I’m Ready for the Laughing Gas

I recently got back from a family trip to Hawaii.

(Editors note: Back when I wrote on this page more regularly, my next sentence in this post would have been “but that’s a blog post for another time” or something like that. But let’s face it – at my current pace of roughly two posts per decade, there’s little chance you’ll get a Hawaii post out of me).

Anyway, while I was in Hawaii, I still tried to keep up with news back home on my IPad via my Boston Globe subscription. To give you an indication of a) just how much less attention I pay to music than before and b) how much U2 has fallen off my map in the last 5-7 years, I had NO idea that U2 booked four nights at the TD Garden, with all four performances occurring while I was gone. I am not entirely sure I would have gotten tickets, but I thought it a little strange that I hadn’t even heard of the shows.

By my best recollection, the last time I saw U2 would have been around 1992. It’s safe to say that back then, they were IT for me and many others. I think I may have seen them 4-5 times on the Achtung Baby tour alone and can clearly remember shows in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Foxborough and New York City. I love SetList.FM!

Anyway, it got me thinking about U2 again and while rock radio ruined them for me by pounding all their Top 10 songs all over the radio for years, there’s still so many very very good songs that the radio doesn’t play. So I had an idea to construct a Spotify playlist of all my favorite U2 songs that did NOT chart above #50 in the US Billboard Charts. What I found was that there are 17 songs that I can go back to again and again and probably never get sick of. These are songs that you will likely never hear on the radio, either. Bonus!

I can split the playlist into era’s for myself, because that is fun to do if you’re a music nerd. So I’m gonna do it. It won’t be that painful for you and if you know me well enough, your name might even be in here.

The Middle School Era (1982-1985):

As a middle school boy, I hadn’t really cemented myself as a deep music fan, but the foundation was there. I had a deep appreciation for Led Zeppelin – and not just the hits that everyone else knew. I also liked deep Def Leppard cuts, AC/DC and upon looking through my 6th grade notebook recently, discovered that I also liked The Firm and Journey quite a bit.

Songs from this era on the Playlist:

  • Like A Song – oh, the urgency and liberation of being young and untouchable.
  • Seconds – one of my favorite U2 songs ever, I think about nuclear weapons. Takes a second to say goodbye!
  • 40 – they got it from the Bible. Really. A mellow, lovely tune.
  • Surrender – another of my all time U2 faves. Vaguely referencing suicide, prostitution and attempting normalcy.
  • A Sort of Homecoming - a warmer vibe here, but that moment in the song when he sings “…and we live by the side of the road, on a side of a hill…..as the valley explodes!” — you just know that this band is a beast. Emotional, brilliant, beautiful. So much going on in this song.
  • The Unforgettable Fire - another rich, emotional beauty of a song. Listen closely for Larry Mullen’s “shit” near the beginning as he struggles to get in time. Love it.
  • Wire – could be my favorite U2 song of all time. I think it’s about drug use, but I can’t be sure. That’s how I interpret it, anyway. A frantic, dark, rock and roll song that stays with you. Ends with “I’m no dope, I give you hope, here’s the rope, here’s the rope, now…swing away…..” This is KILLER!

But I didn’t know ANY of these songs back then! All I really remember about U2 back then was “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” their first real radio breakthrough from the War album. I sure liked the song, but they were pretty new and I wasn’t going deep with them.  I also have a very specific memory of sitting in my room one day, being afraid of Hurricane Gloria in 1982 and listening to their song “Gloria” repeatedly. Why does that stick in my head?

The Unforgettable Fire came next, in 1984 and that was another step forward in terms of my exposure. Like many other people, I gained a huge amount of respect for them after Live Aid’s killer performances from that record. I still wasn’t ALL in on U2 then, but “Pride (In the Name of Love)” and “Bad” were two songs I really liked. It wouldn’t come to me until much later how strong this album was from front-to-back. Dear Lord, it’s a near-masterpiece. I didn’t really get it, though, until the early ’90s.

