How To Win Friends And Influence People

There are 4 ways, it seems to me, to reliably acquire influence.

First – and most obviously, money. If you’ve got a Drumpfworth of bling then everybody will laugh at your jokes.

Second is celebrity – even if you don’t have enough cash in your wallet for the fancy bacon at the co-op, if the groupie behind the deli counter remembers your guest spot on Columbo, you might just get it for free.

The third is power, which could almost be considered “Money: Subheading- Power.” Except the garbage man doesn’t have any money, but an angry garbage man can make your driveway just as messy as a happy garbage man can keep it tidy. Thus, power.

The fourth is the most elusive, yet the most democratic of all: charm. If you don’t believe me, talk to the Shamwow Guy.

shamwow guy

Now, it’s obvious to anyone who looks at my page visits that I am not possessed of celebrity. And it is likewise obvious to anyone who looks at my pants that I am not possessed of money.

Power I may possess in certain spheres (if you want your tray of fake pies to be ready for your entrance in Act 2, then hail to the king, baby)

But I have asked strangers for money. If you’ve ever tried to produce theater, you either develop the ability to talk people into things or you get threats of legal action from US Bank.

Or both, in my case.

It’s a skill, is what I’m saying, Charm. Any schmuck who cares to can learn to be charming. And I am indeed a schmuck of passing adequacy. In theater lobbies, at opening and closing night parties, at small-time schmoozefests of all shapes and sizes I learned to quip, to listen actively, to empathize, commiserate, reference Kardashians when appropriate, and generally give the impression that I am interesting.

And so, with this particular skill in my social toolbox did I wake up one day last year in the looming shadow of Public Education. My son was going into public school, my precious, sweet, kind, little weirdo was fated to enter the conformity factory that gave us “The Wall” and “The Basketball Diaries” and the endless angst buffet that made The Cure all their money.

And I know that letting the world beat him up is part of this whole “parenting” thing I’m supposed to be doing. But dear reader, homie don’t play.

So absent money, power, or celebrity, the only way open for my handsome self to try to take a few slings and arrows for the Little Man was to charm these Nurse Ratchit bastards. And so when the (digital) call went out for volunteers I signed up for a shift. Hell, I signed up for 2. Can I do more than two? How many you guys need?

I was going inside. I was going deep cover. By month two I was determined to have the inside scoop on this place. I was going to know them, and they were going to know me. But not only that, those bastards were going to love me. If there was something going on with the Little Dude, I was going to know about it before the teacher did.

Parenthood teaches you that it’s a rare thing for a plan to proceed as you envisioned it. Hell, life teaches you that. Try to make a killer marinara sauce and you’re bound to find yourself schooled. But me? I did it. I found that unicorn, folks, and I rode it to the burrito store. I am a fixture at our district elementary school. The principal is always happy to see me, the front office secretary is always happy to see me, the floating educational aides and I have inside jokes. Boom. Call me Donnie Brasco.

There were two things that didn’t go as planned, though. The first was the school itself. I was going in thinking something along the lines of “Lean On Me” set in Soviet Russia (okay, not really, but kinda really – I’ve been out of school for a long time), but the school is amazing. It totally blew us away – it’s open and creative and supportive and everything you want a school to be. It’s like if Mr. Rogers and Elrond got together and started a school, this would be it.

And I’ll share a trick about the skill of charming – it doesn’t work if you don’t mean it. I’ve had to focus my psychic schmooze-beams at people who gave me nothing back, and let me tell you, that can’t be kept up for long. What I found with the folks at school was that I genuinely connected with a lot of them. Not only are they educated, kind and interesting people, but they also totally get my Little Man.

My little guy’s weird and unique and they get him. His teacher appreciates him like we do, with all his mannerisms and eccentricities and he has thrived. And nothing will endear you to me faster, dear reader, than if you’re on my dude’s frequency.

The other surprise – I’m totally hooked on this volunteer thing. I lurv it. One of my roles is to help out at Kindergarten lunch, and I come with a level of schtick only a theater professional can provide. I talk into bananas like they’re phones, I try to open fruit cups with karate chops, spoons are forks, forks are napkins, I tell ya. All the Dad Jokes get turned up to 11 when I’m on duty. And it is the highlight of my week.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to pretend this yogurt tube is a trombone.

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I Will Play For You The Song Of My People

It’s a big world out there. Especially when you’re 3-foot-nothing and 40 lbs. The living room alone, which can seem airless and coffin-like to me in the depths of a polar vortex, must seem an endless savannah of ikea rugs and outsider chic to persons of the toddler variety.

