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Archive for December, 2010

A father for Christmas

A Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie story

“Shame about the bike,” I said to the strained young black man at the bus stop. His head was down and he was staring hard at the ground.

He grunted, a sound that conveyed two ideas: “I heard you” and “I’m not listening.”

“Just as well, I guess. A bike like that…”

He looked up for a moment, piercing me with hard black eyes. “What about it?”

“Oh, you know. Wouldn’t last too long, now would it?”

He scoffed, and that was that. Or so he thought…

What happened was this: I saw a bike going in to Toys ‘R’ Us, about a week before Christmas, and that’s the kind of thing I just have to follow up on.

It was a girl’s bike — a girly bike. Sixteen inch white wheels. A white frame speckled with iridescent pink and purple flakes. An iridescent pink and purple flaked saddle. And matching pink and purple flaked streamers cascading out of the white handle-bar grips. It was the kind of bike Toys ‘R’ Us loves to sell: Thirty-five dollars worth of bike with three dollars worth of plastic ornaments is priced at sixty bucks. Ten dollars extra for professional assembly.

The bike had been dragged into the store by my companion at the bus stop — tall, thin, with an expression of anger etched into his face. Maybe twenty years old; certainly not twenty-five. He was wearing a Michael Jordan warm-up suit and Michael Jordan basketball shoes. That sounds very casual, but we’re talking three hundred dollars, maybe more. At first I thought he might be bringing the bike in for a minor repair, but something about the way he was dragging it — sideways by the saddle — made me think again.

I didn’t go into the store, but I stuck around to see what would happen. Sure enough, he came out bikeless and stalked over to wait for the bus. Three hundred dollars worth of Michael Jordan haberdashery but no car.

I said, “A little girl has a bike like that, she’s just bait on the hook. Doesn’t have a father around to stand up for her, does she?” He didn’t answer, and I hadn’t expected that he would. “A little girl gets a bike like that, she thinks it’s the best Christmas present ever. But then she takes it down to the street, and all the little fatherless jackasses crowd around. The little five- and six-year-old boys start breaking off the streamers one at a time, just to hear her shriek. Then some older boy will have to prove he’s meaner, and he’ll tear off both streamers all at once. And they’ll ride that bike up and down the street, with that poor little girl running behind them, crying, trying to get her bike back. But what can she do, really? She doesn’t have a father around to stand up for her, does she?”

He rubbed at something in his eye. I’d like to think it was a tear.

“But that’s just the way of it, isn’t it? People never kick so hard as when they’re down. They don’t want to take your stuff away, they just want to take it and break it. So nobody has anything. Any little treasure you might have in your life, you have to squirrel it away where no one can see. Not so they won’t steal it, but so they won’t destroy it. Deface it. Desecrate it.”

Despite himself, he spoke. He said: “Word!” Indeed: Word.

“But what good is a bike if you can’t ride it? If that little girl takes her bike down to the street, it’ll be destroyed. Not for any good reason, but just so a gaggle of fatherless jackasses can giggle at another tragedy.”

He glared at me, his lips a tight line. I was pissing him off in the worst way, telling him the undeniable truth.

“Won’t last long, anyway. A month. Two months. Six months? I don’t think so. One day one of those fatherless jackasses will ride the bike around the corner and the bike will never come back. An older fatherless jackass will turn it into a vial of crack, and that will be that.”

That got to him. Bus riders have to pay the Michael Jordan clothing bills, don’t they? “Why don’t you just shut the fuck up?”

I ignored him. “Besides, there’s no one to teach that little girl how to ride a bike, is there?”

He stood up and leaned way out in the street, hurrying the bus along.

“She your only daughter?”

“She’s not mine!” he blurted. He sat down, his elbows on his knees. “Or maybe she is, I don’t know.”

“You gonna get her anything else?”

For the briefest instant his face was awash in shame, and that was enough. A street guy. A would-be bad-ass. Maybe a part-time drug dealer. Probably a fatherless jackass himself. But he was human enough to be ashamed of himself, and that’s a start.

“You know what she needs, don’t you?”

He ignored me. His face was like stone. Dirt is not food and next Wednesday is not an umbrella, but you can’t get a liar to agree to that. When people are embracing the lie, they will not acknowledge the truth, no matter how obvious it is. It’s as if they regard speaking the truth as an impossibly huge commitment. As if saying the truth creates it. And refusing to destroys it. Defaces it. Desecrates it.

“She doesn’t need a bike, she needs a father. To stand up for her when she’s right and dress her down when she’s wrong. To put all those fatherless jackasses on notice that they have you to answer to. To take them aside when they’re older, one at a time, and explain that you will happily cut their balls off if they can’t kept ’em covered.”

He chuckled despite himself.

“If you give your daughter a father she can be proud of, then one day she’ll bring home a son-in-law you can be proud of. And then you’ll know for sure that your grandchildren will have a father to look out for them, too.”

He said nothing, just stared at the ground. I’m sure he was listening, just trying hard not to show it.

“The great part is, she’ll do as much for you as you do for her. The government is destroying black America by making it easy for fathers to escape their responsibilities, but the destruction starts with you. All those fatherless jackasses end up on a slab, unless they turn their lives around. If you stand up for your daughter, you’ll stand up for yourself. And there ain’t no bad in that.”

I thought I saw an aborted nod.

“You give your daughter a father for Christmas, a father she can be proud of, and in ten or fifteen years, she’ll put lump the size of a grapefruit in your throat. Every day is a new beginning, and mastery takes practice. But you grit your teeth and get after it, doing what you can today and picking up the slack tomorrow.” I pointed at my chest. “The cycle stops with me. Justice starts with me.” I thumped my temples with both index fingers. “There’s nobody in here but me. There’s no one who can run my life but me. If I refuse to live, I’m just the same as dead. Haven’t you had enough of being just the same as dead? Your daughter is life. Her father — when he is her father — is life. The choice is life or death, over and over again, a hundred times a day. And everybody’s gotta take a side.”

He said nothing, but he looked at me a long time, his lips in a tight line.

The bus pulled up and he stood up at the door. He said, “You comin’?”

I shook my head. “I’m on foot. I just wanted to talk with you.”

