“Treat em’ like shit, they’ll treat you like a King” Part 7 Continued

“Jo, do you think I should’ve given Jerry the raise he asked for?”, I say back to Jo as we are sitting in my 1998 office on Main Street, several hours after my “meeting” with one of my best, but oldest home elevator mechanics.

“look sweetie, I don’t want to ever Michele, ever appear as though I am telling you what to do, but you’ve got to get a grip on things around here! Michele, look at all those home elevator jobs on your board (Jo frantically points to the board on my wall where I keep the names of the folks we need to do elevator installs) look at all those residential elevators you’ve got to install all over the southeast. Hell, there must be over two hundred and twenty five jobs up there. Don’t get me wrong Michele, I love Jerry to death,  but he’s not doing you any favors by coming in here every five minutes looking for more money and then going out there pissing customers off in the mean time. Jerry’s what in my day, we’d call an “old codger”, an older guy who knows his stuff, but still needs money,  yet doesn’t have the stamina to deliver the goods as fast anymore. A codger is a fella who should be making money on what he knows and not what he does, but still thinks of himself as a race horse. Someone who doesn’t mind still getting his feet wet but wants to bitch about his boots not drying fast enough. Listen Michele, Codgers believe no one is as good as they are, and codgers believe they’re never being paid enough. But listen, codgers are always working “too hard” to take the time to show some younger fella how things are done, because codgers think they’re still the smartest-fastest guys in the room.  Michele, codgers believe everyone else, well everyone else is just too damn irresponsible and/or stupid to do “their” job right, so they just keep on doing, all while you’re paying penance for their mental deduction. Plus, always remember Michele, always remember, codgers are always afraid the boss is going to figure out they’re replaceable and let them go.  And HONEY!  Don’t get me started on what Old Codgers think about women, Jews and niggers”, Jo says as she fidgets with her filing pen

“Jo, please don’t use “that word” around me”, I say back, like a well-taught white girl of the seventies.

“Ooh Goddamn Michele, you know what I mean, you know I mean poor, black and ignorant.  Listen Michele, You’ve got to put a stop to this right now, you’ve got to let Jerry, Chris and all the other men know you’re no push over.  I know you’re kind hearted Michele, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone as kind-hearted as you, I know you’d give your left arm to a man with five arms who didn’t even ask you for an arm in the first place if you thought it’d make him happier. And god knows you can sell a refrigerator to an Eskimo, but listen Michele, some people just like being miserable and it’s not your job to tell them otherwise. YOU HAVE GOT to let these men know you’re in charge, you can’t just keep going like you’re going or one day you’ll end up like me (Jo frantically points at her chest, where her first open heart went in). Michele, trust me,trust me (Jo waves her best and brightest, I’ve been here before flag-hands in the air to gain more of my attention so I’ll really listen to her this time) when I say, having your first heart attack in your early forties is no fun. Jerry’s GOT to know you’re running a business here and not a charity for old codgers who didn’t save their money when they had their chance. You know how Hy and I feel about you Michele, and though you are sharp as a tack when it comes to selling home elevators, Jerry needs to understand you’ll fire His-ASS in a heartbeat if he keeps coming at you for more money and keeps causing you grief in the field. He’s got to know you can live without him before he’ll  start appreciating you”, Jo says with a twinge of pleading yet emphatic knowledge of how things are in my “real world”.

“so what do I do Jo, do I fire Jerry tomorrow just to send him a message? Do I tell our clients and contractors who are expecting Jerry next week that he won’t be there! Do I plead my case to our clients that according to you a man overboard is a way of teaching men not to bitch about the swaying of the boat? Do I tell Jerry, Jerry I’m sorry you and Ms. Carolyn didn’t save your money when you guys were younger but that’s not my problem. What about you Jo? Do I just let the boat go down and although you and that Jewish-Yankee husband of yours are the funniest, nicest people I’ve ever met, do I just let the boat sink with y’all on it too? What do you want me to do Jo, what do I do with the supply man, the tax folks, the insurance man, the landlord and the utility folks when they come a calling?”

I take a deep breath and continue my real world perspective,

“Should I tell them, hey look guys,  I’m sorry that I gave you my word that’d Id pay ya’ but shit happens, so go fuck yourself if you can’t understand,  ooh but by the way,  will ya’ll let me keep living here and keep the power and water on too; or do I just keep selling, selling until I have no more energy to sell, because look Jo, I cant exactly raise our prices, then we won’t be competitive anymore and those old codgers you keep talking about, well they’re our clients with all the money and they don’t wanna pay any more than our markets says they have to and I sure as hell don’t wanna piss them off or they won’t buy from “us” anymore; or maybe Jo, better yet, maybe I ought to approach someone else to drive my boat; or Ive got one Jo, maybe I should just sell my boat to the highest, bigger, “I don’t give a rats-ass about human beings” business ship and say to all my employees and vendors, sorry “it” didn’t work out for ya’ll; or maybe I’ll just go to the bank and see if they’ll loan me some money? Because you know Jo, there’s only two ways to finance a company in America, debt or equity, there’s no sweat in that equation. At least that’s what my economics professor in college taught me!! Or better yet Jo, I’ll just go to the bank and get one of those high interest rate credit cards and see if that “helps”, so then I can pay the bankers the sweat off my balls because you know how bankers are, they’ll always get their money no matter what!  But once I owe them Jo,  I’ll never be free again, never! Unless of course I do like everyone else and tell “them” to go fuck themselves after I borrow “their” money. Because look Jo, once I do that, everyone else around here sinks and that’s not helping anyone is it, is it??  Ya’ see what’s happening out there Jo, ya’ see most good hearted business folks like me, but from the fifties and sixties, are figuring out they gotta cash out now before the tax man comes a calling, the Mexicans take over everything and the interest rates hit thirteen percent again. Can’t you see Jo, all those good fellas you knew back in New York, well they know the real money is no longer found by what you do anymore, but the big money is made on what you have and they’re switching over to the banking and insurance socialization of wealth equation right now, and guess what Jo, they know who’s going to be buying too!!”,  I always remember my Daddy-O talking about interest rates being so high in the late seventies and early eighties, and saying how it was all most folks could do to pay their mortgages, I think my Daddy O told me his first mortgage had a twelve or thirteen percent interest rate on it.

