Yes, they are real eggs

I found myself at dinner recently assuring someone for what felt the millionth time that the eggs cooked at McDonald's are in fact real eggs. 

"They actually crack eggs?" she asked. 

"Yes," I said. "They crack the damn eggs." 

"Really? They crack real eggs every morning?"

"Yes."

The question arose because I had been explaining to the woman that every morning I stop by McDonald's for an Egg McMuffin. When she heard this, she looked at me in horror. Possibly disgust.  

Naturally my first question was: "When was the last time you were in a McDonald's?"

Here answer, as I expected, was a billion years ago.

This always astounds me. Kind, generous, thoughtful souls are always so willing and quick to assume and judge when it comes to food. Whether it's fast food or processed food or anything in between, people make rapid determinations about food absent of any facts and experience. 

For example, people assume that fresh vegetables are the best possible form of vegetables, when the truth is that frozen vegetable are just as good for you (and sometimes better for you) than fresh vegetables. 

When I explain this fact to perfectly rationale human beings, they scoff. When I provide scientific evidence of this fact, they refuse to believe. When I show them mountains of research proving my case, they change the subject. 

Fresh food is supposed to be better than frozen food, damn it. End of story. 

Another example: Every day, almost without exception, I eat a bowl of Quaker instant oatmeal for lunch. Colleagues have repeatedly questioned my choice of lunch, the rigid consistency of my lunch, and my decision to eat prepackaged oatmeal as opposed to the fabled steel-cut, homemade variety.

I explain that I eat instant oatmeal on the advice of my doctor, and after one year of eating instant oatmeal almost every day, I lowered my cholesterol 50 points. I went from borderline high cholesterol to fantastic cholesterol, and the only change I made was one bowl of instant oatmeal every day.

Just as my doctor ordered. 

When I asked a nutritionist if I should consider switching to the homemade, all-natural, steel-cut variety, her response was this:

"Only if you prefer the taste and want to spend more time making oatmeal. The instant oatmeal probably has a little more sugar than what you'd make at home, but otherwise it's just as good for you. Oats are oats." 

Yet when a person sees my lunch emerge from a small, brown bag and cooked in a microwave, the assumption is that I'm eating a processed, unhealthy food that would never be found in a good and wholesome place like Whole Foods. And when I explain that my doctor and a nutritionist fully support this decision, and that I've lowered my cholesterol 50 points in the process, they continue to fight.

Food that comes out of little brown bags and cooked in microwaves isn't supposed to be good for you, damn it. End of story.

So back to the Egg McMuffin. I eat one a day. Over the course of ten years spent managing McDonald's restaurants I made tens of thousands of Egg McMuffins. I've cooked so many eggs that I can hold four eggs in my two hands and crack and empty them into a frying pan simultaneously.

Here is what an Egg McMuffin is made of exactly:

One real, honest-to-goodness egg, cracked into a egg ring and poached.
One English muffin, exactly like the kind of English muffin you have in your home.
One slice of American cheese, exactly like the American cheese you purchase at a deli.
One round slice of Canadien bacon.

That's it. All real ingredients. 290 calories in total.

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If I was to serve you a scrambled egg (with a little American cheese mixed in for flavor) alongside an English Muffin and a slice of bacon, you'd accept this as a reasonable breakfast. If I served it to you on a pretty plate with a orange wedge garnish (that you probably wouldn't eat) and a cup of your favorite coffee, you'd think you were in heaven. 

Yet hand that same breakfast through a drive thru window in sandwich form and people can't believe the egg is real. 

Fast food is not real food, damn it. End of story.

I'm not implying that all fast food or processed food is good for you. I'm not saying that eating an Egg McMuffin every morning is the best possible breakfast.

I often add an apple or a banana for that very reason.

What I'm asking is that when it comes to food, we try to assume less. Be less influenced by preconceived notions. Be less susceptible to the marketing of corporations like Whole Foods and The Food Network. Be a little less fetishistic about our food beliefs. Be more open-minded to the idea that perhaps food establishments or food products that you have deemed demonic are perhaps not as evil as you once thought.   

And stop doubting the fact that McDonald's cracks real eggs, every morning, in every restaurant. 

Porn in a McDonald's line

I was standing in line at a McDonald's inside Bradley International Airport on Friday afternoon, minding my own business, hoping to grab a bite to eat before boarding my flight. 

Then I noticed the phone in the hand of the woman standing in front of me, 

She was watching porn on her phone, earbuds jammed into her ears. I looked closer, thinking that perhaps this was simply a sex scene from a standard Hollywood film, but no.

This was pornography.

No question about it.

I found this both disturbing and impressive. 

Disturbing the carelessness way in which she was flashing her porn to the world, but also impressive in her brazen, unadulterated, dare I say courageous willingness to be herself regardless of the judgement of others. 

This was a woman who did what she wanted, regardless of societal norms and mores. 

My hope is that she at least scanned the area for children, nuns, and Mike Pence before turning her porn on, but once the coast was clear, I fully support her decision to watch whatever the hell she wants on her handheld device. 

