Take A Deep Whiff

“You have to smell it. Take a deep whiff.”

Their grandfather was in his 90s. It seemed he was in his 90s for 15 years because when you’re a child age is constant. Until he passed away.

But before he passed away, he was in his 90s and lived with them, C & B (initials for privacy), our friends.

We grew up on the end of a dead end street in Illinois. You could now call it a suburb of Chicago. But then it was just rural Illinois.

It was the dead end of a street with a 2-acre yard bordered by thousands of acres of woods and wetlands, streams and ponds.

It was a small neighborhood so us kids formed a gang.

(it only took 1 google search)

(it only took 1 google search)

We had a plastic urinal from their grandfather because there’s a lot of schwag that happens with an old person and a plastic urinal seemed useful. We hid it under a large spruce tree in our yard.

So my older brother and our neighbor, B, made an initiation out of it.

After lunch someone convinced someone else to stick their finger down their throat and puke into the urinal.

We ate a lot of summer sausage and cheese. What can you expect? We lived not far from the border of Wisconsin. And so it began.

“Take a deep whiff.”

I was the first after my older brother and B initiated themselves.

I whiffed. But it wasn’t bad at first.

You’d hold the handle, pop the yellow lid with your thumb and stick your nose to the edge. At first it required the help of a finger in the back of the throat because the smell wasn’t horrible yet, but you could visually identify sausage rinds and cheese curds if you looked closely, so the visual and the finger kickstarted the gag reflex.

I puked. They cheered. We passed the urinal in a circle for a second round.

We puked, laughed and cheered.

It was fun.

The next day it was worse.

It smelled of ripe meat and rotten cheese mixed with fermented fruit. Enough to trigger the gag reflex, no finger required.

We invited friends over.

It grew riper as each new member’s initiation succeeded.

“Take a deep whiff.” If it didn’t happen on the first, we’d repeat “take a deeper whiff…”

Friend after friend whiffed and puked. Another kid’s reflux was added. We dry heaved and celebrated.

The yellow lid was flipped down and urinal placed back at the base of the great blue spruce.

(this is a blue spruce. perhaps the most valuable lesson of this entire post)

(this is a blue spruce and this is perhaps the only valuable piece of information in this post)

We forgot about it for awhile.

It was a hot July in Illinois. Degrees of heat = humidity in percentage.

It fermented and gestated.

Until an altercation.

Our neighbor, B, and his sister, C, notoriously fought.

She said something. They yelled at each other. They tugged and pulled.

He stuttered back and disappeared under the great blue spruce.

He emerged. Yellow lid open, urinal in hand, she wide-eyed in panic.

We dry heaved at the sight of the yellow lid, trained like Pavlov’s dogs.

His arm arced broadly. Drops, then streams, of puke and loogies and pee and maggots spewed forth.

We scattered like mice from a cat.

We arched our backs and ran, extending our bodies as far from the smell and funk as possible.

(everything was in slow motion)

(everything was in slow motion)

I’m sure we screamed. But I remember only silence and slow motion like a tranquilized Will Ferrell in “Old School.”

She ran, he chased and sprayed until it was empty.

A drop on the hand was cause for panic. A spray on the shirt drew tears.

Clothes were shed as we ran inside.

Friends raced home to shower.

The yard was abandoned to all but the lonely, dirty urinal tossed back under the great blue spruce where it sat for 3 years until receiving a proper burial in the trash.

It was an upchuck tornado and the second most disgusting memory I have of childhood. I will not recount the first.

“Take a deep whiff.”

But we all have our own urinals.

News, commercials, war, poverty, hunger, sickness, cancer, injustice, death, traffic, anger, hate, fear, drugs, slavery, and so on, and so on, and so on.

Virtual urinals people stick in our faces and tell us “take a deep whiff” because we just have to smell what they’re smelling and add to their collection of puke.

So we whiff. And with each whiff we throw up a little bit inside, filling up our urinal a little bit more. And we feel better when we share it and someone else throws up in our urinal.

Each day it ferments and gestates into something more disgusting that we hold onto until something triggers us and we pass it on, telling them “take a deep whiff.”

We’re trained like Pavlov’s dogs.

Our urinals are no longer obvious like they were then. They are anything that makes us feel worse about ourselves or our lives or our relationships, eroding our happiness.

So I’m not whiffing any more. I quit awhile ago.

I’m keeping my stomach acid where it belongs.

Digesting goodness into energy that I can use for my well being and the well being of my friends and family.

