Lobby Observances: The Pre-Interview Job Search Process

Lobby waiting Finall have yet to meet any sane person who wants to work a generic office job, wear taught ties and suit jackets for eight hours a day, sit in broken adjustable chairs, and sniff paper stacks inside gray partitions. Most people would much rather start that music or standup career, paint their first Guernica, be the one to discover a cure for cancer, or go outside and fly a drone.

Who wouldn’t prefer to work for themselves? That way you can wear what you want, work when and where you want, and never answer to a stodgy superior. Should most of us have our way, the word “boss” will one day disappear from the business lexicon. Naturally, colleges that are clamoring for larger enrolments cater to this sensibility by offering majors with hopeful titles like entrepreneurship.

But job candidates should know, today’s employers aren’t responsible for this state of affairs. They aren’t the ones opposed to self-expression in the workplace. Clients are. The average client wants to hire someone who says “yes” a lot. They want the product they had in mind before they even hired the company, and they don’t want any surprises in the process of creation, delivery, or usage, unless they completely understand the change.

The client prefers that the product’s creator or supplier not give them any ulcers. When the customer looks across the desk and their doctor, contractor, or watchmaker appears conservative, unthreatening, says “yes,” and doesn’t attempt to challenge opinions, the customer is happy.  As this desire for self-satisfaction reflects the demeanor of most customers, business owners make sure they reflect these desires, and they look for conservatism and flexibility, chameleon-like qualities, when it comes to hiring an employee who will represent their brand.

For a college graduate who may have endured twenty-one years of being told they are special and unique, searching for that first professional position in this context may come as a shock. Figuring out how to subvert your personality to the employer’s desires can be difficult. While the first step might be hiring a professional to craft an impressive resume, a resume can only take you so far, maybe only as far as a phone call. The interview process is the next obstacle and requires additional knowledge and some well-honed interviewing skills, many of which can only be learned through hard experience. Still, here I will attempt to share some of my own experience so that young job candidates might benefit from my numerous mistakes.

One early indicator that signals whether you have a shot at an interview is the pre-screen phone call. Over the phone or Skype, the human resources recruiter may ask you a number of simple but pertinent questions. “Do you have a security clearance?” “Are you working now?” “Why do you want to leave your current position?” And “Have you ever worked with some very specific and esoteric software that only we use?” If you answer these and other questions satisfactorily, the human resources recruiter will give a brief description of the job, then ask, “Does this sound like something you’d be interested in?”  After your moderately enthusiastic “yes,” the recruiter will continue, “What are your salary requirements?”

As you will have rehearsed all of your answers, you know that giving cogent responses was the easy part. Know too that you need to affect a number of behaviors. For instance, be polite while using a calm, professional, and upbeat tone. Don’t stumble in your speech but maintain a fluid stream of short and concise answers. Should you do this and respond to the recruiter’s satisfaction, you may be called in for the first official interview. When this happens, get the name of the person you’ll be interviewing with, the time, address, directions to the office, and thank the recruiter for his or her original and thought-provoking questions.

Conservative business attire should be worn at higher resolution than this.

Conservative business attire should be worn at no less than 300 dpi.

Not many candidates know this, but the next step of the evaluation process happens in the office lobby during your wait to meet the interviewer or interviewers. As the employer wants to know as much about you as he or she can, some have developed a form of “pre-interview interview” or “lobby interview.” While the human resources recruiter has developed the form—listing such items as applicant etiquette, interest in small talk, gesturing ticks, body language, and overall patience—the evaluation will be handled by the office receptionist while you wait.  Meanwhile, the recruiter and “person with the power to hire you” will likely be hanging out in the conference room watching The Price is Right.

The first item the receptionist will include in the lobby interview is whether or not you called for directions to the office ten minutes before the interview was scheduled to begin. Should you do so, the employer is warned that you did not prepare as you should and may not be one who prepares when you are on the job. Taking a few hours over the weekend to make a test run to the office just to see how long the drive would take might save you much grief. You should also know, navigational apps can be downloaded to cell phones for free, and finding office parks in remote locations is one of a navigational app’s best uses. Failure to use these apps and arrive at interviews on time, much like the failure to learn esoteric computer programs, will chase you out of the candidate pool.

When you arrive at the office, the receptionist will note the time. Early arrivals gain more points than late ones. The receptionist will also wait for a polite hello, directed not only at himself but also toward any staff member who happens to pass through the lobby. Pass-throughs were likely scheduled beforehand. The receptionist will also observe the candidate’s posture. Hunched shoulders indicate inexplicable shame or guilt; hands on hips indicate a possible superhero complex. Crowding in to the listener while talking suggests a desire to dominate; maintaining too much distance from the listener suggests a strong desire to go home. Flashy hand gestures may demonstrate that a career on the stage should have been your true calling; no hand gestures may demonstrate that you would prefer a career as a totem pole. And toes pointed in indicate shyness; toes pointed out indicate extroversion. All of these traits will be noted in the receptionist’s report.

After the receptionist offers, you should decline all soft drinks, coffee, or snacks, understanding  that this would cost the company extra money or could result in embarrassing spills. Alternatively, if you are applying for a leadership role and would like to demonstrate fearlessness in the face of drinking a beverage that might contribute to your stress level in a stressful situation, accept the beverage. Taking treats might also signal that you know how to enjoy yourself and that could be part of the unwritten job description, as clients often enjoy working with people who enjoy life: playing golf or tennis, sharing vacations in exotic locations, or receiving large turkey baskets at Thanksgiving.

…business owners…look for conservatism and flexibility, chameleon-like qualities, when it comes to hiring an employee who will represent their brand.

Before the receptionist offers you a seat, he will ask you to fill out the company’s standard application. Yes, the company already received your resume but filling out another application tests your patience, and the firm wants to know if you have a short fuse. As the clipboard and application are proffered, accept this tedious task with aplomb. A positive attitude is crucial, as new employees will do lots of tedious and unnecessary work and are expected to do so with an unflinching and buoyant nature.

As you fill out this application, the receptionist will sit behind his desk and use the time to critique your appearance. For clothing, you should have put away the sweatpants and workout gear, the skinny jeans and ironic tees. Young men should arrive for the interview well rested, with a new haircut and a mild hint of cologne. Makeup residue, hair dyes, or chips of black nail polish should have been removed. For clothing, visit Brooks Brothers and buy a white shirt, dark-colored suit, striped tie, matching non-white socks, and leather shoes. Women should avoid heavy makeup and overpowering applications of perfume as well. Visit Ann Taylor and purchase a Chanel business jacket to be paired with a conservative blouse, necklace, long creased slacks or skirt cut at knee length. Medium height heels are sensible. Both sexes must wear deodorant. All signs of eyebrow, lip, ear, and tongue piercings should be filled with wax or wood putty if possible.

Once you’ve finished the job application, be prepared to wait. The lobby’s coffee table is likely stocked with magazines and this is your next test. There will be an equal number of entertainment magazines, publications that have nothing to do with the business, and trade magazines, publications that have everything to do with the business. Be careful which ones you pick up. Most employers would prefer hiring workers who read trade publications and who seem interested in their profession. Even if you aren’t interested, hold up the trade publication and pretend to read it. The receptionist will take note. Whatever you do, don’t turn on your cell phone and start flicking through Twitter or Instagram. Don’t give the impression that you’re a social media junky and will bring this preoccupation into the office should you be hired. Your Twittering will be recorded, and you will not be hired.

St. Bonaventure University career counselors recommend carrying briefcases to keep hands occupied.

St. Bonaventure University career counselors recommend carrying briefcases to avoid fidgeting with cuffs.

