Ditch the Back Seat Driver

By Ed Staskus

   Most people don’t care if you’ve taken a million yoga classes, or not. If you do something bad to them, they aren’t going to say, “That fella needs more yoga classes.” They are going to say something less kind and understanding. If you do something good, they’re not going to say, “It’s because of all the yoga classes he has taken.” 

   Saints get taken for granted.

   They aren’t going to say you are a saint because you’ve spent the nest egg at the local yoga studio. They will probably say something along the lines of, “That fella needs to put his halo away and start living in the real world.” It begs the question, but a $16 billion dollar business in the USA is about as real as it gets.

   When you apply for a job your prospective employer, unless it’s a yoga studio, isn’t going to ask if you’ve taken a bazillion yoga classes. If you can’t or won’t lift that bale and tote that barge you are not going to get your foot in the door, no matter what kind of a crackerjack you think you are.

   If yoga studios had their druthers, they would be full to the gills seven days a week, except for the birthday of B. K. S. Iyengar who got the ball rolling. That day is a holy day. Studios would like to be so full of folks 24/7 that even their most loyal customers would have to display VIP passes to get in the door. That’s why more than less classes are barn burners with a rocking soundtrack and the hands of a nubile assistant adjusting your pose. When the playlist is blasting with the hammer down, and the adjustments are flowing, speed traps are for suckers.

   Yoga is a business. Anybody who thinks otherwise need only spend a few minutes checking out Facebook group pages. “Welcome to the universal family of yoga jobs and yoga retreats,” says Yogi Sach on Global Yoga Community. The Yoga Teacher Resource Community describes itself as “helping yoga instructors in their yoga business. Member and administrator post topics include how to select liability insurance and navigating social media.” Yoga Jobs All Over the World proclaims they are “kind of like a global yogi Craigslist.”

   God save us from the crap that is Craigslist.

   In between, from the West to the East, from Hoboken to Madras, yesterday today tomorrow, somebody is peddling something every minute of the day on the back of the practice. Yoga teachers often say, “It’s all yoga.” If they are right, it explains everything about the one-time spiritual path. The path today isn’t so much thought provoking as it is “Turn Here for Your Friendly Walmart Superstore.”

   Everybody is your friend, and all your friends are peddling videos and books There is the “7 Day Yoga Crash Course.” They don’t say what is going to happen on the 8th day. Probably crash and burn, but that is beside the point.

   There are many people who take yoga classes month after month, year after year. It’s hard to say if they are slow learners or simply devotees. If they are slow learners, they deserve a pat on the back. If they are devotees, they need a slap in the face. Somebody needs to remind them life is not lived inside a classroom. If they are yoga teachers, they get a pass. Paychecks are what keep the wolf away from the door.

   Life is lived out in the wide world. It’s one thing to listen to the steel belts humming on the asphalt from the cocoon of a studio. It’s another thing to stand on the side of the highway, 18-wheelers loaded up and rolling, rubber smoking and shredding and diesel fumes acrid, drivers gulping down little white pills keeping themselves awake in the glow of all-night diners, the radio tuned to crazy talk show radio stations.

   What’s the point of taking endless yoga classes? It’s not rocket science. Learn a few asanas, a few flows linking them, how to breathe, how to meditate, the yamas and niyamas, and you’re all set to go back down the beanstalk. The giant claims of wellness will only miss you so much.

   It’s easy to fetishize teachers. It’s easy to idealize exalt glamorize idols of all kinds. Who doesn’t want to shrug off responsibility and stay on the yellow brick road with the hand of a guru at their elbow? If you’re young and naive, or a seeker seeking a better way, it’s the way to go. But at some point, it becomes time to ditch the teacher and stand on your own two feet.

   Yoga teachers are full of aphorisms like “Reach higher. It will steady you.” Why it would steady anybody is unclear, but if you are afraid of heights, don’t. The air is thinner up there. Down in Easy Pose they say “Open up your palms if you want answers from the universe. Put your palms face down if you want answers from within yourself.” It got so I started shaking my fist at them.

   An eager beaver instructor with a taste for tall tales liked to tell us, “Take the Hanuman Leap.” I always let that one lay. I wasn’t about to monkey see monkey do.

   “If something in your life isn’t serving you, quietly thank it for the lesson, and let it go,” was something I heard a million times in the ten-or-so years I took yoga classes. On behalf of everybody who ever worked at Efficient Lighting, a big commercial lighting outfit in Brook Park, Ohio, where I worked for twenty-five years, I say let the cliches go their own way. Nobody I ever knew ever quit because the job wasn’t serving them. That was a given. They either made the best of it or screwed up to the extent they needed firing. Anybody who quit did so because they could go somewhere else where they could make more money and sooner rather than later let it go, once and for all.

   One day a teacher said, “Let that shit go.” Everybody in the class laughed. She was talking about friendships relationships what somebody did or didn’t say and how we hope things will get better. I scowled and did a down dog, letting the shit and platitudes slide down my back.

