Conversing All-Stars

1 09 2015

“Inject a few raisins of conversation into the tasteless dough of existence.” ~ O. Henry

I just spent a weekend talking. Well, not just talking… I listened too! I also smiled and laughed. I asked questions, and answered some. I was communicating, and it was exhilarating.

phonechatThere has been lots of lamenting about the death of conversation caused by the proliferation of mobile technology, social media and other distractions. I’ve certainly beat that drum while observing a table full of people at a restaurant, heads buried in there iPhones. And truthfully, I’ve sometimes been guilty – see last month’s post. I have wondered about future generations lacking the skills necessary for basic communication, and I hope it isn’t too late to save them. I think that smartphone use proliferated quite rapidly, and etiquette simply didn’t have time to adjust. But all things are cyclical, and a rebound is coming. Conversation will be back in a big way… I know it!

This big talking weekend was a couple of days at the beach with longtime friends. My wife and I have tackled adulthood with Mark and his wife, Christine. Together with our group of friends we have celebrated weddings, welcomed our children and seen them grow, graduate and start families of their own. We’ve also mourned death of friends and family members. This is what good friends share. But like many friends, we get together infrequently… and certainly not for chunks of time like this weekend.

The setting was ripe, and distractions were minimal. We spent about nine hours over the two days just sitting on the sand. No one said that we couldn’t look at our phones, we just didn’t that much. We watched a football game on Saturday night, but listened to each other instead of the announcers. Then a movie after, with our running commentary being much funnier than the dialogue in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Danke Schoen, very much…

We touched on some lofty topics, and beat some straight into the ground. We made some serious headway planning our funerals. We discussed the upcoming Papal visit in Philadelphia and the power of Pope Francis’ blessings. (FYI, they go infinitely far out in whatever direction he flings them).

We discussed music, “our” music versus today’s. Their son and recent Drexel grad blinded us with science and migratory patterns of shore birds. We marvelled at the beach restoration project still going on in Sea Isle City, post Hurricane Sandy. We even waxed on politics, trying unsuccessfully to Trump each other. We also discussed the merits of the “everything” bagel (despite the above O. Henry quote), and how to brew the perfect cup of tea… it’s not as easy as you think!

We may have gossipped a little. Yes… it was you we were talking about!

ConverseOn Sunday morning I got up early – as usual – figuring I would go to the living room and read. Christine had the same idea… I found her enjoying a cup of coffee and her open book. We are both reading the new novel by Harper Lee, but neither of us cracked it open. Instead we discussed that story, her first novel, the characters, etc. That led us to grander topics like racism, and the preference of e-readers to actual paper books. It was a hour of great conversation and coffee… we talked about coffee too!!! Good craic, with a fine Irish lassie.

Needless to say, it was fine weekend… one I hope to repeat with these folks and many others. As much as possible. As a wise philosopher once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” I have many distractions these days, so many balls in the air. More often than not, it’s a good idea to slow down the pace of your world and just talk. And listen. The setting doesn’t matter… just enjoy the company.

A Damn Good Week

14 03 2015

_DSC0027This had all the makings of a shitty week.

I departed last Monday on a four-day road trip for work, driving south for meetings with six customers in Virginia. As I’ve gotten older, I dread trips like these… three different hotels in three nights, lots of car time and traffic. I don’t sleep well in hotels, and too much crappy restaurant food gets old.

People who don’t travel for business on a regular basis think it is glamorous and fun, and sometimes it can be. And I am grateful for the benefits – hotel points and frequent flier miles. I don’t complain much because I’ve been fortunate to travel all over the world and experience great things. This week was a good one…

Any trip through Virginia gives me the opportunity to visit with an old friend. Mike and I grew up on the same street, but really didn’t become friends until the summer before seventh grade. In those days, young kids didn’t wander far from home, and Mike’s house around the corner might as well have been ten miles away. His home atmosphere was much different from my conservative household, and his family had the perfect combination of cute sisters and a younger brother we could pick on together. So I spent a lot of time there. newspaper_readersCritical to the development of our friendship was our mutual discovery of the girls our age blossoming during that summer. It was a magical time…

We went in separate directions after high school, but remained in contact. I was an usher for his wedding, and he was for mine. We started families within months of each other. When Mike and his family moved to Virginia, they welcomed us for numerous visits. We usually talk on each other’s birthday – much easier for him to remember because his daughter was born on mine. And since his wife and I are Facebook freakazoids, we keep up with all of the family news.

