Wednesday, April 15, 2015

An Unexpected Message from my Mom

My OCD got sick and tired of seeing the big red “347” over the Google Voice icon on my iPhone a few days ago.  Yes, that means I had 347 new messages.  Well, maybe “new” isn’t a good description for them.  Some of them were from 2011.  Clearly, I hate voicemail.

But feeling under the weather and having nothing better to do, I decided to log into my Google Voice account on a PC and undertake the arduous task of cleaning it out.  The nice thing about Voice is that it attempts to transcribe the message for you so you don’t have to actually listen to the crap. Any time I saw phrases like “trouble with my Verizon phone you sold me” or “need someone to explain my bill”, I could immediately delete.  Productivity!

Then I saw a message from Norlina P. Simmons.

A message from my mom!

I played it. It was her complaining, wondering why she bothers to leave voicemail when I never check it.  I guess she learned her lesson, since this was the last message from her, and it was mid-2014.  After that she became a texter.

But her voice—My God it was wonderful to hear her voice again. I ceased cleaning out my voicemail and instead started searching for her messages.  There were many.  She’d tell me she was sorry she “missed (my) call, but (she) was in church” or that she “wanted to know if (I) was coming over for breakfast” or if I wanted to go with Dad and her “to get a sandwich”.   I listened to every single one, all the way back to when I started using Google for voicemail, back in ’11.

As I was going through them all, I noticed something.  I hadn’t heard the words “I love you”.  Mom and I had no qualms saying this to each other—in fact we said it a lot—but I guess it wasn’t something we did much in voicemail. 

I kept playing message after message.  I desperately wanted to hear it.  Finally, I played a message from April 18th, 2012.  It ended with:

“…checked my phone and there you are! You called me. Okay, you’re okay. Love you! Bye.”

And, that’s when the waterworks started.  It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever heard.

Shit. Why do I write this crap?  It’s starting again.

Okay, the point of this essay isn’t to get all sappy.  The point is this: That message was a somewhat random voicemail where my mom was worried about me because (I guess) we hadn’t been in touch.  At the end, she told me she loved me to end the message, and probably didn’t think much about it after hanging up.  And now it’s the most important recording I have, and I plan on keeping it the rest of my life. 


Okay, THAT wasn’t the point either.  That was what happened.  THIS is the point: Tell your loved ones you love them.  All the time. Every time. Any time you think of it. Because you never know if that random “I love you” will be the last one you ever have to ability to give.  Or receive. 

I love you too, Mom.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

My Mom, My Hero

When I was a Verizon rep in Florida, every once in a while another rep would catch me at my desk without a customer, seemingly doing nothing, with a big smile on my face.

"Dude, why are you smiling?" He asked once.

"No reason. Just to smile I guess."

"Well, you look like a serial killer. Stop."

My smile turned into a laugh, then back to a smile. I never really put that much thought into it. Sometimes I just smile.

In retrospect, I guess I now know where I got it from. My mom always smiled. She was perpetually happy. I'll never forget being at my parents' house one day at dinner when she just blurted out, "I'm so happy with my life". It was entirely genuine. There was no one in the world happier than her.

The crazy thing was, she had so many reasons to deny herself happiness. She never experienced having wealth. Even before the cancer, her body was ravaged with rheumatoid arthritis, osteo-arthritis, and some disease that prevented her body from producing any moisture. She also had an artificial shoulder and her hands were starting to become deformed.

Mother was in constant pain, but honestly, us loved ones always forgot about it because she NEVER talked about it. She never complained. And despite her crippling handicaps, she'd keep on volunteering, keep on making cakes and candies, and keep on smiling.

Check out these two pictures:


In the first, Mom is in the Cancer Center getting her chemo...smiling away. In the second--damn this hurts--this was the last picture ever taken of her. A few hours later she left on an ambulance ride she would never come home from. At this point the Cancer Center had told her her body was too weak for chemo. Every part of her ached, and she was only walking because her rehab specialist was trying to keep her muscles from atrophying. It's a blurry picture and hard to tell, but you know what you see when you zoom in?

A big smile.

I think Mom figured out two things that most people never do:

1. Happiness really is a choice. You can choose to be miserable, you can choose to be stressed, and you can choose to be dissatisfied. But my mom chose to feel happy and fulfilled.

