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Chasing The American Dream

April 30, 2005


It’s a beautiful tropical day here in sunny Florida. 85 degrees, sunny, breezy, a perfect beach day. Well, at least that’s the view from where I sit. And I’m not liking where I sit. In fact, I’m not liking a lot of things lately. Not being able to blog is only one of the things I’m not liking. So sit back and let ol’ Plantation catch y’all up on things.

I’m sitting on the 9th floor of some bank building just south of downtown Miami. Yeah, I’m at work on a Saturday afternoon. I never in a million years thought this new assignment could be as bad as Gilligan’s Island. I mean after all, the email said the assignment would simply be, “a two-week assistance program.” Tuesday, April 19th was my first day here. There were five of us crammed into a tiny conference room, papers strewn everywhere. It was a picture of disorganization. I was given my assignment, and it was business as usual.

At about 11 a.m., the Managing Director came into the room and all hell broke loose. He began yelling about a meeting held the previous day and how he was embarrassed because of the work quality and lack of knowledge from the team. I made a mental note and just kept at it. Later that night, there was a client meeting. Once again, the Managing Director came back fuming. More mistakes, more embarrassment. At 7:30 p.m., he looked at me and gave me the ‘come here’ finger wave.

I hate the finger wave. No good thing has ever developed as a result of a finger wave. The MD frantically was looking for a private spot for us to talk. I thought to myself, what kind of damage could I have possibly done in the 8 hours I’ve been here? He finally found a spot. The board room. What could be more ominous? I mentally prepared myself for the worst. Well, I didn’t know it then, but getting fired would *not* have been the worst thing. So he proceeded to tell me the whole story. In a nutshell, the project has been a clusterfuck for four months, we have zero credibility, he’s tired of it, he needs leadership, and he’s putting me in charge. TA-DA!

And from that moment on, this fucking project has taken over my life. So far this week, I’ve worked 86 hours. On Thursday I got home at 4 a.m. The days are long and extremely frustrating. The good news is that I’ve restored order somewhat and have gained the confidence of management and the external auditors, but this project is so fucked up that it can never be considered ‘good.’ Yesterday’s events really made me consider whether I want to continue in this profession.

We had a Board meeting that included our MD, the client senior management, the external auditors, and the audit committee board members. This was my second Board meeting. The first was interesting because I got to meet the Board members. They were very Latin, very arrogant, very pompous, very demanding, and very annoying. This meeting, I met the Chairman. He fit right in with the rest of them. One of them sat next to me and he had the gall to put his bare ugly-ass feet on this beautiful cherry conference table. Anyway, as I mentioned, our work has been shit, and so the Board just went off on guess who?

I was belittled, berated, and cursed at. Honestly, I didn’t mind it. It’s all incense and peppermints, meaningless nouns. You wanna know the worst part? My chicken-shit MD just sat there and didn’t say one fucking word. Not one. I sort of gave him a glance like, hey man jump in here anytime. I’m getting buried here. I mean, shit. It’s been his project for four months. I’d been there for a week and I was taking the heat. As I sat there, I seriously thought I needed to quit this profession. 18 years of this shit and I really *have* had it. I gotta figure out what else to do. I better get going on the book.

To make matters worse, after the meeting, the MD came into our conference room and berated the team. A total and complete downer. I gazed around the room and looked at their faces. I wished I had a camera and was able to take a picture because I would have posted it. What I saw was complete and utter shock and despair. Great leadership, dude. I guess they don’t teach leadership to Execs any more. Our company has none, that’s for sure.

The worst part about this whole thing, as mentioned, is that it’s taken over my life. My apartment is a friggin mess. Laundry piled up, dishes in the sink, unmade couch (don’t sleep in the bed), mail piled up, etc. My car’s dirty, too, inside and out. I haven’t paid any bills, I haven’t exercised, run, and I’m getting fat. I haven’t written or read any blogs. I’m more miserable about all that stuff than the all the job bullshit. I’ve got to reclaim my life. But now I’m in it for the long haul. It looks like June 14th is the project end date. Two-week assistance program. Give me a fucking break.