The High School Years (1985-1989)


OK, this is when U2 went totally bananas. Everyone LOVED them! My specific memories during high school are of three people who were always pushing me to listen more. Thank you Josh Harmon, Karen Skinner and my high school girlfriend Paula. Karen sat behind me, I think it was Spanish II class. She was a year ahead of me and I remember her really pushing me hard to listen to more than just the hits. Truth is I’ve never, ever liked “With or Without You” or “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” But the rest of that album is on the money, honey. Big time. Karen was right. Josh was just a U2 fanatic and also had an influence.

Songs from this era on the Playlist:

  • Exit -  a man plunges into darkness. Maybe their most depressing song ever. But compelling as hell.
  • Running to Stand Still -  another story about the ravages of drug addiction, but beautiful nonetheless.
  • Red Hill Mining Town - likely my 2nd favorite U2 song ever. Crazy highs and low lows. They’ve never really performed this live because they discovered that Bono couldn’t hit those high notes quite enough. This makes me so sad, because if I saw it live it would probably make me cry. It’s about miners and the effect of their job on their families. The moment when Bono screams “Hanging on! You’re all that left to hold on to” is maybe my favorite moment in the bands whole catalog.
  • Van Dieman’s Land – So many people were turned off by Rattle & Hum, but there’s a lot to like here and this is one of them. A dark, simple song sung by The Edge. Always has stuck with me.
  • Hawkmoon 269 – Another one of those quiet tunes that hits some frantic highs.
  • God Part II – Most certainly not their strongest work, but I’m still a sucker for a memorable song with good rock guitar and lyrics that reference other famous musicians.

The College Years (1989-1993)


This is where it peaks for me. Achtung Baby came out and I about went berzerk for U2. Lots of people didn’t appreciate (or maybe understand) U2’s change in direction, but I LOVED it. I didn’t mind the serious U2 of the ’80s, but I LOVED the whole approach in the ’90s of the band spitting irony of the mass media and creating characters to mock it (the whole FLY thing). But that was just the sideshow. The MUSIC on Achtung Baby, to me, was their peak. Adventurous, a little more rocking, richer and a little less preachy……and catchy as hell. This is also the last album by them that I loved. Really, my admiration was over the top, probably.

A year or two later, they unleashed Zooropa and that had a few gems, but it was the beginning of the end of my adulation for U2. Ever since then, it’s been 10% hit and 90% miss. But that sweet spot from 1982-1992 is one I don’t think any band will ever accomplish again.

Songs from this era on the Playlist:

  • Zoo Station – if only for the distorted, rocking guitar intro. It was the opener on the Achtung Baby tour for all those shows I saw. And it’s awesome.
  • So Cruel – maybe one of their most beautiful songs to listen to.
  • Zooropa – the last song I really loved by this band. An atmospheric rock song that would have (and should have) fit perfectly on Achtung Baby and it’s a song that I have never gotten tired of, even after 20 years. Super cool chorus, awesome vocals, great mix and just a  beauty. If you haven’t given this song a chance in a while, you really should.
  • Wild Honey – From the “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” album. I liked this album. But it didn’t destroy me like Achtung Baby did. This song is a nice, acoustic-based rock song with a great hook.

So there you have it. When I post to the blog, I go big. I’d love to say it won’t take me three years to post again, but who knows. Playlist below. This is basically the set list I would hand them for a live show if it were up to me. Gosh, I would pay a LOT to see them do this set:

Are You Serious?

Whew. You know when you walk somewhere you haven’t been in a few days and you end up going straight through a spider web and it ends up in your face and hair? That’s what this feels like right now. My arms flail for a split-second and I’m trying to feel around to get rid of the web that’s in my mouth and hair. Hello blog! Cobwebby and dusty in here. Plah.

The last time I posted here was a day or two after the Bruins cup parade. That was, oh, a year and five months ago. What could have possibly gotten me to come here and wax on? Well, I attended my very first house concert tonight. I thought it was meaningful enough on a few levels to have to get everything down on (e)paper while I still smelled like incense. Right?

Now, what could have possibly gotten me out of my home and to a house concert, you ask? Well, a couple of things:

1) It was Michael Tarbox playing. If you’re musical nerdy enough, you know him as the lead guitar/singer for the Tarbox Ramblers, an outfit who owned a lot of my Friday nights from, oh, 1996-1999 at The Burren in Somerville during those few golden years when I was working at Rounder Records, broke and not knowing any different. They pretty much owned the place once a week, playing to an absolutely packed house of people who just loved them, myself among them.

