Life Lessons at Hamilton the Musical

My wife and I took our kids to see Hamilton last night at the SHN Orpheum theater in downtown San Francisco. After listening to the soundtrack multiple times each and every day for the past month+, my daughter was beyond excited for the live event. And while my wife and I were thrilled to enjoy such a heralded cultural experience with our children, we were even more excited for the educational opportunity the evening presented.

By educational opportunity, I don’t mean lessons about history, how our founding fathers were actual humans with their own desires and ambitions that could often be in conflict, or the power of ambition, drive and purpose.

I mean the educational opportunity of the walk through the Tenderloin in San Francisco. Here is a quick guide, in map form, to the few square blocks of intense study street education for our 13 year old son and 10 year old daughter. For those not in the know, the Tenderloin is often called San Francisco’s ‘sketchiest’ neighborhood.

Tenderloin Pic.png

We’re going back tonight for the ‘post midnight’ graduate course in life education.

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The Art of Gripe Letters

I recall sitting in elementary school – maybe fourth grade – learning how to write a letter.  We practiced formatting, where to write our address, where to write the recipient’s address, affixing stamps, and even appropriate ways to greet the reader and sign off depending on if it was a friendly or business letter.

I think we ended up writing a letter to our congressman (or woman, though it was the 80s and we are a chauvinistic society) as the final project for the lesson.  At 10, I am sure I had something passionate to say about the environment, healthcare or perhaps carried interest taxation law. I don’t think I heard back despite what are bound to have been compelling and well informed opinions and arguments stating my case.

With the advent of computers, email and texts, letter-writing as a skill has likely gone the way of changing your own oil or break dancing, but rest assured there is a critical time and place for traditional letter writing that every adult needs to master. The Gripe Letter.

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What’s a Gripe Letter? Any time a company has so badly failed to meet your expectations with their product or service or has been unwilling to resolve your issue through traditional service and support channels may warrant a Gripe Letter. It is a deeply personal escalation of your complaint and a ‘won’t take no’ attitude on resolution.

This shouldn’t be an everyday thing. Part of the joy of the Gripe Letter is the process, including the deep commitment you make to the art of the communication itself. You have to be ready to go the distance. This article walks through some guidelines on how to create and deliver an effective Gripe Letter, including examples from my history.

Zodiac-July1969-proof

Step 1: Gripe Letters are Actual Letters

This means a printed and mailed letter. You can’t hand-write it because your handwriting probably looks like that of a serial killer or a four year old on a tilt-a-whirl. Get out a computer (if you have a typewriter it’s time to check the definition of ‘hoarder’), craft the letter, print it out (there will be multiple copies, we’ll get to that later) and then mail them with a stamp and everything.

Don’t cut out the individual letters from a magazine and paste them onto a piece of paper. That will get a different type of response, and thanks to the Patriot Act you now longer have any rights to due process.

Step 2: Go Straight to the Top

Your letter is going to the CEO of the company. Doesn’t matter how big or multi-national the company is, nor how small your complaint might seem. If it’s crossed the threshold that you are going with a Gripe Letter, that means you’re all in.

Here is an example from a Gripe Letter I had to send to the previous CEO of Delta Airlines. You’ll note how I directly call him out, not just as CEO, but as having just been in my face with the welcome and safety video. He’s not getting a free ride on this….

Richard H. AndersonRichard Anderson
Chief Executive Officer
Delta Airlines
P.O. Box 20706
Atlanta, Georgia 30320-6001

Dear Mr. Anderson,

I’m currently sitting on a flight home from Dublin, Ireland to New York City aboard Delta Flight #91 on October 22, 2012.  Having just watched the lead in video, during which your words explicitly speak of a Delta/Customer relationship based on “honesty, integrity and mutual respect”, I feel compelled to bring a most distressing Delta experience directly to your attention.  It is my hope that you will honor the true meaning of those words in resolving this issue, with integrity, immediately.

Step 4: CC Versions to the Folks Who Will Actually Take Action

This is as close to a literal CC (or carbon copy) as you are likely to get in your life. In this case though you’re printing out more letters, addressing more envelopes, and parting with those precious ‘Forever’ US Stamps with pictures of Amelia Earhart on them. Remember, a real CC means you list the other folks who are getting the letter at the bottom.

