Beach Therapy

In my stress relief practices, one of the major things I recommend is to take a trip for yourself, no matter how near or far. This summer, I had made a promise to myself that before the end of August, I’d take a trip to Orchard Beach in The Bronx. Sure enough, Saturday of Labor Day Weekend, I was able to keep that promise.

After taking care of a few personal tasks in the early part of that Saturday, I made my way to the Bx12 local, the main bus line to take to Orchard Beach in the summer. After Labor Day weekend, the bus lines to that beach are discontinued until Memorial Day the following year, so it was my last opportunity to get there this year. Thankfully, I made it to the bus with plenty of time to spare.

The bus ride was unusually dreamlike, with little to no traffic, which is unusual for a holiday weekend. The feeling of pulling up to the beach entrance was a feeling of joy and relief, making it there with 3 hours until closing. I walked through the paved path through the trees, and when I saw the spread of the beach, it was as if I had found a paradise a stone’s throw from the city.

After grabbing a hot dog and a bottled water, I started my walk along the paved path beside the beach, admiring the view of the Long Island Sound as it stretched toward the ocean. I couldn’t help but snap picture after picture of the seagulls as they flew over my head. The further I walked, the less crowded the beach became.

Soon, I found myself compelled to walk on the sand, keeping my sneakers on, and walking as carefully as possible to reduce how much sand could seep into my shoes. It felt good to walk on the beach, feeling the coolness of the wind on my face, the smell of the salt water. I ended up walking so far down the beach, I had made it to the edge.

This was my first time climbing the rocks at the edge of Orchard Beach. I could see the yachts and other boats sailing down the ocean water, the jet skis zooming towards the land. The calm ripple of the ocean waves were so calming, I had to close my eyes and listen. When I slowly opened my eyes, I couldn’t help but look into the distance to my left. I saw two small islands, the Twin Islands, out in the distance. I had to get a closer look.

I found a small, sandy path just beyond the end of the paved walkway, and as I walked that path, I could see a small group of people along the rocky edge. A lone fisherman, a father and son fishing together, two men drinking beers and laughing, and a woman looking off in the distance. Just past the lone fisherman, I could see the Twin Islands perfectly. It was the first time in my life I had seen them. So many people have been to this beach, but so few of them have ever heard of the Twin Islands, let alone seen them. As I snapped pictures, the lone fisherman gave me a thumbs up. Funny thing is, I didn’t notice until days later as I showed my pictures to my co-workers.

As I made my way back to the main entrance, I looked up, and I could see a small rainbow peeking through the clouds. I looked around, and no one else noticed it but me. It was a solitary and special moment as I made my long trek back to the bus, a way to end my trip that I can never forget.

Sitting on the bus as I made my way back to the hectic mayhem of the city, one repeating thought dwelled in my mind: It’s amazing what beauty awaits us if we’re willing to push further beyond the roads paved for us.

Make A Difference in Someone’s Life

Last Friday marked one year since my grandmother passed away. I should have been sad, but for some reason, an aura of positivity washed over me, as if she were embracing me with goodness. Every time I wanted to feel sad, I not only felt joy, but wanted to motivate others to feel that joy too. Thankfully, when you’re a direct care worker, there’s ample opportunity to spread positivity to your consumers. Little things such as listening to their day, playing darts with them, even doing a corny impersonation of The Swedish Chef from The Muppets was all that was needed to brighten up what could have been a downward day for any of them.

I learned a lot about spreading kindness from my grandmother. She was one of the most welcoming, warm, loving and caring people I knew in my life. From an early age, she instilled in me the value of being kind to others. She was the kind of woman who would be a mother figure to children who weren’t her own. Everyone from neighborhood kids to my cousins’ friends referred to her as “Nana”. Her kindness and guidance was the backbone of so many in her community. When my family held her memorial service days after her passing, it was standing room only. My grandma wasn’t a famous celebrity, but her kindness was the kind of thing that brings people together. Anyone who’s been to her summer barbecues can vouch for that.

I invite you to do something to make a difference in someone’s life. It could be as simple as offering your seat to someone on the bus, inviting an old friend to hang out, or even lending an open ear to someone who’s feeling like they’re had the worst day ever. You can decide how you want to spread positivity in this world, but the most important thing is that you’ve made a difference in someone’s life, no matter how big or small. That’s what I learned from my grandma.

