The Tale Of The Multiplying Shoes, Part 2

Nearly two months have passed. In that time I can report two things have happened. For starters I did contact ASICS (on or shortly after January 26th) and let them know that I had received a pair of running shoes that, while I initially wanted and ordered, never received. I explained the whole apparent mix-up with the shoes being listed as out of stock in their system so we canceled the order and got a refund. Then I explained how I got the shoes in the mail even after cancelling the order. The customer service representative to whom I spoke was very apologetic about the whole ordeal. She explained that since it was an error on their end, that I’d be able to keep the shoes at no charge. This was great news. She did tell me that she’d have to get official word from her supervisor and get back to me.

And that’s the last I heard from ASICS which is the second thing I can report. No calls, no emails. Nothing. Again that was nearly two months ago. I think I’ve done what any honest consumer would have been expected to do. I also have no illusions about the relative unimportance of my mystery shoes in the grand scheme of things for this multinational company. But I thought I’d at least get a form letter from them that wrapped up everything. If something like that were going to happen, I think it would have happened by now.

What have I learned from this experience? Doing the right thing is its own reward. Also, I’m still a loyal ASICS shoe wearer.

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The Tale Of The Multiplying Shoes

There had to be a reason I always had such trouble finding shoes, the right shoes that met the unique requirements of my dear feet. I can’t see anyone doing this to me on purpose. Frustrating an eighth-grade boy by giving him size 13 feet when most shoe stores carried up to size 11, 12 if he were lucky. Forcing him to shop at the men’s big and tall shops for shoes that were far from being in line with what the other kids with normal feet wore. My abnormal feet and I have been on quite a journey since then. In-grown toenails, a bunion removal, and countless bouts with ill-fitting foot ware. The one thing about my happy feet I have not been able to change is my Morton’s Toe. Both feet have been blessed with having second toes that are close to a quarter-inch longer than the big toes. Oh lucky me! This crazy foot construction blessing has meant that, when it comes to finding running shoes now, I have to buy one size larger to allow for foot dynamics on the trail. So instead of size 15s, I have to go with size 16 running shoes. Piece of cake right? More like mission: impossible!

For the past several years ASICS has been my go-to brand for running shoes. They carry shoes in my size — I guess because there are more of us blessed big-footers in the world — and they make, in my humble and non-professional opinion, a well constructed shoe. Let’s get something straight: this is not a commercial for ASICS running shoes. In fact, they are about to take some lumps.

My faithful road warriors. May you rest in peace in running shoe heaven.

Out with the old. My faithful road warriors. May you rest in peace in running shoe heaven.

Megan, my girlfriend, offered to gift me with a pair of new ASICS. It was time. My current pair have seen a lot of miles which definitely show. We had a good run together (sorry about the pun!) and it’s time to send them off to running shoe heaven. So I scoured the internet — maybe more like lightly scrubbed it — to find what would become my next pair of trail companions. And, as if it were meant to be, I found them on the ASICS web site. The Gel-Fluxes. They were the right size, the right width, right for my pronation style — for the record I’m an underpronator — and the price was right. Just under 60 bucks. That was about 40% off the original price. Quite a bargain for a brand of shoes that tends to be a bit pricey. Megan placed the order. In short order we got payment and shipping confirmation emails. I thought within five to seven business days I’d be once again on my way to runner’s nirvana.

I waited. Five days came and went. OK. I had to know it was a long shot that I’d get them early. Not to worry. I could be patient. The seventh business day came. Still no shoes. Perhaps there was an unforeseen circumstance that hampered the delivery. All right. I’ll give it another day. I did. The shoes did not arrive. The wait was over. Time to take action. I called UPS. When I finally got to speak with a fellow human I explained my predicament. The woman at the call center did some research. What she told me after doing some digging broke my heart: “Sir we never received the package to ship out.”

How could that be? ASICS confirmed the shoes, my Gel-Fluxes, were on their way to me. Why would they tell me that if this were not true. I called them up and asked them that very question. Their response, as Megan put it, was lame. The woman at ASICS told me the shoes were out of stock and I would not be getting them. Why did they send out a shipping confirmation? She never answered that question. Why did they not realize the oversight and reach out to us with a refund? She never answered that question, either. She did apologize for the “inconvenience” and offered a 10% discount on a future order. Looking out for my fellow runners I pointed out, purely as an operational issue, that perhaps there was a flaw in their system if something like this could happen apparently unnoticed. Again, no direct response. Lame.