April 25, 2005


You'd never know it from the 'passover' dinner I had tonight at a friends' house. Burgers and dogs complete with buns and non-kosher Greg Norman Shiraz. Oy.


That's golf spelled backwards which is exactly how I played today. Hadn't played since 7/11/04 and it showed. 20 mile-an-hour winds didn't help either. Shot 61-54 for an incredible 115. I suck. Ah well, at least I got some sun on my face. 85 and sunny here today. Could be worse, I suppose.

April 23, 2005


She’s taught me a lot although she doesn’t realize it. It’s unintentional. It’s her aura. Recently, I met her for a movie and a popcorn dinner. Afterward, perhaps some coffee and an ice cream from the shop next door. I got to the theater and there she was, sitting in front of the ice cream shoppe with a big ol’ banana split on her lap, a big smile on her face. She looked 13, but she’s my age. In that moment, and there have been many others, she captured youth so naturally, so innocently.

I noticed something early on shortly after meeting her. She would ask me a question completely out of context and out of left field. Dead silence and then, “Are you left handed?” I’d look at her as if to say, “Where did *that* come from?” I like her because she can laugh at herself. And she’s had a lot of opportunities lately. She keeps hitting her head on the same overhead bin and practically knocks herself silly. She’s spilled a pint of coffee in place where no beverages are allowed. She eats jelly beans, Cheetos, and Doritos all day long but doesn’t gain an ounce. She’s not into sappy romance, and don’t call her too often. Guys, daily phone calls don’t cut it.

Once again, dead silence and then I hear someone yelling at me, and it’s her. She’s got her headphones on and thinks I can’t hear her over ‘the noise.’ She takes risks, too. She’s flying long distance to meet someone she met on match.com. When I asked her about why she does the things she does, she told me that her life is “slightly askew.” I told her that ‘slightly askew’ would make a great name for a book and maybe a post from me. So now when she talks to me, I tilt my chair over to a 45-degree angle so I can meet her at her slightly askew level.

I’ve tried to think of one word that best describes her. Slightly askew fits, but those are her words. Youthful, free-spirited, genuine, unusual, unique, real. Hmmm, they all fit. We’re just friends, mind you. No, Plantation Todd is not smitten again. But she’s got that certain combination of qualities that make me aware of the type of person I’m looking for. One word? Rare.

April 20, 2005


Posted by Hello
A couple days ago, I was having my 7 a.m. sunrise breakfast with my brother-in-law along the pier at the beach. It’s such a beautiful sight. What is it about viewing the sunrise in the morning and the sunset in the dusk of the afternoon? Anyway, we were just sitting and chatting when we both spotted an old man in his underwear limping toward the surf. We looked dumbfoundedly at him because he looked like he was going into the ocean for a swim. It was extremely windy, the surf was rough, and the tide was strong. What the heck was this old guy doing?

I guess one of the locals overheard us, and she told us the old man’s story. He swims a mile in the ocean every other day and walks the mile back. He also happened to be one of the original Marlboro Men. Neat, huh? Dontcha just love local legendary stuff like that? We watched him battle the current until he disappeared. I immediately thought I’d write about him. But it wasn’t *that* great of a story.

Today, we made our morning walk to the pier for our daily breakfast. As luck would have it, we spotted a familiar face. Marlboro Man was walking from the ocean and heading our way. We were walking toward each other and were real close to him, but he veered off. I wanted to say something to him; I wanted to meet him. The New Me threw caution to the wind, and I yelled out toward him and got his attention.

Up close, I could see why he was once the Marlboro Man. He was tall, rugged, and in amazing shape for a 70-something year-old man. He walked sort of hunched over with a significant limp. He was dripping wet from the ocean. When he spoke, his voice resounded deeply. He shook my hand firmly. I told him we’d heard he was once the Marlboro Man, and I told him I admired him for doing his swim routine. He smiled broadly as if reminiscing of his younger days riding the horse, decked out in his cowboy garb, peddling the Marlboro brand.