It's not something I'd do, and it's not something I'd want a friend traveling with me to do, but as long as you're not harming anyone, be yourself. Do your thing. Be the person you want to be, even if the people around you would choose a decidedly different path.

That is the bravest and truest way to live.

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I made an old lady cry. I asked if I was wrong. Readers responded.

After an avalanche of responses to the post about the incident in which I made an old woman cry in a McDonald's, I have some thoughts if you're interested:

1. The thoughtful, respectful nature of the responses was remarkable, especially considering they were so heavily skewed against me and my decision. While most people thought that some response to the woman was in order, most also thought that my response was not the right one. Still, very few of the responses were rude, antagonistic, or caustic. It warmed my heart to read such reasoned discourse.

2. The suggestions that I should've moderated my comments based upon the woman's age still struck me as agism. While the woman was certainly much older than me and was walking with a cane, she also struck me as mentally acute and perfectly capable of handling herself. She fired off insults at those employees with ease and rapidity.

I also have friends who are in their 70's who would never treat a person in this way, and if they did, I would have no problem with someone letting them have it, particularly if they were foolish enough to then invite a stranger in their cruelty.

More than one reader asked if I would want my elderly mother treated in this fashion. My mother passed away ten years ago, but if my mother had treated McDonald's employees poorly and then told a stranger about how stupid they were, I would understand if the stranger fired back at her. No one wants their mother treated harshly, but no one wants their mother who might be working behind the counter at a McDonald's treated harshly either.

2. Many people also suggested that I should've considered the source of her anger. Perhaps she was having a bad day. Maybe she was suffering from pain that I could not see or understand. It's possible that she just received some bad news. While all of this is true, I don't believe in giving people a pass for acting poorly.

If this were the case, I would be required to speculate about the underlying reason behind every act of cruelty or insensitivity and give everyone's bad behavior a pass. I just don't think that a bad day is an excuse for bad behavior.

Kid President disagrees with me on this one.

3. Many readers felt that an honest, direct approach with the woman was appropriate, but I could've been more compassionate and kinder with my words.  

I think this is right.

A story from a friend is a good example of this:

A few years ago, my son lost his boomerang over a fence while he was playing with it at a local school. He and my husband went to her house and knocked on the door to see if they could get it back. An older woman answered the door and refused to let them back there. She was not nice. They left and my son was upset. Later that day, I dropped a bouquet of flowers on her porch with a note and our number. She called me later and told me how afraid she had been to have strangers around her house since her husband died. She apologized for being rude to Owen and Jay, and invited is over to look. It worked out for all of us. I think you could have been a bit kinder. Not that it was okay for her to be nasty, but you just never know what is going on with people. 

4. Another friend wondered if my reaction was a response to the decade of indignities that I suffered while managing McDonald's restaurants. Was my response at least partially triggered by years of poor treatment by the large swath of customers who think that fast food employees can be treated indiscriminately because of where they work.

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This feels right, too. Though people who know me well will tell you that this is not the first time I have been exceptionally direct and confrontational with a stranger in response to poor behavior, I'm sure that my years at McDonald's and the poor treatment that I routinely received influenced this reaction. 

I also think that the employees' race may have played a part. Both woman are Hispanic, and in my years of experience as a McDonald's manager, I found that black and Hispanic employees were routinely treated worse by customers, and especially white customers. As a result, I became overly protective of these employees as a manager, rushing to their defense at every slight. Watching this older, white woman treat these two Hispanic women poorly may have triggered some of those instincts in me. 

My hatred for gossip and behind-the-back cruelty certainly played a role, too. While some readers argued that behind-the-back commentary is a regular part of life, I've always considered this behavior cowardly, petty, and the choice of people who fear confrontation. And after having been attacked by an anonymous coward in an attempt to destroy my life, I am even more sensitive to this behavior. 

5. One last question:

What if the woman didn't cry? What if she fired back at me? Told me to go to hell? Verbally assaulted me in the way she had just done to those McDonald's employees?

I can't help but wonder if the reaction by readers to this incident was the result of the tears shed by the woman. Are we looking objectively at the circumstances or are we responding emotionally to the image of a crying woman?

I can't help but think that if the woman had not cried, or the woman had launched into a tirade of swears, or the woman been a man, reader reactions might have been very different.

Food for thought. 

I made an old woman cry. Was I wrong?

I'm standing in line at McDonald's, waiting patiently to order my daily Egg McMuffin.

The woman in front of me is having a problem. She's an old lady in the truest sense of the word. She's as crooked as a question mark and is holding a cane. She's ordered a "Big Breakfast Egg McMuffin" and received a Big Breakfast and an Egg McMuffin.

She's not happy.

She only wants the Egg McMuffin. She's added the words "big breakfast" to her order for reasons I cannot glean, but somehow, I know what has happened. Years of managing McDonald's restaurants makes the problem immediately clear to me.

I stand behind her and remain silent. I know that I inject myself into too many of these kinds of situations. Elysha has asked me to stand back and avoid conflict like this whenever possible. She worries about how people will react to my mouth. So I'm going to leave this to Janet, the employee who I see every day and know well.

