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50 Reflections

Perhaps a little indulgent, but, I made a list of 50 things about myself, Jim Stalker.

  1. I have eaten cookie dough for breakfast.
  2. I proposed to my wife in Stanley Park, Vancouver BC, overlooking the Lion’s Gate Bridge, I got down on my knee (it was romantic).
  3. As a child, I performed as a ventriloquist. I was good, I could say “the doy dought a dasketdall!”
  4. I believe my undergraduate alma mater, the University of California Santa Barbara, is the finest campus real estate on the West Coast and maybe the world.
  5. I taught high impact aerobics for over 25 years – over 5,000 classes. Today, “what’s high impact aerobics?”
  6. I met my wife in one of those 5,000 classes.
  7. My favorite Philosopher is Plato, primarily because he writes about my favorite historical figure, Socrates. The issues he raised are timeless.
  8. Jerzy Kosinski was my favorite writer for many years. Why did he kill himself?
  9. If I were to do it all over again, I would do it differently just to find out what that would be like.
  10. Calling my parents (they are divorced) every week for years – has had many unpredicted rewards. Namely, I feel love for my mom and dad in a way I never have before, warts and all. I appreciate them more than ever. Cherish your parents, whatever and whoever they are.
  11. Team America and Austin Powers International Man of Mystery are both very funny movies.
  12. Standard Poodles are the best breed of dog. Non-allergenic, smart, mellow, and regal-looking. They are also a lot like me, happy when keeping to themselves.
  13. I wish I could be funnier.
  14. I wish everyone was funnier.
  15. Citizen Kane is a great movie. Orson Welles may have made the most audacious debut in the history of cinema (with a lot of help). This has never been duplicated.
  16. The two greatest pieces of guitar music are Steve Vai’s For the “Love of God” and Eric Johnson’s “Cliffs of Dover.” Both complex while being accessible – technically stunning with every note perfect.
  17. I am surprised I became an Apple fanboy.
  18. Speaking of Apple, the Beatles are the greatest band ever, still! “Beatles Love” in Vegas. Beatles Rockband. Beatles Forever.
  19. Nothing beats breakfast at a nice coffee shop with a fresh Wall Street Journal.
  20. It’s better to “do what you like” than “like what you do.” Over time liking something you really don’t like is exhausting.
  21. It’s best to want what you have. If you have stuff you don’t really want, get rid of it, chances are someone else wants it.
  22. You can’t have too many friends. Keeping friends requires surprisingly little effort, whereas making a friend requires effort and a bit of kismet.
  23. Roger Federer will win 18 majors then retire.
  24. I married my wife on Zuma Beach in Malibu California. It was cold and windy. I would not change a thing.
  25. Godfather 2 is the best movie ever.
  26. I have taught over 1,000 spinning classes which means I told 5,000 marginally funny jokes.
  27. Favorite Joke – What did the deadhead say when he stopped smoking dope? What the F am I listening to?
  28. The serenity prayer pretty much says it all with respect to spirituality.
  29. Of the three ex-Yardbirds, Clapton is the best singer, Page the best songwriter, and Beck the best guitarist.
  30. High School Reunions don’t work for me. I can’t change who I was in high school.
  31. Bill Burr is the funniest comedian working today. George Carlin was the best ever. RIP George and let’s all go F ourselves in his honor.
  32. I can survive without sushi – although within the world of sushi nothing beats fresh Toro.
  33. My wife and I honeymooned in Paris.
  34. I was nervous and frightened to have a child, but did it anyway. Best thing I ever did. Big lesson there.
  35. My wife makes me laugh. So does my son.
  36. The best cigar I ever smoked was a Montecristo #2 from 1982.
  37. Most of us need to be pushed a little bit. I know I do. Friends, if you care and are inclined, please push me to be and do better.
  38. Tiger Woods big shame, huge disappointment.
  39. Steely Dan is the epitome of pop music. Third World Man their best song.
  40. Local TV News blows hard everywhere. You have to question people who watch it.
  41. I have been totally wrong about so many things in my life, which means I am probably wrong about something right now.
  42. Breaking Bad was the greatest TV series ever.
  43. Peanut M & M’s are way better than plain.
  44. There is nothing comparable to watching, feeling, and smelling the ocean. It’s worth visiting as much as possible and letting your mind wander. Maybe the Greeks were right and Poseidon is God.
  45. Yosemite Valley is breathtaking but if you are going, do yourself a favor and stay at the Ahwahnee.
  46. Lake Tahoe is sublimely beautiful but all things considered, I would rather stay at Interlaken in Switzerland.
  47. I have too many opinions. Learning to keep them to myself has been a lifetime project. No matter how thoughtful and well-formed they may be, the truth is most people just don’t care what I think.
  48. The word is real-tor NOT real-a-tor. If you are a Realtor, learn to say the word correctly, please. It will enhance your credibility.
  49. Same goes for triathlon. It is not triath-a-lon.
  50. Warren Zevon was right, “Enjoy every sandwich.”
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5 Steps to Personal Branding – Your Online Identity