Dinner with Mike this week was great as usual, cranking out multiple laughs and stories. We caught each other up on our kids, Philly sports, and our friends from back in the day. We had a good chuckle that we were both sporting Rite Aid bought 3x reading glasses. And we had a cathartic chat about our childhood friend Pudge, who passed away a couple of months ago.

IMG_2446We also talked about his Mom, who is now experiencing early stages of dementia. Marilyn has been living near Mike in Virginia for years now, and has entered an assisted living community as her condition has grown worse. Growing up, she was like a second Mom to me. She remains someone I admire very much. When we were young, she was very active in the community and city politics. She also worked with mentally challenged adults for many years. Most of all, she was smart and funny, and respected people – including us kids… adult behavior we were not used to in the seventies.

I was fortunate to get some free time the next day for a visit with this wonderful woman. We chatted for an hour about her life today, her family, and the old days back in Philly. She was pretty sharp for most of the conversation, but I could see her struggle a bit staying focused on her thoughts. And she did repeat herself a few times. But she remembered who I was through the entire hour, and I think the conversation made her happy that morning. It did much more for me.

Both of those visits gave me the energy and positive vibes to power through the rest of my grueling trip. It also gave me a lot of stuff to think about, some items to mentally organize… families, friends, neighborhoods, kids, life, mortality, priorities… just to name a few.

My business trip was a success, but the real wins were measured in conversations, smiles and laughs. We all scored well.

It was a damn good week. Can’t wait to do it again.

B-Musings – Simple Minds Edition

30 12 2014

“B-Musings”… sharing random blurbiage and ping-pong balls rattling around my dome.  And a small homage to 80’s New Wave in my last post of 2014.

DoryDon’t You (Forget About Me) – On March 8th of this year, a Boeing 777-200ER airplane carrying 239 passengers and crew disappeared without a trace less than an hour after take-off from Kuala Lampur International Airport in Malaysia. Ten months later, investigators still have no clue where the plane could be or what happened. It is stunning that, given the technology we possess, a 209 foot long aircraft weighing over 304,000 pounds cannot be found. More stunning is that the entire incident is gone from our minds. Be honest!! You had completely forgotten until the AirAsia flight did the same disappearing act earlier this week.

It’s a misconception that “you can never have too much of a good thing”. The continual bombardment of information and media is finally causing sensory overload! I guess we have too many other things to think and talk about – work, family, racial unrest, the sad state of your favorite sports teams, or last night’s episode of Real Housewives of Boise.

Are we at cranial capacity? The answer is a resounding “Yes!” But don’t worry… I googled the words “information” and “overload”, and found thousands of websites!

Eagles-fans-paper-bagsGlittering Prize – Speaking of the sad state of sports… CODE BLUE, PHILADELPHIA!! Get the paddles out!! The Phillies are beginning a garage sale, the Flyers are the poster boys for inconsistency, the Sixers are in the dumper, and my Union is starting over for the third time in five years. It’s clear now that hopes for Eagles success is a mirage – Damn you, Chip Kelly for getting our hopes up with your dynamic offense!

So it will be a long wait for a trophy in Philly, fair weather fans. My hat is doffed to those that don’t jump off the bandwagon, supporting their teams in good times and bad. You few, you know who you are…

Alive and Kicking – Speaking of the Real Housewives… has television ever been better? (You may need to take a few minutes to recover from that sentence… but stay with me.) I watch a lot of TV, but I only have a few shows that I watch regularly. Most of my viewing time is spent on sports, soccer in particular. Lately, I’ve been checking out new programs recommended by friends… State of Affairs, Madame Secretary, House of Cards and others. Because of a recent deal with the devil (*cough* Comcast) I now have HBO and Showtime. So I’ve been binge watching some shows over the holidays – Homeland, True Detective, Silicon Valley, etc. This got me thinking about the quality of television these days. Again I ask… has television ever been better? I can’t remember a time when there were so many outstanding programs to choose from – more than anyone has time to watch.