Except that Janet is struggling to figure out the problem because the woman is yelling at her. Flailing her hands. Janet is frazzled by the sudden outburst of anger. She's unable to put two and two together.

I remain silent. I'm not going to involve myself. The woman is angry and treating my friend poorly, but my involvement will probably not go well.

The manager, who I also know, arrives and quickly identifies the problem. She explains the source of the confusion to the woman. She says that she will remove the Big Breakfast and refund the money. She grabs a scrap of paper to subtract the price of the Big Breakfast from the bill.

The woman shakes her hands violently and shouts, "Just give me my money!"

At last the issue is settled. The order is correct and the refund is complete. The woman moves off to prepare her coffee. I step forward and smile at Janet, who is still flustered. I wink. She smiles. She enters my order without me saying a word. I take my cup over to the soda station to pour.

The old woman is still there, stirring her coffee. I add ice to my cup and take a step closer to her to pour my Diet Coke.

The old woman turns to me and says, "These people are so stupid. How do you get this far in life being this stupid?"

I have done my best to remain uninvolved, but now she is speaking to me directly. Not only am I vigorously opposed to behind-the-back cruelty, but she is insulting people who I think of as friends. These are women who I see every day and exchange pleasantries with quite often. I feel like I must now say something. The woman has all but demanded a response.

Without missing a beat or considering my words, I say, "I think it's despicable when a person talks behind the backs of others. Despicable and disgusting. For the rest of my day, I'm going to tell every person I see about the despicable and disgusting thing that you just did."

And then she begins to cry.

This event took place in September. I asked my students what they thought of my actions. Most believed that my behavior was perfectly acceptable until I added the last sentence beginning with "For the rest of the day..."

"Over the line, Mr. Dicks," one girl said.

Many of my friends felt that my entire interaction was inappropriate. They suggested that it was not my place to impose my morals on this woman.

I reminded them that I did not interject myself into the conversation. She spoke to me.

That didn't matter for most.

Others argued that I was caustic and cruel to an older woman, and that I should've tempered my words because of her age.

I argued that this was agism.

None agreed.

Others argued that my words made no difference in the future behavior of this woman, so I caused needless pain and suffering for no result.

I suggested that this woman might think twice the next time she wants to criticize someone behind her back to a stranger.

Most disagreed.

Looking back on the incident with the advantage of time and perspective, I still believe that my actions were just. That old woman involved me in the situation after my attempts to remain silent. I simply spoke from the heart and said what I believed. I didn't consider her age a handicap to decency or discourse, and I genuinely believed - and still do - that our encounter might temper this woman's future acts of behind-the-back cruelty.

I tell this story today because of a response to a post on the ridiculous use of imperatives in argumentation. A friend on Facebook reminded me that "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing!"

I don't think that the woman was evil, but I also couldn't allow such condescension and cruelty to go unchecked when directly involved.

I wasn't happy that the woman began to cry, and it certainly made for an awkward pour of my Diet Coke and a hasty retreat, but I said what I thought needed to be said. It would've been easy to ignore the comment. Nod and move on. Even explain to the woman that I know the employees well and are always impressed by their professionalism and performance.

But after watching this woman shout and flail and condescend, I didn't think gentleness was in order. "If you're going to dish it out, you have to be able to take it" is an expression that has always rung true for me. I think it applied well in this situation, despite the tears.

Thoughts?

Meditation and McDonald's

I've spent this weekend at the world famous Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health.

With its silent breakfasts, farm to table meals, candle-lit shrines, and slow walking, contemplative guests, the place doesn't exactly match my aesthetic.

I'm sort of like a bull in a China shop here.
A man without a country.
A misplaced, misbegotten vagabond.

I suspect that I'm the only person here armed with a Diet Coke at all times. I definitely swear more than anyone I have met so far. And I was the only person in yesterday's sunrise yoga class wearing jeans and a tee shirt. 

And yet I've had an excellent weekend here, teaching storytelling and performing in their main theater. And it appears that I will be back three times next year, including a weekend alongside Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray, Love, another weekend of storytelling like this last one, and a week-long advanced storytelling workshop in the summer.

Somehow this place and I have found a means of coexisting. I think we may even like each other. 

Still, it may come as a surprise to those who know me well to hear that yesterday morning, I sat atop a rock on a hill in the early morning cold and meditated as the sun rose over the hills. 

While I meditate every morning, it's normally done on the couch.

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Lest you fear that I have lost myself entirely and become something I am not, I followed up this period of meditation with the trip to one of my favorite places in the world, forgoing the world class cuisine of Kripalu for something more fitting of my personal aesthetic. 

The Moth: A Strip Club of my Own Making

I have never entered a strip club.

Sitting beside my male friends and watching women who want nothing to do with me remove their clothes has never appealed to me. 

Unified public, unsatisfied arousal is just not my thing. 

I attended a bachelor party at a strip club once, but when we arrived at the establishment, I told the guys that I would be waiting in the car, reading Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle. They thought I was crazy, but when I told them that they could drink and carouse all they wanted, and I would be happy serve as their designated driver, they relented. 