A few other miscellaneous things not to do: Don’t check your watch constantly, don’t grimace because you didn’t go to the bathroom beforehand and don’t know if there will be enough time to go now, and don’t ask about parking validation or when the meters expire. Maintain the appearance of self-reliance and take care of these items beforehand. And do not, I repeat do not, walk up to the reception desk, lean your elbows heavily on the desktop, and remark with a grin that you know you are being evaluated at that very moment. Don’t ask the receptionist if he enjoys doing evaluations because it gives him a break from the mundane tasks of answering phones, opening mail, and preparing packages for the messenger.

Do be aware that every step in the job search process is an opportunity for evaluation and that you can be eliminated at any time, even while sitting in a lobby. No expression or gesture can be overlooked. Every effort you make should be calculated to win the position. Be a chameleon, be flexible, keep your eye on the paycheck prize and benefits package and know that pleasing the job interviewers, whether receptionist or hiring manager, will make the employer aware that you will be able to please the company’s clients.

Some candidates may choose to ignore all of this advice and develop a brand personality that veers away from dark blue suits and sensible shoes, handshakes and thank yous. Perhaps there are employers who are looking for such people. Rather than a chameleon that mirrors the client’s desires, these employers might want a brand representative that offers a product and a personality, take it or leave it. But the chances of finding employers and clients like this are rare. You are more likely to be hired if you stick to reflecting the employer’s and client’s desires, not projecting your own.

As entertaining and fun as it is to be an individualist, candidates who choose to “be themselves” do so at their own peril and may be in for a tough time in the job search. When employers turn these nonconformists away, they rarely feel bad about doing so.  Should you have developed your own brand, my suggestion is to put your entrepreneurial skills, and your college degree in entrepreneurship, to good use right away. Stop wasting your time trying to get a job from someone else, and start working up your business plan to raise capital from willing investors. The sooner you do so, the better off you’ll be. But before you ask potential investors for money, do plenty of research on the type of people these investors like to work with. Obtaining their trust and money may have a lot to do with how well you perform when they call you in for an interview.

Note: This article was written with the assistance of Rhonda Serendip, a marketing and management consultant at “Serendip Business Marketing and Management Consulting.” Ms. Serendip has over 25 years of experience helping businesses deliver valued and scalable products and services to an elite clientele while actualizing their business profit potential with forward thinking actionable strategies. Ms. Serendip is also a valued employee at Macy’s.

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Reading Between the Resume Lines

Mark administers testAlthough I have never hired anyone for a job, I have been very close to a few people who have, and I have witnessed the torments that these employers put themselves through when choosing someone to help build the company brand. While the favored solution is to ask a trusted friend to recommend a new worker, this cannot always be done. Sometimes the talents required are outside the employer’s current social purview, so the impaired business proprietor must expand his or her pool of talent and advertise.

Websites such as LinkedIn, Indeed.com, or CareerBuilder.com become the hunting grounds for new talent. Employers advertise their positions, fleshing out their realistic expectations, and candidates respond with resumes projecting their ideal selves, and then, as these resumes pour in to the company’s office in numbers high enough to fill entire recycling bins, employers diligently review those resumes, sometimes spending as much as six seconds on each one.

No doubt, these resumes, submitted through snail mail on thick bond paper or through easy-to-use hiring sites with the names of contact people carefully researched and addressed, yes, those resumes, reflect a wide variety of selfless achievers who want nothing more than to serve at the privilege of the employer. Candidates from these pools will have all of the qualifications necessary to reinforce and expand the company brand. Using adverbs and adjectives like “really,” “very,” “honestly,” “energized,” and “excited,” they will also provide the proper indicators of drive and enthusiasm.

But only wise employers know that, these days, almost every job candidate, especially the college graduate, is well versed at how to write a good resume, sprinkling their curriculum vitae with a well-balanced mixture of achievements in project, money, personnel, and time management, whether they performed these tasks or not. Throughout a typical college career, the average student will gain much aid in this skill, encountering numerous books, career resource centers, and even specific upper level courses that can equip them with the tools they need to pull the wool over any potential employer’s eyes.

Sure graduates will be qualified, but who’s kidding who? Many student job seekers frequently pounce on every available job opportunity regardless of proper fit. Having forgone the extra study hours on that macroeconomics test to enjoy another round of drinks at the frat or sorority house, who can blame them? So as the gaps in a resume expand with each night spent with drinking buddies, such gaps must be puttied over with deft creative nonfiction writing, a deception that only the most dogged human resources manager can sniff out.

One of these techniques can be found in the overall organizational pattern of a resume. While the preferred method of resume construction is called chronological, tracing the candidate’s work and education whereabouts in reverse order from the present day to the age of fourteen, the use of a functional method can be used as a clever alternative, organizing the candidate’s career around specific skillsets, minimizing the impact of those missing six months when the misguided computer programmer or business associate veered off course and pursued a career as a hip-hop artist.

This contented student demonstrates the pleasures of filling out a job application.

This contented student demonstrates the pleasures of filling out a job application.

When employers see one of these functional resumes, they should always make sure to have the candidate fill out a chronological application on the day of the interview. Come to think of it, employers should have all applicants, whether they supply chronological or functional resumes, fill out an official company application. It’s always nice to see a potential hire’s script in the context of the company stationary with logo and tagline as framework.

Another impressive, effective, but slightly questionable technique used in resume construction is how the candidate makes every effort to subvert a show of self-interest. This begins with the absence of any statement about personal goals. Where once it was commonplace to find an “Objective Statement” beneath the candidate’s name, address, and phone number, this is no longer thought de rigueur. A statement such as “To obtain a position at a reputable accounting firm to further my career,” would be considered unrefined among today’s application etiquette. Instead, the old-fashioned and frequently revealing “Objective Statement” has been replaced with what are called a list of “Personal Qualifications.”

Personal qualifications are a bulleted listing of abstract notions that employers of abstract mind are likely to eat up. Items might include “Flexible team member and player,” “Efficient manager establishing weekly schedules and meeting deadlines,” “Detail oriented researcher and analyst,” “Innovative problem solver,” “Engaging and thoughtful communicator,” and “Native English speaker with fluency in Farsi, French, and C++.” In comparison to the once common “Objective Statement,” these personal qualification statements leave the impression that the candidate has no other interest than to sacrifice both mind and body to the prospective employer.

Another well-known way in which candidates mask their self-interest is under the section marked “Extracurricular and Volunteer Activities.” These indicators of self-abnegation are often displayed humbly at the bottom of the resume. Instead of realistic activities such as “Listening to music,” “Smoking hookahs,” “collecting tattoos,” or “spending countless hours on social media” the candidate will substitute “Captain of the varsity track team,” “Provider of meals for the homeless,” and “First Class Boy and Girl Scout.”

The most common technique, however, for disguising self-interest is the use of active verbs. Without a first person “I” who does something, statements made throughout the resume are not statements at all but sentence fragments, insulting the efforts of English teachers throughout history and giving the impression that candidates are already busy “managing,” “supervising,” and “budgeting.” Formerly, in past jobs, the resume will tell employers that those candidates also “directed,” “coordinated” and “produced,” but again without thought of their own interest. We have, it seems, created an egoless society.

Alongside this selfless posturing or sincere authenticity—I have no clue as to which—the candidate will heighten their abilities with a display of numbers and percentages designed to measure accomplishments. A quick glance at accomplishment statements such as “major driver behind reducing outstanding risk balances by 97%” or “saved the firm a confirmed 100 minutes per day by using LEAN tools to improve several processes” or “demonstrated ability to manage and maintain a 180-slip marina, 5 pools, kayak and boat rentals, and a staff of 25 lifeguards” will give the impression that the candidate produces measurable results, but also raises the question, who did the counting, measuring, and confirming?

We have, it seems, created an egoless society.

Even words, yes, simple words and phrases, can be inserted or tweaked to suggest just about any level of competency that the candidate would like. A glance at the previously mentioned statement, “Demonstrated ability to manage and maintain a 180-slip marina, 5 pools, kayak and boat rentals, etc…,” may give the impression of competency. However, more likely, the qualifier “demonstrated ability” indicates that the candidate just managed to keep things at the marina together for an hour or so one afternoon when the full-time manager stepped out for a sandwich.

