Thursday, January 31, 2013

Want to Avoid "The Traffic?" Leave Later

Leaving early is the worst thing you could ever do at a football game.

My friend, Mark, had invited me to an Indianapolis Colts football game with him, his wife, and their friend, Steve. We rode to the game together, knowing that parking was always a hassle.

This was in 1995, when Jim "Captain Comeback" Harbaugh was the quarterback, and the Colts were having a potential playoff season, their first in years. They were playing the San Diego Chargers, and a win would guarantee a spot in the playoffs. A loss meant they needed to win the following week.

Two minutes to go, fourth down, the score was 24 – 24, and San Diego had the ball. A field goal would get the Chargers into the playoffs. Kicker John Carney was warming up for a 45 yarder.

"Come on, we have to go," said Mark.

"GO?! Are you kidding me?!" I said.

"Yeah, Steve has to go to his family reunion."

"But there's two minutes left in the game, and we need Carney to miss this field goal."

"I can't be late to the family reunion," said Steve's stupid face. "We have to beat The Traffic."

There it was. The two dreaded words that had dogged me since childhood. The reason I missed the end of so many special events.

We had to beat The Traffic.

You know the drill. There's an event that brings in tens of thousands of people. The event ends, everyone leaves at once, and they spend 30 minutes fighting The Traffic.

"You're a grown man. I don't think they'll ground you," I said, but Steve's stupid face was already making his way toward the exit. Mark shrugged an apology.

I lagged behind and tried to catch the last few plays. I managed to hear the groans of 55,000 people as Carney made the field goal, forcing the Colts into a must-win game the following week. (They beat the Chargers in the first round of the playoffs two weeks later, and lost to the Steelers two weeks after that.)

As we walked back to the car, just 60 seconds ahead of The Traffic, I thought about all the other times this had happened.

My parents, and apparently most other parents, had a thing about beating The Traffic. I remember when I was a kid, and my folks would take us to a Cincinnati Reds game at Riverfront Stadium. There we were, basking in my childhood's Graceland, watching the Big Red Machine do their Big Red thing, and my dad would make us leave with one inning to go.

"But the game's not over!" I protested.

"I want to beat The Traffic," said my dad. Sometimes we would leave early enough that I could catch the bottom of the 9th on the radio as we rolled out of the parking lot a few minutes ahead of The Traffic, and I sulked in the back seat.

These days, I have my own issues with The Traffic, and always try to avoid it. But I also remember the frustration of being dragged away from the places that made me happy, so I don't do it to my own kids. Instead, whenever we go somewhere, we always make sure we're one of the last to leave. We wait for an extra 20 minutes, and it saves us so much time and aggravation.

We'll stand, stretch, talk about the game, and chat with new friends. When we finally walk out, there's only a small stream of cars leaving the parking lot, and we cruise right out. We miss The Traffic completely, and still get to see everything we wanted.

A few days ago, I asked on Facebook whether this had ever happened to anyone else. One woman said her boyfriend made her leave a Tom Petty concert early, which is why he's now her ex-boyfriend. Another guy told how he was at a Paul Simon concert, and an older guy in front of him kept yelling "THE BOXER!" at the top of his lungs.

(Because if there's one thing an international music star does at his concerts, it's take crowd requests.)

The old guy finally either got disgusted or wanted to beat The Traffic, and left right after the second encore. And so he missed the third encore, when Paul Simon played "The Boxer."

I'm not a fan of traffic, and try to avoid it whenever possible. But I also refuse to leave anything early, and deprive me or my family the chance to enjoy every second of the experience we were there to see.

Because you never know when John Carney might be lurking in the wings, ready to sing "The Boxer" with Tom Petty.




The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and my other book, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

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Friday, January 25, 2013

Karl the Curmudgeon Worries About Writers

"I despair for our profession, Kid," said my friend, Karl. He was in a rather maudlin mood tonight, which was unusual for him. He was usually more cantankerous, wanting to debate some point of literature or grammar. Instead, he had spent the last 20 minutes staring off into space, occasionally grunting in agreement with whatever I said to him.