The one exception to my avoidance of strip clubs took place about 25 years ago in a McDonald's crew room, but in that case, it was sadly a strip club of my own making. 

Here is the story:

The secret to being brave - revealed by a six year-old girl

I took the kids to McDonald's on Thanksgiving morning, thinking that this would be a win-win-win for the entire family.

  • I would eat an Egg McMuffin and get some work done.
  • The kids would eat pancakes and play in the PlayPlace.
  • Elysha would have some time at home alone to read and relax.

And for a while, it looked like things would work out well.

We left Elysha at home with a new book and some coffee. 
I ate my customary breakfast.
Clara and Charlie enjoyed some pancakes. Then they went off to play while I continued work on my latest novel. 

About 15 minutes into my work, I heard Charlie call for help. I waited, hoping that Clara would solve the problem or the problem would go away (as it often does), but when his calls for help increased in volume and intensity, I went to check what was wrong.

I found Charlie about 25 feet off the ground, trapped in a plastic tube connected to the structure by netting on both sides. He had climbed higher than ever before, crossed the netting to reach the plastic tube, but was now trapped, afraid to cross back over. Adding to his fear was the instability of the section of tube in which he was stuck. Every time he moved, it shifted left and right, causing him to freeze in place and cry. 

It would be extremely difficult for me to climb to him, and there was a sign indicating that the structure was not built to hold an adult's weight. So I asked Clara to retrieve him, which would've meant climbing higher than she had ever climbed before. 

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Clara refused, retreating to a corner and sucking her thumb, leaving me without any options. I begged, pleaded, cajoled, demanded, insisted, encouraged, and threatened Charlie for about 20 minutes before Clara finally agreed to climb up and help. She went as far as the netting - a monumental feat for her - but refused to cross over to his tube. From about five feet away, she encouraged Charlie to crawl over to her, reaching her hand across the span and asking him to meet her halfway. 

It was while she was trying to coax him across the net that something magical happened. 

She said, "Charlie, whisper to yourself what you love most, and that's how you can be brave. That's what I do."

Tears welled up in my eyes. My daughter's wisdom astounded me. And I suddenly found myself wondering when she last needed to be brave. Had I missed it? Was I letting her down? Failing to protect her? Was she afraid more often than I thought? 

I felt like I was trapped in a Neil Gaiman novel. Danger and mystery and brilliant words of wisdom swirled around me. 

Clara repeated her advice. "Whisper to yourself what you love most, and that's how you can be brave. Do it, Charlie."

Then he did. In a tiny, high-pitched whisper, I heard him say, "Mommy. Mommy. Mommy."

You can't win them all.

Then he moved. Crawled toward the netting.  The tube shifted again, causing him to freeze and resume his cries of terror. 

Eventually I had to climb through the structure and across the net to scoop up my boy, who was, to his credit, very appreciative. Lots of hugs and kisses and "Thank you, Daddy" and "I love you, Daddy."

I didn't get a lot of work done, and I ended up with skinned knees and a bump on the head, but it was well worth it. 

The McRib is super healthy and nothing like a yoga mat

I have to assume that the McRib will be coming to Connecticut shortly. I ate three McRibs during a two day trip to Indiana in the fall, and according to the McRib locator (yes, it’s a thing), there are confirmed sightings in Oklahoma and a possible sighting in Weymouth, Massachusetts.

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There is hope.

As Andy Dufresne wrote to Red in The Shawshank Redemption:

Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.

While I wait, I’m happy to report that the McDonald’s cherry pie has returned for a limited time. I introduced Elysha to the cherry pie years ago, and it ranks with things like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galactica, macaroni and cheese and hotdogs, and go-karting as some of the best things I’ve brought to her life.

If you doubt me, try one of those cherry pies and see for yourself.

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Before the McRib makes it’s mighty return, let’s c;ear up something that became known to me just yesterday regarding the sandwich.

It has been repeatedly reported that the McRib contains some of the same ingredients found in yoga mats and running shoes. I assumed that this was true but didn’t care because delicious is delicious.

It turns out that it’s not true. It’s merely a rumor, probably perpetrated by kale aficionados  or Whole Foods shoppers or Burger King enthusiasts.

Here’s the truth, from a fact sheet produced by McDonald’s:

The truth is a small amount of Azodicarbonamide, a common flour-bleaching ingredient, is used in our McRib bun. This is a common food additive and is used in many items on your grocer’s shelves, including many hot dog buns and other bread products that you probably already purchase. It is regulated under the FDA and is considered safe. It is not a yoga mat, plastic or rubber.

A variation of Azodicarbonamide has commercial uses and is used in the production of some foamed plastics, like exercise mats. But this shouldn’t be confused with the food-grade variation of this ingredient.

Yet rumors persist. Smug foodies ignorant nonconformists cite this nonsense all the time.    

Next time you hear this claim, push back on it, please. Say something like “Repeating incorrect facts that you probably heard third-hand and didn’t bother to confirm doesn’t make you knowledgeable about food. Just stupid about knowledge.” 

The McRib is back. It’s delicious. And there’s nothing wrong with it, you closed-minded, pretentious food snobs.

