Sunday, July 17, 2011

The essence of flight

       Most birds don’t bother to learn more than the simplest fundamentals of flight – how to fly from bluff to sea, food to tree and back again.  Along the way they might pass by other flocks doing similar birdly duties - scanning open meadows for dots of food, shiny threads or small sticks to upgrade their treetop homes, all while keeping within proven flight paths and formations.  These birds have learned well the act of being “a bird,” and for all their days they will fly to meet that definition within the best of their abilities.  The hummingbird will hum, the crow will cackle and the sparrow will chirp.  But once in a while we hear a bird sing for no other reason it would seem than to cheer us up.  Once in a while a bird will fall out of formation to ride an updraft and show us how he can turn open air into a ballroom dance floor for no other reason than to dance.  Once in a while we see a bird that seems to understand being “a bird” is, from wing to tip, an unlimited idea of freedom.  

          Once there was a songbird who would sit a top her apple tree and sing her song.  Her feathers were a little brighter than other songbirds and her song would always turn heads.  “Look down there,” a goose would say to the flock “it looks like a songbird but she doesn’t sing their song”.  She sang not because she was a bird, but because she found her own song in her heart.  One day her song carried to a far off redwood where a great bald eagle had taken residence.  The eagle had heard a number of songbirds in his days, but the score that came across the wind that morning stirred him like no other had before.  As the hummingbird hums and the crow cackles, so is the eagle concerned with eagle-like business.  However, unlike all other birds in the sky, the eagles’ business is to do everything with majesty and pride.  No eagle goes unnoticed as he gracefully cuts jet streams through the midday sun or silhouettes himself against a harvest moon, nor does he intent to.  So, it should go without saying that something like a song dancing through the trees from a far away songbird should draw no more than a glancing ear from a creature with such a noble purpose.  But this particular eagle, like the songbird who sang a different tune, found himself outside the margins of what defined his own kind.  And so, high in his purchase above the forest canopy, the eagle stretched his wings to the horizon, stiffened the silver feathers atop his head and soared towards his noblest of purposes.

         Together, the songbird and the eagle built a great nest lined with the finest down feathers, the freshest of forest kindling and only the best of natures’ bounty.  And there, nestled in their redwood overlooking a bowling green, they tended to their two chicks.  The eagle would teach them to hold their head high and keep the eagle majesty in their heart.  The songbird would teach them to open their eyes to nature around them, see the song inside all living things and help them find the voice to sing it themselves.  The chicks learned that, while a birds duty is to fly, their calling is to sing.  As the chicks grew they would draw attention from flocks flying across their open field on migration.  “Look at how they dart through the air, spiraling skyward with no fear of stalling,” they would cheer to one another.  And for a brief moment the flocks overhead shared an understanding of what they were witnessing and flew a little higher than their formation required.  For years they grew together as a family, sharing the highest of highs and learning to deal with the lowest of lows.  Nothing, it seemed, could ruffle the majesty from their feathers nor dull the pitch of their song.

          One might find it a sad turn in the story to lean that the great nest which overlooked a bowling green was thrown down from its redwood foundation one summer.  Passing flocks, which had come to look forward to their brief aerial view of the family over the years, were saddened to see the open meadow overgrown and quiet.  No longer was the morning fog carved into tapestries by spiraling wing trails.  No longer could the songbirds’ melodies be heard from the skies above.  The meadow had been reclaimed and overrun by nature, sparing only the fallen nest which had been left at the foot of its redwood, abandoned and forgotten.  And sad it was to the casual onlooker, the passerby who saw only the brick and mortar of the nest.  What a shame it was to the bird that values such bird-like things as shiny thread and down-lined twigs, the highest of redwoods and the widest of meadows in which to fly.  And what a shame it would have been if this noble family had let that storm rock their foundation.  