I believe the dangling participle was left behind by an alien race, I said. I think Twilight is the Great Gatsby of our time.

"Uh-huh," he mumbled. "He was on Charlie Rose last night."

He finished his beer, and waved at Jean the bartender for two more. We were sitting at a small table in The Burns Unit, a literary bar dedicated to Scottish poet and serial philanderer, Robert Burns. It was Tuesday night, open-mic night, and we were there to make fun of the hipster poets.

What? I said.

"Our profession. I despair for it," he repeated like I was stupid.

I heard you, Yoda. I meant, what are you yammering on about?

"There aren't any professional writers any more," he sighed. "What happened to us?"

Oh man, I groaned. You're not going all golden yesteryear on me, are you? The last time you did this, I had to listen to your drunken ramblings about the time you and Hunter S. Thompson went snipe hunting with an elephant gun and you shot your own car.

"No, I mean there's no money in writing anymore. Back when I was your age, you could be a successful novelist and make enough money to support a family."

Back when you were my age, you built a log cabin on the Indiana frontier and wrote penny dreadfuls.

Karl shot me the finger. "It's not like it used to be," he continued. "These days, a novelist can barely scratch out a couple month's mortgage with what they make from a single book."

That's the state of literature today. There are more authors writing more books, but book sales are declining. The demand has decreased while the supply has increased. So there's less money to be spread among more authors.

"That doesn't make it right. Back in the 60s, when I first started writing, a lot of writers made a full-time salary off their books, and would teach a little on the side. We spent our days writing and our nights going to parties and bars, and hanging out with other writers."

Are you sure that was you? That sounds an awful lot like Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast."

"Shut up, Kid. I remember what the 60s were like. Well, most of them anyway. But those days are long gone. Nowadays, creative writing teachers fight to write books in their spare time. The one skill they were hired for, and they can't even work at it because of their day job."

Well, I suppose they could go into copywriting, I said. Karl drank some beer and belched his response. He was going from maudlin to bitter, which always made him a pain in the ass. The last time he got like this, I had to lead him out of the bar by a fistful of his beard.

"What, and prostitute themselves for filthy lucre?" he bellowed. An emo poet was onstage, reading a poem comparing someone named Rachel to a fried egg. He looked nervously at Karl, worried he was being heckled.

Filthy lucre? You were just grousing about writers not making a living, but when they make it in the private sector, it's filthy lucre?

"Kid, you don't understand. Writing used to be a noble art. Writers were celebrities in Hemingway's day. Now, they're reduced to being teachers or copywriters who tell themselves they still have their artistic integrity."

Hey, there's nothing wrong with being a copywriter. Some highly accomplished writers worked as copywriters and still produced some outstanding work.

"Oh yeah? Name one."

You mean besides me? Karl rolled his eyes.

"You're not a novelist."

Why do we have to be novelists? Why do you assume the only 'real' writers are novelists? What about nonfiction writers? Or marketing writers? Or even journalists? They put just as much time and effort into mastering the language as novelists. Except we make money at it.

"What about poets?" Karl asked, gesturing at the roomful of hipsters reading their Midwest slam poetry.

They make their money serving coffee.

"Hey!" whined a nearby pimply-faced poet.

Karl, the only thing that has changed is the marketplace. The market for novelists may be shrinking, but there's still plenty of work to be had writing. In fact, thanks to today's educational system, more writers are being left behind, so the demand for good writers of any type is going to grow.

He scratched his chin for a minute. "Well, I read your last white paper, so I guess marketing copy could be fiction."

Yeah, and your last book was a great sleeping aid.



The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and my other book, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million in October, or for the Kindle or Nook.

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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Ode to Jason Falls on his 40th Birthday

It finally happened, it finally came.
Some were amazed, some were ashamed.
The world cried out, and screamed "Oh Lordy!
"Jason Falls is turning forty."


