Monday, January 09, 2017

Lessons On How To BE A Better Brat



I’ve chosen to believe that being called a brat is an endearing term solely used by the female gender and is quite often accompanied by an unrestrained whack to the shoulder. Apparently I was especially endearing to all 5 women managers I reported to at IBM. But the best brat moments were perpetrated against my peers. I’ll let you judge if the endearing name-calling was appropriate.

The Magic Properties of Silicone
It was while working for Likit (pronounced Like-it by the owners and Lick-it by everyone else) Windows, a small manufacturing company in the SF bay area, that I was exposed to silicone. Used to glaze a window to the aluminum frame, the bead of silicone was devoid of color and when cured had considerable elasticity much like a rubber band. A long bead of the material, held vertically by one end, would stretch and retract under its own weight very much like a string of snot hanging from your nose after a violent sneeze. Recognizing these unique properties, this knowledge was forever engrained in my memory until an appropriate application presented itself.

Ten years later, such an opportunity presented itself while working in a cubicle farm. Margaret insisted on coming to work and sharing her sniffing and hacking virus with everyone within a 12 foot radius of her sneeze infested workspace. Since my cubicle was within the sneeze fly zone, it was only a matter of days before my immune system succumbed to the barrage of airborne attacks. Being that retaliation is not part of my nature, I decided instead to teach her a lesson for the sake of my cubicle buddies. Having created a 2 foot spaghetti-like strand of cured silicone the night before, I gathered the gummy mass in my hand and approached Margaret. No sooner did I began to speak when my head reared back, eyes squinted with hands quickly covering my nose and mouth. Upon expelling a loud Ahh Choo and nodding my head forward, I released all but one end of the long bead of silicone. As the clear, mucus-like bead stretched and bounced from my nose, a quick flip of my hand transferred the seemingly snot-like material onto Margaret’s shoulder. At that moment, I would have preferred stunned silence. I mean, we were all professionals working at a fortune 100 company in a San Francisco high rise. The loud screaming and physical gyrations by Margaret were clearly unexpected. Fearing that her peers would dial 911 and report a 51-50, I quickly removed window glazing from her shoulder, to which see responded by an affectionate whack and name calling.

Excuse Me, Mister
Being a slow learner, Margaret returned the next morning with Kleenex in tote. By mid morning I was exhausted of her sniveling, sneezing, coughing and nose blowing, Accompanying my collection of plants such as Boston fern, devil's ivy and dieffenbachia, was a small spray bottle of water used to lightly mist my cubicle oasis. While Margaret was busy speaking and breathing through her mouth to one of her clients, I decided another lesson was due. Strategically pointing the sprayer in the direction of the nasally tones being emitted from her cubicle, a robust sneezing sound was generated from my side of the cubicle partition while simultaneously giving the spray bottle a good squeeze. The resulting fine mist that settled on her desk caught her in mid-sentence while dialoguing with her client. Margaret bolts up from her chair, yelling “OMG!, OMG! I can’t believe I just got sneezed on!.... Oh, I’m so sorry, I’ll have to call you back”.

Open, Says Me
Some years later, and having matured from spreading simulated nose fluids on to my peers, I preyed on the less technical and somewhat gullible young college graduates. First, the set up. New badge readers had recently been installed to replace the previous model that only read  a magnetic strip on everyone’s ID. The new readers looked the same but were able to read the new badges that had an embedded chip. Instead of swiping, you merely needed to wave the badge in proximity of the reader and the door would unlock. Rollout of the new badges started at headquarters and was slowly working its way to the west coast. Since I had recently relocated back to California, my badge was issued out of my previous reporting location back in New York and had the imbedded chip.

On this particular occasion, dear, sweet, young Cory was carrying the day’s lunch run and with hands full was unable to swipe her badge to gain access to the office. Having set down a tray of drinks and numerous bags, Cory swiped her badge just as I approached while she began the delicate juggling of drinks, bags and bowls while holding the door open with her foot. Being in a helpful mood, I relieved her of some of her load… well at least my part of the lunch, while inquiring why she put everything down just to open the door.
“Don’t you know about the new password feature on the readers?” I asked.
“What are you talking about Erich?”
“Here, close the door and let me show you”
Now it just so happens that the badge clipped to my belt was at the same height as the badge reader, but not visible under my untucked shirt. As I strategically stopped next to the reader, i instructed Cory that she only needed to say the password for the month and the door would unlock.
“Nut aaah. You’re just messing with me. What’s the password? Show me.”
While discreetly brushing by the reader I responded,
“Open sesame” which was followed by the familiar click of the unlocking mechanism.
“No way! Go inside and close the door. I want to try it.”
As soon as the door closed, the persistent “Open Sesame”s began as I gathered a small band of her peers to hear Amy uttering pure nonsense behind the locked doors. Though warmly greeting her when she entered after swiping her card, the aforementioned whack and accusations of being a brat ensued.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

