Friday, January 20, 2012

And I Was Shaking

In life, we all have things that affect us. Move us. For each person that event is different. What may move me may not catch your interest at all, and vice-versa. For some of us, there is one thing in our lives, a turning point, an event, that we can point to as something we will always look back on. Others may have experienced that same event and not felt what we did, but for us, it defines us.
I had such a life changing moment, and I will tell the story of how I got to that point and how it changed me.

I have seen a lot of bad things up close in my life. More than most would ever see. Most have seen these things on TV, or in a movie. I have seen them in person.
I have seen my father with a gun to his own head on the freeway. Yes, that actually happened. My dad did stuff like that. I have written before about how fearless, and at times, how crazy he could be. Of course, he didn't think he was doing crazy things. Only the rest of the planet thought that. Sadly, he actually believed the things he lied to himself about.
The truth is, after a while you can fool yourself.
 I have seen horses shake and die very violent deaths. More than one in fact. Actually I have seen many. I have seen it on the race track. I have seen it in the race paddock. I have seen it in the barn. I saw one of my favorite horses, the first horse I ever trained, die a slow, painful death. You never forget these things. But still, my best memories of that horse are the mornings I spent with him just jogging him. The peace and quiet of just jogging and relaxing. And the late nights I spent, just me and him,  rubbing him and making him feel good. And we won lots of races. Yes, he died a very sad violent death but you deal with it and get over it. You have to. Five more horses in the barn that day needed to be trained and fed. Reality works like that.
  When I was in grade 7, as we walked from our houses to school I watched as my best friend Rob got beaten up so bad that he could have died while others watched and cheered. I saw that pattern repeated many times at that school,  while the principal did nothing to stop it. When you start to see it enough, you get used to it and it doesn't shock you like the first time you see it.
  One of the worst memories I have was watching my mother cry and shake all night, every night,  hysterically for 2 years to the point that it almost killed her. I sat by her side pretty much every night. I have never heard or seen anyone cry like that, before or since. I never knew anyone had that much water in them, but my mother sure did.
 Through all of that, I always kept my cool and never was phased. Some say that I am hard and cold feeling to be able to do that. Maybe I am. But you learn to be that way, when you don't even know you are learning it, and that is just how it is.
 I have never had any nightmares about any of them. Never lost any sleep.
Sure, I was affected and I remember those incidents. But they didn't scar me.
I only remember one incident in my life that did. It certainly changed how I live my life.
After I graduated from University in 1989 I began to work for my Uncle as the foreman in his factory. I had worked the summers there as a labourer, so I knew the operation very well.
Just as I was about to start my life after University, my Uncle asked me if I would be interested in running his factory. He needed an answer in just a couple of days as there were major issues there and he needed someone who could take control of that situation. I decided and accepted the position. In the end, he made promises he didn't keep. I never forgot that, but again, it didn't really shake me. It was only a job and I was very young.
 I ran the factory for 2 or 3 years and gave my all. It was acknowledged by everyone that I did a very good job. During that time I got my first apartment and struck out on my own. Life was good. However, things went sour and because of circumstances I got screwed and was out of a job. Even though I saw it coming, I didn't see it coming enough to be prepared for it.  There was a nice cash settlement, but I hadn't organized my life financially to be able to withstand the short term pain I was in for.
I decided that I would move back to my mothers house. It was hopefully just for a short while. Because I didn't want it to be like it was before, I didn't move back into my old bedroom, but lived in the basement. In my mind, living in my old bedroom was where the child in me resided. I was not a child anymore.  I was grown and it was tough to live with my mother at this point. It was just her and myself,  as my sister was now married and moved away. My parents had split up a few years earlier and the house was very empty. Physically there was room for me.  Realistically, there was not.
We got along okay, but it was not a good arrangement and we both knew it. We made the best of it, but it was understood that I should make a plan to get back out as soon as possible. It was only 4 months later that I had a very good job interview. While I had my doubts about the company,  the job was what I liked to do. Because of that, I took the position and was back on my own within a month. Things were back on schedule. Or so I thought. I still remember that great feeling that I had when I moved into my new apartment, how I was "back". A year later, I had an altogether different experience in that apartment,  but more about that later.
The company, Predator Marketing, was a marketing and distribution firm, a start up by two veterans of that industry. One was hands on, Operations, the other was sales. They were very different people, and that showed later on when things went sour.
Basically,  the company delivered flyers that the mail carriers wouldn't or couldn't. They had solid contracts, but when I joined them there was not enough work to justify paying a large staff. Because of that, the employees did a lot of jobs and worked long hours. I was no exception to that and had never minded it.  I am a very hard worker and a team player,  so I fit right in.
I rose quickly and was a key management player in the whole scheme of things. We did okay for the first year and actually began to do a lot better. 
Right from the start however there were problems with this new job. The owners were not honest and straightforward with what they were doing and the kind of capital they had..or didn't have. Since this had happened just a year ago with my Uncle,  I had recognized it and saw what was coming next long before it happened.
They were very ambitious. Which was good. Too ambitious. Which was not good. Because of that trouble soon followed. They took on routes that required major cash flow to maintain, cash flow they didn't have. Because these routes were from big firms not in the habit of paying for about 90 days, the money ran out very fast. It came to the point that the money was running out to pay the carriers. Carriers are the lifeblood of any delivery company. In spite of that,  we kept them working. We were told to tell them that they would get paid. But we knew that wasn't going to be the case. At least, in our hearts we knew that. At months end, when it came time to pay them, it was clear the money wasn't there.