   “The only moment that really matters is right now,” is an all-time favorite of yoga teachers. It made sense now and then. Most of the time it didn’t. If it was true yoga would be one of the unhealthiest healthy practices of all time. Standing on your head right now before you are ready can be more than a pain in the neck. There is no saving your neck if it goes wrong because you don’t know what you are doing, Full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes isn’t what yoga is all about. Planning in advance is what really matters, making sure what has a lasting impact on you isn’t the wrong end of a baseball bat. Nothing would ever get done, including breakfast lunch and dinner, if right now was all there was.

   “Be your authentic self” was a command that made me gnash my teeth. Nobody is their authentic self in a classroom. A warm and fuzzy refuge is all well and good but there comes a time in every man and woman’s life when it’s best to become their own man or woman. Otherwise, we become Pee-wee Herman. Becoming your own true self isn’t possible if you are baloney in somebody else’s slice of life. We are not all in the same boat. We are all in different boats in the same ocean. You become what the teacher is, what the teacher is saying, what you hope will get you somewhere. You become like the yogis in class who you admire. You buy into the ethos and the ethic becomes you. You buy into the chalk talk and that’s that.

   After a while whoever you were is beside the point. It’s a brave new world, but it’s not a world you had a hand in making. Your thinking becomes whatever yoga is thinking, like how people become what they learned in school, what they do at work, and what they see on TV. You go into people-pleasing mode, otherwise people might not like who you are.

   Making an authentic self can be a slog through hell or a dance in the rain. Not everybody is good with it happening to their spouse, siblings, and friends. They wonder how it will impact them. But when you are being authentic you are being all parts of yourself, the good the bad the super-duper awesome and the ugly. It’s the only way to find true acceptance rather than a phantom hug from a make-believe somebody. It’s better to be a first-rate version of yourself rather than a second-rate version of anybody else.

   Everybody gets a temporary driver’s license first. Then they get their permanent license. Getting behind the wheel by yourself, ditching the back seat driver, is the way to go.

Ohio Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

My Dutch Uncle

By Ed Staskus

   It was 10 minutes before 5 o’clock on a Friday that Dave Myers asked me to come into his office. I knew his intention was to fire me. Efficient Lighting was going downhill fast. There wasn’t much that was efficient about it anymore. I also knew I wanted to stick it out for the next year-or-two before it all went to hell and the doors were closed for good. All I had to do was somehow convince Dave to let bygones be bygones.

   That was going to be easier said than done. Dave was a soft-spoken arrogant son of a gun whose bite was worse than his bark. When I walked into his office and saw him with his wiener dog in his lap, sitting behind his ping pong table size desk, I thought if I played my cards right, I might have a chance. Dave was arrogant but he could be flighty, too.

   Efficient Lighting was the parent company of several children. We sold light bulbs of all kinds for all kinds of uses, from illumination to heat to disinfection. Our big seller was Light Sources tanning bulbs. We sold them by the boat load, although the boats had been getting smaller and smaller since the late 1990s, after tanning beds got mixed up with cigarettes. It was a slow death, but it was the kiss of death. Fewer and fewer people wanted to risk cancer for a drop-dead tan.

   The first time I met Dave Myers was at the Light Sources offices and factory in Connecticut. Our sales guys were there for a tour of the plant, to see and find out how fluorescent UV tubes were made. When we were introduced to him, I couldn’t help noticing his office was roomy. He was a kind of engineer executive in charge. He seemed close to Christian Sauska, the grand poobah of the enterprise. I found out later he was married to somebody from the Sauska clan.

   Light Sources went back to 1983, back to Hungary, when Christian and some long-gone buddies got the company off the ground. All the top guys in Connecticut were Hungarians. Dave Myers was enough Hungarian to count as one of the guys. When Light Sources engineered a takeover of Ultraviolet Resources International, the top dog child of Efficient Lighting, they sent Dave Myers to Brook Park to run the show. 

   Doug Clarke was the owner operator of Efficient Lighting. He built a state of the art 45,000 square foot warehouse and offices in Brook Park, Ohio at the turn of the millennium, next to a graveyard, after more than fifteen years in the light bulb business, most of them in Lakewood, next to an interstate highway. When Light Sources took control of URI everything stayed the same for a while. Everybody stayed right where they were. The only change was that Doug was kicked upstairs and Dave took over Doug’s ground floor office and the day-to-day operations of URI.

   I was a jack of all trades, working general lighting salt-water fish lighting and tanning bulbs. Everybody was the boss of me at the same time that nobody knew what to do with me. I kept my head down and kept moving through the weeds. I went to all the meetings and tried not to doze off.

   The second time I met Dave was at a trade show in Las Vegas. By the end of the day I thought, “This guy must get the same briefing the President of the United States gets every morning.” He seemed to know about anything and everything. I never ventured an opinion in his presence after that. I didn’t need a blowhard turning me over at every opportunity.

   I was civil to Dave from the day he showed up to the day he left for greener pastures with Beavis and the Buttheads. The family firm were splitting up and the day they would split up for good was fast approaching. Kathy Hayes, Doug’s wife, had brought her brothers and sisters into the business one after the other. Patty Hayes was our sales manager for the moment, but she was too mild-mannered to last and didn’t last. John Hayes, Kevin Hayes, and Maggie Hayes ran the show. They rotated who was Beavis and who was the Buttheads on a near daily basis. Maggie did her darndest to be Beavis as often as possible. Kevin took personality lessons from Dave. John handled all the big accounts and tried to look too busy to talk. Kevin’s wife was our long-time accountant.