I whiff only the fruits and flowers of Maui, roses of Portland, autumn in Washington, Jasmine in Southern California, sharing it with those I love.

What would you rather whiff?

(stop and smell the flowers or the urinal. it's your choice)

(stop and smell the flowers or the urinal. it’s your choice)


How A Violent Prisoner Escaped His Prison

(if I knew what this meant, I'd have been scared)

(if I knew what this meant, I’d have been scared)

The tattoo on his leg was a shield with the initials “EK”.

“What’s your tattoo mean?” I asked.

He was a young-looking kid, no more than 21 I figured, very short blond hair, pale but not soft skin, and hazel eyes.

He didn’t tell me but google did later.

We all carry memories. I don’t know his memories, but I imagine many are violent and dark.

The movers were obviously tired, worked to the bone by the weight of the day. Thirteen dollars per hour moving memories of people they don’t know from one place to another.

Memories are heavy. They weigh us down and sometimes burn.

Some of my boxes, and the memories inside, have been closed for 8 years – since buying the condo as a corporate incentive moving to Portland from Arcata, California – and they’re hard to get rid of even though I haven’t seen them for awhile.

I hold onto them because they may one day help me remember.

Some cause tears: my grandfather’s copy of “The Indian Drum” Mom sent me after he died:

“This was one of Grandpa’s favorite books.
He read it several times and had it re-bound in the 1990s.
I thought you’d like to have it.
Love, Mom”

Others cause joy: diplomas, pictures of dreadlocks and my VW bus. Of road trips and friends in Pantones of the 1990s.


(I wish all my memories felt like this)

(I wish all my memories felt like this)

Many of my memories are in cardboard boxes in the POD container destined for my next place. But memories are expensive. They take up a lot of space. They create stress and use energy. I wish I could take all those memories and apply the Kelvin filter so they become hot July scenes of my childhood, without sunburn. And digitize them so I can walk around with them in my iPad. And transfer them instantly to people I want to know. And see theirs, too.

Like art.

(memories curated by PODS)

(my memories are curated by PODS)

Maybe I’ll ship them to an art show and call it “Container of Memories”; an installation. Maybe someone will buy it for $5Million and I’ll disappear into a coconut grove with the love of my life and we’ll lay around all day every day watching the palm fronds wave in the wind sending postcards to family members. CMYKs of green, tan, yellow, blue and Equatorial halftones in between.

When the movers were done picking the boxes from the condo I sat typing alone on the floor, like I did my first night there 8 years ago. I had more money, I had more things. I’d done more, seen more, knew more people. But what did I really have?

Fresh perspective.

Whenever I’m not feeling right. Whenever I’m feeling down, uninspired, lost, scared, hesitant, I do something. Marc Ecko calls it ACTION. I wrote it on a piece of paper in blue ink and stuck it to my refrigerator door. One letter.



Anyone can do it.

He was another example.

When I need to escape my frustration I repeat the phrase:

“Change context to change perspective”

Everything starts small.

(your ideas matter)

(change the little things and the big things will follow)

If uninspired, I change what I’m doing at that moment to find inspiration. Small things. I jump on abduzeedo.com, coolhunting, swissmisss, the next web, techcrunch, extragoodshit (NSFW)(Fred is an octagenarian and curation genius) or other sites. I take a break and write down 5 ideas for something. I go walk or run a trail. I drink a cup of coffee or eat something somewhere other than where I am. Changing people can help, too. I get rid of the ones that drag me down and keep the ones that push me up, that I pull up.


I go. Somewhere close, somewhere far, somewhere alone or with someone else.

And I watch. Silence.

If you want something new, right now, you can change your context.

(change context to change perspective)

(change context to change perspective)

EK is European Kindred. An Oregon prison gang associated with the ku klux klan and the Aryan brotherhood, and extremely violent, google told me.

“I was in a lot of trouble when I was younger. I don’t look it but I’m 30. Now I’m just a family man.”

He said he doesn’t like to think about those days. Prison, crimes, assault.

“I have a 2 year old son and a 6 year old daughter. When I look into her eyes, it’s the only thing that matters for me. I think about her all day and it makes me happy, even after 10-12 hours out here. All I want to do is go home and see my family.”

He didn’t go into detail. He said he figured he had to change after he met a girl who changed his view. He found work. He changed direction.

