Monday, October 31, 1994

Full of It

A few years back, all things French set me off. If you wanted to get David cranky, all you had to do was mention anything French. It was association carried to the ninth degree; something having to do with a relationship gone wrong. One extreme way to deal with it (or not deal with it) was to block out all reminders.

Another way was learned this past week. Perhaps what I should have done (and saved myself seven years of touchless reflection) was go to France where all things are of course, French. That way the association either forces one to jump off the cliff, or the all encompassing pin pricks that constantly surround you dull the pain and point out one's silliness. Often times you are stronger than you think you are and all it takes is acting out a Twilight Zone plot to point that out.

The first thing you notice when you arrive in Alexandria, Minnesota are all the motels. Off the freeway you can see a Holiday Inn, a Comfort Inn, and a Days Inn. Not too far down the road is a Super 8. There is also an AmericInn, a Radisson and don't forget the Viking Motel in town. For a city of 9,028 people this seems a tad excessive. But they say Alex is a tourist town surrounded by many lakes and all the wonderful outdoor activities Minnesota is known far and wide for. It is a conveniently located city, just far enough from the Twin Cities to be a retreat, and just close enough to St. Cloud to make you feel like you can go somewhere quick if the town doesn't quite meet all of your recreational needs.

The next thing you notice is that Alex is cold. Darn cold. When I left the Cities, it was a balmy fall evening. By the time I got to Alex, there was frost all around and the wind blew through the skin like a splash of strong perfume. And I'm pretty sure the shivers were caused by outside elements not inside affiliated connotations.

You have to like a city where all directions are given in relation to the big Viking statue that stands proudly at the edge of downtown. It also seems to be one of those small cities in the middle of a transition. The downtown area is comprised of family owned businesses. Further down Broadway there is a Walmart (my first shopping experience in one of those), a Target and of course, a MALL. There were no music stores that strictly sold CDs. There were a couple that sold instruments. Thus the kids had to go to one of the above mentioned Superstores to fill their country music needs.

Another noticeable thing was people actually obeyed the posted speed limits. Many actually drove under the maximum allowed. That actually took some getting used to, but you know what the old saying says, "When you're in Alex you do as the Alexandrians do..." Why worry when your destination is always only a few miles away?

For food there were all the usual fast food places (two Subways), a Perkins and a Country Kitchen side by side (I had pancakes for dinner one evening), a decent restaurant called Old Broadway that featured a difficult baked Reuben, and a Chinese restaurant called Lee's that served a wonderful Almond Chicken. For some reason, all week long I craved a McDonald's cinnamon roll for breakfast. Man those things are tasty.
The Runestone Museum was a bright spot on the leisure circuit. It featured a rock and a very nice sales lady who listened to my story on why I needed a sweatshirt with the word ALEX written on it. (Just how would I survive in a place called Davesville?) The movie theater in town was showing The Specialist, Puppetmaster, Only You, and Little Giants, so needless to say I spent the evening in my motel room (watching Rocky II). Rocky's joke of the week: "Why do cows wear bells? Because their horns don't work."

Overall, I would have to say our decision to open a store in Portland as opposed to Alexandria probably in the long run was a wise one, although there is something to be said for life in a smaller sized city. In Alex, people don't feel the need to lock their cars; the help at County Kitchen smiles freely; people care about their high school football team; and one can drive the freeways void of stress and anger. For visitors and townsfolk, the big Viking is a stabilizing presence protecting all with its stern grimace, watching over the city with an air of familiarity. In a confessional way it would be nice to call Alex home. Day to day life somehow seems more significant in its relaxing package, where one can actually take the time to smell the cows in the fields. And fortunately, you learn in time that reacting to a book cover in fear of its contents is a neurosis that can be overcome. Au revoir...

Monday, October 24, 1994

I Do Like Her Like a Biker Like an Icon

Last year for my twenty ninth birthday, my parents, or as I like to call them, Mom and Dad, bought me a Black Specialized Mountain Bicycle with about thirty five gears. It was about the fanciest bike I ever did see, and as I pedaled past the neighbors I could hear their coos of admiration, their squeals of delight.

This summer, that bike sat in my hall closet, gathered a bit of dust and lost the air in its tires (there is a metaphor, a life lesson in there somewhere, but I'm too damn tired to think of it at this point). It wasn't until these past couple of weeks that I finally got out the bike and did some riding. They say you never forgot how, you know.

Bike riding is good exercise. It's a nice way to see the neighborhood's scenic sights. It can be soothing, it can be exhilarating, it can be just plain fun. Or it can be just another hour spent spinning one's wheels. As a child, countless summer days were spent under the blue light skies racing up and down the streets of Roseville. I would pretend my Blue Schwinn with its embarrassing curly que handlebars and banana seat was a horse. The fields of Kentucky stretched in front of me and I was either Gary Cooper or Willie Shoemaker depending on the day, with the excited sound of announcers calling the last leg of the critical race. Some days I would win, some days my horse or myself would have an off day and we would finish a disappointing nose behind the leader. It was the Tour de France on a Tour de Force horse, mixing genres, making no sense but having one hell of a fun time doing it anyway, day after day.