He introduced himself as August Brown or Augie for short. He confirmed he was, in fact, one of the early Marlboro Men. He told us he did some print ads and some TV ads as well. I got the feeling he wanted to get out of his underwear or trunks or whatever and dry off. So I wished him good luck and told him I’d write about him.

We were sitting down having our breakfast when I spotted him coming in to eat. He came over to our outside table. “Hey Todd, I got a neat story for you.” Wow, I thought it was cool he remembered my name and cool that he wanted to share a something with us. He slid in the booth and proceeded to tell us his Marlboro story. He graduated from Columbia in 1956. He had done some previous modeling, and his ad agency called him and told him he had an opportunity with Marlboro.

He told us Marlboro had been undergoing an image change back in ’55. He told us that Marlboro was 30th and dead last in market share (less than 1% of the market) because men wouldn’t smoke Marlboros. They wouldn’t because the cigarettes had a red filter on them which made them look like women’s cigs. Once Marlboro got rid of the red-tipped cigs and focused it’s advertising on the rugged outdoor man, sales began to take off.

Augie got the call for the Cowboy photo shoot. He was 24. He made it to the last two models and was up against a 44 year-old. Augie got beat out. They went with the older, more mature guy. Later on in the 60s he said he did get to play the Marlboro Man in print ads and selected TV ads. Wow, great story. He wished us well, we thanked him for sharing his story, and off he went into the diner.

Well, I don’t think it’s time to “Go West, young man, go West,” as Horace Greeley once said, but I think it may be time to move East to the beach. There are too many neat things I’m missing out on. Don’t worry, I’ll still be ‘Plantation’ no matter where I roam.

April 17, 2005


Posted by Hello

Posted by Hello

Posted by Hellophotos courtesy of Allison Schy

Some people in this world are just flat-out imaginative and creative. Met the artist who wakes up every morning and rebuilds this "sandgator" with just his hands and a shovel. These pix don't do it justice. Friggin amazing.

April 16, 2005


560 Starbucks Venti Iced Coffees, 840 meals out, 196 nights in a hotel, 1 divorce, 1 new car, 3 broken hearts, and 14 months ago, I uttered that quote from Apollo 13 to a boardroom full of senior management. If memory serves me correctly, the Apollo 13 mission was deemed a failure. True, NASA was able to bring the boys home, but the mission itself was a failure.

My ‘little’ Gilligan’s Island project ended today. I can’t tell you how many times I repeated that quote to my client. It finally sunk into their heads after eight months down the road. During the last six months, we’ve been in a ‘make up for lost ground’ mode. I honestly don’t know if the external auditors will pass or fail these guys on their internal control structure.

For me personally, I know I did everything I could to get them a passing grade. If they fail, all fingers will point to me. That’s fine. The project was my responsibility. I’ll get fired, and that’s fine too because, like I said, I know I did my best. Hell, it’s only work, and work is not a priority in my life anymore. I look back at all that’s transpired over the past year. Wow. Somehow, I made it through. I mean, a year ago to this day, I was depressed about work, travel, women, divorce, seeing a shrink, and not being able to see my son. These things converged all at once and knocked me on my ass. I bottomed out, but I came back a changed man. I don’t ever want to go back to those dark ages.

They say all this adversity builds character. True, it’s part of my transformation into being a more complete person. Whether or not this project passes or fails really matters not to me. What *does* matter to me is my own personal battle with myself. Indeed, failure wasn’t an option. I’m smiling at my own personal success. Success defined here as overcoming all the aforementioned adversity.

I’m taking a few days off to spend some time at the beach with my sister and family who are visiting from Vermont. A year ago she saw a miserable person. I can’t wait to show her the new me. Thanks family and friends out there. I couldn’t have gotten here without you.

April 12, 2005


Posted by Hello

Posted by Hello photos courtesy of David Lethem

I don't know if the truck was towed, repossessed, stolen, or what??? I *do* like the new sign though.