5 Life Lessons Learned from Watching The Avengers

Okay, by now, we’ve all seen Marvel’s The Avengers at least once, whether we saw it on opening weekend in 3D or streamed it on Netflix on a quiet Saturday night with nothing to do.  We all rooted for Iron Man and Capain America to kick Loki’s ass, we’ve all lept for joy watching Thor duke it out with The Hulk, and we all counted how many pop references came out of Tony Stark’s mouth.  Or, am I the only one who did that? Anyway, we’ve all enjoyed watching The Avengers as an action movie, but have you ever noticed the subtle life lessons watching this great superhero movie? Every action movie for the most part has some hidden life lesson in it. Terminator 2? Humanity can be a wonderful thing (and so can blowing up stuff). First Blood? Respect our veterans, or they’ll kick your ass. 300? Even if the odds are against you, take a stand…with your shirt off.  With all that being said, what life lessons did we learn from The Avengers? Let’s take a look:

1.  Never Underestimate The Quiet One

With this lesson, we’ll look at our favorite modern Dr.Jeckyll, Dr.Bruce Banner. We all know the consequences of making him angry (namely, he turns into a 10-foot, muscle-bound, not-so-jolly green giant.) But even before that transformation hits, he’s still formidable, not just in intellect, but when it comes to his emotions. For most of the movie, he appears to be timid, withdrawn, and focused on getting his work done. However, at the halfway point of the movie, before an explosion makes Dr. Banner “Hulk out”, Banner reveals to the crew that he had actually tried to kill himself by shooting himself in the mouth, only to have the Hulk spit it out. His temper and frustration in the scene is basically on the razor’s edge. Even if Banner didn’t have the Hulk inside him, imagine how much rage he holds back.
Dr. Banner is the archtype of the seemingly quiet, mild-mannered person we encounter on a daily basis. We’re usually quick to judge him or her as weak-willed or timid, the type who wouldn’t put up a fight if their life depended on it. But most of the time, it’s the timid one who’s a ticking time bomb. Quiet people who hold their frustrations are no different than Bruce Banner, only their big green monster isn’t a 10-foot giant who can smash the bad guys. Have you ever seen the quiet person at work all of a sudden smash a computer monitor or kick the living crap out of a fax machine because of all days, that particular day was the straw that broke the camel’s back? Or have you seen someone who was bullied all of a sudden smash that bully’s face in because they’ve had enough? If those people had the dilemma of Dr. Banner, the world would be smashed to bits by a global population of “Hulks”. Now THAT would give “World War Hulk” a whole new meaning. Keep that in mind, and be nice to that quiet guy who everyone picks on.

2. Feeling Lonely? Get Active

Yeah, this may sound a bit more simple than it should, but hey, it worked for Captain America. At the start of the movie, Captain America is a thawed out WWII soldier out of his element, or, as Loki would put it, “A man out of time.” Everyone he had cared about was either dead or dying, and here he is, a pristine specimen of an individual in a future time where almost everything is alien to him. He’s basically Rip Van Winkle on steroids. At first, he spends his days pounding his frustrations away on a boxing bag or two (or seven), but when Col. Nick Fury hands him the news of the Tesseract, he’s basically giving Cap a form of therapy that he really needed: he got him back into action. Whether he was trading blows with Loki or saving New York City from an alien invasion, Cap was completely in his element. By the time Captain America: The Winter Soldier takes place, he’s too busy saving the world to be lonely. Well, at least until he visits that Captain America museum.
In reality, getting active is a great way to escape the blues of feelings of loneliness. People who have trouble meeting people join social meetup groups all the time. Bonus points if it’s a physical activity, since an active body keeps the mind busy. So, if you’re feeling lonely, join a jogging or cycling group. Sign up for an aerobics class.  Join a boxing gym or a dojo. You’ll not only be doing your body a favor, but your confidence and self-esteem, and you’ll get that social interraction that you need. Not big on exercise? Join a book club or a discussion group and stimulate your mind with a few new faces. Are you a gamer? Get off of Xbox Live and join a gaming group in person, and bonus points if it’s a retro game group. Retro gamers are known for bonding over Pac-Man and Super Mario. The more active you are, the less time you’ll have to be lonely.