From my Delta Gripe Letter, I CC’d the COO and a VP of Customer Care.

CC:
Stephen E. Gorman, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer
Allison Ausband, Vice President, Reservation Sales and Customer Care

You’ll have some heavy lifting here. Do the research:

  • Find as many responsible parties as you can online. Use the corporate website, LinkedIn, Press Releases, public records of lawsuits. You name it.
  • Find out where they work. Again, this isn’t hard with a little leg work. Often the person a few steps down might work in a different office than the CEO. That’s just gravy because they know you are serious.

Accept and understand that you are doing this to publicly shame them, hopefully to their boss and boss’ boss. Without the shaming, they won’t learn that they’re not a good boy.

Dirty Q Tips

Step 4: Make it Personal

I don’t mean personal in the ‘tracking down where their school-age children play and taking photos of them to send with the letter’ manner. I mean personal about you. You have to deeply humanize the experience, how it impacted you, how you WANT to be happy customer and they’re just not allowing you to do so.

For a Gripe Letter I had to send to Coleman, maker of all sorts of outdoor gear, I harkened back to the days of my youth where I learned to trust and depend on their brand from my father (who likely learned from his father before him). In the letter, I included a picture of my infant son, barely able to stand, holding himself up in the middle of a broken Coleman-branded lawn chair. The entire picture was pathetic. My smiling son trapped inside a failed Coleman product. Coleman wasn’t just losing me as a customer if they failed to make the issue right, they were losing multiple generations.

Mr Wisler, while I know my purchase was a year past and likely any warranty is long-since expired, I felt compelled to express my disappointment to you and The Coleman Company.  As a child, I distinctly remember my father expressing his undying satisfaction with his Coleman lantern.  He still has it today, thirty years hence.  And it still works.  I fear I will not be able to share that same confidence with my son (picture also attached), now a potential future non-Coleman customer.  

Step 5: Demand Specific Remedy

You’ve gone through all of the trouble to bring your grievance to the attention of all the right people. All you have to do know is make it easy for them to solve the problem. The person who has been shamed just wants this to go away. They want to be able to tell their boss and their boss’ boss that it’s been dealt with. Ask for what you want.

In the case of the Coleman Gripe Letter, I wanted a full set of replacement lawn furniture and said exactly that. In the case of the Delta Gripe Letter, I wanted SkyMiles I had transfered to my wife’s account (and paid to transfer) and the fees for the transfer refunded after we found out an agent had mislead us regarding upgrade availability.

What’s interesting is while both companies fully complied, they couldn’t help but adding a last minute gripe of their own into the mix.

With Coleman, they mentioned they didn’t manufacture the furniture themselves, but rather licensed their brand to a third party. Not sure how they thought that would make it better, but I think the logic was something like ‘don’t worry, our products are still high quality’. Unfortunately the message came across as ‘we’re willing to wh*re our brand out to just about anybody with zero quality assurance involved’.

With Delta, they felt the need to add a ‘it’s against our policy to do this, but’ (and then did it anyway). I think they wanted me to know they were doing me a favor. Dumb.

Bonus Content: Admit Nothing, Deny Everything and Make Counter Accusations

Sometimes you find yourself on the receiving end of a Gripe Letter. In that case you turn it around on them. Place demands right back on them.

For instance, here is part of my response to a recent tax bill demand:

I have provided you with plenty of information regarding this tax bill. I haven’t had a business and don’t have a business in Guilford. I rented an office and stopped renting that well over a year ago. I don’t know what else to provide you, but you have all the information, all the forms and all the data. This is unacceptable, and in response to your big pink letter, please understand I find your demand rude, inaccurate, and generally ridiculous.

