Saturday, November 29, 2014

Tis the Season, I Suppose!

I guess it’s the time of year to be thankful. Maybe someone is trying to open my eyes or smack me over the head with the realization of how lucky I am. Two days ago it was a poignant experience with my youngest brother. Today I was blessed with an unneeded reminder I was born to two extraordinary, wonderful, loving, giving people. I say unneeded, and I mean it, I know my parents are incredible… but the experience is certainly welcome!

As I mentioned in my last post (about my brother stepping up on my behalf) I hurt my back playing Thanksgiving day football. Well, fast forward to this morning at work. I’m standing (leaning really) and talking to a co-worker (a truly good friend) and she said something along the lines of, “No doing extra work and doing my stuff for me!” after I’d mentioned how bad my back was at the moment.

To which I responded, “I can’t help it! If you have a problem with it, blame my parents!”

At this point my manager chimed in. “Blame your parents? I think you mean thank your parents! I wish they’d raised everyone in the world! Then everyone would have an incredible work ethic and be nice!”

Ok, I reveled in the inherent compliment there, I won’t lie. But my manager made an excellent point. Mom n Dad done did it right! If I’ve managed to make a good showing of myself, I certainly have them to thank.

Maybe I have a good work ethic. I like to think I do. I know I try. But I can attribute that to a thousand events in my life, most of which are directly linked to my parents. Maybe I’m nice, I try to be. But if you’ve met my family you know at my best I’m a poor, albeit striving, shadow to what my parents effortlessly exude.

-I wish your parents had raised everyone in the world-

My dad often told me a story growing up, a story of his mother, of working hard and doing our best. To him, it was the moment that taught him to always strive for perfection. And it was a story that only confirms I’ve been blessed to come from a line of incredible people.

It was my dad’s family’s turn to clean the chapel. They went about cleaning the church. At some point they reached a point where there was a part of the chapel my dad didn’t believe needed to be cleaned. After all, nobody ever saw that part. But my grandmother, in the way that she always was, said something along the lines of (oh I wish I had my father’s memory of the event so I could get this right instead of paraphrasing an idea), “It doesn’t matter if anyone ever sees it. God can see it. God will know, and you should always give your best.”

Thanks, Grandma, you taught well. You raised a wonderful man, who in turn married a wonderful woman. Hopefully, somewhere down the line, someone will be able to say I was a fitting link in the chain of my incredible family.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Standing Amoung Giants

Standing Among Giants

I had a first yesterday. My youngest brother stepped up to protect me. That’s not to say he hasn’t been on my side before, protective and loving and… well, brotherly. But yesterday, he stood up for me in the type of way I’ve always considered my duty to all my family. He stood up for me in the way an older brother ought to step in for the for weaker, younger, fragile sibling…

Thanksgiving morning dawned, I was woken and shortly found myself on a frost covered field with twenty-something mostly strangers. Football. Far from my strength. I’ve never been terribly physically gifted. I grew up gawky and physically awkward. I’ve since taken to regular gym time and have packed on enough muscle to beat the curve, but I’m far from an athlete. The only sport I’ve ever been any good at is soccer and that was as much through will and endless years of experience. Even then, I often only succeeded because I surprise people with speed or perseverance. I certainly am not earning any points for true skill. I’ll leave genuine physical prowess up to others.

And it was on this chill Thanksgiving morning that my youngest brother stepped up for me.

For those who don’t know, I have a terribly troublesome back. I originally injured it pouring concrete when I was 17. Since then I’ve further ruined it while surfing and being in a hit and run while I was biking (among a few other more moderate instances). A doctor once told me my spine would never be good, or normal again, and that the best I could hope for was to maintain a relative health and usefulness through exercise and diligent maintenance. Surgery was more or less rules out do to the compound nature of multiple issues through several areas of my spine. So I wake in pain, I go to sleep in pain, and I wake in the middle of the night, in pain.