TVYinYangBut Lucy and Ricky can relax… it’s not exactly the Golden Age of Television revisited. The yin to this yang resides in places like the Bravo network, and with the Kardashians, the Real Housewives franchises and the bottom feeding Honey Boo Boo! It was recently pointed out to me that mindless programs are sometimes needed in this world. After a tough day of work and the minute to minute inundation of information, it may be therapeutic to switch off and watch Bruce Jenner spiralling towards womanhood. And after two minutes of the Real Housewives of New Jersey, I do feel sooooo much better about myself.

The Chinese philosophy of opposite forces actually being complimentary may apply – like light causing shadows to exist. Is television excellence is balanced by shit reality programming? I’ll buy that for a dollar!

Sanctify Yourself – Speaking of unrest… I was sitting in my office early this morning playing shuffled songs from my iTunes list. “Sanctify Yourself” by the Simple Minds came on, and listening to the lyrics inspired me and helped add some much-needed order to this blog post. The 1985 song is about taking responsibility for your actions, and being positive in the things you put forth into the world.

What a fine message, given what is going on in our world today…

“Is this the age of the thunder and rage?
Can you feel the ground move ’round your feet?
If you take one step closer, it’ll lead to another.
The crossroad above is where we meet.
I shout out for shelter, I need you for something.
The whole world is out, they’re all on the street.
Control yourself, love is all you need.
Control yourself, in your eyes.
Sanctify yourself!”

Sanctify each other in 2015. Happy New Year to all… Peace and Love. Enjoy the music…


Ode To Joey

14 06 2014

Dad 01Tomorrow is Father’s Day. One year ago, I wrote a post about how celebrations like it can get lost among all of the other “fake” holidays on the calendar. I also noted how much I really like the Father’s Day, and how much more special it was with my Dad after I had children of my own.

I think about my Dad all the time, and he’s been on my mind more frequently leading up to this weekend. I wanted to write about him, and share some of my memories,. But as I started to gather my thoughts it all seemed eerily familiar. Deja vu all over again? Then it hit me… I’ve written this post many years ago.

One of the most difficult things I’ve done in my life was eulogize my Father. It was a sorrowful, yet exhilarating process. I relived some of that this morning as I sat in my living room reading it… bawling my eyes out.

By the time my Dad passed in March 2009, I had become a eulogy veteran. First Mom, then my Aunt… both in 2004. I also reread those two speeches this morning… more bawling! But after reading my Dad’s, it occurred to me that I was going to say anything more – or say it any better – than I did that day five years ago. So I’m going to “steal” from myself.

Some thoughts about my Dad…

I would like to start my speech by going over my Dad’s various nicknames. There is Joe, of course. Joey. Yukon Joe. Daddy Joe. Pop. Pop-Pop Joe. And Jello… my cousin Karen gave him that one. When I moved out and left him with a house full of women, some called him St. Joe. Only one person that I know of called him Joseph, and that was our pastor, Father Dunleavy. I referred to him by a few of those names, but I mostly called him Dad. And to anyone who would listen, I also called him the nicest guy in the world.

This week my sisters and I have been flooded with accolades and stories about my Dad. Almost all of them contained that word – nice. To quote a few… “He was such a nice man.” “The nicest person I ever met.” “He was so nice to me”. A former neighbor called him “the nicest person on Bandon Drive”. I’m sure she meant no offense to anyone of the other neighbors.

In all of my years with Dad, I have never heard him say a bad thing about anyone. Not once. I’m sure you will agree that this is an incredible feat.