The weather is getting colder. Winter is upon us. You know what that means?

The McRib will be back soon. I can’t wait.

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I know what your thinking. I know how many of you feel about the McRib and McDonald’s in general. But wait. Just listen. 

After mentioning to my class that I often eat an Egg McMuffin for breakfast, one of my students told me that her father only allows her to eat Sausage McMuffins because he won’t let her eat “that processed McDonald’s egg.”

This makes me crazy.

Having managed McDonald’s restaurants for more than ten years and having made thousands of Egg McMuffins in my time, I know exactly how the Egg McMuffin is made.

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Take a fresh egg. Yes, an actual egg. Crack it into a poaching ring set atop the grill. Place a cover on top of the ring. Add water to a small cup on top of the cover in order to poach the egg faster.

Let it cook.

When done, lift the ring. Transfer the poached egg from the grill to a toasted English muffin. Add cheese and a slice of Canadian bacon that that has been cooking on the other side of the grill.

Real eggs. Real cheese. Real English muffin, Real Canadian bacon.

You may not like the sandwich, but it’s the same poached egg sandwich that you will find in any restaurant today.

In fact, if I were to avoid anything on the McDonald’s menu, it might be the sausage. Everything on the Egg McMuffin is fresh, including the Canadian bacon, which arrives to the stores refrigerated.

The sausage is frozen. It arrives in boxes. I can’t attest to the quality of that meat. 

The McRib suffers a similar stigma. Rumors abound about the ingredients of a McRib. People cringe when I tell them that I have eaten one. 

McDonald’s recently sought to demystify the secret of the McRib by taking a detractor and a skeptic to the plant that produces McRibs to show them the process.

I’ll let you be the judge.

Saturday morning cartoons are no more. A sad day for someone whose 27 year friendship may have been predicated on a Saturday morning cartoon theme song.

For the first time in 50-plus years, you won't find a block of animation on broadcast this morning. Saturday morning cartoons are over. It's the end of an era.

I’m a little sad.

Saturday morning cartoons were a staple for me growing up. Shows like  Super Friends and The Smurfs kept me entertained for hours.

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It was also one of my only opportunities to see commercials for products like sugary cereals and new toy lines. With parents hell bent on store brand Cheerios and hand-me-down Gobots, just watching commercials for Sugar Smacks and Transformers was thrilling. 

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Just as important, Saturday morning cartoons taught me patience.

If I wanted to watch a new cartoon, I had to wait one full week. Immediate gratification was not possible to children of my generation like it is for my own children today. 

My favorite Saturday morning cartoon of all time was Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears. It’s a little odd since the show first aired in 1985, when I was fourteen years old, but I was apparently still watching Saturday morning cartoons at the time. And I fell in love with this show.

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The Gummi Bears became an even more important part of my life two years later when I went to work for McDonald’s. I met my best friend of the last 27 years while working the drive-thru, handing Egg McMuffins and coffee to customers through the window. It was on a Saturday morning shift that Bengi and I admitted our mutual love for the show and discovered that we both knew the theme song to the show by heart. 

We were likely to eventually become friends anyway. Though he and I see each other as very different people today, a person who has known Bengi for a long time and recently got to know me said that she has never met two people more alike.

It makes sense. After 27 years, we tend to see our differences more clearly than the similarities which probably drew us together in the first place. 

Still, for a couple of teenage boys, discovering that we had something in common as odd and eclectic as Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears probably helped cement the friendship quite a bit.

I can still remember singing that song together in the drive-thru like it was yesterday. 

I can still sing the song by heart today.

Just like his mom. And his dad, actually.

Our son, Charlie, spent the evening cooking dinner with Elysha. He spends most of this time demanding his mother’s attention and hanging on her legs, so involving him in the cooking was a great way to keep him from getting underfoot.

He loved it.

They made chicken nuggets, breading them in Cornflakes.

It occurred to me that as much as he reminded me of his mother while cooking alongside her, I have made my own share of chicken nuggets, too.

Tens of thousands of them, at least, during my tenure at McDonald’s.

His chicken nuggets were probably admittedly more nutritious than any chicken nugget I ever made.

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Working hard for the money: 2014 update

A few years ago, I posted a list of all the jobs I have held in my life in chronological order. 

It was an interesting exercise that I highly recommend.

Things have changed since I first posted the list, so here is my updated list:

1. Farm laborer, Blackstone, MA: When I was 12-years old, I began working for Jesse Deacon, an aging farmer in need of some help. Every Saturday, I would spend 4-6 hours loading hay onto trailers, mucking stalls, repairing fence lines, and other typical farm chores. I earned $50 a day for the work and was happy to get it.