I take another gasp of entrepreneurial air,

“Jo look, I’m not saying you’re not right, but look, Jerry’s got a good heart, he just forgets to look at it as often as he use to. And who am I to tell Jerry what his value is, the market place determines that price. I mean look Jo, I could go out there like most folks and hire a Mexican to do Jerry’s job because everybody’s doing it, all the contractors I talk to tell me, you wouldn’t believe how hard these guys work and how cheap they are! And the great thing about “them” is they won’t steal from you because they’re too afraid you’ll turn them in to the police, THAT GIVES ULTIMATE CONTROL OF PEOPLE JO!!! Think of what I could do if had ultimate control Jo, and if that doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will!!”, I take another dip of H3O and continue,

“Yeah, I can do that Jo, but who wins in that deal and what’s the consequence to “me”. I mean to say, I don’t have anything against Mexicans, they seem like hard workers. HELL, the few days I picked strawberries with em’ one summer at Scott’s strawberries in Erwin, TN those guys put me to shame, I couldn’t keep up.  I quit two days later and went back home to my Mommy. But Jo listen, I just think that’s cheating, cheating for the hard working Mexican folk who’s got to give me a fake social security number to work here but who’ll never get the “security” part of that equation because he’s not actually a citizen of this great land of ours. And look Jo, I don’t wanna win if I have to look at my mother, who has worked for social security for longer than I can remember and tell her, sorry mommy!! You just don’t understand what it’s like out here in the wild wild west of business, I “have” to cheat just to survive!!!!!!”, I say back to Jo as though I’m looking at my principal, Mrs. Maltsburger, and I’m in the second grade again.

“well shit, now that you put it that way gal, I don’t know what to tell you to do. Hells Bells, you need to simmer down!!! Let’s just go outside and have another cigarette”, Jo says as she picks up her mini cigarette pouch and hands me one of her long Virginia slims, marketed just for her back in the sixties.

Only for me to hand it back to her,  as I pull my afternoon twix snack bar out of my desk drawer,

“Jo, you know I prefer sugar over smoke”, I say back to her with a wink and a grin.

“Treat em’ like shit, they’ll treat you like a King” Part 6 Continued

“Jerry look, you just gotta figure out a way to get along with this contractor in Hilton Head and get out of him what you need because no ones saying y’all have to be best buds, you just gotta get the job done before the client comes at me raising hell”, I say back to Jerry, my head elevator technician,  in my best 1998 “coaching” voice.

You see, Jerry, the winner of my “best elevator mechanic of 1998” award isn’t looking through my telescope, he’s looking through his binoculars; and although he can’t abide my contractor in Hilton Head SC, I know Jerry has a good heart, he just forgets to look at from time to time.

Now whether the contractor has a heart or not is of no mind to me because Jerry holds all the cards. He’s my guy in the field, he’s my trust extension cord of promise to my clients that produces, “I got it and we’ll get ya’ done” electricity.

Thus, right now Jerry’s my only shot at success because although the “art of the deal” for most sales folks is to just close the deal, when you’re a control freak, dealing with male egos all day, only one of “me” in the office, soft hearted entrepreneur person like me, it’s my job to figure out how to get my donkey to calm down, focus on the prize and get to the finish line; without getting hurt, without hurting someone on the way, without cheating and without losing any of my money.

“Jerry, what’s the problem bud?” I say back to him in my best “I actually give a shit” voice.

You see, although Jerry’s a great guy, has a good heart and is a good mechanic, he’s a “little” bit difficult and he’s always hittin me up for more money.

I guess that’s what most “common” folks do when the economy is booming and unemployment’s less than three percent. I guess it’s what one might refer to as a “sellers” market.  And I’m buying too.

Because gas is around ninety-eight cents a barrel, my 1996 Ford expedition is as smooth as silk driving between Tennessee, South Carolina and Georgia.  Im a twenty eight year young, high-energy, poor white girl from East Tennessee, gotta make my fortune,  home elevator entrepreneur.

“Jerry look! What do you want me to do, do you want me to go down to Hilton Head and get Justin in a head-lock and beat the shit out of em? Because look I will bud, if that’ll make you feel better and if that’ll get you to finish the job, cause look Jerr I’m not saying Justin’s right but I’m saying Justin’s the only elephant that’ll get us to the finish line; and you might not think its pretty, but shit-fire Jerr, what choice do we have? Plus Justin doesn’t look like the type of fella that’ll hit a girl and god knows I probably out weigh em’ by about eighty-five to hundred pounds”, I plead my case with self-deprecating humor and a smile as I try to talk my donkey off my bench.

“Hell fire gal, you at least out weigh him by a hundred (Jerry says as he takes another drag off his 1972 Marlboro man cigarette). I mean gal none of these men mess with you the way they mess with me. And gal listen, I know you can talk a strawberry off a strawberry shortcake,  but listen,  by god I hate that son-of-bitch and I’m not going back down there, no way, fire me if you have to but I’m not going back down there!” Jerry says back in his most convivial voice.

“I mean you pay me well Michele but not that goddamn well!”, jerry takes a sigh of relief knowing he’s finally said what he’s come here to say.

“Listen gal, I’m not saying I don’t appreciate what you’re doing for me but listen gal I didn’t want to bring this up but nows just as good a time as any, look, its time for us to talk about that raise I’ve been promised, it’s time to sit down and look at “things” because Miss Carolyn and I, well we’ve got medical bills a pilin up and you know Michele, you know it’s just that time of the year, and I hate to say this but I’ve had a few phone calls, folks are looking for good mechanics right now, and this travelin you’ve got me doing its just hard on a man. It’s hard being away from my horses, my house, it’s just hard Michele, and listen gal I’m not saying I won’t do it but its just time for us to talk about my pay, ” he says without hesitation and with the all knowing sense that its time to renegotiate the cost of his seat.