I have expended significant energy responding to this bill, and therefore please also accept this invoice for the following 3 communications

  •   3 x US Fist Class Stamps = $0.49 cents each = $1.47
  •   3 x 8×11 Paper = $0.01 each =  $0.03
  •   3 x  US First Class Letter Envelopes at $0.05 each = $0.15
  •   3 x .15 hour at $225 per hour for preparation = $168.75

I demand immediate payment for a total of $170.40 for my time and energy to deal with this issue sent to:

And here is one for an early mobile phone account:

I recently canceled my Sprint PCS account (Account # XXXXXX-1) after a number of years of service.  As reflected in the copy of this returned bill, I have been levied a cancellation charge of $150.00.  I originally signed up for Sprint PCS service in December of 1999, and committed to a 2 year agreement.  Obviously that has long since past.  I will be happy to pay the $150.00 cancellation fee as soon as you provide one of the following for my records:

  • A copy of a contract extension with my signature and execution date
  • A copy of the voice recording wherein I am identified and verbally agree to the contract extension with an official time/date stamp

Once I have one of those items, I will be happy to tender the remaining balance due.

In both cases, that finally put an end to the conversation.

Most importantly, have fun. While I’ve never failed in getting the response I want to a Gripe Letter, I am sure it’s possible to fail. In that case, you do the next best thing and attempt to shame them socially. If you’re lucky, you can find your 15 minutes of Internet fame in a well-turned complaint.

 

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When is it okay to die?

Fair warning…..this post tackles a more intense topic than normal. Today is April 2nd, which would be my brother Rick’s 46th birthday. This post is about his death.

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Rick is in the middle. Grandma on the right. I’m on the left. Sister Penny in front of Rick. Bunch of cousin-rats in the front row. Circa 1989?

On an early morning in November of 1995, I returned to my college dorm room from Taco Bell with a sack of tacos and a pretty furious hangover. I was also wearing red converse sneakers. It’s funny the details you remember when your world is turned upside down.

A campus security car was sitting outside my dorm room entrance and it quickly became clear that they’re eyes were trained on me.

First reaction: Oh shit, what did I do last night that I don’t remember?

Unfortunately, the message I was about to receive wasn’t nearly as pleasant as ‘you stole a bunch of raw fish from the dining hall and snuck it into a professor’s bedroom as a prank and you’re busted’.

My older brother, Rick, had committed suicide.

Rick and Mike - College

Rick in college with his good friend Mike Kammen.

The loss of a loved one, unexpected, sudden and inexplicable, or expected and after a long and losing battle with an illness – is devastating no matter what. But in this case, I can’t honestly say that my brother’s death at his own hand was unexpected or inexplicable. It WAS expected and after a long and losing battle with the illness of depression.

Flash back to 1987, 8 years prior. As a 12 year old sharing a bunk bed room with my brother I awoke to find him twitching and foaming at the mouth. He had overdosed as his first (to my knowledge), attempt to kill himself. He survived and spent a month plus in the hospital.

But some diseases are chronic. You can treat symptoms temporarily – in this case with antidepressants, lithium, even shock therapy – but the disease remains, growing and insistent. As Rick progressed through what was left to him of a high school experience, through college and ultimately into the first years of medical school, the sickness was always there, and he attempted suicide multiple additional times. My other brother would get a call in the middle of the night that Rick had gone missing again and have to go hunting, sometimes for a day plus while the family held its breath, to find him somewhere on the side of the road in his car. Not quite dead, but certainly no longer living. Back to the hospital. Restart the process.

This experience, year after year, took a significant toll on the rest of the family. The never knowing. The always waiting. And it is this toll that causes me to reflect that it’s not always the most selfish thing to do to kill oneself as some have said. In some cases, finally ending a life might be a mercy to many around you.

Weeks before Rick finally stepped in front of train, making a decision that was not ambiguous, not a cry for help, he visited me at college. Late one evening, in tears, Rick confided to me simply how miserable he was, how insufferable his day to day existence was. And I said to him in no uncertain terms that he couldn’t continue to drag the family through repeated suicide attempts. That it was a misery for us as well. And that if he was going to kill himself, do it for real. I believe I said ‘put a shotgun in your mouth and make it permanent’. I didn’t say this with animosity. I said it out of love. Love for Rick, and love for the rest of my family. That may be hard to believe, but it’s true.

Did he take my counsel in making his final choice? I don’t know. Do I feel guilty? I also don’t know. But do I know Rick is at peace? Yes. Do I know the family, though saddened by this loss, is at peace? Yes.

