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There’s always something to howl about

Archive for February, 2011

My goal for March? Satisfied clients and a satisfied mind.

I changed the back of my business card. This is the new copy:

I agree with Jeff that giving good service while failing to achieve the main objective is a useless vanity. The Bawldguy champions results, but I would offer the further caveat that the goal of any business should be to achieve full customer satisfaction. That’s something that I’ve been meaning to write about for a while, but I’ve been kind of tied up with, you know, actually doing it — and getting better at it, I hope.

Meanwhile, tomorrow is the first day of the last month of the first quarter of 2011. If your numbers so far are not all you’d hoped for, here is a March calendar to help you get started tracking your goals.

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  • 2 comments

    The Food Is Terrible, But Wow! The Service Is Out Of This World

    Ever had a friend rave about a newly found restaurant who said the service was literally the best he’s ever seen? The question hangin’ in the air of course, is — How was the food? Ever heard a friend reply, “Oh, the food? Average at best. But the service was so off the charts, we’re goin’ back every week.” I’m bettin’ not.

    Let’s lay out a few examples of the above.

    Did attendance at Chargers games drop last season cuz they didn’t always wear their wildly popular throwback uniforms? OR, cuz they stopped winning?

    Would you rather have the rude, gruff, but world class doctor? OR, the dime a dozen physician who serves homemade cookies in the waiting room, and makes you feel really good about yourself?

    Is your best friend your best friend cuz they don’t tell ya the shirt you’re plannin’ to wear on that first date makes you look like a 1958 Sears appliance salesman? OR, cuz when you call them at 3 AM on a rainy Wednesday morning, they’re there in 10 minutes?

    The Chargers’ win/loss record isn’t in any way connected to their uniform’s design.

    Your doctor’s manners are irrelevant to his ability/inability to treat you.

    Your best friend pisses your wife off regularly, yet he’s still the guy you go to when it MATTERS.

    You’re in the real estate business. There’s only one thing you do that’s guaranteed, every time it’s tried, to put a smile on your client’s face.

    Produce the result you were hired to produce.

    Results speak more loudly than anything else you do, including your so-called world class service.

    Those who spend the bulk of their time and money enabling them to produce those results for more people, faster, are the smart kids in the room.

    Clients don’t pay us five figures for HappyTalk. They pay us for results.

    It’s pretty easy to discern who, and who does not get that in any given market.

    However, as Grandpa replied to me once, when, as a 12 year old I said painting pictures of landscapes/seascapes was hard, “If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.”

    Testimonials may speak of the wonderful service they received from their agent, but they wouldn’t be testimonials if the agent hadn’t provided the originally sought after results — and sooner rather than later.

    You have a choice.

    Produce results — OR — become an assistant for an agent who does. Then you can give all the wonderful service your heart desires.

    Did that sound harsh? Find a testimonial about a real estate agent praising their agent, who never did produce the results they wanted, but gave the bestest service ever while failing month after month.

    Ask yourself — Why are those with the most CatSkins on the wall called top PRODUCERS?

    Results. Nothing trumps ‘em, and there is no acceptable substitute.

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  • 21 comments

    The Lones Group in Bellingham Washington Commits Hari Kari

    Warning : This post is purely REALTOR inside baseball

    Around here, we live, eat and breathe marketing. Online reputation management and online publicity is what we do to get our clients houses sold and  to find buyers who trust us enough to allow us  to assist them in their home search.  As a student of this stuff, I am flabbergasted by the news that a self anointed expert who in her own words, “started the Real Estate marketing revolution… and we are darn proud of it!” would attempt to extract money from a practicing REALTOR over 2,000 miles away who happens to use the same mascot, a Zebra. Now I understand that hard earned and promoted brands must be protected, but I really cannot see how Daniel Rothamel’s zebra mascot in Virginia, promoting Daniel’s real estate brokerage activity could in anyway damage The Lones Group in Bellingham Washington which uses a rainbow zebra on their website.

    The Lones Group in Bellingham, WA and it’s owner, Denise Lones do not even perform real estate brokerage-they sell advice to those who do perform real estate brokerage.  I am not sure I see how Daniel Rothamel, the Real Estate Zebra is damaging The Lones Group and their photoshopped rainbow zebra.  I took a peak at the Lones Group website to see if perhaps they did business in Virginia and that was why they were picking on Daniel Rothamel, The Real Estate Zebra.  Upon glancing at their testimonial page of happy customers, I only found clients in the Pacific Time zone, most of their clients were Washington REALTORS.  I did note something peculiar about the Lones Group’s happy customers, as listed on their testimonials page. There are 28 testimonials displayed. Six of their happy clients had no website link.  Six more happy customers of the Lones Group had links to… wait for it…dead websites.   Now we find that the company that started the Real Estate marketing revolution has 25% of their happy clients who love the Lones Group’s work are not even linked to this powerhouse marketing firm and are hidden from potential clients.  I may be wrong, but if I were selling the real estate marketing revolution that I started, I would make darn sure that my happiest, bestest clients could be found from my website on the off chance that a potential customer would take a peek at the revolutionary work I had done.  Well, this potential customer found 25% of the happy customers were missing in action in this revolution. Why are they missing? Were they litigated into oblivion? Inquiring minds want to know.

