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.


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!

Heavy Equipment

Street repair work and new home construction are underway in the neighborhood surrounding Casa de McCullough. During a recent run around the community, I saw one of the pieces of heavy equipment tasked to execute those projects. It was a big ol’ steamroller.

Ironically, I spotted this rig as I was slowly ascending a hill toward the end of my jaunt and feeling much like that piece of massive construction machinery.


The steamroller wasn’t alone. It was joined by its heavy equipment cousins – for example the Cement Mixer, the Bulldozer and parked very closely together were the Pile Driver and Back Hoe (Who I think starred together in a couple of adult films in the 80s).

But what really caught my eye and – for the purpose of the next several paragraphs – my imagination was the steamroller.

I sometimes see myself as a slow, lumbering piece of equipment – a piece of equipment that is also deliberate, durable and might I add, modestly, not something you’d want to collide with.

And I’m okay with that.

I don’t want to go all Aesop Fables and start ranting about the Tortoise and the Hare, and I certainly don’t want to penetrate my no fly zone over the sovereign territory of those verboten topics – politics and religion — by dropping a little Ecclesiastes 9:11 ...the race is not to the swift...on you.

And don’t get me wrong, even a big lug like myself can move quickly when the need arises – like when the Hot – Now sign is on at Krispy Kreme.

Sometimes we have to move fast for something we want

Sometimes we have to move fast for something we want

It’s just that – as I get comfortable in this sixth decade of life – I realize more and more that there are those times, when moving slowly is not a terrible thing and like the steamroller – it can be effective.

A little over 20 years ago – back in my 125 West State St. power tie and suspenders days – someone once said to me – in referring to a person who was running really fast and yet going nowhere – that moving with great speed doesn’t always equate to making great progress.

And that’s why two decades later, I think I have a decent grasp on when it makes sense to move slow and strong like the big ol’ steamroller. Because there are those times when a slow, thoughtful, deliberate approach is very effective in (here comes the philosophical metaphor) flattening the rubble of life’s problems into smooth blacktop.

Thank you Thomas and Friends

Thank you Thomas and Friends

Lose win situations

A week or so ago, I had two chances to win in a pair of separate 50-50 drawings.

Both times I lost.MLC 8-2-15 4

But that following weekend, the nice lady at my neighborhood big box retailer got a little heavy-handed while slicing my cold cut order. She went a few slices past the pound I ordered. I wasn’t too bothered because the meat wouldn’t have gone to waste, but she took the extra slices off the scale, rang up a pound, and then put the overage back with the rest of my order.

I left the deli counter thinking that was a nice thing to do (Without a drop of remorse over getting nearly a quarter of a pound of on the house turkey from my big box grocery conglomerate!), and then I later thought, that made up for losing in the 50-50s earlier in the week.MLC 8-2-15 5

As I drove home from the store, thoughts of similar lose win situations flowed through my brain.

Rewind the clock back some 40-plus years when I was a little guy. Actually, it was around this time of the year – summer – when I didn’t have the opportunity to go to day camp, get a cool t-shirt, swim, make crafts and do whatever else kids were doing in day camp. Instead I stayed home – balancing my time between hanging out with my grandmother and playing freeze tag, hide and seek and dodge ball with my neighborhood friends.

Summertime in the early 70s!

Summertime in the early 70s!

That was a lose win situation because to this day, I have great memories of both running the streets (When it was safe to run the streets and not end up a statistic or on a milk carton) and getting Ph.D. level life lessons from my grandmother.

Another lose win situation came in high school when I had my heart set on going to Temple University. I didn’t get in. I had to settle for my second choice – Syracuse University. I won because those four years at SU were four of the most entertaining…uh, I mean educational years of my life.

I’ve lost and won in the romance department. Without going into specifics, I lost a lot in my twenties, but as the song goes, I fooled around and fell in love a month or so after my 30th birthday, and I’ve been a winner ever since.

Cousin Steve!

Cousin Steve!

CYM_JLM WeddingAnd of course no story about lose win would be complete without a discussion of my flowing ebony locks – which I slowly began to lose in my early 30s. Little did I know that in losing my hair, I would be winning because for the rest of my days, I get to hear how much I look like Steve Harvey!

What is my point, you might ask?

