John Y’s Musings from the Middle: March Madness Mittyism

jyb_musingsCall it pre-spring fever but every year in March (just before the basketball Madness begins), I break out with a serious case of roundball Walter Mittyism (James Thurber’s meek and mild-mannered fictional character with a daring and vivid fantasy life.)

Growing up in Kentucky means the usual childhood dreams of grown-up greatness inevitably include, at some point, imagined greatness as a basketball player. For the vast majority of us, basketball greatness never goes beyond the dreaming phase. But it’s a dream that continues to linger posthumously.

Kentucky basketball in March is a beautiful thing to behold. I suspect I am not alone in experiencing this annual psychological condition as our state’s college basketball teams emerge to dominate college basketball. The fever always passes but rarely before I experience obvious –and occasionally embarrassing – tell-tale symptoms.

This past Monday night I asked my 20 year old son Johnny to join me at a basketball court where we could play some competitive pick up games and he agreed.

As I strode onto the court, I imagined myself becoming transformed from a 5′ 8 1/2 middle-aged man in ” reasonably good health” (My doctors words) into a 51 year old basketball phenom who was about to dominate a new court playing against some unsuspecting innocent bystanders.

The other players on our pick-up team were impressive. In fact, daunting. They were regulars and probably played in high school and maybe even college. Two of them could dunk with little effort. As I took my warm-up shots from the range where Aaron Harrison strokes his tournament game winning 3-pointer jumpers, I imagined myself dishing a thrilling off-the-glass alley-oop pass to my one of my teammates who finishes with a thunderous dunk. My pass would be, I imagined, part John Wall, part Andrew Harrison and part John Y Brown III. After the dunk my teammate would find me on the floor and point as if to say “Nice pass, my man” and I would casually nod back (but without pointing) as if to say, “Nice dunk.”

My son Johnny was warming up with me but seemed more concerned about how successfully we’d match up with our fellow players on the court. After a few minutes, our pick-up game had begun.

And a few more minutes after that, our pick-up game had ended.

Political philosopher Thomas Hobbes would have described the game for our team as “Cruel, nasty, brutish –and short.” Dick Vitale would have simply said “Blowout, baby!”

Mostly, though, I didn’t care about the humiliating loss. I just wanted to steady myself against the court wall before collapsing or having to lie down on the floor to catch my breath.

One pick-up game, it turns out, was all I could handle last Monday. As we drove home, I said to Johnny in an forced upbeat voice (after having caught my breath), “Well…. I guess we did it. We played.”

“Uh, no Dad. We didn’t do anything.” Johnny responded slightly irritated with me trying to put a happy face on our disappointing performance.

“It was our first pick-up game in a long time. We are just rusty. That’s all.” I offered.

“Sure, Dad. If you say so.” Johnny said as be broke into a self-deprecating grin, “You know, even though I missed both my shots I was secretly hoping our teammates thought to themselves, ‘Hey, that guy may have missed his shot but he does have really nice shooting form. I hope he shoots again soon.’” Johnny laughed louder mocking his feeble fantasy.

“I think they probably did think that!” I offered compassionately. “You do have good form. Even great form. In fact, I was thinking that very thought when you missed your first shot.”

“You’re my dad. I can assure you no one else on our team had that thought” Johnny said shaking his head.

“Well, Johnny, when I shot my air ball I was secretly hoping the other players  on our team were thinking ‘Hey, that guy may have just shot an airball but he does have really nice shooting form. He probably just feels nervous right now since it’s his first shot of the game. That happens to all of us including me.  I’m not surprised at all he shot an airball. I hope he shoots again soon.”

I paused “Do you think the other players might have thought that after watching my airball shot?”

We both kept laughing at ourselves as we pulled into the driveway and we pledged for the remainder of March we would only play basketball on our backyard goal.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering about that stunning off-the-glass alley-oop pass to a teammate leading to a thunderous dunk? Well, it never happened. But it was a beautiful thing to behold. In my imagination anyway.