About that time my secretary Jo Olive knocks on my door, Jo’s from the Bronx via Nashville TN and although Jo can be a bit on the “pissed off, yet Im a “victim” side of life, she’s the funniest fifty-eight year old I know and she reminds me of my grandmother Nonnie, cause she’s always smokin and cussin, two of my favorite character traits in women.

Jo comes barreling in my office,

“Hey Jerry what the hell are you still doing here?” She’s says,  in her I use to be a lounge singer in New York City, who “entertained” a few good fellas but smoked too many cigarettes on their dates voice.

“I thought you’d be back down in Hilton Head by now, knee deep in shit and manure, trying to get that job done so that son-of-bitch Justin will fuckin quit callin here. By god Jerry if that mother fucker calls here one more time and tells me how much he can’t stand you, I might just have to put you down myself, because look Jerry we need that fucking money. I’ve got Hy on my ass about buying a new goddamn pool filter for the swimming pool and you know that Jewish mother fucker is not going to shut up until I buy it; so listen Jerry get your fucking ass back down to Hilton Head and get that job done so I can buy my yankee husband what he wants!” Jo says in her best third party voice,

Now about this time in my ‘conversation” I’ve decided it might be best if I pick up a Marlboro man myself, although I prefer marlboro ladies; I always keep a pack of Marlboro Lights in my desk for occasions like this and although I usually only smoke when I’ve had a drink or three, its time for the “walk” outside.

“Hey listen how bout a smoke, how bout we all step outside and choke one down”, I say back in my best “I really gotta get an end to this conversation”, cause, although Justin’s a client, he’s one of many calling for something from us today.

And just like that we head outside to get some fresh air in our lungs….

“Treat em’ like shit, they’ll treat you like a King” Part 5 Continued

As I’m driving up Lookout Mountain with my “buddies” this morning, I’m awe struck by how beautiful my lengthy mountain driveway is; how “privileged” I am to live up here; and how I’m reminded of the many folks among me who never experience such a beautiful serene setting as they go home after a hard long days work.

Though I have truly come to understand some folks socioeconomic fears of what others might think or portray of them if they were to move to Lookout Mountain.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Im not special; I’m just saying its a gorgeous place to live, regardless of whether I live up here or not.

It’s funny how sometimes I decline to tell certain folks that I live on lookout mountain, rather I tell them Chattanooga instead; or sometimes I’ll say it “apologetically”; I’ve even been known a time or two to “bolster” the fact that I live up here, as though somehow my geographical location determines the credibility of my character.

I’m not sure about others up here on the mountain but I have definitely experienced an almost unapologetic rush to pre-judgement by non-mountain folk who might otherwise not give a hill of pimentos about my zip code. I’ve often guessed some folks might think me on the lesser “blue” side of the collar when I tell them I live on Lookout Mountain.

I guess I too once fell under that same category of imbecile when I first discovered Lookout Mountain over two decades ago. I always thought all the folks who lived up here were trust babies.

Funny, I’ve never found who up here has trust and who doesn’t, but what I sure can tell you, my mountain has the best sweet smell of honeysuckle mixed with Carolina jasmine I’ve ever smelled.

Now I’m not going to lie to you, my facehookers, on this twenty-first day of July in the year 2013, about midway up my mountain driveway this morning, somewhere along the Ochs extension, at the first waterfall you come to, Jr, my “team buddy” member number “two”,  starts coughing louder than a sixty-three year old cigarette smoker in the Atlanta airport “smoking section”, whose oxygen tank umbilical  cord just got stepped on by a tiny smoking frenchman waiting for his Air France Tarmac to open up,

“What in the hell buddy?”, I say loudly as we approach my first extended driveway waterfall, as JR ruins my Otis Redding song (“I’ve got dreams to remember”) with his coughing fit,

“Buddy, what is that smell?!”, JR says back to me as he quietly pulls his sweat-laced, probably hasn’t been washed in a few days, one and only hard-working man’s suckerfied Hollister t-shirt over his nose.

Now for a few years I’ve been hitting this same part of my mountain driveway and reacting the same way, but today seems to be different, today seems to be the day where I’m not noticing it as bad as my young, nineteen year old black buddy and I’m irritated that he’s overreacting and ruining my song.

You see my facehooker, there’s the most god awful sewer, mixed with rotting caucuses smell you can ever imagine about halfway up my extended mountain public driveway and for the likes of me I can’t figure out which one of these “trust” babies is to blame for not fixing it.

I mean to tell you, just as soon as I hit the first waterfall on my extension home,  it’s as if the stench comes looking for me and I’ve done something wrong today.

Ive long suspected many among me must have the same inquisitive frown as I do, yet nothing ever seems to get fixed. I guarantee, if you smelled it once, you’d think three things:

1. what in the hell is that god-awful smell;

2. who in the hell is going to get busy and fix this problem and clean-up this mess;

3.  And a four horn buck on crutches would trade places with a three toe pig in Squalorville USA, all by bullshitting his way through the pen, just to get away from this smell.  

But a really weird thing about “my waterfall stench”; the folks who live above this god-awful smell spent like some absolutely ungodly amount of money, I think over a million bucks or so, on four hundred or so Magnolia and Holly trees several years back; and several years later on my way around my waterfall curb, where the stench flows, I think the same folks who planted the magnolias and hollies later planted mountain laurel along the banks of my mountain waterfall.

I guess the waterfall alone just wasn’t good enough for them or they had just decided to try to cover up the horrid stench below them.

Now I don’t know about these folks but I have to hope if I spent over a million bucks on the most beautiful landscape plan since the planting of Versailles, I might find myself a little bit unnerved by the rising stench from below me and wanna do something about it.

But too date, and for what seems like at least five years, the rising stench has not yet been repelled. So as of my Monday morning, I think I’m going to take a stab at figuring out where the hell this stench is coming from, what’s it going to take to fix it and see if I might be helpful to defuse “it” along the way, even if I have to pay more in property taxes to do so.