I am doing my best to keep things short here, but the Ramblers came along at a time in my life that was rather serendipitous. I had just come off of a 7 week drive around the country with a college friend. Neither of us had been particularly enamored of our corporate post-college jobs, so we both quit, got in the car and literally had no plan. We just drove. And drove. That’s a topic for another post. Maybe in another year-and-a-half. Upon my return, I had to take stock in what I wanted to do and I ended up in the warehouse at Rounder Records, which started a slippery slope in the record business that ended up with myself running my own little record label. Again, story for another time. Or just search the blog here, I’m sure you’ll find some stuff.

Anyhow, during that road trip myself and my friend were exploring the country and popping in all kinds of music, including an awesome collection of old 1930’s and 1940’s traditional blues standards, one of which was a song called “Stu-Ball” that we had taken a particular liking to, so much so that we kept playing it and shouting the lyrics out loud. To be 23 and that free again, right? I do actually have us doing this on video.

Fast-forward to my first Tarbox Ramblers show. The Burren, Somerville. Probably sometime in ‘96. They play their first song and I’m just lost in their genius. I mean these guys are for REAL! After the first song, I tell my friend John Cain that these guys would absolutely CRUSH “Stu-Ball” and I proceed to tell him about this lost blues standard we repeatedly played in the car just months earlier. If only they knew it, I remember thinking……if only. Next song by them, I shit you not – Stu-Ball. Right then and there I knew I had found something special. And for years they remained that way to me and I got to know their singer/guitar player relatively well, who is just such a good soul and a great talent. At some point, the label I was working for signed them, too, so that whole era can arguably be defined by their sound.  Their songs just take me right back to the Burren. Every time. Glorious, fun, liberating, drunken nights. So, let’s call it 17 years later – a house concert with Michael Tarbox? I’m there!

2)  Said house concert is in the town I grew up in. Weirdness. I’ve probably been back to Lancaster, MA three times in the last ten years. My family is moved out. Gone. As many of you may know, there’s not much there. I’m a half-hour east now, closer to Boston and too busy to ever need to be in Lancaster for any reason. So why not go!? I’ve never been to a house concert. What the hell? You go to someone’s house? And they allow you inside? And a band plays? Well, yes. That’s pretty much how it works. In this case, it’s actually Michael’s sister’s house and it’s a place I drove by every weekday on the bus on my way to school for many years. Big old beautiful (and I mean beautiful) Victorian on Main Street in Lancaster.

It’s a pot luck. I ate dinner with my family, but I get there and the scene is rather festive. I know NOBODY. A lifelong friend from school days will join me later, but I’ve got a half-hour on my own. Of course, I see Michael, we have a hug and proceed to catch up. Such a good guy. He shuffles off and I end up talking to the opener, whose name I unfortunately forget but I will probably always remember the conversation we had. He’s probably 50. Clearly a music fan like me and we have some small talk and I ask him how long he’s been playing music. A year and a half! Shit! Are you kidding? He was like me – a devoted fan of music and one day he just wanted to try playing it, so he picked up the guitar and just started. Now he plays out, writes songs and is……just doing something he always wanted to do. Special.

Such an interesting path we all take. I don’t have even close to the balls it takes to perform music in front of people. That is horrifying to me. I would piss myself. Yet I’m the first guy shouting songs in the car and going all air-guitar at home when nobody is watching. I’m perfectly happy doing what I do on a daily basis. In fact, professionally it’s pretty awesome. But I love hearing stories and talking to people who just take that left-turn. Inspiring.

My friend shows up. We both quietly laugh at the situation because both of us grew up here, he delivered newspapers here as a boy – and it’s all just kind of surreal. I’ve got worlds colliding, neither of us know really anyone, there’s all kinds of amazing food and this house is just unreal.

…..and then Tarbox starts. And in some ways, nothing has changed. He’s still got it, I never doubted that. The people, older, are absolutely all over the place dancing and having a ball. It’s sweet, really. I just stand there with my friend and take it all in. As I look around the room, I’m trying to figure out if I know that person? He looks familiar! She looks like someone, I swear it! Could it be her? No!