Sooner or later you will be googled. Maybe by an employer, customer, or neighbor. When that happens, what will they find?

What you hope for is that everything that turns up is both positive and indicative of the kind of person you are.

This article will provide some personal branding basics that can get you going toward having a positive and consistent online identity.

I have broken the process down to five not-so-simple steps.

1. Document your current online branding effectiveness. Put your name in Google and Bing.  See what comes up. Screen capture the first three pages and print them out.  Are you there? How many times? Any negatives? If nothing comes up add your location after your name and try again.

2. Make your online profiles consistent across all networks. Using the same picture, tagline, bio, etc. can be helpful to someone searching for you. Google and Bing bring in data from Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Pinterest (among others) into their name searches. If you are not on those networks, sign up. It’s 2017 for goodness sake – time to get in the game.

3. Eliminate negatives. Perhaps you thought it silly to snap pictures of you and your buddies drunk and then post them on Facebook. Perhaps you posted on a charged political thread? You need to eliminate all of that starting today. Rule of thumb – only post on the internet what would be perfectly acceptable on the front page of your local (or national) newspaper.

4. Find your real persona. What are your interests and what is your personality? What are your passions? These can be hard questions to answer. They require thinking and soliciting feedback to be done effectively. What comes up on-line about you should synch with your best self.  Your persona should be part who you are today, and who you are striving to be tomorrow. A well-done persona – your personal “brand” – can differentiate you.

5. Execute, execute, execute!  You need to be out there on the internet with frequency, consistency, and quality. Post on blogs and contribute to discussion groups on LinkedIn. “Like” on Facebook, and “retweet” and “repin” posts that complement your brand/persona.

Building a brand is hard work – but it can be done, and it is worth it.

The goal here is to be easy to find. These steps will not only get you there, but they will also ensure when they find you, they’ll like what they see.

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Our 8 year-old wants to get “Ripped!”

Originally published July 2010.

My wife had fallen asleep in the hotel room. Our 8 year-old, who we allow to watch TV on trips like this, was transfixed by an infomercial.

“Daddy, you have GOT to see this,” our son said shaking me out of what was nearly sleep, “and, we have got to order this, now, and we have to hurry, because I want to be RIPPED!”

On the screen was some guy, sans shirt, named Shaun T. He was encouraging his class to “dig deeper” and to “go for it” in what he was calling the “most intense workout of your life!”

MTV-style manic edits with cameras zooming in and out on ultra-fit models all with perfectly chiseled abs made it seem legit. T’s “revolutionary system” for getting in the “shape of your life” looked as easy as watching a few DVDs (and making the 3 easy payments).

I became intrigued. I watched some more.

I suppose I should be horrified that our 8 year-old is both aware of and concerned with such a narcissistic pursuit like getting ripped. But let’s face it; being smart is one thing. But being smart and being able to lift up your shirt to reveal a six-pack – well that is when you know you have reached the top of the USA’s success pyramid.

Being perfectly honest, I was a bit delighted with my son showing enthusiasm for something other than a video game.

“Daddy, this is something you, me and mommy could do together!” he said.  Imagine that…adding, “We can all get ripped, together, as a family!” Tears welled up in my eyes. Well, not really – that just sounds good.

“Daddy, this could be my present for graduating second grade!”

