Sunday, February 27, 2011

My Wife's Turn

Learn a couple of phrases in as many languages as you can. Saying something in a stranger's native language always makes their day.

We were at a gas station today and went in to get snacks while my dad filled up the car. I noticed the gas station attendant was reading a newspaper filled with squiggles and dots instead of letters.

"Excuse me, is that Arabic? My wife is learning Arabic, and i would love to hear her talk to you."

My wife popped up and spoke some Arabic, and the man opened right up. He is a Christian "Copt" from Egypt, and his mother and sister still live there. We immediately asked if they were okay after the recent protests, and he said they were fine. Then he started talking about how people of his religion are treated.

"Copts are not treated well, and are discriminated against by the Muslims. They used to take our wives and daughters. Now Muslims think they are superior to all other religions, and if you belong to another religion, they look down on you as inferior. I am so thankful to live in this country where I am free to be whatever religion I want without being treated as a second class citizen."

I paid for the water and M&M's and said the only phrase I know in Arabic, "Itsharuffna! (Nice to meet you)"

His face beamed.

The Beach

Most people learn their calling in life because they're passionate. But some find it because they're angry.

Take the guy I met today. Kristi wanted to go take pictures of the pier as the sun was setting. There was a photographer there attempting to take a photograph of a moving kite. He told me he was a professor of photography at a local university, and he had been a photographer with the OC Register for a number of years. We started a chat, and I asked him the question I pose to anyone who is an artist: "What got you into it?"

It turns out his photography all started with a trip to see the legendary runner Carl Lewis.

"My wife and I went to the 1984 Summer Olympic games in Los Angeles and were on the second row at the track and field championships. I could see Carl Lewis about to walk directly below me out of the corner of my eye. I picked up my 40 dollar camera and started taking pictures...but I could not get a good shot of him! He strolled right past and I couldn't focus. Right there I told my wife, 'The first thing I'm going to do when I get home is buy a nice camera so this never happens again!!!' "

The next day he bought a nice camera and was hooked. He didn't miss the sunset off the Huntington Beach Pier tonight, and my guess is if he ever sees Carl Lewis walking by... he'll be ready.

Saturday, February 26, 2011


Most of the time I talk to people because I want to. But sometimes, I talk to people because I have to.

Such was the case tonight on an airplane from Utah to California. I get nervous during turbulant flights because of a bad experience I had a couple of years ago. And it helps me to talk to somebody and tell them how airplane flight works (if you are ever bored on day on the internet, I suggest you look up "Bernoulli's Principle." Fascinating).

Tonight was one of those flights, so I turned to the second-grade girl sitting next to me flippling through a Justin Bieber magazine.

"Excuse me, can I ask you a favor? I get really nervous when it's bumpy...can I talk to you?"

She took off her headphones and nodded her consent. I told her all about how an airplane flies, which didn't impress her much. Then she told me about herself. It turns out she loves Justin Bieber and can sing all his songs by heart. Her favorite is "Baby."

Her favorite subject is math, but when she grows up she wants to be an artist because she loves to draw. It was hard on her during this vacation becuase the family only brought one pen, so she had to share it with her brother.

This weekend was her first time skiing! She was getting off the chairlift on her first day, and the best way to stop is to do the pizza move with your skis, which I guess means you twist your skis into a pizza slice.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

In Line at Taco Bell

Compliment someone on an article of clothing today.

*Back of the line at Taco Bell.

"Hey man, that's a sweet hat. Where'd you get it?"

"Thanks! I picked it up at Plato's Closet. It was cheap because I think it's a knock-off of the Dragon Eyewear logo."

From there we talked about everything, from our majors (he's an electrical engineering major) to the anti-social behavior of the Talmage building (where math majors live), to what I should get from Taco Bell.

"Go with the Beefy Crunch Burrito. It's only 99 cents."

So I got that, and I was happy I listened to him. Until about an hour later when I got sick.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tackling at Midnight

I get to meet a lot of people who love their jobs. Today I met someone who is perfect for his. I was waiting in line at a checkout counter when I heard the loud "thud" of a heavy object landing on the little conveyor belt thingy. I looked down to see a one liter of Mountain Dew staring up at 7:00 at night.

"Whoa man, you got a long night ahead of you?" I turned and asked. Then I saw the guy who threw it down. He was a huge Sasquatch of a dude with giant arms. And he was wearing a nurses outfit. I almost laughed out loud at the hilarity of this contrast. He replied in the affirmative, so I asked him where he worked.

"I'm an overnight nurse in the psychiatric ward of the mental health hospital." His name tag verified it.

"So what do you do all night?"

"I tackle people."

I started to laugh, until I saw that this guy wasn't kidding. He literally tackles patients all night. Some try to escape, others have tantrums...and he tackles them. Which is perfect for him, because he looks like a football player.

I guess today's lesson is that sometimes we choose our job, and other times our job chooses us. Okay so there's no lesson. He gets paid to tackle people--that's sweet.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Art Store and The Wife

I have a rule: if you meet the owner, even if it's to complain, always compliment the establishment he owns.

Today I picked up a custom frame I had made at an art store downtown. The man running my credit card was older, and I learned by meeting him that he was the owner.

"I've never been here before...usually I go to Michael's," I told him. "But I am so impressed with the cleanliness of your store and the friendliness of your staff. the lady that took my order was the nicest person, and was so considerate to both our needs and budget."