He smiled like a man who has just gone fifteen rounds — and survived. He said, “Thanks.”

I nodded. “Merry Christmas.”

He nodded in return, a gesture of seriousness and solemnity that gives me hope for his daughter — and for him. He said: “Merry Christmas.”

8 comments

Why Don’t Most New Or Struggling Real Estate Agents Want To Be Mentored?

From time to time many of the contributors here have written about the concept of mentoring from one viewpoint or another. You may be a mentor, or have been well mentored, or both. Maybe neither. In fact, probably neither. My experience has been somewhat anomalous in that I was blessed, early on, with an abundance of first-rate, exceptionally successful mentors, who literally didn’t give a damn about my feelings. Tough? One of ’em was a Marine, a survivor of the Battle of Guadalcanal. When he talked, you listened, then said, “Yes sir, thank you sir, may I please have another?” The guy was funny, but brutal. And boy, was he ‘colorful’. Many years later, after Jim had passed away, Dad told me that Jim bet him he could make me cry.

This year has been an eyeopener for me as it relates to mentoring. You’d think agents, especially the younger ones, would be eager to learn which way’s north on the map from someone who’s been there, done that, been knocked down, yet survived to thrive. As each year as gone by, fewer and fewer agents last longer than a week or so under a bona fide mentor. Most say they want to learn, but when push comes to shove, talk must be converted to walk, and they trip on their own BS. In the last month or so I’ve asked several experienced agents who, as policy, give of their time to mentor, if they’ve seen the same trend. Yes — it was unanimous.

Every single one of my mentors, and there were many, extracted a sacred promise from me to pay it forward. I’ll not live to be old enough to get free and clear of that obligation, though I try.

In the last decade or so, I’ve had several agents ask me to mentor them, as in, “Will you please mentor me?” Three of ’em walked their talk to the end. All three currently thrive. Just a guess, but in the last three years or so, there’ve been at least 15-20 come to me, initiating contact, wanting to be mentored. They all fell by the wayside, and pretty quickly at that. And for the record, I’m not generalizing about their character, either way. Many, I’m sure, had their own reasons, possibly unrelated to real estate. Hell, they may’ve just not liked me, who knows?

My upbringing, plus, ironically my mentors’ teaching, force me to take the lion’s share of the blame.

Still, I give freely of my time, and love the process of mentoring. There’s nothing different in my approach now, than in years past, yet those mentored are simply not taking the bit, they’re spittin’ it out. It’s not that what I teach is outdated, as many here would aver, as I’m still walkin’ that talk myself.

Though I hesitate to say this aloud, it occurs to me that my way has everything to offer except anything close to a magic button. If that’s indeed the wrench in the works, I’m saddened.

A current project, under the radar, on which I’ve been workin’ is also sans any magic buttons. Yet as we near launch time, it appears, based upon close analysis of the targeted groups, that it should, more likely than not, be successful.

‘Course, the proof will reside in how furry my newly constructed wall becomes. My only worry comes from wondering if the wall is big enough. ūüôā

Having been so long divorced from my hometown market (seven years), I’ve not been able to apply very much of my OldSchool ways. As written here before, that era has come to a welcome end. 2011 will tell us all if my M.O. is still effective. Yeah, right, as if there’s any doubt. ūüôā

Mentoring?

Fewer and fewer agents want to walk their talk. Results from my (Triumphant? Embarrassing bust?) return to the home market? They’ll be reported here immediately after the first quarter is over.

Can’t wait.

5 comments

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

… which brings a groan from the deepest depths of my soul. I’m not holly jolly Christmas type. The hustle and bustle part of this season can put me in a funk. I used to wonder about that, but now I think it might be because I already have all I want for Christmas.

I do look forward to my own little family’s one Christmas tradition that isn’t pillaged by the outside world: Our Christmas Eve dinner of duck served with a changing assortment of side dishes and always a cordial glass worth of wine for the almost-of-age among us. It’s a time for us to slow down and reflect and love each other, and for each of us it’s become our favorite part of the holiday.

This is an amazing band from Cincinnati- Over The Rhine. This song is for those of us who dread the holidays but have learned how to live through them by creating our own traditions and finding our own way to be happy. Sing it, sister.

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The global history of health and wealth over the past 200 years — expressed visually in four minutes.

This is amazing, but what’s more astounding to me is to think of how much more dramatic this presentation could have been without the taxes, restraints and wars foisted upon us by the state. Health and wealth are found first and most in free countries, last and worst in slave states. The inference to be drawn is obvious: The less government there is, the greater the longevity and prosperity of ordinary people.

11 comments

Ascent to Splendor: Want to really see God’s creation? Make water.

This just in. The photography in this film that commemorates the Space Shuttle program is stunning. Here is the standard for photography. Remember, our listings do not move and do not shed a ton and a half of mass per second. Here is a canonical archive of human ingenuity at its zenith. A million moving parts assembled by humans in search of splendor.

As Ronald Reagan said: “We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.”

All you have to do is make water with a whole lot of human brain power, courage and a million moving parts.

1 comment

Christmas at the cemetery — with Bubba

A Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie story

If you want to hear your thoughts echo into a perfect silence — go to the cemetery.

I do it a lot, actually, not to be too terribly morbid. Potter’s fields and VA graveyards and tidy middle-class golf courses of the dead and tony, upscale permanent condominiums where they frown loudly on walk-in traffic. But democracy makes her last stand at the cemetery, so no one is ever actually turned away, and I expect it would take quite a performance to get yourself ejected.

But the cemetery is not the story — it’s just the honest part. The other part — to be much too kind — starts with my growing a tail.

A Secret Service tail, that is. Last August I wrote a story called ‘How Bubba pulled it off’. It’s about a teenage masturbator who just happens to be President of the United States, and just after I wrote it I started noticing the tail.

Like this is so hard. I walk from place to place, that’s what I do. Sometimes I take a bus or a train or the subway. Rarely do I fly. Mostly I walk. When you’re walking into an empty dawn on a empty two lane road in upstate New York and the only car on the road is a big black Crown Victoria with D.C. tags, when it’s following you at idling speed with the running lights on — it’s a safe bet you’ve been fed-infested.