He's working out more, he's eating fine,
He's even drinking healthy red wine.
He'll buy a new car, bright red and sporty,
'Cause that's what you do when you turn forty.

His hair's turning gray, but it's not falling out
That would only make him whimper and pout.
It once was longer, but now it's short, he
Looks respectable at age forty.

A guy from the sticks, now he's all urban
With a house and a yard, and his fancy bourbon.
But he's still earthy, he's still bawdy,
It'll only get worse now that he's forty.

It's downhill from here, things can only get worse
You're one day closer to the ride in the hearse.
Spend the next thirty years turning wrinkled and warty
Because that's what happens when Jason turns forty.


Dedicated to my good friend, Jason Falls, my co-author on No Bullshit Social Media.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Has Anyone Ever Died from the Willies?

I originally published this as a blog post-only on January 9, but re-ran it as a newspaper column, so I'm republishing it in the regularly scheduled column slot.

In a past job, I worked with people who are blind or visually impaired. I traveled extensively to different conferences, and met all sorts of people and saw all sorts of products related to technology, mobility, and independent living.

One thing I learned is that a lot of blind people — and they prefer to be called blind (read the article. It's a real dope slap to people who use PC euphemisms like "hard of seeing," which blind people think are ridiculous.) — have a strong independent streak. Organizations like the National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind use "of the intentionally, because they don't want you to do things for them. They'll do it themselves, thank you very much!

In fact, the NFB members are so independent, they even choose to forego using guide dogs; the ACB, on the other hand, love their guide dogs, but still value their independence.

I got to experience this first hand, because I would attend the NFB and ACB conferences every year, and talk to attendees about how they found their way around the world.

One summer, I was attending the NFB conference in Louisville, Kentucky, and was standing outside the conference hotel with my friend, Brian. We had just been to a Louisville Bats baseball game that night, and were chatting and winding down the night.

As we talked, a school bus pulled up to let off several conference attendees who had been on a field trip to the Louisville Slugger museum and factory. The first woman off the bus tripped as she was coming down the steps, and fell three feet, landing squarely on her knees.

When she fell, she dropped her purse, her cane, and a few other objects. The woman began frantically scrambling around trying to find the objects she had dropped. The bus driver was trying to help her up, but she wouldn't get up, still insisting on finding everything herself.

"Man, that's hardcore independence," I remember thinking. But I also have a caretaker personality, and can't keep my nose out of any situation if I think I can help.

So I picked up a large squarish button that had apparently fallen off the woman's purse. I was going to hold onto it until the woman got up.

Which she was still not doing.

I stood there waiting, and decided to get a closer look at that button. I flipped it over in my hand. I was more than a little shocked to discover that I wasn’t holding a button.

It was her artificial eye. And it was staring at me.

I’m a city boy, born and raised. I never grew up on a farm. I never got to witness the Circle of Life up close. And I’m only on a nodding acquaintance with Mother Nature. So when I see dead things, gory things, or when people talk about their own bodily functions, I get more than a little icked out.

So when I realized what I was holding in my hand, there was a roaring in my ears and the blood rushed out of my head so fast, I thought I was going to pass out. As I stood there, holding this artificial eye in my hand, all I could think was "this was in her head, now it’s in my hand. This was in her head, now it’s in my hand."

(In the woman’s defense, none of this was her fault, and I don’t want to get a laugh at her expense. It’s not her fault she fell in front of a big wuss.)

As I stared at the eye — and it stared back at me — there was an electric tingling creeping slowly up my arm, like when you touch a snake on a dare.

"What do I do?!" I whispered to Brian.

"I don’t know. I’ve never seen that happen before."

It seemed like hours, but was only a few seconds, when I finally realized why the woman wasn’t getting up. She wasn’t looking for her purse or her cane. She only wanted one thing. So I got to say that sentence that only one person in the entire world will ever get to say in all of history:

"Ma'am, I've got your eye."

She popped right up, relieved, and said, "Oh, thank you, honey. I was looking for that." She held out her hand, I gave her back her eye (there's another sentence no one will ever say), gathered up her other things, and went on her way.