However, unlike the trees and the grass that surrounded the family, no storm could sway the quality of their character.  No storm could touch the nest that the songbird had built in her chick’s hearts, their true understanding of ‘home’.  What other birds did not recognize was that they carried that great redwood with them in their heart, a tall proud ideal of how high one must perch to see the farthest goals in life.  The family rose from that patch of land like a phoenix rising from a pile of ashes, intact and reborn.  Their path led them to different lands, new learning grounds and even a stony stream brook for which they could practice their ever evolving song.  And, while they never took their surroundings for granted, they knew that no plot of land or towering tree would replace the comfort they felt from knowing they were a family.   

Many birds are taught to look just beyond their beak to reach their goals, not to loose sight of their mission from bluff to sea, food to tree and back again.  But they rarely take the time to enjoy the freedom their wings afford them.  Some birds will leave their nest to find their own song and become disheartened by the distance and effort it takes to seek it out.  It takes the pride and determination of an eagle along with the artistry and understanding of a songbird to truly make the most of life.  We are masters of the sky and only when we look down do we remember we are suppose to fly lower.  The air gets thin, the wind gets cold, but no bird flies too high if he soars with his own wings.  And no bird is ever truly lost if he remembers that; from wing to tip, we are all the essence of flight...the definition of freedom.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Black eye Blues

When I was a kid I could imagine nothing worse than being punched in the face. If I could avoid the absolute horror of knuckles smashing into the soft tissue and cartilage of my beautiful head throughout the day, then I won. It was the worst thing that could happen, even considering the knowledge of pain such as charlie horses, footballs to the groin, dental instruments, hornet stings, baseballs to the groin, my brother's fish hook shaped finger lodged under the armpit, beneath the jaw or behind the ear (anatomical knowledge which surely helped lead him to be the doctor he is today...your welcome Paul!), along with broken bones, compound fractures and even more sports related groin attacks. It was becoming apparent that simply having the name 'jock armour' did not translate into literal protection.

So why then was a relatively quick and fleeting pain like a hit to the face so terrifying? I had surely done more damage to myself on a daily basis when something like the ring of a doorbell meant cutting my brother off at his room, doing a spin move to avoid his kung fu grip, bounding down the stairs 5 at a time, slipping on the wood and landing face first at the stoop...hungry, beaten, and hopeful that Papa John hired paramedic drivers as delivery men.  Even the gash I got from sliding around the ice in my backyard with my hands in my pockets was more damaging than any 14 year old kid could cause. If my many past injuries taught me anything, it was that most pain would be diluted by the gallon of adrenaline sent racing through my bloodstream, leaving me dizzy and staring like an idiot at a protruding bone with little more than a cool tingly feeling and the worry that "mom's not going to like this one".

In a time of my life when was I was discovering just how resilient and tough my body could be, something inside was still in its infancy; the idea that I was more than just the sum of my physical flesh but part of a "social collective." The definition of who I was out there in the world did not depend on my own knowledge that I was awesome, but how well I could convince everyone else of this fact. All of a sudden there were motivations and meanings behind the things I did and the words I said...why the hell was I wearing this blanket around my neck like a cape? Was I "special?" The innocence of my youth was evaporating into the cloud of self-awareness brewing inside me. In a flash I knew that I had things to prove, reputations to uphold, people to impress, fears to acknowledge, and a body that would one day wither and die and be eaten by worms and...Oh, the horror! But for the time being, if I could avoid being punched in the head then I'd be happy.

There are few things uglier than a group 13 year old boys. The discovery that a clever nickname or the pointing out of some minor flaw could inflict major psychological damage was like trading in water balloons for napalm. There is a saying that "the nail that sticks out gets hammered down", and in the early days of school we all feel like a nail from time to time. Its a cold war where your best defense is to convince everyone you are quicker and better armed than anyone else...and hopefully avoid the hammer.

Upon meeting me or hearing my name, you probably made a number of connections and thought up some pretty funny names to throw out in conversation...let me stop you now, I've heard it. "strap?" Come on, how unoriginal! It was a blessing to have such an obvious target and I would hone my acting skills and grimace, playing possum to protect the many deeper and more tender flaws I saw in myself. This was just part of the social process, a necessary torment we all go through...unless you were home-schooled, which only meant you were a juicy piece of veal waiting to be thrown to the wolves come high school. "Jock itch? Damn it all, you got me point blank!" I would agree, "You'd think a clever guy like you would know enough not to rub pizza all over your face or whatever your doing to cultivate that acne garden." Game, set...match.