Four teams of two agents each, it turned out. They worked in eight hour shifts, and there is no better way to draw attention to yourself than to walk through a small town during the shift change with not one but two big black Crown Victorias following you.

At first it kinda ticked me off. I would run little games on the bozos to lose them — skipping the wrong way down a one-way street, in one door and right out the other, exiting through the freight entrance, that kind of stuff. They would not get out of the car, so I spent about a week in Manhattan losing them for sport: I’d put them into the thickest traffic then just saunter away with them able to do nothing about it.

Of course I always had to find them again — find myself for them, that is. There’s no telling what would have happened if they’d actually lost me.

And after a while I began to feel bad for them. The poor schlubs were just doing a job, after all. It might be satisfying to take out my frustrations on them, but they weren’t the cause of their being inflicted on me, and they had no power to uninflict me. In truth, I became the very model of consideration. I would tell them where I was headed, in case they lost visual contact. I gave them travel directions, so they could avoid the heavy traffic. I even scouted parking spaces for them. Take it from me: You have not experienced the true scope of American citizenship until you’ve held a parking space for your pet feds.

That’s all by way of background. After a while my fedly tail faded into the scenery. They were still there, and I knew they were there, but, like cramped calves and calluses, they were just a part of life.

And they were with me all through the fall, all the while this impeachment battle was brewing. I sauntered here and wandered there, but the whole time I was inching closer to Our Nation’s Capital. I can’t say why, really. I don’t care that much for news. But I’d been too much involved with this drama to miss the third act, so me and my feds sidled our way crablike down the seaboard — at idling speed with the running lights on.

I watched everything. On TV, of course, not in person. Moths and flames, and I didn’t need a big black Crown Victoria to remind me. But there are TVs in bars and there are TVs in the lobbies of the more fragrant hotels and there is a big room full of TVs in every Sears store in every city of this great land.

I watched the hearings in bits and snatches. I watched the posturing and tap-dancing every night on the news. I watched the little boxed-up heads screaming at each other on the cable news shouting matches. And one fine Saturday morning in Silver Spring, Maryland, I watched as 228 members of the House of Representatives pledged their lives, their fortunes, their sacred honor and all their re-election hopes to the proposition that my non-friend Bubba, the Jerk-Off in Chief, had committed crimes worthy of trial in the Senate and removal from office. A piece of history, and me and my feds saw it all on TV.

Six days later was Christmas Day. I had no particular place to go, and when I walked past a cemetery in Laurel, I walked on in, dragging my tail behind me.

It was a cold day. Not frigid, but cold enough. I stuffed my hands in my coat pockets and walked the weary miles of the dead, the endless aisles of the dead, listening for the echoes of the words they’d left unsaid.

I hadn’t been there an hour when a big black Suburban pulled up behind the big black Crown Victoria. The right rear door flew open and out popped Bubba. Not such a big surprise. I figured that if the Secret Service had wanted me for Secret Service purposes, they would have arrested me and been done with it, disposing of my remains if necessary. Since they hadn’t, I knew the surveillance had been ordered by Bubba — god alone knows why.

And William Jefferson Blythe Clinton has seen better days — and recently, too. He was puffy around the eyes and puffy around the middle, and there was a strawberry on his cheek that had been incompletely concealed by make-up. His face bore a haunted expression, and I thought his gray woolen overcoat would have been more perfectly mournful in black.

He walked toward me with his hands at his sides, his chin buried in his collar, the Billy-at-the-funeral pose. It made me want to puke.

The Secret Service creeps kept their distance, which was fine by me. Only the feds and the militiapersons know how much ordnance you can cram into the back of a Suburban…

Anyway, Bubba made a long, drawn-out production of his notice-and-praise-my-humility walk across the cemetery. When he got to me he looked up and he was actually pouting. He said, “I never expected to find you here.”

I smiled, a wry little smile that stops just south of the eyes. “Given the company I’ve been keeping” — I nodded toward my feds — “I wondered if this might be my terminal destination. Forgive the black humor…”

“Aw, they wouldn’t hurt nobody…”

“Oh, shut up.” I stalked off without Bubba and he scurried to catch up.

“What do you come here for, anyways? The boys say you go to cemeteries about ever’ other day.”

“Sometimes. Not all the time.”

“Well what for? You can’t have people in so many differ’nt places.”

“There aren’t any people here. Except me, except all these folks who’ve come to pay their respects on Christmas. There aren’t any people under the ground, just the remains of the dead. I come to the cemetery to read the stories of their lives.”

Bubba’s face was rent by doubt, confusion, consternation. It may have been the only time I ever saw him bearing an honest, unfiltered expression. “There ain’t no stories at the graveyard. Just a lot of names and dates.”

“That’s where the stories are. Look at this one.” I pointed at the grave marker in front of me. “Harold Stanton is 68 years old, still alive. His wife died two years ago, so he’s all alone for Christmas. Isn’t that sad?”

“Shore is.” Bubba sounded humble, but it was the notice-and-praise-my-humility act again.

“But there’s more. Look to the right. Two sons dead, both in their thirties, both unmarried.”

“How can you know they’re unmarried?”

“They’re buried with mom and dad, no markers for surviving wives. No grandchildren. There’s more. Can you see it?”

Bubba said nothing, just pouted.

“Look around. Do you see all the little tokens that people leave. Poinsettias and potted plants and little nativity scenes and tiny little polar bears sliding down candy canes. People leave soda cans and beer bottle caps and little miniature menorahs and toys and trinkets and treasures, all the things these people loved when they were alive.”

“Yeah. So?”

“There’s none of that here. Harold Stanton lost his younger son, James, in 1995. How? Mid-thirties, unmarried — my guess would be AIDS, although it could be anything. He lost his wife, Fiona, in ’96. Was it suicide? Did she lapse from mourning for her son? Just old age? Harold Junior died last year, just about this time. AIDS again? Saturnalian suicide? Who knows? But there are no trinkets on these graves, no flowers, no signs of any sentiment. Harold Stanton is not just alone for Christmas, he’s lost in a cavernous loneliness — of his own devising, very probably. It’s like ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’, but so much worse. A great and tragic story, richly, horribly detailed, all in a few names and dates…”

Bubba had tears on his cheeks, but I didn’t believe it for a minute.

