. I saw her fondly pawing a couch and chair set. I realized I’d been duped. The low priced TV stand was just a gateway into the next and far more costly round of furniture purchases.

A quick note to all men in relationships: Men are easily separated into two major categories. One has the man trying too hard to control the woman in his life. No adult wants to be controlled. It ends badly or no one is happy.

The other category lives in the world of give and take. Sure I didn’t want a new TV stand, but she had earned my concession.

On the subject of new sofa and chair: this purchase will happen in its own time. I also don’t expect it to be the last. She already laying the groundwork for a new bedroom set.

Good ideas grow best in the graveyard of bad ideas.

February 16th, 2008 by John Morris

It is a metaphor for life.

It says to keep trying even after series of failures.

It says what we learn volumes from our mistakes.

Be your own expert on your life

February 15th, 2008 by John Morris

While visiting my largest customer, a frantic call came from the office. An plant employee had been overcome by carbon monoxide; the paramedics were there, and it was serious. This concerned me not only because of the level of injury to a co-worker, but also because I was the company’s safety officer. By the time I could return to the company, our fallen worker would have been transported to the hospital.

My life after the event was a series of government inspections: township, county, state and federal. We were also visited often by our insurance carriers’ hired guns. The company’s ownership demanded full cooperation from all employees, and we gave it. These inspectors were mostly officious, but it was one machine’s inspector who made for a memorable visit.

 He was sent by the company whose equipment was the leading suspect. He was one of America’s top experts on the subject of carbon monoxide or CO poisoning. He was pleasant enough, but he made no mistake about his authority during his visit. He was in-charge during his tests. He told me he had studied CO poisoning with a passion since the death of his father to this silent killer.

He set the drill. We assemble in the very room where the incident occurred. My responsibility was to gather the representative from the heating company who had installed a gas heater in the room; an independent contractor to provide an unbiased opinion and several other company officials. The inspector requested that all machinery capable of generating CO turned on at designated times. After a suitable time, the inspector would take seperate CO readings until it was determined which machine was at fault.

Setting up the testing equipment took a bit longer than the expert expected. We started to notice steam rising from the base of the wall separating the room from one of the machines. We looked at it with some concern, but waited for the inspector to alert us of any danger.

When some of the men felt dizzy, we shouted the same alarm, “EVERYBODY OUT NOW“. The scramble was on to get everyone to the nearby hospital for emergency care. CO had already proven itself  a dangerous foe, and we wanted no further casualties. It left us all not only with varing degrees of CO poisoning, but embarrassed that we hesitated to evacuate a room filled with deadly gases.

At my new company’s safety meeting today, I remembered this story and asked again why a room filled with otherwise intelligent men would wait for the senior expert in the room to determine if indeed it was safe for us to be there. Were we intimidated by the inspector’s credentials and entrusted him with our safety even when there was evidence of danger. Maybe he was like us – human – and just hesitated.

I do not hold the inspector responsible for my inaction. I did develop a stronger belief that I am my own best judge of what is good for me. I don’t relinquish control over my destiny even to national renown experts.

Five guys for the burgers

February 13th, 2008 by John Morris

Eateries should be kind to sales people because we spread the gospel about where to find good food.  It breaks the tedium, and we like to have more information than the next guy.

Across the sales network came rave reviews about the newest must-visit hamburger and fries chain called Five Guys. Color me there.

I found one in Westminster, MD, and bought an overflowing bag of lunch food to share with my nearby customer. The fries’ portion was far too large except by the hardiest of us.

I focused instead on the hamburger crafted following my specific instructions. With my first bite, I realized this is the best burger ever handed to me across a formica counter. The more I ate; the more I tried to recognize a familiar and pleasant taste.

It finally dawned on me. This burger had the same great taste as the one the Army cooks served us during Sunday bar-be-cues in Vietnam. Smiling inside, I remembered the little secret that made those long ago burgers taste so good.

The company officers had the supply Sergeant made killer deals to get the best cuts of beef for them. The cooks got a bit of justice by stealing mass amounts of the prized beef; grounding it into burger and grilling it for we lowly enlisted men.

The officers wondered where their filet mignons, prime ribs and porterhouses went. Seems they became the burgers they disdained. We had no problems eating them. Keeping quiet about it was also part of the fun. 

Five Guys’ wondrous burgers allow me to remember the late 60s when my life was all about getting small victories against those who controlled my existence.

Go there for the food. Let me know what you think.

Put the skids on lame holidays

February 1st, 2008 by John Morris

February 2 is Ground Hog Day in Pennsylvania. Each year, America suspends reality and believes in a small town’s ability to find an immense field rodent able to predict the weather. It’s a harmless enough celebration, and I’m sure a good time is had by all.

It’s also following a trend.

 Holidays with religious meaning are being played down. Other secular holidays, like Holloween get bigger every year. Thanksgiving was the top answer in a recent poll about favorite holidays.

A good piece of news did surface during Christmas. VFW Magazine quoted another poll stating that more people are offended by “Happy Holidays” than by “Merry Christmas”.

This begs the question: will the PC cops back off their muzzling of the religious based greeting now that more people are offended by their selection?

The wait begins.

More about sales people

February 1st, 2008 by John Morris

While vacationing in Singapore, my son and his wife sent home our Christmas gifts. Packed in the box with the other gifts was a two-pack of plastic Spidermen with super-sticky hands and feet. I’ve started to play a game of throwing them against a wall and watching them slip and slid as they crawled downward. I enjoy the way they trade leads during their descent. At my age, it’s fun to feel childlike.

 My son said he bought them from a street vendor. He said the guy was a top rate salesman who would make me proud.

I made up a short story to match my fantasies about how good sales people do what makes them good. I imagined my son walking down an Asian street and coming across a cluster of street vendors. One separates from the herd and stalked his prey – the young American. He probably went into a frenzy of all-out selling designed to get the sale. My son tried to not give in but eventually found his wallet open. He paid more to reward the street hawker for his excellence than to fill a need for a new toy.

 I’m glad my son gave me the Spidermen, and I like my little story. This way I made out twice. I got a toy that makes me feel like a boy again, and I took my imagination for a much needed road trip.


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.