But this was not the real threat. There were rules of engagement; no low blows or kicking once on the ground. And even when things went too far and the animal rage inside bent through the bars of social restraint, we were aware of our limitations. In all the times my brother and I would get into it, over whether we would be watching X-Men or Double Dare for example, the face was off limits. Sure the ears, hair and throat were fair game, but no knuckles were allowed to hit soft tissue. It wasn't even an option. In fact, the only time Paul could ever be accused of hitting me in the face was a time when my mother was working and I was wrested from the soft and comfy couch which he deemed was "his" at that point in time, discouraging my attempts to reclaim it with kicks of caution from his spider like legs. I waited, just like De Niro in "The Godfather", until my mother was due to pull into the driveway.

 As she entered the house, I meekly called from my bedroom: "mooooom.....cough, cough, MomMMM!" The room she walked into was more a crime scene than a place of rest, a testament to the imaginary ass whooping I had created by threading my leg through a desk chair, turning over furniture and positioning my body to appear splayed out on the hardwood floor, bloody and weak. I had repeatedly punched my nose, being sure not to hurt myself too bad but enough to draw a convincing pool of blood to dry above my lip. I pointed to the living room with a trembling arm, communicating that i was OK and Paul could be found ".....over.....THERE". I had to bury my face in a pillow to avoid my laughs from drowning out the satisfying terror and confusion I heard in my brothers voice as he proclaimed, "WHAT?? He's...WHAT? Mom, I didn't do THAT!

Although being covered in hornet stings or breaking your arm on a trampoline is painful, it is a badge of honor, a testament to your adventurous bravado! While less satisfying than the scars worth bragging about, the scrapes and bruises dealt by friends and family is bearable, a fencing match...nothing worth further introspection. But if someone could be driven to ignore the unwritten code of "non-face-punching-ness" then something had gone terribly, terribly wrong. It was as if they had punched ballot of your face...literally. The act was a vote that stated: "I hate you, and i hate your face. It is a stupid face attached to a stupid person and I'd rather risk serious punishment than risk someone thinking we are friends." Learning you are not as charming and universally loved as you think you are is tough. And, although it is about as concrete a reality as gravity itself, it doesn't mean you want to fall out of a tree in order to learn its full potential.

Then one day, it happened. Someone punched me in the face...yes, ME! (don't worry mom, I'm ok). Just as nonchalantly as a Monday follows Sunday this event I had analyzed a hundred times over and had granted access to my inner most understandings about life, identity, self and how I am perceived just...happened. Its funny, at least now, how betrayed I felt that the universe did not reciprocate the effort I had put into this by at least giving me some dark ominous clouds outside my window, a message in my cereal, or perhaps some wise old sage on the sidewalk reminding me to "mind your words...beware!" But no, nothing. just sunshine, spring flowers, and bluebirds...all I saw was a universe wonderfully indifferent to our little tragedies, far too busy creating the things for which we can contrast our problems against and show just how ridiculous they really are.

Where was I...oh yes, I was getting punched in the face. So it went like this; on a curiously typical afternoon I walked to a friends house as I had done the day before and the day before that. This friend went to a different school and ran with an already established group of kids of which I was "sampling", as we do from time to time, and trying to figure out where I fit. I wouldn't say they were "bad news" or anything like that (although my family would beg to differ), because in truth every friend I had was bad news to some extent including me....especially me. We were all just miserable little pricks who smiled and acted proper to our friends mothers, saying things like "gee Mrs. Roth, the garden outside looks great! Were you a model? I didn't know Barry had a sister!?" While my charming wit and humor had always served me well, I took for granted that its complex suitabilities might be misinterpreted around this group of people I had only known a month or so.

