Coming home

I remember Easter Sundays strolling the Atlantic City Boardwalk decked out in a new suit straight off the boys’ husky rack at Lit’s. This, of course, followed a resurrection Sunday sermon at Union Baptist Church – the same house of worship where I would meet the love of my life on Mother’s Day, May 8, 1994.

I remember my third grade teacher at Holy Spirit Elementary School, Mrs. Phillips, who first taught me a lesson that still works today – if you don’t have something nice to say, say nothing at all. It was during the summer before third grade when I screwed up my ankle, landing incorrectly, sliding down a pole pretending to be Adam West’s stuntman circa 1967. I remember three of my teachers at Atlantic City High School, Mrs. Garfield who instilled what’s become a three decade dislike of anything dealing with Math (Why couldn’t I get Mrs. Hudgins??). On a more positive note, Mrs. Fordham turned me on to journalism, and Mr. Murphy who opened my mind to creative writing (A pair of writing disciplines that have helped put food on the table over the past thirty plus years).

There are memories of John Sr’s side hustle (back when it was called moonlighting), helping him during catering gigs at the Ramada. I remember slinging hash at the Trop (as in Tropicana Casino), holding down the garnish station at Shumsky’s, interning for Elyse and Sandy (who are likely reading this) at WMID/Lucky 99, and later weekend overnights – with my first FCC license and meter checking clipboard in hand – running the board a few notches up the dial at WFPG, running down news stories a few notches up the Parkway at WJLK and covering lawmakers I’d soon be working for/with during a stint at “New Jersey’s Station”, 101.5.

Those youthful days were the backdrop for dirt cheap matinees at the Beach and Charles theaters, a sip or two of a margarita at Los Amigos, never being there when Bruce would drop in at the Stone Pony, a couple of summer visits to frat brother Joe’s beach house in Spring Lake, concerts at the old Brendan Byrne Arena and more than a few Ice Capades and WWWF (yes, long before WWE) shows at the even older Convention Hall in Atlantic City.

Then I grew up and did a turn in the public sector, in Asbury Park and Trenton. In Asbury (The locals don’t use ‘Park’), I staffed Police Chief/Mayor/Assemblyman Tom Smith, who taught me a great deal about integrity and standing up for what you believe (The same thing a future former manager tried to do not too long ago with, sadly, not the most favorable results).

I still have my autographed copy of Governor Tom Kean’s Politics of Inclusion.

It was in Trenton when I had the opportunity to work down the hall from the first N.J. governor named Christie, who was also the state’s first female governor. If things worked out differently she could have made it to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (which is as close to talking about politics as I’ll go in these pages).

In the private sector, I punched a few clocks. I was a government affairs official for the state’s number two electric utility (And how ironic that 16 years later, I’m working at number one!), where I was assigned to spend New Year’s Eve 1999, waiting for the world to end, in a bunker at the N.J. State Police headquarters. My Jersey work life (present employment notwithstanding) culminated in a very cool gig at a big telco supplier whose name keeps changing.

And in true Big East fashion, this 2.8 S.U. Orangeman (Sorry, my S.U. memories will always be Big East) bachelors grad actually picked up a book to become a 3.8 and change Seton Hall Pirate masters grad (Funny how one takes one’s education more seriously when one is paying for it!).

The last Garden State memory I’ll share is that life-changing morning thirteen winters ago, when a little girl named Zoe ripped (inside joke) her way into the world in the delivery room at Plainfield N.J.’s Muhlenberg Hospital.

I share these memories to provide a deeper context for my friends and colleagues who questioned my motives for returning to my home state.

Don’t get me wrong, I truly enjoyed the past ten years spent in Atlanta. The history and the culture are unparalleled, and I’ve had the good fortune to meet some spectacular individuals whose friendships I will cherish for the rest of my life (especially a couple of guys in white coats for whom I’ll be forever in debt).

It’s today’s family responsibilities that have willingly brought me home, but equally important and more impactful are the decades of memories that came rushing back as soon as the McCullough wagon train crossed the Delaware – many of these memories I’ve already shared over the years in these pages.

IMG_1317

Getting a tad too old for a do it yourself move, but we got it done!

Yeah, I’ll pay higher taxes (with my, thankfully, slightly correspondingly higher salary), I’ll shovel snow (a little core work won’t hurt this dad bod, but I don’t think we’ll be paralyzed by a few flakes like a certain city was a couple of winters ago, cough – Snowmageddon – cough), and yeah, I’ll miss those life-decaying minutes stuck in traffic.

