Sunday, December 28, 2008

The desire for the dirty, and the original.

I was fascinated by this tag on a pair of $89.95 white painter pants today at the Polo Outlet. I think the tag says it all.

We hunger for our clothes to tell the story of us as a man.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The gifts.

Have you ever wondered why we give so many gifts? I mean, its easy to go down the road of we are a consumeristic, selfish, and fat bellied American thing. Ok, I have heard that alot, no doubt, has great merit. But what if hiding in all our attempts to give so many gifts, is our flat out denial of being able to receive one?

We are given a gift by God. Wrapped, yes, swaddling clothes, in a manger, no fancy bow. A gift that cannnot be bought. It sounds so easy, I dont have to buy it. It sounds too good, with all the economy stuff, you mean, there is a real gift that wont cost the family anything? I'm in. We are all in! But isn't that the dilemmna. I received that gift like a child, like Santa hand delivering it to me, so grateful for that little baby and his life. I held onto that gift when I was younger. But why do I wake up feeling more like scrooge these days? More life, more reasons to be mad, hurt, or seeing corruption. But there we are, again. And where does God ask us to move but into the gift. To see, to look, and receive from Big Poppa Santa.

I wonder if one of the reasons there are so many gifts is because we know how hard it is, to just reflect, receive, and enjoy the gift from God. It is so much easier to spend money on gifts, and tear through them, we send gifts, buy gifts, and open gifts, because we know a gift is what this season is to be about. Lord, how do I enjoy your gift, like my big wheels, or Masks, or Transformers, with such delight. That was a plastic toy, and I was over joyed, you are a man, sent to save me.

May you Lord, teach me to receive that one gift. To be joyful. And full.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Stock traders in limousines.

What if how we might get out of this financial mess was by getting in it.

There is a bronze statue that stands outside of Wall Street and the New York stock exchange. A giant icon of the hopes and futures of Wall Street and American capitalism bucking and fiercely echoing to us as a glaring reminder of what we need to find again. And while a bull market seems to be fading away, I think it brings a good time to rediscover where it came from. Back to the roots. Or, I mean, back to the bulls.

I always saw my uncle as a blue collar farmer who dealt with animals, and nasty smells, and constant mud on his Ohio farm. A little more on the rough side with his cowboy hat, and occasional fowl mouth, with Garth Brooks playing, always chirping off at those men in boardrooms and business deals—who I saw as the more fortunate souls, like my white collar roots. As a kid from a private school, and a college education, I was told indirectly to avoid this type of life through my business degree. It was for the more poor and unfortunate souls. What I never knew, until a recent visit, was that he was the real stock broker in limousines, and the type of business man who knew his way around the bull, much better than any concrete executive in steel buildings in a city.

If you want to understand where America went wrong, all you have to do is go visit a stock broker. The original ones—like my Uncle Mike.

Mike is getting older, hair is fading, and his life is into what we could call retirement age, sagging a bit, and a little less amiable. But when I showed up at the farm, he was out demolishing some old concrete, pounding under the wooden rafters of his barn with a metal mallet that most men could barely swing into position a time or two, much less a full day of breaking hard concrete into pieces. While he might get senior coffee at McDonalds, he could take out the whole restaurant in one blow if needed. And you don’t have to tell him that, he knows it. He is a quiet strength type.

It wasn’t till I actually went to spend a day with him that I realized he was a stock broker of the finest quality, and highest reputation. A genuine bull trader of preferred stock. These words first taught to me in classrooms and business school.
But it all began to make more sense out here. And the origins of it all.
Mike not only sells the stock, he also picks up its poop, gives them shots, and feeds them feed and hay often in ten degrees of frozen ice. The problems on Wall street are obvious, we don’t have any more cash cows. The problem is not the cash, as people think, it is the fading understanding of the cows.

The word stock came out of a term to describe tangible goods and supplies used for thousands of years. A stockroom might be filled with cans of Yams. A stock yard might contain a whole mess of cattle mooing, and eating hay on route to be slaughtered. Hundreds of years ago, when business was about trading these stock, it was often directly for goods and services. Lewis and Clark trading their guns and supplies, for furs and food with Indians.

But as Americans, we found our way, as any progressing economy, to separate jobs and labor, and different classes to avoid such cumbersome transactions. While stock was good to trade, it took work, and it had to be stored, and it often pooped, and made a mess, and so we replaced items and stock, and turned it into paper, and separated people into professions and classes to do the different labor. We were able to exchange real stock with the paper, and could print it, and make it more abundant, and stack it, and fit it neatly onto balance sheets, and books and sell it more easily to people who wanted a part.

