Rich Lavinder

I’d like to tell you a story about an old college buddy of mine named Rich Lavinder. I met Rich when we both ended up pledging the same fraternity, Kappa Sigma, (Gamma-pride, baby!). Rich was a big guy and he commanded every room he entered. In fact, the only thing bigger than Rich’s stature, was his personality. You definitely heard Rich coming before he arrived.

For those of you who have ever pledged a fraternity or sorority, you know you spend a LOT of time with your fellow pledge brothers or sisters for a semester and get to know them pretty well. This pledge period was no exception. Rich and I spent many hours running errands for brothers and doing what they told us. We also spent countless hours breaking the rules of pledging and seeing what we could get away with. The answer was not much. Rich and I got punished a lot together too, which, in a weird way, helped form a stronger bond between us.

Once our pledge class was inducted into the fraternity, Rich and I didn’t hang out as much as we previously had, but that would have been next to impossible. We did see each other at meetings and parties and remained good friends.

One night, I was downtown at a bar called Bumpers with another fraternity brother of ours, named Ari. There just so happened to be a rival fraternity in the bar that night with a lot more brothers than us. Murphy’s Law was in full effect that evening, because of all the women in the establishment, the two that Ari and I decided to talk to were girlfriends of two of the other fraternity brothers. Well, I’m sure by now you can figure out where this story is going. Ari and I and this enemy fraternity, all 20 – 25 of them, had words. They said a few things to us. We, stupidly, said a few things back, and the disagreement escalated from there.

The bar owner was a retired New York cop and told us all that he didn’t care if we fought, but we had to take it outside. So there was our loophole. As long as we didn’t leave the bar, we were safe. Did I mention there were about 30 of them? Yes, I know the number keeps growing, but that’s the way it felt that night. And did I mention that Ari weighed maybe 100 lbs?

In the midst of all this, we came up with a plan. I ‘accidentally’ spilled a beer on one of the fraternity brothers (yes, I picked the smallest one) and that immediately brought all of his buddies to his aid and coincidentally, into my personal space. While the bar owner jumped in the middle of all the bodies and restored order, Ari quietly slipped out the back door and ran to our fraternity house to grab as many of our brothers as he could to bring back and help even the odds.

The minutes crept by like hours as I waited for Ari to return.   I wondered how many brothers he’d bring back with him. 30? 40? Even 50? I was starting to feel sorry for these guys who made the mistake of getting in my face earlier in the night. Then Ari returned. He walked through the front door. Then Rich, of all people, entered behind him. This was great. I couldn’t wait to see the parade of brothers continue to file through the door, ready to kick some serious butt! However, that parade never happened. In fact, Rich was the only one to enter after Ari. It turned out that he was the only one Ari could find. And instead of wasting time trying to gather more brothers, Rich was adamant that they return to make sure I was okay.

Now, as I mentioned before, Rich is a big dude. But when he walked into the bar, I swear the guy stood every bit of 7 feet tall and his lats had doubled in size. He walked up to me, smiled, gave me a hug, and then proceeded to the bar. He bought a pitcher of beer, which he turned around and drank in front of the other fraternity, as they watched. He didn’t use a glass. He drank straight from the pitcher and it took him less than a minute to drink it dry.

Rich looked back at me. “Are these the guys who want to fight?” he asked me, while pointing to the masses. I nodded.

“Take it outside if you’re going to do this,” the bar owner shouted. Rich walked directly through the middle of their crowd, purposefully bumping shoulders with a few of them on the way and walked through the back exit. Ari and I followed suit. Their fraternity gathered in the doorway, not one of them stepping outside.

“Well, come on!” Rich yelled. “There may be a lot more of y’all than us, and you guys may whip us, but I promise we’re gonna hurt some of you along the way.” Then there was a long silence as both sides anticipated a next move. “Nah, forget that,” Rich continued. “We’re not gonna get whipped by you $#%&$#s!” They still didn’t move. Finally, the bar owner came over and told them to step out and fight or to settle up and leave through the front door. They begrudgingly took the front door.

That’s the kind of guy Rich was. He showed up that night to fight 40 guys. But I know deep down that Rich would have shown up if you’d have told him we were going to have to fight 400 guys. Just like the code I admire in every Wild West TV show and movie I watch, Rich was not going to let a friend stand alone. And let’s not dismiss the fact too quickly that these 50 guys actually backed down to Rich. They knew he wasn’t bluffing. He was just the right amount of crazy.