April 10, 2005


Cherry Blossom Girl Part I

(Excerpt from the book, Chasing The American Dream)
...About a month later, I had a follow up doctor’s appointment. He wanted to see how I was progressing, and he also wanted to give me a complete physical. I was dreading it because I hadn’t had a physical in over six years. I knew that ‘physical’ meant I would be subject to that uncomfortable probing and exploring in areas I’d rather not mention. This was the primary reason that, when asked who I wanted to perform the physical, I chose Dr. Schwartz rather than Alice, the Physician Assistant. I certainly couldn’t handle Alice pokin’ around down there. So after waiting the standard 30 minutes, I finally got called in. A nurse did my blood pressure and EKG. She then asked me to wait in the customary small waiting/exam rooms.

I waited for Dr. Schwartz to show up. The door finally opened and in came Alice! My mind flashed two immediate thoughts. Wow, it’s great to see Alice….oh no, the probing! Alice sat down on her little rolling stool, and we had a nice chat about how I was doing since my last visit. I told her I felt I was doing much, much better and I felt like a different person. She said she noticed my improvement. I explained to her that the medication I was taking was giving me some negative side effects. She asked me if I was taking any other medication, and I told her about Questran. She asked if I had high cholesterol since that was normally what Questran was for, but I told her I’d been taking it ever since the gall bladder surgery. She understood and made a comment that perhaps *she* should be taking it because she had high cholesterol. I looked at her in wonder because she was such a small, thin girl. She said her weakness was her love for cookies.

Anyway, she continued the exam and my probing fear was relieved because she was going to send me to a specialist to do the probing and to do another urine sample since mine was not quite ‘normal.’ Something to do with protein, I dunno. She said the other tests came out normal, and that I was fine and healthy. I thanked her and told her it was good to see her…

Days later, she was stuck in my head. Remember the conversation I had with her when she told me she loved cookies? Well for some stupid reason, I just couldn’t let that go. I remember thinking to myself what a great catch this girl would be for some lucky guy. She was smart, funny, caring, down-to-earth, and extremely pretty. But I was her patient, sort of. I had no chance, right? Still, I wanted to do something nice for her. And then I remembered the cookie conversation. So I thought to myself, hmmm, Alice said she liked cookies, I’ll send her cookies…

April 08, 2005


Traveling provides me so many opportunities to be served. Three meals a day, and a hotel in the morning and again at night. Yesterday, I made a comment to our lunch group after we had eaten. The food was great but the service stunk. Some grumpy old maid with no personality had served us. We weren’t lucky enough to get the two other servers I usually get. And it made such a difference. I told my group it would have been such a more pleasurable experience if we’d had the other two.

And so this streak of lousy customer service began. This isn’t a woe is me post; I’m just stating the facts and pointing out stuff that happens. You know, mundane shit. Next stop on the customer service train is the House of Horrors Café where I had such a fun time a while ago with a waitress. Well lucky for us, we got a new girl. I know, you’re probably thinking, and unlucky for her she got me. She was in trouble right off the bat because she was new, the place was packed, and they were short-handed. Not a good combination.

There were four of us. The gal across from me ordered an Elaine’s Big Salad which included tuna, pasta, and fruit salads on a bed of greens. The guy next to her ordered a Chicken Wrap with Chips. The guy next to me ordered a Chicken Wrap, no tomato, with pasta salad. The girl then chimes in, “we’re out of pasta salad.” Now why she didn’t mention that when my friend ordered the Elaine’s Salad was beyond us? I mean, the pasta salad is a key part of the Elaine’s Salad. Why wouldn’t she mention the pasta salad outage right then and there? So my friend got into that line of discussion with the waitress and she says, “oh well you just get extra fruit salad.” My friend said, “but I don’t want extra fruit salad. I may not want the salad at all since I now know there’s no pasta salad.” She settled on some slice hard-boiled eggs in lieu of the extra fruit salad. Meanwhile, I ordered a Veggie Wrap, no ranch dressing. Pretty simple.

We expectedly waited longer than usual and then our food got delivered by someone else. Here’s what got delivered. Elaine’s Big Salad, no sign of hard-boiled egg. The no tomato guy got his Chicken Wrap with tomato. The other Chicken Wrap guy didn’t even get his, and I got my Veggie Wrap *with* ranch dressing, of course. Four orders, four mistakes. Our waitress was nowhere to be found. She never checked back with us to ask us how everything was. I finally did the rude flagdown motion with my arms to get her attention. That’s when it really got fun.

