Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Your 2009 Cleveland Browns...

Having burned the first two minutes of the fourth quarter on three incomplete passes and a shanked punt, Browns QB Brady Quinn trudged to the sidelines and stood next to a grinning Derek Anderson.

While they were only losing to Denver by two scores, for everyone who’d been paying attention throughout the afternoon, the game was seemingly out of reach.

With a sneer plastered across his face, his orange ball cap placed backwards upon his head, backup QB Derek Anderson leaned toward the crestfallen Quinn and mumbled, “Man...dude, you suck.”

Scowling, Brady glared at Derek and replied, “Shut up, you suck.”

“No really,” Anderson said. “You suck.”

“Whatever. You suck.”

“Trust me, dude...you suck.”

As the argument before them intensified, over on the metal bench a few feet behind the quarreling gunslingers, backup center Hank Fraley elbowed his successor, Alex Mack and said, “Hey rook, three more bad snaps? Dude, you suck.”

Mack huffed and said, “What? Shut up. You suck.”

“No way man. You suck.”

“Listen you old bum...you suck!”

“Five bad snaps in two games? Dude, you suck.”

“Whatever. You suck.”

Their conversation suddenly halted as they both looked up and watched as Denver running back Correll Buckhalter rambled past them en route to a fifty yard touchdown.

Minutes later, backup cornerback Hank Poteat brushed up against Brandon McDonald and said, “Can’t believe you missed another tackle. Dude, you suck.”

Brandon turned angrily toward his backup and stated, “Like you coulda done better. You suck.”

“You’d be cut from any other team in the league,” Poteat fired back. “Trust me, you suck.”

“Shut up, punk. You suck!”

“No. You suck.”

McDonald clenched a fist. “No, you suck!”

While ambling along the tarmac in front of the first row of bleachers, the Cleveland Browns mascot, a giant bulldog with a head the size of a small hot-air balloon, was approached by Denver’s mascot, a massive two-legged stallion, who pointed at the hound and hollered, “Dude, you guys suck!”

Already in a foul state of mind, the bulldog raised his paw in order to flip the Bronco mascot the bird, when he suddenly realized that his paw only had four fingers and was missing the one he needed.

Three levels up, in the radio booth, color commentator Doug Dieken released a weary sigh as their broadcast went to commercial. He pulled his cell phone from a coat pocket and without looking, dialed a familiar number.


“Bernie?” Dieken asked into the mouth piece.

“You called me, dumbass...who you think it be, Tim Couch?”

Ignoring the comment, Dieken asked, “Are you watching this mess?”

“Thaaaay frunking sluck!”



“You said sluck.”

“Did not.”

“Did too.”

“Did not.”

“Sober up, Bernie.”

“Shaadup, you ass–“

Dieken hit the end button on his phone, dropped it back into his pocket, and began watching the glass-encased luxury box next to theirs. Browns owner Randy Lerner was in the process of jabbing an accusatory finger into the crimson face of General Manager George Kokinis, and even from where he sat, Doug could clearly make out the short comment spat into George’s face from the distraught, majority owner.
“You suck!”

Doug Dieken turned back to the field as the game continued, and his obnoxious radio partner, Jim Donovan asked him where the team should go from here.

After a moment of silence, the former Browns lineman shrugged his shoulders and said, “I don’t know. We suck.”

Blushing, Jim leaned toward Dieken and whispered, “You can’t say that on the air, dumbass!”

Doug turned to Jim angrily, grabbed his partner in a choke hold and said, “Who the hell cares? No one’s listening any more anyway! And you suck too!”

Friday, September 18, 2009

Quote of the Week

"I've failed over and over and over again...and that is why I succeed..."

Michael Jordan

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


...I penned the following roughly a year ago under a different name. It's a piece I sometimes refer to whenever in need of inspiration. With revisions nearly complete, a simple idea growing wings and preparing for launch, I felt it appropriate to re-publish something near and dear...something I'll never forget.