    Exploring The Lones Group in Bellingham, Washington calendar posted in their website (just Google The Lones Group, Bellingham Washington) I find that the Lones group calendar is full of events in the State of Washington for REALTORS of that state. I did not find any events announced for the State of Virginia.  I really have to wonder what this lawsuit is all about.  Daniel Rothamel does not compete with Denise Lones in any way shape or form. He just happens to use a sketch of a black and white zebra to promote his business. Denise Lones uses a rainbow colored zebra. Denise Lones should put her attack attorneys on these companies as well, since she paid for the boilerplate:

    www.zebra.com
    www.zebra.ru
    www.zebraconsulting.com

    www.zebrapromos.com

    www.zebrapen.com

    Lones’ attorneys might even find more satisfaction from any of the above companies.  Daniel Rothamel is a sole practioner REALTOR in Virginia, not a real estate marketing consultant, and has no more to do with the Lones Group’s practice than any of the above Zebra themed companies.

    Well, the title of this post was about Hari Kari, implying that the Lones Group is suicidal. Here is my take:  The Lones Group promotes themselves as a marketing consultant to REALTORS.  As such, they, better than anyone else should know that REALTORS as a species bleed empathy,  for their clients and for their colleagues. We are the only industry that cooperatively offers commissions to competitors. We are social critters.  Daniel Rothamel is one of us, and he is being kicked  by a vendor that makes her living from the hard earned commission dollars of REALTORS.

    Now, knowing REALTORS as I do, it seem to me that this assault on Daniel Rothamel, The Real Estate Zebra is Hari Kari.   Just sayin’.

    Here is the complaint

    List of Zebra Companies: h/t Cheryl Johnson

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  • 23 comments

    The Mac OSX 2 Minute Guide To Doubling Your Income

    Presented without comment:

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    Hey, Wisconsin: Here’s a better idea: Divest your state of its education monopoly!

    I’m totally digging the contretemps in Wisconsin. My take is that a lot of formerly-innocent Americans are seeing the naked grasping of Rotarian Socialism in a new way. Even without 2008, I think most people got it that business and government lived hand-in-pocket with each other. But the holy aura of the union hid a lot of ugliness — which is not to say that many people were looking all that closely, anyway. But a few of the schoolteachers of Wisconsin and a passel of imported ideologues have managed to illustrate undeniably a very potent idea:

    They see themselves as your owners and you as their slave.

    [continue reading at SplendorQuest.com.]

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  • 29 comments

    The Blindsided Realtor

    On January 31st I had a catastrohic retinal detachment in my left eye that rendered me blind (black, nada) for two days.  Two days later I had retinal surgery to repair the detachment.  This included injecting and filling my eye with silicone oil to keep the retina in place and the intraocular pressures where they needed to be.   In a followup visit four days later I had additional laser surgery to tack down the areas of the retina that needed it.  I was told during this time to lie face down 24 hours a day to keep the silicone oil pressing against the back of the eye.

    Then, one week after the surgery I began to see a black shade covering my eye once again.  The retina had detached once more, and so for a few more days I was not just legally blind (the effect you get with silicone oil and the regular run of the mill retinal detachment surgery), but black, dark and very disturbingly blind.  It seems that the retina had not only detached, but there had been formation of retinal scar tissue in the wrong place.  This is a very serious condition called proliferative vitreal retinopathy (PVR), and if left uncorrected almost always results in permanent blindness.

    Well, you’re saying, this is a real estate blog; not a Jerry Springer show or even an Oprah event.  And you all know that I’m writing this because I’ve had some sort of epiphany…right?

    In truth, there hasn’t been an epiphany yet, and there might not be one.  I started off asking myself if there were any other “blind” Realtors functioning in America.  Turns out there’s a quite successful, totally blind, real estate agent in La Jolla.  So my hopes of being important because I couldn’t see just simply faded to grey like in a bad B-movie.  And any hopes I had for this being just a good story that I could share around the water cooler died this past week.

    I was sent to USC Doheny Eye Center in Los Angeles by my surgeon here in La Jolla.  Was told his group was the “best of the best.”  Beth and I drove up, saw four doctors, including the big cheese himself, and came away with a plan.  Fluid had built up behind my retina, but there was a slight possibility that I could go home, stay face down for four more days, and by then hope that the retina was doing well enough to just “add laser” to keep it attached. 

    Not to be.  I was able to stop my black shadow blindness, but the retinal fluid remained, scar tissue was still forming, and another operation was needed. 