But there is a consolation for my annual March Mittyism.  Some Kentucky college basketball player will make a comparable stunning play this month and do so on national television as millions of roundball fans watch in awe. And that makes my delusional fantasies just a little less absurd because I, too, am a Kentuckian in March.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Reflections from a Bathroom

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A picture of a yellow bird hangs on our bathroom wall. I can’t say I love it but it seems to work. It wasn’t originally intended for our bathroom. I bought it on sale and in a hurry to fill up empty wall space in another room but now it hangs prominently on our bathroom wall instead. It’s part of my life’s daily scenery and will probably stay that way. It’s “good enough” and has grown on me over time and now seems to fit there.

Which made me wonder how many other facets of my daily live are what they are simply because they are “good enough.” Each day we have limited time to make unlimited life decisions –-small, medium and large— and these cumulative daily life decisions add up over time to become the sum total of who we are.

I look at another wall in our bathroom and see two pictures of our family hanging there. The top picture is slightly crooked and probably has been since we put it up nearly 5 years ago when we moved in. But you can barely notice the slant and they are good enough just how they are and will stay there.

I look at our shower curtain and it is pleasant looking and adequate, as shower curtains go. I can’t remember who decided on the shower curtain. But it, too, is good enough and seems here to stay.

On our bathtub rim is the same brand of soap we have used for over 20 years. Buying soap hasn’t been a conscious decision in our lives for two decades. I figure either my mother or my wife’s mother recommended this brand of soap many years ago and it has been a fixture in our home ever since. That brand of soap didn’t have to become a fixture, of course. But it did because, like so many other things in our lives, it is good enough.

jyb_musingsAs I continue my observational journey I catch my reflection in the bathroom mirror. I stop and see myself and ask if I am who I am because the habits, personal qualities and attitudes I have chosen for myself were chosen because they were “good enough.” And have these habits, personal qualities and attitudes that make me who I am today somehow managed to grow on me over time and now just seem to fit, like the picture of the yellow bird seems to fit on our bathroom wall?

I stare deeper into the mirror looking at myself looking at myself and don’t want to answer that question. The question of whether or not I am an accumulation of life decisions that just seemed “good enough” at the time but were never given adequate thought  — decisions made too quickly, too often and in too many areas of my life.

Instead of answering that question I choose to look back at the picture of the yellow bird to distract myself. And decide, for the moment, that I regret not trying harder to pick out a better wall hanging to fill up the empty space on our bathroom wall.

And hope my deflective response to the more poignant question I asked my reflection in the mirror is good enough.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: The benefits of NOT “Copping an attitude “

jyb_musingsA few weeks ago I was joking with a friend about my shirt sleeves always swallowing my hands unless I rolled them up. He suggested a website called “The Modest Man” which I checked out and it turns out that “Modest man” is really a euphemism for, well, “Miniature man” The website features clothing suggestions for short (or “short-er ” as they put it) men, i.e. men 5 ‘8 and under.

Welll, I was ticked! Offended and hurt. Was he suggesting I was a “short man” who needed special sized clothing? Why not just tell me to shop in the “Little Boys” section? 

5 ‘8 and under! What was my friend thinking? After all, I stand a full 5 feet 8 1/2 inches tall! (And if you want to be really precise, I am actually 5 feet and 9/16th inches tall, which rounds-up easily to 5 ‘9.) So, yeah, I’m actually much taller than the 5 ‘8 cut-off for men’s clothing lines for the smaller man.

But as the week wore on I kept going back to the website. When no one could see what I was looking at on my computer. And there were a lot of links to men’s clothing lines for these slighter, more diminutive or “modest men.” Unlike me.

Then I began comparing my reaction — the umbrage I was taking to my friend’s suggestion — to a similar incident last year when a different friend suggested I drop some weight and I defensively reassured myself he was way out of line since the BMI level for “Obesity” starts at 30 and I was checking in with a mere 29.5 BMI. (He turned out to be right. And I took his advice despite my initial denial.)

I kept going back to the website and finally — and very secretly — bought a shirt. Just to see (mostly out of intellectual curiousity) what the shirt would be like. Would it make me feel even shorter? Self -conscious? Ashamed? Like my feet may not touch the ground when I sat in a chair?