“Do you want to do another one? Look at Victor Ramirez here. Twenty-two years old. Now that’s a tragedy.”

“It’s a beautiful headstone.”

“Isn’t it?” And it was, too. The grave marker was made of fine white marble. It was inscribed with perhaps two hundred words of text, loving and effusive but short on conceptual content. The crowning glory was a large photograph of young Victor etched right into the stone. “Four thousand dollars, maybe more. That’s a lot of money. Victor’s parents probably have other children at home, maybe even a few grandchildren by now. They have their retirement to think of and their own funerals to pay for. Where do you think they got four thousand dollars for their son’s grave marker?”

Bubba said, “Where?”

“Don’t play the fool with me. You’ve probably got a snootful of it right now. Little Victor was a street guy, a gang guy, a player. Coke or crack or smack or who knows what, but he had a lot of cash and a very short life expectancy. Which do you think his parents would rather have, four thousand dollars for a grave marker — or their son? Alive. Maybe poor, but alive.”

Bubba was silent, which was just as well.

I said: “You killed him.”

“Say whut?”

“‘A thief is shot in the night. Whose hand is on the bow?’ Who killed this little boy? A rival drug dealer, that’s what the police report says. But who put those little boys in the drug dealing business, and who had the power to stop it? What kind of horrible hypocrisy does it take to be a drug user, to employ drug users, and yet do nothing at all about these stupid laws that put twenty-two-year-old innocents in the grave forever? You killed this boy, you and all the other posturing jackasses of this stupid drug war.”

Bubba put on his hurt-feelings face, his how-dare-you face.

I said, “What are you here for? Shall we read your grave marker?”

He mock-chuckled. “Heck, I ain’t dead yet.”

“That’s what you think. No, that’s what you want me to think. But I know better.”

Bubba answered with his pretending-not-to-understand face, which I expected.

“Christmas Day,” I said. “‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year.’ Bubba has a wife and a daughter and a fat old cat and frisky new puppy dog, and where is he? Is he at home in his presidential mansion, toasting his feet by the fire, stirring a mug of hot cider with a cinnamon stick? Is he helping his daughter arrange and rearrange and rearrange her gifts? Is he hugging his wife, whispering and giggling about the gifts still to come? No. He’s traipsing around a cemetery being scolded by a wraith, all under the watchful eyes of hired killers. How homey. How joyous. How sad…”

“I, uh… I thought this’d be more fun.”

“I’m sure you did. Everyone gives you a pass, don’t they? Even me. You’ve come to me before, and I let you do all the talking. I thought it was funny, making fun of you. It’s not funny to me now…”

“Well, what’s — ” He stopped himself, and a quick flash of guilt raced across his face.

“Yeah. What’s changed? It wasn’t your impeachment, if that’s what you’re thinking — what you’re failing to forbid yourself to think. No, everything changed for me just after your impeachment, during your little garden party at the White House.”

“Wudn’t that somethin’? I had me a good ol’ — ”

“Oh, shut up. Do you think you can lie to me? We’re walking through the cemetery, peeling away the layers of the lives of the dead. Do you think you can hide anything from me?”

“I, uh — ”

“Just shut up. Just be quiet, for once. You can’t impress me. You can’t fool me. You can’t fool yourself into believing you’ve fooled me. Your closest approach to honesty is silence.”

Amazingly enough, Bubba said nothing.

“Do you know what we get from art?” I asked. “It’s nothing you can’t find in real life, it’s just more immediate, more pellucid, bigger. Art is big enough that you can see the truth of it in a glance, where real life can take a lifetime…

“I’ve spent a lot of time thinking of you in that context,” I continued. “Don’t be flattered. I don’t think well of you. But I’ve tried to think of what there is in art that I might use to understand you. Macbeth springs to mind, of course, especially taking account of that shrew you married. But it seems too easy, and your corruption is too vast. King Lear? The Bacchus? Faust? Nothing seems to fit you. That’s an honor, I suppose, but not a proud honor.”

Bubba said nothing, just walked beside me between the graves.

“At that garden party, your little victory party, you wanted to make believe everything was okay. You wanted to make everyone else believe everything was okay. You had your little tin soldiers there to recite the lines you’d written for them, and you gave your own little speech, blaming everyone but yourself for your problems. And then you mingled through the throngs, your loving wife by your side. Isn’t that nice?”

“I thought it went purty well.”

“Mr. Stanton thinks he’s got everyone fooled, too, doesn’t he?”

“Say whut?”

“You had her in a death grip, like a half-nelson from the front. You were mingling through the crowd, she was on your right, you were shaking hands with your right hand, and you had her right hand imprisoned in your left. A death grip. Not a clasp, not a clutch. You had her gripped so tight that she couldn’t possibly run away. You must have left marks. Pictures don’t lie. I saw it all on TV.”

“I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about.”

“Sure you do. You’re just dismayed that someone looked with their eyes instead of their ears. You’ve spent your whole life trying to paint over facts with a spray of words, but facts are facts. Your whole life is a performance, and you betray that fact with the actions you take to sustain the illusion. You think you can fool an audience, but an audience is just a collection of idle gawkers, half interested at best. You can’t fool anyone who is paying attention.

“Anyway,” I went on. “That’s what’s changed. I realized that you’re something new, you and your wretched family, with no convenient name from art to apply to you. Every minute of every day of your entire life has been a show, a performance, a lie. You sucked your wife into this vicious pantomime of life, and then your daughter, but at least they’re human enough to rebel against it once in a while. You never do. Whatever authentic human emotion you might be feeling, you bury it with your performance. You present to the world whatever face you think will let you get over, get by, get a pass. Never a break, never a lapse, never a slip…”

“Purty good, ain’t it?”

“You want me to think you’re actually proud of this, that’s the sickest thing of all. Because if you can make yourself believe you’ve made me believe that you’re proud to be such an accomplished liar, that will mean I don’t know who you’re lying to. But I do. That’s what’s changed.”

Bubba said nothing, and his face was blank.

I said, “It’s all a lie, it’s all an act, it’s all a show. It’s all a pretense. But what are you pretending? And who are you pretending for…?”