Graduating second grade? What the heck? I swear, the world has gone crazy. Since when was advancing from 2nd to 3rd grade something to even put on the calendar?

But guess what? On his last day of second grade I presented him with Shaun T’s Insanity. He was giddy beyond belief.

Me, well, I was looking over my shoulder for Child Protection Services (CPS) to bust in and cuff me for encouraging such extreme narcissism at a young age.

Then again exercise isn’t such a bad thing. I met my wife while teaching a high impact aerobic class. Maybe this will be fun for the family to do, together!

Now if only we can only balance Insanity with his Happy Meal consumption, I think our son will be ripped in no time!

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American Idol Problem – The Song’s the Thing

Originally published April 2011.

The Internet is abuzz that this year’s contestants may be the weakest in American Idol history. The feeble field is actually good news for the stronger-voiced competitors, who can further differentiate themselves through deft song choices that compliment their vocal capabilities.

The finalists can’t improve the technical components of their singing now – it’s too late for that – but they can make strategic song choices that can prove to be even more important than their vocal calisthenics. In other words, on Idol, connecting with the audience requires artistic song-selection chops. It’s easier said than done, but there are some battle-tested tactics that can prove invaluable when the pressure mounts.

Well-timed and creative song choices have been the storyline for the most successful contestants in the past few Idol seasons. Think David Cook doing a reworked “Hello” by Lionel Richie, Kris Allen doing an acoustic version of Kayne West’s “Heartless,” and virtually every tune sung by last year’s runner-up Adam Lambert. These choices added surprise and excitement to the performances and set the winning contestants apart from singers that, in some cases, were better than them.

The judges too have hopped on the song choice advocacy bandwagon, eschewing the catch-all critique of “pitchy-ness” that dominated the first half-dozen seasons. While the judges are quick to point out, “wrong song, dog!” they are slow to offer any direction or specifics in choosing a proper tune.

So what’s a finalist to do? Here are some suggestions.

  • Pick songs with Familiarity. The chosen song has to be something people are familiar with; a song they’ve heard before. Obscure chestnuts from a contestant’s pet artist aren’t going to carry the day. The right vehicle doesn’t have to be a wildly popular number-one either (though that can be OK). The tune just has to be familiar. Songs recently featured in popular movies or TV shows are a good place to look. The mash-up youth comedy Glee, has been mined for several songs this year. The Charlie Chaplin theme song “Smile,” Queens’ “Somebody to Love,” and the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What you Want” have come from this show which is, no coincidence, also on the Fox network.
  • Pick Songs with Strong Melodies. Surprisingly, many hits don’t have hum-able melodies. These songs became hits because of a catchy arrangement, rhythmic content, or lyrical connection. Sometimes, a great performer doesn’t even need a good tune (witness Mick Jagger’s paean to himself, “The Singer Not the Song”). In a singing competition, the best way to show your ability is in the presentation of a memorable melody. If the melody isn’t in the song, most singers can’t resist the urge to over sing – a common mistake on Idol. The litmus test for this is as follows: can the song be played on a piano with one finger so that it is instantly recognizable? If it can, it’s a good bet to be a winning choice.
  • Pick Songs NOT made famous by Divas and Icons. Contestants should never sing songs that have previously showcased a great, iconic, vocal performance. This is a consistent mistake and the judges always point it out. No Aretha, no Whitney, no Mariah, not even Celine. Men too should avoid great vocal performances of highly nuanced singers. Stay away from Sam Cooke, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Freddy Mercury, and Bono. The number simply won’t be improved upon and singing one of their songs will surely only draw unfavorable comparisons. The exception to the rule is if you can pull it off like Michael Johns did with “Bohemian Rhapsody” and this year’s Siobhan Magnus did with Aretha’s “Think” – by all means go for it – but only once a season.
  • Be careful with Rearrangements. This year, Andrew Garcia floored the judges with an acoustic take on Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up.” Since then, for Garcia and everyone else it’s been, “we need more arrangement like Straight Up!” Good luck with that. Rearrangements are a tricky business and viewers are fortunate if we get more that one memorable re-swizzle per season. Interestingly, many of the previous years’ buzz rearrangements, like Jason Castro’s “Hallelujah,” David Cook’s ‘Billie Jean,” and Adam Lambert’s “Mad Word” were re-arrangements that had been previously recorded by other artists. These contestants then made modest (if any) changes to the re-arrangements and when they presented them to a bigger audience they looked like geniuses. If not entirely original, using established re-arrangements is smart because re-arrangements can backfire if they don’t provide a novel alternative to the original. Kris Allen’s “She Works Hard for the Money” succeeded because it was an improvement on the original – a guy singing a Donna Summer classic? Strangely satisfying. In a way, re-arrangements are like the three-point line in basketball – hard to resist taking the shot – even though the odds are against scoring. But if you must, find an arrangement that’s been done before but hasn’t found a big audience.
  • Let the Song do the Heavy Lifting. There are hundreds of GREAT songs out there. A great song is one that has a memorable melody, familiar song structure, and a lyric that connects the audience to the singer. A smart contestant will only sing songs that meet those criteria and are undeniably great. A great song by definition will take the singer and listener places through the virtues of the song itself – that’s precisely what makes them great songs. Plus, if you sing a bad song poorly, you’re stuck singing a bad song poorly. On the other hand, if you sing a great song that hasn’t been heard for awhile, and do it poorly, people just might remember your song choice as being brilliant allowing you to stay another week. The movie “Young at Heart” features an octogenarian singing Coldplay’s “Fix You” to great emotional effect. The listener is taken on a journey that connects the singer to the audience in a novel and unforgettable way. The song itself made that possible.