With candidates possessing so many tools of deception, potential employers who read through such masterfully constructed resumes, but can’t separate the resume facade from the structure, may want to give up the employee search completely and take on all the extra work themselves, or distribute that work equally among existing brand managers.

To avoid hiring the craftiest con-artist rather than the most qualified candidate, I would suggest that employers add a layer of testing to their selection process. This level of scrutiny would occur during the personal interview. As forms of torture such as waterboarding are prohibited by the articles of the Geneva Convention, I’d advocate for the less effective but still useful polygraph test. Polygraphs are widely used in hiring security and law enforcement experts, but I would expand their use to civilian jobs—business owners cannot be too careful when it comes to protecting their brands.

Although the practice of detecting lies by polygraph receives criticism from time to time—people have been known to beat such tests—every layer of scrutiny that a human resources manager can add to the procedure of hiring will help narrow the field. And surely, only candidates who are willing to endure the endless hurdles that a company places in their paths, and who are willing to crash through these barriers, deserve to be awarded jobs.

The polygraph is excellent at detecting misstatements in the resume. During the personal interview, the employer or human resources manager may take claims about education and career progress, remove the qualifying language, and reframe these claims in a yes or no or multiple-choice format. “Did you or did you not,” the interviewer may ask, “‘manage and maintain a 180-slip marina, 5 pools, kayak and boat rentals, etc?’” With the lie detector’s pen tracking a candidate’s heartbeat rate, blood volume, and galvanic skin response, an answer such as “um, in a way” will not suffice. As tensions rise from such inquiry, the field of candidates begins to narrow.

Of course there is an alternate school of thought that employers should consider when reviewing a resume, one that rewards a candidate for possessing the sleight of hand that I have been arguing against. Many employers, for example, may look for how well an applicant practices the techniques of obfuscation and tale spinning, especially when the applicant knows next to nothing about a specified subject matter.

Some employers find this ability to spin tales a valued skill, a talent essential to the success of the company and brand. There may be many times in the course of an employee’s career when a client puts the employee in a tight spot, asking if the business can perform a certain task that they don’t yet know how to do but would like to. Being able to answer such a question in the affirmative, using only the shakiest supporting evidence, but making that evidence appear as solid as bedrock, could mean the difference between company growth or shrinkage.

I myself once worked for a company that often advertised and sold services and products that they had not yet developed, an understandable position for a business I should think since why make a product for which there is no market? Better to identify and create the market, sell the product, and then produce and deliver the result as needed. So whether employees are having job candidates spin tales about things that those candidates know next to nothing about or having candidates answer yes or no questions, the idea is the same: find an employee who doesn’t fold under pressure.

These potential Googlites dress down to impress potential employers while visiting Google headquarters in Washington D.C.

These potential Googlites dress down to impress potential employers while visiting Google headquarters in Washington D.C.

Regardless of what direction a company takes in the realm of resume review, polygraph, or long answer testing, my take is that a business needs a highly skilled person to identify cleverly constructed resume language and apparently measurable achievement. As I have crafted a few resumes of my own and several for others, allow me to submit my own qualifications for such a post. Aside from the resumes I’ve crafted, I have also graded and improved upon hundreds of student resumes when coaching my business-writing co-eds.

Who better to unveil impostors more interested in eating, marrying, having kids, and sleeping under their own roofs than in supporting a company brand, or who better to reveal a future company star, one capable of weaving a tale of business acumen to potential clients than me, a business writing teacher who has worked alongside and tutored so many con-artists. As a tracker of sophistry in all its forms, I am expert at identifying qualifying language and jargon, contextualizing seemingly impressive numbers and percentages, and pinpointing gigantic gaps in career and education chronology.

While I blog frequently about my desire to write for a living, for a reasonable fee, I would be more than willing to take a temporary reprieve from these ambitions and apply my expertise to protect employers from frauds and swindlers or, should the circumstances so indicate, promote the gifts of these frauds and swindlers—whichever tack the employer prefers. My purpose is simply to help business owners find the right fit for the job. Alternatively, should a well-capitalized company or agency prefer to keep this work in-house, I am available to train a small group of Charney-certified mercenaries in the fine art of word manipulation and bullshit detection, skills that could end up saving a company valuable time, money, and embarrassment.

Note: This article was written with the assistance of Rhonda Serendip, a marketing and management consultant at “Serendip Business Marketing and Management Consulting.” Ms. Serendip has over 25 years of experience helping businesses deliver valued and scalable products and services to an elite clientele while actualizing their business profit potential with forward thinking actionable strategies. Ms. Serendip is also a valued employee at Macy’s.

Posted in Business Communication, Satire, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Late Boomer Male Writers and their Wardrobes

Self portrait redux3If clothes make the man, and help make the brand, then I wish I had spent less time learning how to write and more time learning how to dress. After talking with my marketing and management consultant, Rhonda Serendip, and expressing my wish to become a noted writer, Rhonda emphasized that an important part of my brand was my look. To develop that look, I decided to study some of the sartorial preferences of the top American male fiction writers of my late boomer generation, observing how they present themselves to their reading public. The ones I’ve heard about the most and whose works I have read snippets of include Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem, and Jonathan Franzen.

Concentrating on their faces and fashions, I’ve come away with several important lessons. On the facial plane, these men sometimes remind me of a handsome Clark Kent before he tosses away his glasses, peels back his jacket, and pops his shirt buttons to reveal workout tights and cape. Like Clark, these authors of note prefer horn-rimmed glasses. I imagine that they all need them, but did Clark Kent need his? Some glasses are clearly worn for effect, and when I see pictures of these writers, I’m left to wonder.

Another common facial feature of these prolific inkers seems to be their several days growth of beard, although this stubble never grows into any substantial length, nothing to rival the whiskers of a Charles Dickens or Walt Whitman. And anyone who has been blinded by my shiny pate must have guessed how I envy these book jacket authors their thick flowing locks, often worn wavy but capable of multiple stylings. One could do a study on the many coifs these men have donned throughout their careers, from shoulder length to closely cropped, only recently having settled into respectable lengths.

In terms of clothing, my observations come from photographs, so I can only speak with expertise about these writers from the waist up. Overall, they tend to prefer a layered look, donning from one to five layers if I’m counting correctly. Starting with t-shirts, they go with dark or muted colors, only an occasional white one. Over the tees, solid-colored or plaid button-down cotton blend shirts predominate. Shirt collars are left unbuttoned; ties and bowties avoided like kryptonite.

Overtop their shirts, I have seen Lethem heavily vested, Franzen in sweater, but more likely, these noted penmen skip the sweaters and vests and move on to textured or patterned blazers in earthy tones. Their jackets appear professorial but refuse the elbow patches that one might associate with an English professor. Working writers, I suppose, don’t wear out the elbows of their jackets as might a teacher who toils along with students in the university trenches. Finally, wintertime photographs feature these authors leaning against buildings or walking the mean city streets, hands in pockets, with black wool, wide-collared coats, necks wreathed by scarves.

A pair of used 19th century prince-nez can be easily fitted with new reading lenses: $50.

A pair of used 19th century prince-nez can be easily fitted with new reading lenses: $50.

Absorbing these images and taking what lessons I could from them, I recently had the chance to read one of my stories at a promotional event. The story had been published in a small Baltimore lit journal, and the reading was intended to interest an audience in buying that journal. My task was to read part of my story and stop short of its conclusion. The event seemed as good a time as any to put my fashion lessons into action. I had a few of the clothing items I needed but I went shopping to fill in a few gaps. Here’s what I ended up with.

