Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Non-Religious Specific Seasonal Greeting to You !

I used to send out e-Christmas Cards. But then I got lazy. Or lazier.

So now, you have my blog, and my first annual "A Prisoner in the Tundra" non-religious specific seasonal greetings blog.

So without further adieu, here is my first ever "Winter Solstice Letter."

Dear Friend/Neighbor/Former Neighbor/Classmate I haven't spoken to in over 20 years/Acquaintance/Colleague/Dude I pass on the street each day:

2010 has been such a GREAT YEAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We started with a short jaunt in the French Riviera. January isn't the best time to be there, but it beats Minnesota in the winter. I try to exercise my options at my many international properties to avoid the Minnesota winter as much as I can.

Nile, who is in 7th grade, had a pretty decent year. He ended up having to turn down chairing a program in Tel Aviv to help end international violence because it conflicted with a Future Leaders of America camp. I'm so proud of how often he decides that his country comes before other nations!

He balanced his civic responsibilities nicely with a respect for a sound body. He has only received 12 division I football scholarship offers, and 21 division I basketball scholarship offers. He knows this is an area requiring improvement, but he is committed to working on it.

Grady, who entered 4th grade this year, has some catching up to do. He has only received 8 full academic scholarship offers to college thus far, compared to the 11 from his older brother. We are working closely with him to understand the ramifications of not applying himself fully for his future academic endeavors.

He is cute with his many hobbies, though. The best is his small scale research project in molecular biology, where he is trying to regrow organic tissue using stem cells. It makes putting up with his temper that much easier!

Myself, I would say I've had a great 2010. Upon turning down the U.S. Ambassadorship to the country of Zimbabwe, I did decide to remain as a special envoy to Japan. I mean, I love Sapporo (Japanese Beer) much more than I like Zebra's Head Stout (Zimbabwe beer), so the choice was a no brainer.

I was very wise and frugal in my stock portfolio this year, and it turns out that we will be able to add about 10 more property purchases to our assets in the coming year. It might require jettisoning a few of my slum rental units throughout lower-income neighborhoods in the U.S., but that is a smart move with the current state of the economy anyway.

I hope that this letter finds you all as healthy, wealthy and wise as my sons and I this non-religious specific seasonal celebration period. May you have an even better 2011!

With much love,

Steve, Nile and Grady

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My First Year in Retail...the Smack My Head Moments

Let me just say as I look back on my first year in retail, I literally mean my first year in retail.

I didn't even have the "pleasure" of working retail back in high school because I thought it would be way cooler to be a summer lifeguard. I'm pretty sure I was right then and right now.

But between the interesting customers, employees, and neighbors, it's been a very entertaining year in terms of "Did you really just say that?" moments.

The customers. Ah, they are the lynch pin of my store. They're always right. And sometimes quirky. A few of my favorite moments:

- A group of women walk in, and after a few minutes in the store walking around the store, one of them asks me, with a straight face, "Do you have anything for vegans?" Really? I mean, really? You come into an steak store and ask whether we have anything for vegans?

- A younger guy walks in, strolls to the back of the store where all the steaks are located, and asks "Do you guys sell beef?" After a brief pause to make sure I heard the question correctly, I responded. "Well no we don't. But we do sell plastic bags, and then we give you free beef to put into it."

- A man walks in wearing flannel pajama bottoms, flip flops, a tattered t-shirt, and a lime green baseball cap. After buying more than $200 worth of our best porterhouse steaks, he decided to hang out for the next hour telling me about how he was close friends with John Travolta and Tom Cruise, and how Scientology was the truth of the world.

- While not a customer of my store, a frequent customer at Toby Keith's Bar & Grill deserves a shout out. Because if you're a little person with a skullet (receding hairline mullet), you deserve that at the very least.

The employees, well what can I say? They've given me some pretty good "say what?" moments as well, such as:

- The employee who insisted the reason he was late every day for his shift was because the time on his cell phone was not correct. I explained to him that cell phones were linked to satellites and towers that transmitted the real time to the cell phone, which was why we didn't have to change the time on our cell phone when Daylight Savings Time kicked in. He replied by saying he was with a really cheap cell phone company, and he didn't think they used those things.

- The employee who pulled what we call a "no call, no show" in the bidness. Since I was close friends with his cousin, which was why he got the job, I called my friend to inform him of his cousin's absence. Not five minutes after that, the employee called up and said "Steve, I'm sorry I didn't call you earlier but I just got out of jail." Seriously. That was his excuse. I'll skip the part of not wanting to tell your boss that information if it was true, since in this case I knew it wasn't true. I told him he'd need to bring in the paperwork that shows he was in jail. He said he was so mad when he left the jail he threw the paperwork away in a trash can on his way out. I told him to just have the jail fax a copy of the paperwork to the store. That was the end of that conversation.

Last, but most certainly not least, are the neighbors in my brand new mall, and the interesting things they bring to the table, including:

- The women of Toby Keith's Bar & Grill. They're the nicest women you'll ever meet when you're sitting at the bar with an open tab!

- The Booger Eater. If you missed it, there was an employee from another store in the mall who would eat her lunch on the bench in front of my store everyday. Then she would pick her boogers. And eat them. And mumble to herself. Winter is cruel in Minnesota, and unfortunately I think I'm done with Booger Eater sightings until spring.

Yes, this year has definitely been educational for me, and every day I can say at the very least that I've learned something new, or seen something new, or laughed my ass off for a new reason.

Here's to the second year, when I hope I'll be able to top the booger eater, midgets with mullets, and jailed employee stories.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Explaining DJK To A 12 and 9-Year-Old

I was expecting the question when I picked my sons up after school yesterday.