That wasn’t the only jam Rich ever helped me out of, but it’s my favorite. Unfortunately, like so many of us do, Rich and I saw less and less of each other over the subsequent years and after college, lost touch altogether. Although I always enjoyed his company, I never made any effort to reach out to him later in life. I learned last week that Rich passed away earlier this month at the young age of 43. Even though I hadn’t talked to him in over 25 years, the news bothered me. While I’m sad that I’ll never be able to sit down and talk about the ‘good old days’ with Rich again, I know Heaven just got a little crazier with Rich as its newest resident.

I’m going to pick up the phone and call some of my old pledge brothers this week, just to say hello. Something I should have done long before now. Tomorrow is never guaranteed, so lets try to make the most out of today.

Rich: I love you brother. Thanks for everything. And I look forward to seeing you again one day.

Customer Service

In business, I value relationships over products or services. That’s not to say that I don’t expect top-notch quality in the goods for which I’m paying, but customer service and a personal relationship with a real person always comes first. I had always been taught to value relationships over products (to an acceptable degree), but never really understood the logic behind it until ten years ago.

At this point in my life, I hadn’t decided to take the plunge and try to become an author yet. I was still a commercial loan officer at a local bank. That job mandated many things, one of which was to always come to work in a suit and tie. And this bank wanted the classic professional look: Solid white dress shirt, conservative tie, and tailored suit. I once tried getting away with a hot pink dress shirt. I thought it looked great. Management called me into their office and told me it was a nice shirt and I should feel free to wear it any Saturday or Sunday of my choosing. Translation: Don’t let us see you in this shirt during normal weekly business hours again!

For those of you who know me, you know that my wife, Angie, travels a lot for her work. When this happens, our home takes on a whole new dynamic (and not necessarily a better one). The kids and I eat a steady diet of delivery pizza and Chinese take-out. In fact, one time we ordered pizza from the same place so many nights in a row, the delivery guy would drop off our order and say, “See you tomorrow!” Sad but true story! In addition to our eating habits, our chores get altered as well. And by altered, I mean we don’t do any. By the end of the week, our home looks less like a middle-class family’s abode and more like the fraternity house I lived in during college.

During one of these weeks, when I hadn’t stayed on top of chores, cleaning, or laundry, I ran into a problem. It was early one morning. I had already gotten the kids up, fed them leftover Kung Pao Chicken for breakfast, and put them on the bus for school. Now it was time for me to get ready for work. I picked up my first dress shirt off of the floor (that’s where guys keep their clothes when there’s not a woman around to correct them). It had a marinara stain on it from a meatball sub I ate earlier in the week. The next shirt I grabbed had a missing button I had been meaning to sew back on to it. The next shirt was a purple one which management would frown upon. And the rest of my shirts were at the dry cleaners. Panic started to sink in. I didn’t have any shirts to wear to work. If Angie had been home, she would have made sure this sort of thing didn’t happen. So really, it was kind of her fault. But this was no time to place blame. I had to come up with a solution…and fast!

I decided I would head out to a local men’s clothing store and simply buy a new shirt before work started. So I threw on my suit while just wearing a T-shirt underneath. I felt a little like Sonny Crockett, which was pretty cool. (For any millennials reading this blog, Google Miami Vice). I sped to the store and when I got there, I felt like Clark Griswold coming face to face with Marty Moose at Wally World (again…for millennials, Google Vacation). The sign on the front door read CLOSED. I wasn’t sure what to do. This was my last and only option. As I raised the phone to my ear to ‘call in sick to work’, the manager of the clothing store, Scott Causby, unlocked and opened the door.

“Hey pal!” he said. “I saw you waiting out here. We don’t open for another thirty minutes, but come on in. What can we do for you?” Talk about great customer service! He opened up his store just for me. I couldn’t help but feel like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. (Millennials: I hope you still have Google pulled up). I explained my dilemma to Scott and he wasted no time in finding a white dress shirt in my size and sold it to me. But that wasn’t the end of his outstanding customer service. He noticed that once I put on the shirt, having been folded and on the shelf for so long, it had definite creases in it. He asked for the shirt back and I obliged. He then took it to some magical machine they had in the back of the store that miraculously made all the creases and wrinkles disappear!

Scott brought back the shirt and it looked like it had just been pressed and dry-cleaned with heavy starch. I put it back on, bought a new tie too, just as a way to say “Thank You” and headed off to work, where they were none the wiser! I have never forgotten Scott’s exemplary service that day and have shared this story with others over the years. Scott has since moved on to another men’s clothing store called McKee’s. And guess what? I now shop there. Yes, they have some of the finest clothes in town. And yes, they sell their products at affordable prices. But the main reason I’m a regular there is because of Scott. He treated me like royalty when he didn’t have to. He knew I wasn’t one of his regular customers that dropped thousands of dollars per month with him, but he still made me feel just as important as one of them.