And that’s just speaking geographically. To say nothing at all of the landscape of the mind. The verdant, chimeric plains of adjectives, the deep fertile valleys of irony. It’s enough to make a rapidly-growing head spin.

I’d hope that the parental filter keeps it all somewhat manageable, though. No parent, of course, can have total control over what a little Man is exposed to -no parent who rides the 21 bus, at least. But generally when some new phrase interest or dance maneuver enters the scene we can source it with reasonable accuracy.

Or at least, we once could.

The other day, as I was about to leave for work I asked Little Man if he would, as is our usual routine, give me a goodbye tickle.

Not interested.

How bout a hug and a kiss? A papa can hope, after all.

Nope.

I should have expected the brush off anyway, as The Dude was into a project at the time. He had his triangle out of the musical instrument basket and was clanging away with the science and art only tiny hands can manage.

What I couldn’t have expected, however, was when he told me that he was, in fact, playing a goodbye rhythm for me.

His words. Goodbye rhythm.

I have no freaking idea where that came from.

I’ll take it though.

midget-triangle

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Don’t Wake Me Up Before You Go Go. Just Go Go.

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Fyodor Dostoyevsky once said that man is an animal that can become accustomed to anything.

But who listens to that guy? His books don’t even have any dragons in them. Anything adapted into an HBO series there, Fido? Didn’t think so.

Take me, for example. Most of my life I’ve been a man for whom mornings were a concept. Much like the gut bacteria breaking down food in my intestine – certainly necessary for the day to day, but a process of which I needed no direct knowledge.

I chose my major in college in no small part because there were no classes before 10am. I certainly didn’t pursue a career in theater thinking I’d have to be anywhere before noon. And it worked out great for me. Those were, as they say, the salad days.

Maybe there’s a toddler out there who could get behind that kind of schedule, but he don’t live in my house.

Once naps ended and sleep settled into a pretty regular rhythm, little man was out for the count around 8pm (give or take) and rocking and rolling come 6 in the morning. And whether it’s a body slam, belly slap or tiny knees in my back, papa is roused at the same time as everybody else.

Now, in fairness, I usually can grab a quick nap after mama and little man get set up with videos and/or breakfast and get a second wake up maneuver around 8ish. But this is not the point.

The point is that I love my lady, and I love my son, and I treasure the time I get with them as he grows so quickly and childhood will end long before I’m ready.

However.

I’ve been waking up at 6am for over 4 years now. And in that time I’ve grown accustomed to all sorts of unpleasant things: regularly handling another person’s urine and feces, perpetual joint pain, listening to wheels on the bus for hours at a time. I’m cool with all of this.

But I’ve been waking up at 6am. Almost every day. And I f#!*ing hate it.

But it’s just the waking up, is the thing. I’ve even grown to like mornings. But the transition, the throwing off the blankets and accepting that this is reality, not that place where I’m half-Japanese, half-Klingon. Doesn’t matter how many times I do it, I just can’t get used to it.

I have not grown accustomed to this, Mr. Dostoyevsky.

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Death Does Not Wait For You To Be Ready

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There’s a scene in Batman Begins where Bruce Wayne, living as a criminal in vaguest Asia, learns of the League of Shadows, and has to climb a mountain to find the secret temple where they train. He gets there and Liam Neeson asks him if he’s ready to begin. Bruce Wayne responds “I can barely stand.” Then Liam wallops him with a stick and says “Death does not wait for you to be ready!”

Liam’s been walloping on me a bit lately.

See, I fancy myself a writer, such as it is. And all writing is, arguably, storytelling of one sort or another. I’m fascinated by stories, the mechanics of them: pacing, escalation, the causal glue that holds the beats together. I love the themes, the way a story can resonate with you.

Another person who, I’m discovering, loves stories is the Little Man.

It started so casually, as all these things do. Snuggled in bed, Mama would tell him stories about when he was born, and he’d listen, then roll over and sleep. Then they’re read a book, and when it was done he’d ask what happened to the characters afterwards. Now, if we’re walking somewhere he wants a story. If we’re in the car he wants a story. If we’re eating at the table he wants a story.

The demand is relentless. Stories, like death, do not wait for you to be ready.

But it’s good. It’s a good problem to have. Every ninja starts as a white belt. I’m trying to view this as training – I used to think writing a blog a week was relentless and unforgiving. Then I thought writing 2 blogs a week was relentless and unforgiving. If I can survive stories on demand, 5-8 times a day, 7 days a week, then in a few months I should be writing all my young adult supernatural soft-core erotic novels during my bus commute.