I listen to the great songs and occasionally think back to a completely different era in my life. It’s almost just like The Burren (or middle school?) except we’re all older and I’m geographically in the place where I was from age 4-17. What the what?

Either way, it was so pleasant to see the age variance – people from age 4 to 65 – dancing, forgetting about life and enjoying themselves. So I like house concerts. Maybe I’ll go to more. My first one was pretty special. Here’s a little footage:

See you in 17 months? I really hope it’s sooner than that.

The Bruins

I remember the little TV. It was a tiny black & white, maybe 6 or 8 inches and it had a little handle on it. My dad usually kept it in the garage to watch stuff when he was down there working on a car or whatnot, but one day the TV in my parents bedroom crapped out and he hauled it upstairs, tin foil, antennas, little crappy speaker and all. This had to be somewhere in the 1978-1979 time frame, but I really can’t remember. But I remember this – that was my first exposure to the Boston Bruins, or at least the first one I can remember. The Bruins were my original must-see-TV.

There were countless nights after that, spent laying on the bed watching the games with my dad. Probably hundreds of them. It is one of the stronger fabrics of my childhood. The years flew past, as they do. The mini-TV got moved back downstairs in favor of a bigger, color one and the Bruins kept playing, every fall through spring. With each passing year, my idols would retire, be traded or just change. Brad Park. Pete Peeters. Terry O’Reilly. Barry Pedersen. Rick Middleton. Steve Kasper. Ray Bourque. Cam Neely. Adam Oates…..they all just faded, one into the other, not for lack of personality or accomplishment, though — it all just rolled along like your favorite TV show – some were good episodes and some were not.

My first game was Thursday, December 11, 1980 at the old, dusty, wonderful Boston Garden. I was nine. My dad was 34. But it feels like yesterday – I can still taste the Garden pizza, can still probably draw for you the view from our seats, just under the Garden balcony overhang between the blue and red line, looking across to the Bruins bench. I have such vivid memories of being in the pro shop before the game, looking in bewilderment at all the cool Bruins stuff. Walking across through the slightly dark North Station lobby, full of smoke,  old thick wood benches and a few people living on them. The big old clock down there right before you walked out to your train. The gray-walled, winding ramps up to the arena. They played the Quebec Nordiques (so BLUE!), with the Stasney brothers flying around and a local kid named Ftorek, too, early on in his career. They lost 5-3. I remember so much about it all. I was already very much a hockey fan by then and had been playing for five years already, but THAT was something else. To BE there! I remember walking outside on Causeway St after the game, my dad holding my hand. He asked “so what did you think?” I don’t remember my answer, only the question. But I can probably guess what my response was.

Spring of 1983. I’m twelve. My mom and sister are watching the big TV in the living room, so my dad and I are back in the bedroom for game 7 of the Buffalo-Boston Adams Division Finals at the Garden. We watch intently and when, in overtime, Brad Park buries his own rebound with a slap-slot from the top of the circle, we rejoice, big hugs and laughs. See it here, the video is only :33 seconds:

It’s truly like yesterday for me.

1987-88. I’m a junior in high school. We split season tickets with a family friend and thus began our regular trips into the Garden, right at the time Bourque, Neely, Moog, et al, hit their peaks. A wonderful time to be seeing live games. Of course, my dad and I attend many of them and see some great games, the most memorable is one in which he has a new company car (‘88 Chevy Cavalier) and we park it at Alewife, as we always did, and take the Red Line to Park Street and the Green line to North Station. I don’t remember the outcome or who they played, but I know I had a high school game the next day. We get back to the garage, turn the ignition and……nothing. No way to get home. We end up in that flea bag motel right on Route 2 and I miss half of school the following day, which, by MIAA rules, makes me ineligible to play that night. Or so I thought. Our Athletic Director Pete Richards calls me into his office and TELLS me I was there all day (and apparantly tells the main office the same thing). I fall in line, nod in agreement and play that night.