Throughout the daily grind of time cards and babysitters, of pointless production meetings and forced overtime, we are surrounded by signs.

Small hints suggesting of a better life, floating about at eye level, or sometimes just out of the corner of one's peripheral vision, waiting to be discovered...yearning to be grasped by it's beneficiary...and boasting of the power to change everything.

Maybe it's the eery silhouette formed from that shock of sunlight through the passenger window upon the dashboard during a morning commute.

Perhaps it's a word spoken from the mouth of a complete stranger during lunch hour at a nearby table.

Something small. Something inadvertent. Something no one else would notice. For that's the beauty of it. Signs are only to be recognized for what they are by those who can see them. For those who can focus their attention at just the right moment...and see the sign. A sliver of light piercing through that somber tunnel of indifference.

Signs. They're out there. All around us. Waiting...

During the final leg of our family vacation to the Gulf Coast, we made a stop at my Great-Aunt's home a few miles north of Sarasota. I'd promised her nearly twenty years earlier that if I ever found myself aimlessly wondering the southern coasts, I'd make a point to drop by. A wife and three kids later...I kept my promise.

A short visit became an early dinner as we gathered around her dining room table and spoke of days long past. My "favorite aunt" carries with her a youthful spunk for her age, which I've always admired. And much like my late grandfather of the same family, when she speaks, people listen.

At some point during the afternoon I found myself rummaging through her collection of novels on a book shelf in her living room. Call it a nosy habit. I take interest in seeing what people are reading.

Not realizing that my aunt was standing next to me, I gave a start when she leaned in and pulled a book from the shelf just under my line of sight. She placed it into my hands and said, "See what you think of this one."

"Levi's Will," I mumbled. I studied the cover...two Amish boys walking toward a distant sunset. At first glance it didn't appear to be something I'd normally take an interest in. Then my aunt, in that calm tone of voice I'd grown accustomed to hearing over the years, mentioned something that caused me to catch my breath.

"It's a pretty good read," she said. "And we're related to the writer."

"What?" I stammered.

Noticing my sudden interest, she smiled and continued. "It's about two Amish boys who run away from home. One comes back..." She hesitated for a moment, then said, "But one never does. Not for a very long time anyway."

"W. Dale Cramer," I read the author's name aloud. "Is it a true story?"

"Kind of," my aunt said. "I can still remember when it happened. Quite a few years ago. You'll have to read it and see what you think."

I made it a priority and read "Levi's Will" as soon as we returned home.

It wasn't the type of novel I normally read. And yet, it turned out to be one of the best stories I'd come across in a long time.

Based on the life of Will Mullett, an Amish teenager who decides to run away from home, or more appropriately, the iron-fisted lifestyle of his father, Levi. His younger brother Tobe accompanies him as far south as Florida, before eventually returning home. Will Mullet never does.

The story, based on true events, chronicles the life of an Amish boy from Apple Creek, Ohio, who finds himself starting a new life practically a million miles from anything resembling his kind of normalcy.

Places like Carr Road, Millersburg, and even Winesburg become major backdrops to the plot when, after many years away, and having made a new life for himself, Will finds that he's yearning to return home.

A chill ran up my spine as I read of a scene which takes place in a restaurant in Winesburg, Ohio between Will and his son towards the end of the story. The small town of Winesburg only had one restaurant back in those days. The funny thing is, as a boy I spent a good deal of time in that very diner. In the kitchen to be exact. I'd become good friends with the owner's son, a boy of my own age, and together we'd take it upon ourselves to sneak into the kitchen after school and loot the shelves for french fries and sodas. To read of that very restaurant out of the pages of a book written by someone distantly related to me was quite the experience.

Upon finishing the novel, I found Mr. Cramer's website and on a glimmer of hope, decided to write him a letter. I really wasn't sure what I was expecting in return for my efforts. I've corresponded with other writers over the years...Steve Alten, J.D. Rhoades, Tess Gerritsen to name a few, and some have been most gracious in responding. Others however, have decided that personally responding to their fan mail is far beneath them, despite the fact that we're the reason why they've found success in the first place.