3. Make Your Family

Does your family treat you like crap? Blood may be thicker than water, but the right friendship can be thicker than blood. Thor’s a great example of this. We all know of Thor’s tricky bond with his conniving  brother, Loki. Even after Loki almost killed him in Thor, Thor still yearns for his mischievous brother to be by his side again. In spite of Thor’s unconditional love for him, all Loki wants to do is torment his brother by conquering or destroying anything that has meaning to him, namely, Earth.
Where Loki wants to break Thor down, The Avengers build him up once they finally work as a team. Yeah, he went blow for blow with Iron Man and got smacked around by the Hulk, but Thor found a genuine brother-in-arms with Captain America. Side by side in the Battle of New York, they forged a brotherhood thicker than blood. Is it any wonder by the time the trailer of Avengers: Age of Ultron debuted, Cap was the only one among the Avengers who could make Mjolnir budge a little? (And yes, Cap can actually lift the hammer in the comics. Let’s not forget that.)
So many of us are stuck with family members that we can do without. Dysfunctional families have existed as far back as Cain and Abel. Still, life gives us the option of building our own “family” through our circle of friends. And not just the casual buddies, the “ride or die” friends that will let you crash at their pad on a bad day, or chip in when you don’t have enough for the bridge toll, or the friend who’s mother doesn’t mind you raiding the fridge as long as you “close the damn milk carton!” These are the friends that become your family. Go out and treat them to a beer. They’re worth it.

4. There’s Always Redemption

Okay, there may not “always” be redemption, but if you seek it, it’s out there. Take Hawkeye, for example. Under Loki’s brainwashing, he was turned against his fellow S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. He shot Nick Fury, took a guy’s eye out (or so it’s implied), gave Loki sensitive S.H.I.E.L.D. information (including info on his own partner, the Black Widow), and almost single-handedly downed the helicarrier. It’s a good thing Black Widow knocked some sense into him (literally). By the time he fought alongside his fellow Avengers in the Battle of New York, all of that was water under the bridge, and he was a redeemed hero.
What can we learn from Hawkeye? No matter how bad you mess up, redemption is there if you’re willing to push for it. It doesn’t take an alien invasion to find it.   Let’s take Mike Tyson, for example. In the 90’s, all we could talk about was either his incarceration or how he bit a chunk out of Evander Hollyfield’s ear. Flash forward over a decade later, and as Tyson makes his rounds on talk shows and makes guest appearances in movies like The Hangover, we’re rooting for him as he makes his way toward a mental and emotional comeback. No matter how bad you mess up, as long as you’re breathing, there’s a chance for you to redeem yourself.

5. Shawarma Brings People Together

What was the first thing Iron Man wanted to do after his near-death experience saving the world? Get some shwarma. Not a burger, not pizza, not sushi. Shawarma. I guarantee you that before The Avengers premiered in theaters, only 2% of Americans knew what Shawarma was. Well, guess what happened after Iron Man made his declaration to try this exotic food? Shawarma spots popped up all over midtown Manhattan. Everyone was dying to try some shwarma. Shawarma stands were right alongside hot dog stands in Central Park. People that had never even tried falafel wanted shawarma! All it took was a shout out from Tony Stark! I doubt he’d have the same effect if for some reason he wanted to eat spinach, but one thing’s for sure: after The Avengers, everyone wanted shawarma.

It’s very unlikely that The Avengers set out to be a motivational movie. Not many big-budget action flicks aim to preach to you. Well, except Avatar. Or The Last Samurai. Or Minority Report. Ah, nevermind. The point is, motivation is where you find it. What’s fodder to one person is a life-changing message to another. What’s important is that once that message hits you, learn from it, and go out and live it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m in the mood for shawarma.

Skip The Middleman

One of my favorite performances by Denzel Washington is his portrayal of drug lord Frank Lucas in the 2007 film, American Gangster. I’m not keen on idolizing drug lords or glamorizing the drug trade, but a lot of things that the movie version of Frank Lucas said makes absolute sense in a business sense. Everything from dressing respectably to quality assurance is practically a how-to guide on handling your business. The one aspect that stood out the most was cutting out the middleman to get quality product. Like I said, I don’t idolize drug dealers, but anyone who’s anyone knows the hassle of dealing with the middleman, be it a retailer or an A&R at a record label you’re trying to get to sign you. (I have a lot of friends in music who dealt with that last one o a regular basis.) The middleman is the gatekeeper that’s in the way of you and your goals. Thankfully, in this information age, skipping the middleman has become easier to do, in more ways than one, and in more fields than you think.