Back to the point at hand… I only came to play the “Turkey Bowl” because I was told it would be touch or flag, not tackle. I’d expressed before hand I simply couldn’t do tackle. I don’t trust my body enough to hold up. On any given day I can tell it’s one wrong twist or turn from putting me into immobility for a week or months. Well, I showed up and everyone unanimously voted (minus myself) to play tackle.

...I don’t like holding people back. I didn’t want to ruin the fun. Ok. Everyone wants to play tackle, I’ll buy in… with the exception that I’m flags. I’m touch only. I hate being the lame exception, but I know my body and no amount of fun is worth the pain I’d be in if I played like everyone else.

The moment I mention I won’t do tackle, that I can’t, my good friend mentions my back as validation and the group generally agrees… And then someone in the mass makes a wisecrack about targeting me as a weak link.

Enter Stage Right, The Incredible Hulk.

My youngest brother is what can only be deemed as a physical outlier. Part of this is natural gift and a great deal of if it is through sheer exertion of will and a simple refusal to quit when most people would. He was blessed without an off switch, without that little voice that tells you to quit. Or if he has it, he has been given an inhuman ability to ignore it and impose his will on the situation. This is a kid who grew up as a skinny Haole boy in Hawaii, playing football with Polynesian kids two or three times his size. This is the kid who decided that didn’t matter and created a highlight reel of him leveling running backs with 50 to a 100 pounds on him. This is the kid who has always found a way to seemingly do the physically impossible. This is the kid who refused to quit or be beat.

As a result, my brother was one of the biggest and fittest people on the field that day.  200ish pounds of twisted, rugby and football playing steel. This body is a tool, a vehicle for sport or destruction. And to the joking comment some stranger had made he said something in a dead cold voice that gave me the first realization that I was not longer truly the “big brother.”

“If you touch him I will smoke you.”

I will smoke you.

I’d never heard the phrase, never heard him say it before, but I knew exactly what he meant. I saw his face. He was dead serious.

We went on to play. I did my part, miming the part of a defender or receiver. He repeatedly ran over defenders and gently (because he didn’t want to hurt anyone by going full-out) took down the other team. He was half our team of 12, maybe more.

Eventually came the play where I was the targeted receiver. I caught the ball and instantly ran into a defender who, in his defense, had missed the bit about me being outside the tackle rules. I went down relatively gently, by tackling standards, but I felt my back give way nonetheless. I got up, someone said, “Green does NOT mean go,” as I was wearing a green shirt. In the background someone shouted something along the lines of, “Yeah, you can’t touch him, he has a glass hip.”

And then again, there was my youngest brother, leveling a gaze against a joking bunch of weekend warriors, answering a comment I hadn’t heard. “Try it and I will destroy you.”

Destroy you…

I looked at him. I hadn’t heard the original comment, though I could guess the line of joking it had come from. I was in the midst of telling the guy who’d tackled me not to worry, he hadn’t known. “It’s all good.”

And my brother stood there like Hercules or Achilles. Like stone. Staring. And his words hung in the air - at least to me.

I will destroy you.

My brother is not a violent person. Far from it. He’s closer to what you’d call a gentle giant, though he doesn’t appear to be a giant to anyone who doesn’t know him. He’s above average in size, but far from inherently imposing. When he switches from a caring, God-fearing man to a person capable of ripping someone apart, well, he’s a genuinely dangerous person. On my best day I wouldn’t want to go there, even knowing I have a much better grasp of martial arts than he does. He’d will through whatever is thrown at him and… well, as he said, destroy.

And so there I stood, already in physical pain and knowing the worst wouldn’t set in for hours as my body realized I’d abused my injured back. Everyone lined up to play as if nothing had happened… And yet there I was, sitting and thinking… pondering at what point had I crossed from big brother into someone who needed protection. I didn’t feel I needed it, but he felt it was his duty - that he was obligated.

I stand among giants.