We walked and walked and Bubba didn’t speak. Grave after grave, life after life, death after death. Finally he said, “Well…?”

“You’re pretending to be a human being. You’re pretending to be alive. Not for my benefit. Not to fool the suckers in the audience. To fool yourself. To make believe inside your own mind that you haven’t killed everything within you that was ever alive, that was ever true to your own purposes, your own wants, your own yearnings, your own hopes and dreams and plans and promises. Whatever there was of you, you’ve buried it alive, and this dancing corpse that can’t stop lying, can’t stop jiving, can’t stop putting on this morbid show of living death — that’s not meant to fool me. It’s meant to fool you…”

Even now Bubba was acting, his feel-sorry-for-me face, his pity-the-poor-bad-boy posturing.

“It never ends. You’re like a vampire; you can’t die because you can’t live. Your puppet wife and your puppet daughter and your puppet life…” I stopped myself, disgusted in my own behalf.

“The cemetery is full of tragic stories,” I went on, “but not one of them is as tragic as yours. Not Macbeth, not Lear, not the drunken Bacchus, not Faust — none of those stories is as sad as yours. They might have died from their corruption, but your corruption forbade you even to live… The historians will write about the loss of your presidency and the loss of your dignity, the loss of your mansion and your family and your things, your trinkets and ornaments. They’ll write about the loss of your place in history — as if that could matter in any way at all. But the tragedy of your life has nothing to do with that. Your life doesn’t depend on losing your job or keeping it. You have no life. You snuffed it out — and not for power or prestige or money or love or the adulation of the uncritical masses. You killed your self, the one true spark of your life, and you did it for nothing. Not even to be seen as being the man you know you’re not — for nothing.”

I walked along, waiting to see what Bubba might say for himself. Finally I said, “Everything you might have had, wealth or poverty, fame or anonymity, strength or weakness, great ardor or just a gentle, loving comfort — every bit of it is lost to you. Your puppet wife pretends to love you — so long as you keep her in the death grip of mutual blackmail. Your puppet daughter props up your illusions — for now. But you know the truth, and you know that I know the truth, and in the deepest tomb of your mind you know that everyone knows the truth. And that’s the worst horror of all, to know without daring to admit that you know that you’ve traded everything for nothing and you have fooled no one — not yourself, not me, not the idle gawkers — no one…”

Bubba was hammered, and for once not by liquor or drugs.

I said, “Shall I write your epitaph? It’s what I came here to do, to tell the truth. How’s this?: ‘William Jefferson Blythe Clinton, paternity unknown. He lived a lie and he died a lie and the only honest parts of him are buried here.’ That’ll do.”

Bubba stood staring at the grave behind his eyes and I left him that way, as still as death.

I strode over to the big black Crown Victoria. I had four small boxes of Fannie Farmer chocolates in my satchel, one for each my surveillance teams of pet feds. I handed them in through the driver’s side window. I said, “Merry Christmas, gents. He’s done with me, I’m sure. I’d appreciate it if you’d let me get lost…”

2 comments

Knowing The Difference Between The Sizzle And The Steak

Let’s begin by agreeing on the proposition saying those who try to live on sizzle, not steak, end up losing weight, till, in the end, they’re dead. Sizzle in many contexts can be fun, sexy, interesting, even impressive, but never substantive. In sports, sizzle is often lookin’ spectacular while seldom winning. The strikeout pitcher who barely wins more than he loses. The .300 hitter, 40 homer, 100+ RBI guy who hits below the Mendoza line with men in scoring position, with most of his homers and RBI coming when his team is eight runs ahead or hopelessly behind.

Sizzle ain’t results.

As a baseball purist and a lifetime member of the OldSchool in real estate, I appreciate sizzle, but get pretty damn agitated at those given more or less equal standing with big time producers, based upon a buncha glitter and multi-colored smoke.

As Exhibit A I offer Nolan Ryan

He’s a first ballot Hall of Famer. He threw the ball harder than Zeus threw lightning bolts. He struck out every third person on the planet earth. He threw eleventeen no-hitters. Then there were the stoopid number of 1-hitters. That’s what we purists call sizzle. I’ve done extensive research, and no-hitters still count as only one win. Strikeouts? Apparently they’re the same as all other outs. The winning team in any given game must get the other guys out 27 times in a nine inning game. The rules say an out’s an out. Go figure.

27 years in the major leagues, and he barely wins more games than he loses — 52.6%. He was the Dale Carnegie of pitchers, as he never met a hitter he didn’t walk. Try almost 5.25 every nine innings. If as a hitter you faced him more than five times, he walked you at least once.

His claim to fame from where I stand, is that his freak of nature body, combined with his superb work ethic and his luck with health and injuries, allowed him to pile up pretty much every stat but the one that mattered: Far more wins than losses.

Compare Ryan to Sandy Koufax. The man was cursed from Day 1. Drafted at 18, he was literally barred from the minors cuz he was paid too much of a bonus, so he never got to learn his craft the way his peers had. Most think he hurt his pitching elbow on the mound, when in fact, it was hurt while foolishly diving back head first on a pickoff attempt at second base. Doctors told him it was the catalyst for the arthritis that eventually felled him.

Let’s compare Ryan and Koufax during their best consecutive six year stretch. For Nolan is was 1972-77, while for Sandy is was 1961-66. Here’s where you can clearly see which one is the steak and which is the sizzle.

Wins: Koufax 129 Ryan 113 Win percentage: Koufax 7.33 Ryan .546 Losses: Koufax 47 Ryan 94. There was only a 12 game difference between the number of games each started. I could go on and on, but you get the idea. In their best six year stretches, Koufax’s winning percentage was almost 35% better than Ryan’s. Career vs career, Koufax’s winning percentage, including his completely fruitless years in Brooklyn, was a tick less than 25% better than Ryan’s.

You wanna win a game that makes the difference? Pick Koufax 10 times outa 10 vs Ryan. Ryan couldn’t carry Sandy’s jock, when all the sizzle is disregarded. Last time I checked, it was about winning. OK, I’ll stop pilin’ on.

For the record, I love Nolan Ryan. The guy’s the epitome of what a sports role model should be. As a man, he’s a giant. As a Hall of Fame Pitcher? Hell, most of the pitchers in the Hall were better than he was. That is if winning more while simultaneously losing less is a factor.