For shoes, I bought some Rockport Oxfords and paired them with dark brown socks. For pants, I purchased charcoal gray, washed-out chinos. Above the waist, I put on a dark blue t-shirt, which I wore beneath a forest green plaid button down with open collar, and over this, I donned a brownish sports coat with a velvety texture. When it came to my face, I stopped shaving several days before the event to gain the proper bristle, but I must admit, I am getting old, so my oval head features deep crevices around my mouth and eyes. And while I smile easily, I try not to do so too often as my teeth are much stained from coffee. There was one area, however, where I did borrow from my fashion mentors. As I am farsighted, I already had a pair of readers, and I thought these would stand in well for the thick glasses that many authors wear.

Fashion fixed, I invited Rhonda, my marketing and management consultant to the reading, telling her that this would be a good time for her to critique my work and my dress, taking into account how the audience responded. That night I met Rhonda at the Ottobar, which turned out to be a warm, friendly, and appropriately seedy punk rock venue. The second story reading space had unbalanced chairs and tables, plywood covered windows, walls painted black, and a sleek art deco bar stocked well with beer, whiskey, and cordials. I made sure that before I showed up, I showered and put on deodorant. I even flattened my hair at the sides before leaving home.

That evening, I stood before a crowd of twelve or fourteen listeners, including the bartender, and read my story about the years I worked for an architecture firm as a technician. While reading the piece, which concerned two guys who are sent out to measure an abandoned and dilapidated theater, I was surprised not to hear anyone laughing, since that had been my intention in writing. When I had stopped at the appropriate cliffhanger, I thanked the quiet crowd and abandoned the mic, taking up a wobbly chair next to Rhonda. I sat stunned and heartbroken.

Rhonda, leaning back in her chair at our shared table, dressed down in blouse and blue jeans, sipped her gin tonic, and made a few notes on a pad before her. I asked what she thought went wrong. She didn’t think there was anything wrong with the story. As she expected, it was more about my fashion sense. “You’re sending the wrong signal,” she said. “Look at this place.” Her eyes shifted from side to side to indicate our surroundings. This is a club for punk rockers. You aren’t reading at Barnes and Noble or an independent bookstore. You need to think about your brand, but you also need to fit in with your environment and your prospective audience.”

I filled her in on my research into the writers of my generation—Chabon, Lethem, Franzen—and made sure she could see my open collar.

“Sure,” she said. “I recognize your mentors, and I understand your desire to mimic some successful late boomers. But you remember our last conversation, you’re more offbeat and the writers you’re talking about, they’re mainstream. They’re more likely to read at well-lit venues. Let’s talk about some writers from your generation that are more up your alley.”

“You’ve read writers from my generation?”

“Sure, I like the classics,” she said. “And I wouldn’t have taken you on if I didn’t. But here’s what I’m thinking. Take a look at Chuck Palahniuk of Fight Club fame or David Foster Wallace of Infinite Jest.

“Really Palahniuk and Wallace? I admire those guys. It wouldn’t be easy for me to write like them.”

Mechanic shirts feature the patches of reputable manufacturing companies and enhance the author’s persona by creating associations with hard-working grease monkeys: $20.

Mechanic shirts feature the patches of reputable manufacturing companies and enhance the author’s persona by creating associations with hard-working grease monkeys: $20.

“I’m not asking you to write like them, I’m asking you to dress like them. What I’m talking about mostly is a working man’s aesthetic. Palahniuk worked as a mechanic for a while. He also spent a few years lifting weights and getting buff. Wallace, God rest his soul, dressed in mechanic-like shirts. He had a fountain of thick hair but often covered it up with a doo rag as though the heavy toil of writing made him sweat, and he needed to keep the dampness in check with that bandana. Both writers also favored clothing in layers. One thing you writers seem to like are layers.”

All of this sounded good. The mechanic persona sort of fit with my background. I had worked as an architect technician and once in the facilities department of a museum. I’d torn down a few walls, did some painting, installed phones, and got pretty handy with a drill and bits. I once even oversaw the construction of a hot tar roof. Maybe I could pull off the whole writer as mechanic guise. I still had a few common-man bowling shirts left over from the 80s when I liked rockabilly music.

“There’s one other guy you should look at,” Rhonda said.

“Whose that?”

Henry Rollins.”

“Rollins? Of Black Flag?”

“I know I know,” she said. “He’s a punk rocker. But look where we are now, the Ottobar. And you grew up in that punk rock era. Rollins has gone on to perform spoken word, and he’s written some interesting offbeat books. Like Palahniuk, he tends to favor t-shirts that show off his pecs and his pipes. You don’t have any pecs but you probably should start working out. You could consider tattoos as well. Body art goes over well with a younger audience. It’s worth investigating.”

“I’m not much for pain though,” I said. “And tattoos hurt, or so I’ve heard.”

Rhonda took another long draw on her gin and tonic and set it before her. “There’s one other option,” she said, “but it’s risky. Your generation seems to have scorned this style, but when I did my study of the preferred trends of writers throughout history, I did come upon this one.”


“It’s a style once indulged by Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain. More recent examples might include Truman Capote, Gay Talese, or Tom Wolfe. But I see very few, if any, American writers of your generation dressing this way, an odd situation because most of you lived through part of the 1960s and 70s when funky fashions were in vogue. People used to call this sort of ostentation “dandyism,” some today might call it “hipsterism,” but it’s really a style that goes back to the nineteenth century and Beau Brummell. A recent literary practitioner was Sebastian Horsley in England, but he died of a heroin overdose.”

Dandyism sounded interesting but I’d never considered myself very foppish. Should I adopt such a style however, I’d be filling a gap in the American literary scene, renewing a long-established tradition. “It sounds like a possibility,” I said.

Once he enters the realm of the dandy, the author can push the boundaries of fashion footwear: $50.

Once he enters the realm of the dandy, the author can push the boundaries of fashion footwear: $50.

“What’s more,” Rhonda persisted, “you wouldn’t have to break the bank. Most dandy clothes can be found in thrift stores. Many boomers started donating their flairs, paisley shirts, and cravats to Goodwill during the Reagan administration. You should be able to find plenty of burgundy velvet jackets, colorful bow ties, ascots, jewelry, and even wide-brimmed hats. But I’d buy new shoes and underwear if I were you.”

“I might even dye the hair I have left,” I suggested, getting excited. “Maybe green. That could represent my support for the environmental movement.

“Sounds like a unique touch,” Rhonda agreed, “but you are going to have to jump on this trend quickly. I’ve noticed recently that Michael Chabon has started to sneak some paisley shirts into his rotation. Many authors get bold as they get old. It took Twain until he was 70 before he started wearing white suits. Chabon may be ready to break out, so you need to make wardrobe a priority.”

Taking my leave of Rhonda and the Ottobar, it became clear that my analysis of the fiction writers of my generation had been too discriminatory. Like learning to write and limiting my exposure to certain books, in developing a fashion sense, I had restricted myself to looking only at one type of author. My authorial, sartorial range had been compromised by a small sample.

Without Rhonda’s input, I might never have recognized all the options, never realized the existence of other fashion genres. If only I had had a Rhonda there to teach me about writing thirty years ago, it might not have taken me all this time to feel comfortable enough to post a blog, ask for work as a writer, or locate the ambition to write a short story or novel. All I had to do now was to choose one of two personas: the working class, literary mechanic or the aristocratic, bookish dandy.

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Branding the Offbeat: A Path for 2016

Branding the New YearThe beauty of blogging is that once you’ve published your post, you can check your “stats” minutes later and see if anyone is looking. I say “looking” because who knows if anyone reads such things. When I visit other blogs, I mostly look at the pictures. However, I love my stats counter because the “visits,” “views,” “likes” and “comments” can provide an exquisite adrenaline rush. Imagine my shock then when after publishing my first several posts, I discovered that only one or two of my most cherished friends and relatives had deigned to give my blog a gander.