I’ve always known I’ve blessed to be born into an extraordinary family. I have siblings that are valedictorians, geniuses, empathetic, and concert pianists. And, yes, I have a brother with a soft heart who’s a physical beast willing to stand for those he loves.

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

I won’t pretend I don’t stand upon their shoulders, though as they are my family, and my friends, but I’d like to think that through my own efforts I’ve found a way to stand among them.

I may be the older brother. But I’m no longer the big brother… And I couldn’t be more happy or proud.

Monday, September 8, 2014

A Failure to Pay a Reasonable Wage

A Failure to Pay a Reasonable Wage

First things first, I’m not proposing a change to minimum wage, that's a different argument for a another day. I have a different concern in mind: Paying people what they’re worth.

You see, I’ve noticed a sadly common and depressing trend of employers who honestly seem to believe they are doing themselves a ­favoror at the very least opperating under "normal" and "healthy" practicesby underpaying genuinely good employees. From what I’ve been able to gather is that these companies believe, on a whole, that it works in their favor to pay someone say, $12 an hour when they are doing the work and have the responsibility of someone deserving of twice that wage.

Let's get one thing straight, I don’t believe everyone earns that higher wage. Many people call it in, so to speak. But there is a breed of worker who will try and strive and do their best regardless… until they can no longer bend. Suddenly they break, and they move on. These workers ought to be paid twice what they make and truly replacing them often seems to cost triple or quadruple a company's original labor cost, be it through base wage or lost production during an inevitable training and learning curve phase. And yet companies seem oblivious to the value of these individuals. Why?

Seriously, why? WHY?

Come on, people! You’re killing me! ...And your businesses!

To me, the value is obvious. An employee who’s been with the company for five year has more value than an equally hard-working and intelligent worker who’s brand new to the company. The vested employee has learned dozens or hundreds of little side jobs and tricks to streamline work, has become more productive across a variety of necessary areas and has knacks, knowledge, and all the functional skills to utilize their individual strengths. What is that knowledge worth? Obviously, that depends on the company and industry… but from the jobs I’m talking about, the people I’m envisioning, they average out to a 5-10% pay increase over the brand new employee which they have to train.

Even assuming a menial labor job, a so called “no skill” position, the amount of output by such an employee is at least 25-50% more than the average new employee over the first year in the job. Even the best intentioned, hardest worker can only learn so much so fast. They can only produce so much as they adjust to the various learning curves.  And yet, from what I’ve seen in our “burgeoning” modern economy the truly hard-working, intelligent, diligent, and dedicated worker gets their 5-10% raise over a worker they are doing, let’s be honest, probably 50-75% more work than (that’s not counting how well they are doing said work or the value of their positive, competent face they’ve attached to the company).

Many of these great workers, dedicated to their own education and improving their value through measureable means, choose to move on to bigger and better companies. Ok, fine. Logical. Who wouldn’t, given the opportunity? What gets me is that any company would EVER let these people move on for a reason such as reasonable compensation beyond what their company is capable of offering/sustaining.

Let’s get this straight. People that feel the need to move on and upward are usually doing so because the company they work for simply isn’t valuing them properly (or simply no longer possesses the upward mobility of challenge and progression as well as financial compensation).

And yet the trend of companies undervaluing truly good employees—at least from my personal observation—has become the norm. Common place. Expected.


We live in a rough economy. "These people ought to feel glad they even have a job!" says the manager/ceo/owner, as they drive off in a car that could pay the competent worker for a year or two, while they themselves are often completely reliant on these underpaid workers to get the results they are paid for.

Look, I’m not saying pay a lazy kid doing a mindless job fifteen dollars an hour. I’m saying pay that 25/30/40 year old that’s in school or recently graduated, who's tried even when it’s hard! These are good people who want to work to earn their living. ------They deserve more!------

Why are so many companies blind to this?

Seriously... You people are hurting yourselves. You’re hurting your bottle line. You are limiting yourselves. Oh, and you're screwing over your employees, hampering them in their personal lives.