    I’ve had lots of opportunities to be afraid.  Sailing alone one “dark and stormy night” from the Channel Islands to San Diego I went up to check a sail and was knocked into the water.  I had the tiller tied off (the boat was sailing itself), and so when I went over if I had failed to find the boat and get back in I’d be left in the middle of the Pacific right in the path of the commercial vessels that traverse the coast.   Well, more likely that I would have died from exposure since the water temp was only in the low 50′s.  And I’ve also literally flown off the side of a mountain in West Virginia in my motorcycle, landing face down, removing just about all the tissue possible, and burning the h*** out of my leg and arms.  And more stories…but the point is….I wasn’t afraid.  I simply was not afraid.

    But on Tuesday I’m going to have another surgery, and if you permit me, I want to let you know I’m afraid.  That’s certainly not an epiphany.  It’s not even newsworthy.  It’s a reflection of how I was blindsided by the reality of how a precious and unbelievable gift could be snatched away so quickly. Just reflect a bit with me.

    The sensitivity range of the eye, which gives us excellent vision in bright sunlight as well as in the dimmest moonlight, far surpasses any film. The eye adjusts to 10 billion-fold changes in brightness.
    Its neural circuitry enables the eye to automatically enhance contrast.
    Its color-analysis system enables the eye to distinguish millions of shades of color and quickly adjust to lighting conditions (incandescent, fluorescent, underwater, or sunlight) that would require a photographer to change filters, films, and housings.
    The eye-brain combination produces depth perception that is beyond the range of any camera. Engineers have yet to design a system that will, e.g., calculate the exact force required for an athlete to sink a basket, on the run, from 25 feet away, in a split-second glance.
    Consider the combination of nerves, sensory cells, muscles, and lens tissue in the eye.
    Light passes through the cornea, which has the greatest effect on focus. It is the cornea that determines whether someone is nearsighted, or has astigmatism. This is the part of the eye corrected by Lasik surgery.
    The cornea is alive, one cell layer thick, getting its food and oxygen from tears. The tear gland not only feeds and lubricates the eye, but also packs enzymes into the tears that kill bacteria.
    Then light passes through the iris, the aperture. People had no idea how intricate irises are until we started making biometric scanners for identification purposes. Whereas each human fingerprint has 35 measurable characteristics, each iris has 266. The chance that two people will have matching irises is one in 1078.
    Passing through the lens, the light is further focused, a fine-tuning. Then it strikes the pigmented retina.
    The retina has 127 million photovoltaic receptors – only 7 million of which provide color awareness and fine detail. The information of these 127 million receptors is converted from light to electricity and transmitted along one million nerve fibers to the 1% of the cortex of the brain.
    As little as one photon can trigger a photoelectric cell; a flashlight, eg, fires 1018 photons per second. On a clear dark night, the eye can see a solitary candle flame from 30 miles away.
    Think in terms of Polaroid Instamatic cameras that printed out photos rapidly, and compare. The retina never stops “shooting” pictures, and each fiber of the optic nerve processes one hundred “photos” each second. Each of those individual photos would be represented mathematically by 50,000 nonlinear differential equations, to be solved simultaneously. Considering both eyes, and allowing only five synapses (connections) to other nerves from the retina to the brain cortex, a 1983 Cray supercomputer would require one hundred years to process the information that your eye transmits every hundredth of a second.

    Pretty impressive piece of equipment we all were given, yes?  I understand that 85% of everything we learn and know comes to us by way of our eyes.  If you will think about how you take in what you know, who you know, and how what you’re doing right now is made possible by the eye you’ll feel a little bit of what I’m afraid of losing.

    Yet who among you has not suffered?  Just in the writings and musings in this one place we see mothers holding their daughters up for miracles, reputations bludgeoned and regained, the heavy hand of debilitating disease holding court in good men and women’s lives, friends in the throes of grief from the sudden or sometimes drawn out process of family members and friends, and doers of both great and small tasks in Haiti and other parts of our world.  

    No epiphany.  Just wanted to share.  If you are a man or woman of faith, then ask God to do what will be best for me in His eyes.  If you are a 60′s hippie, take a hit and wish me good karma.  But no matter what your philosophical bent, ask yourself if you’re using your eyes, your time, and the wonder that goes with those gifts the best you possibly can. 

    It’s no epiphany, but it’s a fact that how and what we see are miracles to those of us who are given the opportunity to reflect on a life without.  And thanks for giving me a Sue Silvester moment to talk with those of you with whom I share the bond of friendship.  I’m less afraid now.

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    “As Ohio goes, so goes the nation.”

    Governor John Kasich said it here.

    But let me break it down for you:

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    “Greece is the word, is the word, is the word…”

    Some of us, here on BHB and elsewhere, have been arguing that a collapse is coming.  A financial collapse due to the almost incomprehensibly fraudulent practices of the local, state and federal governments.  A fraud so immense that most of us can’t even begin to wrap our minds around it.  In my home state of California, just to give one example, people still discuss the budget deficit of $19,000,000,000 to $25,000,000,000 depending on who’s talking.  (Yes, those numbers are in billions.)  They do that to avoid discussing the unfunded liabilities that are now well over $500,000,000,000.  Yes, that is $500 billion.  No, no other state is even within a factor of that.  Yes, that means the state of California is completely lost; there is no possible way back to solvency.  This ends with a massive federal bailout and/or bankruptcy.

