Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Tao of Home Depot

Last weekend my wife asked me, “Is there anything you need at Home Depot?”

I laughed heartily and noted, for the record, that this might have been the funniest thing she had ever asked me in 26 years of marriage. Although my wife was not as amused.

When I relayed this exchange to Madeleine, my youngest daughter, she said, “Mom asked me that once too. It was followed by a very awkward silence. I don’t think we spoke the rest of the day. We never speak of it, really.”

Like father, like daughter… neither of us being particularly handy around the house.

In my defense, I’ll vacuum, mow a lawn, tinker with anything electronic. I’ll even attempt to clean the gutters, although this invariably leads to every woman in the household running outside in hysterics to hold the ladder steady. But NEED anything at Home Depot? Yeah, like a fish needs a bicycle.

Fast forward to Monday, and I’m at lunch with a sales vice president. He’s just told the story of the house he planned and built himself and now lives in with his family, and how he even secured it from being damaged by Hurricane Sandy. He turned to me and said, “You know, every man should build his own house. It’s one of those things you have to do at least once in your lifetime.”

Last night, in the cold rain, I drove warily past the low-slung, brooding Home Depot that anchors the mini-mall in Hackensack.

Heaven help us, Madeleine. I swear it was mocking me.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Just Another Day


What do Derek Jeter, Flannery O’Connor and John Grisham have in common?
Just another day in my life: 20,518 and counting…
Yesterday, while commuting down Route 287 (the vertebral artery in a map of New Jersey), I was listening to an audible.com recording of “Everything That Rises Must Converge.” This is the collection of short stories O’Connor was working on when she died in 1964. When I was younger… less than 10,000 days old… O’Connor was my smart and quirky writing goddess.
But yesterday, things were different. I was bored by lyrical stories of the historical Deep South. This unsettled me, and I turned it off.
I switched instead to a recording of ”The Racketeer,” the current Grisham best-seller. After only the first few minutes, this book had me hooked. I’m loving it.
This initially unsettled me even more. How could this happen? O’Connor vs. Grisham should be no contest. I could see my younger self self-righteously laughing at me. “Look at you,” he’d say. “You’re just like everyone else.”
And he’d be right. But I wouldn’t say that to him. I’d let the years go by and let him find that out for himself.
This is where the Yankee captain dives into the stands and saves my sanity. The evidence is right there on the back page of yesterday’s New York Post.
Yes, I’m getting older. No, I’ve never played major league baseball. Yes, I know, things will probably be very different in April.
But yesterday, for one day in my life, I may have been in better shape than Derek Jeter.


Saturday, August 25, 2012

R.I.P., Hero


The day after Neil Armstrong took this step in 1969, our family visited my nearly 100-year-old great grandmother. She had lived most of her life in Ferno, Italy ("ferno" means Hell in English), but spent her final years in New Jersey. We were all excited about the moon landing, and my grandmother tried to explain to her -- in the soft, melodic, mostly-Italian, part-English language they had developed between themselves -- what a spaceship was. But the words didn't seem to exist. So, much to the frustration of my grandfather, "Bisnonna" never understood how this could be possible before she died a few months later.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

My Writing Life

These are hard times for writers. Certain celebrities who are already wildly successful in other areas – and I’m looking at you, Steve Martin, and even you, Rob Lowe – have already written books that are well-crafted, thoughtful and entertaining. And don’t even get me started about the book I’m currently reading by first-time novelist Karen Thompson Walker. It’s simply wonderful.

There’s no way that ordinary mortals can compete with this stuff. And I am – if nothing else – an extraordinarily ordinary man.

But even in the face of this cold reality… I am also a writer. I can’t help it. I write all the time.

Oh, I write daily as part of my job, but that’s only part of the story.

  • Exhibit A: I kept a diary about my family life from the day my first daughter was born until the day she became an adult.
  • Exhibit B: Cleaning out the garage last week, I stumbled upon journals that I had filled with words years before she was born — and that I had forgotten about.
  • Exhibit C: Old college friends can tell you horror stories about my single-spaced, multi-page typewritten letters that I used to produce – and sometimes mail, sometimes not - in the dark time before everyone used computers.
  • Exhibit D: “My Life of Crime”


This is a book I wrote more than 10 years ago. A love story set in New York and New Jersey. The initial version was a tad meandering – footnoted, no less, with stories within the footnotes… as if I were Nabokov instead of Van Book (his anagrammatical and exceedingly less talented evil twin).

I revised “My Life of Crime” for my second daughter, at her request, for her 18th birthday nearly two years ago. It still has mighty literary pretensions. Note how even the cover resembles the Bantam edition of “The Catcher in the Rye”— except in reverse and as if on a legal pad. But I have no illusions about the book’s sales potential. It has none; it’s just something I did for the love of it.