We were laughing and joking and listening to awful music which we thought was great when I realized one of the kids had borrowed some CD's from me and had neglected to remember bringing them back after multiple reminders. Back then CD's were bought from stores, with actual paper money, and a collection of 20 or so was a liquid asset, part of my net worth! "Hey Joey, whats going on with those CD's?" I barked, cool as a cucumber in my friends throne like lazy boy. He looked up searching his memory "Hmmmm, they must still be at home, I'll bring them next time". Unacceptable. I'm the new guy here, the "fresh fish" and just like in prison I felt the need to assert my position amongst the group before their concrete perceptions of me solidified. "Ok," I joked, "maybe put them next to your food stamps so that your sure to not forget them next time." Hilarious, right? You get it? He didn't get it. As quick as the words came out, I was eating them. I had been hit in the left eye and by the time I stumbled out of the chair it was over, broken up...leaving me holding my eye and ego, both swelling up to a blackish blue color.

 Surely people would protest, mobs would gather and pass out pitch forks and torches to defend such a treasure as myself! But I knew that wouldn't be the case...people would laugh, they'd point and stare as whispers that I was punched, neah, KNOCKED OUT by someone's little sister or a whatever. I knew, because I had been a part of that mob before and watched others writhe in shame as their "social worth" was discussed by anyone and everyone who had ever known them. The truth was I deserved it, I made a low blow at my friend for being poor, an emotional blow he probably wanted to avoid as much as I wanted to avoid the physical one.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that getting punched in the face has some kind of universal power over everybody. Perhaps you're a big dick and are used to it. maybe you're kinda into it (you sick perverse animal!). Maybe for you it was exposing your less than tone torso for a game of shirts and skins. Maybe you feared the fact you wet the bed and wore a back brace would be leaked during morning announcements. Maybe your family was poor. Or maybe you feared getting your period in the shower after kickball practice (didn't go so well for "Carrie"...nor the rest of the school). Whatever the form it took, it was the physical manifestation of the dream where you suddenly realize you showed up to school naked. Except, instead of everyone seeing your pecker (they should be so lucky), they are gazing at your bare soul...and its experiencing major shrinkage.

I once heard the eyes are the window to the soul; two little reflection pools which shimmer our innermost hopes and fears for the rest of the world to see. Sometimes our tranquil surface is broken by a rock or pebble, sending ripples in all directions. But in the end they will fade, leaving only a greater understanding of our own width and depth. Those physical and emotional ripples have helped temper the man I am today and strengthen the idea of who I want to be tomorrow. While my fears, or at least my understanding of what is worth fearing, is constantly changing, I have gained perspective from the people I have known and try not to sweat the small stuff. At least, that's the plan. But, as Mike Tyson once said: "Everyone's got a plan...until they get punched in the face."

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Seek and Employ

It is no secret that today’s job market is struggling. Some of those lucky enough to have a decent job are finding that their work load is going up while their salaries are staying the same, and bonuses are disappearing. With a 12 percent unemployment rate in Florida, according to the US Department of Labor, those out of work are lining up to step in and fill your job if you decide to make a fuss and start proclaiming that it’s “unfair” and posting quotes from Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged” in the break room. As companies streamline their bottom line by cutting budgets and leaning heavily on their bases, it is no surprise that many people are hitting the classifieds and online job postings in search of their dream job and a little reprieve. However, after the first couple days on the hunt, it is clear that many leads are dead ends or some form of a bait and switch. Disillusion creeps in and that dream job landing in your lap starts to feel further out of reach.

I moved to south Florida to work in the event production industry and, over the past four years, have worked for some great companies and done some exciting events. Miami is known for its great weather and outdoor lifestyle, so it is a good bet that any given weekend will provide a number of events, both local and national. Beaches, venues, parks, amphitheaters and other attractions bring plenty of action our way and also support many local jobs. Although I have always enjoyed my work, it does carry the same frustrations and glass ceiling found in any other industry. Maybe I am just impatient and my “show your worth through your work” attitude has not set me up for the slow and steady pace of the corporate ladder, but I find myself longing for something exciting and new, a company poised atop a unique niche within the industry. It is, after all, human nature to strive for the next level and seek out the “best of the best.” For me, that dream job is with a company bold enough to take risks and nurture fresh ideas. And guess what? Last fall one such company fell in my lap.