So you’ve got to pick a song by tomorrow night or go home crying? The single best piece of advice I can give is this: find a familiar song with a great melody, make sure it has a strong structure and the memorable lyrics were originally sung by a not-so-great singer. Do this and the judges will fall over themselves about what a great song choice you made.

Sound tough? Not really. There are hundreds of songs that fit that bill, and the best place to look is from singer/songwriters who don’t have the greatest voices. It’s also not a bad idea to mine the one-hit wonders where it was the song, not the singer, that carried the day. There are literally scores upon scores of candidates.

In the end, what’s really required is a deep knowledge of the American Songbook, and I dare say, some artistry. Too much to ask from a 16 years old? Perhaps. It may also be too much to ask of the judges. Maybe that’s why they’re so slow to offer up winning songs to sing.

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Steely Dan Play Universal Amphitheater with Larry Carlton

 

Originally published August 2009. 

Steely Dan is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They are a bit odd and people either love ‘em or hate ‘em.

Their body of work combines the most harmonically complex “pop” music in rock and roll with the most subversive (and often hilarious) lyrics ever. They have also benefited from some truly remarkable studio performances over the course of their nine studio-album career.

As part of the current Rent Party Tour 09, in addition to playing albums in their entirety, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen have brought on legendary session guitarist Larry Carlton in select cities. This combination has proved irresistible to fans that find Carlton’s solos on Kid Charlemagne, Don’t Take Me Alive, and Third World Man to be some the of the finest session guitar soloing ever recorded.

The crack band grounded by drummer Keith Carlock did not disappoint any fans Monday night in Los Angeles as they wound through the Dan’s third-best album The Royal Scam. The evening also included choice nuggets from their oeuvre, and one cover tune. The playing was astonishingly tight, providing ample soloing opportunities for Carlton and the equally-tasty-yet-not-as-widely-known guitarist Jon Herrington. Trombonist Jim Pugh, and the “I’ve stopped doing cardio” co-leader Walter Becker also provided pleasing solo flourishes.

Becker also provided some entertaining between song banter. I would suggest more of this in the future. His dry delivery is hilarious.

Fagen may have lost some range through the years, but his use of a superb trio of background singers made this a minor distraction.  The song selection (besides the predetermined album of the night, The Royal Scam) was a great combination of the familiar (Reelin’ in the Years, Hey Nineteen) and the obscure (Parker’s Band, Daddy Don’t Live in that New York City). My only regret was no songs from Steely Dan’s last two studio albums, or from Becker or Fagen’s solo CD’s. Some of Carlton’s finest studio work is found on Fagen’s Nightfly. Becker’s 11 Tracks of Whack is an overlooked CD of considerable charm featuring predictably fine guitar and surprisingly effective vocals from the mostly silent partner of rocks most acerbic duo.

