Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Mile in My Shoes

“Momma always says there’s an awful lot you could tell about a person by their shoes. Where they’re going. Where they’ve been.“ This was the lesson taught to Forrest Gump by his Mother who wisely saw fit to parent through the use of metaphors such as her ever-popular “Box of chocolates .” In her shoe theory though, the suggestion need not be over analyzed. We can like the Forest Gump quote suggests tell a lot about people if we just look down every once and a while.

On any given day I am bound to put on several types of shoes. My combat boots for instance are a constant reminder of my obligations to my country and the gratitude that I have for the American taxpayers who provide for my healthy lifestyle. As soon as I get out of work though I throw on my running shoes and race around town on a sunset run. No longer do I stand out from the civilian population but instead zip past it as I stride towards my destination.

After a run, I’ll jump in the shower to give my feet a momentary break between footwear and then slip on some island-style flip flops to lounge around in. On the weekends I’ll wear sandals, go barefoot, put my athletic cleats to good use and even clean up with a nice pair of shoes for a dinner date.

The point is that there is a little piece of me in every one of those shoes that I put on and a slightly different persona that goes along with them. Now those who really know me can vouched for the fact that I have a tendency to exhibit split-personality like symptoms, although this is not what I’m getting at. Rather, just because one sees me wearing combat boots one day, should not necessarily assume that I might not be at a peace rally the next. Just as it is wrong to judge a book by its cover, it’s also just as erroneous to judge someone by the shoes on their feet. One might conclude a person’s hobby that way, but still may never know what else they might be into as well.

Allow me to explain a few of my shoes:

Those of you that have seen the competitive side of me have been privy to the Deion-like swagger that I maintain when I’m on the playing field. Along with my cleats comes a more confident, albeit borderline cocky jock with the trash talking to match. The two are inseparable, you just can’t have one without the other.

Call it the island fever, assimilation or the atmosphere, because when I have my flip flops on I take on the laid back, aloha attitude of the locals. While I’ll readily admit to wear a watch, I rarely check it when my flip flops are on, mostly because I know that when it’s time to go home, the sun will go down.

My demeanor gets a little more serious with my combat boots on. As I walk out the door and into my car, I am no longer the care-free civilian chilling on the beach, or ego driven jock. I am property of the US government, sent to serve the very people who have paid for everything that I own.

As I began writing this piece, I thought it’d be interesting to count how many shoes I own and to grasp their function. Unlike my girlfriend whose walk in closet houses four times my collection, her footwear while important has many redundant purposes…high heels come to mind.

My list.

Golf Shoes (Nike), Flip flops (Reef), shower sandals, dress shoes (military/civilian), club shoes (Diesel), Combat boots (tan/black), running shoes (Nikex2)Football cleats (Nike), Crocs (Payless), Tennis shoes (Adidas), utility shoes (Puma), basketball shoes (And 1) and even dancing shoes!

Fifteen shoes total, all with a different purpose, all of which cater to whatever mood or activity that I feel up to at the moment.

In a sense attempting to "walk a mile in my shoes," is a misnomer. Before I would invite anyone to that challenge, I'd have to browse through my collection and choose which pair for them to try on.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Fight or Flight

It was 3:30 in the morning when a group of friends and I stood at a street corner after a night of drinking. Across the street from us were two hostile men shouting expletives at us for no apparent reason. After standing idle to just take in the one main word that they kept referring to us as, I prepared for the worst. I looked to my left and saw that two of the people in my group had gone forward, ignoring the fighting words that were being shouted from across the way. To my right was my friend (a former golden gloves boxer nonetheless) who had evidently received the same feeling in his gut.

What ensued was a slow motion like dream state that seemed hazy in retrospect. I dodged the first several haymakers and allowed my instincts and adrenaline to take down the man in front of me. In an instant he was on the ground while the other two vanished from my periphery.