   Dave and the B & B crew were on the verge of leaving Brook Park and buying a bigger building in Westlake. They were going to wrinkle up a new business venture with Wisconsin-based Tan-U, a regional distributor in the upper Midwest. 

   “As the indoor tanning industry evolves into a more mature market, consolidation makes a great deal of business sense,” Dave said. “I can’t think of another company which could result in a better fit and look forward to cementing the new company’s position as a major player in the market.” 

   He was a big fan of corporate snake oil talk.

   Dave started by asking me if I liked my job.

   “Sure,” I said.

   “Are you satisfied with how things are going?”

   “Sure,” I lied. 

   “What are your goals?”

   He was getting to be too much with his well-worn leading questions, but I played along. I made up some goals, keeping it short. Dave liked the sound of his own voice far more than he liked the sound of anybody else’s voice. Since there wasn’t anything he didn’t know there wasn’t anything he wasn’t contemptuous about that you didn’t happen to know.

   He nodded, looking down, stroking his dark brown middle-aged Daschund, thinking my goals over. The dog was recovering from hip surgery. One of my middle-aged hips hurt. I was taking yoga classes.

   He started talking about how the business world works. He was patient and sincere talking down to me. He told me to understand how business works, you must have a firm understanding of how people think and behave, how people make decisions, act on those decisions, and communicate with others. At its core, every business is a collection of people whose work and processes can be reliably repeated to produce a particular result.

   “Do you understand what I’m getting at?” he asked.

   “Sure,” I said. “How is your dog doing?”

   “Much better,” he said, and described the limp the dog had had to live with, the operation, the recovery, and the first day the dog had stepped out on grass and run a few steps, wagging its tail. He brought the animal to work every day. He slept in a custom bed. He ate a special diet catered to him in special doggie bowls. Dave encouraged him to follow at his heels whenever he went anywhere in the building to build its strength back up.

   “If there’s one thing that man loves, it’s that dog,” I thought.

   We talked about pets, animal cruelty and animal rescue, the companionship of dogs, the loyalty of dogs, and whether dogs were better people than people. By the time he was done, since he did most of the talking, it was past six and he said he had to pack up for a weekend trip. He gave me a bottle of fancy wine from the 100-or-more bottle walnut wine rack in his office. 

   “Thanks, Dave,” I said, hefting the bottle like a trophy.

   He had forgotten to fire me. I tiptoed away to my cubicle got my stuff and left. In the parking lot I saw Dave’s luxury four door ride and his natty ragtop sports car parked on both sides of my Saturn SUV. I made sure to not dent scratch or otherwise molest either one. The last thing I needed was another lecture from Dave.

   When Westlake was ready Ultraviolet Resources International, Dave Myers, John Kevin Maggie, Kevin’s wife the accountant, somebody’s sister-in-law, and some of the sales force went west to the outer-ring suburbs. Our building felt half-empty after that because it was. We were going to struggle for the next three years until all the downsizing that could be done was done and the building had to be sold. I was one of the last to be laid off, but I didn’t mind. There was hardly any work left for me to do, anyway.

   The next thing I heard was that Dave wasn’t with URI anymore and had set up an ISO Italia office on the east side, selling high-end Italian tanning beds and shoddy Canadian-made Sylvania tanning tubes. I was sure he could explain away the performance problems. The next year I heard he had been charged by the Securities and Exchange Commission with insider trading

   “Baltimore-based consultant Brett Cohen received coded e-mails from a fraternity brother about two biotechnology companies and passed the information to an uncle, David Myers, of Cleveland, Ohio who traded on the tip,” the SEC said.

   The fraternity brother got the information from his brother, a patent agent for California-based Sequenom, which made genetic analysis products. The patent agent passed along non-public information about the company’s plans to acquire Exact Sciences. Dave bought 35,000 shares of Exact Sciences before the acquisition was announced.

   The news sent Exact Sciences’ stock up 50 percent, setting Dave up to pocket illegal profits by selling most of the stock over the next few weeks. “David Myers garnered more than $600,000 in profits trading on the inside information,” the SEC said.

   The patent agent also passed on tips about an up-coming announcement that investors should no longer rely on Sequenom’s data about its Down syndrome testing. Dave bought Sequenom put options just before the announcement, which caused a 75 percent drop in the company’s stock, according to the SEC complaint.

   “Myers later sold that entire position for illegal profits of more than $570,000,” the SEC said.

   On top of everything else, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of California filed criminal charges against Brett Cohen and Dave Myers. They pled guilty to conspiracy to commit securities fraud.

   “Gee whiz,” I thought, putting down my Apple iPad. I didn’t wish Dave any harm, but it was a relief to know he didn’t know everything after all. I had forgotten the wiener dog’s name but wished him the best, on or off the leash.

Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”