The series will be titled You Only Live Forever. Or hashtag-YOLF.

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Faster Faster

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I don’t know the last time Little Man fell asleep on my chest. I didn’t know it when it happened. You only realize well after the fact that he’s done taking naps on you, and bu then, lacking a complete record or a complete set of brain cells that last, precious moment is lost to the mists of somewhere between “the other day” and “earlier that year.”

I wrote a post a while back about this very phenomenon, how parenthood is filled with these unremarked finales, no way to see them coming, so you can’t prepare any goody bags or piñatas in commemoration.

The flip side, of course, are the first times.

These are awesome, these you do see coming. First bike, first bacon, first Boba Fett mask: these are all worth a quality digital camera and a slide show set to Paul Simon.

And he may win the Tour De France (and if he masterminds a doping syndicate to do so, though I’ll frown on his ethical choices, I’d have to admire his organizational skills). It could happen. He certainly was, and continues to be excited about his bike.

That’s the thing – you expose him to everything you can (except those CGI re-release monstrosities of the original trilogy) and he likes what he likes. But you never know if some lasting spark’s been ignited.

But sometimes you do.

Once in a great, great while a parent is given the indescribable honor of introducing their Little Man to what will grow into a lifelong passion. And you can see it right away.

Little Man had his first trip to the MN State Fair this year. For those not hip, the Fair’s a big deal around here. The Twin Cities pretty much shut down like willpower in a donut shop for 12 days while we all look at butter sculpture and giant pumpkins and eat delicious things that have no business being deep fried and skewered.

No business, and yet we have mac & cheese on a stick.

Tractors and Llama parades and Journey plays on Monday – there’s all this and then there’s the midway. On Wednesday, the Dude met rollercoasters. Life will never be the same.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise, really. Nothing moves fast enough for the Man, he will, not infrequently, run in circles or ask to be spun around or otherwise seek out forces centrifugal. It makes perfect sense.

But there’s no equation nor base explanation for the utter magic when he lights up after his first ride, for how he talks about it now. There’s only the epiphany that this is an activity he will relish and treasure for as long as he is physically able. This will be what he can’t wait to share with his child.

And I was there at the beginning.

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Ferguson

I’ve been working on a post all week about Ferguson, Missouri, and the events that have happened there. I’ve started it at least 3 times, but it’s never felt right.

Part of it is that…I’m white. I’m whiter than Riverdance. And though I do believe that the injustice, the blatant racism, and the disproportionately violent response by the police – these are all American problems. Deep, deep problems that affect anyone of any color in the USA, and thus my pale and pasty reactions and thoughts on the matter are still valid.

And yet.

I really feel like white people have been heard on this. I feel like our perspective has been represented. This is another situation in which one of the best things I can do, as a citizen and human watching this all happen, is to listen. Just listen and try to empathize.

There’s a piece I’ve read that spoke to me as a parent, called “Dear White Moms”

But as important as it is to listen, I can’t watch everything happen, hear and read the reports and just go back to business as usual. There may not be police in military vehicles on my streets, but to think that anything will be the same in this country is naive at best.

I  have to do something. We all have to do something. Here’s a place to start.

Don’t stand by. This matters. This will not go away.

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Fantastic Four

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By the time this goes up my Little Man will be four years old. Or nearly so. Whatever cocoon we may have been in is breaking away, as walking and running and jumping are all old hat. Conversation becomes clear and incredible. The world awaits.

As the tantrums become less frequent and diapers begin to go the way of the dinosaur, I begin to see him not just as my child, but also as a person in the world who just happens to be hanging with me for a while. And fighting with you over curious George videos.

Such transitions figure largely in my sorta-annual summary of lessons.

Lessons I’ve Learned From My Son at Year Four:

-Urine? Meh. So 6 months ago.

-Osmosis goes both ways: you’re picking up their mannerisms as much as they’re picking up yours.

-Lights, escalators, shapes and colors all fade from interest as bicycles and dress up really take off. But trains? Trains are forever.

-Up until now your main concern has been how your own incompetence will mess up your kid. Now you truly begin to worry what the incompetence of the world at large will to do him.

-Kindergarten. Bejaysus.

-Anything you don’t want his “help” with must be done when he’s asleep. Everything else will be assisted.

-Nothing on the counters will ever be safe again.

-Picking up and snuggling now must be cleared ahead of time.

 

Until next time, I remain,

well behind the rest of the class.

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