My hand was pushed on his head as I shoved his skull into the sidewalk. I then took my knee and drove it into his back as to stabilize him so that I could collect my thoughts and plan my next move. For the next minute I maintained pressure while he attempted to flair his arms wildly, hoping to connect with a lucky blow. What I did next, is not what a street fighter would be expected to do. In fact, as the one who had an undeniable upper hand, I showed a side of me that much like the way the fight developed in the first place was unplanned.

I fled.

As I look back at the short exchange that encompasses my lone street fight record, I can’t say that I acted as rough and tough as I would have wanted. Instead I was overcome by an urge to show mercy to the man who wished to fight me.

I raced across the street without looking back, knowing that my ultimate goal was to get home and forget about what had just happened. In the back of my mind, I knew my friend was alright. In fact, my real concern was the poor guy who lacked the judgment and picked a fight with him in the first place. I gave him a quick text just to verify and passed out in my bed.

Over the course of the next afternoon, I played out the events in my head as I remembered them. And while I felt cowardly for taking off and not finishing what I had started, I also felt as though I had ultimately taken the harder way out.

I learned that I had the guts to stick up to these men who challenged our manhood while I stood beside my friend. More importantly though, I learned that there is not the “killer instinct,” of hatred deep inside me that I imagined would come out in the right time and place. I suppose, I owe my parents for my upbringing, my family morals and instilling in me the notion of peace even during the most hectic of moments.

Sometimes we don’t know where we stand on an issue or what we believe until we are confronted with it face to face. As for fighting, I had seen it numerous times on TV, video games and several times as a spectator. Just when I had the opportunity to beat this guy up for being the meathead that he had acted like, something inexplicable took over and made me flee. Whatever the cause of this change in behavior may be, I knew after the next day, that I had no business being there in the first place.

In the middle of the brawl, I just didn’t have it in me. I had no ill feelings towards this guy nor did I want to pummel him and teach him a lesson. If anything, I felt sorry that he had taken his emotions out on me and that he was the one who winded up face first on the sidewalk and embarrassed.

It took the events of a post-Saturday night out with friends and a fight to make me realize that fighting is not in my nature. At least, as far as hurting another human on this earth. Deep down, I often wonder if I really am the pacifist who once attended a peace rally on my college campus and whether I can more easily accept war because I am farther down the kill chain than the grunt with his rifle pointed at an insurgent.

This is not to say that I won’t put up a fight. I’m more than willing to take on the side of good when the cause is just and the threat is real. And with that, I still have similar feelings like singer Tony Bennett who has characterized war as “the worst of human behavior, neither constructive nor intelligent.”

The following morning after the fight, I watched the last lecture by Dr. Randy Pausch on youtube about “achieving his childhood dreams.” I watched in awe as I listened to a man who set out and attained everything that he had ever wanted. Through his lecture, I turned that lens on myself and conversely saw a boy who wasn’t chasing his dreams and instead perhaps running away from them, like he had done the previous night.

I encourage you to spend the best 1 hour and 16 minutes of your week and listen to his lecture. If you’re like me, you will laugh, cheer and undoubtedly cry several times before it’s over. After it’s all said and done, hopefully you will look inside of yourself and ask whether you are where you always wanted to be. If not, I hope you will take the opportunity and advantage of the life that you have been blessed with and fight for every bit of that dream.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


One would not expect to see the second richest man in the world to be doing business in Nebraska. And contrary to that assumption, that is exactly the place where 77 year old Warren Edward Buffet calls home. Tucked away in a modest office covered wall to wall in imitation wood paneling is a man who dedicates as much commitment towards the marketplace as he does equality.

It was in that same, humble and unassuming office that Mr. Buffet invited Senator Obama to in order to exchange views on tax policy and inheritance.

The first point of contention that Mr. Buffet made the newly elected Senator aware of was his indifference to the tax structure. He estimated that in 2006, he only paid 19% of his income ($48.1 million) in total federal taxes, while his employees paid 33% of theirs despite making far less money. According to him, “it just makes sense that those of us who’ve benefited most from the market should pay a bigger share.” He was particularly concerned with his receptionist who was taxed almost twice his rate.