To be clear, I am not advocating for anyone to commit suicide. I believe there are many ways to get better. Medicine. Therapy. Time. By definition, suicide is the only last resort. But I do think there is a point when it is okay to die. I don’t believe Rick made a selfish decision. And I can respect a decision made out of love, no matter how hard and permanent that decision may be. I know this will be controversial. It may be a very unique perspective. I invite open discussion in the comments about this and am happy to continue to share my thoughts and experience.

With over twenty years in the rearview mirror, my last thoughts of Rick are quite pleasant. When we went to his apartment to clean out his things, I found a cardboard box with my name on it, and a note to open out of view of our parents. Inside was a massive collection of VHS porn. I know that Rick did this as a playful joke. A final act of love to remind me that while he knew I and we would struggle with this, his care for us never ended. And in the depths of the grief that was still days fresh, I laughed. Thank you Rick.

 

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I did a juice cleanse….and it sucked bad.

Like ‘I fell down some stairs because I tripped stumbling out of the bedroom where I found my wife cheating on me as I was running to tell her about a foreclosure notice on our house because my ne’er-do-well brother in law stole all our money and during the fall got a lego that my kid (who it turns out is also not mine) left on the stairs lodged in my hind quarters. Oh and Trump is President’ bad.

Surf_and_Turf_Bloody_Mary

Not this type of juice

So why did I do this cleanse? Mostly curiosity. Also because my wife told me to. And before you ask, the metaphor above isn’t based on experience. We don’t buy our kids legos. God damn leeches.

I’ve heard about and read about juice cleanses for years, and because I do believe you should walk a mile in someone else’s moccasins regardless of how racially charged that statement might be, I decided to give it a try, just like I took archery and basket weaving at Boy Scout camp.

 

The promised benefits?

  • More energy – like a bump of cocaine but without the social stigma
  • Flushing the system of toxins – said toxins not really defined
  • Elimination of bloating – bloating is a nice word for your fat belly which was caused by years of drinking beer and eating ribs, but some kale juice should clean that right up
  • Maybe some weight loss – as in, the physics of starving yourself is a validation of the law of conservation of energy

Before I started, I did some basic research on the science behind juice cleanses. In summary, there is none. It’s made up, hippy dippy nonsense. Honestly I have nothing more to say here. If anything, much of the science questions the potential negative effects. But ‘science’ never stopped me from drinking a fifth of vodka, and ‘math’ never stopped me from playing craps at 3AM in Vegas after that fifth of vodka. So who cares.

Day 1  – I decided to weigh in. 179.7 lbs. And yes, I’m 5’8″. So just like my stupid physician you can say ‘Hey….maybe you could stand to lose a few pounds’. And while you’re at it, just like my stupid physician, you can say ‘Hey…..you’re over 40 now….so bend over.’ Jerk.

The day began with a pleasant vanilla / nut shake. And then it all went downhill. The nut shake was the biggest calorie infusion of the day (about 420 total). I drank it in < 30 seconds. That was my first mistake. You have to make these things last or you’ll end up standing over coworkers who have food and inhaling dPassed Out Drunkeeply. Which I do generally, but in this case fully clothed.

My second mistake was underestimating how addicted I was to caffeine. By mid-morning a low grade headache had begun. By that evening the headache had matured into the type of hangover you experience after a full day drinking tequila that ends up with you waking up in Mexico even though you live in Canada. Also you are now married. Also you are missing a kidney. Also you adopted a ferret. Awful.

My answer was to go to sleep at 7PM. Also I cried. So on the ‘more energy’ front, I’m going to say Day 1 was a failure.

Day 2 – With 1 day in the bag, I was excited to wake up and feel clean, toxin free and energetic. Unfortunately, when you’ve consumed 50 liters of fluid throughout the day, your body spends most of the night waking you up just in time to not pee the bed. Sometimes not ‘just in time’. But a little bit, that’s okay. I think our sheets get changed.

I will say the headache was less brutal throughout the day. Some co-workers commented that I looked ‘yellow and sweaty’, including my eyeballs. Sweaty eyeballs. You don’t see that in the list of benefits of juicing.