Scott is the epitome of what customer service should be. In fact, I study him and pick up something new from his work ethic every time I’m in his store. Customer service seems to be a lost art these days, but not for Scott. If you’re local and haven’t stopped in McKee’s yet, do yourself a favor and pay him a visit. I promise you won’t be sorry!

McKee’s
Scott Causby
103 W. Piccadilly St.
Winchester, VA 22601
540-662-2195

Keep It Simple

If I were to sit down and list all my faults, I certainly wouldn’t have to worry about writer’s block. And I definitely wouldn’t be concerned with running out of material. My culpabilities are many, but there is only one I want to discuss in this blog. I worry too much. Even though Jesus, Himself, tells us time and time again throughout the Gospels not to, I still do. I just can’t help myself. I rarely stumble upon a molehill that I don’t soon manufacture into my very own bothersome mountain.

One of the most relatable quotes when it comes to this affliction is from my all-time favorite author, Mark Twain. He said, “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” If this doesn’t sum up my life in a nutshell, nothing does. I actually spend more time worrying about what can go wrong in my life than I do dealing with the situation on the occasional instance that something actually does go wrong in my life.

And I don’t spend time just worrying about what can go wrong in my life. No, no, no. That would be too easy. I then feel the obligatory need to worry about how to remedy the imaginary wrong in my life. And it’s never a simple fix. My fictional solution is usually much more complicated and time-consuming than my unreal problem. As ridiculous as this all sounds, I end up spending way too much time in my own imaginary prison. But these are problems that may happen. And I’ll need to come up with elaborate fixes to make them disappear.

We’ve all heard of the philosophy of KISS, right? No, I’m not talking about the dudes with the face paint that have been rocking for over forty years. I’m talking about the acronym KISS. Keep It Simple, Silly. I try to force this into my logic, but it’s like shoving a square peg into a round hole. The simple solution just can’t be the best, can it? And then I’m right back to worrying about my problem again.

It wasn’t until recently that I saw the concept of KISS played out right before my eyes. And my eyes were indeed opened from it. My buddy, Andy Hersey, is a local golf pro, from whom I buy all of my golf gear. He keeps promising I’m going to get better, but never puts it in writing. I’ve also known Andy since kindergarten and I had the distinguished honor of being his college roommate in the early nineties. So not only do I know Andy, but I trust him completely. (Basically, we have enough dirt on each other to sabotage any future political careers either one of us may have, but we don’t worry about them ever seeing the light of day).

A while back, I was deciding whether or not I wanted to buy a used hybrid golf club from Andy. We met at his house and he showed me the merchandise. The club was in terrific shape except for one big scratch right across the middle of the shiny black club head. Andy was giving me a good deal on the club, but I really didn’t like the idea of looking down and seeing that scratch (that I didn’t even have the honor of making) every time I swung the club.

I told Andy my reservations because of the blemish and he was unfazed. “That’s not a problem at all,” he said. “I can take care of the scratch for you so that you’ll never even know it’s there.” And then my imagination ran wild. “Great!” I thought. “He can take care of it, but it’s either going to cost me a lot of time or a lot of money!” I suddenly pictured Andy having to ship it back to the factory in which it was originally made to have the scratch professionally buffed out. I envisioned this being a very elaborate endeavor and not only would the club not be ready for a few months, but the procedure itself was sure to cost more than the actual club. Was all of this worth it?

Then Andy pulled out a black Sharpie from his pants pocket, took the club out of my hands, and drew a line over the scratch. Then he handed the club back to me. “There you go,” he said. “Good as new. You’ll never see the scratch.” And just like that I was pulled out of my imaginary world of pretend golf club procedures and realized for the first time in a long time, Keeping It Simple really works. I bought the club, never saw the scratch again, and believe it or not, the last time I swung this club, I won ‘Closest to the Pin’ in a local tournament.

I keep a black Sharpie on my desk these days to remind me of the lesson that Andy taught me. A simple solution usually can solve our problem. We live in such a fast-paced, complicated world that too many times, logic tells us different. That’s just not the case. The next time you’re faced with a dilemma, I challenge you to seek the simple solution first. You’ll be surprised how often you’ll save yourself time and energy.

And as far as worrying about problems themselves, I’ve made a conscious decision not to dwell on the ‘what-ifs’ in life. Yes, problems will occur. But looking back on my life, not as nearly as much as I’d thought. And guess what? Upon reflection, problems weren’t the only issues to appear in my life. Blessings emerged too. And much more often than the problems. So I decided that I would focus my energy toward future blessings rather than future problems. Shame on me for giving problems any more time than they require. This is my simple solution to a once, very time-consuming problem.

If you’re going through a tough time right now and are looking for a solution to your problems…Keep it simple. Remember the Sharpie!