Upset over how all this went down I looked at getting non-ASICS shoes. Ultimately, after Megan made all the right points about quality, fit, and my already long-standing history with them, we went with another pair of ASICS. But we did get them from an online retailer, not the company’s site. I went with the Gel-Nimbus 16s. We placed the order, got the online confirmations, and five to seven business days later I finally had my new pair of running shoes. They are fantastic shoes and I’m happy.

Gel-Nimbus. Hello gorgeous! Just looking at you makes my feet feel fleet! And I'm willing to overlook how your name sounds like a Harry Potter flying broom.

Gel-Nimbus. Hello gorgeous! Just looking at you makes my feet feel fleet! And I’m willing to overlook how your name sounds like a Harry Potter flying broom.

Then something unexpected happened on the eighth day. I came home and found a box at my front door. I wasn’t expecting any other deliveries. I got the box inside and looked at the sender. It was from ASICS. I opened the box and found a pair of size 16 Gel-Fluxes, the same size, style, and color that we’d initially ordered and that ASICS later told us was out of stock. I told Megan what happened. She confirmed her account had been credited for the shoes that never came, the shoes ASICS told us — for all intents and purposes — did not exist. Yet here they were.

Wait, is that a unicorn? A sasquatch? A yeti? No, those are just a pair of size 16 Gel-Fluxes.

Wait, is that a unicorn? A sasquatch? A yeti? No, those are just a pair of size 16 Gel-Fluxes.

So it would appear that I got a free pair of running shoes. Megan and I have talked about what we should do about them. What’s the right thing to do. I received the shoes Friday night (1/23/15) after the ASICS call center closed for the week. The earliest I could contact them about this apparent second oversight is Monday (1/26/15). What should I do? What would you do? Stay tuned…

You People All Look The Same To Me

I had no idea I was a minority. I looked around my neighborhood in South Central Los Angeles when I was growing up and the majority of what I saw were black people. Surely, I thought in my young mind, minority didn’t mean fewer in number. But a check of Merriam-Webster set me straight. The dictionary defined a minority as “a number or amount that is less than half of a total.” That couldn’t be. What I saw in my city, from the garbage collector to the mayor, were black men and women. But people hung this minority label on me just the same.

As I got older I learned the numbers didn’t lie. There were fewer of us black people relative to the rest of the national population. I also learned there was another dimension to the definition of minority. Going back to Merriam-Webster I found that a minority is “a group of people who are different from the larger group in a country, area, etc., in some way (such as race or religion),” or “a part of a population differing from others in some characteristics and often subjected to differential treatment.” This knowledge would shape my experiences from here on out. Fewer in number and different from the larger group.

I left the inner-city public school system after ninth grade and went to a private school in the San Fernando Valley which, at the time, was all boys. There I was unmistakably a minority. This was just one experience where I was surrounded by a larger number of people who did not look like me. My decision to leave the mad metropolis of L.A. after graduating from high school for a small, liberal arts college in eastern Washington was as much about escaping the city as it was about exploring the unknown. What I didn’t know, or didn’t realize, was I’d find more of the same when it came to diversity as I found in high school. Not much. My experience as an exchange student in France was a bit different. I was a foreigner, true, but despite the cultural and language differences, Paris was teeming with diversity.

Then I went to Japan for two years. There my concept of the majority-minority dichotomy took on new meaning. The moment I strode off the plane at Narita International Airport I knew nothing from my previous experiences had prepared me for this. There I was a six-foot, four-inch black American man in a country where 99.9% of the people were all of the same ethnic and cultural background. They also spoke a language I didn’t know. By contrast, in France I could dissolve into a multi cultural mix of people from European, African, and Asian backgrounds. Also I spoke the language, albeit poorly. But now, on a train from Narita to the suburb of Tokyo where I was going to teach English conversation, I was a true stranger in a strange land.

I went to Japan to teach, but I think I learned much more than I taught my students. As I walked around Funabashi where I worked I felt sometimes like an alien from another world; at others, I like a celebrity. I couldn’t help but attract attention, even on the route I took to get to work everyday. The stares. The pointing. The unsolicited attempts at conversation by passers-by. This was my routine, my reality. Life in a fish bowl for most of my time in public. I was the other on a different level from what I’d experienced in high school, college, and France. In Japanese the word for me was gaijin. The translation is foreigner but literally it means outside person.