Actually, something very different happened. The “modestly” (or “acurately,” as I prefer) tailored shirt made me feel none of the things I feared. I just — for the first time in my life -was wearing a casual shirt with sleeves that didn’t swallow my hands without me rolling them up.

And, frankly, it made me feel pretty good. In fact, it even made me feel about an inch taller, too. Not that I needed it, mind you!

After all, I am already too tall for this kind of specialized clothing. But I’m glad I didn’t let my copping a negative attitude initially keep me from eventually having an open mind –and shirt sleeves that actually fit me.

Even though I am not going to tell anybody, I am probably going to buy another shirt at some point. Maybe a sweater, too.

And may recommend the website to a friend who is 5 ‘8 3/4 –which is even taller than me.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: The Advantages of Having an MBA

jyb_musingsYesterday morning I found myself at Goodwill looking for a sports jacket to purchase that I had donated last week thinking it was a different — and much older– sports jacket that no longer fit me rather than the new sports jacket I bought as a present for myself over Christmas.

I was even willing to “buy back” my sports jacket –but still was going to be shrewd about it. After all, it was Goodwill and I did make the mistake of donating the wrong sports jacket but I was not willing to pay full price and was going to explain to the manager what happened and ask for a discount under the circumstances. I was even going to point out, if I needed to, that I didn’t take a “Donation Receipt” last week to declare a tax deduction when I donated the wrong sports jacket. 

This is called “pre- planning” and “postioning” in negotiation strategy and is always important to do in every kind of negotiation. I figured it would probably be on sale for between $60 and $75 dollars but I had decided beforehand that my starting offer to buy back my sportsjacket would be $20 and the absolute most I was willing to pay for it was $40. In negotiating tactics this is called your “anchor price” for beginning a negotiation and your “walk away price” or your “best and final offer” (or BAFO).

I was really pleased with myself that I was remembering all of these important negotiating strategies from a course titled “Negotiations” that I took over a decade ago while pursuing my MBA. And I was grateful I had such a great professor for that class, Dr Tom Byrd at Bellarmine University.

Unfortunately, Dr Byrd never told us to avoid putting ourselves into really stupid negotiating situations like the one I had gotten myself into. That would have been really helpful to me now–even more helpful than all the great negotiating tactics he taught us. I think I’ll suggest Dr Byrd include this pointer about avoiding dumb negotiating situations for his future classes.

As it turned out Goodwill no longer had my sports jacket. But I would have been ready to negotiate adroitly for it if they had. And apparently someone got a really good deal on a nice new sports jacket before I could buy it back at a discounted price applying what I had learned in my Negotiations MBA class.

But to tell you the truth, I now wish I had taken the course in “Bargain Shopping” instead of that silly negotiations course.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Slacker Pre-Ks

10947255_10155178060515515_8208789143798866003_nI think we may have a new scapegoat for our economic woes: Slacker Pre K’s.

When I read this headline last week my first thought was, “For what?” What are the challenges our Pre-K’s aren’t ready for that they will be facing in Kindergarten? Finger painting?

Maybe it has been too long since I was in kindergarten and they are now including Algebra and chemistry and a foreign language along with the standard fare I took.

But I talked to my sister who has taught kindergarten in the public schools for over 20 years (and who last year was nominated by our President as one of our nation’s best kindergarten teachers) and she explained to me that although things have changed and much more is expected of kindergarteners these days, they do not take algebra, chemistry or a foreign language.

Maybe I am wrong but it seems like the headline last week should have read “Parents of kindergarteners ‘Not Ready.'” I think it is wonderful –and vitally important –how parents are so involved and concerned these days about their children being “ready” for pre-school, middle school, high school and college but I also think that we as a society have gone overboard.

I recently joked with a young couple who are expecting that I had heard of a new Lamaze class that included instruction tapes played in the background for “In vitro SAT and ACT prep.” They didn’t know whether to laugh or ask how to enroll. And that is unfortunate, in my opinion.

jyb_musingsSo, no, I am not calling our 4 and 5 year olds as the new national scapegoat we can use to blame for “American decline.” In fact, just the opposite. I think our 4 and 5 year olds, if left to learn and do everything important in life for 4 and 5 year olds to learn and do (like making friends,making up games, listening to and telling stories, running during recess, building a fort in the den, learning basic language and math skills and how to say “please” and “thank you” during “Juice and Cookie” time (and all the other “Everythings We Need to Know in Life” that we learn in kindergartern — then I think our country will be in great hands 30 ot 40 years from now.

