Ditching 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 that fella has taken.” Saints get taken for granted. Nobody cares where the crown of light came from. 

   They aren’t going to say you are a saint because you’ve spent your savings 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, unless it’s as unreal as a sideshow.

   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 yogi you think you are. Capitalism doesn’t care about high-mindedness.

   If yoga studios had their druthers, they would be full to the gills seven days a week, except on the birthday of B. K. S. Iyengar, the man 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 big business. Anybody who thinks otherwise need only spend a few minutes checking out Facebook pages. “Welcome to the universal family of yoga jobs and yoga retreats,” says Global Yoga Community. The Yoga Teacher Resource Community describes itself as “helping yoga instructors in their yoga business.” Members and administrators post about topics including how to select liability insurance and navigating advertisement options. 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, global or otherwise.

   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.” They say it with a smile. If they are right, it explains everything about the one-time spiritual path. The path today isn’t so much metaphysical as it is “Turn Here for Your Friendly Walmart Superstore.”

   Everybody is your friend in the world of yoga, 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. Other courses pay off faster, in 4 and 5 days.

   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 pleasantly 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 diesel fumes acrid, drivers tossing down little white pills in the glow of all-night diners, the radio tuned to crazy talk show stations.

   What’s the point of taking endless yoga classes? The practice is 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 overarching claims of wellness will only make you go in circles.

   It’s easy to fetishize yoga teachers. It’s easy to idealize and glamorize idols of all kinds. Who doesn’t want to shrug off responsibility and stay on the yellow brick road of life with the hand of a guru at your 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 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 do it. 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 making fists of my palms and shaking my fists 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 nine to five to pay the mortgage and feed the kids, I say let the cliches go down the drain. Nobody I ever knew ever quit because the job wasn’t serving them. In most cases the no serving part 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, where they could sooner rather than later let it go, once and for all.

   One day a yoga 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 go and the platitudes slide down my back.

   “The only moment that really matters is right now,” is an all-time favorite mantra of yoga teachers. It makes sense now and then. Most of the time it doesn’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 isn’t what standing on your head 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.

   One command that made me gnash my teeth was “Be your authentic self.” Nobody is their authentic self in a yoga 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 your 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. 

   In classrooms 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 sun. 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 friend. It’s better to be a first-rate version of yourself rather than a second-rate version of somebody else.

   Everybody gets a temporary driver’s license first. Then they get their permanent driver’s license. After they have gone through a used car-or-two, they get a new car. Getting behind the wheel by yourself, ditching the back seat driver, is the way to go to get somewhere good.

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


Wheel of Fortune

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 get rid of 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 before it all went to hell and the doors closed for good. There was still some blood in the turnip. 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 son of a gun whose bite could be worse than his arrogant bark. When I walked into his office and saw him with his Daschund in his lap, sitting behind his St. Bernard-sized desk, I thought if I played my cards right, I might have a chance. Dave was high-handed but he could be flighty, too.

   Efficient Lighting was the parent company of several children. We sold commercial lighting 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 how fluorescent UV bulbs were made. When we were introduced to him, I couldn’t help noticing his office was spacious, something on the order of ten times the size of my cubicle. He was some sort of engineer executive in charge. It seemed he was close to Christian Sauska, the grand poohbah of the operation. I found out later he was married to a gal 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, Ohio to run the show. He became our Dutch uncle.

   Doug Clarke was the owner operator of Efficient Lighting. He had built a state of the art 45,000 square foot warehouse and offices in Brook Park at the turn of the millennium, across the street from the Holy Cross Cemetery, after more than fifteen years in the light bulb business, most of them in Lakewood, next to the I-90 highway. When Light Sources took control of Ultraviolet Resources everything stayed the same for a while. Everybody stayed right where they were. I stayed in my cozy cubicle where everything was at arm’s reach. The only change was that Doug was kicked upstairs and Dave took over Doug’s ground floor office and day-to-day operations.

   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 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. I had trouble concentrating on the blather.

   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 everything about anything and everything. I never ventured an opinion in his presence after that. I didn’t need a downpresser man turning me over every chance he got.

   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. They were all on the verge of jumping ship and boarding the USS Traitorous.

   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 were mean-spirited and fit the bill. They rotated who was Beavis and who were the Buttheads on a near daily basis. Maggie did her best to be Beavis as often as possible. She took the trophy home more often than not. Kevin took personality lessons from Dave. John handled big accounts and tried to look too busy to care about trophies. What he cared about was his super-sized paycheck. Kevin’s wife was our long-time bean counter. There was no rolling the dice with her. She controlled the bones.

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

   “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.” Dave could be blunt when he was doing his maven man song and dance, but he was a big fan of corporate snake oil, too.

   He 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 business school questions, but I played along. I made up some goals. Dave liked the sound of his own voice far more than he liked the sound of anybody else’s voice. I kept it short. The less said the better, unless I wanted to be treated like a country cousin.

   He nodded, looking down, stroking his dark brown middle-aged wiener dog, thinking my goals over. I knew it was in one ear and out the other. The dog was recovering from hip surgery. One of my middle-aged hips hurt. I was taking yoga classes. I was taking two three a week.

   He started explaining how the business world works. He was oily and patronizing while talking at me. He told me that 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 enterprise 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 after tossing me his guidance counselor crumbs.

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

   “Much better,” he said. “Thanks for asking.” He described the limp the dog had had to live with, the operation, his recovery, and the first day the purebred 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-made bed in the corner. He ate a special diet catered to him in special doggie bowls. Dave encouraged the dog 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 without a shred of contempt, 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 custom-made walnut wine rack in his office. 

   “Thanks, Dave,” I said, hefting the bottle like a trophy. It was probably worth more than my paycheck that week. Maybe I could sell it on eBay. Maybe I would just pour it down the drain.

   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. They were parked on either side of my Saturn. I made sure to not dent scratch or otherwise molest one or the other. The last thing I wanted was another lecture from a clubhouse lawyer.

   When Westlake was ready for Ultraviolet Resources International, Dave, John, Kevin, Maggie, Kevin’s wife the cagey accountant, somebody’s dodgy sister-in-law, and some others of the sales force went to the outer-ring suburb. 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 through the grapevine was that my Dutch uncle wasn’t with Ultraviolet Resources anymore and wasn’t anybody’s trick cyclist anymore. He was up to his own tricks. He had set up an ISO Italia office near the Chagrin Highlands, with a full-time secretary and part-time warehouseman, selling high-end Italian tanning beds and shoddy Canadian-made Sylvania tanning bulbs. I was sure he could explain away the performance problems of his UV bulbs.

    The following year I heard he had been charged by the Securities and Exchange Commission with insider trading. He had always been bullish about the stock market. I wasn’t so sure he could explain that away. The cops didn’t usually like it when their suspects talked down to them.

   “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 real brother, who was 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 on the sly before the acquisition was announced.

   The news sent Exact Sciences’ stock up 50 percent, setting Dave up to pocket first class 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 complained.

   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 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 reported. Dave knew how to put his nose to the grindstone when he had to. He knew how to generate cold hard cash out of nothing and spend it on himself, no problem. 

   On top of everything else, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of California filed criminal charges against Brett Cohen and Dave Myers. The Dutch uncle was going to have to spend some of his moolah on a mouthpiece. They both pled guilty to conspiracy to commit securities fraud. 

   “Holy Moses,” I thought, putting down the news and shutting off my Apple iPad. I didn’t wish Dave any real 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 and off the leash, although I thought he would be better off if he made a break for it, so long as his new hip was good to go. No good dog wants to end up a bad to the bone jailbird.

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.”