"Dad, what happened to DJK?"

To those readers who don't know the Iowa Hawkeyes, DJK is Derrell Johnson-Koulianos. An All-Big Ten wide receiver who has played (but not started) for four years. He seemed to always be in trouble with the coaching staff for the Hawkeyes. And on Tuesday, he was arrested on seven charges when the Iowa City Police Department executed a search warrant involving a drug investigation of DJK's roommate.

In Ferentz's doghouse more often than not, DJK had fast become a man of flash and pizazz both on and off the field.

And his story was right out of The Blind Side. Born to a teen mom in Youngstown, Ohio, Koulianos bounced around town as a virtual orphan for much of his youth before his current family brought him into their lives and adopted him legally.

And let's also be clear. He is a phenomenal player. He broke the career receiving yards record at Iowa held by perhaps the second most popular Hawkeye football player ever behind 1939 Heisman Trophy winner Nile Kinnick, Tim Dwight.

But for every touchdown, there was a tweet. For every record broken, there was a Facebook status update. For every media interview request there was a sideshow that resembled T.O./Ochocinco light.

But DJK had fast become a favorite of my sons. I'm not going to lie, they were Ricky Stanzi fans first. But my oldest, who played wide receiver last fall in his first year playing football, looked to DJK before any other when it came to who he wanted to be when he stepped on the field.

And I respected DJK. So much so that I had personally commended him this fall on the strides he made to stay out of the doghouse this year.

So when I was forced to answer the questions from my sons, wanting to know why their hero was indefinitely suspended (aka kicked off) the Hawkeye football team, I chose to be honest. And factual.

After telling them he was arrested on drug charges, they asked what drugs. I told them the drugs that the police found (my oldest has been through D.A.R.E. and knows what the different drugs are from that, my youngest just think drugs are everything that is bad for you, including fatty foods).

They both said maybe DJK wasn't involved, maybe it was just his roommate.

I explained that he had admitted to police that he had done various drugs in the past 24 hours, and submitted to a drug test that confirmed it.

Then they both quickly came into the acceptance stage. "Well hopefully he still gets drafted to the NFL. Wow, we're going to get killed in our bowl game. But Sandeman is a good receiver. Not great like DJK, but good."

And after reading meltdown after meltdown from various Hawkeye fans all over the Interwebz yesterday regarding DJK, I realized my sons had a really good perspective on it. "That stinks that DJK isn't playing in the bowl game. Do we have any chocolate molton lava cakes?"

Heck yeah we have chocolate molten lava cakes. Would you like some whip cream with that?

I hope that Derrell does the right thing in the coming months. Take responsibility for your actions. Apologize to your fans (in particular the young ones who look up to you as a role model). Move out of Iowa City, you're not doing yourself a favor staying in the fish bowl. Work hard at preparing yourself for the next phase in your life, whether that involves football or not. Be careful who you keep in your company, there's no reason to create temptations you don't need.

And to my sons I say work hard every day.

Be careful who you call a friend.
Think about what might happen tomorrow for your actions today.

You don't have to be mistake-free, lord knows I have been far from that...but you should learn from your mistakes.

And perhaps the most important, when your superior, whether it's a teacher, coach, or boss, tells you to do something, just do it. And smile. And be thankful that you are lucky enough to have that teacher, coach or boss who cares enough to try and teach you something.

We've all made mistakes, we just don't usually get the attention that DJK is getting for our mistakes. But that goes with the territory since we also don't get the attention that DJK received for his performances on the field.

Live by the sword, die by the sword. Let's hope that DJK can find his second chance in life.

Monday, December 6, 2010

By George, It Really IS Wonderful

"I'm shakin' the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I'm gonna see the world." _ George Bailey.

It is no secret that "It's A Wonderful Life" is my favorite movie of all time.

And I'm not ashamed to admit that, even though I've seen the movie roughly 2 million times, I can still cry like a baby when I watch it.

I've seen it in black and white. In enhanced color. I'm waiting for the 3-D version to arrive in theaters.

And yes, I do realize the movie has become a cliche of the Holiday season. But I don't care.

The underlying themes of the movie speak so much to me, in particular since in many ways my life has been very anti-George Bailey.

I didn't stay in my own personal Bedford Falls (aka Sioux City). I went away to college as quickly as I could and learned a lot of new things. A few of them were even in the classroom.

I also lived in London, England for a semester, and made sure that my homework load didn't interfere with my nightly dart game at the neighborhood pub.

Then I went on to grad school in Iowa City to pursue my dream of being a newspaper reporter.

I ended up living there for 8 years, and Iowa City quickly became my second Bedford Falls.

And I wanted to stay there. I had found my "home."

But I didn't stay. Having family close to us was important to my ex-wife and I during the years we tried to juggle diaper changes with careers.

So I spurned Bedford Falls not once, but twice.

Not George Bailey. He stayed despite his hatred for doing so. Because that's what had to be done.

And while George couldn't see it without the help of an Angel, his life was complete despite all the pipe dreams and destinations he never followed up on visiting.

I don't have a Clarence to guide me back to Bedford Falls, but I have a ton of friends in both Sioux City and Iowa City who make it so easy for me when I return.

And in the long run, I know I'll be back to one of the two. Just not sure which one yet.

But I know this much...I'll be happier than Mr. Potter in a bath of crisp 100 dollar bills if when I do return, a room full of friends sing "Auld Lang Syne" and pass around a bucket for donations.

If that happens, the kegs on me, kids.

As the inscription in the book from Clarence to George read, "Remember George: No man is a failure who has friends."

"I wish I had a million dollars! HOT DOG!" _ George Bailey.