Instead of item for item, an exchange of one good for another, we had all these sheets of paper, and money, from all these treaties, and contracts to disperse and distribute, and hold onto in vaults. We needed bankers to hold the paper. We needed lawyers to figure out the contracts, and accountants to count up all the numbers, and then found businessmen to sell it and advertise how good the stock was. It was working great. We soon realized it could also be digitized. And deposit our paper directly into our online accounts.

We could transfer and trade it online with a computer, and buy stocks so easily that a caveman could do it, or wait, even less, little babies on E-trade could do it. Stock trading was no longer reserved exclusively for some rancher in Ohio with land and hay, it was for babies.

Before long, like wandering cows in a field, we got all scattered around, and gone astray and we forget what it was to know the stock, and interact with it, and pull out a baby cow, and help nurse it and feed it milk. We did not know how to tend to the thing when it mooed, or cried, or was hungry. And we are even finding, when we thought we had stock, we had nothing at all—some dude on wall street just gave us a blank paper, instead of one with some official writing on it.

We talk about numbers, thousands, six figures, millions, billions, and trillions. Numbers that were just that, numbers. No real meaning behind them. And so we could pay people large amounts, and stock options and they never met much since we were all getting bigger numbers too.

If you tell Mike we are going to add 4 more to his stock, he knows what it means, and how it relates and affects him. He understand he will have to shovel more crap, that it will eat more food, and take more space, and break more fences and require more shots. A number means something to his stock. It means more work. The problem with our economy, is we have lost the value of that. Throw in a few more hundred billion to the economy, sure. Whatever we need, in some part, because we don’t feel the pain in it, we aren’t connected to numbers anymore. They don’t carry a cost, like Mike.

Since we don’t shovel the crap, or collect the hay, we let some poor and unfortunate farmer in Ohio do it for us-thinking we had avoided such petty work. We could get back to watching the Super Bowl.

Before long, the executives were eating the meat, maybe of their own stock, and they didn’t know where it came from, what the cut of meat even met, or that an animal was slaughtered for their meal. And that is where it all broke down. Being so disconnected from it all. Expensive jets, and weekend excursions from all those big bonuses for raising the stock price. But, often, there was nothing much there. And more often than not, we were eating ourselves from within, like cannibals, only our meat was our inflated stock. It was not fat from too much grain, but our own narcisstic egos that somehow believed we had got away from the hard and rough life of a rancher. We had avoided it all.

No one knew that while CEO’S drove up in Limousines to cheeky restaurants in luxurious New York city streets celebrating their stock prices that the $100 Ruth Chris New York strip steak served so delicately and deliciously before them was the bull, that it lived and breathed, pooped and chewed cud and was traded by a stock broker like my Uncle Mike. It was just presented each time, nicely prepared, and cut to size, and served with butter, and some crisp, but not too hard mushrooms on a warm and delicate white plate.

And so we lost the real value of stock, of what it meant, and where it came from, and to put it simply, our cash cow was gone. We simply ate it, not even knowing it.
I never knew it, but my Uncle Mike was the original real businessman in Limousines.
You see, he is a trader of real preferred stock too. He is a stock breeder that takes his best cattle to shows across the country. And if you asked him what type of stock he trades in, he would tell you limousines.

Mike has no glamorous job. He admits that he has made his living by using a metal contraption and ejaculating the bull limousines, and collecting the sperm, then breds the viles into the egg of another prize heifer by shoving a metal tube up through the heifer’s asshole, and into the cervix.

Before he ever takes his preferred stock limousine to shows across the country, he has actually created the stock from a sperm and egg with his own hands years before. And with these limousines, he doesn’t get the pleasure to ride on, but drives them in a trailer across the country.

What I never gave him credit for is that the man is a smart guy. While he still deals with dirt, and mud, and sweat and hay, and freezing winter months, he also has real estate investments and made land purchase acquisitions along the way. He makes trades on leases of hay, and the crops on his land.

At one time, his father was a Ford car salesman, but at some point sold it all, and was sick of the work, the haggling, and the sales techniques and dealing with people. And so, he sold it, and traded it all for this 250 acre farm outside of town. He didn’t go out and sell the farm, he bought it. Traded what used to be an American cash cow, the car industry, overpriced and bulky from fat union wages and the bellies of bad decisions along the way, and traded it all in for real cows.