He then pointed out how he discouraged getting rid of an estate tax and the tacit aristocracy that would go along with it. Buffet remarked, “When you get rid of the estate tax, you’re basically handing over command of the country’s resources to people who didn’t earn it. It’s like choosing the 2020 Olympic team by picking the children of all the winners at the 2000 games.”

While Buffet may rebuke the passing down of inheritance to those who have not earned it, there are thousands of families who are where they are today not solely based on individual achievement but more due to the trust funds that they started with. In essence, this behavior has spilled its way into universities where “legacy children,” are given more unnecessary advantages and even athletic competition where those who can “pay to play,” become far better off than the children who can’t afford to have the best equipment or travel on AAU teams.

The starting line has become more and more disimilar in America. There are some who get the head start and others who wind up in the back without getting the opportunity to even compete with everyone else. Entitlement has become a way of life for the rich elite and it all starts with a last name.

This false sense of entitlement is best illustrated on MTV’s hit TV show “Sweet Sixteen,” where birthday boys and girls are given extravagant parties on their parent’s dime all the while acting far superior to the rest of their classmates. At sixteen years old, they would have you think that they had earned their places in society.

And yet, outside of the reality TV realm, there stands a world filled with grown up versions of these sweet sixteen brats who feel that by the mere fate of birth, that they hold more stake in the American dream than the founding father’s who created its vision and the millions of immigrants who saw it through. The thousands who wait outside our borders are denied entry because these selfish individuals would rather feed themselves than pay the gift of Democracy forward for future generations of Americans. And still, they are the same people who will have you believe that spreading Democracy overseas in far away lands such as Iraq/Afghanistan is beneficial just as long as it is 'NIMBY.'

Some may call Warren Buffet an enigma by the way he has been able to profit with a unique investing strategy while maintaining a high degree of financial integrity. His views are not always shared by those of similar economic portfolios and perhaps that is what sets him apart from his peers. Mr. Buffet’s net worth is $62 billion and his children will receive less than %1 of that amount when he passes on. His attitudes about his fortune can best be summed up by his description of US capitalism.

“I happen to have a talent for allocating capital. But my ability to use that talent is completely dependent on the society I was born into. If I’d been born into a tribe of hunters, this talent of mine would be pretty worthless. I can’t run very fast. I’m not particularly strong. I’d probably end up as some wild animal’s dinner.

“But I was lucky enough to be born in a time and place where society values my talent and gave me a good education to develop that talent and set up the laws and financial system to let me do what I love doing—and make a lot of money doing it. The least I can do is help pay for all that.”

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

My .02 Cents

I couldn’t have picked a more ironic title if I tried. As fate would have it, .02 cents was the exact amount that the cashier at the Food Pantry overlooked as she rang up my lactose free milk at $4.92 + tax, totaling $5.02 (the tax and price of milk in this instance is another blog altogether). Part of me saw her act as sincere as she handed me back the additional dollar and just accepted the $5 bill. The more analytical and cautious side of me resented her act of kindness and wanted to discourage the practice. Not only did I worry that she might be in trouble for not keeping a balanced register at the end of the night by forgetting to pony up the .02 cents but I also cringed at the idea that she along with millions were de-emphasizing the value of our currency.

I’ll concede the absolute fact that .02 or any denomination under the not-so-precious nickel doesn’t get you much these days by itself. Gone are the days of penny arcades and candy. But since when did money become so insignificant that we completely act as if the most plentiful of tender does not exist? With all of the concern of the economy spiraling downward, it’s sort of refreshing to know that at least my cashier isn’t too concerned about “pinching pennies.”