These employees you are driving away are the ones who will go on to new jobs with new companies and take them into the upper echelon (something which you’re incredibly unlikely to even sniff, if you’ve got this asinine practice).

Let’s put this in perspective, you up and coming, poorly compensating companies… McDonald’s pays an average wage roughly two to three dollars above minimum wage to its entry-level workers. They offer tuition reimbursement programs… and they are thriving. Believe it or not, they are capable of turning away poorly performing workers and getting rid of sub-par performers because they pay even high school kids just starting off decently.

Walmart, despite the massive negative publicity against it, pays its entry-level employees—aka anyone inside the story which isn’t management—an average of over $12 an hour.  Walmart does pretty well for itself, and, surprise, surprise, their good workers stay around, get raises, get promoted and, ta freaking da, receive equitable compensation! (Yes, I get it there are a LOT more factors involved, but I'm not talking about the moment...)

But why would you follow the lead of companies which have been wildly successful? Because you’ve heard the cries of the lazy and entitled about how they deserve to be paid better as well? Because you have a hard time imagining the drastic effect of paying your $12 an hour worker the $25 an hour they deserve?

I promise, after the cost of turnover and training, the loss of little bits of and knowledge, among other qualities, you’re getting a steal for these employees you’re underpaying until they run off to a company which treats them well.

I could go on. Sit me down in person and I gladly will. But I don’t want to bore you.

Just do yourself—and your employees—a favor and pay people what they’re worth. And yes, sometimes that means a raise of $5 instead of your standard 25 cents every six months or year.

Do it. Seriously. Give them a raise. Call it a selfish act, because you'll be reaping as much a reward as your previously under-paid employee.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Being a Server/Waiter(ess)

I’ve worked as a server at Red Lobster for a little over three years now. It’s given me a glimpse into a life I’d previously never understood or appreciated.

Most servers I’ve met are young, going to school—unqualified. I’d say maybe two thirds of these people are actively working on bettering their lives—they are working toward becoming teachers or nurses, physical therapists… And yet, I’ve found—at least where I live—an incredible stigma against servers.

You see, as a server, I’ve realized you’re subjected to, on a daily basis, people who simply look down on you. The job of a server is degrading, or it can be. Much like working at McDonald’s has become synonymous with a lower tier job undeserving of respect.  Nobody of quality could possible debase themselves to such a point as to serve. These are jobs for the helpless, the hopeless… the lazy and unambitious…

What a load of crap.

Serving is the hardest job I’ve ever had. That’s not hyperbole or exaggeration. While it doesn’t entail extensive schooling, to do it truly effectively requires a multitasking ability beyond anything I’d ever experienced. Beyond that, I have to be nice, perky, and kind to a wide variety of, pardon my French, assholes, regardless of whether or not I have energy that day or am in a good mood. The margin for error is extremely low. Being a server requires you to be your best self the entire time you’re working. Regardless of what many people may say. How many jobs actually require that?

When I started working at Red Lobster I was shortly removed from a college degree. I’d been a warehouse supervisor, a mortgage loan officer and processor. I’d done SEO management; I’d done construction and roofing across a variety of spectrums. I didn’t jump into serving as some punk kid. I was hardly uneducated and I’d had a handful of jobs most people wouldn’t last in for a day. But you know what I quickly realized? People (guests) don’t care. They assume. I’m older now. What do I appear to be to people who come to eat at my restaurant? Some man who’s never bothered to better himself? A lazy freeloader feeding on the underbelly of society? An inconvenient interaction necessary for them to get their food when they deign to delight me with their presence?

I’ve been extremely lucky. In an incredibly bad economy I’ve been able to cut out a decent living doing freelance writing with serving as a supplement to my income which also keeps me on an even keel socially. I make far more per hour writing than I ever could serving. But in serving I have interaction with people, I have a job that’s difficult and can be instantly rewarding… But I find far more frustration in my serving than I possibly could with my writing.