Dad 02When we were growing up, my Dad worked two jobs – mostly to keep us in Catholic school. Throughout our childhood, Mom ran the home and Dad was the silent provider. When I was 15 years old, Dad got me a part time job at the Four Chefs Caterers in Mayfair where he worked that second job. It was great to have that extra connection with him, experiences that only he and I shared. I think I worked there for three years or so. Dad had worked there since I was very young, and a couple of years after I left. Looking back I realize how hard that must have been – working 15 hour days three times a week, and most Sundays. In later years I would often say how I missed some of the traditional Father/Son time. But he did it for his family, he sacrificed for us – without question or hesitation.

My Dad was simple man. He worked hard, and delighted in the time he spent with his family. “Ah Family, that’s what it’s all about.” That was one of my Dad’s favorite phrases. When he was getting therapy after the strokes, the therapists would ask me what hobbies or interests he had. His favorite things in the world were his children and his grandchildren. He would rather have a conversation than read a book. He would rather have a laugh with you, and sometimes a cry. He would rather do something for you, than do anything for himself. His favorite thing was just being there in the room, while all around him the chaos of grandchildren would reign. In the middle of it all was Dad, sitting and smiling.

Another of his phrases was “God bless us”. That was usually reserved for when technology was placed before him. Like cable TV versus 3, 6, and 10. Or the microwave that he seldom used. Or the VCR that he never used. He delighted that he had an answering machine after my Mom passed away. I remember showing him my digital camera and explaining that I just looked at the pictures now on my computer or iPod, instead of prints. He would just shake his head and say “God Bless Us”.

He would really enjoy the computer technology that allowed me to print the font on these pages so big that I don’t have to use my reading glasses – what he called his “cheaters”.

Dad 04When cable TV did come to the Langan house, it awakened Dad’s other love – sports. Especially Philadelphia sports. I knew his morning routine by heart… Wake up to watch SportsCenter, listen to KYW radio while making his breakfast, then switching to Comcast SportsRise while eating. Sundays during the fall were spent at my house watching the Eagles. We would always be recapping the previous night’s Flyers games. And when he came to live at our house last April, we got to enjoy one of the finest seasons of baseball ever played in this town – together. We watched almost every game, and even got down to see one in person. As the regular season ended, Dad had another stroke, followed closely by a third a few days later. He missed the playoff run and the championship we all shared. The Phillies Word Series win was bittersweet for me because I didn’t get to experience it with my Dad.

And “so forth like that”… another of his favorite phrases connecting almost every sentence he uttered. 

Having Dad live with us was an adjustment, one we were very happy to make. His first stroke was pretty mild, so after a few weeks he was almost back to normal. Our various routines were quickly established and my sons loved having their Pop around. He was so easy to live with, and he wanted to help with more things than he was capable of. If I was going to the store, or to soccer – or anywhere – it was “Come on Dad” and off we would go. Johnny’s job was to take him for his $5.00 haircut every few weeks. He loved the Senior Citizen Discounts. Dad would delight in seeing Colin burst into the room, usually at 100 miles per hour with a pratfall at the end. He loved that he and Colin shared birthdays, but after the stroke he sometimes couldn’t remember the date. 

And the man never met a meal he didn’t like! Robin loved that about him. She would say, “Are you hungry, Dad?” His response was always, “Getting there.” An hour later came the familiar refrain, “Robin, THAT was delicious!!” But Dad’s best friend in our house was Stan, our dog. They were already buddies before he moved in, and now they were daytime companions. Dad loved to give the belly rubs, and Stan loved to get them. And his frequent walks on our street introduced him to more neighbors than I know.  Some of them probably considered him the “nicest guy on Orion Road”.

Dad 03Last September we all enjoyed Irish Weekend in Wildwood. That weekend produced the YouTube sensation Dad Dancing video (below)… the best laugh you will ever have. One night, Dad and I decided to forego the boardwalk and slip into a bar to watch the Phillies. It was the best of times, and it was also the last drink we had together.

And “so forth like that”… A few days later he was back in the hospital, felled by the first of a series of strokes that eventually brought us to this day. It was only five months ago but it seemed much longer at the time.