As an outside person abroad I gained what I like to call an insider’s perspective on coming into contact with the other. After about a year into my teaching gig in Funabashi, I started to view the world as if I were Japanese. Sounds crazy I know. Perhaps what I experienced is loosely analogous to the Stockholm Syndrome where hostages identify with their captors. I was far removed from my native culture. There were perhaps a handful of foreigners in the entire city of several hundred thousand people. It got to the point where if I saw a gaijin I didn’t know, I’d stare at him or her for being so completely different from everyone else around me. I’d wonder: Where did this gaijin come from. What business does this gaijin have here? How long will this gaijin be around? Should I keep my eye on this gaijin? It’s been more than 20 years since I left Japan. What I experienced there will never leave me.

I’m a minority in our republic, however I have some idea what it must be like in the majority. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not deluded about how I fit in to this beautiful union of intimate strangers we call the United States of America. But having lived on one side and had a taste of what life is like on the other side, I wonder why there are sides at all.

Lost In Transition

Wasp

When I finally got out of bed this morning I had no idea of the battle that awaited me down the hall. A dozen or so wasps had invaded the sanctity of my bathroom. The wasp problem was not new. The first wave came this summer. Their point of entry was an air vent on the side of the house. Since then, despite efforts to flush them out and seal them off, I’ve found a few of them in the house. It’s late November the wasps are still here. Great.

As I lay in bed I didn’t know any of this. In fact my focus was on other issues that have consumed a large amount of my attention lately. The weight of these thoughts kept me pinned under the covers longer than I should have been there. For a time over the past couple weeks I blamed my lingering in bed for up to an hour after I woke up on the cold. While it’s true that a cold room acts like kryptonite on even the best intentions to rise and shine, I knew my recent behavior was not helping my cause.

Eventually, I pushed through my lack of motivation and got out of bed. The sands of time are always running against me and there’s always lots to do: writing; exercises and a run through the neighborhood; meal preparation; networking and job search activities; work at the TV station. This is not accounting for other considerations that, through the unpredictability of life, can insert themselves in my day. Today one of those considerations was the mini-swarm of wasps that had taken over the bathroom.

About a month back I started noticing mostly dead wasps in the house. This was about the time the seasons began to change. I took this as a sign. “Dead wasps in the bathroom, fall coming soon.” But this was just a collective feint on the part of the wasp colony. When I flat-footedly walked into the bathroom this morning a few of the wasps were dead, but many of them were still alive. Not only that, the active wasps did not seem too happy to see me even though I had just walked into my bathroom.

I was outnumbered. The thought did not occur to me to call my friends in the neighborhood for help. I was under siege and had to act now! This realization caused me to wake up in a hurry. Think. What could I do to eliminate both this threat and the risk of a too close wasp encounter? The wasps had their stingers and appeared ready to use them on me. I had my Dirt Devil light-weight vacuum. For fear, dear reader, of offending those of you who get squeamish over graphic descriptions of violence, I’ll summarize the outcome of today’s confrontation this way: Steve and his Dirt Devil-1; wasps-0. (For those of you who are fans of gore, picture the bloody battle scene from the movie Braveheart where the Scots beat the English.)

Unlike a Hollywood movie, there is not a neat and tidy ending here. When the battle was over, I was not the clear victor. About an hour later the wasps were back. Even after I sealed off a heating grate and other possible spaces they may have used to get in, the wasps found a way. Although my fears of wasp stings were very real, I had to admire their tenacity. The warmer weather in which they thrive is gone. Then there’s me who, short of blowing up the house in some screwball Looney Tunes storyline, is trying to eliminate them. When the wasps get out of bed in the morning they have all this working against them. While we may never really know what drives them, the wasps seemed up to the challenges of their day. The threat of adversity did not send them scrambling back under their covers. They stood their ground and took decisive action. How will you greet the day when you get out of bed in the morning?

President Obama Writes Back, Sort Of

I got this response from the White House today to the letter I emailed to President Obama on October 21st. It’s a form letter, yes. Given that I wrote to the leader of the free world whom I don’t know I expected this. On the plus side, I’m glad this is more than a simple thank you for writing and we hear your concerns. The full text of the response is below.

