Ever since I can remember, I’ve worried about knowing the right moves. As if there were a body of worldly information I wasn’t privy to, information like how much money to tip, how to find the right person when you want something, or how to throw a wicked curve ball.
I have a theory that my father was supposed to provide this knowledge, and would have, had he lived. I have another theory that I’m the one supposed to provide it for Nick. And I don’t know where to begin.
An entrepreneurial blogger I read—his name is Altucher—writes about making moves. Altucher wanted, for example, to talk to this billionaire guy once, and didn’t know how to reach him. Altucher figured out from the guy’s business location what the email domain had to be. He started sending emails to that domain with various combinations of the guy’s name as the handle. Altucher did this for a year until he hit the right combination and the guy responded.
I was running laps once with my college roommate on the UCLA track. In those days, anyone could get on the field when the team wasn’t training. We saw the junior senator from California jogging up ahead of us. My roommate ran after him, challenged him to a race (the senator accepted) and afterwards asked him for a job. The answer was “Yes.”
Another nice move.
Here’s one more, a suggestion from a New Yorker humor piece called “Summer Fun for Boys”:
Open a lemonade stand. On the second day, post a sign next to it reading, “CLOSED OWING TO HIGH TAXES AND RED TAPE. THANKS, OBAMACARE!” Then chat up the Fox News crew that instantly appears in your driveway.
I like the Fox News part.
THE STORE ON SANTEE STREET
My dad knew some business moves, I guess, but maybe not enough. On Saturdays from the time I was about four, he would take me down to his textile store on Santee Street in the garment district. It wasn’t much of a store. The display windows had a few bolts of cloth in them. He would sit at an old roll top in the office and punch figures into an adding machine. As far as I can remember, only one customer ever walked in.
Maybe Saturday was a light day.
Outside in back a lift with a collapsing iron gate took you up to the second floor, where there were more bolts of cloth. Giant bolts, the size of tree trunks, wrapped around long, thick cardboard tubes that I got to take home when the cloth was all gone.
I loved riding up and down that lift.
At lunchtime we’d walk up the street to a diner and I’d have a cup of chicken noodle soup with saltines. An office building nearby had a candy counter in the lobby where my dad bought me a Hershey bar for a nickel.
Then my dad would go back to his adding machine. I didn’t have a clue that the business was failing and eating away at his heart.
I TAKE INVENTORY
Getting into medicine never seemed to involve making any moves. This was a good thing, since I didn’t know any. Medicine was safe, understandable, a straight shot, strictly a merit system. You had to be smart to get in the door. At least, you had to be really good at doing things that other people said were important to do, like memorizing certain facts and taking tests. But you didn’t need to know any moves, at least not the kind of entrepreneurial moves Altucher and my roommate did.
When I was a resident, it was a different story. I had a mentor. I followed him around for a year and he taught me how to do anesthesia. That was a lot of moves. When he was done with me I had a trade. I could walk into any hospital and open shop, which I did.
Over the years, I’ve added to my store of moves. Some of them, moves like “test the suction machine first” apply only to the anesthesia world. Others, moves like, “never ask permission,” might apply elsewhere.
It’s those other moves I think about teaching Nick.
Nick seems to have come in with a lot of moves. Maybe because he was born with something I don’t have, or maybe because Nora and I haven’t imposed a lot of judgments and requirements on him. We’ve encouraged him to experiment and explore possibilities, to trust his instincts and his feelings. Maybe that’s all Altucher and my roommate were doing.
Lately, in the mornings, Nick comes down and plays the Wii game he bought with his birthday money. He gets an hour on it, and I listen to him while I’m at my computer typing. I can hear him now. When the hour is up, this is how the conversation goes:
Me: Okay, computer time is over.
Nick: You’re still at the computer
Me: It’s different with me.
Me: It’s my work.
Nick: Are you making money from your blog?
Me: Not exactly. I made money as a playwright.
Nick: How much?
Me: One year I made eight thousand dollars.
Nick: There’s more money in video games.
This from a kid who just turned nine.
Last night, he came up to me and said, “Dada, did you know I idolize you?”
I have no idea where this came from. Maybe he was speaking from his heart. Maybe he heard the line on a TV show and wanted to try it out. Either way, Nick has sort of blown my theory that I’m supposed to be teaching moves to him.
He makes me think that 90% of being a dad is just showing up.
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Willie Mays demonstrating a move:
Know any moves? I’m collecting.
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