She gave us that, “is there a problem?” look. We all took our turns telling her what was wrong with our orders.

Friend: There’s no egg on my salad.
Waitress: Oh. We’re out of eggs.
Friend: Excuse me, but aren’t you supposed to mention you’re out of something BEFORE I complete my order instead of telling me AFTER the fact? This is the second time you’ve done this to me. I’m not trying to be difficult, but you really should tell your customers you’re out of something so they can have the option to change their orders.
Waitress: Oh. Sorry ‘bout that.

The waitress forced an apology for the tomato and the ranch dressing and went out seeking the missing wrap which was delivered after we were half-way through. Her apathy towards the situation irked me more than the food mistakes. Hey, everyone makes mistakes, and I’m cool with that. But it’s what you do *after*the mistake that makes or breaks the experience. She basically didn’t give a shit. So I let her manager know about it. I told him I could deal with the mistakes, but I couldn’t deal with her attitude or her lack of wanting to do something/anything about the situation. He took half off the bill which was nice of him. I would have comped the entire check, but that’s just me. I think I’m going to take a vacation from that place.

Lastly, we visit the Doubletree. My favorite hotel. The customer service there is exemplary. I got to know the front desk guy who’s the nicest guy in the world. But when I checked in, he wasn’t behind the desk. Instead, I saw a nightmare. A vision from the past. A customer service train wreck. I remembered her from the Hampton Inn where I used to stay. She has to be one of the most miserable people I’ve ever met. Totally rude, totally mean, totally abrupt, and sooo non-customer service-oriented. How in the world she got her job and KEPT it, I have no idea. Evidently, the Hampton let her go; and why the Doubletree would hire her was a contradiction in my mind.

I was nice to her. She was as mean and unfriendly as ever. I asked her if my friend was on duty, and she told me he was eating. She gave me the room cardkey and off I went. I opened the door and nearly gagged on the smoke smell. How nice! The bee-ahtch gave me a handicapped smoking room. I quickly returned to the front desk and asked her if she had any non-smoking rooms? She disappeared without a word and out came my friend.

The first thing I told him was that I couldn’t believe they would hire this woman. I told him I had known her from the Hampton where all her employees hated her. He told me they had already received numerous complaints about her. I told him she was as rude as ever and that she gave me a handicapped smoking room. He was puzzled because he said he’d already set me up with a room. So he gave me a better room. The next day I tried a little banter with bee-ahtch but to no avail. The day after, my friend was back and he told me they fired her. Too many complaints. He then told me the real story of what she did to me.

Apparently, she thought I was trying to pull a fast one by requesting a corporate rate for the company I’ve been consulting for. She thought this back when I was at the Hampton and didn’t like me because of it. So she told my friend that I was trying to pull the same stunt here. My friend told me he had me set up in the penthouse suite and she purposefully switched me out and gave me the worst room in the house. Unbelievable! Who does this shit???

I’ll tell you who. It’s people who take these customer service jobs and have no business doing so. Hey everyone, if you don’t like people and you can’t deal with them, do me and the rest of the world a favor and choose a different line of work. Deal?

April 07, 2005


CBG as in Cherry Blossom Girl.

(Excerpt from the book, Chasing The American Dream)
...I called my older sister to discuss all the problems I was having. She recognized all the symptoms I had. The crying, not sleeping, forgetting things, feeling sad. She knew because she told me she had gone through the same thing. She told me she had been diagnosed with clinical depression. She explained to me that this type of depression was caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain which brought on a lot of these symptoms, and that medication could restore the balance. This was hard for me to accept, but it made sense and I knew something was making me abnormal. She suggested for me to see a doctor, and I reluctantly agreed.

I made a doctor’s appointment for the following week. I just figured that I had tried to deal with everything by myself all this time, and that it had come to a point where I didn’t think I was doing a good job of handling all of it anymore. I felt guilty and somewhat ashamed about the possibility of having depression, but I knew going to get checked out was the right thing to do.