The cows taught Mike what we have failed to find, and learn. We forgot what it meant to care for it when it cried, to nurse the calves, and bring it hay each day, and give it yearly shots, and shovel the bull shit ourselves, not let someone else do it for us. Everything was inflated in Wall Street, and home prices, partially because nothing could be really measured for a real value. We seemed to all benefit, so we never asked questions. But for Mike’s stock to rise, for him to sell his preferred stock, sometimes in upwards of $100,000 a prize winning cow, he has to get him to the right condition.

Through feeding, and breeding, and taking care of the animals to produce the great muscle structure they need. “He fattens the calf.” Literally. And when he trades the stock, people can see just what that bull stock is worth.
We forgot how to raise the value of stock. By feeding it, and giving it corn feed.

Real stock comes from work, the kind of work where you are connected to the people, and to the land, and the animals and the places you are around. Eventually when that work is added up, it produces a harvest. The kind this country needs to rediscover by getting its hands in the dirt, and back to the farm, and to economics 101.

And so, while wall street crumbles, and our economy falls into itself by printing more money, and letting the government buy up all the bad stock, I’d like to suggest some of the men who claim to be fixing our economy, get back to the basics, and discover what a piece of stock really is. If we are going to save this economy, I say find some of those bull traders, and have them pull up with their limousines and release them on Wall Street. We could use their inspiration.

Friday, December 19, 2008

PJ - Elk Video.

One of the friends I met in Colorado was PJ. He was a transplant, near my age, and was a native from a small town in West Virginia. While PJ and I shared our faith, and my now emerging love for the outdoors, we could not have come from different places and town from back east. He had grown up in a mining area and from a place where the school systems take off an entire week at the start of hunting season—the whole town closed up shop and took to the woods. Gun shots echoed in the valleys and sung in harmony like you might find at a Broadway musical. Style was different as well. You don’t wear multiple jackets in Wheeling. Not cold weather, rain, warm, fleece, and designer coats, and as far as style? That was absurd, and wasteful. You have one all function jacket. A Camo one. It serves all purposes. It can be worn out on the town to shop, in a tree stand, or even to a funeral. And that is where he came from. Hunting wasn’t just a luxury, it was part of how you survived, and the food you kept for meals.

It was this man, who one day invited me to his place with the words, “I have a video I want you to watch.”

It was titled “The Truth Big Bulls 10.”

If you would have asked me to explain what it was without looking at the cover, it would have been quite a challenge. Sounded like a cross between a black gospel choir and a sports team. But neither. It was a hunting video. Elk hunting. Men hunting right here in Colorado.

While I was into gear, and trying to understand myself as a man. I just wasn’t bred to hunt. I had never wanted to, and had a hard time seeing the transition from the kind of man I had been to any form that included camo or killing. Never had any reason to go kill, meat was plentiful in the stores. And there was definitely no real interest in any form of sitting in a deer stand. Or putting on camo and waiting for it to come to me. I was quite comfortable in going to find it in white and blue Styrofoam.

I had a friend similar to PJ in high school. I would always make fun of my friend, Jeremy who liked to hunt. He was the only half-backwoods friend I ever had who was living in the redneck south, but also at our posh little private school and living in Brentwood.

Jeremy like PJ, had came from a long line of hunters. Hunting went deep for all of them. It’s tradition in their family to hunt. He hunts on the same land where his family moonshined years ago. An old truck blown up by the police still sits in the middle of the woods rusting away. It is this same land where Jeremy spent his mornings sitting in a deer stand.

While some were born into it, or had the gene, hunting was not in my DNA, and the way I saw it reserved exclusively for the people of the world who had trailers, and who liked to put old cars as yard ornaments in the front lawn. Deer jerky and venison makes Jeremy drool, while I’d be fine and happy with a Bobboli pizza. I dismissed Jeremy, went on to college, got married, moved to Colorado, seemed very fine with how things were turning out, apart from my past, and all that sort of stuff. I didn’t see my need for rednecks, or this hunting thing—until the evangelism of Big Bulls came. I was about to experience in the best explanation of words—hunting erection. Or as some call it, Buck Fever.

The video didn’t start that way. I was quite skeptical of it. I watched as what appeared to be a classic scene of Bubba, and his buddy filming an elk hunt in Colorado with poor video work, a shaky camera, and horrible wind blowing into the audio that made my head spin. It appeared homemade, and while their best attempts had all the expectations of some southern drawls that I had known so well that bordered the towns around me growing up.

But as I started watching, I was blown away by these massive creatures they were stalking, the structure and size of them, like horses roaming wild around backcountry grasslands and deep timber. They were magnificent. Large and mystical animals with the males having these massive antlers extending in all directions. And the men, the guides who were talking seemed to understand the animals and the land, and how the wind would affect their approach. They would share secrets, and this amount of knowledge that was like some great teacher of wisdom, like Gandalf talking to Frodo but about hunting. I kinda got into it. And then they started blowing in tubes, and mimicking this bellowing sound that drew them closer.