Gaucho’s album closer, “Third World Man” has long been regarded by die-hard fans as one of the best Dan songs that really brings it all together in terms of what they can accomplish in the studio. A harmonically rich song full of dynamics, understated virtuoso performances (Carlton’s guitar playing spectacular!), great production (Check out the 50 Donald Fagens singing backup), ambitious and obtuse lyrics (what are they singing about anyway?), all combining to create a satisfying musical and emotional experience. No one else in rock and roll (or jazz for that matter) can do this quite the way they do.

Hearing this song live with Carlton, who by that time in the show had found his tone, was a sublime concert moment. His remarkable command of the guitar was on full display on every solo phrase, every bend and vibrato. The combination of Carlton’s guitar mastery and The Dan’s rich and unique material demonstrated for all who attended (even to the most cynical) why the Dan not only deserve their place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but also won’t be showing up for a PBS pledge special any time soon.

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Self indulgent history

Early Years – New Jersey

Born in Monmouth County New Jersey, I grew up the youngest of four siblings in the 300-year-old city of Eatontown. Eatontown was famous for its shopping mall (Monmouth Mall) and Army Base (Fort Monmouth). It is also notable for being close to the Jersey Shore towns of Red Bank, Asbury Park, and Sandy Hook. I never met Bruce Springsteen but did buy his album “Greetings from Asbury Park” many years later, ironically, in California.

Music would become important for me, thanks to the great music of 60’s brought home from Harmony House Records by my older sister and two older brothers. These records and a steady diet of TV informed my tastes in ways that persist till today.

Sunday night was always “a really big shew” on the Ed Sullivan Show. My family would huddle around the TV like in those black and white newsreels depicting the idyllic life of the 50’s and 60’s. It was all pretty standard.

Except of course the darker reality just below the veneer. While not exactly “Blue Velvet” – there were elements. I suspect these elements were found in most families during that time. That’s why everything busted loose. That’s why, absurd as “Blue Velvet” was, it made sense.

Still, there was plenty of goodness. Perfect for me was having older siblings. With them, I was able to straddle generations and develop broader interests and tastes than others my age. I read thier books and listened to thier music.

I also remember attending the New York Worlds Fair in 64 & 65. This was a big deal and was a real flashpoint. Walt Disney debuted, “It’s a Small World” and “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” there. The world’s fair painted a world with the help the big company sponsorships.  Monsanto, Dow, and GM showcased the endless possibilities corporations could accomplish in the future with their profits.

Donald Fagen captured this mood in the song “International Geophysical Year (IGY).”

“What a beautiful world this will be, what a glorious time to be free! Perfect weather for a streamlined world, they’ll be Spandex jackets, one for everyone!”

There were three family trips to FLA driving down I-95 hoping to stop off for fireworks at South of the Border. All the way was listening to top 40 AM radio. I think we knew all the words to Don McLean’s “American Pie” by the time we pulled into the brand new DisneyWorld.

Summers were spent at White Sands Beach Club in Long Branch. Not as glamorous as the beach club depicted in “Goodfellas” but, similar, if you catch my drift. There were also backyard games of baseball and regular pickup games of basketball.  The Stalkers had a basketball hoop in their driveway.

I attended game 3 of the 1969 World Series at Shea Stadium with my Dad. This was the game where Tommy Agee made one of his spectacular catches. This was the year of “The Amazing Mets'” Like most kids, I had baseball cards and knew all the players and their statistics. It was a thrill to be there and it is one of my fondest recollections of time with dad – the two of us having a full day together.

New Jersey was a good place to grow up.  Good schools, not much crime (at least in Monmouth County), and relatively mild weather. I stayed out of trouble and had nothing but fond memories of this time and place.

Move to California

At 13, with all my siblings gone, Dad transferred to California settling the family in the community of Palos Verdes Estates.  Palos Verdes Estates has grown to become known as one of the premier areas in the world to live (for those in-the-know). Back then, the area remained largely unheard of and underdeveloped.