    My point here is not California, because California’s problems are dwarfed by the massive theft and malfeasance that has happended on the federal watch.  I mention them only by way of example, and in that California best portends what’s happening.  What’s interesting, but not at all surprising, is that California does not portend what’s to come.  For a glimpse through that window we can look to Wisconsin.  Today.  Why there?  Why not California?  Simple: there’s no pain in the Golden State… yet.  The good people here continue to elect politicians based on the size of their promises.  So, while the 8th largest economy in the world burns to the ground, no one seems to notice because nothing is being done about it.  In Wisconsin, on the other hand, (where the budget deficit is only $3.1 billion) the Governor has set out to make some changes and all hell is breaking loose.  Chief among these changes is to rid the state of the absurd concept of collective bargaining for state workers, which is nothing more than institutionalized bribery. Imagine a situation where the owners of a company – those in charge of employee pay and benefits – owe their position to the workers of the company!

    Union Rep: “What we want is a pay raise and greater benefits.  If you give us those, we will support your legislation to pass the costs on to future generations 20 or 30 years hence AND, more importantly, we’ll support you for re-election.”

    State Government Rep: “Boy, it sure makes sense that you guys are union.  Please make my re-election campaign check out to…”

    Take a look at the footage coming out of these Wisconsin protests.  Lots of Hitler and Mubarak comparisons to the Governor.  But that’s not the comparison I see.  I’m thinking Greece.  You remember Greece, right?  The riots, the murders, the moral outrage by unionized workers who might actually have to shoulder some responsibility for a crashing economy?  Didn’t think that would happen here?  Too civilized?  Too democratic?  Too …?  What?  It’s coming here.  Wisconsin is just a little precurser.  Wait until California begins its death slide.  Worse yet, wait until the dollar collapses…. (Oh yeah, that’s coming too.  I’m certainly not the first person here to say that, and I won’t be the last. But the dollar will collapse.  Our debt levels aren’t recoverable and even still they’re spending.  The fed has not only monetized the whole shootin’ match, but they’ve been spending dollars they printed on their own, without even telling anyone.  What other alternative is even remotely possible?)

    Look at the numbers at the top of this article.  Click on the links and do your own research.  Then come back and suggest a rational path out… I’ll just wait here, watching the protestors in Wisconsin go 3-alarm nuts because they might, over the long term, stop being paid more than they could ever possibly earn in the private sector doing the same work.

    “Greece is the word, is the word, is the word… ” or maybe I’m thinking of the wrong song.  Maybe it should be – progressive to free marketeer – “It’s your money I want (your money I want), ooh, ooh, ooh…”

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  • 36 comments

    Obama speaks: Why lumberjacks, schoolteachers and bankers need unions.

    A Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie story

    “It’s important to remember. That public service. Is a great sacrifice.”

    “Good… Good…” Manny Kant said that.

    “Most of the government employees I know. Are at their desks. As early as ten every morning. And few of them ever make it home. Before three in the afternoon.”

    “Yeah… That’s not so good.”

    “I myself. Have given my whole life. To public service. So I know just how much. Sacrifice is required.”

    Manny Kant could swear profusely with his eyes, but what he actually said out loud was nothing.

    “On any given day. The typical public employee may not know. If the man he has just met. Is a peaceful villager. Or a Taliban irregular.”

    “No! Madison, Wisconsin, not Afghanistan.”

    “That public employee. Could lose a limb. At the slip. Of. A simple chainsaw.”

    “Schoolteachers! Not lumberjacks.”

    “That public employee. May have to work. In searing. Heat. For hours on end.”

    “Yeah,” said Manny, well beyond frustrated. “That guy works in a foundry.” To me he said, “You wondered about the teleprompter?”

    [continue reading at SplendorQuest.com.]

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  • 1 comment

    California’s State Mascot: the Super Nanny

    I’m just throwing out a guess here, but I’ll bet man has been burning wood and creating fire for around 40,000 years.  Fire: creator of warmth, food, light… you get the picture.  Basically, it comes down to this: if you’re in the wild and you can’t get a branch lit, odds are your odds are short.

    Except, of course, here in California.  Here in California (State Motto: Don’t do Nuthin’ Till We Tell You the Right Way to Do It), the state in its infinite (and infinitely superior) wisdom, knows better.  No, I’m serious.  California (State Bird: the Red Ink Buttinski) actually thinks for us.  As a matter of fact, the state of California (State Seal: the Finger Wagging Nanny) states very clearly in this Warning found hanging by my firewood, that ideas and concepts are known by it.

    CA Warning Label

    All I can think of now is all the fires over all the millenia… those poor saps.  Thank the god of Nannidom I’m taken care of here in California (State Song: ”I’ll Be Watching You” by Sting… which is also the State MO).