“Buddy, listen since you ruined my Otis song with you’re unnervingly bad coughing fit, I might as well tell you what I’ve found out about this Illumanti business”,  I say back to JR as I pass my second extension waterfall today.

Treat em’ like shit, they’ll treat you like a King” Part 4 Continued

“Buddy, do you know what this song is about”?, JR says to me as I begin my morning F-150 climb up Ochs highway.

“What buddy? (As I get choked on last night’s toothpaste) What, the song “beat-it” is about?”, I serve back to him with my morning hack,

“Buddy, this song is about the Illuminati!” He says back to me with a great deal of certainty,

“Huh?”, I say back in my best “what chu talkin about Willis” voice,

“Listen buddy, it’s about the Illuminati, you know buddy, Jay-Z and Beyonce belong to the Illuminati”, I turn into Broad Street as Jr teaches me,

“What the hell do you know about the Illuminati buddy and where the hell did you learn that?”, I question him back with a little bit of Dan Brown Illuminati knowledge,

“Well buddy, you see buddy,” JR pauses for a second to figure out what he is going to espouse next, and to allow the gates of his intellectual, high-school dropout, insecure mind of the helpless nineteen year old open, as his square table of knowledge legitimizes his intellect in mine eyes,

“Buddy I was at the library one day and I ran across a book called “Light Up” and it talked about the Illuminati and all the evil things in the world, about how there’s a secret society of homosexual white males that control everyone and who show the government how to control us buddy”! He says with a complete and utter straight mind,

Now I’m not sure if y’all’ve been paying attention but I told you facehookers a while back that I hang out with mostly gay men and family, and all that comes along with the “Sex and City”episode of “see me, add three, see me not, add salt”, so here we go again with the homophobic rhetoric of my nineteen-eighties youth, but fortunately for my young black brethren I’ve been here before and my morning patience is gonna be good with this discussion.

My homophobic young buddy is steering me right in the direction of my homophobic youth bus and althrough Oprah, Obama and my two current black friends have warned me that most black folks frown on homosexuality, it wasn’t until my ride up Lookout Mountain this morning, that I found out their notions came from the Illuminati book called “Light Up”.

“Ok buddy, hold on, so what you’re sayin’ is, and let me make sure I’m clear; you’re saying this “Light Up” book teaches us the white homosexual male is the evil-doer marketer for the oppressive anti-black government machine”?, I say back with an I’ve been here before, just not with you JR tone,

“Yes buddy!!” my young black friend cheers me on to his side of the field,

“Hmmm buddy, so how are you looping Michael Jackson’s Beat-it song into your “Illuminati” theory for the young, straight, black male”? I say back to my Karl Rove, but black, look-a-like,

“Buddy, this song is about how Micheal Jackson “beat” the Illumanti and how he was a prince, just like a guy named Machiavelli who was a prince and how he beat “it” buddy”, JR says back to me on this “mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord” beautiful southern-sunny-summer Sunday morning.

“Ok, I got it now, and who the hell is Machiavelli again?”, I say back, truthfully not remembering who he was but remembering somewhere in college he was a cool dude,

“Buddy, he was a prince who became famous and then became corrupted by greed, money and everything that goes along with the devil, and then he was killed because he didn’t do what the Illumanti wanted him to do, just like Michael Jackson”, my young black, conspiracy-theorist, co-worker and buddy says with an assured sophisticated yet confusing tone, “buddy I really don’t know the specifics, I’m just saying the Illuminati is to blame”, spoken like a truth-seeking young nineteen year old, circa 1996.

“Ok buddy, now look I’m gonna have to look up this book “Light up”, and figure out who the hell wrote it, along with reminding myself who Machiavelli is because I’ve heard of your guy, I just can’t remember where I’ve heard about him from, ok buddy? Are you cool with tabling the Illuminati discussion until I research a little more?”, I plead my case of ignorance to JR.

“Sure buddy, no problem”, Jr says as he rolls his window back down to smell the sweet smell of Lookout Mountain foliage, as I flip on my morning hymns.

“Treat em’ like shit, they’ll treat you like a King” Part 3 Continued

“Hello”, says the voice at the other end of extension two hundred and three

“Hey there, to whom am I speaking with please”, I say back in the most polite charm voice I can muster at 7:45am on this hot, Wednesday, ninth day of August, two thousand and eleven morning.

“Uuum, you called me”, the soft-spoken, yet altruistic voice on the other end says back to me, as though his first cup of coffee is still marinating his morning vocal cord,

“ha! I’m sorry, this is Michele Peterson, from Chattanooga, TN and I’m looking for someone up there at Devon International who might talk to me about some drywall I purchased from you folks back in 2007?” I say back, praying this guy might bring some clarity to my already very abused murky mind.

You see, I’ve been up all night “studying” my current HVAC “situation” happening at my friend and client Les’s house in St’ Elmo, and I’m trying to figure out why the damn HVAC coils keep breaking down; two coils in three years just seems like a lot for a HVAC unit I bought new four years ago.  And, although it’s a very big long shot, Les’s buddy at Trane suggested Les get his drywall checked out so Les called me two days prior to my extension 203 conversation today and asked,

“Michele, where’d you get your drywall you put in my house?” as I’m riding up to Durham, NC with my significant other, having just packed up my annual beach vacation to St. Augustine Florida.

You see a few weeks prior to this morning’s conversation with Mr. Robert Mulhern, in-house counsel for Devon International in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, I had been sitting on the beach telling my Mommy Gah (my literal and figurative sensei, mother of forty-one years) about my inner fears, about how my inner voice was telling me to quit the home elevator business because it just wasn’t making me happy anymore and even though I had survived the 2008 crash by the hair on my business chin, many things about my survival had tested my business strength, tenacity and resolve.

And even though I had started my new elevator business “REMI”, had brought my sister Alice on board eight months prior, had held my breath as the Wall Street-Government guys figured things out, had rather be focusing my hopes and dreams on my real estate endeavors in and around Chattanooga, I wanted something to quell my current frustrations of where I was in my business life.