The 70’s was a funky time for the Peninsula as real estate values had not yet reached the stratosphere they are in today.  Then it was an area of incredible rural beauty with great schools. There was room for kids to roam and the area was incredibly safe. Plus, the views of Catalina Island and the migrating whales were simply amazing.

This was the community The Falcon and Snowman called home (although no one had heard of them yet). Doctors and lawyers lived alongside defense contractor employees who had chosen the community primarily for its schools and lifestyle. The celebrities had yet to discover the area. I’m pretty sure “Reverend Ike” lived there. Not exactly an “A-lister.”

Fitness and Aerobics

When I turned 15 1/2, I got my first job working at the Palos Verdes Health Spa for the owner who was a former Mr. Universe.  I learned the ins and outs of the gym business through this owner and his wife. This was southern California right on the verge of the fitness explosion, and I was bitten young by the workout bug at the perfect time.

Shortly after graduating high school, I began participating in and eventually instructing the new sport of “aerobics.” Inspired by Jazzercize  (a dance routine oriented exercise program taught primarily in auditoriums at schools and churches)  and fueled by the limitless energy of the aging baby boomer population who wanted to stay fit and eternally young – aerobics simply exploded into the fitness world. Classes and clubs were popping up everywhere. Health Clubs were converting their racquetball courts to aerobic rooms and they were filling up with people in colorful (and ridiculous) spandex and leg warmers.  Los Angeles was undeniably ground zero for this fitness explosion, and I was there, in the middle of it. I like to say I “invented” the single-single-double.

College

After attending Harbor College, I moved to Santa Barbara to attend Santa Barbara City College. Completing the “California lame high school do-over program” I was accepted into the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB). This was kind of amazing. It was a genuine turn around.

Those in the know will tell you, UCSB is the most beautiful college campus in the world.  Situated on the water, with an average year-round temperature of 70 degrees, UCSB was then the hidden gem of the UC school system. Most students who attended UCSB lived in the adjacent hippy town of Isla Vista and would commute to class on their bikes.

Interesting IV tidbit – Kinkos was founded in IV and grew to have hundreds of locations and sold to FedEx for billions.

The rest of the world eventually caught on to UCSB. Now is it home to numerous Noble laureates and is a top 40 public university. When I attended UCSB the vibe was, ahem, slightly less academic than today. For me my life was all about living on Del Playa (ocean side of course), playing in a band (Mixed Emotion), working out obsessively (Golds Gym in Goleta and bike riding everywhere)  and teaching aerobics (St. Marks Catholic Church). In between all that living, I nearly completed a degree in Philosophy that emphasized film and religious study.

What do you do with a degree in Philosophy? Learn not to put descartes before the horse

The Bay Area – Cupertino

Leaving UCSB I moved up north to crash on my friend’s couch (actually kitchen floor) in Cupertino (birthplace of Apple Computer) and got a job managing the local health club. It was here that I realized I needed to make some serious changes.

The health club industry, I thought, wasn’t going to provide the career I wanted. Incidentally, that club Jim managed, was 24 Hour Nautilus, that was bought by a young entrepreneur who changed the name to 24 Hour Fitness. This entrepreneur would grow this club to nearly 400 locations selling to a private equity firm for nearly 2 billion dollars. So much for my early business acumen.

Leaving Cupertino, I figured I’d take one last stab at prolonging my adolescence moving to Aspen CO. Wow, what a place. Champagne powder snow and their own airport. Red Mountain, Snowmass, and Ajax. I got a job running a small hotel (The Maroon Creek Lodge). I taught aerobics at the Snowmass Club and the Aspen Athletic Club. I also took classes at the great First Position Studio (RIP Bruce Mulfeld – best teacher ever).

I skied 88 days that season, and remembered thinking, “if I never ski again, I am good with that.” In the end though, as the multimillion-dollar estates that remain empty most of the year attest, Aspen is a better place to visit than live. But what a place to have spent time!

Southern CA – Redondo Beach

Returning to Southern California, I soon realized I had painted myself into a corner that I needed to get serious. I returned to UCSB and finished the BA in one quarter – nearly always the oldest guy in the room. I was then ready to join everyone else the “real” world and start working.