So it goes. In and out of Bruins games, year after year after year. They make the playoffs all the time, but can never reach the pinnacle. I go off to college and watch several seasons from afar, hitting Pittsburgh and the Igloo when the Bruins are in town. At one point, I painted the large rock at Kent State with the Bruins logo, but they always end up losing to Pittsburgh in the playoffs, who were an absolute force. Neely’s career basically ends and it’s a slow, steady downward spiral. For about ten years the Bruins are irrelevant – I go to games while living in Somerville, pay $20 bucks or whatever for the back row of the balcony and always sit in the first 5 rows off the ice. Easy. A few blips here and there, such as the night I watched Anson Carter bury one in double overtime during the Tar Hut years, while drunk and watching one of our bands play at the Bay State in Northampton, MA.

But for the most part the Bruins are silent players. Then….the lockout. Suddenly there’s 30 teams (something I still hate).

Then, in the 2006-2007 season, the Bruins are relatively awful, but I watch every game, because Stephanie is pregnant and in bed every night by like 8:30, so I have nothing to do. There’s a flicker of hope in their game, though, and the next few seasons are exciting. And then there’s this season. Much like what is now a generation ago, I split season tickets with a friend. I go to 12 games and see 10 losses, but the Bruins still do well. You know the rest, right?

But I have to tell you about the ride this year during the playoffs. I can’t be silent about it. I was at every game except for Game 2 of the Montreal series. I was invested – financially, mentally, physically. Walking out of that arena after these games, I truly felt like I’d played. As cliche as it sounds, it was one of the rides of my life. I will never, ever forget game 7 of the Conference Finals vs. Tampa Bay, perhaps the best hockey game I have ever seen. Those Cup Finals games were terrific and raucous and fun and LOUD, but I have never heard a crowd that loud in my life that night after Horton scored the only goal of the game and then the moment they clinched it. Just unforgettable. Now the memories come rolling through – Thomas stopping Gionta. Horton’s double OT goal, then doing it AGAIN in OT four nights later to eliminate Montreal. The SEGUIN game! Too many amazing memories…..

My dad was with me when the Bruins said bye to Philadelphia, then again for game 3 of the Cup Finals, which I will forever remember as the night real life took over hockey (see my work blog post on that here). The memories of this run are endless and I will hold them dear for the rest of life. It might be the best money I’ve ever spent. To be a part of the crowd, to hug strangers, to high-five EVERYONE in sight, to continuously be able to trot friends and family in that building with me for the playoffs is something I will cherish for so long. The result, as you know, was tremendous. The company and the enjoyment and the feeling that you were really, truly, a part of the team is unbeatable.

So this morning, the circle for this season got closed. We brought our own boys with us right to the base of the TD Garden, where the old barn used to stand. And I swear it would have been right at center ice of the old Boston Garden where the Bruins players came out, trotting the hardware just 15-20 feet from us and spoke of their appreciation for us fans – and I felt like they meant it. I couldn’t help but think of all the games I’d seen in person and all the games I watched as a kid with my dad, which happened right on that very spot where I held my boys and stood next to my wife, watching the Cup, the Prince of Wales trophy and the Conn Smythe trophy sitting there on the stage. I felt nine again. Bewildered. Almost wide eyed. I felt the same elation I’d felt so many times growing up watching this team. But most of all I loved hearing that crowd. All as one. Can’t even imagine what it must have felt like as a member of the Bruins these past few days.

Later on, just like that Decmeber night in 1980, I asked my own boys “so what did you think?” Maybe they’ll remember their answer someday or maybe they won’t……but I got to close out the season this morning with my family next to me and thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people who, just like me, got to exhale this year. And boy did that feel good.

It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry

There has been a lot of talk over the last few weeks in our house about death. You can’t really tread too lightly over this subject when there’s a couple of kids in the house on the cusp of four asking a lot of questions about it. But there’s a fine line – intricate detail is not needed, either. Obviously.

Stephanie’s grandfather died this week. An absolutely wonderful man. Right up until the day before he passed, he was talking with me about the Bruins and how his favorite player was Patrice Bergeron, because he was a good player on both sides of the ice. His mind wasn’t the problem, his body was – he was 97 years old. It was only about three weeks ago when he was over our house, playing catch with little Zachary. Zachary asked him a few times that day, “when can you come back and play catch?” The look on both of their faces was obviously memorable.

He will be greatly missed and as I understand it, the endless parade of visitors into his room during his last days clearly showed his reach – long and far. He was a man who gave all and asked for little. I am more than proud to have known him for 11 years.