I just stood there, staring at Brian, hand still outstretched. I finally said, "I really can’t think of anything to say now, so I’ll just say good-bye. I just need to— I mean, I should— that is, I’m gonna just, well, go."

I went back to my room with a severe case of the willies that didn’t subside until I finally fell asleep, several hours later. But as I drifted off, I comforted myself with one thought.

At least this wasn’t a morticians’ conference.


The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available.

My other book, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing is also out.

You can get both of them from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million.

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Friday, January 11, 2013

What's Your Name Again?

I'm not just one in a million, I'm one in 1.75 billion.

Turns out there are four Erik Deckers in the entire world. There are three in Belgium, and I'm the only one in the United States. And I totally own those guys on Google.

In fact, if you Google my name, you won't find any of them for the first several hundred results, which I'm sure bugs them to no end. But if you keep digging, you'll find a few entries for the Erik Deckers who is a real estate agent in Brussels.

I've thought about getting business cards that say "Just Google me," but that seems a little arrogant, even for the only Erik Deckers in the entire western hemisphere.

But even though I can claim this unique title all to myself, people still have trouble remembering my name. Sometimes they don't even bother learning it.

I am often called Buddy, Dude, Partner — partner? What are we, cowboys? — or the occasional Bro, especially by bartenders and baristas.

"What can I get you, Bro."

"Dude, I have a name."

"What is it?"

"Erik."

"Okay thanks, Buddy."

But while I'm not really into being greeted like a long lost frat brother, I'm not a big fan of the word "sir" either. I may have earned the honorific because I've managed to survive this long, but that doesn't mean I like it. There needs to be a middle term, one that denotes respect but doesn't make the recipient feel like he's tottering along on a cane.

Once, when some fresh-faced restaurant hostess barely out of high school asked, "what's your name, sir?" I said "Deckers."

"No, what's your first name?" she asked

"Mister."

"Thwack!" went my wife's hand on my shoulder.

"Erik," I corrected.

For the most part, I make sure people know who I am through business networking, using social media, and anything else to help them remember my name.

But it doesn't always work.

Several years ago, when I worked for my father-in-law, I visited a number of trade shows in different parts of the world every year. We always saw the same people, show after show, country after country. For some of us, this was the only time to reconnect with our friends.

We were even friends with one guy who lived six miles away in our tiny town of 10,000 people, and went to our church. We could go for months without seeing him, but always saw him every January at our big trade show in Atlanta, twelve hours from home.

Even seven years later, as I've reached out to some people from those days, they still remember my name, remember the company, and even remember my family.

But there was one guy who, no matter how many times I met him, always reintroduced himself to me, time and again. Two or three times a year for five years.

"Hi, I'm Jim."

"Yes, I know. We met in Germany last November."

Now, to be fair, this was a guy who ran a large company that employed 100 or so people, and he met dozens more at every trade show. But I saw him two and three times a year at the same trade shows.

After the third or fourth time meeting me, most people remember my name and where we met. Not this guy. It didn't matter how many times we met and talked, he never remembered me. We once spent two hours smoking cigars and talking about scotch at his company's party. We bonded. We found common ground. We spoke as men do. If nothing else, I would at least be "that guy who smoked cigars with me."

Several months later, I bumped into him at another trade show, where he reintroduced himself to me again.

"Jim, I know. We've met before. Many times. We smoked cigars at your party in January, remember?"

"Oh yeah, I remember that," he said, clearly not remembering it.

There was nothing actually wrong with his memory. He didn't have Alzheimer's or anything. I know, because he remembered meeting my wife and mother-in-law. Two years before.

One year, my wife, her mother, and I chatted with Jim for 10 minutes at one of his parties. Two years later, the three of us bumped into Jim at the same trade show. Where he hailed my mother-in-law and wife by name.

And then re-introduced himself to me.

"Hey, it's good to meet you. . . Buddy."

I said, "Thanks, Jim. You look familiar to me. Have we met before?"