These days all I'm riding is a bike. It's not exactly an original observation but somewhere over time, the imagination of a dreamer is replaced by memories, by experience and it gets harder and harder to pretend. Some close their eyes to see; some do their best thinking when others are talking; some just get through, chore by chore. My friend suggested I pretend the bike is a spaceship or a race car, but I can't seem to stop the cynicism long enough to do so. Oh well, creativity ain't exactly bread and water, we don't need it to survive.

But we may need it to stay in business. Have you ever noticed how a shopping experience can absolutely be made by a unique atmosphere? Or how much a sales clerk who shows just a glimmer of innovation can truly be admired because such people are so rare to find these days? Creativity is a virtue, one to be treasured and actively sought.

With the recent salmonella scare from Schwann's ice cream, a memory (believe me, not a figment of my imagination) came to mind of my favorite local newscast report. KSTP, Channel 5 used to have an anchorman named Randall Carlisle. Mr. Carlisle used to like to start his newscast's lead story with a question. It is a technique they teach you to avoid in journalism school (say a story about hot air ballooning, it would be a cliché and an ugly sight to say, "How many of you have ever wanted to ride a hot air balloon?") yet it is fairly common to see in the medium of broadcast journalism.

Anyway, a few years back there was an outbreak of food poisoning that the experts pinned down to bad cheese. Mr. Carlisle thus began the newscast: "How many of us have enjoyed cheese?" To go against what they teach you, in many schools is defined as some sort of creativity. To do so in the extreme, without thinking of the end result, is often called a bad mistake.

A baseball card in the spokes, a revealing interview with a mother cow might be a method to capture your desire's attention. Risk taking is aptly named because often, a lot of effort doesn't pay off. But it really never hurts to try, and the benefits are more often than not, as valuable as the difference between a bike and a bike like horse. In other words, in a memory a creative spark can be born. Left brain, right brain, sometimes it is best to utilize it all, sometimes it's better to shut it all down. The secret comes in learning the timing, the right moment to tap in on one's unique resources. Imagination edited by critical thinking, realism enhanced by spontaneity, both can be useful approaches if the balanced, beneficial mixture can be found.


Monday, October 17, 1994

Language of an INFP

The good news of the week was I took a personality test, and I passed. It may not appear to be so, but I DO HAVE ONE!

The test was part of the mandatory Supervisory Core training all state supervisors are required to take. We took the Briggs-Myers test which breaks your personality into four categories: Extrovert or Introvert; Sensory or Intuitive; Thinker or Feeler; and Judging or Perceiving.

Basically the way the Briggs-Myers can be a useful tool in management is to understand that each personality type has different "languages." To communicate effectively with one's employees, one has to understand the differences in the languages we all speak.

For example, to reward one employee might be as simple as a praiseworthy statement. Another employee might need something more visual like a plaque or a certificate; still others need added responsibility in their assignments to feel appreciated.

As an Introverted, Intuitive, Feeler, Perceiver, I'm described:

"INFP's value inner harmony above all else. Sensitive, idealistic, and loyal, they have a strong sense of honor concerning their personal values and are often motivated by deep personal belief or by devotion to a cause they feel is worthy.

"INFPs tend to be reserved, being selective about sharing their most deeply held values and feelings. They value relationships based on depth, authenticity, true connection and mutual growth. Others usually see INFPs as introspective and complex, original and individual.

"It is natural for INFPs to give less attention to their non-preferred thinking and sensing parts. If they neglect these too much, however, they may become easily discouraged about the contrast between their ideals and accomplishments; withdraw from people and situations; and not give enough information to others, especially about important values."

So who, you ask, is your average State of Minnesota supervisor? At this particular training class there were 13 women 9 men (eight if you count me), 21 white people and one minority.

Only 4% of the American population are classified as INFPs yet seven of the twenty two in this class fell into that particular category. What does this mean? That your STATE is occupied by a bunch of shy, faithful, illogical sponges? Probably not. I certainly wasn't typical of others in the class (as if I ever am), and others in the class weren't exactly on the same page as those I work next to day to day.

When we first started discussing the results of our tests, I was skeptical (another feature of the INFP). Yet, there was something comforting in having your personality dissected and put in a box. Things stack easily when they're put in a box. It's more cleanly. The summary of my personality type was remarkably on the mark, almost eerily so. Almost made me believe in science. It's a safety net to have your strengths and weakness', how you might react in a given situation, written down in black and white. Better someone else explain who I am than myself. The danger of course is basing decisions on personality types; to discount the individuality of people and the uniqueness of day to day events. Categorizing and labeling lead to responses that are based on external observations. Prejudice is a negative vibe whether scientifically observed or not.

