Flag Days

August 27, 2006

Much has been made about the fact that Sen. George Allen (R-Va) used to have a Confederate battle flag hanging in his living room. Allen has long dismissed questions about this with the explanation that it was part of a flag collection. However, recent revelations suggest that the “collection” may actually have only consisted of two flags – the Confederate flag and the U.S. flag.

Be that as it may, I really don’t care if George Allen had a Confederate flag hanging on his wall when he was a young man. I’d be a hypocrite to say otherwise, as I had a Confederate flag hanging on my wall in high school and through the first couple years of college. To me the flag was simply a symbol of regional pride and heritage. So, the mere fact that Allen similarly owned and privately displayed a Confederate flag 20 or 30 years ago does not automatically mean that he is or was a racist.

However, I would feel a lot better about Allen’s flag history if he had simply explained it, as I do, as a symbol of Southern (not white, Southern) pride. That would admittedly be a bit tough to swallow considering the fact that he was born in California and never lived in the South until he transferred from UCLA to the University of Virginia as a sophomore in college, but it would be a lot less suspect than the apparently bogus flag collection story. But, that’s his story and he’s sticking to it….

Back to my flag – one day I returned to my dorm room and found that the flag, while still hanging on the wall, had been torn into four pieces. A few of my fraternity brothers who hailed from north of the Mason-Dixon came in laughing, and took the opportunity to remind me that the North had won the war. I took the hint and that was the end of my Confederate flag-hanging days.

What I really want to know is, what was up with George’s pin?


So Run Already!

August 23, 2006

I was close to rationalizing myself out of running tonight, when I came across an article on Sam Thompson. He’s run 48 marathons in 47 days, at a sub-9 minute pace, and is closing in on his goal to run 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days. Oh, and this was despite shattering his leg and pelvis in an automobile accident 8 years ago, after which his doctors told him that he would never run again.

Just as impressive is Michael Mann. Just 22 days after having the entire bottom of his right lung lobe removed due to lung cancer (taking with it 23-25% of his lung capacity), this marathoner was back running. “The first three days, I just ran three miles, but then that felt OK, so I did five or six every day after that,” Mann said. He ran 50 miles per week during his chemotherapy treatments, and six months after his final chemotherapy session, Mann ran the Shamrock Marathon in 2:54:26, finishing 27th out of 1,738 runners with a time of 2:54:26.

So, you’ll excuse me if I need to cut this post short and go for a run.

Further Misadventures in Sales

August 22, 2006

Anyone who has spent any time on a college campus has doubtless seen one of those fliers advertising work for $15 per hour, with a phone number to call for more information. Back in the late ’80’s, I saw one of those flyers and made the call. I needed a summer job, and you can buy a lot of Ramen noodles for $15 per hour (or whatever the rate was back then).

The person on the other end of the line identified the business as Vector Marketing, and after a brief conversation invited me to their office for an interview. He raised my suspicions a bit by not revealing anything about the nature of the work, but he did volunteer that it was not telemarketing or door-to-door selling. It should come as no surprise, based on my previous post, that I breathed a sigh of relief at this point. With visions of Ramen noodles and beer money dancing in my head, I agreed to come in for the meeting.

The office itself was unimpressive – a couple of nondescript rooms in a strip shopping center. I was one of a dozen or so college-aged kids there, all equally mystified about what we had gotten ourselves into (this was pre-internet, so we couldn’t easily research Vector beforehand). We all sat down in folding chairs that were lined up in rows facing the front of the room, and then the show began. A guy came out and started his spiel about what a great company Vector was, and how selective they were in who they agreed to interview, and so forth. About 20 minutes later, we finally found out what the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was all about: selling Cutco knives. Vector Marketing, it turned out, was simply the sales and marketing arm of Cutco.

Despite the fact that my folks still had the better part of a case of lotion soap remaining at home, I was intrigued. The guy made it sound so easy. By the end of the interview/pep rally, everyone in the room was convinced that the knives really would sell themselves.

A few days later, I found myself back in that same nondescript room for training, along with most of the same kids who had been in the interview/pep rally session (guess their selection process wasn’t really that selective). It was then that we began our initiation into all things Cutco.

First we learned the features –

  • the “patented Double-D edge” of the serrated knives (never needs sharpening!)
  • the thermo-resin handle with 3 rivets (not just 2 like most knives!)
  • the full tang construction (once we learned what a tang was, we were impressed)

Then we learned the tricks –

  • how to use the Super Shears to cut a penny into a copper corkscrew
  • how to use the “patented Double-D edge” of the serrated knife to slice through shoe leather
  • how to use the French Chef’s knife to chop vegetables without chopping fingers

Next, we all went through an exercise – we were all instructed to write down the names of everyone that we knew – everyone. After we each compiled our lengthy list, the trainer explained that the list represented our “sphere of influence”, which was Cutco-speak for people we could try and sell knives to.