The White House, Washington

Dear Steven:

Thank you for writing.  Even though our economy is getting stronger, there are still too many Americans who are looking for work—often for months at a time, and often through no fault of their own.  I appreciate your taking the time to share your story with me.

I know how hard it is for people who are trying to get their lives back on track after losing a job, struggling to find a new one, or just getting by on a low wage.  In the reports I get and the letters I read, I see folks grappling with painful everyday realities—including the cruel Catch-22 that the longer you are unemployed, the more unemployable you may seem.

For many, things have been even harder since Congress failed to extend emergency unemployment insurance.  That was a vital economic lifeline for more than a million Americans.  And I know that for families who depended on it, losing unemployment insurance meant putting less fuel in the car, or less food on the table.

That’s unacceptable to me, and I will keep fighting to make sure Congress restores emergency unemployment insurance.  But I also know when you’re out of a job or underemployed, every passing day means the difference between falling further behind or getting ahead.  That is why I am taking action on my own to help more Americans get back to work.

Already, hundreds of employers nationwide are adopting more inclusive hiring policies that give hardworking individuals a fair shot.  I am pushing for more businesses to do the same, and I am making sure the Federal Government leads by example.  We are also launching an across-the-board reform of all our job training programs to advance a single mission:  train Americans with the skills employers need, and then match them to the good jobs that need to be filled right now.

Thank you, again, for writing.  You can access help finding a job or job training at JobCenter.USA.gov, www.Opportunity.gov, andwww.CareerOneStop.org.  To find an employment center near you, visitwww.DOL.gov/DOL/Location.htm.  For help with health benefits, housing assistance, or other public resources, call 1-800-FED-INFO or visitwww.USA.gov.

Sincerely,

Barack Obama

Visit WhiteHouse.gov

“When You Are Going Through Hell, Keep Going”

Physically exhausted and spiritually energized. That’s how I felt after a recent run one fall morning. When I suited up and walked out the door I knew what I was getting myself into. I had to convince myself to leave the relative warmth of my house to enter the cold, wet, and dark morning that greeted me as an adversary. It’s not the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But it is something to will yourself to do what you know will be tough. Overcoming the conditions. Powering through the first few minutes of sucking down cold air. Ignoring the burning sensation in my quadriceps. I’ve been running outdoors for about a year now. Each time I head out I have to remind myself I can do this.

That feeling I get at the end is enough to motivate me out the door. At the end I’m usually drenched in sweat–or a mix of sweat and rain–panting, feeling an ache or pain somewhere but smiling. I made it. I overcame a roughly three-mile challenge, again. I accomplished something. And despite my fatigue I’d feel my spiritual battery recharged by the run. I was walking up the sidewalk toward my house that morning buzzing with this feeling when I saw there was something wrong with my car.

First I noticed the side-view mirror on the driver’s side was out of place–roughly five feet out of place. It was on the street in front of the car not far from the front driver’s side tire. That tire was the second thing I noticed. It was completely flat. All the air escaped through a three-inch long gouge along the diameter of the sidewall. I was so caught up in the physical and emotional afterglow of my run it took a few moments for what I was seeing to set in. Somebody hit my car and kept going.

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Just as the air had escaped from my tire, so it was with the elation I was feeling just a few moments ago. If anyone had been standing next to me at that moment, they might have heard a steady, stentorian hiss coming from me. Bye-bye elation. In it’s place a mix of frustration and anger filled my mind. Anyone who knows me would probably attest to how slow I am to displays of negative feelings like these. At that moment, though, I was raw. I was incapable of moderating my emotions.

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The hit-and-run crash happened more than a week ago. In the time that followed I’ve devoted too much time to thinking about how someone could ignore their personal responsibility by leaving a scene where they’d caused almost $2,000 in damage to my car. (A neighbor’s SUV also had damage, presumably from the same incident.) The whole affair, the crash and the process of getting my car repaired, became an irritant nagging at me that I reluctantly had to scratch. It’s not as if I don’t already have enough demanding my attention.

About this time I remembered these words: When you are going through hell, keep going. I first heard them from Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me host Peter Sagal used them in a story he told on The Moth Radio Hour. (I highly recommend giving his story a listen.) I later found out this was a quote from legendary former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. When I remembered the quote I thought about past obstacles I faced. Somehow I overcame them. Back then I seemed to know, perhaps on an unconscious level, the importance of not letting a setback sideline me. I kept going.