Along the way there were many hard days and nights. But in this time I discovered that our family is so strong. My sisters and I have the best and most supportive spouses, and our children make us proud… most days. But I would like to thank several people that helped me through these difficult times.  Bob and Rita Kiessling, Dad’s neighbors for over 40 years – who he missed so much. And all of the neighbors on Bandon Drive who kept him in their thoughts and prayers. My coworkers and friends at Penn Emblem supported me, and granted me the support and flexibility to take care of the things that needed to be done. And if you ever have to go through something like this yourself, seek advice from people who are experienced. I thank God for Marie Gallagher who helped me tremendously, and never told me what a pain in the butt I must have been.

And when it came time for Dad to leave us, we were so lucky to have the staff at the hospice floor at Saint Joseph’s Manor. All of us were there, supported by family members and friends, Dave Carr, Rose Poretti, Chris and Bob Taylor, Helene Borell, and Sandy Bickel and Richard Saunders. For the rest of my life I won’t forget my cousin Joanne Langan stopping in around midnight on Saturday… to say good-bye to Uncle Joe.

Thanks to you all.  “And so forth and so on”…

Forever, when I think of my Dad I will remember his laugh and the smile that never left his face. I’ll never again experience the big greeting I got when we saw each other. But what I will miss most is the sense of peace that he had – very calming to all around him. I won’t be able to watch a Phillies game without thinking about him. And I’ll also remember this past week, last night and today.  When all of his friends and relatives told me what I already knew – that my Dad was the nicest guy in the world.

“Family… That’s what it’s all about.”

That’s what I said five years ago, with a some changes because I’m a bit of an editing nut these days. I have nothing to add, other than I miss him very much.

Happy Father’s Day, Joey.

Glance Links – April 2014

28 04 2014









Just some stuff that caught my eye recently, and might help you in your marketing efforts! If you have any that you would like to pass on to me… hit me up!

Internet-Addiction-Social-MediaSocial Media For Increased Mental Health – Many thanks to Chuck Hall from SoMeBizLife for sharing this article that examines the positive and negative effects of social media, specifically Facebook. Chuck used this article as a discussion point in a recent seminar, and I’m sure it really got the conversation off and running. What are your thoughts?

Some Thoughts on the Imminent Demise of Google+ – Three words… “It ain’t happening!” I’ve recently been beating the streets about the wonders of this platform, which I think is extremely worthwhile for the search boost alone. The recent resignation announcement of Google+ champion Vic Gundotra has set the interwebs abuzz with panic. Two of my purple haired friends (not saying I have many), Lynette Young and Cecily Kellogg, recently shared how fantastic articles on the subject. The common theme is DON’T PANIC. Here are the two articles they shared:

The Power of FailingWhat do the world’s greatest entrepreneurs have in common? The courage to fail. Checkout this article and discover why failure is the ultimate driving force behind genius.

failingThe Experts Speak – The most common question I hear from small businesses interested in social media is, “Where do I start?” Here is some great information from the email marketing site, Constant Contact… 50 Expert Tips for Getting Started in Social Media. It’s cool that I know some of these people, including one of the aforementioned purple haired friends

Spring has sprung. May it bring to you many exciting ideas… JL

It’s A Mugs Game

20 03 2014
Sculpture created by Tsang Cheung Shing - Hong Kong.

Sculpture created by Tsang Cheung Shing – Hong Kong.

“I like coffee because it gives me the illusion that I might be awake.” ~ Lewis Black

I consider myself to be a nouveau coffee drinker. I’m not sure there is such a classification, but as I’ve only been drinking this sweet elixir for about nine years I think it is appropriate.

Growing up in a house with a Mother and Aunt direct from Ireland made me a tea drinker. (Not a teetotaler… maybe that’s a subject for future blog post?) There are strict rules about making tea. We only used Tetley tea bags, you filled the mug to the very top, and you had to boil the water for a good five minutes after the whistle started wailing. Milk, not cream. Sugar, not honey… or artificial sweetener – GOD FORBID!! Everyone in our house was close friends with a “good cup a’tay”!