A friend in Chicago tipped me off to a company his law firm had worked with called Red Frog Events. They are relatively young, currently entering their fourth year, and produce some of the fastest growing events around. In my last article I wrote about one of their events called The Great Urban Race, a traveling urban scavenger hunt hitting cities nationwide, and coming to Miami this March. Their other two events, Beach Palooza and Warrior Dash, round off a trio of home-run productions, putting them in a position of quick and exponential growth worldwide. After checking out the Red Frog Events., I was drawn to the “world’s best benefits” tab. Red Froggers are privy to a number of perks: amazing health, dental, life and vision insurance, unlimited vacation days, $100 monthly cell phone reimbursement, free food, drinks and beer, a fully paid four week vacation for you and a friend to Europe, Asia, Africa or Australia, a free birthday massage, a $1,000 match to your favorite charity, and more. It was instantly clear that a job with them would be both rewarding and fun. So, after taking all this in, I was smitten to learn that they are hiring! Every three to four months they bring on a group of interns known as event coordinators to dive right in to their day-to-day activities and learn the ins and outs of event production at their very own Camp Red Frog in Chicago. The only way to get a full-time gig with them is by completing this internship, so I had found my “in” and got right to work getting my foot in the door.

Last October, I sent in my resume, cover letter, and even a YouTube video I made (the position is very sought after so bringing your A-game is a must!) and held my breath. A week later I got a call from their office to set up a phone interview. They receive over 100 applications a day, so this is a big accomplishment. After that goes well, I am informed that I made it to the two percent of people who are offered an in-person interview. A quick call to an old roommate who lives two miles away from their downtown Chicago office confirms that there is a spare bedroom at her place I could use if need be. I book my flight, call my family and try to tame my excitement as I wait for my big day.

The morning of my interview starts with some strong coffee and a glance over my notes before heading up to the fifth floor of their office. My feeling at this moment is comparable to the type of awe you see in the eyes of a child. Standing there off the elevator I felt like Charlie gripping his golden ticket at the gates of the chocolate factory. I was beckoned through a pair of double glass doors complete with hand-carved red frog handles and immediately start to take in the ambiance of the office. Straight ahead are a couple of cubicles with RipStik boards and Nerf guns strewn across the daily calendars. The intern work space is shaded by two giant trees sprouting from the wood floors to the high ceiling amongst lily pad-shaped light fixtures. Past the trees is the centerpiece of Camp Red Frog: the tree house. Complete with rope ladders, a slide, and Fatboy bean bag chairs, the tree house serves as a conference room.

Before the interview I am led on a short tour. As we start, I am led past a projected image of a map listing all their upcoming events. Recently added to their lineup are events in London and Australia. I am led passed a rock climbing wall, a fire pit and a giant stuffed bear; but don’t worry animal lovers, it’s not a real bear. Last stop before my interview is the kitchen, complete with a soda fountain, free cans of Red Bull, a beer keg (yes, you can enjoy a beer while working!) and tons of snacks for the taking.

Finally I arrive at a corner room complete with a conference table made entirely out of Lego bricks with a big Red Frog logo in the center. I am greeted by both Ryan Kunkel and Joe Reynolds, the founder and vice president of the company. Their titles are of course more unique: Joe is the architect of adventure and Ryan is the master of monkey business. Although I have many years of experience in event production and have the personality that seems to fit the company culture, I am quietly reflecting on the weight this interview will have on me. I am thinking about my frustrations with trying to navigate through a barren job market and how gratifying this job would be for me. In the few seconds it takes me to sit down and greet them both, I find myself envisioning the life of a Red Frogger. I can see myself as a well accomplished and valued member of this smart and innovative company, spending my days hard at work in this beautiful office as I sip draft beer and watch other fresh faced applicants make their pilgrimage from all over the United States to those double glass doors as I did so many years ago. I pull my head out the clouds and dive right into securing my place here by acing this interview.