2. At no time in life do you receive more happiness than when you give happiness. I already knew that Mom volunteered at LifeLine, a charity that supports single mothers, sang choir at the bedside of patients in hospice, gave away cakes and candies, et cetera. But since her passing I've learned DOZENS of stories of her giving her time, energy and love to others that I had no idea about.

Which explains the absolute FLOOD of people that came to her house to help her and Dad out in any way possible. So many people loved her because she loved so many people.

And that is where she got all her happiness.

As I said in her eulogy, the way I plan on honoring my mom is by living my life like hers: giving of myself. And in fact, it's not really work. It's all reward.

Because all the love you give, you get back tenfold.

I love you, Mom.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Mom and Dad (and Cell Phones)

Mom was in the passenger seat of Dad’s pickup truck.  She was playing with her brand new BlackBerry while Dad was driving.

“Great,” he said sarcastically.  “Now you’re going to become one of those damn ‘BlackBerry Zombies’.”

To this day, Dad hates cell phones, and only has a little flip phone because I got him one and made him promise to always leave it on.  That wasn’t the easiest rule to negotiate because the only thing he hates more than cell phones is actually answering calls on cell phones.  Mom, on the other hand, not only liked them, but seemed to have a knack for them.  I noticed her storing appointments and reminders on flip phones, which I thought nobody did.  This is why I got her the BlackBerry.

“No I won’t,” she responded.  “I’m just replying to some email.”

“You’ve been on that damn thing for half an hour.”

“Just a few more minutes.”

Dad stewed in the driver’s seat.  If he could keep his cell phone in his pocket while out with his spouse, he didn’t see why she couldn’t.  Whatever.

“Okay, okay, I’m done,” Mom said, after noticing my dad’s bitterness.  She put the BlackBerry in her purse.  

“Good.  I hate all this new technology.  I’d like to be able to enjoy just one damn day without it.”

Just then, his cell phone rang.

“Aw, SON OF A BITCH! Who the hell is calling now?!?”  He started to undo his seatbelt.

“Honey, be careful,” said Mom.

Dad, who’s a little heavy in the midsection, really struggled to get to the phone in his front pocket while it continued to ring. “DAMMIT this is why I hate these things!”

“Maybe you should pull over.”

“I can get it!”

After a few more curse words, he finally pulled the phone out of his pocket and flipped it open.

It said “Norlina”.

Mom purse-dialed him.


After a second of silence, Mom erupted with laughter.  It took a few more seconds, but Dad eventually joined her.  

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Should I be Fired?

“My son just wants to take a look at iPhones,” said a middle-aged woman who hurriedly walked in our store on the Upper West Side. She wore very expensive clothing and was talking on her cell phone. She gestured at me to go away. Over-entitled Upper West Side bitch.

I turned to the boy. He was about 17, also well-attired, but not wearing it well. He was overweight, had thick glasses, and was all wrinkled. “The iPhones are right over--”

“I know where they are,” he interrupted and brushed past me. He immediately started touching all the app icons on our demo iPhone.

“Where's the big one? The iPhone 6 Plus?”

“We don't have a demo of the Plus,” I responded. “But if you want to know the size, this is the case for it.”

“What kind of store doesn't have a demo of the Plus?!? How am I supposed to decide on a phone I can't try out!?! This is ridiculous. This store is stupid.” He looked at me with detest.

I hit him with a left hook right in the gut. He grunted as the force caused him to bend slightly forward, which was unfortunate for him as it made it easier for me to connect with a followup right uppercut to the jaw. The punk literally flew into the iPhone display, which got knocked off the shelf. He slammed against the wall and slumped down to the floor. OtterBox cases and car chargers rained down upon him as he lay on the ground, groaning, with his bloodied face.

“Is it the same price here as online?” He asked.

Startled, I snapped out of my fantasy. “Yeah, Apple controls their pricing. iPhones are always the same cost no matter where you buy them.”

“Good,” he said, still playing with the iPhone. “I already ordered mine online. I just wanted to play with this one.”

“You already ordered it?!? YOU'RE WASTING MY TIME FUCKING WITH STORE iPHONES WHEN YOU ALREADY ORDERED THE PIECE OF SHIT ONLINE?!? COME HERE YOU OVERENTITLED TWERP!” I quickly put him in a headlock. “YOU WANT TO SEE AN iPHONE?!?! HERE'S A GODDAMN iPHONE!!” I started smashing his fat face into the iPhone display.