We’re all in our own jails. Maybe it’s a financial obligation. Maybe it’s stuff in a city you no longer live in. Maybe it’s an abusive relationship you keep relapsing into. Maybe it’s actual prison with steel  bars.

But most of our prisons aren’t made of steel. They’re made of our perspective, which is sometimes harder than steel.

You may have bars you live behind, but you have the keys, too.

The Phone Was Dead – 5 Things I Learned From September 11, 2001

(we saw this outside our office window)

We pulled up the blinds of our office window on the 23rd floor of the Chicago Board Options Exchange building as an FA18 fighter jet burned past.

All air traffic was halted. The Chicago skyline was silent except for the jets loaded with live missiles and the haze wallowing over the South Side.

We could see the pilot’s head through the cockpit canopy.

An hour earlier we arrived for work. I had moved from trading on the floor of the exchange to our office. We had the news on all day, starting at 5am.

CNN showed smoke pouring out of a hole in the tower.

The second plane hit.

We’ve all seen this 1,000, perhaps 10,000 times.

But it was different for me.

On the floor of the CBOE our pit was responsible for making markets – offering retailers and street traders prices so they could buy and sell options with us.*

Several times each day we were on the phone with traders and brokers working from the towers in New York.

(they where there on Monday, then they were gone)

We talked to Cantor Fitz every day.

They were mostly professional conversations, but during slow times there was small talk. How’s your wife? Where’s your daughter going to college? Dirty jokes were shared. Pranks were played. “We have to get drinks when you come to New York” they said.

The drinks were never gotten.

Sometimes I wonder if anyone I saw jumping from the towers on TV were the guys on the phone.

But when we saw the fighter jet blast by, a switch flipped and I knew it wasn’t an accident.

I left.

The El** in Chicago was packed with people and the one guy with a portable jogging radio (pre-twitter and smartphone) relayed the reports to our train car while everyone else was silent.

“Oh my god the second tower fell”

“The Pentagon is still burning”

“There may be other explosions”

People were crying. Cell phones weren’t working.

We were trapped in the train car alone with each other. Strangers were hugging. It’s the only time in life that I’ve been with a group of complete strangers and we looked each other in the eyes with pure empathy. Everyone cared.

It was 15 minutes on the Brown Line to Armitage in Lincoln Park, it may as well have been 15 hours.

My best friend Rich, his friend Brad and I went to Mongolian Barbecue and drank beer.

We talked about the people we knew in NY, and what was important to us.

Some of the guys in NY were lucky – missed a train, got a late breakfast, had the flu – and lived.

But we were alive, too.

I was 23 and had been trading almost 4 years. I felt old. I was stressed out all the time. I was driving up to 10 hours on weekends to get away from concrete and corn field.

I was afraid. I wasn’t happy, but uncertainty seemed scarier.

I also realized I wasn’t in control. A bomb could go off, a plane could crash, a train could derail, a zillion other things could kill me that day. I’m surprised more people don’t die by all the things that could kill us.

I told the firm partners I was moving to Oregon where there were mountains, rivers and oceans. Changing my life took me 10,000 strides closer to happiness.

I realized 5 things on September 11, 2001 but took 10 years to understand:

1. We all care – Everyone cares but we don’t extend empathy to strangers very often because we’re all fighting our daily battles. Extending empathy to a stranger once every day makes me realize there are bigger things at play than me.

2. My world is made up and I’m in control – Everything in my world is a result of my own mind and my own decisions; fear can be fought with ideas and ingenuity. Ask “how can I do this” and write down ideas. This will empower you and build your own reality the way you want it to be. Everything is an experiment.

3. I’m not in control – We can’t control others, so any day could be your last. I try to make sure the people I love know I love them, and I try not to kill anyone.

4. Happiness is a choice – Losing things can make you realize what you had and what you have left over. When I feel poor or constricted I count the bounty: there are hundreds of millions of cars on the road, food in every market and every little diner across the country. Thousands of new businesses started every day. Count the bounty.

5. Have faith – Believe in something. Believing is the first step to finding purpose in life.

At the end of the day we tend to think we’re here alone, but then something horrific happens and we realize we’re here together.

But we’re alive and we can pass the torch of those in the past by being better than we were yesterday.

To my friends and acquaintances and the families of Cantor Fitz, my thoughts are with you.

(thanks to Mr. Lutnick, Cantor Fitz has thrived since 2001)

* We made the market for UAL – United Airlines – and 10 other underlying stocks.
** The El is Chicago’s subway system. It’s short for Elevated Rail.