Sphere of influence in hand, we were then ready to learn the technique –

  • first, call people on the list to get an appointment for a product demonstration (by calling for an appointment, there was technically no telemarketing, and no door-to-door selling)
  • then, do the demo, explaining that it was “practice” for us and that there was no expectation of them buying anything
  • at the end of the demo, after counting on the magic of the copper corkscrew and cut shoe leather to induce a sale despite the “practice” nature of the visit, we were to obtain from the customer a list of friends and neighbors who might be interested in the product
  • then, telephone the friends and neighbors and explain that “Mrs. so-and-so” had suggested that we call….

After about a week of this, I chucked it and worked construction for the rest of the summer. As far as I’m concerned, Cutco makes a fine knife, and the company is perfectly legitimate (although there is certainly disagreement on both points). The whole thing just made me feel sleazy, and life’s too short for that.

100 washups still remaining

August 21, 2006

In the spring of 1982, my high school lacrosse team held a fundraiser to buy new equipment. We didn’t have a car wash. We didn’t sell t-shirts. We sold lotion soap.

Some of us did, at least. While I can still remember some of the product features that we were supposed to reel off (“240 washups!” “wildwood scent!”), I’m not sure I sold a bottle except to my parents, who bought a case. I believe the bottle in the photo is the last remnant of that order – it’s probably the last bottle remaining in all of Charlottesville.

I hated selling. Whether it was light bulbs for the Boy Scouts, Florida citrus for the high school band, or lotion soap for the lacrosse team, my main (and sometimes only) customers were my parents. At least we stayed well-lit, vitamin C fortified, and clean.

Fast-forward a couple of decades – so what does my job as a legal publisher entail? Among other things, I sell. On January 1 of each year I start out at $0.00, and by the time December 31 rolls around I’m on the hook for several million. Fortunately, I’ve warmed up to the selling thing a bit over the years.

Hey Mom and Dad, wanna buy some books? I’ll throw in half a bottle of 24-year-old lotion soap – there has to be at least 100 washups left in there….

Night Run on Grounds

August 20, 2006

I had an entertaining run last night. Needing to run longer than I cared to stay on a treadmill and living on a country road with no streetlights, I drove downtown about 10:00 pm and parked in my church parking lot, just across the street from U.Va. I strapped on my water bottle carrier and chuckled as I figured that I was probably the only person I would see over the next 6-7 miles who was drinking water unaccompanied by barley malt, hops and yeast. Wondering whether everyone else might actually have the better idea, I started heading up University Avenue to the Corner, the commercial hub of the University.

I quickly realized that I was going to be dodging reveling Wahoos for much of the run. This had been “move in” day at the University, and the students were out in force on the first Saturday night of the new school year. While a few places had kids lined up waiting to get in, most of them were just milling around, seeing and being seen. They seemed surprised to see an “old” (and already sweaty) guy in their midst.

Past the Corner, I headed down Rugby Road, fraternity house central. No formal frat parties yet, but definitely some lively goings-on. With The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” blaring through open windows, one house was full of bare-chested guys alternating between playing pool and playing air guitar. Girls could wait, this was definitely a male bonding night.

I looped back around and ran past the Lawn toward the dormitories, and suddenly felt like a salmon swimming upstream as I encountered a huge contingent of first-years on their way down to the Corner. Their anticipation was palpable on this their first night as college students out on the town.

A bit further up I ran into what I gather was a University-sponsored alternative to partying on the Corner – a moon bounce, DJ and what appeared to be kids in giant sumo wrestler fat suits duking it out. Lots of kids were milling around, most of them carrying a plastic bag with what I took to be a souvenir t-shirt of the event. I ran past the first-year dorms, each festooned with RA-crafted banners proclaiming their dorm to be “the” place to be. I thought of a colleague of mine whose daughter had just moved into one of those dorms, and wondered whether she was in the Corner crowd or the moon bounce crowd.

I eventually made it back to my car, narrowly missing being run down (for the 3rd or 4th time) by 3 guys who were zooming around on their “crotch rocket” motorcycles. They seemed very impressed with themselves, but somehow I don’t think that view was held by many others.

Brian’s Latest

August 20, 2006

A while back I introduced you to my brother, Brian. Over the summer he hooked up with a band that was signed on to play in the Vans Warped Tour 2006 but had recently lost its lead singer. Enter Brian – have cojones and a great stage presence, will travel.

With the summer gigs (including one at Dodger Stadium) completed, Brian’s latest project is a radical departure from fronting the “Part Eastern World and Part Western Metal” sound of Healer. He’s rehearsing with Two Loons for Tea in preparation for a U.S. and then European tour. Two Loons’ sound is described in their MySpace page as “Pop/Trip Hop/Ambient”. I’m biased, but I find it sort of addicting….


August 20, 2006

‘Nuff said.