I spoke of our possibly being related, with a brief history from my side of the family. Of my roots from Carr Road, and my passion to one day make a living as a writer, like he's already achieved.

It took him one day to respond.

W. Dale Cramer lives in Georgia. He successfully published his first novel after completing an online writer's course and realizing that he may have discovered something about himself.

He never went to college. He instead married his highschool sweetheart and together are currently raising their children. He spent many years as a common laborer before at last realizing his dream of becoming a novelist.

The letter he sent me corroborated my aunt's claim. In his home in Georgia he has a geneology book of his family dating back many generations. He not only found my family's branch, he found my father, born in 1953, and he found me, a dangling twig somewhere on the far reaches of the ever thickening tree.

He revealed the names of several of the actual family members who later inspired
the making of "Levi's Will." And he also admitted that Will, the story's main character, is based on his father.

Dale Cramer ended the letter with a few words of support. "If it's a story based on the Amish cultures in Holmes and Wayne Counties...and you can get it finished...you've got a great shot at getting it published."

I've saved the letter in my email.

...had I not nosed around in my aunt's book shelf that day, I may have never known that I was actually related to a well-known writer.

...had my wonderful aunt not placed "Levi's Will" into my hands on that balmy afternoon in Florida, I never would've later written a letter to W.Dale Cramer.

...had I not read of Mr. Cramer's own struggles, only to later reach his dream, along with his final inspirational passage, my own impatience at achieving success may have one day gotten the better of me.


Okay...I can take a hint.

I'll keep on typing...

Friday, September 4, 2009

Companies Getting Fat on "Lean"

Stress carries with it a scent. Drying sweat. Sour breath, which can be attributed to the amount of heavy breathing as the heart quickens it’s pace. A thin layer of tension, like cigarette smoke hovering several inches above eye level. Lingering.

We could all smell it as we entered the central meeting room at work. See it in the somber faces of the office personnel, already seated on either side of our manager. Even before a word had been spoken, the members of my department, our numbers thinned dramatically over the past month, knew we were about to hear of our employer’s economic decisions, his “vision of the future,” of our company.

The overhead lighting had been dimmed. The air stuffy. The smell of tension embracing us as we took our seats around the U-shaped table.

We’d heard the rumors. A re-shaping of our company in order to survive our dwindling market base. Changing our way of thinking. Getting “Lean.” A phrase I’d been hearing a lot recently. On the news. In the papers. Even once out of President Obama’s mouth during one of his inspirational speeches.

We’d spoken amongst ourselves on the shop floor. Many of us had been witness to the mass firings of our fellow employees. The managers escorting a disgruntled worker, his or her face flushed, some angry, others in shock, some merely shrugging their shoulders and feigning a kind of mischievous rebellion, while their insides quaked as they headed for the exit. There appeared to be no rhyme or reason to whom was chosen to be excused from employment. We had no choice but to clock in and wait. To see if one of us would be next. If we were on that list. Like shooting fish in a barrel.

Our department manager rose from his chair, his face stern, failing to make eye contact with any of us. He was tall and broad-shouldered. His silver crew cut resembled that of an army cadet and personified an intimidating demeanor. He preferred looking down on us. His subordinates.

I watched his jaw muscles flex as he angrily chewed on a piece of gum. Like in every other task he’d supervised at the work place, he couldn’t simply enjoy a stick of sugarless Spearmint. He attacked it like a ravenous cougar upon an unsuspecting antelope. His temples pulsated as he chewed, like a second heart beat. He was always chewing gum. I figured him for an ex smoker, still haunted by the craving.

He folded his arms over his chest and elected to spare us of any small talk before laying down the terms of our new company structure. After all, we were on the clock and the machines on the shop floor were quiet. Quiet machines meant zero production which is unacceptable.