Life is a series of lose win situations. We may not always get what we want, but that’s OK. Just deal with it. Adapt and move on, because when we least expect it, a few extra slices of cold cuts or some other victory is usually just around the corner.

Pain in the neck

(I’m not entirely sure where we’re going with this post. You might find it motivational or philosophical, maybe you won’t. But somewhere in the next couple of hundred words, there may be a metaphor subtly tossed your way.)

A couple of afternoons ago, I had a crick in my neck. You know that weird combination of stiffness and discomfort you sometimes get if you sleep in the wrong position. The annoyance persisted into the evening and it rose to a crescendo the next morning.

I got out of bed, went for an un-inspired jog around the neighborhood – that helped. I fixed a breakfast of chia seed and blueberry oatmeal – that didn’t help. I took a hot shower – that kinda helped.Pain in the Neck

I was at the point where if I turned my head too far in either direction, sharp pain would ensue (A pain similar to the burning sensation on my neck brought on by a poorly applied cream relaxer back in the early ‘80s).

The time had come for a go-no go decision on whether or not I was going to make the donuts or take advantage of the ton of sick days I’ve accumulated.

Don’t ask me why, but I opted to punch the clock.

Once I arrived at the 9-to-5, A stiff cup-o-Joe washed down an over the counter acetaminophen based pain reliever and I went on with the business of my work day.

Other than moving around with the combined grace of Herman Munster and The Robot from the old Lost in Space TV show, I made it through the day with my discomfort pretty much unnoticed.

Work day finished, I made it home (Trying to avoid too many neck turns and keeping the Seoulmobile in one lane).

Another over the counter pain med, a good night sleep and another feeble run through the neighborhood and things slowly returned to normal.

Where am I going with this?

Is this simply a 51-year old midlifer complaining about the aches and pains of being a 51-year old midlifer?


Or is there a moral to this story?

That moral being that sometimes the best medicine for a little discomfort is to keep moving through it.

Yeah, I could have used a sick day and miserably languished on the Barcalounger in my footsie PJs, caught a round of Hot Topics with Wendy or try a case or two with Judge Judy, with a hot compress on my achy breaky neck, but for whatever reason, I suited up and made the donuts.

And I’m glad I did.

Hey, I’m not try to come across all tough guy, Johnny Work Ethic. I just want to convey that there is something to be said about moving – especially for those of us north of 50.

All of us from time to time have to endure a little discomfort. And when we do, we have to choose the best course of treatment.

Do we sit and suffer or take action and get up and move?

Just keep this rant in mind and do what’s best for you the next time a pain in the neck enters your life (Metaphorical mic dropped!).


Sweet Problems

It’s been awhile since we’ve had a Toastmasters chapter at the ol’ j-o-b.
Now we’re all recharted and back in the speaking game!
Submitted below for your consideration is a reconfiguring of remarks I recently shared with our club.

I’m going to share a personal matter, and since we’re all friends, I feel safe and comfortable in making this heartfelt confession.

I have a sweet tooth.

A sweet tooth particularly for candy.

If you read the health reports, you’ll see that ‘they’ – whoever ‘they’ are – say that too much candy is not good for you. And, in some cases, ‘they’ are right. But this presents one of those opportunities when we can turn a negative into a positive.

This is why I would argue that there is at least one case where candy – particularly hard candy – can be very good for you – and it’s not just to freshen your breath!

I’m a pretty happy go lucky guy. I’m blessed and fortunate not to have too many issues in my life, but every once in a while, I have problems. And when I do, I think about hard candy.

But I don’t want you to think this is a speech about candy.

It is a speech about problem solving. It’s a method you won’t find chronicled in the Harvard Business review, and I don’t believe they’re teaching it to the MBAs at Georgia Tech, but it’s a way of thinking that works for me, and perhaps you may find some value in this approach and direct it toward any problems you might encounter in your lives.

I find that the best way to handle problems is to treat them like hard candy.

2015-07-09 MLC Sweet Problems-1

We all know there are two tried and true ways to consume hard candy.

One, you can hold it in your mouth and eventually it will slowly melt away.

Think about some of the problems you’ve had – whether they be business or personal – they are like pieces of hard candy.

Those problems appear hard, they appear impenetrable. But if you are patient, those problems – like pieces of candy will slowly melt away.

Second, there is a more aggressive approach.

You can take a piece of candy and crunch down on it hard and in a few seconds, it’s gone.