But that’s OK, because I’m home, and I’m looking forward to making new Jersey memories (Get it? ‘new’ Jersey) during what’s left of my middle ages and beyond.

That’s all for now. I’m going to have my car filled up (I can’t believe we still don’t have self-service in Jersey?!?! ), swing by the farmer’s market for some Jersey tomatoes, then hit Whitehouse for a sub and a bag of Herrs.

For those of you who remember the old Piscopo bit, I’ll save you the trouble. When you come to visit, take Turnpike exit 4!

Hold the Mac & Cheese

Met an old friend for lunch at a meat and three joint near the 9 to 5. My friend, a former co-worker a year or two into retirement, and I were discussing money matters as we waited in line to place our orders. Our conversation continued as we approached the server. As I placed my order, which included mac and cheese,  my friend said, “The best advice I can give you is stop eating macaroni and cheese.”

Sadly, by then, the portion of cheesy goodness had already landed on my plate. Even though I went ahead and ate that high caloric side dish, I still appreciate my friend for taking the time to caution me about a dish I probably eat more frequently than I should.

We continued our chat about personal finance and a wide assortment of additional issues but, as my friend (whose fitness level shows he practices what he preaches) correctly pointed out, the admonition to lay off the mac and cheese was the best advice of the afternoon.

I hope one day I can give a younger friend the same level of thoughtful, useful advice. Isn’t that the point of all this wisdom and experience we have hopefully accumulated as we enter the middle ages and beyond?

Will I go all Atkins/Paleo and stop eating mac and cheese? Probably not. But I will give cutting back on it some thought.

After all, what’s the point of building up a nest egg if at the same time you’re building up your LDL levels?

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

I haven’t written a movie review since my high school paper days, but while making the traditional McCullough Sunday morning waffles, I managed to listen to a broadcast review of the just released “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” that made my batter a bit lumpy.

Like I said, I ain’t a movie reviewer. Also, as we’ve discussed in these pages in a much earlier post, it really won’t keep me up at night if we don’t share the same opinions when it comes to cinematic entertainment choices.

I liked “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” and I’ll probably see it again, and I’ll get the DVD when it comes out (I might even splurge and go all BluRay so I can get the nifty extra features).

Full disclosure….I’m Batman!

Courtesy Warner Bros.

Courtesy Warner Bros.

Of course, I kid. However, I did think I was Batman one summer day about 42 or 43 years ago when I damn near busted my husky posterior trying to slide down a make pretend Batpole in my neighbor’s yard (The same pole I would swing on decades later recreating scenes from Showgirls — again, I kid!).

I’ve enjoyed every big screen telling of the Batman story since Adam West slipped on the Spandex back in the late 60s.

To those critics looking for Shakespearean-level storytelling, I say lighten thee the heck up.

It’s a comic book movie.

You know my view on spoilers, so I’ll tread lightly regarding specific plot points, but overall, the film – in my partial opinion – wasn’t that bad.

Sure, the premise of Batman picking a fight with a strange visitor from another planet is – on the surface – a bit thin. His we gotta take proactive measures rant sounded like Bush administration talking points circa 2003, but in the context of this storyline, it nearly made sense.

And while Ben Affleck held his own in the cape and cowl as a grizzled, fortysomething Dark Knight, I’m still on the fence regarding Henry Cavill’s portrayal of Kal El Kent.

Cavill is action figured-jacked in the suit, but this new darker version of the son of Krypton really makes me miss the days of Christopher Reeve’s more optimistic, lighter rendition of the man in blue.

Jesse Zuckerberg, I mean Eisenberg delivered a surprisingly diabolical dose of Lex Luthor, especially during the film’s final act.

And for my fellow midlife fanboys whose pubescence intersected Lynda Carter’s days in the satin tights fighting for her rights, don’t worry, Gal Gadot’s take on Wonder Woman wasn’t  – shall we say – as flat as the Internet predicted it would be (Yes, I’ll be in the audience when she gets her solo gig next year).

As I said, I’m no film critic, I liked it – force fed Justice League set up and all. If you don’t want to see the movie, it won’t bother me, and if you do, it’s not like I’ll get a cut of the $170.1 million it made during its opening weekend.