2. McDonald’s restaurants, Milford, Norwood, Brockton, Hanson, Bourne, MA: My illustrious and rather sordid career with McDonald’s began when I turned 16-years old. My friend, Danny Pollock, heard that the McDonald’s in Milford, MA was hiring, so even though Milford was more than 30 minutes from my hometown of Blackstone, Danny and I drove out there for interviews and were hired on the spot. We started out just above minimum wage, $4.65 per hour. Danny didn’t last long and eventually became a dishwasher across the street, but I stuck, eventually being promoted to manager when I was 17-years old. I can still remember sitting in history class with my professional development binder from McDonald’s, studying for my management exam when I was supposed to be reading about the Great Depression. I stayed with McDonald’s after graduation (college was not an option for me after high school), eventually moving to Norwood with my store manager and later to Brockton, Hanson (where I opened a new store), and Bourne, where I was eventually fired after being arrested for grand larceny.

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3. Cobra Marketing, Foxwood, MA: After being fired from McDonald’s, I was hired by Cobra Marketing, a company that marketed consumer products to employees at a variety of businesses throughout the state. I began as a salesman, dropping off samples to businesses early in the week and then returning for orders at the end of the week and earning my salary strictly through commission. I worked in the book division, which meant that the samples I was dropping off to businesses were all books. Eventually I was promoted and was placed in charge of a sales team.

4. Cobra Marketing, Washington, DC: Following my promotion, I was sent to Washington, DC for four months to establish a new office for the company. A team of eight people from Connecticut spent the summer of 1993 living in a two-bedroom apartment in College Park, Maryland. During this time we hired, trained, and put the systems in place that would allow the business to function on its own once we returned to Massachusetts. Having lost the coin toss for one of the two beds in the apartment, I spent the four months sleeping on an air mattress in a walk-in closet with a girl named Kim. It was during this time in Washington that I met Ted Kennedy, shook Cal Ripken’s hand, and was mugged at knife point.

5. South Shore Bank, Stoughton, MA: After returning to Massachusetts and resuming the sales routine, I decided to move on and was hired to work as a teller by South Shore Bank (later Bank of Boston), the same bank that would later testify against me during my grand larceny trial.

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6. McDonald’s, Brockton, MA: Needing to pay for my legal defense, I also went to work for a privately-owned McDonald’s restaurant in Brockton, across town from the company-owned store where I had worked years before. My girlfriend at the time was working in the company-owned store, as were the Jehovah Witnesses with whom I was living. I would work at the bank from 7 AM- 4 PM and would then manage the closing shift at McDonald’s, working from 5 PM until 1:00 AM. I did this for eighteen very long months until my trial concluded and I was found not guilty. It was while managing this restaurant that I was robbed at gunpoint.

7. Legal Copy Service, Hartford, CT: Having been found not guilty at my trial, I was free to leave the state, so I moved to Connecticut, chasing a girl and my best friend. I landed my first job at a legal copy service in downtown Hartford. Beginning as a machine operator but unable to stand the monotony of the work, I eventually managed the company’s delivery service until finally quitting after less than four months on the job.

8. The Bank of Hartford, West Hartford, CT: Needing to earn more money, I went back into banking, landing a job at the now defunct Bank of Hartford on Park Road in West Hartford. I was eventually promoted from teller to customer service representative but left after a year when I decided to go to college and was in need of a more flexible schedule.

9. McDonald’s, Hartford, CT: Negotiating a decent salary and a flexible schedule because of my experience and expertise, I went back to work for McDonald’s, this time managing a company owned store on Prospect Avenue in Hartford. I would work from 5 AM- 1PM on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, plus ten hours a day on Saturday and Sunday while going to school, first at Manchester Community College and later at Trinity College and St. Joseph's College.

10. Trinity College, Hartford, CT: While attending Trinity College, I was hired as a writing tutor in the school’s Writing Center. I would spend about three hours each evening teaching freshmen to write a clear and grammatically correct sentences and helping seniors to edit and revise their thesis papers. My name actually appears in the acknowledgements of several thesis papers in the Trinity College library.

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11. Jam Packed Dance Floor DJ’s: It was while I was attending Trinity and working for McDonald’s that Bengi and I went into the disc jockey business, entertaining at weddings throughout Connecticut and Massachusetts. We went from booking three weddings in 1997 to 41 weddings in 1998 and have been going strong ever since.

12. Kindergarten tutor, Wethersfield, CT: When I began student-teaching in the spring of 1999, I left McDonald’s for good in order to accommodate the full-day schedule that student-teaching demanded. To supplement the loss in salary, I began tutoring underprivileged kindergarten students for the town of Wethersfield for a period of about six months. The time that I spent with those kids convinced me that kindergarten was not for me.

13. Substitute teacher, New Britain, CT: Having completed my student teaching in early May, I went to work as a full-time substitute teacher in New Britain, the town in which I had done my student teaching. I worked nearly every day until late June, teaching everything from bi-lingual kindergarten to high school physical education.

14. Teacher: In the summer of 1999, I was hired to teach at my current school. I’ve been there ever since.

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15. Minister: After becoming ordained by the Universal Life Church, I began conducting wedding ceremonies and baby naming ceremonies as a minister.  Many of the wedding ceremonies (but not all) have been booked in conjunction with the DJ business, and I have since branched out into other areas of ministerial work as well.  One family actually refers to me as their "family minister". 