You see, I’m looked down on as a server. Most of my guests don’t know I write. They don’t know I make far more writing than I ever could serving. I’m assuming they see a late twenties male who is good for nothing. Maybe I’m wrong, but given my general treatment, I’m going to assume I’m right.

“Hey, my name is Brandon, I’ll be your server. How are we all doing today?”

“Diet Coke.”

“Interesting, I didn’t realize that was a mood/emotion/feeling. But I’ll be happy to grab that for you!”

This is a regular interaction for me. No, I don’t see an inherent problem with people who know what they want and want to forgo human interaction to get it. But the difference in decent, polite behavior is a matter of a handful of words—ten to fifteen seconds at the most.

Fine, you don’t want to talk to me when you sit down—that’s completely okay! Not everyone prides themselves on a job well done, but I’ll treat you as best I can, regardless of the fact you’re rude in a way I hope you’d never be to anyone else in your life. I’ll even strive to be quick and efficient. By golly, I’ll even be nice and say I’m glad you came to Red Lobster when you leave! Most people would say I’m fishing for tips. Nope. Wrong. I’d say with about a 90% accuracy I already know who is going to tip me decently. I treat all my guests well because it’s simply the right thing to do.

Wait. Stop.

Being nice, being courteous is right? I don’t believe it…

Given my experience as a server it would be extremely easy to believe nobody has to be nice, to care, or to be respectful.

Get my order and get out of my face!

Believe it or not, most servers are capable of reading their guests. We can tell in a few seconds whether or not you’re worth our time. Sometimes we’re wrong… But sadly, we’re usually right…

And good servers, truly good servers, you know what? They treat you the same regardless.

In my honest opinion, most of all ya’ll don’t deserve it.

Blunt. Harsh. But true.

Most people I serve deserve crappy service. But serving is one of my jobs. And I don’t do a job halfway. So you’ll get service as if you were a king or a queen, knowing full well you’ll tip me $5 on a $150 dollar check, and you’ll act like you’re doing me a favor (FYI at that point I’m paying to serve you… thanks!).

You know what… it averages out. I do my absolute best because I had awesome parents who taught me to work... They taught me to do my best even when nobody is watching and nobody cares. For every guest or table I have that tips 5% I have a good, caring person who tips me 40% for no other reason than because they know there are stupid, mean, angry people who tip poorly for a wide variety of reasons that wouldn’t hold up with any amount of scrutiny.

Serving, at times, is a thankless job. Many (not all) guests truly don’t appreciate you unless everything magically clicks, though you're the focus of their rather if anything goes wrong (sorry, I really didn't cook your food...). Most people? They want food. You’re a necessary step between sitting down and getting what they want. Oh, and seven drink refills and six baskets of bread (oh, and DIET soda, because I'm I'm trying to lose weight... Wait, you forgot my three extra orders of ranch?!). And extra butter. And cocktail sauce. And a new fork. And napkins.

All requests come separately, naturally. Why aren’t you being faster? It’s not like you have other guests to take care of…

Look, I get it; serving is an easy, mindless job. 

The problem? It isn’t. 

Not if you’re busy. Not if you’re good at it. I’ve got 23 guests to deal with. Seven need refills on their drinks. 6 need some kind of sauce. 2 need an extra plate/napkin/their check. If I'm lucky the rest are happily eating. But that's not usually the case.

Yes… Serving is an easy, mindless job... The problem? It’s not. Stop being rude. Stop looking for stupid, minor, nearly meaningless excuses to tip less. Believe it or not, servers don’t like paying to serve you. Usually, we get paid $2.13 an hour for the pleasure of dealing with people who think we’re the dregs of society. Depending on the restaurant we have to give a large percentage of your (assumed though often not given) 15% tip to bussers or bartenders. For people who refuse to tip well, don’t act terribly surprised if we know who you are and have lost the willpower to be the good people we constantly strive to be. 