“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is a comic book movie that is mother’s milk for long time fans like your humble host. If you’re looking for Argo, this ain’t it, but if you just want to suspend disbelief and geek out for a couple of hours, this might be the film for you.

Speaking of iconic characters engaged in a lover’s quarrel, let’s chat again when Cap and Stark get it on.

Running to win

In a classic midlife (bordering on senior) moment, I forgot my WordPress password, the digital equivalent to misplacing the keys to the hoopty that is this humble blog.

I forgot the password not because of my rapidly approaching dotage, I forgot it because I haven’t updated this site since January.

Have any of you had one of those times in your life – and I’m sure many of you have – when you say, “I gotta get around to (FILL IN THE BLANK)?

Such was the case with yours truly. Even as recently as last week when I ran into a former fellow donut maker who, in the course of our catching up, asked, “Are you still blogging?”

Of course I answered no, but qualified it by deploying the standard, “I’ve been so busy..” excuse many of us fall back on when we have to defer those things we enjoy doing.

But it wasn’t totally an excuse. The donuts at the 9:5 have been flying out of the oven, and I’ve been swinging my big pen like Harry Reems circa ‘72 with – among other things – a video script here (and here), an annual report there, and a love note to the feds just for good measure. (Oh how I’ve missed the cathartic freedom of pulling random unrelated references – like donuts and Harry Reems – together in the same sentence!)

We’ve had this conversation before, and our not having it again is a work in progress. 

My absence from these pages calls to mind a chance interaction I enjoyed with a total stranger prior to our participation in the Disney Cruise Castaway Cay 5K (Yeah, we went on a Disney cruise a few months ago, and had I not been so derelict in my blogging responsibilities, I probably would have told you sooner).Mickey!

In the moments leading up to Mickey starting the race, my fellow runner — a husky midlifer much like yours truly — was worried about finishing the race, and he outlined a detailed list of reasons why (too much cruise food, no running in several weeks, etc.).

And then in a moment of uncharacteristic lucidity, I went all Tony Robbins and broke down the reasons why he would and could finish the race (a cool Caribbean breeze at our back, a pleasantly flat course and — this is a biggie — it’s a fun race – chill out and don’t take it seriously).

We both finished in a decent time – which was a given when you put a mere five kilometers between two big guys and breakfast!

My point?

In darkest day, in brightest night, no blogging shall escape my sight!

In darkest day, in brightest night, no blogging shall escape my sight!

I guess I need to practice what I preach, and instead of weighing myself down under reasons why I can’t get something done, I should channel my will power – like Green Lantern through his power ring – and focus on the reasons why I should do those things I enjoy.

What do you think, maybe you should too?

 

The Oates effect

I don’t like to write about corporate matters, but I do like to write about my favorite musical artists – Daryl Hall and John Oates, so when an opportunity presents itself to leverage a Hall and Oates reference in the context of life at the 9:5, I’m willing to make an exception.

http://www.examiner.com/article/bonnaroo-2013-artist-interview-john-oates-part-1

Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

I was in a meeting where praise and plaudits were flowing like the Slurpree machine at 7-11 on a hot summer day.

After the backslapping session, I was asked by an associate why I didn’t take more credit for a successful high profile project of which I was an instrumental part.

I answered, “Just call me John Oates.” My colleague was a bit confused by my response.

I shared the story of Hall and Oates’ meteoric ascension to the top of the charts in the 80s, and how during that period, John came to accept the fact that Daryl’s voice had become the sound of Hall and Oates.

My co-worker still didn’t get it, so I continued.

John understood that Daryl sang the hits. The hits sold records. The records drew (and still do) revenue.

Even though he wrote, co-wrote and/or arranged a respectable number of their most memorable songs, John – a decent vocalist in his own right – saw the wisdom and good business sense in taking a back seat – vocally speaking – to Daryl.

And I told my colleague that’s what I did – metaphorically speaking – during our meeting, and in most aspects of my professional life.

Much like my soft spoken, spotlight-shunning idol, I don’t need to be the front man. I know my worth and what I bring to the table. Sadly, too often we encounter – shall we say – lead singers who would do a better job gassing up the tour bus than carrying a tune center stage.

With skin that fits me comfortably like a glove, I’m perfectly fine singing background vocals (of course until it’s time to embark on a solo tour – a story for another day).

With advancing age comes (if you’re lucky) advancing self-awareness. It’s just another positive side effect – The Oates effect – of life in the middle ages.