That evening I decided to go for a run. I run a decent amount, so a short run should have been no problem. I managed to eek out 2 miles before the creeping gray on the edges of my vision and the swerving down the sidewalk became a safety concern.

I weighed myself before bed. 184.1 lbs. So in 2 days of starvation and caffeine withdrawal, I’d managed to add 4.5 lbs. In theory water weight. But likely just the weight of despair. I made it until 9pm before collapsing into the sweet release of sleep.

Day 3 – With just 24 hours left to go, I admit I was feeling better. But I think that was anticipation of being done. Fortunately the universe always likes to put you in your place, so I got to spend the day dealing with a multi-thousand dollar auto repair bill. Turns out an engine needs oil to function. It wasn’t just Big Oil propaganda.

By the middle of the day I was even a bit chipper. Then I had to go to a 4th grade school event about kelp forests.

The morning after I was done I weighed in at 175.2 lbs. Down 4.5 lbs from the start (with a 9 lb swing in 1.5 days). So at least I could clam that victory. Gonna tell my Dr. to keep her fingers to herself moving forward. I did my job.

My Conclusions:

  • You can sell shitty juice for $8 a pint to idiots like me. Gotta love guilt and fad-based consumerism. There are more businesses to be made here.
  • I don’t think you’re supposed to extrude toxins through your eyeballs.
  • I did lose weight and do feel leaner, but given the ridiculous swings I don’t know that it was healthy or in any way the type of weight you want to lose. You may as well cut off a foot.
  • Getting off caffeine was awful. It’s a hell of a drug. I had a cup of coffee this morning. I refuse to live this way. But perhaps 4 cups a day is unnecessary. I think the only ‘energy’ I feel is the reintroduction of caffeine into my system.

Most critically…..don’t do a juice cleanse. Seriously, don’t. If you want to feel healthier, eat a bunch of vegetables, lots of fiber and non-animal proteins like beans. Eliminate sugar. The science here is irrefutable. One thing I hated about the juice only cleanse is they took all of the fiber out of things like kale, and if I’m eating kale, I at least want to take a pleasing dump.

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Man-Shaming

I get man-shamed in my house. I know in the current political climate my suffering may not qualify for top billing on any news site, fake or not, but the struggle is real. The reason I get man-shamed is I am incompetent and prone to sudden sparks of rage.

tool-man

For instance, my wife bought an articulated mirror for the bathroom a few weeks back. It sat on the counter for days, staring at me, challenging me to install it correctly. To not f*ck it up. To not destroy the wall. On Super Bowl morning I took that challenge. When I found out the batteries for my drill were out, I went a more manual route. That route involved smashing incorrectly sized holes in the wall that ultimately lead to the drywall anchors facing and the entire mirror being wobbly. Accompanied by more than one profanity, I ripped it out of the wall, destroying more drywall. Did I mention it was Super Bowl morning? I may have had a beer in me.

You might be thinking ‘Well, that sounds like you’re just a loser and a d*ck. You probably deserve whatever frustration you’re whining about.’ True.

But the thing is, I’m pretty good at a number of other activities about the home. For instance, I can do laundry pretty well. And I cook and clean like the best of them (you may be asking who the ‘them’ is….don’t). If I were a single male and had help for any of those traditional domestic tasks, I wouldn’t be shamed at all. Yet there is something about these basic chores fixes – hanging stuff, fixing a leaking toilet, fixing a sink stopper – that society seems to say I need to do myself. And if I can’t do them, I’m a failure.

And I can’t. I can’t do them well. If I do get it done the work product sucks and I hate myself and it even more. I just sit there and stare at the uneven picture and want to blow up the moon.

I need a new service – kind of like task rabbit – but where someone comes to my house not only to do the job I need done, but also to reassure me that my time is clearly better spent on other activities and in no way is that a condemnation of my manhood. That soufflé won’t cook itself.

 

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Holiday Cards With Meaning

Now that Halloween is behind us, all eyes are turning to the Holiday season. And those eyes aren’t always jolly and bright. In addition to suffering through a few hours of Thanksgiving with your crazy Aunt Betty, you’ve also got to prepare yourself for the onslaught of Holiday cards you’ll receive from family, friends, ex-friends and soon-to-be-ex-friends-they-just-don’t-know-it-yet.