Part of the reason that I did well at the company, and at the factory working for my Uncle, was that I inspired others to do the work. I built a relationship with them. In the factory,  if someone was off sick, I would just do their job down in the trenches. At the marketing firm, I would deliver a route if a carrier couldn't do that. With some of the checkers of routes I even took them out to dinner and to bars. We had a relationship. When it came time to make critical decisions down the line,  this affected me. But more about that later.
Because of the cash flow situation,  the company was now in a Catch 22. The flyers and the routes had to keep getting delivered, but there was no money to pay the carriers. If the deliveries stopped, the contracts would be nullified and the whole thing would crumble.  In the end,  that is exactly what happened.
When things were at their worst, I watched as the two owners gathered all the carriers together,  half of which spoke or understood very little English, and then they pep-talked them into going out and delivering for two more weeks. The carriers never got paid and the owners knew they probably would not. Or maybe they did, and were like my father and started to believe their own lies. I will never know the answer to that question.
I have many images and memories from that period, but one still stands out. That winter was extremely cold and snowy. There were weeks and days when there was so much snow that you couldn't deliver the flyers.  It got so bad that you couldn't even get the flyers to the carriers so they could deliver them. By Christmas time it had worn the whole city out. Everyone was talking about it. The mayor even called in the army to plow the snow. Most Torontonians are still the laughing stalk of Canada for that.
By the time the Christmas party was gathered at a restaurant about 4 miles from the office it was clear the company was in big trouble. But no one talked about it that day. The owners still liked to act like big shots and bought a huge dinner for all of the employees. The drinks were flowing for whoever wanted them. I have never drank,  so I didn't partake. Most did. It was a good release for most, who knew that our time was borrowed in this sinking ship.
When we arrived at the restaurant it was a rather warm and sunny day. The snow had not fallen for about a week, so it looked like  it was going to be an easier chore to motivate the carriers to get out and deliver the routes.
By the time we were halfway through dinner, the snow was coming down again and by night time it was a full blown blizzard. That was the nail in the coffin. We went on for another month or so, and then the contracts were pulled because we could not meet the demands anymore.
But there was still the matter of paying the carriers. There was some money there, but we had to decide who was going to get paid, and who was not. It was like deciding which of your children you were going to pull out of the burning house and which you were going to leave. On top of that, you had to keep telling the ones you were going to leave that you were coming back for them, when you knew you were not going to.
I remember one evening, it was a Friday night. I had bought a young race horse prospect when I still worked for my uncle. I thought that I might want to train her myself, seeing as I was likely going to be out of a job in the near future. My father had said I could come live with him at his farm and do it there. Of course, that was just another one of his lies, that he believed of course, and training the horse was not going to happen for me at that time.  I ended up sending her to a trainer, and she was just about ready to race at this point.  Her first race ever.
My plan was to do a little work and then head out to see her race. It is always a rush to see a horse who was just a prospect race their first race, no matter how well they do.
As the night progressed, it was clear that I might not make it out to the race. We were there, and I had to start making decisions. Who would we pay? Who would we screw over? Until you have to make decisions like that, you just don't know what that feels like.
Time was passing away, and it got worse and worse. I would make those tough decisions and then I would hear that the numbers didn't add up and I would have to pick more carriers to screw over. Finally it was enough, I said I didn't want to make those choices and just to do it themselves. I headed out to the race, but now my good mood and night was ruined. The horse raced poorly and never raced again. I never got to enjoy even that one night.
As I got home that night I was obviously not in a good mood. Things were crumbling. It was close to midnight and I was just tired. I am a night owl, but I just wanted to sleep. I knew anyway that I had to go back to work that coming morning and hand out routes to carriers who were never going to get paid. Anyway, I was too tired, I just fell asleep and collapsed.
I have always been one who slept very soundly, but woke up several times every night. Each time, I am always able to fall back asleep right away. Not this time. I awoke at 4am and I was shaking. Like I had never shook before. And I couldn't stop it. I had lost control of it. Finally. Something so horrendous as lying and deceiving carriers, carriers who I had built up trust with, was too much to deal with. I wasn't myself anymore. Had I become my father? No, I hadn't. It bothered me that I became this way. It never bothered him. He slept very soundly. I wasn't doing that.
But what could I do? I had my own problems. I was soon to be out of a job myself. I had an apartment I would barely be able to afford and the prospect of moving back to my mothers..again...was not something I wanted to any cost. I had a horse who was now not going to pay her way, after all the time and money I had put into her.
My thoughts were to not take my salary and put that towards the carriers so they could get paid. But I was really in no position to do that. I had to look after myself, and I for sure needed the money myself. Money that I had worked very hard for. In spite of that, I debated whether I should give the money away anyway, for my own conscience. In the end, I did take less than I could have gotten and because of that I struggled for a few months. But I did not end up going back to my mothers house and made my way. The experience of it all did scar me. And change me.
Why did it scar me and how did it change me? It made me more sensitive to treating others well and how they feel pain I didn't. I had built a trust with those people and I didn't want to be the type of person that betrayed them. Lied to them. Like my father did. I didn't want to be that person. I wasn't going to be that person. I wasn't going to be my father. I had always said for years I wouldn't and when the time came, I wasn't.
Twenty years later, what I have taken from all of this is that money is important, but it is never as important as people. You can always get more money, but you can't replace people. And in your heart, in your gut you know that. When you start to drift away from that your inner center will not let you sleep at night. You simply cannot lie to yourself.
My father and the owners of the company may have been able to lie to themselves, but I could not.  I would not. When the time comes when you start to become that way, you will shake until life shakes some sense into you.
It was the turning point in my life.

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