Here I am now, feeling the heat of the inferno and smelling the stench of brimstone. As I mentioned the incident with my car is one of a list of recent setbacks. Despite the damage the car is drivable. I picked up the broken side-view mirror. I had the flat tire replaced. Then I got behind the wheel, took a deep breath, started the engine, and I kept going.

An Open Letter To President Obama

President ObamaDear Mr. President,

What is it that makes our country great? At our core we are dreamers. Our dreams and those of our forefathers have made the U.S. a paragon of what the promise of inclusion and opportunity can achieve. Our country was built on dreams and promises, although some dreams have been deferred and some promises have not yet been fully realized.

I’m a believer, sir, in what this country stands for and what it can become. There may be those, however, who say I have a right–or even a duty–to be a non-believer, to see the dream of America as a nightmare.

Why might someone say this about me? Perhaps because my distant relatives came to this country unwillingly in chains and in servitude. Or it may be because I was born into a household of little money and into a community of many lucrative illegal opportunities. Or maybe the advocates for my non-belief would point to the violence I lived with at home: my father beat my mother for years until she kicked him out. An outsider might, from just these few details, see the makings of a nightmare instead of a dream.

This is not a letter, Mr. President, of self-pity and recriminations against the state. That is not my intention. But at the time, growing up under these circumstances, I didn’t see much promise of better days to come. Slowly, though, change started to happen. When I hit my early teens I started doing better in school. Teachers who took notice of my academic progress mentored me. Eventually one of them nominated me for a scholarship to a private high school. I won the scholarship and a world of opportunities opened up to me.

Another thing I don’t mean to do here is make this simply a poor-kid-who-grows-up-to-escape-the-ghetto story. Granted, I do think my experience was atypical for the boys and girls who also grew up in my neighborhood. And I do think I was fortunate to have support from not only my teachers, but also from my family, especially from my mom and grandmother (both of them are now dead). Their involvement in my life was certainly a turning point.

After I graduated from high school I would see even more changes in my life. I went on to graduate from college and earn a master’s degree. Along the way I travelled, studied, and worked abroad. I married, had two children, and divorced. I had a 15 year career in TV news which ended about a year ago with a layoff. Since then I’ve been unemployed and looking for work.

As with our country in the recent past, I’ve been through some tough times. I know, unfortunately, millions of my fellow Americans are in the same situation. Some of these unemployed and underemployed people I know. I’m not unique in this respect. I also hope I’m not unique in seeing the possibility of what can be that’s beyond what is. As difficult as my path is right now, I have faith that it’s only a temporary rough patch that’ll smooth out before long.

I believe, as so many American dreamers did before me, what I want to achieve is possible with persistence and perseverance. In an age of cynicism and intransigence this may seem like a dead ideal: too Pollyannaish for modern sensibilities. But despite what I’ve been through and am going through now–or perhaps in spite of it–I have faith in the dream that is America. This is who we are. I think it took my falling on hard times to realize this strength about our country. This strength has been reinforced by my family, other loved ones, and complete strangers I’ve met on this journey.

Mr. President, I’m not writing to you to ask for your help or special treatment. I would not presume to distract you from the pressing national and international crises that demand your attention. I’m also not writing to add my voice to the chorus of naysayers and obstructionists who might say our country’s best days are behind us. All I ask is, if this letter makes it to you, that you take some comfort in knowing I believe. Thank you for your time, sir.

Sincerely,

Steve Metcalf

This is an unabridged version of the letter I submitted on the web site for The White House.

Faith In A Time Of Doughnuts

donuts-4I’m an equal opportunity doughnut eater. Cake, raised, store bought, gourmet: I’ll eat them all. Sports fanatics put visiting the country’s storied and iconic ballparks on their bucket lists. I put trips to well-known doughnut shops on mine. I’ve already made pilgrimages to Portland’s Voodoo Doughnuts and Top Pot here in Seattle. Krispy Kreme headquarters in Winston-Salem you’re next!