“I don’t know Mommy Gah, it feels like something big is about to happen to me and although I can’t explain it, it just feels bad”, I tell my Mother three weeks prior to my conversation with Mr. Mulhern on this fateful August of 2012 morning.

“Who is this again”? Mr.  Mulhern asks very diplomatically.  

“This is Michele Peterson, from Chattanooga, TN, I bought some drywall from you folks back in 2007 and I’m trying to figure out if “your” drywall was from China or not. Because look, my father’s a truck driver, he picked it up for me back in 07′, but he can’t remember where the drywall was from, and when I bought “your” drywall; look, your sales guy told me you guys were a supplier of drywall and that y’all’ had a warehouse insurance claim for some drywall that got wet because of a warehouse flood so that’s why you guys put it on EBay to sell for such a cheap price.  And look, I’m just trying to see if this drywall I bought was Chinese because we picked it up in Alabama”, I say back with  the best of my twenty four hour lack-of-sleep urgency voice.

“I can tell you we are “party” to a lawsuit in Louisiana”, he says back; quietly, slowly but full of duplicitous.

“Hmmmm, ooooh K, what does that mean? Does that mean your drywall was made in China?”, I say back sheepishly, cautiously, curiously but quickly,

Silence, silence happens on the other end of my current extension 203.

“Hello? Hello Mr. Mulhern…………Barry are you there?”, by this point I had looked Mr. Mulhern’s  picture up on Devon International’s website (I think you can tell alot about folks just by seeing into their business face). I also wanted to know what Mr. Mulhern’s position at Devon was or rather how high up he was in Devon’s corporate structure?

It appears as though I am talking to Devon International’s lead council, Devon’s in-house lawyer.

“Barry, look, this is important to me because though you don’t know me and I don’t know you, I need you to know I’m not a bad person and you’re not a bad person, but listen Barry I have to know; because look, this Chinese Drywall “stuff”, it looks bad and listen what you’re not understanding is I’m not your typical business person calling you up, I’m someone who actually gives a shit, and these are my family and friends who bought these houses I built, I’m not some big developer down in Florida, I’m Michele Peterson, Im not a lawyer, I’m not some big whig who thinks she’s better than everyone else, I’m just me and I can tell by your voice Barry, you’re not a bad guy either, so look Barry, just tell me, just tell me, I can handle it, it looks like your company sells a lot of Chinese “stuff” but I gotta know for sure Barry, I learned a long time ago not to assume anything, so listen Barry I need you to tell me, is your drywall your company sold me Chinese?”

The difference between the word “your” and “the” is critical in my current circumstance,  my use of “your” in almost every business conversation I’ve ever had in business over the last twenty years always let’s me know what type of business person I’m dealing with and how much consideration is on the other end of my line.

I’m giving Barry all I can enrol this Wednesday morning, all the southern charm I can plead, all the “look we are just two folks sittin in a tree” and although I’ve only been in a fight with a Yankee one other time (I’ll tell you about that story another time, that fight worked out pretty well for me back in 2001) I can tell Barry’s gonna be a tough button to crack.

“Ms. Peterson, I can only tell you the lawsuit we are party to is in Louisiana and its complicated. But you can go online and find out more, now I hate to do this but I’m gonna have to let you go now I wish you luck, just look online, you’ll find everything you’re looking for online”, he says back to me as though he’s controlling the mute button but has no idea which button to push,

“Wait Barry, listen I’m busy too, believe me when I say this earnestly, I’m busy too, but look, it sounds like you might not wanna tell me your drywall is Chinese and look I’ve got an eBay receipt here from back in 2007 but it doesn’t tell me where the stuff is made…..so is it that you don’t know where your drywall is from or can you not say or will you not say?Because look Barry I’m a fatass and I hate to tell you but my blood pressure must be through the roof right now and you sure can help me out by letting me know whether I’m standing in quicksand or whether I’m standing in mud, because look Barry,  mud I can deal with but whenever I’ve seen folks standing in quicksand, I’ve seen a lot of crazy shit go down. I’ve seen folks do alot of crazy things to get out of it or to avoid it all together and look before I call my friends back to let them know whats going on with their HVAC unit or their house, I don’t want to speculate, i don’t want to start a fire where fire is not gonna help!! So look, I just need to know…..Is your Drywall, is your drywall,  is it “Chinese” Drywall Counselor?”

“Treat em’ like shit, they’ll treat you like a King” Part 2 Continued

“Buddy?” one of my team buddy members curiously says to me two Sundays ago,

“Yes buddy”, I say back, with my usual morning voice, as my two buddies hop in my pick-up truck and we start to head up to my properties on Lookout Mountain to do some yard work.

I own several properties in and around Chattanooga TN, so my fellas (my young black guys who work with me almost every day and who help me take care of my real estate empire) and I came up with the name “Team Buddy” about three months ago, in early Spring of 2013.

At the moment there are four members of “Team Buddy” (Little Darryl, Roscoe, JR and me), my goal by the end of 2013 is to have at least twenty five members of “Team Buddy” made up of friends, family, co-workers, business folks and anyone one else who wants to bring something “different” to my racial round table of young black brethren in Chattanooga, TN.

You see, for years I’ve been hiring men from all walks of life and of all colors, however, I’ve never hired a young black fella (say, under the age of 21) to work with any of my businesses.

Now some of you might be sittin’ there thinking, “well that sucks”, and some of you might be thinking, “well I understand why”, but I bet most of you are just thinking “Huh”?

Thus, the latter of your responses pretty much sums up where I stand on the question of “does the socioeconomic ladder exist for my poor young black youths of Chattanooga TN”, that was, until a year ago today.

Now I know most of you are thinking, what in the hell is Michele talking about now and what the hell is she smoking; but having come from what I would call, “the inter-racial capital of Tennessee” (back in the early nineties I had a black friend named Marla who went to UTC but whose boyfriend decided to transfer up to ETSU our junior year and later in the year Marla found out the hard way that a lot of white girls are color-blind in JC, I’m not sure which fact offended Marla more; that her fella cheated on her or that he stepped out of her race to do it? Marla always knew how to explain things to me so I’d understand her travails as a black woman) never really thought much of racial issues growing up in Johnson City.