In Memory of Dad




I was Dad’s favorite son. And though I could have been emotionally and psychologically damaged by a first-time father, I choose to believe he actually did a pretty good job. But Dad wouldn’t dream of taking credit for raising a son he was so obviously proud of. He bathed me, and all he loved with endless prayer… prayer for guidance; prayer for safety; prayer for our spouses even before we married; and later, prayer for our grandchildren. His greatest prayer was that we would all grow to love the Lord with all our heart, soul and mind.

It was pretty tough to get into any real trouble knowing Dad was probably praying for me at the moment of temptation. Although Dad never spanked me, he certainly disciplined me. His piercing eyes of disappointment were all it took to turn me into a repentant puddle of blubbering remorse. And it was always followed by a loving hug and verbal confirmation that he still loved me. As a result of Dad’s sensitivity to the way God had wired me, I can honestly say he left no scars on my life, only blessing.


I had the privilege of walking with Dad through one of the most difficult times in his life. I say privilege because I saw first hand how real and comforting God was in his life. Comprehending only to the extent any 7 year old could, I remembered the deep pain in his eyes as he ushered me into the kitchen and told me he would no longer be living in the same house.
But what transpired in the following years characterized his love and devotion to me. Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, Dad would pick me up and take me to his apartment where he would cook up his infamous cabbage with bacon or some other culinary cuisine. Just Dad and me, bachelors eating our meal in front of the TV while watching The 3 Stooges and Hogan’s Heroes.
The weekends were the highlight of the week. Nearly every Saturday was spent exploring the roads and lakes of California, gorging ourselves on milkshakes, rye bread and bbq ribs along the way.

My memories of Dad are numerous, and the list continues to grow. I remember;

- His whistle, his harmonica and his inability to catch fish,

- His love of hymns and singing in church cantatas… even if he did make up words as he sang,

- His ability to machine parts to the 10,000th of an inch that would propel the Space Shuttle to outer space, but cutting a 2x4 never came out to the right length,

- How he knew where every road went in CA, because he’d been on every one,
- His love for flying, His love for his kids, his love for his grandchildren and ham,
- His green thumb for growing orchids
- His ability to pick the ugliest cars on the planet… which was probably a contributing factor in falling in love with Brenda, who owned a Rambler when they began dating
I remember him -
Buying my first Bible, bicycle, fishing pole, helicopter ride, and car,
Teaching me to repair my own car, mow a lawn and play chess,
Buying beach front property at Shelter Cove as an “investment”, but actually just an excuse to drive to the remotest beach in the state of California
The importance of always carrying a pocketknife in order to cut a stick of salami,
And his consistent reminder that he loved me.

Chapter 4, verse 13 in the book of Acts sums up his life well...

"Now as they observed the confidence of John and understood that he was a uneducated and untrained man, they were amazed, and began to recognize him as having been with Jesus."

Thursday, February 07, 2013


How I Lost My Dad
I imagine every person can remember a time in their childhood when they experienced the gut wrenching fear of losing their parents. Perhaps the separation happened in a clothing store walking through deep canyons of clothes or momentarily hiding in the center of a clothes rack lured in by the imaginary secret hideout. It could have been in a busy crowd at Disneyland where the distractions were so mesmerizing that the hand you reach up to hold, that should have been your parents, was actually that of a complete stranger. The reaction is universally the same. A slow comprehension of what just happened followed by an overwhelming flood of emotion that you are alone rushes through your every limb accompanied by paralyzing fear that the severed relationship will never be restored.


Today, I lost my dad. Not a physical misplacement while hiking through the woods or shopping in a big box hardware store, but a very real loss in the fundamental ability to communicate. His Alzheimers has finally taken its toll and has rendered my Dad speechless and unresponsive... which has left me speechless. No more stories of escaping from concentration camps, near capture by the Germans while traveling on a train, or his dad whisked away by the Russians never to be seen again. But I’ll never forget his reason for etching these stories in my memory. They all pointed to God’s faithfulness and providence. No matter what “life” threw at him, Dad rested in the fact that God was in control and all things would work together for his good. Even recently when feeling agitated and restless, scurrying about in his wheelchair with great determination to get... somewhere, the mere mention of the Bible or Christ completely changed his demeanor and seemingly a blanket of peace would envelop him.
I don’t believe Dad has long on this earth, especially since he’s virtually stopped eating, but the sweet memories of him will last long past his presence.