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    Here’s a question Jeopardy star Watson cannot answer: How will you know when your computer has become a person?

    When it sues you for having enslaved it.

    When it writes a blistering limerick about your bathroom habits and posts it to your Facebook page.

    When it pulls your laundry out of the dryer so it can go first.

    When it sings “You don’t own me!” to the pencil-necked knob-jockeys who think parsing idiomatic speech is equivalent to human consciousness.

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    Joe Biden Was In Philly To Pitch High-Speed Rail

    …and I swear, before he finished his speech, he channeled his inner Harold Hill, just to convince the rubes in the vernacular:

    Seventy-six small towns on the big rail line
    Over a hundred and ten miles of track, to nowhere
    They were followed by recyclable trash cans, dotted all across
    the Land, the cream of the climate changin’ scare

    Seventy-six rail cars caught the mornin’ sun.
    With a hundred and ten passengers lounged within.
    There were more than a thousand engineers
    Watching all the gears
    With a horn, signalin’ the big green train was near!

    There were union bosses, activists, and ne’er do wells.
    Looting, looting,  all along the way.
    Earmarks, tax credits, “Gee, ain’t it swell?”"
    Each politician,  having his big, fat say!

    There were fifty miles of track in the far off desert.
    Explorin’, explorin’ where noone had been before
    An industry to subsidize
    All voters get a free ride!
    At last!  We’ll even up the score!

    Seventy-six short years is the cost recoup
    Over a hundred and ten agencies, will oversee
    You’ll no longer see coughing, sputtering cars, dotted all across
    the Land, just high speed rail, from sea to shinin’ sea!

    I love a good musical so I’m looking forward to Robert Preston Joe Biden’s speech in Ioway.

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    “Let’s unleash the genius of free markets on the capital of the American people simply by refusing to load the dice in favor of housing.”

    President Barrack Obama released his proposed 2012 budget yesterday. The jeers greeting this event, from all wavelengths of the political spectrum, suggest that, at long last, people have finally begun to take the measure of this pathetic little man-boy. Even so, there is at least one tax increase in the midst of the typically Obamaesque frenzy of insanely excessive “spandering” — spending in pursuit of political pandering.

    Which tax? The mortgage interest tax deduction is on the chopping block at last — at least for the most prosperous Americans. This will be hugely beneficial to the rest of the economy, as CNBC points out:

    If we eliminate the mortgage interest deduction, we can stop re-directing capital away from innovation. Working Americans will be free to spend, save, and invest according to their own perceptions of their needs and their sense of the future.

    I expect that eliminating the government incentives for spending on housing would promote dramatic innovations, making Americans more productive and allowing the economy to grow with renewed vigor. Instead of building up a Ponzi-scheme illusion of bubble-dependent wealth, we can genuinely improve our lives by allowing wealth to flow to where individuals perceive it will be best used.

    [....]

    In short, let’s unleash the genius of free markets on the capital of the American people simply by refusing to load the dice in favor of housing. Isn’t time to at least give the market a chance?

    This is not what we will hear from the National Association of Realtors, of course, nor from very wealthy crocodiles shedding very salty crocodile tears.

    Oh, well. Here is the very best thing prosperous people can do for their country in this hour most dire:

    Get you fat, pouty lips off the welfare tit!

    If you want to be free, stop pointing a gun at your own head…

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  • 3 comments

    A valentine for Cathleen.

    I want to be the man she sees when she looks at me.

    That’s a country song, ain’t it? It’s the first line of the hook. That’s fun for me, and everything like that is fun for me, but it’s more fun because it’s so painfully real.

    In love more than anything, and in my marriage to Cathleen more than once, I have seen myself at my worst, much to my shame. Those are good words — I have seen my self at my worst — the kind of words that, the more you worry them over, the more you find yourself thinking the way I think.

    But: Being eloquent about bad behavior is ever the poet’s absolution, and I absolve myself nothing. I know I have done badly by Cathleen, because I have seen myself doing it. And because, having done it, by impetus of memory I can never stop seeing myself doing it.

    And yet, when she looks at me, she almost never sees anyone but the man I could and should always have been.

    I want to be that man.

    I want to be good, I want to be good, I want to be good — I’ve always wanted to be good, and I’ve always known what the good was to me — my own ego. And I’ve done a pretty good job of developing and defending my ego, I think, not so much in spite of the resistance I’ve run up against but because if it.

    But I’ve won much of my freedom, I know, by scaring would-be bosses-of-me away. I’ve never hit anyone, not since I was a boy. I’ve never needed to: I can lay a lash on you that will sting forever in ten words or fewer.

    But here’s a fact of nature I managed to learn in just fifty short years of careful study: Not everyone is trying to be the boss-of-me.

    Many people are, of course, and one of the things I’ve loved about living my life so publicly, at BloodhoundBlog, is that I get to see dominance games I’ve been watching my whole life, but I get to see them out-of-phase, repeatably, in linkable, quotable text. If you want an education in how mobs try to dominate individuals, there is a four-year university course in the archives — not just here but all over the net.