As a kid the surest way for my mom to get me out of bed on Sundays to make it to church was with a bribery of doughnuts. She’d say something like, “Get up, boy, and get dressed. We’re gonna be late. We’ll go get doughnuts after the service.” I won’t say my mom’s use of the magic D-word sent me rocketing out of bed and to the closet to put on my powder blue polyester leisure suit (yes, this was the mid-70s). It was, however, ample motivation to get me in motion and not completely derail our plans to make it to church on time.

Anyone familiar with the Baptist Church knows Sunday worship is an all day affair, from sunup to sundown. Lots of church time with breaks for eating, more like feasting. If my mom had her way, she’d try to get us cut loose after the morning service. But if my grandmother was calling the shots, that usually meant we had to strap in for the long haul. It was on those long Sundays I wished the doughnut feed came first. I could have used the sugar high to make it through the day.

As any headstrong kid would do when forced to do something he didn’t want to, I sulked. If we did make it in time for the pre-service fellowship in front of the church, I pouted. My bad mood did not stop my mom and grandmother from parading me around to say hello to their friends and the church elders. I was on the spot to answer questions about how I was doing in school and if I was behaving. Reality check: I was what you might euphemistically call a hand-full. This was the period when I got in trouble all the time. I got in fights, many of them I started, I didn’t turn in my homework, and I was generally disruptive in class. My antics necessitated meetings in the principal’s office with my mom several times a week. As I said, a hand-full.

But for the sweet old men and women I put on a show. “School is going well, sir. I’m minding my mom and my teachers, ma’am.” I didn’t consider what lasting effects, if any, my taking liberties with the truth would have on my immortal soul. All I could think about were the doughnuts that awaited me after this ordeal. Like an Arthurian knight on a grail quest, I was single-minded in my focus. So what if I wasn’t pure of heart and spirit like King Arthur’s knights. Those doughnuts would be mine. No obstacles would keep me from them. I was mercenary in my resolve.

But to get to those sanctified doughnuts, first I had to sit through the Sunday service. That was the bargain. Boring! I didn’t want to hear about being kind to lepers, fathers about to stab their sons because God told them to, and three dudes named Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Really? What kind of crazy stuff was this? You may have guessed by now that when the pastor talked about the virtues of kindness, faith, and devotion all I heard were things like “For God loved the world so much he gave his one and only Doughnut…The Lord is my Doughnut, I shall not want…”

Blasphemy? Perhaps. To my young mind it was all about what served a purpose. Hearing an old man use words like “thou” and “thy” as part of some kind of mysterious code of moral conduct meant nothing to me because of what my own experiences told me. He’d talk about kindness, but the bigger kid sitting next to me in the pews would punch me so that no one else could see. The pastor would talk about brotherhood, but I’d often overhear the grownups saying some not-so-flattering words about brother or sister so-and-so behind their backs. The sermons may have had a lot of good ideas, but what I witnessed was much more preaching than practicing.

My Sunday story usually had a happy ending. Yes, the doughnuts. I can’t remember having one go-to doughnut that I always requested. As I said earlier I’m a doughnut omnivore. We, my mother, my sister, and I (grandma would join us sometimes), usually got a dozen of doughnuts to go and enjoyed them at home. Everything I had gone through leading up to the moment of my first bite made that mouthful of the savory pastry all the sweeter. It was a satisfaction that came from knowing within every doughnut was the potential to add just a little joy to a young boy’s life.

When One Mess Becomes Two

It seemed to have everything going for it. Rubber around the lid and neck for enhanced grip. A spout with an audible two-click closure to snap shut. But these design enhancements didn’t keep me from making a mess of my morning protein shake. Through a mental lapse–I blame the earliness of the hour and the lack of sleep I had the night before–I forgot to listen for that second snap before giving my bottle one last shake. It was that shake that sent vanilla protein mix and almond milk all over the fridge, stove, and kitchen floor. User error to be sure. Mea culpa. Now before fueling up ahead of my morning exercises and run I had to clean up this mess. But as I looked closer my one mess became two.

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This was not the first time I’d ever been hit with a messy double whammy. It was, though, the first time in a while I thought about the implications of what my response would be. On the one hand, I wanted to get my day going and didn’t want to get bogged down by some added, and unexpected, chore. I had things to do and my time was valuable, at least to me. On the other hand I thought to ignore the second mess meant I would ignore something that I, or someone else, would have to deal with in the future. By not addressing it today, I was shirking a responsibility and putting off the inevitable.