16.  In 2007, I sold my first book, Something Missing, to Doubleday Broadway and became a professional author. I had made a little money publishing pieces in newspapers, magazines and professional journals prior to the purchase of my novel, but it had never amounted to much. Since then I have also published Unexpectedly, Milo, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, and the upcoming The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs. Writing has become a full time career for me.

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17.  Life coach: After learning about the existence of life coaches from one of my wife's friends, I decided that I was eminently qualified for the job. I began my career as the pro-bono life coach for a colleague and friend but have since been hired by my first client. 

18. Spean Up: In 2013 my wife and I launched Speak Up, an organization dedicated to the art of storytelling. We produce shows in conjunction with Real Art Ways, teach workshops to people interested in improving their speaking and storytelling abilities, and have recently begun schedule shows at outside venues.

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19. Tutor: I have tutored off and on for several years but have recently been hired by clients on a more long-term, regular basis.

20. Professional speaker: As a storyteller, I am often paid to take the stage and perform. In addition, I am a member of the Macmillan Speaker’s Bureau and have begun to be hired to speak publicly on a number of topics, including education, motivation, and storytelling.

21. Columnist: In the spring of 2013, I was hired as the humor columnist for Seasons magazine.

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There was a time when my blogging brought in a little money each month when I was serving advertising, but nothing has panned out to the point of real profit.

I still have dreams of becoming a professional best man (I have been offered jobs four times but was forced to decline because of distance), a gravesite visitor and a professional double date companion (with my wife). I would also like to earn more money blogging and am currently working on making that happen.

But for now, I’m pretty happy as a writer, a teacher, a life coach, a DJ and an occasional minister.  

Had you asked the ten-year-old version of me what I wanted to be when I grow up, I would’ve said teacher and writer.  For a long time, I said that I wanted to “write for a living and teach for pleasure.”

I’m not there yet, but it’s not as far away as it used to be, either.

The three great leaders of my life

Truly great leaders are hard to find. In my professional life, I have worked for three.

Allison White and Jalloul Montacer were McDonald’s general managers.

Plato Karafelis was my principal for fifteen years.

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Allison taught me the importance of being the thing that you expect from your employees. She taught me that every job, as small and insignificant as it may seem, should be done superbly. In many ways, she was the first person to see my own potential as a leader.

Jalloul taught me to respect and value every employee, regardless of their position, for your success depends entirely upon them. He taught me to seek out the most challenging assignments, for it is through struggle and discomfort that we grow. He taught me that hard work and grit should be prized above all. 

Plato taught me to respect the differences in people. He taught me to  understand that every person is at a different place on their journey, and what may work for one person will not work for another. He taught me that the best leaders quietly protect their employees, absorbing the undeserved, unwarranted, and unnecessary slings and arrows without any need for credit or fanfare.  

I thought of all three of these people while listening to Simon Sinek’s TED Talk on leadership. All three embodied his message perfectly.

Sadly, few leaders do.  

It’s a must listen for every leader and for anyone who wants to demand more from their leaders.

Best Teacher Appreciation Day gift ever

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, my students presented me with a  gift on Friday.

The first was a PowerPoint presentation that explained why I was an excellent teacher. It included many inside jokes, a song that the kids performed, a few veiled insults, and a couple of slides that meant a great deal to me, including this one:

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Damn those kids. Not only have they grasped my nonchalance about what we do in class everyday (and maybe even a bit of my self-doubt), but best of all, they used the correct form of your/you’re.

Twice.

Then they handed me a list of every student’s name. Alongside each name was one thing that they appreciated most about me. Some were sincere. Some were silly. A couple were cruel. All were perfect. 

Lastly, they handed me a gift bag containing a box of Pop Tarts (strawberry and frosted, of course) and a gift card to McDonald’s.

Apparently it only takes about 160 school days for a bunch of kids to understand you at your core. 

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Good Cop, Bad Cop is real. And it works.

Slate’s Aisha Harris and Sharan Shetty attempt to answer the question:

Is the “Good Cop, Bad Cop” Routine a Real Thing?

Their answer:

Not as often as movies and TV shows might make you think. Opinions vary on just how prevalent the tactic is. Joseph Pollini, a retired lieutenant commander, told us that it’s definitely used on occasion. The typical set-up, he said, will have the intimidating “bad” cop first, followed by the more personable “good” cop, who assures the suspect that everything will be “fine.” Maki Haberfeld, a professor of police science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, says that it’s used “all the time,” mainly by detectives. “When a person is confronted by two individuals, one friendly and one hostile, he or she will ultimately create a much better relationship or zone of comfort with the friendly one,” Haberfeld explains. “Especially if the hostile one is truly threatening.”

From personal experience, I can tell you that this tactic is used by police officers at least some of the time and is surprisingly effective, even when you are fully aware of its existence. 

Prior to my arrest and trial for a crime I did not commit, I was questioned three times by police officers from Bourne, Massachusetts. The “bad cop” was an older, larger man who took my initial statement and conducted the preliminary questioning before sending me home to follow-up on my statements.