"Do you remember who it was that helped you?"

"I don't remember her name, but she was a nice older lady."

He looked at my order sheet. "Was her name Luanna?"

"Yes! That was her."

The store owner smiled. "She's my wife!"

Compliments are special because they make someone's day no matter how small they are. But compliments that make a whole family's day? Those are even better.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Top Gun

It's not everyday you meet members of both the earliest and most recent generation of American Soldier. This weekend I had that privilege.

I always shake hands with veterans. Last night, I saw a frail old man at a restaurant who wore a hat that said, "WWII Veteran." The hat made me realize I was wrong about him being frail. I shook his hand and thanked him for his service. Then my wife and I went to a Bed and Breakfast for the night (needless to say, I really wasn't in the mood to meet anyone new ;) )

The next morning we found about 7 inches of snow on my truck, so I had to borrow a broom to get it off. While I was using the broom, I talked with the guy who was waiting to use it. He had taken the weekend off to spend the night at the Bed and Breakfast with his wife before he had to report back to Hill Air Force Base.

There is an astounding contrast between the two men. One was old and wrinkled, while the other was vibrant and young. One needed help to get to his car, another had the strength to push snow off his with a broom. One wore a veteran's hat to cover his white hair, another sported a recently cut flat-top.

One full of possibilities with so much potential in front of him, the other with past realities; his potential achieved. One fought in WWII, one fought in Afghanistan.

Both equally deserving of our respect and gratitude.

Friday, February 18, 2011

New Career

If you've ever been in an LSAT prep course, you know the average age of the enrollees is between 21 and 26. That's why I was surprised when I heard a question posed to the teacher by a gruff voice. I turned to see a balding, grey haired 55 year old man in a dirty green shirt. It was a simple question, and the class slowly began to turn on him when he couldn't comprehend the answer.

"Come on old man..."

"He's got it all wrong..."

"It's so simple..."

I knew he could feel the tension in the room, so during our break I introduced myself.

"What kind of law would you like to practice?" I asked.

"I think I will know my second or third year into law school," he replied. "I've thought about bankruptcy law...anything but divorce law. They make a lot of money, but they have to go through hell everyday to get it. I want to use my degree in finance."

"Oh! Did you just graduate?"

"No. I graduated about 30 years ago." A little awkward silence, but I pressed onward.

"Why did you decide to come back to law school?"

"I used to be a general contractor, but when the housing market tanked a couple of years ago, my job was pretty much done-for. This test is going to be tough, but I know I can do well enough to get into a good school."

The look in his eyes said it all. He lost everything when the economy collapsed. Now he is a 55 year old going back to school for a career change, trying to take a test designed to challenge bright young minds in their mid-twenties.

There is a silver-lining to the "Great Recession." Beneath all the money and wealth we accumulate there is a brave and determined spirit. Sometimes money covers and stifles it like a blanket over a fire. The recession was terrible, but in some it rekindled the guts and grit that our wealth once covered.

I'm rooting for this guy. You should too.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A ringing bra.

When I went to buy a snickers bar at the gas station, I had no idea the cashier's phone would ring... from her bra.

*Awkward silence*

"Miss, I think your bra is ringing."

She reached into her chest and pulled out her cell phone.

"That's a convenient place to carry your phone!" I thought she was eccentric until I heard her response.

"I've kept it there since after my dog-mauling."

...Dog mauling...?

"About 2 years ago I was attacked by two pitbulls. They scratched me up and broke both my arms. The doc put my arms into casts with slings around my neck. I couldn't reach down with either hand, so the only way I could reach my cell phone was if I put it in my bra.I'd just stick my hand in my shirt and grab it."

She went from being eccentric to being ingenious.

"After my arms healed, I just kept my phone in my bra out of habit. It's a pretty good place to carry one...I never lose it, and nobody dares to try to steal it."

A pitbull attack, two broken arms and a bra with a ringtone. I almost forgot to take my Snickers.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Amigo is Back!

This blog is all about other people, but I think I should write a little about why I was gone, and what happened.

People have asked me, "What happened to The Amigo Project?" Well, actually, my dad was the only one that asked. But I'm sure a couple of people were thinking it! I replied to him that I was too busy with school, internship applications, yadda yadda yadda. But a couple of days ago I realized something:

I'm stale.

Stale like year-old tortilla chips. I had lost my crunch. My wife is usually there to warn me when this happens.

Mathematics is a beautiful subject, and I can't explain how much it fascinates me. But it's like being in a dusty museum all day with only your thoughts to keep you company. Eventually you will become dusty too. I did.

I was reading a beautiful book named "Man's Search For Meaning" by Viktor Frankl last night. The first words of the preface caught me off-guard: " Dr. Frankl, author-psychiatrist, sometimes asks his patients who suffer from a multitude of torments great and small, 'Why do you not commit suicide?' "

He does this to see what really gets his patients through the day. I asked myself a variation of that question last night (I didn't ask about suicide--mathematics is a dusty museum, not a dementor). What do I wake up for in the morning? Is it the study of the financial markets? Is it foundational topology? Game theory? I struggled with this question.

Then I woke up one morning and it dawned on me. Suddenly I knew what gets me out of bed.


I love people. I love their stories. I love to learn what makes them tick. I love their senses of humor, their passions, their vices. I love hearing it face-to-face.

I love The Amigo Project.

So I'm back. But enough about me. I want to talk about you.