In real estate, you can’t bank sizzle, and there’s no Hall of Fame for those who showed the most properties, or took the most listings, or have the most prolific lead-producing website.

Unsold listings, property showings with no sales, 50 lead-a-day websites, and the best direct mail, social media, or what have you in the known universe, doesn’t impress your banker one iota. In fact it bores ’em.

Banks are a no-sizzle zone — a fact of life of which most real estate agents appear happily ignorant.

I don’t buy the 60+ hours that most agents claim as their typical week. The difference between Nolan Ryan and top real estate agents, is that buyers and sellers insist on winning. We either sold their property or we didn’t. We found them the place they were lookin’ for or we didn’t. The closing of escrow is the only known win in the real estate universe. Anything else might as well be a rotting steak on the grill, givin’ off that great sounding sizzle. All sizzle and no steak is what failure is all about.

No win = no paycheck.

Success in baseball is ultimately measured in terms of wins. In real estate success is ultimately measured in terms of closed escrows — skinned cats if you will.

Pretty websites, hi-tech marketing, IDX magic? All are real estate’s version of strikeouts and no-hitters. If they didn’t eventually lead to more wins, you’ll still need to add about $1.95 for a Grande cuppa coffee at Starbucks.

Am I touchin’ a nerve?

5,714 is how many hitters Nolan Ryan struck out, more than anyone else who ever donned a major league uniform. Same with no-hitters. Yet with all that impressive sizzle, he still couldn’t figure out how to win even 53% of the games in which he pitched.

Think I’m being harsh? The Angels lost more games than they won in 2010. Yet, they had three starting pitchers with equal or better winning percentages than Nolan Ryan. None appear to be future candidates for the Hall.

Sandy Koufax pitched a buncha no-hitters too. He struck out WAY more than his share of hitters. But instead of barely winning more than he lost, he won nearly two of every three games in which he toed the rubber. In his six best years? He won almost three of every four. Ryan’s best six? Still couldn’t reach the 60% win level. Where’s the steak?

All this to ask you these million dollar questions.

Do buyers and sellers want sizzle, or do they want results? Would they want Koufax or Ryan to be their agent?

The Hall of Fame for producing agents is based on nothing more or less than closed escrows — cat skins on the wall. The voters are the folks who’ve benefited from the results you produced. Sizzle — it’s for those constantly in search of the mythical magic button. There’s more than enough sizzle to go around. You can have my share.

I prefer winning. Make my steak medium rare.

39 comments

The first one is free

Hi John,
I am a realtor in El Paso TX.   i need a slogan that is new to our area for an inside cover of a local journal.  got any ideas? It will accompany my photo and the Coldwell banker logo.   I read that you are a contributor to Real estate slogan and marketing.   Please advise.  thank you, <name redacted>

Hi <name redacted>,

How about: “Your home lasso in El Paso”?

your Welcome,

John

3 comments

Kris Berg took the words right out of my mouth…

Now granted, I am not a big fan of Inman News all of the time (I really don’t like people charging for news..I think it is a tired model, but that’s just me and my own bias)..and I am and always have been a big fan of Kris Berg and what she writes.

Why? Because often I find myself just wishing I had pushed the publish button a bit earlier on something and then I find that she writes it with a lot more clarity and humor than I can.

When I grow up, I wanna write like her. And I am sure I am not alone.

Take this post for example.

I am officially tired of people crying foul about Zillow’s reviews. Not because I liked them, but because if you did not want Zillow, you should not have BUILT them (Zillow). And make no mistake, we (collectively as REALTORS who sent our listings to them) built them.

We built REALTOR.com and got pencil sharpenered. (old Russell Shaw reference that you need to Google – grin)

Many of us warned the industry that when you supplant your own online presence by giving your online assets **cough**listings**cough** to others, that one day the chickens would come home to roost and they would do something with that presence (like charge you, review you, sell you zip codes, sell ads on their site to people you find objectionable,etc) that you might or might not agree with.

Whether people like the person they woke up with in the morning is irrelevant. The fact is, they found them attractive at 2 am.

You can always vote with your feet.

So note to real estate industry: If you don’t like reviews, do something about it. If you are ok with it, be sure that you are ready for more of the same. More will be coming.

Note to Kris Berg: Beautifully written. (seriously). Merry Christmas to you and yours. ūüėČ

(Further observation…I think the reviews are a pretty lame idea and my guess is that they will die under their own irrelevant and easily spammable weight, but time will tell.)

5 comments

When the grasshoppers vote to enslave the ants, the ants vote with their feet: “I opt-out of California.”

From newgeography.com:

So, in protest to the insensitive indulgent big-spenders that run Sacramento, I say, ‚ÄúDon‚Äôt touch my junk!!!‚ÄĚ My beautiful California home is now on the market for $2,000,000. My next home will be in a no state income tax state like Texas or Nevada. I will not buy that new Jaguar that I was planning to purchase for $75,000. I will keep my old Cadillac and deprive Sacramento of $6,562 from its 8.75% sales tax. My next purchase for my real estate business will be an office building in Prague in the Czech Republic, a democracy that has lower taxes and fewer regulations. My income will remain either offshore or in a state that does not confiscate like the money grubbers in Sacramento. And, I will not be investing my capital to create any new jobs in California. In the digital age, my staff will be located in states that are a little more business friendly.

Apparently, I am not alone. Migration out of California exceeds the rate of almost every other state. Why are my fellow ‚Äúhigh-earners‚ÄĚ leaving the Golden State? Maybe it is because California ranks nationally in the bottom two for business friendliness while placing third in state income taxes.

We have Jerry Brown as our Governor again, meaning that he will live his entire life without a real job. The Central Valley, once agricultural wonderland of America, has Depression era unemployment, this as a result of a green-inspired court water shut-off designed to protect an Anchovy sized piece of bait called the Delta Smelt. And, our brilliant voters ‚Äď including those working class voters most impacted ‚Äď rejected Prop 23. That means that on January 1, 2011, California must begin to reduce our greenhouse gases by 40%. To achieve this noble goal, we seem certain to make ourselves even more uncompetitive with other countries and other states.