I get my frugalness from my parents. My entire childhood went virtually without name brands. Coke, Pepsi, Sprite, Mountain Dew were non-existent in my house. The household names in the Carroll refrigerator were Twist-up, Mountain Lightning, Dr. Thunder and my favorite of generic labels, “Cola.” And these were just the names of soft drinks that we purchased, I would go into detail about the rest of the items on our grocery list, except I’d just be prefacing every item with “Shaw’s.” And after the many years that my family cut coupons, denied me the .25 cent gumball at the store and ignored the pop marketing ads on TV, I can reasonably say that I don’t believe I missed out on anything spectacular.

In the grand scheme of our checkbooks, I suppose one cent isn’t that important. As humans we tend to be drawn to neat patterns and whole numbers. Whether we’re tipping the waiter at the restaurant or doing groceries, we inevitably round. But when we round for the worst, the aggregate can add up. When gas was $2.50 a gallon we weren’t alarmed. It spiked to $2.80 and still we didn’t seem to be up in arms. $2.82, 2.84. 2.86, 2.88, 2.90, 2.92 and the prices kept soaring to the national average of $4.00 that we see today. Tomorrow it might be $4.02 but how much angrier could we get? We’re just talking pennies right? Pennies that is, that added up and over the course of a year have us wondering what brought about such high gas prices?

Let us for a minute forget about supply and demand, speculation, the wars in the Middle east and just look at things from purely an economic standpoint where everybody from the supplier, manufacturer and gas companies at the pump out of reaction to higher prices all added .02 to their prices all along the chain until it ultimately got passed down to us the consumers. .02 cents multiplied many times over results in unhappy customers and high gas prices. This type of consumer behavior goes beyond butterfly effect theory. It equates to simply mathematics. When millions of people treat each cent as a “throw-away,” over many more millions of purchases, we can rightly assume that money is not being exchanged and in fact taken out of the marketplace.

Maybe one of the reasons why our pennies don’t do anything for us anymore, is because we simply don’t let them. We throw them into a used coffee can, never to redeem them or throw them into a well with a wish. In my 25 years of existence, I have never seen those pennies miraculously turn into dollars. All I ever see is poor people down on their luck and with a penny less. If we only acted as if every penny was valuable then maybe we would value more that was around us. In ten years who knows if inflation will be bad and if we treat the dollar the same as the penny? The way we so nonchalantly spend our money without paying the slightest attention to detail for every cent accounted for, there’s no wonder that governmental spending abuse happens and slips under our nose beyond our knowledge. It might be a stretch to assume that all of our economic woes revert back to a single copper coin but who says it ends there?

I just wish we’d look around and see that some people in this world live off less than a $1 a day. To them, a single penny means a lot to them and adds up in the course of their lifetime. Who are we to just throw it away along with the remainder of our dinner that we don’t want to bother to make leftovers out of.

When it comes to savings and economic advice, I’ll revert back to an old but classic quote. “A penny saved, is a penny earned.”

And these are my .02 cents.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Call Me Josh

There’s always been much to do about titles. Some people enjoy the labels as it gives them some kind of social standing in the world. Over the years, I too have held various titles, none of which I enjoy and all of which make me feel uneasy. I’ve been called Mr., Cadet, Lieutenant, Sir and maybe even a few less appropriate nicknames from my friends. At the end of the day and sometimes right smack in the middle, I just enjoy hearing my actual name with nothing before or after. It might not be sexy, glamorous or give me anything to boost my ego but that’s just fine by me.

My Father used to tell me that the reason why he never told strangers his profession is because he didn’t want them to think that he was somehow putting himself above them. He never got too caught up in what people called him, probably because he has never seen himself other than a regular guy with a job. Whenever he’s called some form of attorney in public, I can see his embarrassment. I know that it’s not because he is ashamed of his profession but because I know as a simple man, he just prefers people to call him “Jim.”