The subject of death, though, had made its way into our house a month or two before this sad event happened. How do you explain death to a child? Really, you don’t. At least not now. The questions are numerous. Sometimes they are heartbreaking, like when Nathan broke out in tears at the dinner table last week because he didn’t want himself or us to die. Or Zachary – we were explaining to him how Stephanie’s grandfather was too old to drive these days so their grandmother (his daughter) did a lot of driving him around. Zachary’s response was one I will never forget in my life: “but Daddy, when I’m too old to drive, will you drive me around?” Of course, I said yes, I would absolutely drive him around. There’s no need to take it any further than that.

There’s also brief mentions of death sprinkled here and there. Of course, it all about processing. They are processing this topic, among many others, but sometimes to listen to all the questions and the worry – it really hurts my heart. You hear this all the time – the adages about how you never want little kids to lose that sparkly-eyed innocence. Indisputably, I feel it more now that I am experiencing it.

Then there’s the humorous. A lot of questions about why half of the Beatles are dead. This came about when the boys went through a phase of wanting the Beatles to come to our house and play their music and I had to explain to them that I would try, but it would be really difficult because two of them weren’t around anymore. There are repeated questions about why some NHL player from the 1950’s broke his leg in a game and eventually died (literally a 1 minute vignette that showed on the NHL Network a few months ago, but they’ve latched onto it). When they play hockey in the basement, there’s the occasional breaking of the leg reenactment (glad this hasn’t happened in a while).

Tonight, out of nowhere during dinner, Nathan turns to me and says “when am I gonna die?” My answer “not for a long long long long long long time, buddy.” And then – on to the next topic.

Believe me, there are plenty of times that I want to fast-forward a few years and get out of the whiny-nagging-tantrum phase that we’re in, but I know the game – one day down the line I’ll be looking back, wishing for “those days when they said and did the cutest things.” That’s the push and pull of parenthood, I suppose.

Go BIG or Go Home!

I am loving this story, about the town of Portland, Maine, who decided that they were going to OWN the record book for the largest whoopie pie ever made. The previous record, accomplished out in Pennsylvania, was a robust 250 pound whoopie pie, a full 90 pounds above my own body weight. The fine folks up in Portland weren’t just shooting for 251 lbs, though. Hell no! If you’re going to go big on whoopie pie, you go ALL IN BABY and craft a sweet ‘ol pile to the tune of……wait for it…..1,067 pounds! That is a 326% increase over the previous whoopie pie record. You have to like a town that really goes for it.

So I started thinking about other records and what would happen if they were eclipsed by 326%. If I’m doing my math right….

  • An NFL team would have to score 311 points in a game to beat the current record of 73 points by one team in a single game.
  • A hockey player would need a 904 point season to beat Wayne Gretzky’s record of 212 points in a single season.
  • The Bugatti Veyron 16.4 SS is currently the fastest car in the world at a top speed of 267 mph. Build a car that goes 326% faster and you’ve got a car that will go 1135 MPH.
  • Walmart did $405 billion dollars in revenue in 2010. Is there a retailer who thinks they can do $1.7 trillion?
  • You’d have to lift 2,475 pounds on a bar-bell to beat a man named Hossein Rezazedah (Iran), who lifted 579 pounds in a weightlifting competition in 2004.
  • If you can live to be 486 years old, you’ll beat Besse Cooper of Tennessee, who is 114 and currently the world’s oldest person. I bet she makes a mean whoopie pie, by the way.
  • You would need to squirt milk 38.4 feet out of your eye to beat Ilker Yilmaz’s record eye-milk-squirt distance of 9 feet, 2 inches. Don’t think for a minute that I am making this up.
  • Do you have roughly 4,650 clocks? If you do, you’ve beaten Jack Schoff, who has 1,094 of them. I’d hate to live at his house.
  • Last but not least, Niek Vermeulen of the Netherlands has collected – get this – 5,568 airline barf bags.  I wish I were kidding. You want to beat his record by 326% and really send a message to barf bag collectors of the world? Fnid yourself 23,754 of them. Better get to work.

It remains to be seen if I’ve set some kind of record for most wasted, unproductive time on a blog post with this one. Or if you’ve set your own personal record for the most potential time of great value lost. But I’m glad I could be a part of it somehow.