Just Help

Back in college I had a summer job at Shumsky’s restaurant in Atlantic City. I was a porter and every now and then, I got the chance to work on the line. On Saturday nights and some weeknights we would get a big dinner crowd (Please remind me to share a few memories of Summer nights in Atlantic City in the early to mid 80s), and during those services when we got especially slammed, I remember one of the owners – the one who usually dealt with the front of the house – who would appear in the kitchen – seemingly out of nowhere.

He’d take off his jacket, roll up his sleeves, throw on an apron and dive into the fray that was a busy kitchen during a hectic dinner service.

He didn’t ask if anyone needed assistance. He just helped.

Memories of a summer job

Memories of a summer job

He didn’t say – hey, I’m going to grab a stack of clean plates off the dishwasher and restock the line – he just helped. He didn’t ask if he could assemble a few orders and serve waiting customers – he just helped. He didn’t ponder over whether to dump a trash can and drop in a fresh liner – he just helped.

And when the rush was over, he didn’t stand in the center of the kitchen and await recognition or applause, he simply took off his apron, unrolled his sleeves, grabbed his jacket and went back to the front of the house.

Sure, you might argue, he stepped in because he’s an owner and an overwhelmed, backed up kitchen ain’t good for business. That may have been the case, but I will always remember the way Mr. Shumsky’s almost knowingly, proactively stepped in and just helped.

This is something I strive to do, but it’s not always easy.

We all can think of situations where by the time help is offered, we’re so deep into our situation (or as we said in the kitchen – in the weeds) that the help – although greatly appreciated – may not be enough.

This is why we shouldn’t wait until someone is struggling. If it’s within our range of ability – we should get involved. Don’t wait until your friend, family member, co-worker, neighbor, etc. has a garbage can that’s overflowing. Help them take out their trash and go a step further and assist them in starting over with a new liner.

Metaphorically speaking, that is.

How can you and I get better at this? We can pay greater attention. We can show empathy. We can aim to be selfless. And more importantly, we can simply get our cranial anatomy out of our lower bowel, rectal orifice and just help.

Writing for Thy Self

I’m a big fan and active member of Toastmasters.

As a person who is paid to put words in others’ mouths, it is refreshing from time to time to pen a few syllables for my own use.

We have a Toastmasters chapter at the 9:5, and at one recent meeting, we had four members give speeches.

But we almost has three.

Mine was the fourth speech, but I almost turned down the opportunity to speak – something I’ve never done.

This near episode or oratorical dysfunction is bathed in the irony that comes from the fact that a big part of my gig is creating material for others to use and deliver, but in this case, I struggled with finding the right words for my own use.

I didn’t ask to be removed from the speaking roster. Instead, I got a little angry with myself and asked that dashing man in the mirror “Why can’t you put the same time and effort into writing for yourself, as you do for your job?”

So I sat down at my trusty laptop and wrote a speech – for myself. And I proudly put the same focus and effort into it as I would for something I was preparing for use at the gig.

250px-Underwoodfive

Image courtesy Wikipedia

Now, I’m not trying to get you to pat me on the back and say “well done.”

I’m simply sharing my story because many of us who wield a pen for a living have those times when leisure writing is the last thing on our mind.

We all have jobs. We all have families. We all have responsibilities.

But you know what…we all also have 24 hours in a day and the ability to carve out – even if only a few – moments for our personal development.

Someone was said to me that it’s not correct to say “make time for something” – whatever that something is.

We can’t make time.

It’s not as if we can put 65 minutes into an hour, or 26 hours into a day.

Each of us – man, woman, child, rich or poor – has 24 hours in a day – we can’t make more time.

But we have the ability; we have the free will to “take time” for those things we believe are important in our lives.

And, it’s up to us to determine what important means.

Is hanging out on social media all day important?

Is going to the club on a regular basis, and as the old timers would say “finger popping” all night important?

Is getting a good night sleep, getting up and going to the gym important?

It’s up to us to answer those questions.

We have to decide what is important!

If work is important in your life – take more time to be the best worker you can be.

If being a parent is important in your life – take more time to be the best parent you can be.

If being a husband, wife, partner or boo is important in your life – take more time to be the best husband, wife, partner or boo, you can be.

And if writing for fun and personal fulfillment outside the bounds of the 9 to 5 is important in your life – take more time to be the best writer for fun and personal fulfillment that you can be and write for thy self!