The ill-timed splattering of my vanilla protein shake–perhaps inadvertently, perhaps serendipitously–exposed a dirty kitchen floor. Think eggnog mixed with soot. As much as I didn’t want to, this double-mess crisis forced me to hit pause and put all the orderly plans that are my morning routine on hold. Do I just sop up the spilled protein shake and leave the broader problem of the dirty kitchen floor for later, or do I tackle both the spilled shake and dirty floor all in one go? Of course whatever I decided about handling the floor would be in addition to wiping shake splatter off the fridge and stove. I’m not sure how much time went by, but I was torn about what to do, all the while watching the minutes tick by and getting more anxious about getting to my morning routine. Plus, the spilled shake was starting to dry and get sticky.

It was time to do some quick thinking on my feet, which were also starting to get sticky because they had shake on them. So I sponged off the fridge and stove, leaving the floor and my feet for last in case anything dripped. I then isolated the area of the floor affected by the splatter. After two rounds of damp paper towels the area looked pretty good. The eggnoggy-sooty mess was gone. And with a few paper towel wipes my feet were no longer glued to the floor. Even with the delay while I mulled over my options, not much time had elapsed. My derailed morning was about to get back on track. Hazah! But what about the rest of the floor? I’m sure it was just as dirty as the area where I splattered protein shake. That mess will keep until later, right? I, or someone else, will get to it. Eventually.

*I originally posted this August 9th, 2014 on LinkedIn.com.

The American Art of Self-Reinvention

Plump. Big-boned. Thick. Anything but the dreaded f-word. That would have been more than my fragile teenage psyche could bear. I was already far from comfortable in my own skin. Potbelly, chunky legs, runaway acne, and an unruly afro. I’d look in the mirror, see this hot mess reflected back at me, and I’d wonder: Is there a swan somewhere in there waiting to get out? On top of everything else, I wasn’t very coordinated. Despite my height and size–I was taller and bigger than most other boys my age in junior high school–I usually rode the bench during pick-up basketball and football games. About the time my voice changed. I went from being mistaken for my sister on the phone, to being mistaken for a man in his 30s almost overnight. Other kids occasional teased me for how I looked, how I moved, and how I sounded. To escape I’d bury myself in sci-fi books, movies, and TV shows. But what I really wanted to do was break free of this me, like a rocket reaching escape velocity, and leave this time and place far behind.

But, alas, life doesn’t work that way. I had to tough it out through the rest of junior high school and high school. In college things got better, but total self acceptance remained elusive. Once I got my diploma I thought my status as a college graduate would bestow upon me not only a sense of purpose, but also a sense of identity. Wrong on both counts. I hung out, partied, worked sort of, and drifted. In my existential stupor I, perhaps by design, came across The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

I knew the man, at least I thought I did. Angry, militant, and assassinated. I read the book and learned there was more to his story. Whether you agree with what he stood and fought for or not, his story is uniquely American. Born Malcolm Little in 1925 he entered a United States of limited opportunities for blacks, facing institutionalized bigotry and racism. As a young man he went to prison for being a thief. Then he was transformed after discovering faith behind bars. He emerged a member of the Nation of Islam. As spokesman for the movement he came to national prominence and scorn. It didn’t happen overnight and it didn’t happen in a vacuum, but he changed. More precisely, he transformed himself. And it wasn’t a one-time event. Over time his position on race separation softened following his hajj in 1964. He wrote about being moved by the solidarity, brotherhood, and hospitality of fellow Muslims of every hue. He returned to the U.S. with a new name, el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, a less militant outlook on the black Civil Rights Movement, and with more optimism. He was gunned down the following year in New York City.

He arguably left behind a profound legacy, part of which is the lesson of self-reinvention. From Malcolm Little, to Malcolm X, to el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz. From troubled youth with promise and thief, to convert and radicalized true believer, to speaker and leader of black nationalism. His was a physical and spiritual odyssey.

In the continuing adventure of my life, I’ve grown out of that husky teenager from 1981. Some of the change that’s happened since was out of my hands, i.e., puberty, and some I directed by making conscious decisions. I’m poised now to reinvent myself in my career. The guidance I take from el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz’s journey is where I land may not be any destination I had in mind at the outset. Where I land may change, what’s more the process of my getting there may change me.

*I originally posted this July 25th, 2014 on LinkedIn.com.