This is also a very effective way to take care of your problems. Bite down hard and chew them up as quickly as you can.

A variation on this theme is how we used to consume Charms Blow Pops as kids. We either slowly worked our way down to the gum, or we didn’t waste time and just crunched away at the hard shell and got right to the gum.

2015-07-09 MLC Sweet Problems-2

I always liked to take my time and work my way down to the gum.

It says a lot about our personality – are we slow and methodical or do we hurry up and get to the gum?

There’s no right or wrong. It’s all about what works best for you. It really depends on the situation, there are those times when we need to move quickly and there are those times when taking our time and working things out slowly is the best approach.

Of course at a future date, we can talk about an entirely different class of problems.

Those are the problems we may encounter that are like Jujyfruits. We chew, and chew, and chew before they eventually go away.

2015-07-09 MLC Sweet Problems-4

And let us not forget those worst-case scenario problems – the ones that are like gum on the bottom of your shoe – they just stick with us until we literally have to scrape them away.

2015-07-09 MLC Sweet Problems-3

Of course, I’m having a little fun – comparing candy to problems. But in all seriousness, when we encounter problems in our life, solving them tends to take two distinct forms – we can take our time and work to solve them slowly – or we can bite down hard on them and work them out quickly.

Whichever way works for you, just go for it. Again, there are no rights or wrongs. My only wish for you dear friends is that all of your problems are sweet ones.

My grandmother’s pen

Pictured below is an assortment of pens I’ve had ever since I packed up the old Ford Escort and moved away from Drexel avenue way back in the winter of 86.

Pen Bucket

Over the years, this bunch of pens has contracted and expanded. Pens have come and pens have gone, but there’s been one writing instrument that I’ve seemed to have held on to all of these years. It’s an old pink Paper Mate pen that belonged to my paternal grandmother.

Pen 2

It’s a pretty basic pen – ink, not gel. It doesn’t have a stylus tip, and there is no squishy ergonomically correct cushioning to reduce the potential trauma of writing more than five words.

It caught my eye one morning not too long ago as I was grabbing a pen to toss in my pocket.

All was well until I was sitting in a meeting and had a cause to take notes. I attempted to write and realized this pen – I think first used when Carter was in office – was all dried out (Not to be confused with All Cried Out, that Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam 1985 hit). Always prepared (Truth be told, I’m one ink ruined shirt away from carrying a pocket protector – hey if fanny packs are coming back, why not?) I deployed my back up writing tool and commenced my note taking, in my never ending efforts to look professional (As I tried to avoid asphyxiation brought on by the cloud of pompous, hot air that sucked all breathable oxygen out of the room).

Normally if one of my old pens fails to perform I toss it out, but in this case I couldn’t bear to part with this relic from my younger days. I had to bring this old girl back to life.

As soon as I returned home, I gently dismantled the pen and removed the expended ink supply, and like CSI Gil Grissom at a crime scene, I tossed the empty ink vessel into a zip top plastic bag. Next stop, my neighborhood (Really, it is in my neighborhood, right down the road from Casa de McCullough) big box office supply store.

I found my way to the refill section on the writing instrument (Cause pen and pencil ain’t fancy enough) aisle. If there were any part numbers or similar descriptors on the old ink supply, I didn’t see them, so I had to rely on my sharp (Multi-focal contact lens enhanced) eyes to match the old ink to a new refill.


Suppressing the urge to yell “Eureka!” I found a refill that looked like it would fit. So I made the purchase and rushed back to my (Wannabe Tony Stark workshop) basement to perform the delicate reassembly.

The refill fit perfectly, and this venerable writing instrument was back in service.


Right about now I bet you’re wondering why I would take over 400 words to gush over replacing the ink in a 35+ year old pen.

Long time readers of these pages know I harbor a sentimental side. Bringing back to life a pen that wrote letters and completed crossword puzzles brought back memories of a time when people actually wrote letters and completed crossword puzzles.

I’m happy that this writing implement accompanies me to the 9 to 5 from time to time. It makes me feel like my grandmother – who didn’t get a lot of education and wore a domestic’s uniform gets to hang out with her grandson who got a lot of education (Some I even still use) and wears suits, ties and dress shirts.

And on that dress shirt is a pocket where I can carry a big piece of my youth close to my heart.