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When I was called back to the police station for a second round of questioning a few days later, a second officer joined us. He was younger, thinner and more personable than the first officer. He smiled. He shook my hand when I entered the room. He offered me a soda. He sat beside me while the “bad cop” sat across a large, steel desk and glared at me. He maintained a calm, even disposition, even seeming to offer me advice and assuring me that he was looking out for my best interest. He placed his hand on my shoulder several times in an effort to calm me.

The “bad cop” raised his voice and berated me for the entire hour. He called me a liar and threatened me with jail time if I did not confess.

I was instantly drawn to this new officer, viewing him as my protector and hanging on his every word. He even encouraged me to leave the police station and think about all that was said. He assured me that I was still a free man.  “Maybe you’ll never hear from us again,” he whispered to me as he escorted me to the exit.

A week later, I was asked to return to Bourne for a “quick chat.”

Prior to this third third and final round of questioning, a speed trap was set up on I-495, specifically targeting me. I was pulled over and ticketed for driving 7 miles over the posted speed limit. When I arrived at the police station, the “good cop” took me aside and explained that the speed trap had been set up by the “bad cop” in order to rattle me. He told me that he would do whatever he could to fix my ticket so I didn’t end up in any more trouble than I was already in.

The “bad cop” was even more agitated during this final round of questioning. He shouted. He threatened me with a long prison sentence. He made claims that were not true. When I asked to be left alone to think, the “bad cop” shoved me into a closet and closed the door. I stood in dark, my feet in a mop sink, pondering my future.

When I emerged from the closet a few minutes later, I informed the officers that I was innocent and refused to confess to a crime I did not commit. The “bad cop” immediately placed me under arrest. He fingerprinted me, completed the necessary paperwork and handcuffed me before leading me to the cruiser for transport to the courthouse. Throughout this entire process, he described what would happen to me in prison in great detail and warned me that the only way to avoid a long prison sentence would be to confess.

The “good cop” drove me to the courthouse and removed my handcuffs before leading me inside. He told me that he would wait until my arraignment was completed before driving me back to the Bourne police station and my car, which was more than 20 miles away in Barnstable, MA. He suggested that I wait to make any phone call until after the arraignment, in case “things go bad with the judge.”

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Before depositing me in the holding cell, he told me that the only way he could help me was for me to confess. I assured him once again that I had done nothing wrong.

He locked me up and left. I never saw him again until the day of my trial. He did not wait to transport me back to Bourne. He did not ensure that I received my phone call. After my arraignment, I slunk out of the courthouse into a strange town with not a penny to my name.

Eventually I found a payphone, made a collect call and was picked up two hours later by a friend.

I was charged with grand larceny. Had I actually been guilty of the crime, I am fairly certain that the “good cop” would have coaxed a confession out of me. He nearly had me convinced to confess to something that I did not do.

Good cop/bad cop works. Particularly when the accused is stupid enough to believe that his innocence mitigates the need for an attorney. 

Lessons learned from my McDonald’s career

My career at McDonald’s was a long one with many twists and turns.

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I began working for McDonald’s when I was 16 years old after a friend learned that they were paying ten cents over minimum wage ($4.65). We interviewed at the store in Milford, MA and were hired on the spot.

Remarkably, I never asked my parents if I could get a job and never informed them that I was applying for the position.

When I was 17 years old and still in high school, I was promoted to manager. I continued working as a manager, working in company-owned stores in Milford, Norwood, Brockton, Hanson, and Bourne, until I was fired at the age of 22 when a deposit went missing and the police arrested me despite the company’s assurances that I was not responsible for the loss.

“We don’t believe that you took the money, but the police do, so we have no choice but to terminate our relationship with you.”

Three months later I was hired by the owner of a franchise in a second Brockton location to manage his store while awaiting trial. I would work in that store for almost two years as my second full time job while attempting to pay mounting legal fees for my upcoming court case.

It was during this time that I was robbed at gunpoint while closing the store.

When I moved to Connecticut at the age of 25, I left McDonald’s for a year before returning to the company for its flexible schedule in order to put myself through college. I managed a store in Hartford, CT for five years while I earned degrees from Manchester Community College, Trinity College and Saint Joseph’s University. I left the company for good when I was hired to teach elementary school upon graduation.

In all, I worked for McDonald’s for about twelve years of my life, almost all that time as a manager. I worked an enormously diverse group of people in those dozen years, including some of the most impressive people who I have ever met in my life.

I also learned many life lessons while working for McDonald’s, and I suspect that much of the success I enjoy today was in part the result of my time with the company.

These lessons include:

  • Develop systematized routines that eliminate needless steps in order to maximize efficiency. Much of my life is predicated on this belief and the systems that I have constructed for myself. 
  • Clean as you go. Never allow mess or disorganization to accumulate.
  • Treating everyone on a team as an equal, regardless of title or age, is  guaranteed to increase productivity and morale.
  • Making a meaningful personal connection with every member of a team will result in an army of loyal allies.
  • Personal pride can be derived from almost any task. Challenge yourself to be the best at everything you do, regardless of its importance. 
  • Your success is almost always predicated on the success of others.  
  • Never underestimate the value of a person in desperate need of a job, regardless of their lack of skill level or ability to speak English.
  • Always be grateful to have a job.