I mean “it” existed.

I was just more worried about what kind of car I was gonna get for my sixteenth birthday than what kind of jobs my black friends were gonna have when we grew up. White folks verses black folks, black folks verses black folks, just seemed like an absurd notion when I was growing up.

Now don’t get me wrong, I knew most of my black friends were poor but I always thought I was poor too so I never really thought much about their “racial-economic-calamity”.

In fact, I probably thought more about my “female-travails” than anything else, because growing up in a town where; who you dated, what you drove, and what does your daddy do seemed to be the most important facets of my life back in 1985 Johnson City, TN.

Even the “working” poor (as some folks like to call folks who’ll work for minimum wage) always seemed nice and always fed me like my newspaper mommies, I just never really saw a distinction between the two.

I’m not gonna lie, I probably ate more Little Debbie snacks than any other kid growing up in Johnson City Tennessee during the eighties. It didn’t seem to matter which home I was in, whether I was in “the projects”, or the “Gump Addition”, these “little” snacks were on the counters of my youth.

Now I’m not sure when I decided to exchange my “Little Debbie” friend for my college buddy “Corona” but it happened sometime during my first year at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga. I can’t pinpoint the exact date but I think it was about two weeks after I quit pursuing my dream of playing college basketball.

“Treat em’ like shit, they’ll treat you like a King” Story 18 April 19, 2013

One Wednesday afternoon in early March of 2013, Randy, my head carpenter and I are having a conversation about business and “practical” business practices.

Randy and I have been working together on and off for over five years; I’ve designed, he’s built. I suspect many business marriages are born out of the basic knowledge we need one-another in a sort of “necessary evil” kind of way.

The only difference from my personal world and my business world is most of my “business partners” are men and most of my close family and friends are made up of women, gay men and my industrial engineer, know-it-all, analysis-paralysis, Puerto Rican brother.

It’s funny how so many of my friends always ask me what I mean by “Puerto Rican twin” and I think, huh, you don’t get it? Most “smart” folks just wanna correct my spelling, rather than think about things for a minute or two. Most tell me it’s “Irish twins” dummy (I of course like to ask them back, is there a difference between a Puerto Rican and an Irishman? Both Islands are mostly Catholic and since I’m only ten months and a few days younger than my “older” brother, I’d rather be Puerto Rican than Irish) get it right!

God forbid I misspell “enything” or use your instead of you’re. I always feel like Heidi Klum being photoshopped by Anna Wintur when someone corrects my spelling or grammar online.

When did this photoshopping business start anyways? And is Heidi Klum really ugly and so “fat” (Ive never met her in person so I can only imagine what the TV folks are doing to her) she needs to become a characteractur of herself?

Or is it just a fundamental twenty-first century addiction to perfection that smothers almost everything?  

Society’s way of throwing in the white towel of the pursuit of happiness, replacing it with the pursuit of perfection? Has life always pursued perfection over perspective?  Or rather the “appearance of perfection”? Or have I just had my eyes closed for too long?

Has perception always chased perfection?  

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You are the salt of the earth, but if salt becomes tasteless, what can make it salty again? It is good for nothing, and can only be thrown out to be trampled underfoot by men.” Matthew 5:13-16

Some of the most “Perfect folks” I know-of seem so miserable to me. I’m not sure what this says about them or me; I’m still hard at work trying to figure this one out.

Does the imperfection of my grammar and the misspelling of my words make what I have to say less worthy? Or am I just being sensitive because although I don’t mind criticism, I prefer it “constructively” with a smile, a hug and a flower.

It’s funny how some of the best lessons I’ve learned in life are from the most “ignorant people” I’ve known. It’s a kind of Machiavelli meets Tupac Shakur sort of injustice (I’ll write a story about this comparison later).

Jeeeez , I think half the time, I can’t help that my elementary school spelling memorization  classes were taken over by spellcheck in the late eighties. I mean to say, I’m great at math and I don’t correct folks for not knowing what 1224 x 2356 is;  it’s $2,884,774 by the way.  

And one other thing I’ve figured out, by god if you wanna be taken seriously as a writer you better make sure you don’t make one mistake, except in math (which I did purposely earlier just to illustrate how easy it is for you to glide past numbers and not commas) because most “smart” people can’t do math.

Literary Perfection is to articulate “smart” white folks what Inarticulate Rhetoric  is to “ignorant” rappers, both add street cred.

“How’s the day treatin’ ya gal.” Randy hollers from across the road as he approaches my truck,

“Horrible”! I say back to Randy as I approach the little yellow house on Lookout Mountain where Randy is adding additional room for “the baby”.

“well, what’s wrong gal, someone done runnoft with your lake?” he says back to me as he slaps my back and hollers at Matt, his framing assistant,

“Matt, get that damn water hose off that roof before the field flies decide to take over”.  

Now what the hell Randy is talking about is better left to the southern gods of dialect today, because I’m in no mood for red-neck 101.

It’s funny to me how Randy’s always saying something to me that I have to sit back and think, what the hell does he mean by that saying? It’s like watching an episode of Green Arces meets Andy Griffith when Randy and I get to talking, although I’d like to think I’m more like Andy, unfortunately, most times I feel like Oliver.

You see Randy is use to running his own show as he likes to remind me every time we disagree about things,

“Gal, I’ve been building in my sleep longer than you’ve been alive.” he’s always saying.

Randy and I have locked horns more times than a mexican cross-dresser from Texas meeting his Russian baby mama from Chicago for the first time, on “The Jerry Springer Show”.  

I know, I know, it’s confusing right?

These sayings by men I’ve employed over the last twenty years are enough to make you wanna check back into college, because before I checked out of college I just knew I knew everything there was to know about business. In fact, I was sure my days of delivering news papers, of cleaning toilets at the greyhound bus station and of waitin on rich white folks from Lookout Mountain, or Riverview, had prepared me for the world of entrepreneurship.