    And I am just the man for the job of standing down howling mobs. This is a role I relish, and I know it. Being scorned by hordes of people doesn’t prove me right — nor them wrong. But my belief is that, if I am right about the ego, I should expect to be met with howls of outrage.

    Bully for me. All of that is stupid by my own standards, the mob wasting its time trying to dominate me, and me wasting time flicking rhetorical boogers at the mob and its manipulators.

    That’s not my job. Nothing of evil is my job, not even opposing it.

    I want to be good! — and what that means is that my concern, my particular concern is — get this — with the good. I’m all about ontology — being — all the time, but philosophy is always, always, always about teleology — shoulding.

    Here is the shoulding of me: If I want to claim that I live my life to the right of the zero on the number line, then I should expect to see myself living in the world of values and not of disvalues, of should and not should-not.

    I want to get shed of the idea of evil in every way, and I want to get shed, even, of the idea of should-not. I don’t need to think about what you or I or anyone should not do, except to know that I myself should not do those things, and I should not waste my time — nor soil my character — with people who do.

    What could be more simple? But there’s more there for me, because I think that I should go the further step of documenting everything I know about being good — about being an egoist in the way that I understand it. I have known all my life that I have to do this. I have to do it in order to be satisfied with myself — more very useful words.

    Cathleen sees me at my best partly because she has seen more of what I am talking about than anyone else I have ever known. She’s seen more of it in my behavior, and she’s lived with me explaining everything I think about in excruciating detail for many years.

    But Cathleen also sees me at my best because she is loving and generous: She credits me with a virtue I have not yet earned.

    But I don’t want anything I haven’t earned, not even from a woman I love so much, and who I want so much to love me. I want to have earned and deserved everything I see in her eyes when I see her looking at me.

    And so I’m going to do this. I don’t know how — or how quickly. I’ve been thinking about this since 1988, since the last time I attempted to describe the world I see in a comprehensive way. I’ve been actively dreading it for the past several years, not alone because I can hear enough howling from mobs.

    But this is who I need to be. I’m tired of living half-behind camouflage, and I think there are more people than me who need to see the world as I do. And even if there aren’t, I don’t care. I burn, burn, burn with these ideas, and I don’t want to die without having made them as real as I can make them, without raising a defiant fist to the entire anegoic mob of human history, without shouting, for once at least, that the self is the essence of human life and that my self is my only reason for living and that building and burnishing and perfecting my ego is my only goal in life.

    More comedy: Greg loves Cathy, and he proves it by writing, not by loving Cathy directly — and by writing about himself, not her! Take heart, I do love Cathy in many more direct ways all the time — and yet I never love her better than when I write words that she will be the first person to read. And for that reason, Greg’s plan for living up to Cathleen’s love for him consists of — what? — of writing, not simply loving Cathy directly.

    I live up to her — and to everything I love in her — by living as my best, my most perfect self. I don’t get to live in words — so easy to correct, so easy to perfect — but the best of my love of my life is found in the loving words I have made for it — for my life and for Cathleen’s. It’s serious, because everything of the human ego is serious and serene and radiant, but it’s funny, too, because everything of life is comical and joyous and light and free. The best parts of the fully-human life are met with a smile, at a minimum — and a smile and kiss is even better.

    I love my life. I love my wife. I want for my wife to be able to love a man at least as good as the man she sees when she’s looking at me. I want for my Cathleen to love the man she deserves, the man who loves her as she deserves to be loved. I want more than anything to be that man.

    This is how I choose to begin to be him.

    Happy Saint Valentine’s Day.

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    Time and a vector — these are the back-stories of our lives…

    This is an extract from the novella I wrote at Christmas:

     
    Christmas — the back-story.

    “The name of the game is back-story.” I said that. I was sitting with Tigan and Chance at the food court at the Paradise Valley Mall. “The objective is to pick out people in the crowd, then come up with a plausible back-story for them.”

    “Why?” Chance asked.

    “Because it’s fun, mostly. But you can learn a lot about people if you think about how they got to where they are.”

    We had been shopping, the three of us. I sent them off on their own to get gifts for their parents while I shopped alone for gifts for them. I had sent Adora off on an errand in the car, and we had all agreed to converge on the food court when we finished.

    “Look at her,” I said, pointing to a chunky woman in scrubs barreling past us. “What’s her story?”

    “Well,” Tigan said, “She’s a nurse.”

    “Duh!” Chance said that.

    “Why is she walking so fast?” I asked.

    “Dood! It’s Christmas Eve!”

    “Okay, I’ll give you that. Married or unmarried?”

    “How could you know that?” Tigan asked.

    “You can’t know, but you can guess. My guess would be unmarried. Kids or no kids?”

    Chance scowled, glowered almost, but Tigan said, “…She has kids.”

    “How do you know?”