If that was not enough, voters also approved Prop 25 which allows the public union dominated Democrats to pass its budget with a simple majority. They did such a good job ($20 billion shortfalls) when they were forced to obtain a 2/3rds vote for approval. They no longer will need a single Republican vote to pass their budgets.

Margaret Thatcher remarked to Parliament on February 22, 1990, ‚ÄúThe trouble with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people‚Äôs money.‚ÄĚ Such will be the fate of the failed state of California and its free spending legislators, when high-earners like myself vote with their feet, and their wallets, and take their earnings elsewhere.

10 comments

How to get out of going to a holiday party…

So Cathy wanted for us to go to a holiday party last night with one of her favorite clients. I never want to do stuff like that, but I always want for my best-beloved to be happy.

Turns out I got out of going anyway. While we were walking the dogs on the Arizona Canal — walking, not running — I slipped one way as Shyly and Odysseus were charging off the other way. I fell down and cracked my elbow nicely on the tarmac.

We ended up having a very nice evening at the hospital. I’m not joking — attitude is everything. But poor Cathleen didn’t get to go to her party.

I’m typing with one hand right now, so you may be hearing less than a lot from me for a while.

18 comments

Achieving your goals: Things can get a great deal better, over time, if you work at them just a little bit every day.

Here’s my November:

Not bad, and the guitar is sounding pretty decent by now. I’m more action than traction selling real estate, but that’s been the story of my life for the past five years.

Here’s the secret decoder ring, what all those sloppy symbols mean:

S – Write software or work on web-based marketing for the business.

G – Play the guitar for at least half an hour.

W – Walk with Cathleen and the dogs for half an hour.

X – Work out for half and hour.

A – Attend an appointment with a real estate buyer or seller.

C – Write a real estate contract.

O – Open an escrow.

$ – Close an escrow.

Better news first: The server is rockin’ and I’m getting a lot done a little at a time.

Walking and working out are doing great things for both my physique and my psyche. I bumped my repetitions on free weights from 30 to 40 to 50 reps. I’m headed for 60 reps in December. I lost six actual pounds of weight, but, more importantly, I dropped an inch at the waist and at my belly. The accretion of new muscle mass will burn away fat at a steady pace, so I feel like I’m getting where I want to go.

Meanwhile, the guitar is sounding fine to me. Music of any kind is a kinesthetic art: You need to know what to do, as a matter of praxis and theory, but your muscles need to know it, too. To play the guitar, you have to have a perfect muscle memory of dozens of common hand shapes, and you have to be able to hit those shapes perfectly, with a lot of torque, precisely on time. It ain’t easy, which is why it’s so easy to make painful noises on the guitar.

But playing the electric guitar is its own reward. An acoustic guitar has its own sound and it’s own style of playing. But the essential component, when you’re playing an electric guitar, is not the guitar but the amplifier. I can pull a lot of sound out of a solid-body electric without plugging it in. But when you put power behind that sound, you’re making an entirely different style of music. The guitar is a stringed drum, really, and it plays rhythm parts most often. The sound of an amplified guitar — even when you play lead parts — is inherently percussive, and the best fun from playing electric comes when you can’t hear the strings at all, when the amplified sound across the room is much louder than the tinny strings buzzing in your lap.

You can do things with an electric guitar that you can never do with an acoustic box: Piercing sustains, bullet-like quick notes and chords, flanges and echos and tape loops. I still can’t play anything that sounds like actual music to me, but I can make that thing talk for me, and I love to hear what it has to say.

I’m bad at noting opened and closed escrows, but there aren’t enough of them, anyway. I know this will come as a shock to all the thoughtful gentlemen who show up here to display their imaginary third testicles, but selling real estate in Phoenix right now is a hard way to make an easy living. I work a lot, and I work with a lot of really interesting people, but it can be a bear to keep a transaction together all the way to the finish line. There are already too many ways for deals to fall apart, and now interest rates, so long our best friend, are about to turn on us. Was I forged from a different mettle, I might despair.

We’re doing the due diligence to start a second brokerage, this one focused on property management for our investors, so I’m adding a P to December’s calendar. And I want to let Brother Willie out to play a little, so I want to devote some time every day to coaxing him into writing for me. That gets me up to ten things to record, and I’m not a punctilious kind of guy. But I’m living proof that this praxis works — that setting and documenting goals is the way to achieve those goals.

It’s funny, really. Who would think that devoting just a little bit of time to my goals, every day, could produce such salutary results in so little time. But I can see the results I’m achieving, not just on the calendar but in the shape of my body, in the sound of my guitar, in the quantity of work I’m getting done. The money could be easier, but I know it will be in the long run.

This really works. I encourage you to prove it to yourself.

6 comments

This Article is a Waste of Your Time

The NAR has come out against the Debt Reduction Commission’s recommendation to eliminate (actually, not eliminate but rather greatly reduce and alter) the mortgage interest tax deduction (MID)…¬† Isn’t that a shock?¬† No? You knew those dip-shits at NAR would knee-jerk react to their sacred cow?¬† Hey, I warned you in the title that this article is a waste of your time.

What has caught my eye is the speed with which the NAR propoganda hit mainstream agents and found its way to popular social media sites like Facebook.  A quick look this morning and I must have caught half a dozen agents I know personally, out there spreading the bullshit around on behalf of the NAR; not realizing how hypocritical and stupid they looked.

Attention All Agents:  Taxes are theft.  You may acquiese to some form of theft in the ignorant belief that it somehow does some good. But tax deductions? They are pure evil.  They are, by definition, designed to separate you from your natural freedoms through bribery and penalty.  The mortgage interest tax deduction is no different and in some ways worse.

You might make allowance for the mugger on the street stealing your money because (he says) his kids are hungry. (I think you should kick his ass, in no small part because it may be the best thing you can do for his kids…¬†but that’s a different post.)¬†¬†¬†But do you really¬†want to defend¬†the guy who takes your money and then tells you that if you will walk where he tells you and stop where he tells you and wear what he tells you,¬†he might (MIGHT!) give you some of your own money¬†back? Are you that spineless?¬† Let me see if Ican put this into perspective:

I (the government) have declared that all real estate agents must give me 30% of their commission checks. But, I think¬†funny underwear makes people laugh and laughter is a social good… so if you’ll wear funny underwear on your head I’ll give you some of your commission¬†back.