I don’t want to give away the questions asked inside that room, but I will mention that some of them were unusual. This is no surprise, nor is it a problem. While preparing for the interview, I did not saturate my notes with the cut-and-paste answers you might find in a “How to get through an interview for dummies” book. I wanted to stay loose and expect the unexpected. However, after a while I can’t help but notice an inner dialogue threatening to shake my focus. Will not getting this job mean I failed? What about the friends who know how badly I want this? If I don’t get it, what will I say to my family and loved ones whom I so desperately want to make proud? I start to change strategy mid-interview and second-guess all my answers. I am thinking mid-question about what might be the answer they want to hear instead of being myself. It is a classic mistake, and I found my nerves sabotaging my original plan of attack. Those little cracks in the foundation can really shake your resolution if you let them, which I did. I shifted to auto-pilot and did not shine the way I had anticipated.

I am answering the question, “What sets you apart from the other applicants?” and I can’t even remember what I just said. Instead, I am watching their reactions, wondering what they are writing down in their folders. Do they see the real me behind this semi-formal shell? Can’t we just grab a couple beers and spend an hour at the corner pub where I can display my infectious charm and wit? I’m wondering how I would judge me if I were them. Did I misjudge what to wear? Am I coming across as desperate? Am I desperate? Are they putting big check marks and smiley faces next to my name or a big, fat X?

The interview ends and we exchange firm handshakes, gracious smiles and warm wishes for the upcoming New Year. I leave the conference room strong, hoping my facade did not give away any signs of the subconscious mutiny I had just endured.  As I gather my things and prepare to head back into the cold Chicago air, I pause to take stock of myself.  I want to run back there, tell them all the things that I forgot, re-answering the questions with the home run responses that have instantly popped in my head. Instead, I pass back through the double glass doors and down towards the ground floor, wondering how many others applicants will share the same anxiety and lament in this very elevator.

A week later I received an email letting me know they chose another candidate for the position. Bummer, but I was kind of expecting it. I thanked them for the opportunity and wished them well, with a postscript that I would love to be considered for future positions if and when they open up. In retrospect, it kind of felt like offering my number to the girl who had turned it down the night before. At this point I am back in Miami getting back into the swing of things with work and preparing for the night’s New Years Eve party. The year 2010 is just hours away from being behind me and, surprisingly, I feel great. As the ball drops I am at a house party at the Cloisters in coconut grove, standing on the roof of a condo and watching the fireworks shimmer over Biscayne Bay. All around me are people I love, people who love me for being the person always there to cheer them up with humor or a good story. I realize that the tragedy I thought I had endured was no more than a noble shot in the dark with a company that gave me a great interview experience and an optimistic perspective for the new year.

Two weeks after hearing about the company, I had secured an interview granted to only the top two percent of applicants. If I can get such a positive response from seeking out my own job prospects instead of wading though the same old job posts I find only semi-worthwhile, then perhaps sitting around and waiting for opportunity to find me was not the right approach. With a little refinement and leg work, I am sure 2011 will be the year I utilize this seek-and-employ attitude with other great companies.
The job hunt is a race not unlike those put on by Red Frog Events. You must challenge yourself, take some risks, put on your best warrior face and aim for the finish line. As the last of the fireworks explode across the water, I raise a glass to my fellow Miamians and drink to high hopes, broad perspectives and endurance on the battlefield.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

the Harami

Last Christmas, much to my protest, my mother informed me that during my visit she would be sitting me down to have..."a talk." Being one of two boys raised by a loving single mother, I had a short list of possible topics this could be about, and each one seemed about as comfortable as chewing tin foil. I practiced my vacant stare and repetitive head nod in anticipation of hearing my mother say words like "prophylactic" and "intercourse"...words that might very well defy general relativity when spoken by your mother; forming both weight and mass out of thin air as they slam into your ears like rocks from a sling shot.

So, after a couple days of deflection and subject changing, it was time to let my mother have her moment and set her mind at ease. I quickly sent a barrage of text messages letting old friends know I am in town and to please call if they want to meet up for a drink, hoping someone responds and offers a quick and easy reprieve. My mother worked for the bulk of my memorable life, driving hours out of her way and spending whole days on her feet to brave the jungle that is women's retail management to afford my brother and I the best education and indulge the many social dress codes requirements we felt would place us at the "cool table" during lunch period. (I still miss my cross-colors leather jacket and underoo shoes). So when I say I was dreading this 'talk' it is not to say I don't need her advice or appreciate her concerns, just that she raised the kind of man who learned at a young age how to be responsible and she does not need to worry about me making the right choices. If my mother asked me to dig her an in-ground pool in the back yard before dinner I would gladly do it to help pay back for her years of hard work and the sacrifice of a social life in the name of her kids. Still though, the sooner the dark cloud of uncomfortable subject matter looming over our living room is gone, the better.