Come up with a good idea, work hard, and you’ll make money, Right?


If only life were this simple.

I was so naive when I started my first elevator business during my twenty-fourth year. Now I know most entrepreneurs like to brag about how young they were when they first got started (Ive done that too) and I know Lee Iococa was first to start the trend of “I was a paperboy first which led to my success at Chrysler”,  but,

That’s bullshit, I say.

Most paperboys never have to deal with their employees, their labor unions, their bankers, their suppliers, their tax man, their clients, the businessman competitor looking for better “production” levels in China, the ambulance chasing lawyer who went to law school because he thought it was a way for him to get rich so he’d finally get the prettiest girl in high school, and all the rest of the folks involved in running a small business.

All I had to do when I threw my papers; hit the front porch, apologize if I didn’t, and make sure the paper wasn’t wet. If I did all three of those things, most folks would pay for the news they received each month.

I once had a guy name Jerry Case in my office in 1998 tell me,

“I wouldn’t give that no account contractor the sweat off my balls” he’d always say as though the sweat on his balls was a fundamental necessity for that contractor to finish the house he was building.

Now think about that for a moment, and as you think about it, you might also remember I was just a poor, white girl from Johnson City TN trying to make it big on Madison Avenue, without the fundamental “pharmaceutical” look.

My challenge early on was to figure out how I get the moth without a flame.

“The Conflict of Generational Acceptance” Story 13

“Sweetie, do you want another coca-cola?” my Ma-maw asks me,

“It sure is a hot day for April so I guess I better have a glass of ice water because I have to rustle up some elevator sales this afternoon and Coke tends to make me a little high strung-fidgety, and I can’t sell anything to anyone if I don’t seem calm, you know how folks can be Ma-Maw, they’ll think I’m trying to rip them off, or up to no good, or giving them the shifty eye, or something”, I tell my Ma-Maw as I grab a bottle of Dasani water from her fridge.

“How’s the elevator business going Michele? Do you still like selling elevators? Are you still building houses? You know your grandfather, Guy would have been so proud of you Michele.” my Ma-Maw says as she settles back into her “US made” 2005, QVC private labeled lift-chair.

My Ma-Maw is a wonderful eighty-six years old and although her knees, hip, I suspect her shoulders and neck, and everywhere else on her body with a joint or rubber band connection is either in pain or in need of a cortisone lubrication shot, my Ma-Maw is sharp as a tack otherwise and her memory has never faded (unlike my other grandmother Nonnie who could do cartwheels across her art decor bar in her 1952 Appalachian Trail cabin, but whose mind started to stray a few years before she died).

In fact, my Ma-Maw reminds me that day I forgot to return her call from two weeks ago when I put her on hold and took a business call, then came back to her good phone ear and abruptly told her, “I love you Ma-Maw but this is a business call and I gotta take this, I’ll call you back tomorrow!”,  I say as I quickly hit flash on my trusty new I-phone 3G.

Oooh the “Guilt from generational disappointment” has to be one of the most impressive boundary fences for most folks who walk the line of subversiveness, yet this electric fence can also be the most difficult to make peace with; lest I forget to remind you why I truly believe my Chinese Drywall experience though horribly difficult, both financially and personally, happened because I had lost all sense of business perspective by the Spring of 2010.

“Honey, come over here and rub your poor Ma-maw’s feet.”, she says and continues after a deep sigh. “Michele you can’t imagine the pain that radiates from your Ma-Maws poor ole feet”, She says as she begins the “art of the close”.

Now for years I knew I got my ability to close deals from the Peterson side of my genetic make-up but it wasn’t until this hot April day in 2010 that I realized I had gotten it directly from my father’s mother, my Ma-Maw.

“Ooh Ma-Maw are you sure you want me to rub them? I mean I’m not the best massager around, (suggesting Deanna, one of my Pickel cousins, is a much better foot massager than me) and I might hurt your foot or something?”  I say back to her with a great deal of trepidation and lack of desire.

“Oooh your poor ole Ma-Maw just can’t reach down there anymore and here honey, put some of this cream I got off the QVC the other day, its suppose to have heat penetrating menthol in it. Valerie, on the QVC, says her grandmother uses it and she couldn’t hardly stand up before she started using it on her feet. And now Michele, Valerie says her grandmother doesn’t even need cortisone shots anymore. Valerie also says a lot of massage folks like to use it while they massage people’s feet. Michele, have you ever had a massage before?” my Ma-Maw asks me, as she quickly figures out the more angled approach of “the close”; always bring the sale back around to the person your selling too. Whether vanity or remorse most folks just can’t stay away from their own story, because let’s face it, everyone has one.

Never in a million years will you stand a chance with a sales person who can turn the tides on you and bring the sale back to some sense of personal nostalgia.

I’ve never figured out why most sales people can’t figure this out. “Shut up and listen”,  is a constant dialogue with my brain as I approach a home elevator prospect. Ask the person about them and their issues, find out what the prospect’s “true story” is, because usually its not about just buying something from you, usually it’s about feeding a desire or need within themselves.

“Guy the Builder” Story 12 December 16, 2012

Ya know, telling stories has always been my thing. Ever since I was a kid I can remember loving the expression on people’s faces when I’d come up with a tale (sometimes true/sometimes embellished as my Mommy Gah likes to say) that even surprised my two favorite people in the whole world, my Ma-Maw and my Nonnie. Both of my grandmothers loved to tell me stories and although you could not have found two more different people, both always found a way to bring their stories back to kindness, loyalty, tolerance, forgiveness and  love.

On the other hand, writing stories verses telling stories, without the use of dialect nor expression, is the most arduous task I’ve taken on in many, many years. It is a task I do not pick up every single day and why you, my reader, have not had a story from me in several months. That and the fact that I sold my beloved Tucker house and I’ve been scurrying around Chattanooga these last few months replacing it with several other building projects.

I have written about my Nonnie several times throughout my storytelling days, yet I’ve not written much about my Ma-Maw.