“We are re-structuring the company,” our manager began, eyes focused on a shadowy wall which couldn’t glare back. “Those of you in this room have been chosen as the employees we want for the new face of our company. It’s time for change in order to survive. Time to get Lean.”

I listened as our manager spelled out our fate. They’d decided to follow in the steps of Toyota, the founders of the concept of “Lean,”originally called The Toyota Production System.

Our inventory would be shrunk down to within days of current need. Schedules would be tighter, a level of stress pulled a bit more taut. However the money pocketed from the lack of idly sitting inventory made everything worth the challenge.

Then the bad news.

Our company was shrinking from a three shift operation to two, in order to consolidate what was left of our workforce, and to allow them to shut down the facility at night in order to save energy. As a result, my crew had been chosen to begin operations on what had been termed “The Toyota Shift.” A ten hour work day, lasting Monday thru Thursday. We would be given a three day weekend. However, the hours spent at work would begin in the early afternoon, and last until the wee hours of night.

I glanced around the meeting room, watching as the realization of what we’d just been told, began sinking in with my co-workers. Those of us who were married, who’s wives also had jobs, would no longer get to see them throughout the week. And worse yet, those of us who had children in school, would literally never see them until they hopped off the bus on Friday afternoon. The Toyota Shift.

Jaws were held open. Fists were clenched. The smell of stress intensified. Then we realized that our manager hadn’t stopped talking. There was more to come.

“You will no longer have a paid lunch,” he continued without pause. Not allowing for any rebuttal. Refusing to give any of us a chance at allowing the news to sink in. “Therefore, your shift will actually be clocked as ten and a half hours, with thirty minutes deducted automatically. That being said however, you will not be allowed to leave the premises for lunch. Anyone caught leaving the property during their shift will be released from employment.”

“That’s not even legal,” one of my co-workers spoke up, his face the color of crimson, his hands closed into fisted clubs.

“Of course it is,” our manager scoffed. “Don’t be silly.” He smothered a grin with his palm before continuing. “This is all part of the ‘Lean’ process. Teamwork and continuous flow. Everyone working together while building a stronger future for this company.”

He then grew quiet, noticing the hostile expressions painted across every face in the room. A scowl formed as he said, “You should just be happy you even have a job.”

Moments later our manager hastily excused himself, mumbling something under his breath about wanting to catch the first inning of his son’s baseball game. The room fell quiet, it’s occupants seething.

The following Monday, families were left behind, hobbies and other interests were shoved away into hallway closets or an empty corner in an upstairs attic, as my fellow co-workers and I clocked in on The Toyota Shift.

By Wednesday, an elderly lady from a neighboring department was fired for using her cell phone on the shop floor. She’d been calling home to check in on her teenage daughter who now had to fend for herself.

Weeks crawled by like slugs over wet pavement. Then months. Business eventually picked up. Orders increased. The demand for supply steadily grew.

Many of us were asked to start working five days instead of four. We refused, choosing our families over an offer of overtime pay.

Management shrugged their shoulders toward our unwillingness to cooperate and re-structured our work schedule, forcing us to work a fifth day. What was left of my home life had been cut even thinner. I’d lost another day with my kids.

A young father of two, struggling to make ends meet, slipped and fell on a grease spill back in Assembly one night. He twisted his lower back and was forced to go on light duty employment for three weeks. Upon his return to the assembly line almost a month later, he was released from employment less than an hour into his shift, informed that his duties were no longer needed. He was never replaced on the assembly line. Everyone else simply had to move a little faster to make up for the loss.

And the profits grew. The concept of “Lean” was working. At least for them.

During our company’s annual Christmas shutdown week, common normalcy throughout years past was for employees to use forty hours worth of vacation time in order to cover their finances during the downtime. This year more than half the work force chose instead to apply for unemployment, thus saving their precious earned time off for school events, youth athletics, and family outings.