I pull up a chair and let out an obnoxious groan..."Ok mom, lay it on me!" I stare at my feet for a while, using expert concentration to keep my brow furrowed in a defeated position hoping she still finds this as charming and funny as she did when I would lament how I 'just need a couple bucks to go to the movies AND grab a bite to eat later'...Her predictable smirk whilst I play my martyr role is not showing up for this conversation, in fact her whole demeanor has caught me off guard. To my surprise, SHE is the one fumbling for words, looking me straight in the eye, starting to talk...then retreating. It is as if she just wants me to know what she has to say without having to say it. Her words are forming mass, as only a mothers words can, and instead of inflicting their wrath on me, they are retreating back down her throat and causing her eyes to tear up. "Mom?" nothing yet. "Jesus mom, your scaring me." I go on speaking aimlessly, searching her face for answers. "I know all about...well, mom, if your trying to tell me about..." whats that word again? "...errr, sex," the word comes up like a double shot of tequila, "you really don't have to worry." She looks both concerned and humored, but shakes her head "no". I am relieved, considering the timing for such a talk seemed a little late, however now I am disarmed...if its not that, then what? "Well," I mutter, "whats up then?" Her concentration worries me, "Are you worried about me? Concerned I didn't go to law school? I'm happy, you know, I'm doing fine, you don't need to worry." The fan in the room makes a ticking sounds like a metronome, dividing the lengths of silence into countable spaces. "I love you mom, you know that."
She gives a warm look that says both: "of course I know that," and "you are way off".

She speaks: "I am so proud of who you are and what you have become. I know you are doing fine, and I am so happy with my two boys...we have had a tough life yet you wouldn't know it by the way we hold our heads." I beam, "RIGHT! Mom, don't worry, I may not be a millionaire yet, but I know life is about more than that...c'mon, I'm living my life my way and I take nothing for that it?!" She just smiles and shakes her head no. "Well what mom," I laugh, "am I ADOPTED or something?" She pauses..."no sweety, you are not adopted.....but I do need to tell you about who your biological father is."    
My phone beeps as someone I had sent a text to five minutes ago is surely taking me up on my drink offer...I turn the phone off and try to remind myself to blink.

One of the wonderful gifts that prep school gives to its tender youth is the ability to always be on guard and ready for any attack or least if you have bastard friends like I do (regrettable description, i know). But I love them for it, as any modern man would. So believe me when I say there are few situations today that I am not prepared for, few times I actually feel "shocked". I don't mean the "holy shit, my keys WERE in these jeans!" kind of revelation that happens weekly, but something that penetrates all the way down to your core and questions those long ago agreed upon definitions and parameters about who you are. As I sat and listened to the details around my conception (thankfully not too detailed), and the events surrounding my birth I am shocked. My father knew about it, my older brothers knew part of it and the bio dad was also privy to it (although the extent of his involvement is somewhat hazy). My parents were going through a rough patch, bio-dad was a long time friend of my mom and was also married with a handful of daughters. Furthermore he was, and is still, a performer and very much in the public eye with a spotless image to boot. Showing up at his door for a father son game of catch does not sound like something he would be oiling up his glove for anytime soon.