Retail

My first experience of the benefits of skipping the middleman came in a situation we all can relate to: getting a replacement cellphone.  Less than a year ago, I had a Motorola Rambler. I had bought it in 2010, and that phone lasted me for 4 years. Sadly, one morning, I reached to turn it on, and, in a way that replays in my memory in slow motion, the Rambler fell from my nightstand and…..CRACK! Split into two. I tried re-attaching the QWERTY keypad to the screen, but it was no use. My Rambler was no more.  With a trip out of town coming up, I needed a cell phone QUICK.

That very day, I went to one of those mom-and-pop Boost Mobile stores, insisting on a phone that was under $80. They handed me a Kyocera Hydro, saying it was 80 bucks, but after tax, it was over $90 bucks. Not only that, but I was made to pay an EXTRA $30 bucks for some nonsense network change fee, so the $80 phone became a $120 phone. To make me feel even worse, not even a month after I had bought this slow-but-waterproof smartphone, I find out that the price had dropped to $50, and almost two months AFTER that, the price dropped AGAIN to $30! I felt like an absolute fool for paying what I did for a phone that was slow as molasses. To make matters worse, my Kyocera Hydro only lasted 7 months before the touch screen became non-responsive one day.  When it came time to replace it, I had two options: go to the retailer and beg for a replacement, or….skip the middleman and get what I deserve.

Rather than getting bamboozled by that retailer again, I went to Amazon.com and found not only did they have the Kyocera Hydro for $30 on there, but for five dollars more, I could get myself an LG Realm, a smartphone that was getting a lot more positive feedback than the Hydro. Eager as can be, I not only ordered the LG Realm, but I ordered it with one-day shipping, the total coming out to just over $60 aftter tax. The next day, I got my phone in the mail, and I’ve been as happy as can be wih that phone. I thanked my lucky stars I didn’t go back to that store, and I’ve never needed to step into that store ever again.

Retailers can be good for a quick fix, but to get the deal you really need, sometimes you have to skip the middleman.

The Music Industry

Once upon a time, in order for a music artist to make a living, or at least make a name for himself, he needed a record label to sign him. I remember the days when getting signed to a record label was the holy grail of “making it”. Sadly, for most artists, getting signed to a record label either meant getting turned away again and again, or, if you got signed, being at the mercy of the label’s expectations. And there were so many stories of rappers, singers, and bands getting signed to record labels and not even dropping a debut alum.

Back in the early 2000’s, when I worked in sporting goods, I had a co-worker who was getting respect as an underground rapper in the local scene.  One day, out of the blue, he quits his job, bragging that he had just gotten signed to a record label. The next week, he shows up, showing off his fresh new clothes and his Motorola two-way pager. (Yeah, this was back when those were in style, way before everyone had cell phones.) Not even a month later, rumors had it that the label had dropped him, and that he was looking for work. He even had to sell his pager. Stories like his were way too common.

Flash forward to now. Artists can now rely on the internet to gain fame and make money. Everyone from Macklemore to Childish Gambino have been able to use the internet as an outlet to get their music out there, getting millions of YouTube views and SoundCloud plays before radio stations can even blink.  Back in the day, major labels were the only way for an artist to get recognition. Now, artists can take destiny into their own hands if they’re willing to work hard enough.  Thanks to the internet, artists can skip the middleman

I could go on and on with examples both in the day-to-day and in the mainstream of people who skipped the middleman and got more out of it.  Book authors who chose to publish e-books instead of trying to pitch their product to a publisher, independent filmmakers who took their vision and made a cult classic on a shoestring budget rather than begging Hollywood for a job, t-shirt designers  who sold their merchandise out of their garages rather than begging retailers to push their clothing and became household names. Skipping the middleman could be something as small as going online to get a microphone for a decent price instead of bleeding your wallet at a downtown retailer, or something as big as drawing a graphic novel and selling it on your own site rather than begging for a job at a comic book publisher. If you want something bad enough, sometimes you have to skip the middleman and go direct.