I mean, after all, how excited would you be to realize you had to smile while you mow your awful neighbor's lawn? Not appealing? Welcome to the life as a server. The difference? The average person treats their neighbor's lawn better.

I hope someone spits in your food. 

P.S. I will never spit in your food. But sometimes I really, really want to...

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Living With Depression

Robin Williams died yesterday.

The world rarely shows such an incredible outpouring for the death of one individual. So what does it say when news coverage, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are utterly inundated by cries of love and respect of this man and his work? He was loved. He was admired. He made people smile. He made people feel. Feel. Feel.


Feel. I relate to this word, to this concept. For someone living with, battling, fighting, struggling, and often times losing to depression, I understand the word feel far too well. I think, perhaps, that Robin Williams was the same.

You see, depression, real, lasting, non-circumstantial depression, at its very core, is a problem of feeling. Sure, yes, it’s misfiring synapses, chemical imbalances in the brain yada yada etc etc… but at its core—at my core, it’s a problem with feeling. Feeling too much. Feeling too much about the wrong things. Having a difficult, almost impossible struggle to control feeling.  To me, that’s depression.

Robin Williams was, by all measurable means, a man who ought to have been happy, beyond such struggles. He had everything he needed to stay alive without anxiety or stress: check. He had personal and non-personal love almost un-endingly showered in his direction: check. He had laughter, fun, and what would often seem like happiness, despite his well-documented struggles with personal demons. And yet he’s dead. He hit his limit, for whatever reason. Game over. You lose.


Depression, true, lasting, crippling depression is hard to define. I’ve often compared it to describing the color of the sky to a blind person. How could anyone who hasn’t/doesn’t experience it ever really understand? People go through hardships, a bad break-up, being laid off, the death of loved ones, and they feel depression, anxiety, fear… But it’s temporary. Time heals all wounds, as they say. But true depression, time doesn’t heal it. You either find a way to make yourself strong enough to battle it, or it takes you. There’s no gray area here. Depression kills. Unless of course we find a way to keep it from killing us.

I’d hope by now it’s readily apparent this is a topic with which I share a fair amount of familiarity. I’ve been hospitalized for suicide attempts. I’ve lived with depression. I’ve fought, I’ve momentarily lost. I continue to fight. And people, most people, continue to not understand. They want to, that much is obvious, but they’ve never seen the color of the sky, they’ve never heard the bird call. There are no words that can help them understand. It does little to explain to them what it’s like to experience their worst, most debilitating life events and have that as an on-going undercurrent in their lives, indefinitely.

This is my life.Was this Robin Williams' life?

Some people who experience depression find fame and fortune. They are loved, they create wonderful things… only to find it’s not enough. It’s the tragic link between creativity, intelligence, and depression. You get Kurt Cobain, Robin Williams, Heath Ledger and Elvis Presley, among others. People who ought to have been or were, titans. And yet they fall.

I don’t know fame. I certainly don’t know fortune. At times I actively shun and avoid many of the aspects of life that could lead me in that direction simply because it means letting down protective walls I’ve put in place to keep myself safe. I’m most creative, most actively productive when I’m at my worst, as counter-intuitive as that seems. I produce page after page of prose, I write songs and blogs and… and I try… because that effort, that expression, that hope of something more, of something better, is all that keeps my head above water.

I actively keep myself mundane, ordinary, less productive… because it hurts less. And then I hate myself for not producing, for not building, for not being something… more.

I wish there were a simple, easy way to wrap this up, some magical answer to depression, a secret coping tool to share with the world. But as far as I’m aware, there’s not. And I’m here. Writing this. And another battle has been lost and a great warrior has passed on.

I don’t expect you to understand. I don’t expect anyone to really comprehend unless it’s something they do battle with. But awareness… now that’s something. Who knows what might be different if people were aware… if those with depression were completely and honestly open in their darkest hours. Who would still be alive? What works would we have that we don’t?

No, I don’t expect anyone to understand. But to try… to feel… There’s an amazing amount of power in feeling.