I was a bit nervous and still felt ashamed while waiting anxiously in the little waiting room. You know the room. It’s the little waiting room you wait in after you’ve waited an hour in the big waiting room with all the magazines. Anyway, a young Physician’s Assistant, or PA, as they are known in the profession, came in with a reassuring smile on her face. Her name tag read Alice Goldman.

Alice asked me a million questions relating to my recent behavior as well as probing into my past in terms of how I grew up and was raised. She also gave me a questionnaire to fill out which, I guessed, would give me a score on how depressed I was, if at all. She was very reassuring and emphasized that I shouldn’t feel bad or ashamed for having a sickness no different than any other sickness such as high blood pressure. She said there were lots of medications that could help me return to normalcy and that I would feel much better soon. I thanked her for her kindness and consideration, and she said the doctor would see me soon…

April 06, 2005


Posted by Hello

Posted by Hello

Posted by Hello

Posted by Hello Photos courtesy of David Lethem

It’s times like these when I wish I owned a digital camera. For the last few days, this huge Ford F-250 Super Duty pick-up truck has been partially blocking the parking garage. Each day the owner gets one more little love letter or post-it slapped on the windshield. This is my favorite thus far:

Did the “intelligent bus” pass you by when you parked this damn piece of crap! You’re either going to get a lot more notes like this, or someone’s going to hit your front end.
Thanks. Have a nice day!

April 04, 2005


My new blogger friend Crystal Clear has tagged me. This go around, it’s a literary quiz. She wants to learn more about me. Ugh. I’m somewhat embarrassed since I’ve not done much reading since I’ve been writing so much. Nonetheless, I’m a gamester so I’ll play on.

You’re stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?

Per review of previous quizzes, this could mean, "what book would you want burned," or what book would you like to have memorized."

Burned: He’s Just Not That Into You. I’m sorta tired of hearing about this book, aren't you?

Memorized: The Bible. I’m so inept in this area; I could really use a refresher.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

I’m assuming the question if book-related. I honestly can’t think of anyone.

The last book you bought is:

Well, believe it or not, it’s been almost a year since I bought my last book, “How to Heal Depression,” by Harold Bloomfield, MD

What are you currently reading?

Shamefully, I’m not currently reading any books. I’m reading my favorite blogs and an occasional Wine Ethusiast magazine.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what five books would you want to read.

My ex has all my books. It would be nice to figure out this question by looking at all the books I’ve read. In the absence of that:

1 The Complete Peanuts 1950-2000, Charles M. Schultz. This is cheating a bit as the entire collection has not been issued. Still, I can’t hide my affection for my fav. Comic.

2 War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy. Never read it and it’s a million pages. Should keep me busy for a while.

3 Billboard’s Top Pop Singles 1955-2002, Joel Whitburn. 1000 pages of music trivia for Rain Man to memorize.

4 Cannery Row, John Steinbeck. Don’t know why I never got around to reading this one. I’ve read all his others and I’ve driven right past cannery row.

5 STRAIGHT UP AND DIRTY: The Life of a Young New York Divorcee, Stephanie Klein. I had you worried that I was gonna forget about this one, didn’t I?

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?

1 Denise of Do you have that in my size??? Hoping this will brighten her day and give her something fun to do.
2 Michelle of Just Me, Myself, & I. Same as Denise.

3 Robotnik of Auf! Auf! Alexsandr. Who else? The Ken Jennings of literature.

April 01, 2005


I don’t want to be shy. Can’t stand it anymore. I just want to say "Hi"
To the one I love, Cherry Blossom Girl.

I feel sick all day long, from not being with you.
I just want to go out, every night for a while. Cherry Blossom Girl

Lyrics by, Air. 2004

Let’s begin to tie up some loose ends, shall we? It *was* to be the book’s final chapter. Who was she? Where did I meet her? When did I meet her? Why was she “IT” for me? Why Cherry Blossom Girl? What happened? Well based on my posts thus far, here’s what you know chronologically.

We had our song. I wrote her a short story. I wrote myself a letter. I wrote her a poem. I last saw her three months ago.

Stay tuned...