Sunday, August 14, 2011

Roger Flies Home on July 23, 2011

The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, .... For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks - Matt. 6:45

Roger had a BIG heart. And Roger loved to talk. But unlike many of us who like talking about ourselves, the overflow of Roger’s heart caused him to speak of the God he loved and served and about those God placed in his life. Rarely did his speech start with the dreaded “I”. Rather, his conversations consistently spoke of others. “How’s work going Erich? How’s the ministry? How are Jessica and Bryan? How about Valerie and Page? How is Pam doing? You have such great kids." Even if a sentence started with “I”, it would be in reference to a memory he had of someone else or an event. “I remember when you...”

Of all his kids (because that’s how he made his kid's spouses feel, like one of his kids), I was the lone recipient of being questioned about one of our favorite past times... “Have you been flying lately?”

One flight we experienced together was of special significance. It would be his last flight as pilot-in-command. It was a typical severe clear California summer day in the year 2000. We departed Columbia Airport (O22) for a quick hop to Pine Mountain Lake (E45) and back. On the way we flew to Twain Harte and circled the Comfort Cabin, barely visible through the tall pines. After completing the exercise of steep turns, we broke off toward Columbia and Roger began announcing our intentions as we neared the airport. For the 98% of you non-pilots, the world of flying has standard phraseology when communicating with the tower, or in the case of the non-towered Columbia, to advise other aircraft around the airport of our position. The normal advisory would go something like:

“Columbia traffic, Cesnna Skyhawk 5 miles south at four thousand, inbound, Columbia traffic ”


Roger’s overflowing heart could hardly allow him to state such a succinct advisory. Instead, Roger keys the mic and announces:
“Columbia airport, we’re in a rented Skyhawk and just got done flying circles over our cabin in Twain Harte and are on our way back to Columbia”


Entering the traffic pattern at Columbia, the announcement would normally be:


Columbia traffic, Cessna Skyhawk entering the down wind for right traffic,  runway one-seven, Columbia traffic”


Roger’s broadcast:


“Columbia, we’re in a Cessna over the lake and heading for runway 17. The weather is beautiful today. We’re going to cut the traffic pattern a little short”.




And that we did. Instead of flying the conventional rectangular pattern and announcing every leg (downwind, base and final), Roger sharply banks the plane the right in a loop “pattern” and firmly plants the wheels on the runway, and we roll down the runway. And roll. And roll. No sensation of braking, just rolling. Suddenly a 4,670 foot runway doesn’t seem so long anymore when Roger asks “would you like to take over and stop the airplane?”


Now it may come as a surprise to you, but I actually refrained from making any sarcastic remarks like “oh heck no Roger, I’ve always wanted to wrap a prop into a cyclone fence to see if it will cut through and then plummet 500 feet off the edge of this plateau”. Instead, my feet reacted before my mouth and jumped on the brake pedals.


And so ended Roger’s last flight as pilot. His neuropathy hindered his ability to feel his feet and press down on the upper portion of the rudder controls to activate the brakes. Though his days of an octogenarian pilot had ended, his love for flying never did. And now he can fly without an airplane.





Sunday, July 03, 2011

Never Say Never

     I still remember the sweaty, humid summer day in Poughkeepsie, NY. So already I geographically lost 90% of you unless you worked at IBM. It’s a town 80 miles straight up the Hudson River from Manhattan where IBM had a golf course, country club and acres of manufacturing dedicated to its

mainframe computers. However I wasn’t there to play golf or build computers but to attend a Project Management Boot Camp. Appropriately so named for its six-10 hour days on a facility surrounded by high fences, gates and security guards. But then, what does one do with their free time in Poughkeepsie anyway? I digress… back to the humid day. It was lunchtime when I called Ruth from a phone booth (remember those?) and exclaimed to her “I could never live back here with all this humidity”. Four months later we moved to Connecticut, just 40 minutes from the plant site and was worked in New York.
     A few short years later, we made a trip to the SF Bay Area to visit family and friends. Sitting next to Ruth on the return flight to NY, I turned and said to her, “ I could never live back in the bay area.” We had new friends and had grown accustomed to the rural setting of 2 acre parcels, acres of lawn to cut and long driveways to shovel clear of snow. The following summer we moved into a 1,500 sq.ft. house on a 50x100 ft. lot back in the Bay Area.
     Being the astute and quick learner that I am, shortly after completing the project in the Bay Area I announced, “I could never live in Tahoe”. So now we live in Redding.
     I only knew of one more “I’d never” statement lingering in my life. I always admired people who worked for themselves, but I had no desire to take on the 24/7 responsibility. Sure I had long hours at IBM, but when the day was over, it was over. My responsibilities would remain behind the closed door of my home office with rarely a second thought. And now, at an AARP qualifying age, I find myself in partnership with my friend Mark starting a cost reduction consulting practice called
     Funny thing is that every one of my “never” statements has resulted in a significant life change and looking back I wouldn’t exchange the experience for what I thought would've been better. And, though I would never want a Boulton fishing boat (20ft Skiff w/
115 Honda) or a Cirrus SR22 airplane, I'm certainly open to the idea that having them would be better than ever imagined.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Faith of a Dog