These giant bull elk were bugling back and forth, to these men blowing in plastic tubes as if they were having a conversation. The elk drew closer, slowly approaching. I started moving closer to the screen as well, inching nearer, while I waited and wondering what’s next.

Then there was silence. The rifle was raised. Then a shot. And then all of a sudden, the men were staring at each other. Faces of ghastly horror or amazement. Eyes were wide. Mouth was open. Their hands were extended out to each other within seconds of the shot. These burly men looked like little school boys who had just been given extra time for recess. These burly men who we would have type cast as emotionless brutes of another era with their country accents, and sausage gravy biscuits still in their beards were now not only acting like kids, they had just turned jumped genders and looked like little school girls jumping at each other. They were frantic. Almost dancing, and hugging, and smiling. It was everything these men were not supposed to be doing considering their personality and what I had thought of them. But they kept trying to squeeze each other, every part of their body hugging and extracting love or happiness between them. Then, Will. The guy who shot the elk started crying, broke down with emotion to his camera guy, sharing what he was feeling.

I sat there, and could not believe what I was witnessing. Like I had seen alients. I was like… what is going on here? Looking at PJ a bit funny. Should we turn this off?
As I left his house, and had days to play the scenes over, and over, I knew I had just witnessed something deep. And as weird as it sounded—very spiritual. I don’t know what it was, I didn’t have words, or great thoughts, but there was something in it that I wanted. Something the man shared. Something the elk had awakened in me. Along with the land. The camo. The gun, and all the hugging. I started thinking…

I wanted to hunt.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The American Man. Or so I thought.

I grew up right smack in the suburbs of America, and in the central south. A town called Brentwood, right outside of Nashville. It was if Normal Rockwell had taken a large tube out, and unrolled and tacked down a beautifully painted canvas flat to the ground. It was full of soft rolling hills and private collections and communities of nice one-acred picket fence home sites where you could raise your families, and feel proud of what you had made of your life. The southern accents were perfect, a little southern drawl, but not too redneck, or harsh, or uncomprehendable. The tea was sweet, and so was the charm of the place. Business was also bustling with eight story office buildings filled with white collar workers.

Like bees coming in and out of their buildings in suits and ties.

I don’t know how it worked, but the concrete never grew weeds, or cracks, or collected dirt. It seemed always fresh, and gray like the day it was poured. Even the grass that lined the homes, and the streets was so green, and watered, it looked more like soft carpet you could sleep on. There were not trailer homes, or trailer parks, or busted and broken down vehicles cruising the streets. The land was too valuable for that, and the Police would pull over a car with any sign it did not belong. Open land in Brentwood was scarce too, limited to the wilderness that we called golf courses. Impeccably manicured and exclusive to mostly men who could afford their membership.

And the churches, and God, that seemed the best part. We had the greatest places, almost like great plantation mansions that lined the roads, and swallowed the entire town on Sunday mornings into rows of pews from churches of every kind. God was doing quite well in Brentwood. The men were well-dressed. Polite. Behaved. Well-to-do. Courteous. Successful. And while busy at work, always showed up for Sundays.

You might say I grew up with a silver spoon in my mouth, but I would say I was given the life that most all parents were hoping for their children, and sons. A good education, even private. Didn’t have to quit school, or earn income to help pay bills for the family. Or even worry about paying for college. It was provided for me, as part of being in the family. I didn’t have many expenses. Food, and shelter, and all the bills just seemed a parent’s responsibility. Health insurance, car insurance, those were somehow all covered as being a son, and having a father who wanted to make sure all that was provided for his sons. They did their job, as I understood mine. To study, and have time to study, so I could get the best education. And find a good job, and have a good life for my kids. And repeat it all.

In a town with a whole lot of money and success, came a whole lot of expectations, spoken and unspoken on the children who came from it. Social status and income was very important, and you got the idea that if you did not match your families place, you hadn’t really made it in life. No one ever said it, it was just assumed. Many of the kids, like me, were sent to the best prep schools in high school to prepare them for the big college schools around, and to be launched in their careers. You just kinda were expected to take your degree, and move into a similar life—do a little more than the family. Serve God, and live well.

The way of Brentwood, like the way of white collar was “you work smarter, not harder.” Education and getting on track of how you could use it, was the key to becoming that man. All my friends headed in line, and before long we were prepared, and ready to launch out into the world of white collar, business, and success.