This came as a demoralizing jolt. Aside from my wish that these posts lead to a lucrative writing gig—columns, books, corporate spin-doctoring—my intention is that this blog offer a refreshing perspective on the life of a middle-aged guy, one who teaches business writing to college students, does a little freelance word-smithery, and lives in Baltimore, Maryland. For those who would like a few minutes away from their own self-absorption, I thought people might appreciate a window into mine. For numerous folk, the stress-reducing benefits of distraction from real-life problems can prove healthful.

Also unlike your problems, which are all consuming, mine will consume you for only a short time. You can leave my pages whenever you like—although I do enjoy your company. And reading about my self-absorption, as opposed to, say, that of the Kardashians, doesn’t require you waiting out commercials or purchasing expensive magazines, nor does it require frequent store visits to investigate Kim or Khloe’s latest eyebrow pencil. My site is free for browsing, and through my example of quiet self-absorption, even the average gal or fellow on limited budget can borrow from my techniques.

With so much to offer, visitors to this blog should understand why I’d initially hoped for a broader range of readership. How disappointing to spend so many hours, if not days, dressing up my pages with graphics, photos, pithy breakout quotes, and hard won insights on life only to have these creations and selective borrowings from others sent out to the ozonosphere for some free-form floating. Like any product creator who offers his or her product for free, I felt that something should be done and only I could do it.

With this in mind, I began then to engage in the time-tested and most honored form of advertising that I know of, word of mouth. I undertook to annoy many of my friends, interrupting our conversations about children, pets, and football by inserting references to my website and domain name: “Charney’s Life of Charney” at markcharney.com.

Not only did I remind people of my name outright, to strangers that I might encounter, I also borrowed other tried and true advertising techniques, mentioning my name and then creating associations that would help people remember what to type into their browsers. As my grade school companions used to enjoy reminding me, my last name bears a striking resemblance to the word “Charming” and from there it’s only a short transformation to “Charney.” So think “Charming” and no doubt, you will remember “Charney.”

Hansel-and-Gretel-Witch-Hunters-Poster (310x460)

With traditional marketing, the customer is led down a path of bread crumbs to the product.

Older folks might also recall that the luxury brand of bathroom tissue, “Charmin,” which Mr. Whipple once begged his grocery store customers not to squeeze, also sounds a lot like my cognomen. I can assure you that my grade school friends were quite fond of reminding me of this association. Now I remind you. The word “Charmin,” so squeezably soft, sounds a lot like Charney, and I should also say that I don’t mind an occasional hug, as long as the hugger doesn’t approach my torso with the force of a roller derby queen. Still if you can squeeze Charney from Charmin, squeeze away.

Having employed word of mouth and mnemonic devices as well as the repetition of my name—Charney, Charney, Charney—I still gained no spikes in my blog stats. And so I began to branch out, writing introductory posts on Facebook and Twitter and attaching my blog’s site address with a link or fully written web address. To those without Facebook or Twitter accounts, I sent emails. Imagine the surprise of my Wednesday night basketball buddies, if you will, when they began opening their weekly email reminders about our game-time starts and found the emphatic message: “Read My Blog!”

Short of spending money on newspaper or magazine ads, late-night television commercials, or direct mail advertising, I felt that I’d achieved what I could on my meager advertising budget. Alas, even after all that effort, my stats refused a satisfactory spike.

And so I went searching for a new way to get the word out, typing disparate phrases into my browser such as “marketing,” “consultant,” “Baltimore,” and “Maryland.” The results presented me with multiple choices, one of them being “Rhonda Serendip, Marketing & Management Consulting.” I called the phone number and after a few bemused moments in which I thought I recognized the voice on the other end, I discovered I was talking to Rhonda from the accessories department at Macy’s, the retail manager who I had met during my Christmas shopping excursion, the woman who had offered her aid in my search for the perfect purse for my wife.

I told Rhonda that despite her running away from me at the shopping mall, I was happy to hear her voice again. How was it that she had her own marketing and management consulting business?

She said Macy’s didn’t pay much, and as she had a marketing degree from a reputable college, she decided to freelance. I told her about my blog, my dream of using it as a launching pad to a lucrative writing gig, and my discouragement at not getting much traffic. What strategies had I tried thus far? She asked. I outlined my work on making personal contact and my use of email and social media.

“That’s great!” she said with much enthusiasm, “but you need to become familiar with more modern techniques. Have you ever heard of branding?”

“What, like for cows and criminals?”

“An old concept yes but much updated. There’s lots to talk about, but before doing so, it’s best you direct me to your blog.”

I gave her the web address and my email. She had some preliminary information to send and would contact me in a few days. “I’ve got shoes and handbags to sell,” she said, “but I’m a multitasker, I’ll contemplate your case as I cajole shoppers.”

We agreed on a preliminary fee for her research, and I hung up with the word “branding” seared into my noggin.

I poured myself a coffee and minutes later, I opened an email that she’d sent me. It provided a brief on what it meant to develop a brand. The material indicated that an entire aura, lifestyle, or even culture needed to be imagined for my product’s ideal customer and how my product might fit what was called “a certain ethos.” In keeping with the idea of ethos, everything about my product needed to be controlled: from associated images to logo, from name to color and texture combinations, from tagline to choice of celebrity spokesperson. “You’re not just creating a product,” the literature said. “You’re developing brand personality, and in a way, your personality.”

I was way out of my depth here. I’d never thought of my personality as a brand.

A few days later, Rhonda called back. I wondered if she wore the same blue business suit that I’d first met her in and if the reindeer brooch had been replaced with a snowflake or songbird. Or maybe she spent her home-time in silk pajamas. She interrupted my imaginings by asking me to do some self-reflection, “I have ideas about where we can go with you and your blog,” she said, “but it’s better if these things grow organically, evolve from you. Let me ask, are there any words that people have used to describe you in the past, any words outside of the normal obscenities that people use to describe someone who cuts them off in traffic? We want to keep things positive.”

“Sure. In the past, people have described me as droll, dry, bohemian, tall, bald, mysterious, stoic, sophistic, scary, quirky, a free thinker. A girl called me “deep” once. I thought that was cute. I wanted to ask her out.”

“Deep implies intellectual,” Rhonda said, “I’ve read your writing; you seem to scorn intellect.”

“You read my writing?! That’s great! What did you think? Did you click ‘like’ on any of my posts?”

“Let’s focus on you here.”

“Okay, well I scorn intellect because it seems a popular thing to do. I used to like it, but I don’t want to alienate people.”

“And for good reason. There’s no quicker buzz kill than thinking. In any case, I notice that you used the word ‘quirky.’ I had some ideas along those lines. After checking out your site, I wrote down ‘iconoclastic,’ ‘idiosyncratic,’ ‘esoteric,’ and ‘quirky’ too. But here’s the word that I think fits you best: ‘Offbeat.’ You’re selling the offbeat. Remember that. You sell mainly a Baltimore brand of it, the middle-aged offbeat male, and you might have a niche in the eccentric liberal arts teacher market as well. According to my research, most liberal arts teachers are eccentrics. You might even be able to branch out into other age and sex demographics. I warn you however, while it does have its charms, the offbeat is by no means one of the lucrative mainstream markets. If it’s money you’re after, try for more down home country or bourgeois branding.”

With branding, the product is a personality and the personality is a product.

With branding, the product is a personality and the personality is a product.

I was confused. “You met me in person,” I said. “Don’t I strike you as conventional? I dress plainly, conservatively. I shop for ordinary handbags to make my wife happy, even if I don’t buy them.”

“Yes, you’re slightly bourgeois, but you didn’t buy the handbag, and that’s key.”

“Oh, come on, why all this talk about some kind of personality makeover? Couldn’t you just give me a few tips on how to advertise my blog?”