In Through The Out Door

I’ve been reading a book about parenting lately that explores, among other things, how to embrace and engage your “spirited child.” We have one of those. A delightful little kid who has TONS of spirit. So we’re trying to figure out how to utilize that spirit in the most positive way we can. You see, my in-laws both spent their entire careers trying to better the lives of children. Not their own, though they did a damn good job at that, too.  So when they speak about and give guidance on what to provide children with at young age, I listen. Intently. The recurring theme is this: focus on their strengths and use those strengths to overcome or minimize any weaknesses. It’s not a very complicated theme, but some of the stories I hear from about their work seems to indicate that many parents  weren’t able to embrace that simple theme.

Once again, I’m getting sidetracked. This book I’m reading goes into fairly specific detail about introverts and extroverts. I began thinking about my own personality traits as I really explored the two supposed opposites. What I found was that I have most definitely lean towards introvert, but I do have some extrovert tendencies.

Let’s go to Wikipedia for some more detail. My responses below are in bold:

Introverts often:

  • Gain energy when they are alone – hell yes
  • Derive energy from the inner world, ie, feelings, ideas, impressions – yep
  • Are good listeners – nope, but I’m trying
  • Think before you do or say – most of the time
  • Maintain more eye contact while listening to someone than when you speak to him – big time yes
  • Have little interest, but any interest is very immersed – nope
  • Only deep relationships with others is called “friendship” – yes
  • Prefer to talk face to face than in the group – oh lord yes
  • Speak slowly, with pauses –  no
  • That they need silence to concentrate, do not like it when they interrupt the work or any other activities (eg, ringing phone) – pretty much
  • Benefit from long-term memory, which often have the feeling of “lightheadedness” and may have trouble finding the right words during a conversation. yes
  • Better than extroverts to cope with tasks requiring attention – perhaps, but I’m not convinced
  • Easier to learn than by reading a conversation with others – yes
  • Prefer to reveal their inadequacy wit and mismatch – yes bigtime
  • Work the same regardless of whether they are praised or not, – nope, love praise
  • May have difficulty remembering faces and names – big yes, but can remember almost ANY phone number

So you can see that I have a lot introverted features. I am generally very uncomfortable talking and participating in large groups and prefer smaller groups or one-on-one. It’s not like I start to shake and pee myself in large groups, it’s just not my preference. I try my best. I absolutely LOVE spending time with myself. Which isn’t to say I ALWAYS need to be alone, but having time to myself does get me re-energized and always has. I spent a lot of time by myself as a child, so perhaps I got used to it and embraced it.

Now, an extrovert, according to Wikipedia:

is the act, state, or habit of being predominantly concerned with and obtaining gratification from what is outside the self. Extroverts tend to enjoy human interactions and are generally enthusiastic, talkative, assertive and gregarious in social situations. They take pleasure in activities that involve large social gatherings such as: parties, community activities, public demonstrations, business, and political groups. Politics, teaching, sales, managing and brokering are fields that favor extroversion. An extroverted person enjoys and becomes energized by larger groups of people while time alone is less enjoyable and boring to them.

This is not me. For the most part. I believe very much that I have some extroverted tendencies. I do enjoy human interaction very much. In small groups. There are times when I am very talkative, though you have to know me quite well. Other than that, nothing in that description fits me very well. It’s all very interesting stuff. More from Wikipedia – and this pretty much nails it on the head for me:

Although extroverts and introverts have real personality and behavior differences, it is important to avoid pigeonholing or stereotyping by personality. Humans are complex and unique, and because extroversion varies along a continuum, they may have a mixture of both orientations. A person who acts introverted in one scenario may act extroverted in another, and people can learn to act “against type” in certain situations. Jung’s theory states that when someone’s primary function is extroverted, his secondary function is always introverted (and vice versa).

So I see facets of both traits in my own children. I will, in observance and the experience of what my in-laws have told me, do my best to have my children embrace their strengths and whether they are introverts or extroverts doesn’t really matter because one isn’t better than the other. But it’s fun to delve into this stuff again (I studied and minored in Sociology in college). Yes, by the way, I have taken the Myers-Briggs test. I came out as an INFP, but was extremely close to ENFP. So there you have it. Your complete reading of my personality. Fascinating, I know. Or not.