Thus I thought it was important that the emphasis was placed on telling us that there is no right way to be a supervisor, that each of us had to use our own style to succeed. Not too long ago, I decided if I was going to fail at my job, the best way to go out was to fail on my own terms, to screw up in my own fashion. If I was going to wind up back on the street, let me know I did it being true to myself. Since that time I have enjoyed my job more and one of my employees made it a point the other day to tell me that I've been easier to work with. You can't be something you are not. You can try but it takes a lot of work and wastes a lot of energy. Even a great monolith like the state can see the importance of knowing who you are.

Who am I? As stated previously, one of an INFP's weakness' is pulling back and not giving enough information to others. I'll try to remedy that with the following statement of clarification:

As YOUR newsletter editor, let it be known not only am I a proud INFP, but let the record also show that I am a Japanese American, cat owning, sore necked, blood clot fearing, stereotyped caricature of himself, whose imagination has been eroded by his memories, fond of Jodie Foster and Liz Phair loving baseball fan, who does his laundry on Fridays. All of which I'm sure you knew already.

Monday, October 10, 1994

The Graduate

It was the spring of 1987, when I graduated from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. In a way it seems as though it was a million years ago; yet at the same time, it seems as if it were only yesterday. The morning of graduation I woke up to the annoying clatter of bagpipes billowing up through my dorm room window. It had been a restless night of sleep so my head was pounding from the droning din from the music below. It had just stopped raining so the air smelled of ozone and I knew that the memorable day ahead needed to be preceded by something. So I got up and took a walk.

I strolled past the dormitory where my parents had dropped me off freshman year; the same dorm that a couple of years later had housed her, the glue dissolver, the string unraveler. I moved on or at least tried to. I walked past the library, past Old Main, past all the classrooms, past hundreds of memories. I walked down Snelling and breathed in the fumes. Down past Saga, where I had dined not one decent meal. This was the day. I walked past the shell and seats where the ceremony would take place if the rain didn't fall any more.

Before I knew it, the festivities began. It was all a blur. I put on my gown which included my Twins' cap. Soon enough the ceremony itself began. My classmates (many whom I never saw in my entire four years at the college) and I, marched in. I received my diploma (which I later returned), handed the Prez in return, a baseball that I had caught off the bat of Phil Roof during batting practice at the Dome. Hi-fived Ted Hovet. Caps were thrown toward the sky. Bedlam. I made my way through the crowd back to my dorm to check out and meet my family. People came from out of nowhere to slap me on the back and smile their smiles-people I had met during the past four years, but never really knew. We were sharing in the moments, lamenting the time that had been too brief, and that would be no more. Happiness next to wistfulness. Everything seemed to be closing in, I found it so difficult to breath, the end seemed all too near. My head felt ready to explode from the pressure both outside and in.

Months later I found myself starting at Cheapo West. Shelter from the storm. It wasn't exactly what I pictured in my mind's eye during those dreamy days of college, but it was a job. Off and on for the past seven years, I have held various positions for this company. Yes, I landed on my feet, although at times it hasn't always felt that way.

All this is mentioned because I just spent my last whole Saturday pricing green tags at Landfill. Another shift in responsibilities. Seven day work weeks, turned to six, now down to a possible five. WOW! SKIPPO! In a way it will be missed. The peaceful sound of the blowers, and moving furniture up above. The ominous looking pool players who sometimes drifted in to look at scratched Ohio Player records. The child underneath a fixture. The regulars. The dust and mold. Al's booming, "Hey Buddy!" in the morning. Just think of the thousands of records and books I've sifted through and processed. Think of the handful of people I've seen. One of the first weekends I spent reading a book about a little girl named Alex who suffered from Cystic Fibrosis. And on my last Saturday, I reread bits of the story. Cried both times. For a couple of reasons. The eternal circle. It was during my junior year at Mac when we picked our numbers for room draw to determine what room we'd get the next year. I got a great number and was all excited when I met my dissolver, tear wise and otherwise. She said to me, "You'll just get one of those isolated rooms, sit alone. You really depress me." Kind of put a damper on my enthusiasm. Years later, another friend thought my move to Landfill fit the same bill. Writing means solitude. Yet it has been a pleasant enough experience although I'm more than ready for the next phase. All I can promise is the newsletter should get even better as we devote more of our attention to it. Or maybe not as it could become even more focused on Dave dwelling on his own neurosis. Who can tell??? All I can say, is thanks to Al for all the opportunities, the chances, the job for the past seven years. Thanks to all you, my coworkers past and present who have been friends and readers, who have made the past few years fun to the extremis. Cheapo/Applause will forever flow inside my bloodstream the rest of my life. And I truly appreciate that. This company has grown so far so fast and I can't think of another one I'd rather be a part of. Who can tell where we are headed?