“You’re missing the point.” Rhonda said. “Blog content is only a small part of what you’re selling. It’s not just about the content; it’s about you. You’re never going to make any headway in building a readership and obtaining a lucrative writing gig if you remain just a blogger. You must BE “Offbeat.” Stop believing the traffic wants to visit your blog, start thinking the traffic wants to visit you! Besides, after the first couple of posts, nobody will care what you write. You’ll be remembered mainly for the originality of the early posts and you can just repost them.

“As long as you’re consistent with quirky headlines, graphics, and offer a few catchy keywords, your blog page is more or less something of a launching pad for your brand. Perhaps the offbeat consumer will leave their computer screen up at parties so guests can look at your page and say, ‘I didn’t know you read Charney’s blog’—we’ll talk name change later—‘I read that too.’ These types of connections are priceless. They build value.

“But you keep working on your posts. I’ll get to work developing “The Offbeat You.” I’ve got ideas for graphics, a logo, wardrobe, collection of soundbites to be used for media interviews, and like I said, name change. This is only the beginning. Once we’ve locked in on your brand personality, we can use that as a launching pad for any other product you’d like to create, that is if you’re still interested in creating a product. Some well-known brands survive mainly on inertia.

“But I see you as an offbeat creative, so if you want to do offbeat motivational speaking tours, we can do offbeat motivational speaking tours. If you want to do three-day offbeat teaching seminars, we can do three-day offbeat teaching seminars. If you still want to write a book, write a book. As long as it’s offbeat, we can make that happen. To be honest though, the straightforward writing market offers low yield on high investment.

“My view is that there’s a large untapped market for writers as co-branders. I mean writers as endorsers. I could get you hocking offbeat products that fit the offbeat lifestyle: cookbooks, designer sheets, frozen pizzas, pet toys, furniture, automobiles, architecture, clothing, cameo appearances in offbeat movies. You name it. There might even be an offbeat amusement park in your future.”

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Charney’s Codification: Prohibitive Perfectionism

Star with PurseThis being that most wonderful time of the year, I was at the shopping mall searching for that perfect gift. A few weeks previously, my wife had informed me of her interest in a new leather handbag and gave me a specific set of criteria for its selection. These criteria included a description of size, style, material, color, shape, and a specific demand that the bag have a shoulder strap in preference to handle. Taking into account our combined income level, she also suggested a budget range that would not break our bank.

Armed with this information I drove down to Macy’s. Inside the accessories department, I met a kindly female sale’s manager with blue business suit, puffed coiffure, tinted glasses, and rouged cheeks. I described my desired handbag to her, and asked if she possessed such a one that I might purchase. She showed me what she had, a few samples of which met all of my requirements, except for the shoulder strap. “But my wife really wants that strap,” I told her. “And I can understand, I’ve witnessed her carrying method, she likes hanging bags over her shoulder.”

“I guess you’ll have to keep looking,” said the kindly sale’s manager. “There are other stores. Maybe you’ll find what you’re after at Nordstrom’s.”

“You’ve got a point there,” I told her, but by now, I was starting to worry. Macy’s had always been my go-to store, and I knew Nordstrom’s was good but usually more expensive. My panic must have been apparent to the sale’s manager. Had she noticed my lower lip beginning to quiver? The season was hard upon me, and I was running out of time.

“Do you want me to come with you?” She offered. “There are many stores with handbags. I could tell you about them, but it might be easier to show you. I knock off here at about 3:30, so if you’re willing to wait, I can help you focus your efforts.”

“Would you really! That would be sooo helpful!”

This is not the handbag I was looking for.

This is not the handbag I was looking for.

I waited outside of Macy’s until 3:30 when she got off work, and we walked down to Nordstrom’s first. There I saw exactly the bag I was after, shoulder strap and all. Then I spied the price tag. “Is it just me,” I asked my retail shopping expert, whose name it turned out was Rhonda, “or does $250 sound like a lot to pay for a purse? I had budgeted a generous $150. I might have considered an extra twenty, but an added hundred?!”

“It’s nice to know you’re willing to make compromises,” said Rhonda. “But I also admire you sticking to principles. An extra hundred does seem a stretch.”

“You see,” I said gloomily. “I had also planned on getting a fifty dollar frying pan. I just thought it would be nice if my wife had more than one package to open for Christmas.”

“Yes, it’s always more fun to open two gifts on Christmas morning. You should hold out for that frying pan.”

Rhonda escorted me to other stores, but without much luck. The handbags were either the wrong color, didn’t have the strap, or exceeded my budget. After the fourth store, she was starting to share in my panic. I saw sweat glistening on her scalp. What’s worse, I began to review all of the criteria that my wife had suggested about the purse. Even as I’d been walking through stores and shopping for the past three hours, the well-imagined purse that I had started searching for began to morph into various shades and shapes, a fuzzy tassel might appear here, an alternative insignia there. Like a Namaqua chameleon  surfing desert sands, my “abstract” or “ideal” purse kept gaining and losing characteristics. In exasperation, I shouted up to the second story balconies of the mall, “Why does shopping have to be such hard work?!”

Rhonda shook her head, “You’re telling me. You should have seen me yesterday when I was helping a father pick a red bow for his daughter’s hair.”

I wanted to say, “Really!” But I couldn’t help looking around into the farthest reaches of the mall, past the glass elevator and fake birch trees. As I did so, I could spy all of those frantic shoppers rushing from store to store, some with empty hands, no packages. Others bore gifts and packages that were obviously snapped up in haste. For despite their packages, the faces of those shoppers showed no signs of relief. These gentle folk had no doubt settled on anything they could find. Perhaps they were afraid the store would run out of merchandise before they had made a purchase. Among all of those bustling shoppers, and within myself, I began to sense signs of a disturbing condition.

“This is insanity,” I said to Rhonda, wanting to clip on Victoria’s Secret angel wings, fly up through the mall’s skylight, and escape. Instead, I reached down for a bench so I could sit and steady my nerves. “My standards of ‘purse-ness’ will not standardize themselves,” I said, looking about at the other shoppers. “None of our standards will. How can we please others when we can’t even please ourselves?”

Charney’s Codification: “…pursuit of perfection prohibits pleasurable purchase or even pontification.”

“Oh that’s the commercialism talking,” Rhonda said. “The commercials and billboards you see around the holidays are always a hazard. They build up expectations that you can never meet. Try not to think about those distractions. Just purchase what’s in your heart.”

“No, no,” I said. “I can’t blame the advertisers this time. It’s not the commercials. It’s me. I know it’s me. Nothing will ever be adequate to my taste. My taste isn’t even adequate to my taste.”

Rhonda’s eyes met mine and grew wide, her face became drawn in terror, and she shrunk within her blue business suit. I knew that she knew: I was right.

Here I would like to say that I am a great fan of eponymous laws, especially those built upon social and psychological observations but which have very little purpose outside of seeming clever. I have always loved hearing about such laws. One personal favorite is Parkinson’s Law: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Another would be The Peter Principle: “Managers rise to the level of their incompetence.” And who, after a bad morning in which the hot water does not come on, the bread does not rise, and the dog refuses to poop in the backyard before you lock him in the house and drive off to work, hasn’t invoked Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”

The truth is, my life’s long pursuit has been to name a law after myself. Sitting on that bench at the shopping mall, watching the crowd of shoppers, I felt as though I had been offered a moment of clarity. Under the glittering plastic snowflakes that spun overhead, the eponymous law that had eluded my naming all of my life was well within reach. I had been saving the title for some time, but now I had hit upon the actual law. “Charney’s Codification,” I said aloud.

“What’s that?” asked Rhonda.

“Charney’s Codification,” I repeated. “My eponymous law: The idea that pursuit of perfection prohibits pleasurable purchase or even pontification.”

“Explain further,” said my companion, adjusting her reindeer brooch.

“It’s the thought about the thought that counts…” [are] the compassionate bywords of all gift recipients.”

“You see,” I continued, “we humans struggle constantly not only to acquire what is perfect but to idealize it, and this struggle leaves us stricken, often paralyzed, unable to settle, even on an idea, and unable to enjoy something as simple as Christmas, a time meant for merriment.