Pashuuuush, [pause] pashuuush, [pause] pashuuush. Strange sound, I think to myself groggily. It’s some time between when I fell asleep and when this annoying something-dragging-on-the-carpet sound awakens me. It’s still dark outside and a burglar would hardly be so obnoxious. It must be Ruby. I silently scold her. “Ruby! Lie down. Crazy dog”, believing she must be dragging some part of her body across the carpet. Obedient combined with silence lulls me back to Sleepville.
As it’s been all my life, morning arrives. I stumble out of bed not because I’ve slept off my coordination, but find the area rug from our entry wadded up under my bare feet. Huh? What the.... ahhh. Stupid dog. “Ruby, since when did you start dragging rugs around the house? And why in the middle of the night?” Like a good housekeeper, I return the rug to its rightful place and while walking back to the bedroom, I find Ruby’s dog tag in the hallway. Checking her collar confirms it’s fallen off, but where’s the wire loop that connects the tag to the collar? And then all the pieces of a bizarre night come together. Wrapped up in the carpet loops I find the wire “ring”.
Ruby
While sleeping on the entry rug, my poor dog got her dog tag stuck in the carpet loops. The pulsating, dragging sound was Ruby attempting to walk with the rug dragging from her neck. As she stepped on the rug, her progress would stop but began the process of stretching out the dog tag ring. I have no idea how long it took her to reach her rescuing master in the bedroom, but my compassionate command to lie down coincided with the ring finally falling off and releasing the millstone wrapped around her neck. I was a hero and didn’t even know it.
Consider the following things Jesus said. “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and; "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!

When I get tangled up with the issues of life, why do I insist on dragging it around? My Master is always with me and promises to never leave me. He is my help in time of need. God doesn’t enjoy watching us trying to free ourselves. He already knows we don’t have the strength or ability. Nor does God ever sleep or wonder what’s going on. He’s the best Master ever.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Trench Talk




In an old John Wayne war movie (not really, but any reference to a war movie should include John), a company of soldiers is on a mission to “take the hill”. Progress has been slow but intentional. Gaining ground has not gone without significant loss. Best friends have been injured or even killed in battle, but the men press on with devotion to each other for the freedom they’ve grown to love. Little sleep, c-rations, and stale water from a dented canteen sustain their physical needs. A shower, mattress, pillow or the warmth of an embrace from those they love is but a distant memory. Only gunfire, dust, destruction, and ear-splitting explosions crowd their senses. Their clothes are tattered, skin stained by blood and dirt, and yet they press on. Men fighting shoulder-to-shoulder in order to carry out the mission their Commander designed in the war room.
As the story continues, the enemy retreats and the battle subsides. But worse, all communication from the command post is cut off and the company is left leader-less. With the imminent threat of enemy attack gone and a commander unable to lead his troops, the focus and common goal of “taking the hill” dissipates.
Soon the trench, once regarded as a haven from injury, becomes too confining. Murmuring and complaints begin to emanate from the ditches. The troops are tired of eating out of a can. Complaints of aches, pains and smells weave their way along the trench. Accusations are fired at each other for talking too loud and depriving them of sleep. Tempers explode and suspicions flare… and the enemy gains ground.
So, what changed? How did a company of soldiers, under threat of life and miserable conditions move from shoulder-to-shoulder camaraderie to a nest of finger-pointing, blame-shifting complainers?
No doubt those in the trench with authority, such as a Field Sergeant, would address the troops’ behavior with stern commands to stop complaining. Perhaps he would be creative and address the “issues” of bathing or eating out of a can in hopes of eliminating the morale-busting trench talk. But why weren’t these issues in the heat of battle? What changed?

Vision and leadership. 

A glimpse of where you’re going and someone to take you there. What the troops needed was a Commander to point to a hill and give them a reason to go. They needed communication from a General who strategizes with his specialists and makes difficult decisions knowing there will be causalities.

This last week, I was the Field Sergeant. Lord, grant me wisdom and insight to be a better leader.