Why? Because my Ma-Maw just died two years ago this past September, and although it’s been two years and several months; the anguish and sadness of my loss is still very fresh in my soul; therefore, my socialistic heart would not allow my businesswoman mind to come in for a bowl of warm soup, settle into my easy chair and tell you a story about my Ma-maw.

Until now.

So as I lie here in my bed, looking out at the snowy winter wonderland that is my very own instant etch a sketch George Henry Durrie painting,  which occurred within minutes of my morning yawn, I felt compelled to write a story about my Ma-Maw and share it with you.

My Ma-Maw was born in Yancey County, North Carolina on Greene Mountain at the turn of the twentieth century. I have imagined life back then as being very similar to one of my grandmother’s favorite tv shows, The Walton’s.  

Isn’t it funny how the Walton name today is synonymous with the giant “get as much as you can for as little as possible” retail store,  yet when I was a kid, the Walton name was synonymous with stories of love, anguish, loss, hard work, war, sacrifice, compassion, community, John Boy, and all that was right about big families growing up during the depression. I often wonder if Ike Godsey had been around Sam Walton when he first opened his general stores back in the fifties, things might have turned out a bit different for the twenty first century retailer.

My Ma-Maw was a beautiful woman and held the standard for sweetness, elegance, humility and grace. Ma-maw loved to talk, just like Nonnie. Yet, unlike Nonnie, my Ma-Maw  loved to share the Lord’s word and all that was good about the Bible.  Yet, she always managed to never stray to the darker sides of religion.

She was always emphasizing “through Jesus, all things can be accomplished Michele”.

“Lee Major’s Nephew” Story 11 December 2, 2012

“Guilt and shame is debilitating”, Oprah says back to the lovely brunette lady with the large brown eyes, as my brother from a different mother roommate, Bob,  hands me another cigarette and proclaims,  

“Damn straight Buddy, now that is the Truth!”

Oprah, now there’s a person with soul. Annoying at times, yes; self-riotous a lot, for sure; but no one can ever accuse Oprah of not having soul.

They say in New Orleans “a person with soul, is a person who has the ability to make someone feel better about themselves, regardless of their condition”.

My best friend Bob has soul.

I met Bob when I was twenty-one. I was on the heals of what should have been the end of my Junior summer and the beginning of my Senior fall at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.  However, financial need; the art of waiting tables; visiting and revisiting the “deprivation of sleep” broadway play; and the need to be desired, all played a part in my collegiate regression. I was barely a Sophomore by the Fall of 92′, although I did have a 2.15 GPA (you couldn’t continue at UTC if you had below a 2.0 GPA, so I was always pretty proud of myself for always managing to just skirt the “you can’t come back” enrollment line).

I had accumulated $23,450 in student loan debt and I had managed to pay cash for a black 1968 MGB, all this, while partying my ass off at bars like, The Stone Lion, Michealangelos and Yesterday’s.

As Bob walks into my Poli-sci class my Fall 1992 morning, I think to myself, “now there is one beautiful man” (little did I know back then, the hand of God was reaching down inside my soul and untying the biggest Christmas present I could have ever prayed for or asked Santa Claus for), Bob smiles at me and sits down right in front of me. “Holy Shit, this guy is too damn pretty”, I think to myself.

“Hey, whats your name?”, I ask the tall dark handsome man, with endless legs and a sheepishly, yet “I’m gonna get you in trouble” grin, who has sat in front of me for three days straight,

“Bob, what’s yours”? He says back,  with his inquisitive brow,

“I’m Michele E. Peterson, what’s your deal, are you a poli-sci major”? I ask him,

“No, I’m an English major, with a minor in philosophy”, He says back.

“ooh ok cool….since you and I are gonna be fast friends, listen you know how this teacher takes roll call everyday?” (I know Bob is a model or something because unlike most guys I’ve met in my three years at UTC, he is different, in a good way of course, but different; shy but tenacious, quiet but loud, welcoming yet guarded, and certainly not someone I’m likely to ever meet again. Though I don’t know it at the time, I’m sitting behind my original, soon to be non-biblical soulmate).

“mmmm hummmm” he nods,

“ok cool! Ya know, I’ve been thinking……since you and I are friends now, do you think you can do me a favor? Do you think if I’m not in class, do you think you could sign my name on the roll call sheet the professor passes around every morning?” I ask with a twinkle and a lean.

Bob sways back in his seat, as if I’ve just offended him in some small way and then he leans forward with the conviction of seriousness and complete and utter integrity and proclaims,

“Suuuurrre!!!'” (his face lights up and his eyes sing, The HILLS are alive with the sound of music) “and will you sign my name too if I’m not here?”

“Fo sure!” I gesture back to him, with a nod, a wink and a thumbs up signal.

“Awesome”!!  He says as he shuffles his feet around to face our incoming professor, who looks like a cross between a homeless person and a Civil War veteran.

“Great!!!” I say out loud to anyone who’s listening and I lean back and think,

“I’m all set now, I can breeze through this class with my new fastidious, stud muffin, yet seems like he takes academics very seriously new friend”.

And so as I untie my too long, needed a haircut three months ago, ponytail; I start counting and regrouping my herd of sheep sleeping buddies and I begin to plan my next visit to the”I’m gonna get to sleep late, Twenty-two year old fireside”, I’ve been visiting and revisiting since I convinced myself there are no Boogiemen coming to get me at my apartment in the Robert E Lee building (where I live alone) when I turn the lights off “sleep ranch”.

This is gonna be great!!  I’m gonna make at least a B in this class, all with the help of my new, dark and handsome Poli-Sci best friend, Bob!

And I don’t even have to show up!

Because I know he will sign me in and I’ll be able to call him and have late night library sessions and copy his notes. This is great, this is great, I am beside myself with sleep deprived ecstasy.

Little did I know about life at the time and how most well thought out five minute strategies should be picked up and looked at over and over again before implementation.

Unfortunately,  my new “Rock Hudson” best friend soulmate,  didn’t show up for class either…