Every once in a while my Mom would have a Folger’s Instant coffee. Knowing nothing about coffee even I could see this was nasty, but it was easy to make and smelled good. As I got older, my friends started drinking coffee regularly and I steadfastly remained loyal to my tea. The coffee clouds really started storming around me when I started business travelling. Everyone I met was a coffee freak. People really seemed to be enjoying this experience, and I really liked the aroma of coffee in the morning. I started to think I was missing out on something.

One day I decided, I was going be hip and drink coffee. I set out on this task at a hotel restaurant in some god-forsaken town, and immediately applied all of my vast tea-making experience – milk, and one spoonful of sugar. How hard can this be? This was it! I’m going to be a coffee drinker.

“A vile concoction!! Why the hell do you people drink this poison?!”, I screamed to the world.

But I was not deterred. Over the next few months I asked questions and experimented. I discovered that there were endless variations, brands and preparations. But me being me, I ended up with the simplest of combinations – black with Equal. Or, as we “coffee people” call it – the yellow stuff. And I drink only one cup a day, over a few hours. I get great exercise walking back and forth to the microwave…

I like to say that I’m a simple man, delighting in the small things in life. I will continue to snort derisively at the Starbuck’s snobs ordering “venti, one pump caramel, one pump white mocha, two scoops vanilla bean powder, extra ice frappuchino with two shots poured over the top – apagotto style – with caramel drizzle under and on top of the whipped cream, double cupped!” I don’t know what I just typed! I’ll always make fun because I seriously doubt I will ever make coffee drinking that complicated.

But you never know. While in France last year I discovered the wonder of espresso, and now I regularly drink caramel flavored coffee at work.

Yep… I’m a bad ass. Who wants to join this wild man for a Cup of Joe?!

Get Acquainted

5 03 2014


“Surround yourself with creative people. Dammit…” ~ Epitaph of John J. Langan  (1960-2060)

In October 2007, when filling out my Facebook profile for the first time, and with my tongue firmly in cheek, I stated that my Political Views were “Conservative, But Willing to Learn”.

I was quite the joker six and half years ago…

I’ve had a bit of a journey since then, especially in the last couple of years. Nothing earth shattering and don’t get me wrong – I’m still the brash, opinionated asshole that my family and friends have come to know and love. But over these years I’ve left my mind open to new ideas that have certainly changed me. Most of the credit goes to my sons, who are more open than I ever was at their ages. It must be a generational thing. And I’ve been shaped by my friends… who are in greater numbers because of social media and a conscious decision to allow time for them.

More friends? That used to be my question. “Why do I need more friends when I don’t have time for the ones I want to see?” What a stupid thing to say…  In the past few years I have discovered such richness and variety of life because I have opened myself to more people. Not everyone can be your close friend, but I no longer place any limits on acquaintances. I’ve been fortunate to have travelled to many places in the world, but lately I’ve been more interested in meeting people and hearing their thoughts. “Where” doesn’t matter, it’s the moment that counts.

Opening yourself to new thoughts can’t help but change you. I’ve altered my thinking on so many things in the past few years… from conservative to liberal (maybe not all the way). Simple things like not keeping score in youth sports so we can teach the fundamentals, to stricter gun control laws, to gay rights, and for god’s sake… Let’s make love, not war! Take care of your fellow man, man…

And there are life lessons… In the past couple of years quite a few people I know have passed on. Some were acquaintances, some slightly more than that, and some were family and friends that I loved very dearly. It happens that we all go through stretches of attending funerals. That’s life, and we have no choice but to accept it. Loss, like any experience, shapes and changes you. And it creates a void that must be filled with new experience. With people!

562187_10150691436993494_214597061_nMy mantra is “Surround yourself with creative people.” Seek them out… lots of them. Interact! For this, quantity beats quality.

I can’t predict how much time I have left on this earth, but I do know that the bulk of my time is behind me. I’m sure my sons are shuddering at the thought of their 104 year-old Dad passing gas in their living room. I still want to travel and experience things and events, but going forward the true richness of life will be with my family and friends. And lots of acquaintances!

And that’s living, my friends…