I sat inside another movie theater and endured Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers. Although admittedly a masterful piece of filmmaking, it wasn't exactly an enjoyable movie going experience. Yet, during the middle when I asked myself if I wanted to continue watching, out drifted an all too familiar, distinctive voice singing Pee Wee King's classic You Belong to Me. A definitive version as this fella's usually is. I wasn't expecting this voice but it was comforting inside a collage of unforgettable images. Bob seems resigned these days to singing other people's songs. Which is O.K., yet our era's greatest songwriter still has a lot to say, and one wishes he would at least give it a try. Still, to hear him sing so effectively, is constantly a treat. See the pyramids along the Nile, watch the sunrise from a tropic isle, just remember darling all the while, you belong to me. The guitar solo is simple, sad and Dylanesque. He molds the lyrics to fit career long themes. I'll be so alone without you. Maybe you'll be lonesome too. Making sense out of chaos. Too little time to do too much. Lord it is beginning to feel a lot like a Merry Meek kind of Christmas...

Monday, October 3, 1994

Meekly Merging on to the Super Information Highway

Dave's Joke du Jour: "They're seeking in the OJ case, a jury of impartial people who haven't read the newspaper, who haven't been influenced by the media coverage. I think it will be hard to find twelve Amish people in L.A..."

Miracles used to be when someone came down from the mountains and delivered a bunch of commandments written on stone, or when someone else divided a few loaves of bread into enough to feed a mass of people, or when that same person took some steps on water. Now days, miracles have more to do with the speed and size of computer systems. That's one long, sinewy, and winding road.

SKIPPO! So merge with me, if you will, on to the appropriately named, but scary nonetheless, "super information highway." I know some of you out there are stubborn, determined, Neo-Luddites who continue to deny this is the age where computer knowledge is rapidly becoming the biggest factor in being successfully functional in the business world. But I once walked those same dark corridors as you, and I now count myself not among only the converted, but also among the true believers.

It wasn't too long ago when the truest saying of today's political and consumer driven culture was, "If you don't ride a camel, you ain't Shiite." Now days, that saying is as dated as a Haitian democrat. The world ain't about oil, it ain't about justice or the pursuit of happiness and freedom; nope it's about who controls the access of information, or data. Hard facts.

It was about one year ago when I finally purchased my IBM compatible computer and joined the legions who own the VCR of our day, the PC. It cost a lot of money, and sometimes it is reduced to participating in a game of Mah Jong, but someday, if not already, this baby will pay for itself just in its ability to tap into the vast amount of information that is needed to compete with the versed people, the people in the know, those that devote their time to such matters as 586's vs. 486's.

My friend of faith passed on to me advice as I took on my latest challenge, my change in job status: "Fake it 'til you make it," she said to me. One of the oddest parts of my current other job is that I'm seen as some kind of expert on computer systems. That my friends is a complete mind boggling myth, a complete bomboozelement of the system. Like anything I dare to undertake, I have tried to learn as much as I can, and have succeeded in my own limited terms. But I'm no expert, I can't separate my spreadsheets from my word processing package, my Internet from my e-mail, my laptop from my modem, my mouse from my LAN's.

I have learned enough to be able to e-mail my sister on one coast by somehow punching in my message, sending it to her address on the Internet and hours (though sometimes days) later I get a response. On the other coast I have begun a whole new chapter with destiny's friend, what's her name, finally finding a forum in which to communicate with her on a semi-regular basis. I send off a random musing through my modem, and a bit later she receives it and has the option of reacting. What's disturbing my mind, what stays inside now is electronically communicated with my pal from the past! A mere Ctrl-d. What a kick! Who says the Computer Age has to be cold, an impersonal drift down a pseudo blacktop highway? If it brings us all closer together, who can complain?

This isn't to say we should all just blindly buy into the myth of computers and the convenience of the advances our society develops. I, for one, despise fax machines. I just see them as another way to avoid people (as if telephones and mail aren't impersonal enough). Technology should be questioned every step of the way. I do believe however, that those who forsake what's going on out there because of a desire for the past, a need for things to stay the way they are out of the mere comfort of familiarity, for the way things used to be, are exactly the ones that will be steamrollered over, who will be lost when the kids come up with even more startling advances. We have nothing to fear but the power of who controls the information itself.

How does this apply to our organization? Dare I say we might begin looking into computerizing ourselves? I know it's a suggestion that has been mentioned before, but I have truly come to see that the benefit of computers isn't merely the convenience. The benefit is being able to do things that we once thought, and once truly believed couldn't be achieved in our lifetime: the ability to keep track of things, to organize information and our thoughts, to communicate on a broad and effective bunch of wires and chips.