Blindsided by the turn of events, and calculating the high amount of vacation time about to be spent by it’s disgruntled employees over the upcoming summer, company executives huddled together at some point between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day, and decided on a plan of action.

We returned to work the following week and discovered that a new policy had been put in place during our absence. A vacation schedule. Each production employee was given a specific week in order to exercise our vacation time. We were no longer able to use our earned time off as we deemed it necessary. It would now be determined for us, by aging executives lounging behind mahogany desks who didn’t know us by our faces, but rather our clock numbers. Who’d never met any of our families and never would. Yet they wielded the power to control our lives with iron-clad amendments and harsh bureaucracy. Families were shoved further away as the company’s needs hissed for still more.

In time my co-workers resembled zombies. Faces pale. Expressions vacant. Walking like robots from one department to another, heads tilted forward, eyes staring outward but seeing nothing. For there was nothing to see. I knew this because I was a zombie too.

We’d arrive home from work to a darkened home. To a family asleep. We’d awaken the following morning to an empty home. To a family already gone for the day.

In early Summer of the following year, I was granted a rare treat when my oldest son had a Saturday evening baseball game to which I could actually attend without needing approval from my employer.

He played well, but the team lost. Too many errors cost them the game in the closing moments of the final inning. Considering how I’d coached the team the year prior, before “Lean” came into effect, I was saddened at how my son’s ball team had seemed to regress with the new coaching staff who’d taken my place.

I struck up a conversation with my replacement following the game, hoping to maybe offer some advice on coaching technique or anything else he was in need of. Minutes passed and we grew comfortable with each other.

He revealed to me that he’d been laid off from his job months earlier. How his family had been living on unemployment since before Christmas. He then informed me of how he’d been able to earn a grant which he was using to go back to school.

Sacrifices had been made. Trading down on the family car. Shopping at Aldi’s instead of Wal-Mart. A cheaper cell phone plan. A cheaper everything.

Then a smile creased his lips as he spoke of a Summer spent at home. Late night walks with his wife. Baseball practice every other day with his son and the team. Taking up an old hobby of building model trains in the shed behind the house. A Summer he’d remember.

“But hey,” he said, clapping a hand upon my shoulder. “You’re one of the lucky ones. At least you still have a job.”

I released a sigh while nodding my head, my eyes falling to the dusty ball diamond under my feet.

The following week, another employee was fired for using his cell phone at work. Calling home to his wife.

A month later our lead electrician handed in his two week notice. He’d accepted a position at the local hardware store. Customer service. An eight dollar an hour pay cut in salary. And yet, I’d never seen him so happy.

It was a chilly day in early October. One of those “Indian Summer” afternoons with an endless dazzle of sunshine, minus the grinding humidity of August. I had just backed out of my driveway and was sitting in my car staring up at the only stop light in town.

On my way to work.

On the other side of the square and across the alley from the country store, I caught sight of two people shooting baskets on the court at the town park. I watched the basketball bouncing from a father to his son, the sound of leather meeting pavement coming shortly after. Then I recognized him. My son’s baseball coach. Shooting baskets with his boy after school.

I turned my head and stared at the yellow school bus looming before me on the other side of the square. Waiting for the light to turn green, so that it could pass me by and drop off my kids at home.

I hadn’t seen them in four days.

I slowly turned back to the boy and his father at the park.

The light turned green. The bus passed me by. My foot lifted from the brake, then hesitated. Awaiting further instructions.

From behind me the sound of a car horn alerted my attention. Just a tap. In another moment I’d surely hear another.

In my rear view mirror I could see that the bus had stopped at my driveway. The angle was too sharp to see my kids step off and bound across the street. I’d missed them again.

I waited a moment longer, thinking what if...

Then my foot eased onto the accelerator, my car rolling forward through the intersection.

I shook my head, holding up blinders over those troubling thoughts.

“Need to be thankful I even have a job,” I mumbled to myself.

Well, shouldn’t I?