Some families purposefully name their children by titles. In professional sports there’s “Champ” Bailey, “Peerless” Price, “Lawyer” Malloy, Rey (King in Spanish) Sanchez and the list goes on. Perhaps their parents wanted them to be judged and their logic was that if they had a grand title for a name to begin with then they might live with more self confidence and achieve distinction on their own someday. While some may call it chauvinistic and aggrandizing, I’m sure it’s better than the “boy, son or kid,” label that is placed on some minorities by those very people with the fancy titles.

I think we put too much emphasis on titles. We have gotten away from achievement and have based our culture around believing that a title defines who people are and is the pinnacle of success. I’m not suggesting that we should not pay respect of reverence to certain individuals whose life’s accomplishments ought to be respected. I just think that if we looked at one another less as the positions that we hold and more as mortal beings, then maybe we would learn to see each other more as equals.

Two of the most important people in the world go by titles (Pope Benedict and President Bush). Their titles alone almost insinuate that their decisions and actions are above everybody else and that they are infallible in every way. Perhaps if we just looked at them as Joseph and George respectively, then we wouldn’t have such unreasonable expectations and we could accept their mistakes more easily. Granted they hold offices of grand responsibility, but I think we get too caught up in Pope and President that we wrongfully assume that they are working every second of every day or that they are as we envision their title, "perfect."

After all, let's face it, the greatest and most humble man once walked this earth without a title. He didn’t got by Dr, General, President or Reverend. His name was Jesus and that was good enough for him.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Like a Champion

The first section of the newspaper that Earl Warren opened up to in the morning was the Sports. For it was there that he could read all about mankind’s triumphs opposed to the front page which simply highlighted mankind’s failures. Oddly enough, in today’s newspapers it is a tough task to find any “good news,” from either front or back.

Contemporary athletes are under the microscope of the public eye. Little escapes the constant criticisms from fans and media alike. A dropped pass, a missed shot or strike out are always subject to the ubiquitous Monday morning quarterbacks that thrive on the should have/could have/would have/philosophy. Perhaps a better appreciation of today’s modern athlete would be in order if for once, some of the so-called experts’ got out from behind their desks, tried on a pair of sneakers and found themselves in the very arena that President Theodore Roosevelt felt so alive in:

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

President Roosevelt was every bit a failure as he was a champion. As a child he was sickly and teased. It took him almost 20 years to find his niche as a biologist, writer, statesman, soldier and his most fond title of “cowboy.” None of those titles that he so rightfully earned were from the grandstands however. Rather, they were from the front lines in Cuba, the picket lines from the coal strikes and even across party lines as a politician.

I’ve always marveled at professional athletes. I’ve stalked them during batting practice at Fenway in order to get their autographs and collected their cards while attempting to memorize every statistic on the back. As I got older and started to train and understand the level of competition that was around me, I began to appreciate just how much work and dedication goes in before those seven figure checks get cashed. Few of us will ever get a look inside the gym where these high caliber athletes train and aside from the occasional reality show (for which I’m sure there is) the final product on Superbowl Sunday or the World Series might be as good as it gets. And for that I’m grateful.

I don’t get the opportunity to go in and see where you work and how well you do. I don’t stand over your shoulder at a desk making sure that every word that you typed was grammatically correct. I wonder how great of a feeling that might be for say Ken Griffey Jr if he followed one of his harshest critics to work. Nobody’s perfect, and nobody should expect athletes to be either. We expect them to make every shot, sure. But how many of those tough shots do we take in our own life?

This August we’ll have the privilege to watch such competition from some of the finest professional athletes from around the world. For over Four years athletes like Michael Phelps and Tyson Gay have trained year round to represent the US and for that shot at gold. I think they are worthy of our attention.

Two weeks after I left work early and stayed up late to watch every minute of the NBA Finals, I checked the mail to see that my Dad had sent me a bumper sticker of the Boston Celtics and the word “Champion,” in big bold letters. On it he attached a post-it that read “Always carry yourself like a Champion.”

I thought what a model to follow.