The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and my other book, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million in October, or for the Kindle or Nook.

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Friday, January 04, 2013

LSSU's Banned Words for 2013

It's a brand new year, and you know what that means — Lake Superior State University (LSSU) releases its annual list of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness. This is their 38th year, and the 7th year I've covered their linguistic eliminations.

As a word nerd, I'm always interested in learning what parts of the language are changing, evolving, or should be smashed with a hammer, so I enjoy seeing what words LSSU wants everyone to stop using.

This year, LSSU received tens of thousands of nominations, totaling more than 800 entries, and 12 finalists. And I liked 11 of them. Normally, I support every banned word, but this year, I passionately disagree with one of their entries and think the people who submitted them are just whiny little gits.

As you probably guessed, "Fiscal Cliff" topped the list, but we've hopefully heard the last of it. I don't think it was that the word was overused all year, but rather, we were drenched by it in December as the media found a new buzzword they could start abusing for their different headlines — driving over the Fiscal Cliff, falling off the Fiscal Cliff, being thrown off the Fiscal Cliff. You know, the kind of headline every reporter writes, cackling at its cleverness, not realizing it's the same as 10,000 other identical headlines around the world.

Not that it bothers me or anything.

What does bother me is "YOLO," which stands for "You Only Live Once," as some sort of a hipster battle cry.

It was 2012's drunken "hey y'all, watch this!" which is hollered seconds before someone injures themselves in a hilariously spectacular fashion. These days, a bunch of jegging-wearing 20-somethings will scream "YOLOOOOOOO!" at the top of their lungs as they launch themselves down a steep hill on a mechanic's dolly.

It may be because I'm in my 40s, but I prefer the phrase YOLFARLT — You Only Live For A Really Long Time — which, as I write it, I realize sounds a lot like "Ya old fart," which I may be. But I also still have all my teeth and no visible scars, so I like my odds so far.

Spoiler Alert: we're all going to die in the end anyway, but some of us — *ahem* looking at you, YOLOers — are just going to go sooner than the rest of us.

Except LSSU is banning "Spoiler Alert." "Used as an obnoxious way to show one has trivial information and is about to use it," wrote submitter Joseph Joly. It originally started out as an alert on websites that detailed movie plots to tell people that if they hadn't seen the movie, they shouldn't read any further. Now it's just used willy-nilly, neither spoiling anything nor alerting anyone.

The entry I hated with a white hot passion was, well, "Passion/Passionate." Apparently a lot of people don't like the word as a way to describe people being overly enthusiastic about a particular hobby or topic, calling it a "phony-baloney word." One person even said "passion is the stuff of Ahab, Hitler, chauvinists of every stripe, and terrorists."

I vehemently oppose the inclusion of the word, because it refers to something deeply felt. According to Dictionary.com, it's "any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling, as love or hate." And I question the emotional depth of people who think passion is phony-baloney, or equate it with Hitler, terrorists, and chauvinists. Passion is wild love, the feeling that you can't live without someone or something. It's not something to be dismissed puritanically out of hand, with the emotionlessness a cold fish.

Not that it bothers me or anything.

I was also introduced to a new word, even though it's now banned before I get to use it: "Superfood." These are foods that are so jam packed with nutrition and health benefits — blueberries, salmon, green tea, that sort of thing — that we should eat them as much as possible.

Yeah, right. The only super food I recognize is a cheeseburger with a fried egg on it, although I don't think that's what the superfoodies had in mind. Still, the people who have bought into the superfood mindset are the same people who will wrinkle their emaciated noses at beef and poultry products being eaten at all, and try to convince you that a soy burger with an egg substitute is just as good.

Spoiler alert: anyone who tells you a substitute food is "just as good as" the real thing is lying to you. It's like saying your dinner has a "nice personality." After all, as any egg-on-a-cheeseburger passionista can tell you, YOLO, baby! YOLO.



The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is now available. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

My other book, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing is also out.

You can get both of them from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million in October, or for the Kindle or Nook.

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