And hands, by the way, that will also know how to fingerpaint. Which matters a lot more than grown-ups these days seem to understand.

Footnote: I want to clarify that this post is a riff on what I “assumed” the headline pictured was referring to. The actual story is not about hyper-parening and instead discusses the many real challenges our kindergartners face. I don’t mean to diminish those concerns in any way. I was just using the headline as a vehicle/excuse to commenting on hyper parenting not the actual story.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Sitting Alone

jyb_musingsI hate to admit this but sometimes when I am sitting alone at Panera Bread waiting for someone who is late meeting me for a business meeting, I don’t want to just sit there and look like I don’t have anything important to do –especially when everyone around me is talking to someone or working on their computer.

So while I am waiting for the person I’m meeting with to arrive I open my laptop and post things on Facebook But while posting something trivial on Facebook (like this post) I have a serious and thoughtful –even strained — look on my face so others will assume that whatever I’m doing is just as important as whatever it is that they are doing. And possibly even more important.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Voice Mail

jyb_musingsI am not a doctor but am impressed with my doctor’s voice mail message and am going to start using part of it for my new voice mail message.

“Hi. This is John Brown. I’m not in right now but if you will please leave your name and number I will get back to you as quickly as possible. If this is a true emergency then hang up and immediately go to the nearest emergency room. Thank you.”

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Mind Tricks

jyb_musingsMind tricks I use to improve my mood

If I am getting flustered, music always seems to help. Especially a song with a melody and title like “Feelin’ Alright” by Joe Cocker.

Listening to Joe Cocker’s “Feelin’ Alright” always helps me feel more “alright” too.

And if listening to the song alone isn’t enough, I look at the pictures of Joe Cocker on the two album covers of “Feelin’ Alright” and remind myself that this apparently is what “Feeling Alright” looks like. And if I look more “alright” today than Joe does on these two album covers, then I am probably feeling even better than just “alright” right now and just don’t know it.

Basketball and post game class acts

jyb_musingsI have had the privilege several times in the past year of being around Jack “Goose” Givens on a business matter.

Our fist interaction was through an email introduction that asked me if I knew Jack Givens and copied him. I responded, “Are you kidding me? I’ll never forget the night back in 1978 when Jack Givens and I combined for 41 points and UK won the NCAA championship.” And then added, “Of course, Jack was on the basketball court that night and I was just one of 20,000 fans in the stands –but it was a great night for both of us.” 

That was how I knew “Goose” Givens. 41 points and the cover of Sports Illustrated. Oh, and baseball enthusiasts are quick to point out that those 41 points was without the 3 pointer.

But that was a long time ago. I can’t say I know Jack Givens well…but after a few brief interactions I have become less impressed with Jack Givens the UK basketball star a lot more impressed with Jack Givens the smart and savvy businessman, the community and civic leader, and just all around great and gracious guy.

I am glad I have gotten to see the “other” Jack Givens. Without the UK uniform. The post-game Jack Givens. Who in his personal and professional life regularly posts the equivalent of 41 point games –and has been quietly doing so for a very long time now.

The record Jack Givens has compiled off the court since his NCAA Championship game is more impressive to me than his making the cover of Sports Illustrated for one amazing night.

And, by the way, has also been done without the 3 pointer.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Starbucks

jyb_musingsJust went through Starbucks drive-thru and ordered “A grande ice Chai tea latte without a chocolate chip cookie; please.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t understand that last part” came back the answer.

“Well, every day I order a grande Chai tea latte and you all always ask me if I’d like to add a chunky chocolate chip cookie with it and I say no. Just thought I would take care of it all on the front end today.”

She laughed. Hand it to Starbucks. Their folks do seem to have a cheerful disposition and good sense of humor.

John Y.’s Video Flashback (1995):

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