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Currency and Legacy

The currency of our lives is the legacy we leave thriving behind us.  It is not the what that we’ve done, it’s the who we have been in each and every moment; the lives we have touched and what we have imparted by our being.  Perhaps, it is not for us, ourselves, to mention these things.  They may flow so easily and seamlessly through us, we may be unaware.

I watched Sheila Nevins give her “last testament” on the PBS NewsHour the other evening, but she left me out!  Now, I wasn’t offended or anything, lol, quite the contrary. I would not expect to be in her last testament, at least not specifically.  Sheila, if I can be so familiar, is a towering figure at HBO and in the entertainment business as a whole.  President of HBO Documentary Films, producer of so very many documentaries and the most esteemed awards and distinctions.  Of course, she talked of none of these in her last testament.  Ms. Nevins shared the intimate experience of sitting down with her lawyer and finalizing her will, decisions on remains, organ donations and all, and then escaping into the ice cream parlor for a giant sundae, one of the joys of life.  The other exquisite joy, her son, a love she spoke of so eloquently.

So, why would she speak of me?  Well, perhaps, we are not the best people to give last testaments of ourselves, because Sheila left out some important things.  You see, I met Sheila in the late nineteen-seventies, when she was a rising executive, already quite achieved (though I knew none of that at the time), and I was a twenty-something waiter serving her breakfast many a morning at the Puffing Billy Restaurant on 86th Street and Madison Avenue in Manhattan. (Yes, I drove a taxi cab, waited tables and did a whole lot of other things in my youth, all glorious experiences.)

Sheila was quite a striking woman, and more than that, she carried an ilk, a certain regal quality, a good thing, but also creating a sort of, “keep your distance.”  And, I did, at first.  But, as weeks went by, and I shared a word with her here and there, and then conversation, I found a kind, warm and generous person, that special kind of generosity, a generosity of the soul.  On some level, I think she saw that I was a searching and struggling twenty-something, and she was encouraging, mentoring and supportive in the most subtle and meaningful of ways.

From time to time, Sheila and her husband Sidney (Koch) would venture into the restaurant for lunch or dinner.  Sidney was an investment banker and quite accomplished.  He was equally filled with kindness and generosity, no wonder they found each other and have been together so very long.  When the restaurant closed and I found myself working at an entry level job in banking on Wall Street, Sidney invited me for lunch at an exclusive and private nineteenth-century merchants club in the area.  Who extends such kindness and generosity?  These two people do.   Some years later, when my first child was born, much to my surprise, a gift from Sheila arrived at my front door.  We had barely kept in touch, yet there it was.

So, I think, just maybe, you’re getting the picture here.  I am quite certain that I am not the only one to have experienced this exceptional extension of goodness from Sheila, exceptional, yet came so naturally from the being of this elegant woman.  This was and is her way of being.  And, when our journey is moving towards its end point, and we are looking back over the years and the paths, and the accomplishments and the so-called missed opportunities, we, ourselves, may miss some of the biggest and most important impacts we have had, we have accomplished, in the way we extend our selves, our souls, to the souls of others; not for gain, not with forethought, simply out of the goodness of who we are. And this, as much and maybe more than anything is our legacy that we leave behind, thriving and living as an experiential example.

So, Sheila, I want to say that I hope you’re not going anywhere anytime soon. I’m guessing you gave this last testament because you know you only have a few more decades or so to go. ☺  But, I want it to be complete for you, and hopefully, I have helped to complete the picture.

"You Talkin' To Me" By Marshall Tarley

“Are You Talkin’ to Me?” Emotional Intelligence in 1970’s NYC

We are the product of our experiences
Though the experiences described here were challenging and at times threatening, they were so rich and instructive to an emerging and formative young man – me. Each of us have opportunities to learn and to assimilate that experiential knowledge into the practice that becomes who we are.

In 1976, I was driving a yellow taxi cab in New York City. There were nearly 2,000 murders in New York that year, many of them cabbies. New York was a rough and tumble town, lawless and nearly ungovernable. It was the year the movie Taxi Driver, with Robert De Niro, was released – a violent, gritty window into the underbelly of the New York I was navigating each day. I did drive days. Most of the cabbie murders were at night.