Don't be offended, but much of the conversation is paraphrased and details left out, perhaps once the facts are better understood you can chew the rest of this meaty drama in a later blog. But I will tell you this, the next hour is one of the most genuine and illuminating conversations I have ever had in my whole life. My mother, the action hero/iron chef/all knowing/all seeing being that she is, actually became human for a brief second. She tells me first why I am only learning about this now, how she never wanted it to affect my delicate developmental years. I am grateful for this, no matter what anyone else might think or offer as their opinion. If I knew about this in high school and someone said the wrong thing to me I might have taken it the wrong way and taken it out on others. I don't think puberty is conducive for such a mature and defining topic. If I can't keep a clear complexion or have a rational reaction to the girl who just won't see how great a couple we'd be (Lisa, we would have been so good together!) then who knows what kind of emotional hurricane something like this would cause. In fact, I impressed myself with how I absorbed the news. If I were to step outside the situation and speculate how it would affect someone else, it would be hard to imagine something so heavy running parallel to ones' life for so long without eventually crashing into his very being with disastrous consequences. The truth is my mother carried this situation for the whole family, letting it rot and fester inside her in order to protect her boys. Like a solider blanketing a grenade, she and my father decided I was to be his son, knowing the circumstances around my conception were in question, his pride would not allow any further investigation and she 'went along' with what was best for our family.

In the defense of my father, and in case you were wondering, he treated me as if I had personally strung the moon. Even after the divorce and our time together was limited to a couple weeks out of the year, I saw nothing but pride and love in his eyes. I was his little entertainer, mingling effortlessly at art showing parties held at our Vegas mansion and telling what was surely painful knock knock jokes to his fellow doctor friends and contemporaries. Looking back I stood in stark contrast to the kind of upbringing he surely had, rigid and achievement oriented, leaving the potential for concern over the artistic and "stargazing" character I had as a child; concerned more with discovering the wisdom found by digging in the back yard than digging through text books. He will always be my father and I am equally proud and appreciative of him as he was of me.

If you want to be crude about it you could say that I am a "bastard"...go ahead, you know you want to! Despite being called this for years by slighted ex girlfriends and those friends not quick enough to call shotgun, it is unsettling to think of how many times I myself have thrown this prickly word around and if it ever caused any unintended damage. Semantics is a dangerous thing.

I recently read Khaled Hosseini's second novel, "A Thousand Splendid Suns," in which one of the main characters finds that the name her mother calls her when she wants to cut her down a notch, '"harami", means "bastard." She finds that her father is of a higher class, the master of the household in which she and her mother both live and work. The girl, Miraiam, did not think of herself as belonging to a class, certainly not one that is "beneath" another. Ah, how naive children are. She thought that after learning who her father was she could just stroll over from the peasants quarters, knock on her papa's door and he would take the family out for ice cream and a disney film. But in modern society things are not that transparent. Being 'good' means the man you are behind closed doors emulates the man you are on the street. For every dishonorable act you have ever committed there is a dinner table full of friends and neighbors somewhere dying to feast on the gory details of your shame. Closets were made for more than clothes, especially when you stop to think how many skeletons are crammed in your own closet. I know a full and open telling of my relatively short life would feed plenty mahjong and bridge tables with gossip and fodder for years to come.
I will not go into much more about bio dad as this is still a fragile situation. While I may be ready to figure it out and see where the cards land, it is important to me that he does not feel rushed or uncomfortable by my request. I have spent a year corresponding with his assistant, sending tongue in cheek emails hoping to steal away a spot in his schedule in which he can find the time for me. If it were any other man I could hop on a plane and share with him the kind of man my family and friends are privy to. I may be biased, but I think I have turned out to be a damn fine man, all things considered. But sadly he operates in a town and industry that eats its own dead, providing scores of people drooling over what you have and how they can get a piece of it.  I do want to figure out the truth for my own piece of mind, but if this means compromising his carefully planned steps or having to push and shove my way in where I do not fit, then forget it...not worth it.

In a way it is refreshing to learn some things can still shock me, the wonder you feel when you first learn about the workings and size of the universe or the gut wrenching anguish you feel when you realize that the big bearded guy in the sky is not real (Santa or God, I'll let you pick which one). Those painful discoveries are just as important as the joyous ones when it comes to molding the person you become...some clay gets slapped on and some gets shaved off, leaving the most genuine thing you will ever shape...yourself. And as I look at the progress I am making, I am thankful for the guidance provided by a lifetime of friends and a wonderful family. I can only hope I had a hand in shaping them as much as they have for me.