Company and Privacy

Tomorrow (March 8) will mark exactly one year since I changed jobs. It seems completely impossible that one year has gone by so quickly, but the numbers don’t lie. Many of my friends ask me how it’s going and if I think I made the right move. As you might imagine, sometimes it takes a year – or even longer – to know for sure if you’ve done the right thing when you make a job change. Making a change that dramatic can be traumatic. Me? Hell, I consider myself lucky that I elected to make the change. Not a lot of people seem to be able to do that on their own these days. So almost every day, I thank my lucky stars I even have a job.

The answer to the question, by the way, is a resounding, amplified, loud YES. Believe me, there are still days when I feel like I’m walking through the dark woods with little-to-no guidance, but for the most part I must say the move has been insanely positive, exciting and of course educational, but professionally and sociologically. There haven’t been many days when I wanted to get back to the utter comfort of what I did before, to slink back into the old chair at Ask and just put it on robot. That happens when you do something for nine years – it becomes robot. So you rust it out and move on.

So, that thing about walking through the dark woods – I think this feeling is amplified when I think about where I came from – a larger organization with a lot of processes in place.  I spent nine years there and Ask in 2001 was actually a lot like where I am now:  a younger, leaner, wild-west of a place. When Ask was bought for 2 billion bucks in 2005, everything changed. My job itself didn’t change much, but the company around me most certainly did. It matured. Fast.

I spent an additional four years there after the acquisition and, all told, ended up learning a TON and soaking up an environment of extremely smart, creative, driven people. People whom I sometimes miss daily. When I think about Ask, I never think “boy, I miss that job.” Because I don’t. Not because I didn’t like it, but because I didn’t really feel challenged there anymore. It was like throwing on that old, comfortable college sweatshirt during my last year, which by the way, was one of my most successful years there. I, like the old sweatshirt, was completely functional, but worn out, frayed – and, yeah, time for something new. So when I think about Ask now, I think about some of the really fun times I had there with really great people. The frustrations and crap fade away with time. Much like life itself, it’s the relationships that matter most. I don’t keep in regular touch with many people there, but I do occasionally drop in for a hello on chat or email from time to time. It’ll be fun to hang with them again when the situation presents itself. And it will.

The new job? I guess I can’t call it the new job anymore, can I? The last year has been a seachange, learning to navigate the sometimes choppy and sometimes smooth waters of an entirely new set of heartbeats. Retail is an interesting beast, let me tell you. I was on the ground floor of the Newbury Comics internet business for about a year back in 1998-99 and that’s the extent of my retail experience, other than working in a mall record store in high school in 1988-89. As you imagine, though, given my interest in hockey, the perks are lovely. Many people ask me if I am sick of hockey yet. No, I am not at all.

Ten years after Newbury Comics, at this time last year, I plopped into the chair of Marketing guy (online and offline) at one of the country’s largest hockey and lacrosse retailers. Niche retailing, they call it. I’m still learning every day. I learn from my boss. I learn a LOT from our store managers, whether they know it or not. I learn from my co-workers. And I sincerely hope they learn from me, because I do believe I have a lot to share. Geez, I hope they feel the same.

Anyway, isn’t that what life is about? Learning. Learning about work, about people, about everything. Tonight I had to explain to one of my children what “company” is. In the process of potty training, he has learned what “privacy” is, so in the context of one of those conversations, the subject of having “company” came up (as a quick sidenote, my boy has only requested privacy on the potty once, otherwise, it has required my or Steph’s, um, company). So I had to tell my son what” company” was and the only thing that popped into my head was to tell him “company is when you need someone with you.”

I have to say, needing someone with you is a statement for the ages, whether it applies to work, home, or friends. There are the very rare people you meet in life who are truly, completely satisfied being alone. Think about that for a second. How many people do you know who are 100% happy by themselves? Not many. Company is what it’s all about. Be it your spouse, your co-workers or your friends, company is what makes most people’s world’s tick. When you look back on it all, you’re sure as hell not going to think about all your jobs, are you?

I know I won’t. But I can tell you this: I love my job. And I love company. Am I making any sense? I’m not sure.