I started before dawn. If I hoped to get a cab for the day, I’d have to show up at the Corona Queens garage by 4:30 am. We were in the middle of a nasty recession. I’d be there with twenty to thirty others for shape-up. If you’re not familiar with that term, it’s where a group of people (at that time, mostly men) show up in the hope of getting work for the day. Once, I saw a man break down and cry, because he didn’t get picked, didn’t get work that day. I was chosen. I thought about giving up my spot to him, but honestly, I was scared that they wouldn’t give it to him anyway and I’d be banished from ever getting a cab again. That was the scene.

I, like a lot of people I knew in those days, were already attuned to maneuvering through rough situations. Driving a yellow cab was no party. I saw a lot of people get a cab for a day and discover (and excuse the pun) that they just couldn’t hack it. Not only did you have to navigate those mean streets, but you needed to establish enough of a rapport with the dispatcher to get a car, and with the mechanics to get one that wasn’t a smoking, clanking bomb that the doormen at the hotels and luxury buildings, and even those on the street desperate for a taxi, would wave by.

To this day, I can remember the dispatcher. He sat behind a glass, like the ticket-seller at a movie theater. He always sat on a pillow, leaning to one side. I felt that he must have actually worn his butt out driving for so many years…until he couldn’t stand it anymore and got the job behind the glass. He always looked like he was in pain, yet you dare not offer any comfort, as that would call attention to his situation. He had a miserable disposition, and though I was always looking for that tiny crevice to slip through a scrap of humor, kindness or comradery, I could never find it. All I could do was speak the language of Brooklyn and Queens, my native dialect, and be respectful. That alone seemed to payoff…at least to get a cab for the day. And, I managed to book enough money on the meter to get a car again two days later and two days after that, and after a few weeks, I was booking enough money consistently to get a regular shift.

Booking enough money meant that you had developed the wiles to aggressively hit the streets, hunt the fares, find your way through the maze of time and space and danger. My first day was intimidating, even frightening. Where to go…what to do. I had established enough of a relationship with the cabbies in the garage to get their philosophies. Some liked going to the airports, waiting on line and getting a big fare. Others thought that was a big waste of time. They preferred to head directly into Manhattan. “That’s where the money is kid,” they said. If you were lucky, you’d get a fare along the way into Manhattan, but, “Don’t waste time lookin’” they said. “Just head straight to the city.” And, that’s what I did.

You lose some control – you have to go where your fares take you and you have no control over traffic. But, you begin to get the feel of the terrain and where the fares can be had and at what times, and, if you were lucky, no one took you out of the Manhattan, because that’s where the action was. Back and forth, uptown, downtown, east and west. And, just when the evening rush hour is beginning, you have to get the cab back to the garage for the night shift. When I closed my eyes to go to sleep that first night, all I could see was the red, yellow and green lights of the traffic signals.

As the weeks and months wore on, each challenge tested me. Small ones, like getting through to the guy who got chicken grease all over the steering wheel on the night shift, without a fight and with enough persuasion to get him to change that habit. There were the cars – they were ragtag. One hot June day,
I drove the entire shift with a heater that would not shut off. If you were lucky enough to get a parking spot at the cabbie stand to go to the bathroom at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, you moved quickly and with your wits about you at every moment. In those days, the Port Authority was a combination homeless shelter and hangout for criminal predators of all stripes. (And, yes, bus lines and scared commuters went in and out of there as well.)

And then, there was dealing with anyone in New York City who might step into your car.
The greatest challenges and greatest delights were the customers. There were the two middle-aged guys having a fist fight in the back of my cab. They told me, “It’s alright, we’re brothers.”
I told them that it wasn’t alright and if they didn’t stop they had to get out. They stopped…for a while, then it erupted all over again. I pulled over and threw them out of the cab…not physically, but I made them get out.

There was the not so sweet old lady in her fur coat, who was screaming at me because I was stuck in gridlock. She was yelling, the horns were honking in a symphony, and there was absolutely nothing
I could do. It was total gridlock. As I sat there in the absurdity of it all, I started laughing out loud. I never forgot that. It was great to just laugh, though it did get her to yell extra loud.

There was the woman who dropped her cigarette that smoldered and filled the car with smoke, making me think the taxi was on fire. One of the most frightening situations was the passenger who pulled a knife out and started waving it and ranting as I drove along the FDR Drive. There was no immediate exit in sight, nowhere to go. When I finally exited onto a service road, he darted out of the cab and ran. I didn’t chase him.