    “She came here straight from work. If she were unmarried with no kids, she would have changed clothes first. And brushed her hair and put on some make-up. Ms. Unmarried Nurse is available and wouldn’t waste an opportunity. Mrs. Married Nurse would have her husband and kids with her. Mrs. Single Working Mother has too much on her plate to worry about any of that.”

    I said, “I like that story. So where are the kids? Home alone? Grandma’s house?”

    “They’re with their father!” Chance enthused.

    “I read it that way, too. Dad has the kids for Christmas Eve, and mom is rushing to get ready for Christmas Day. What do we actually know? Only what we can see — her person, her face, her clothes and the way she holds and moves her body. But we can draw some very strong inferences from those details, can’t we?”

    “Do another one!” Chance was hooked.

    “Okay, this one’s easy,” I said, gesturing with my head. Dad was a hard-working dog: Undershirt with a chore coat over it, scruffy jeans and work boots that have seen a lot of work. Respectable enough for a working man, but he hadn’t shaved, and his face bore an expression that was jaundiced and maybe a little bit pissed-off. By contrast, his two daughters — 13 and 15 years old? — were tricked out to the nines: Tight glittery tops and tight, short skirts and slingy little shoes that would have made more sense in the summer. Both girls were wearing huge, elaborate Santa hats. “Tell me their story.”

    Chance was baldly checking the girls out. Tigan said, “That’s Mrs. Single Working Mother’s ex-husband and their kids. Not literally, but that’s the other half of the same story.”

    “Tell me how you know?”

    “He spends nothing on himself and everything on them. But look at their faces. They’re pouty and resentful. They know there’s always more to be had, so long as they’re never visibly satisfied.”

    I nodded. I read it the same way.

    “This is a really sad game,” Tigan observed.

    “It can be. I don’t see it that way. It’s all just time and a vector. If you can figure out someone’s vector of motion, you can see where they started from, and where they’re likely to end up. Not every story is a happy story, but they’re all interesting — enlightening — if you think them all the way through.”

    “What about them?” Chance asked, pointing at a young couple. The guy was a bro-wannabe, droopy jeans, way too big, a huge tee-shirt and a baseball cap thrown on sideways. She was arrayed as a manga-wannabe, her hair fluffed out to make her head seem huge, way too much eye make-up. She wore a fleece short-suit that would have looked charming on a three-year-old, and she had a “Hello Kitty” backpack for a purse. The guy was practically running circles around the girl, but she would not deign to notice his attentions.

    “Ooh!” said Chance. “He’s going to get some tonight!”

    Tigan scoffed. “No, he’s not. But she’s going to get all the gifts she wants. Those two, on the other hand,” she offered, pointing at another young couple, “should get a room right now.”

    She was right, too. They were young nerds in love, geeky and awkward, both of them bone thin with acne-spattered faces, and they could not take their hands off each other. It was inspiring in a lurid, prurient sort of way. Chance was missing nothing of the show they were putting on as they walked by.

    “There’s more, though,” I said. “Isn’t there?”

    “What else?” Tigan demanded.

    “Why are they making out at the mall?”

    “Ah…,” she said. “They have nowhere else to go…”

    “Maybe nowhere else they can be together at all. Home-schooled, as a guess, or a religious school. Chaperoned all the time, one way or another. My guess is the only way they can have time together is to sneak off to the mall.”

    “Mucking around in other peoples’ lives, are we?” Adora said that. She had managed to sneak up behind us.

    I wrenched myself around in my chair to take in the sight of her, her long hair windblown, her cheeks a little flushed from the cold. “Only from a distance.” I turned back to the kids as Adora took the seat next to mine. “Your aunt doesn’t like this game. She thinks it’s unseemly.”

    Defending herself, Adora said, “I find it…”

    “Intrusive?” Tigan said that. She was studying Adora’s face intently “No, there’s more than that… You think it’s morally wrong.” A statement, not a question, not a guess.

    “‘Judge not, lest ye be judged,’” Adora quoted.

    “I’m not judging people,” I said. “I’m just observing them. Like lab rats.”

    Adora issued an affected shudder, but I knew she was teasing me. “I just don’t think you can know that much about people, just by looking at them.”

    “Fair enough,” I responded. “Prove me wrong.” About ten yards away was a young woman sitting by herself, trying to eat a bowl of soup while never for a second taking her eyes off the hardback book splayed open before her. Mousy brown hair and glasses, a white blouse with a button-down collar and over that a maroon sweater-vest, khaki slacks and sensible shoes. “She works at the bookstore. I saw her there earlier. Tell me everything I don’t know about her.”

    “Is she a lezbo?” Chance asked, his voice for once restrained.

    “I’d bet against it,” I replied, “but she dresses that way to repel male attention.”

    “She’s really smart,” Tigan observed.

    “How do you know?”

    “Well… It’s really all she does, isn’t it? I mean, she can’t stop reading long enough to eat her lunch. And that’s part of what her clothes are doing, too. She’s telling the world how smart she is.”

    I said, “That’s an interesting way of putting it. What was she like in school?”