So if anyone reading this wants a copy of “My Life of Crime” – and I’m assuming that only a friend would venture onto this page and read this far - please email me at bvar@verizon.net, and I’ll send you a version in the format of your choice.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Year Without Facebook

A year ago, I deactivated my Facebook account.

And now, looking back, I regret that.

Having a job as a company spokesman, something already essentially public, I wanted more privacy in my life. Meanwhile, my wife has understandable reservations about having an online presence, and I certainly know my daughters well enough not to try to friend them, and people from the present were already present.

It was the people from the past who haunted me.

In high school, I admired from afar a smart and funny classmate who was rebellious and outspoken and cool – all the things I was not – and I happened to friend her a few years ago in one of those early round-robins of mass friendings among high school acquaintances of a certain age who all suddenly discovered Facebook.

In the days before Facebook, no one in my circle knew what had become of her, and exotic rumors swirled.  When instead I found her, still smart and funny, and living, non-exotically, many miles away… that was one thing.  But then when she posted – not to me, just to the world in general - about coming back to New Jersey for a visit, and that she would be visiting a restaurant a block from where I worked, I thought I should try to say hello.

But I never did.  I didn’t know how, exactly, without seeming like a stalker.  Or what I would say to her after hello.  Technology – which had provided the means to connect – had never anticipated all the ramifications of random resurrections from the past. So I quit. What was the use, I wondered?

And now I’m back. A year later, I see that there is use - and wisdom - in trusting in people without any instruction manual.

It seems to me that things just get more complicated - with or without technology - with the passage of time. So why not simply try to figure it all out with some help?

Besides, all this longing for connection and meaning and self-expression points to something deep in all of us that cannot, for any extended period of time, be denied or hidden… or deactivated.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

It's Not the Same Old Song at Verizon

A version of this post appeared on the Huffington Post's site.

Pianist Glenn Gould notably recorded Bach's "Goldberg Variations" early in his career in 1955. He then recorded the same music in a more soulful way as a mature artist in 1981.

What brings this to mind is the recent three-part rant against the telecommunications industry by a previous Huffington Post blogger. The content was not surprising. The author, after all, has been writing variations on this same theme for nearly 30 years -- and many of the sentences written in 2012 read as if they had been written in 1983.

However, this is in stark contrast to Gould's later recordings where, by music alone, it's easy to tell that the world has changed over the years.

The initial blog was outdated and erroneous in many ways. While it focuses on "rate-of-return regulation" (which ceased applying to Verizon wireline companies many years ago), it inaccurately portrays our company's financials.  Perhaps most absurdly, it suggests that Verizon wireline revenues subsidize Verizon Wireless.

The decline in landline phone use is written about as if it were only a conspiracy theory -- and this argument reaches a crescendo in the latest blog post that suggests that Verizon's more than $20 billion investment in FiOS fiber-to-the-home services may not even exist.

This simply isn't in tune with the reality of Verizon in 2012.

Verizon today is one of the largest private investors in America. In 2009-2011, while Verizon made more than $11.1 billion in tax payments, we also invested nearly $50 billion in technology infrastructure. This has created and sustained great U.S. jobs -- both in and outside of Verizon -- as the company has deployed innovative broadband technologies like FiOS.

While Verizon today is most known as a nationwide wireless company and is increasingly becoming known for international network capabilities, the previous blog posts here focused on Verizon as a local U.S. wireline company. This is part of our business where demand has fallen due to customer use of cell phones and phone service from cable companies and other competitors. Our base of traditional access line -- landline copper phone connections to homes and businesses -- is less than half of what it was in 2003.

And yet Verizon today is vibrant and profitable. We changed with the times. We shed businesses, such as printed phone directories, to focus on meeting and anticipating the changes in customer demand.

Today, on the wireline side, Verizon continues to serve many customers with copper-based telephone and Internet services. For income-eligible customers, this can cost as little as $1 a month. Meanwhile, Verizon is the only company in America to have invested in a future network to carry TV signals and high-speed Internet data. We will meet our commitment to provide this network to more than 18 million households and small businesses, having already extended the reach of our fiber-optic network to more than 16.7 million. This investment has come from shareholders, not ratepayers, and it has created great jobs and a bright future as we transform into a company focused on delivering the best in broadband and entertainment services to customers.

FiOS Internet speeds, currently delivering up to 150 megabits per second, rival anything found in the world, and FiOS TV gets better all the time. We now serve more than 5 million FiOS customers, and we're on a mission to make the service even more compelling. It's Verizon's pledge to continually develop FiOS -- as well as complementary and integrated broadband wireless services -- to deliver the borderless lifestyle that our customers live today.

So go ahead and listen to Glenn Gould's recordings and marvel for yourself at the evolution of genius. Today, you can... anytime, anyplace and on virtually any device -- compliments of Verizon's investment in networks.