“Oh,” said my companion retailer, “You must think I didn’t go to college. Wasn’t it Plato who foretold that we can never achieve perfection. He figured this out without even knowing about Madison Avenue.”

“Yes,” I said somewhat hesitantly, still working through my formulation. “But I am not so sure that Plato didn’t find the contemplation of perfection perfectly satisfactory. My codification amends his idealism. In Charney’s Codification, there can be no contemplation of perfection without torment and probable paralysis.”

“Wow, you are a total downer kiddo,” Rhonda said. “Besides I’m sure that someone else has thought of this, I just haven’t read enough books to know who it is yet.”

“You might be right.” I agreed. “I don’t read either, and I might be restating another thinker’s idea, but who would deny that philosophies and laws cannot use an occasional update. Dressing up ancient Platonic-like principles and applying them to a shopping mall experience is more likely to have resonance for modern folk than an anecdote set in a Lyceum, Madrasa, or Gurukula. I have also made my codification attractively alliterative for English speakers: ‘pursuit of perfection prohibits pleasurable purchase, etc. etc.’ And consider this: many old laws rely on foreign languages that Americans don’t speak. Mine does not. So do me a favor, grant me my imperfect Christmas wish, let me have my “Charney’s Codification,” and I’ll buy you a biscotti for your trouble.

“It’s still a downer,” Rhonda insisted.

This is also not the handbag I was looking for.

This is also not the handbag I was looking for.

“Well, not necessarily,” I said, thinking very hard. “I believe Charney’s Codification paves the way for empathy and compassion. Imagine if you will, a world in which all people understand that perfection, even in the realm of personal thought, is not possible, a world in which no criteria can be fixed, and no manifestation of an idea can be adequate. In such a world, presentation of even the well intentioned Christmas wish, let alone gift, should be recognized as falling far short of what the bearer had hoped to offer. In such a world, “It’s the thought about the thought that counts” would be the compassionate bywords of all gift recipients.”

As I filled out the ramifications of my codification, my companion checked her watch and yawned, telling me it was way past time for picking her grandkids up from school. I could not let her go however. “And here I am willing to take a step back!” I shouted after Rhonda as she took her leave. “My projected compassionate outcome should only be considered an afterthought to my codification! Real world application is of little concern when presenting a new theory! As with all purely scientific discoveries, rediscoveries, or let’s say, even verifications, the scientist’s job is not to project how others will ultimately react to his or her formulation but to simply describe the phenomenon! The outcomes may vary depending upon the level of the listener’s understanding of the term perfection!”

By then I was much winded and had lost her in the crowd. She’d been enveloped by shoppers, and I was left only with my strained voice and personal thoughts. Those thoughts settled gently on my wife and how I hoped that she, at least, would consider Charney’s Codification carefully and use it as means to understand, when the moment came, why she had received neither purse nor frying pan for Christmas.

Posted in Business Communication, Satire, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Female Foreign Nationals: A Good Time to Discuss?

Slovene U-turnI have long been irritated by emails from females from Russia, Southeast Asia, and Eastern Europe: women offering to travel to meet me and promising matrimony if I turn out to be a nice guy. If they had done their research, they would know I am happily married to the daughter of a Mid-West farmer’s daughter. Even so, these women often send along pictures of themselves in fetching and flattering poses. I’m not saying I don’t appreciate their gifts, but I sometimes question whether those pictures are truly representative.

Word on the internet has it that these women are searching out American men, preferably old business magnates, to get into our country, marry them, stay married for a few short years until they gain citizenry, and then dump their hoodwinked husbands, absconding with great fortunes. Only a few of these kinder golddiggers wait until the old men die; however, once the husbands are done away with, these females, undeterred by tales of how the American dream is dead, use their newfound riches as seed money to start clothing, beauty supply, and jewelry businesses. In doing so, they take opportunities away from our less conniving native-born American girls.

Not only this, but for every foreign-born female who dupes an American male into marrying her, that’s one native born American girl who might end up living life as an old maid. With the ratio of men to women at 0.97 to 1, the odds are already stacked against our Betty Fords and Jackie Kennedys. So having a foreign-born female come into this country and fill traditional wifery roles is bound to aggravate and incite jealousy. Not only that, but because many of these foreign nationals are either models or former models, and because the media likes using them to represent diversity, constant exposure to such female foreign nationals threatens to increase what scientists call “normative discontent” in millions of our native-born American mothers, sisters, and daughters.

This Slovene foreign national and ex-model targeted a billionaire to be her sugar daddy. Twenty-six years her husband’s junior, she shouldn’t have to wait long for her big payday and unfettered independence.

This Slovene foreign national and ex-model targeted a billionaire to be her sugar daddy. Twenty-six years her husband’s junior, she shouldn’t have to wait long for her big payday and unfettered independence.

Anyone who studies the numbers will have to conclude that the threat of these foreign-born women is real and can no longer be ignored. Of the 800,000 immigrants that arrive in America each year, some 50,000 are females here for the sole purpose of marrying American men. Fifty thousand may not sound like a lot in a country of 300 million, but consider the consequences. In a generation or two, these women will be giving birth to foreign national female babies, and these foreign national female babies will be birthing more foreign national female babies, and soon our nation will be full of foreign national females shacking up with every eligible and potentially eligible American tycoon.

With this imposing threat, it’s time that we Americans had a conversation about halting the influx of these female foreign nationals and perhaps even deporting the ones who are already here, married or otherwise. In keeping with the ideals of American democracy, it’s always important to discuss proposals of this nature before enacting them, so I don’t see why I shouldn’t dedicate one blog post to doing just that.

Kicking off the discussion, I’d like to frame the issue as follows: To protect the rights of our American female citizens to obtain more jobs, to cultivate a better self-image, and to marry men of healthy and wealthy stock, our country needs to stop the immigration of female foreign nationals. Not only will such a policy benefit American women, it will also guarantee that numerous American males aren’t made fools of.

Furthermore, taking into account my thorough internet research and those emails I spoke of earlier, I would identify a very large portion of this threat coming from Eastern Europe, especially Eastern-block countries of the former Soviet Union, which have never recovered from cold war economic oppression. In researching the topic of female foreign nationals, I stumbled upon a startling statistic. Since 1986, almost 30,000,000 Eastern European immigrants have come to the United States.

This Czech foreign national bombshell raided her American ex-husband’s holdings and got away with a reported $40 million in cash and property, not to mention a $350,000 annual allowance.

This Czech foreign national bombshell raided her American ex-husband’s holdings and got away with a reported $40 million in cash and property, not to mention a $350,000 annual allowance.

As half of these Eastern Europeans are likely female, that’s a fifth of our nation’s current population, and no one can deny, that’s a big chunk of old-world “hunky.” Such a sizable influx seems a good reason, therefore, to single this group out. Full disclosure: to be clear and reassure everyone, my own Eastern European forebears came to this country long before 1986, and my loyalties are here, with America, not overseas. I’ve never even been to Eastern Europe; just check the record.

Before proceeding, let me extend my gratitude to presidential candidate Donald Trump for bringing this important immigration issue to my attention. When Trump recently began talking about immigrant threats from Hispanics and Muslims and the importance of keeping these people, both male and female, from our borders, I couldn’t help but start looking at the immigrant numbers. That’s what made me aware of the Eastern European danger. And when I say danger, I would not dismiss the idea that these females could perhaps be working for Vladimir Putin as Russian spies.

Now that this threat is clearly identified, and the solution as plain as the nose on a Polish face, the payback on halting Eastern European female immigration should be apparent. I believe that once this threat is removed, a myriad of opportunities are bound to open up. For one, more American women will be able to work in the clothing, jewelry, and beauty product industries. Others might even get hired as models.