I had entrepreneur in my blood. Mowed a few yards a week so I could make big cash.

As my friends went to work for construction companies over the summer, or busing tables at a restaurant, I stayed on my lawns. 5 yards a week, about 8 hours total, could bring in about 225 bucks. About the same they were making for a full week. My dad would always want me to go work forty hours a week in the summers at construction sites. But I never saw the reason. I had enough money, more than even them, and I could work in 2/3 less the time. I was smart, white collar smart. And convinced I was on the track for great things. Even at 16, I had outsmarted the system.

When it came to Jesus, and God, it was about studying and knowing the word and scripture. For a few years of college, I devoted myself to it. Reading it on my own, being at many ministry nights, of worship, and study. Memorizing scripture. Learning the attributes of God.

Academics were stressed in Brentwood, and at college. You didn’t make something of yourself by sitting around. You had to work. Make grades, to get into a good college. So you could have a good major, and find a good job. The pressure was in your studies. Everything hinged on this year. This report card. This class. It was the key to the future, which involved studying. Listening. Taking notes. Parents said it. Teachers repeated it. I had done all that, listened to them.

I did not see it, but I was born as a young man of privilege, and class. Given things at a young age that most people up to this point in the history of the world, had to work for themselves. I had worked out a system to have my parents pay me a stipend while in college. If I worked, it would hurt my grades, I explained.

Through my father’s hard work, and his growing business, he was able to afford a private education, and pay my way through Brentwood and school. I never thought too much about it, but there wasn’t really ever a question that the kids from Brentwood would move into something great, and into a large home, and into a similar life, it was just a matter of time. We came from these families, and we were to become much like them one day.

Business parks rose up, new banks, and new churches grew with the sprawl of the town. Men wore suits to work, and to church. White collar was king around our parts. And people were driven. They knew what they wanted, and they pursued it. With that, came a sense of security and confidence in the place. People were doing well, and had made it. Churches were big, and on the mega side. Brentwood was the place to be, and where people settled down who were successful, had done something, often in music or in business.

Those who didn’t have the luxury of living in Brentwood, came in to Brentwood to landscape our yards, work in our restaurants, and clean the homes, and streets.

I just assumed with so much effort put into an education, and college that these men had missed something. Not quite made it. Lost out on America’s dream. Maybe through their own shortcomings, or to no fault of their own. Maybe a bad background. Problems in school. Not given many opportunities. From what I could tell there were two worlds, and two tiers, and two color choices before me. The path of education, and then the laborers that fit into blue collar work. A life of Brentwood, or a life working for people who lived in Brentwood. The white collar world of business suits, and making big deals in the corporate offices which I grew up around. Or a world outside of building homes, and putting in a good days sweat through labor and moving dirt.

I was a natural for the white collar world. I was a son of it.

I could tell my dad was struggling with it. He wanted me to work. As a boy he was forced to work hard jobs in the steel mills of Ohio, on his father’s demands. He responded by being obedient. But when it came to him asking me to work 40 hours a week in the summer, I asked why?

Why go through that? Why when you can make 10x that in my own private business. I don’t think my dad was able to answer that question, he never asked, just obeyed.

It wasn’t enough for me. I needed to know why?

The way I saw it, we had come a long way since then. Technology. Internet. Machines to do the sweat for you. Thanks, Dad. But no thanks. I will work my job on the side, and play in the summers. I had all the money I needed, working part time.

If I looked at where most of my days were spent, it was surrounded by white blocks, and chalk boards, and books.There was plenty of life and sports outside of that, but most of my days were around teachers. My learning came through studying. Knowledge was passed by learning through a book and a chalkboard. Mostly Sitting. I didn’t fight it. Or ask too many questions. I just trusted this system. Kept progressing.

And moving up.

It all came together to be well, in rather perfect harmony.

One day my parents brought over a photographer. I had always seen the pictures up at malls and places. Southerners love to capture their family in a picture. Take a shot of the family, and dog in the yard, and display it over the fireplace as a lasting memorial to the family in a large golden ornate frame. And that is what you did in Brentwood. You took a family picture by a photographer, and took that large picture and hung it on the wall in your house. Every house in Brentwood has one of the family.

And without even knowing it, we were sort of one of the pictures of the Brentwood family success story. After getting the photo taken from our pool deck, the photographer hung it in the glass window of his studio in Brentwood. Little families, and nice cars drove by each day in Brentwood, as they busily were in search of doing the same thing with their families. Repeating the cycle, and having their family hung up in the picture too.

Without really knowing it, we had become the American dream, and I figured that I was well on the path to becoming the American man.