One morning, a commodities trader rushed into my cab on the upper east side. I got her down to her Wall Street office in twenty minutes in the middle of the morning rush hour – a miracle. But, she was late and enraged at me. She said it was my fault, that I had taken her out of her way. “Do you know how much it costs me to be seven minutes late,” she spewed at me. I had to talk her out of reporting me to the Taxi and Limousine Commission.

The stories go on and on. And there were some very kind and generous people as well. The stormy day I picked up Lynn Redgrave in the driving rain on the northwest corner of Columbus Circle. I had one of those rickety beat-up cars, but she got in with elegance. She was grateful and graceful and kind. I felt like I had a princess in my car, and she treated me like a prince.

And the wealthy young woman, who, though I got lost several times, was kind and patient and understanding. You remember that kind of simple kindness and grace…the rest of your life. I try to emulate it in times of stress.

Those were formative times, and if we remain open and searching and interested, our formative times never end. How they form us depends on the window we look through; our view of life and humanity filters the experience and gives it meaning. Sometimes, we reject a challenge outright, when grit and perseverance can see it through and open up great new horizons. The choices of anger and condemnation versus patience and understanding or even laughter; seeking rapport or looking down as different or lesser. And yes, if we stop and think, these can be choices. In our everyday lives, we can dare to change a way of looking at the world…just one filter tweaked one little bit can open new pathways of perception for the rest of our lives.

John LoFrumento

Everyone Needs A Champion…even the CEO!

John LoFrumento
John LoFrumento – ASCAP CEO (Retired)

When people think of a champion, they may think of the star athlete on the Wheaties box. They forget that champion is a verb too. Everyone needs someone in their corner, rooting for them, championing their cause. When we were kids, it may have been a parent, telling us that everything will be okay or giving us that little, “good luck,” before that emerging challenge. I’ll tell you a little secret that I’ve learned — now that we’re grown adults, we still need that voice of encouragement, even the CEO.

We all remember the days following September 11th, they were wrenching and shuddering, especially for those who lived in the areas directly attacked. I was working for ASCAP, the large music company in New York City. Besides being just subway stops from ground zero, we had lost an employee in the attack. When we came back to work, the CEO held town hall meetings for every division in the company. As Leadership Development Director, I sat in on every one of those meetings.  The CEO was a brilliant businessperson. On this day, he was a great people person and a great leader.  He was charismatic and instilled confidence.  His address to his managers and his workers was spot on. He answered every single question from the audience with kindness, understanding and intelligence. It was quite a performance. People left feeling reassured and supported.

I left work late that evening, and just as I walked through the glass doors into the elevator banks, the CEO entered from the opposite side of the floor. He looked tired. As we waited for the elevator, I said to him, “So tell me John, does anyone ever tell the CEO, ‘Good job.’?”

He grinned and shook his head and said, “No.”

“Well,” I said, “today, you did a really good job.”

He looked up and said thanks. I could tell by the look on his face, it meant a great deal to him.
We took the elevator down, said goodnight and went our separate ways.

The thing is, no matter how young you are or how old you get, no matter how much power you may seem to have, we all need to feel that there’s someone in our corner, someone who cares about us, someone to say, “it’s alright” or “good job,” someone to be our champion.


The Fabric of Our Lives

John LaVeglia
John LaVeglia

This is John LaVeglia (see picture). When I was fifteen years old, I worked at his neighborhood store, John’s Deli. He was the first person I ever met who recycled…before anyone ever knew what recycling was. He was worldly and smart. He was efficient, and planned and executed. He had a great rapport with customers and employees. I learned a great deal from him. He was a mentor back then. What’s more, he became a lifelong friend. We got together for a cup of coffee and a catch up today.

Whenever I do my planning for the year, the month, the week and the day, I do it on a Mind Map (a technique I’d love to teach you one day). One branch on my planning Mind Map is always my circle of friends and family…who I need to get in touch with, make a call, send an e-mail or see them, like today.
We all have busy lives. That’s why I keep that branch on every plan, right in front of me. If not, it’s too easy to let friendships slowly fade into oblivion, family too. Even those closest to us, who may silently feel slighted or ignored, may slowly slip away from us. And, for what?…to work more? Our circle of family and friends are the fabric of our lives, its very essence. Keep them in your sights and go out of your way to make time for them.

©2017 Marshall Tarley, LLC