As to the aging male millionaires who often fall victim to these Eastern European vixens, those titans of industry will no longer be embarrassed when their vaults are looted. And even if these men are happily married, once the veil has been lifted, they will see how they’ve been cuckolded and thank us for the intervention. Additionally, we can only venture to guess how traditional American marriages will be fortified once the temptation to leave East Coast and California girls for Ukrainian and Georgian ones has been removed.

Quarantine for actors who have the potential to portray and enhance the image of foreign nationals, like the one shown here, may also be required.

Quarantine for actors who have the potential to portray and enhance the image of foreign nationals, like the one shown here, may also be required.

Here I must touch on the ancillary issue of deportation. When it comes to unburdening our shores of the feminine Slav, many readers may fret that the logistics are untenable. How are we going to round up all these women and send them back home? Actually, they should not be too hard to identify. They are the ones that pronounce “the” as “dah,” add syllables to words where they don’t belong, flavor sentences with clumsy British accents, and employ nasal sing-song intonation where real Americans speak in flat monotone. These women might also be easily recognizable by their tawdry clothing, for it seems that once they leave their second and third world nations, they have an overwhelming desire to take advantage of our treasured American freedoms and “express themselves.”

I am glad that Mr. Trump has brought the important issue of immigration to our attention. He seems to have hit upon a hot topic that many Americans say they have been thinking about for a long time but which they haven’t felt comfortable discussing openly. While I don’t support him for president—my leanings being more local—it’s clear that his wealth gives him a distinct advantage over his competitors, as he is not beholden to special interests and can talk openly about anything he damn well pleases: something most Americans appreciate and an enviable position to say the least.

Should Mr. Trump win the election, I’m sure he’ll be ready to turn my “Eastern European Golddigger Proposition” into policy, the policy into law, and enforce that law with all the powers available to him as commander and chief. I’d even venture to guess that as he’s been willing to single out Muslims and Mexicans, President Trump will be the first to identify any Eastern European foreign national women he knows, married or otherwise, and hold down the barbed wire as those women exit our borders.

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A Guiding Light for Baltimore

OutletAnyone who has followed the news in Baltimore this year knows that we have been a city in turmoil. After the death of Freddie Gray, allegedly at the hands of several of our city’s police officers, Baltimore experienced terrible riots. Protesters and police faced off across barriers, automobiles were set aflame, stores looted, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake reacted with a few unfortunate missteps before declaring a curfew, and the Maryland National Guard occupied our streets.

Now that one of the police officers involved in the incident is on trial, the city waits anxiously, not sure what will happen when the trial ends. What will the verdict be and how will the public react when it’s announced? While so many hope for a just outcome and a non-violent public reaction, there’s really no way for us to be sure.

In light of our city’s worries and wishes about the future, life goes on. We keep updated with trial news, go to our jobs, attend our schools, come home to moderately warm houses, eat dinner, and take comfort in the company of family and friends. Now that the holiday season has arrived, we are especially hopeful that the ideas of peace on earth, goodwill toward women and men will take hold and see us well into 2016.

For me, nothing serves better to symbolize Baltimore’s hopes for a brighter future than our annual holiday lighting of the Washington Monument in Mount Vernon Place. Before this year’s lighting, the 44th, I had the pleasure of walking through the crowd of thousands. As I did, I couldn’t help but observe the shared hopefulness in people’s eyes and faces.

Although bundled tightly in winter jackets and sweaters, residents came out in force. They engaged vendors by purchasing pizza slices, fried Oreos, wine, beer, and coffee. They visited the Walters Art Gallery to drink hot chocolate and tap their feet to a jug and banjo band. They listened to the Morgan State University Choir as the choir sang holiday carols. And they waited in eager anticipation for the monument light switch to get flipped.

The monument’s base constituents include both commercial and consumer interests.

The monument’s base constituents include both commercial and consumer interests.

But here I must note one difference between this year’s lighting ceremony and those of years past. This year featured no bigtime celebrities—no Mariah Carey, no Dorothy Hamill, no Michael Phelps, no popular Oriole, and no low-flying Raven. Were they afraid to come out? More notably though was the absence of a high-profile public official. And when I say high profile, I am especially alluding to our Mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who usually aids in the ceremonial task of flipping the switch.

When I noticed her absence, I was somewhat perplexed. I have been attending this event on and off for some fifteen years, and most mayors seem to jump at the chance to gain public exposure, feed off the good spirits of the crowd, and boost the citizenry’s sense of civic pride. Hearing a little something reassuring from the mayor this year would have been especially nice considering all that has happened. But then I reflected on how she was not running for another term, citing that she wanted to concentrate on the business of the city rather than that of a campaign.

And so I must ask, what city business is more important than the monument lighting? Were officials courting a corporation that would deliver us thousands of jobs? Were they bolstering defenses against terrorist attacks and passing laws to protect us from deranged gunmen? I hope so, but thus far, no such progress has been reported.

My thoughts then led me to the candidates running to take the place of Mayor Rawlings-Blake. Thus far, the frontrunner, former Mayor Sheila Dixon does not have me looking to the future with optimistic eyes. Before Mayor Rawlings-Blake, Mayor Dixon was ousted from office when she was found to be using gift cards that had been intended for the poor.

If our mayors aren’t going to conduct themselves honestly and competently, why do we need mayors at all?

So I ask myself, shouldn’t our mayor, current or future, be a person in whom we can trust, and in whom we can trust to make smart choices, especially during tough times? Furthermore, if our mayors aren’t going to conduct themselves honestly and competently, why do we need mayors at all?

It seems to me, what we really need is a stabilizing force, a pillar of strength, a figure beyond reproach. As I stood there looking up at the monument and the light switch got tripped, the column burst into bluish flame, and I began to ask myself, “Why shouldn’t we Baltimoreans elect this beacon of hope? Why couldn’t our beloved monument, lights ablaze, also be our mayor?”

With its noble stature and 17,000 LED bulbs, the monument already inspires the citizenry with two things that most candidates do not, stability and a guiding light—or vision. In terms of credentials, having been built in 1829, it has long experience in public life. It’s already given our city 186 years of distinguished service. Asking it to perform in a slightly different capacity for another four or eight would not appear to be requesting too much.

Monument supporters are a diverse breed.

Monument supporters are a diverse breed.

In addition, while its stature has always been impressive, it has never failed to maintain a quiet confidence, and when caught in a deluge, it doesn’t hesitate to take the high ground. As such, Baltimoreans can rest assured that when controversial issues arise, the monument won’t bungle statements and exacerbate existing problems.

As regards the bottom line, enlisting the Washington Monument as our next mayor would also be a smart financial move. Our citizens have already spent six million to have its structure restored, and with an investment like that, we should hope to squeeze more out of this most stout public servant than the ability to direct traffic and attract tourists.

I have heard tale that many political figures are excellent multitaskers, so I don’t see why the citizenry, in lean times and good, shouldn’t expect our monuments to take on a few added responsibilities. And not to cast too dark a shadow, but with so many civil servants wittingly or unwittingly giving their constituents the shaft, at least here is one that will make no bones about it.

My moment of insight during the Monument lighting points to a lesson that I seem to be learning repeatedly. As with most problems in life, when you are struggling to find a solution, you will often discover it in plain view. Considering Baltimore’s need to fill its top job, I say let’s search no further than Mount Vernon Place. Sure, we could enlist another monument, the Battle on Calvert Street or the National Katyn one on President, but none of these capture the imagination or impress like this well-proportioned phallus cut from a local quarry in Cockeysville.

It’s true that our city contains higher profile and more vibrantly lit architectural candidates, the Inner Harbor’s Science Center, one or other of the two pavilions, or the National Aquarium. But while these landmarks command our attention, they don’t embody the stature, sobriety, and symbolism of a great American General and President. During these difficult times, Baltimore can’t afford to go with a questionable or untested candidate. We should put all our support behind one that has already proven itself capable of weathering any storm.

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