In what was one of the most curious cases of dumb luck, I landed a job in the midst of a recession working for the “recession proof”Japanese consumer electronics manufacturer JVC. I interviewed with the president of the branch, a Japanese man with limited English-speaking abilities. When he asked where I had gone to college, I answered, “Harbor College, then UCSB.” He nodded his head.

Months later a coworker asked me what it was like attending “Harvard College” as that was where the president had told everyone I had gone. Apparently, his English was extremely limited.

The irony here is that I had landed my first job out of college for no other reason than because the president thought he had attended Harvard. Funny how things work out.

I stayed at the job for 10 years. I was able to do many things while I was there. I worked in marketing, sales, management, and training. I coordinated trade shows and traveled all over the country. I got to be a boss as a manager. Mainly, I was able to make great friends while gaining an excellent introduction to business developing great habits.

Those years – I think are what are called, “salad days.” I was fresh out of college, starting a career in a growing business, and showing up to an office. I was making sales, going to lunch, and learning about how Japan does business. A special time.  Many who remember might agree that period, the 1990’s, were a magical time to be working in the USA.

YET More Aerobics

Concurrent with this position was the continued obsession with my aerobic teaching. I became a fixture at several Sports Connection clubs. Eventually, I settled, finding a “home” at what became the Manhattan Beach Spectrum Club.

I was told my classes were unique. I blended complex choreography (often 200 + count routines) with a high energy delivery always peppered with doses of somewhat odd humor. My classes, inexplicably, developed a “following” that resulting is a very minor and quite dubious celebrity around town. “Hey, you’re my aerobics teacher!” I would hear at the oddest places. Restaurants, stores, airports, you name it. In total, I suspect I taught nearly 5,000 classes. That is a lot of classes.

You know what? This will sound odd and pretentious, but, those workouts, with those complex routines with incredibly fit folks following along precisely, at times approached being “art.” Ridiculous? Maybe. But, ask anyone who was there, it was special. A great time for workout junkies that will never be seen again.

As serendipity would have it – an indispensable ingredient to any life – I met my soul mate and the woman who would become my wife in one of those classes.

The whole relationship was magic. I proposed on one knee at Stanley Park in Vancouver BC. We married in a tiny ceremony on Zuma beach in Malibu CA. Honeymooned in London and Paris, We settled in Redondo Beach CA with our dog, Lucy, the Standard Poodle.

My wife suggested I pursue my dream to be a screenwriter. I took a year off from work, attended Robert McKee’s infamous “Story Seminar” and wrote two full-length screenplays. The first a romantic coming-of-age comedy “Heart to Hang on To.” Neither funny nor insightful, it was tossed upon the pile of 50,000 other screenplays registered with the Writers Guild that year. It went nowhere. My second screenplay, “Woody Turns 40,” set against the backdrop of the LA health club scene was even worse than Heart. I realized that screenwriting wasn’t for me and went back to the world of professional sales.

Part of my soul died.

After a brief stint as an independent consultant, I landed a job with the business information giant, Dun & Bradstreet (D&B). This was a terrific job and the company was loaded with talented people. D & B, however, was a company in major flux. When I joined, they had 11,000 employees. When I left, almost seven years later, they had 3900. Quite a shift. Every year a re-org, new managers, new territories and different accounts. While unnerving at times, I did gain exposure to some of the largest companies in the USA and gained a priceless education in data and marketing.

Meanwhile, Lucy the Poodle taught Annette and me about caring for someone other than ourselves. This dog paved the way for us thinking about having a kid. In, retrospect, the DINK (double income no kids) life was getting a bit old.

This kid discussion soon took on a somewhat sinister tone, and a Faustian bargain was struck, “if we have the child, we have to move to slower paced place to raise him!”  Annette agreed, and the Stalkers packed up their 4-month-old baby and headed up the 5 Freeway settling initially in Roseville CA.

Goodbye Ocean – hello mountains!

So long Redondo Beach high temperature of 78 degrees – hello 110 freakin’ degree summer with the air conditioner running 24.7!

Farewell food genius Micheal Franks and our beloved Chez Melange – hello Chili’s and Macaroni Grill.

Seriously – cultural whiplash!

The real story of the move was hello Riley and parenting and a slight return of my soul.