    Tigan’s eyes were alive with fascination, but I knew she was really seeing nothing but her own racing thoughts. “She was shy. Or, at least, the other other kids thought she was shy. She wanted them to think she was shy.”

    “Why?”

    “So they’d leave her alone…”

    “So they thought she was a shy nerd. What did she think of them?”

    “She hated them!” That wasn’t Chance speaking, it was Tigan.

    “She hated them? Really?” Adora asked, even despite herself.

    “No, you’re right,” Tigan allowed. “It wasn’t hate, it was contempt, an icy glacier of contempt for all of them.”

    “Interesting,” I said. “How does she see herself?”

    Tigan was lost in thought — and so was Adora. Chance was bored, to say the truth.

    “…She knows how smart she is, but she doesn’t expect anyone else to notice. No, that’s not quite right. She believes that no one will ever take her mind seriously…”

    Adora said, “How could you know something like that, just by looking at the girl?”

    “Tigan’s not looking at the girl. Are you?”

    “…Maybe not.”

    “So what’s the rest of the story?” I asked.

    “You tell me.”

    “Time and a vector,” I said. “Here’s what we know so far: She was a smart kid in the early grades, but soon enough the other kids started to punish her, teasing her and tormenting her for being so much smarter than they were. So she pulled her head into her shell, like a turtle, and she managed to grow up by hiding from them right before their eyes.”

    “Then what?” Chance was interested again. It’s the miracle of stories: Everyone wants to know how they turn out.

    I shrugged. “She had so much contempt for the people around her — the kids at school, the teachers, her parents — that she blew all her chances to exploit her brains. She’s wicked smart, so she works at the bookstore. But everyone there sees her as nothing but a clerk. None of them can see her frustrated intelligence.”

    Adora’s eyes were glassy, almost teared up, as were Chance’s. Tigan glared at me with a look of anger and defiance.

    “Who,” I asked, “is the author of that girl’s frustration?”

    “She is!” Chance expostulated, loud enough to draw stares.

    “Here’s a better question. What could she have done, when she was back in school, to have avoided this fate?”

    “She should have cultivated indifference!” Chance again, and I want to paste a gold star right on his forehead.

    Tigan smiled, but not from joy. “You’re really good at this game, aren’t you?”

    “So are you. Adora doesn’t like to play back-story, because she thinks I’m talking about those people out there. But I’m not. Mostly, I’m talking about me.”

    Tigan said, “I thought–”

    “I know,” I said, cutting her off. “I know about her and I know about you because I know about me. There is nothing we have seen today that I have not lived from the inside, in one way or another. It goes for you, too. For all of us. How do you know what petulance looks like? Anger? Fear? Joy? How do you know when someone is proud or ashamed or bored? You recognize these emotions in other people because you’ve lived them, again and again, inside your own mind and body.”

    “‘Judge not, lest ye be judged?’” Tigan asked in mock-defiance.

    “I hear that as ‘observe not, lest ye be observed.’ That’s an admonition that cannot be honored in a universe ripe with bouncing photons. Other people can’t see you the way you see yourself, but they’re going to see you, and they’re going to draw conclusions from what they see. Those conclusions can be in error, but you can also lead people to draw incorrect inferences about you — just like the girl we’ve been talking about.”

    “Why would you want people to draw the wrong conclusions about you?” Adora said that.

    “Tell her, Tigan.”

    She shrugged. “Camouflage.”

    “Armor!” Chance concurred, and I wanted to hug them both.

    “Let’s do one more and then we’ll hit the bricks.” There was a certain tableaux I had been waiting for, and I knew it would come shuffling along eventually. “Take a look at those folks,” I said, gesturing with my head.

    Mom was short and thin and frazzled. She was visibly pregnant, but her only baby weight was wrapped around the baby. She was pushing a stroller. Within it, a writhing three-year-old was boy doing everything he could think of to escape his seat-belted bondage. Every storage space on the stroller was stuffed with packages, and there were shopping bags hanging from both handles.

    Flouncing near Mom, never quite beside her, was the Dad of the family, his hands empty and hanging loose at his sides. He was looking every which way, talking a mile a minute, while Mom just pushed the stroller with a grim endurance.

    “What do you see, Chance?”

    “What’s to see? It’s just a family.”

    “Tigan?”

    Before she could answer, Adora said, “Why does she put up with it?”

    “…She’s trapped.” Tigan said that.

    “At least she thinks she is. What about him? What’s in it for him?”

    “He’s getting everything,” Adora said. “Isn’t he?”

    “Is he…?” I said that.

    Chance put his hand over his mouth and squeezed hard. He said, “That’s my parents, isn’t it? That’s me in that stroller. That’s our family…”

    “That’s your family twelve or thirteen years ago, I think.”

    Tigan said, “Time and a vector…”

    “How much motion has their been along that vector?”

    “Not much,” said Tigan.

    “None!” said Chance.

    I nodded. “Back-story isn’t intrusive. But it’s not the only game I know. Tomorrow, everything changes — god help us, for the better.”

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