Feeling pretty good about your deduction? Take that stupid underwear off your head and pay attention!¬† It’s not even true!¬† The vast majority of tax payers don’t benefit from a mortgage tax deduction. Home ownership doesn’t drop without a tax deduction.¬† And the worst part of all – at least this time around – is this: what the Debt Commission is suggesting is not simply that¬†MID be eliminated.¬† They are suggesting that most deductions be eliminated AND that¬†tax rates be greatly reduced across the board.¬† In other words, they’re¬†suggesting a comprehensive reform of the biggest piece of convoluted, freedom sucking, organized form of crime in the nation.¬† Is that the answer?¬†No. Income taxes are wrong and will be abused¬†no matter what we do until they’re eliminated.¬† But at least this is a (gigantic) step in the right direction.

Stop listening to the party line.¬† It’s all a lie…¬† And get off Facebook – you look foolish putting this stuff up there.¬† Besides, it’s even more a waste of time than was reading this article.

9 comments

Zillow says, “If you will send us your clients as web traffic, we’ll be pleased to sell them back to you, again and again, from now on.”

Q: What do you do when your massive Realty.bot web site, target-marketed to equity-rich home-sellers, finds itself in a real estate market where most sellers are upside down and do not give a rat’s ass what their homes might sell for?

A: Punt.

This is an eyeball play, up front, just pure traffic-baiting. But the genius of it is that it turns into FUD for the agents in the long run: A million necks, one noose.

These sites are just noise, by now, just more “media” — uninformed opinions from people who make their living doing something other than selling real estate. Delivering your clients to them strikes me as a poor idea.

16 comments

Duh

Early yesterday evening I was truly fortunate to be in a room with a buncha smart, highly successful, incredibly skilled people. There were bazillion$ sitting there, discussing what they do for a living, the real estate industry in general, marketing, and the normal stuff. I’m not gonna talk much about the whole syndication of listings comedy of horrors (my description), except as it relates to the difference between perception and reality.

How is it guys like me can sell a home in a matter of hours, 16% over the median price in the region? No syndication, at least none for which I paid. If some happened as a result of the listing hitting the local MLS, I can’t control that. In any case, it didn’t sell the home.

My efforts did. My experience did. My expertise did. And so does yours.

Let me make it even more irritating. Earlier this year a new client in another state had a small rental home, ripe for a tax deferred exchange. First step? Get it sold. He wanted to initially sell it himself, so I coached him. He did everything I asked of him, and did it well. Took about 30 days. Got his price. It closed. Completed his exchange. All he was interested in was results. I told him he didn’t need anything but his local MLS. Guess he must’ve been an M.I.T. grad, right? Sorry, couldn’t resist.

Back to the group in the room.

There were no newbies in the room, at least none I could identify by sight. ūüôā One was a fellow Bloodhound contributor. All agreed that what I didn’t realize is how the sellers themselves insist, before listing, that the broker agree to waste much of their marketing cash on worthless syndication, Zillow, Trulia, and the Usual Suspects. One even said many sellers insist she pay for freakin’ newspaper ads, money she knows might as well be thrown into a roaring fire. I was originally licensed in the Pliocene epoch of real estate, when Truman was still alive, McDonald’s hamburgers were 15¬Ę, and offers to purchase were one page, 8X11, fill in the blanks, no disclosures whatsoever. The last dinosaur still walked the earth when newspaper ads first became impotent.

I know I beat this drum often, but till proven otherwise, I’ll continue to bang it. What sold homes my first day licensed, is what’s sellin’ homes today. I keep throwin’ this gauntlet out, and keep gettin’ crickets in return. Sure, I get loud voices, and emotional claptrap, but nothing much of value. Price homes right, pretty ’em up, get outa the way. Buyers are smart. They like price, but they like quality too, at least the majority do. Considering the incredible reach inherent in the typical MLS, that’s always been enough.

I’m willing to be swayed by facts, not perception. Look, as I said last night, I not only understand and sympathize, I empathize with agents who’re buttin’ their heads against the brick wall of ignorant perception. Sellers are too often truly convinced if they’re serious about selling their home, they need to be seen by even the lonely peasant 13 time zones away, as he eats dinner on his mud floor. The script says, “If I don’t agree to do all the things we all know aren’t worth a hill of beans, the next guy in the door will.”

Is it time for brokers and agents to rise up and opt out?

What would happen if the vast majority of Realtors simply told their local boards/MLS that their data was theirs, and permission isn’t granted to whore it out to everyone’s financial gain but theirs? It’s only for THAT MLS. Would the earth spin off its axis?

Would somebody please explain why agents look at their local, state, and NAR boards as if they’re the federal government?

For God’s sake people, you’re the ones who’ve put your name on the dotted line on that listing contract. It’s yours. You lay the Golden Eggs. Do you understand that? The industry is like a buncha prostitutes who keep makin’ excuses for their pimp as he periodically beats up those who won’t shut up and don’t do what they’re told.

Again — don’t misconstrue my words. I’m one of you, and on your side. All the various boards have, slowly but surely, made those who should be their masters, into their bitches. I’m convinced all the local/state boards plus NAR, can’t be changed from the inside. That ship sailed epochs ago, when I still had hair. It needs to be abandoned, and redesigned completely from scratch.

That design begins with the fact that we’re the ones who lay the Golden Eggs.

Of course, that assumes those who lead the charge this time will actually have an IQ sportin’ three digits before hittin’ that pesky decimal point. We can dream, right?

Don’t look to guys like me to lead the charge. I’m less than apathetic at this point. I saw Dad fight ’em first hand — and win — as his ‘friends’ stood by and watched, not one gettin’ his back. And two of them were past presidents. He told me back then that change from within wasn’t very likely. I know what gets results so I do it — in spite of the bastards. But if you’re readin’ this and realizing that indeed, you are laying the Golden Eggs, maybe you’ll talk to other prime layers.

Those who have the gold make the rules.

Here’s an idea — you can call it the Duh Movement. As in, “Duh, those are our Golden Eggs.”

Duh indeed.

13 comments

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