“What are you doing?!?” His mom shouted. I reached for an iPad with my free hand and quickly flung it, frisbee-style at the mom, knocking her in the forehead. She fell to the ground. The contents of her Prada purse spilled out onto the floor. A bag came out marked “Two Million Dollars of Untraceable Bills that can Definitely be Stolen and You'll Totally Get Away With it and Quit Retail”.

I quit smashing the punk's face and rushed over, grabbed the money, and ran for the door. Yes! I'm free forever! I can write and perform all I want and--

“Okay, that's enough,” said the kid. “I can't wait to get my phone! MOM! I'm ready to go!”

The mother, who was still on the phone, simply turned and left, and the son followed her out the door.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Match.com Has Nothing on Me

I have a rule that I never post about my social life on the Internet. I know that may sound weird coming from someone who has no qualms sharing the most embarrassing things about his life online and onstage, but we all have to have a line, and that’s mine. It’s mainly out of respect for the other party.

But, I love this story too much to keep it to myself. So this one time, I’m making an exception.  About two and half weeks ago, I somehow managed to score a first date with a beautiful girl named Evgeniya. She had walked into my Verizon store to buy a phone charger, and I was instantly attracted. She was tall, Russian, and had a strong, lovely accent. I kept her talking, trying to figure out a non-awkward way of asking her out.

Which I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to be doing with customers.

Anyway, I chickened out. I started kicking myself. What are the chances she’d come in again? Probably nil. Then I thought: maybe I can find her on Facebook! Using the information she gave me, I found her profile and sent her a friend request.

Which I’m also pretty sure I’m not supposed to be doing with customers.

Long story short, I managed to eventually charm my way into the aforementioned date. It went well enough. I found that she owns her own business, and has lived in New York City for six years. She’s already well-established in the Big Apple. I’m currently renting a living room from a friend. I decided not to mention this. I knew I had some work to do to impress her.

The next day at work was “iPhone Day”, the first day we could sell the new iPhone 6. The store was a madhouse, flooded with Apple nerds begging for their new toy. Realizing we’d be slammed all day, our Regional Directors ordered pizzas for all of our stores. I hardly touched any. The only other rep had a couple of pieces. And the end of the day, we still had a pie and a half left.

“Do you want any of this?” asked my coworker Greg.

“No,” I replied.

“I guess I’ll throw it out, then.”

“No, don’t waste it. Give it to me, I’ll find some homeless guy to give it to.”

Greg looked at me weirdly. “You’re going to go wander around Astoria looking for a homeless dude?”

“It’s New York City,” I said. “It won’t take long.”

“Be careful, man. Seriously.”

I left the store with the pizza, and honestly had no idea where to go. You see homeless guys in NYC all the time, but how the hell do you intentionally find one? As predicted though, I didn’t have to walk very far. Strolling down 30th Ave near a train station, I saw three dirty-looking guys engaging in an animated conversation in another language. I walked up to them and asked loudly, “Hey! Are you guys hungry?”

These guys were ECSTATIC. One guy grabbed the box, thanked me, and excitedly shook my hand. The second guy did the same. The third guy shook my hand and spoke in a language I couldn’t understand. All three were laughing. The third guy wouldn’t let go of my hand. He kept shaking it.

“He’s saying ‘Thank you’,” said the second guy.

The third guy kept talking. It was an awfully long ‘thank you’. I was laughing and smiling, but I also wanted my hand back. All three of them were laughing and smiling too. I was beginning to think they wanted me to hang out and watch them eat. I started feeling a little awkward. The third guy was still talking.

All of a sudden, over my shoulder, I heard: “Um, Joe?”

Hand still firmly in the third guy’s grasp, I turned and looked.

It was Evgeniya.

At this instant, these things ran through my mind:

A) There are over eight million people in New York City.

B) There are hundreds and hundreds of blocks in New York City.

C) The ONE person of those eight million that I gave a damn about making a positive impression with just walked down the ONE block I happened to be on where I’m apparently just "hanging out" with homeless people.

D) Oh, and let’s not forget that the previous night I never mentioned my accommodations.

To her credit, Evgeniya instantly recognized what was going on, and laughed. Really laughed. For fifteen solid minutes. She couldn’t even speak, she was laughing so hard. And yes, I was laughing too. I offered to walk her home.

As we were leaving, one of the homeless guys yelled out, “She’s a catch!”

I think he may be right.
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