Part of the Holiday card tradition requires the sender to capture a photo or two of their children (and perfect black labrador) dressed to the nines, smiling broadly, and seemingly happy to be together. That alone can be hard to stomach as you look at your own children covered in candy cane-fused dirt and a carpet stained with what you hope was mud the dog tracked in.

Even worse is a Holiday card that includes a single-spaced, double-sided diatribe on how fantastic everyone in the family is doing. Little Jimmy excels at soccer, plays french horn, is captain of the debate team and never gets caught stealing money from your purse. And Susie is just so grown up now. A beautiful young woman. Of course she didn’t have three wine coolers and end up parking the car half on a mailbox.

To spice it up this Holiday season, consider sending the card you actually want to a friend or family member. Tell them how you really feel. The folks at Rated Cards have made it possible to combine distinctly beautiful and artistic cards with sentiments that might feel a bit more true-to-form this Holiday season.

Whether you just want someone to know you see through their bullshit…card-sample-successlessSuccessless: (1) failure to accomplish a goal or objective (2) your life

Or want to get together, but would murder yourself if it’s over coffee.day-drinkingDid someone say something about Day Drinking? Oh. That was me. Let’s get together soon.

Or want to express your condolences but not really pull any punches.card-sample-sorryloserSorry to hear about your loss. Loser.

These and many more Rated Cards just became available for pre-order at www.rated.cards and will be just the thing to send this Holiday season if you’re ready to put an end to the Holiday card torture once and for all.

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Welcome to Your Life, Stranger

Fifteen billion odd years ago, give or take a billion, there was no universe. There was nothing. Except what some religions call the Word, or the Will or God. That’s not that much different from science calling it Energy. Whatever it was, it just was. Totally and completely enclosed in itself. Uniform, unchanging (there was no time remember), unending, unrelenting, uninspired and bored to shit.

big-bang-diagram

Think about sitting in a first grade arithmetic class practicing addition. Sure, you might need a brush up course on the big numbers, especially if you’re from Boston, but after a few days you’d probably be one of the top kids in class. You’d be able to add and subtract even double and triple digit numbers without flaw and mostly without fail (it’s okay, we all make mistakes). No answer would escape you. There would be no whiteboard challenge you couldn’t handle. And since you’d be an adult, you wouldn’t even mind going to the whiteboard with a boner, especially if your teacher was Ms. Julie from Ridgemount Elementary (I’m on Facebook, call me!).

That said, even if Ms. Julie was there wearing her brown skirt that accidentally showed a bit of her slip, and even if you weren’t turned off because who wears a slip today anyway, eventually you would be bored beyond belief. There would be nothing in the first grade arithmetic curriculum that you didn’t know completely and utterly. There would be no challenge and no inspiration.

And this, I believe, is the experience that the Word/Will/God/Energy/It found itself in. Complete, mind-numbing boredom. If you’re that entity, before existence and time, you can’t have a thought or experience without knowing that thought or experience before you have it. There is nothing to experience because you are everything and you can’t experience yourself.

Then it comes to you. You need to try The Stranger.

hands

If you haven’t already clicked on the definition, The Stranger is simple. You sit on your arm until it’s numb and then masturbate with it. Because you can’t feel the arm or hand, it’s like you’re getting diddled by a complete stranger. If you’re the universe, it means you can finally have an experience that is unique, different and most importantly new. It would be something, and after an eternity of nothing, you are desperate for something, anything.

So the Word/Will/God/Energy/It sits on its arm, and just like that the Big Bang starts the ball rolling. Like five foreign fingers dancing across your flesh, electrons and protons are suddenly interacting in ways that you experience for the first time. Time suddenly exists, so the concept of cause and effect can exist. Matter has properties that govern its actions and interactions, properties that serve to make it separate from each other. Suddenly not everything just Is. There is distinction. And to the Word/Will/God/Energy/It, that is deeply satisfying.

So welcome to your life. You’re basically a masturbation tool.

 

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