Simple Pleasures

I read lately that Miley Cyrus is very upset over her parents’ split. Rumors abound that her mother had an extramarital affair. Ms. Hannah Montana’s net worth is estimated to be anywhere from $500 million to $1 billion. But it seems no amount of money can console Ms. Cyrus and her achy, breaky heart. I’m not saying she thought it would, but I bet the rest of us did. How could anyone with that amount of money have problems?

Also, many members of the Michael Jackson family have come forward in recent months to tell the real story of Michael just before his death. His mother admitted she suspected him of drug use; his father justified his strict attitude in raising his boys by claiming that “Michael the superstar” was a result of “Joe the relentless father.” Even eldest brother Jackie told Oprah that the family is moving on through the pain.

It is odd that these family members were silent as Michael faced all of the rumored accusations, but now--after his actual, physical departure--they are “dealing with the pain.” It seems to me Michael was carrying a few of those folks long after four of the Jackson 5 faded out. This is clearly a troubled family with money (as usual) at the root of the problems … and some real baggage to sort out as well to determine the real price of fame, which seems very high.

Good Deeds And Bad Dudes

Many people have stood and gawked at the jaw-dropping spectacle LeBron James has become. The NBA’s two-time MVP has found new ways to tarnish his reputation that the greatest rumor-making gossip columnist could not have invented. Watching the growing irrelevance of this spoiled prima donna has become possibly the most rewarding experience Clevelanders could have imagined. LeBron came from nothing, and for years his loyal followers smiled silently, reading one story after another about how “together” this young man was.

Now, it turns out all that news was highly controlled and carefully distributed. His fame went right to his head; it turns out he’s been a spoiled brat for years. Ah, LeBron, how you could have made us Clevelanders (and thereby yourself) so proud. As Michael Jordan reportedly says, “Maybe you’re just making excuses.”

A Means To An End

Daily Web site visits to MSNBC or Yahoo! include topics about saving money, investing money and buying gold instead of saving cash. We are taught how to get a job, keep a job, get a raise, change jobs, work from home, and, most importantly, find a job we love (so we never have to “work” again). But has anyone started to notice that although it may be all about the satisfaction and rewards from work for some of us, there are others for whom work is merely a means to an end, as if there were more to life than being paid, promoted, and kept?

My friend Steve recently shared a story with me about a conference he attended in the early 1980s. Early in the morning one day, he happened into the hotel dining room, finding only one other table, occupied by an older gentleman. The man wore a white suit and a bolo tie, and when he looked up to see my friend, his spectacles and white goatee gave away his iconic image in a second. It was none other than Colonel Sanders, who was at the conference to make a presentation about branding and franchising. He had begun that process in the mid-fifties before it was really a common practice, and now the KFC people circulated the Colonel regularly as a good-will business ambassador of the company.

My friend was invited to sit down and was fascinated by the story the Colonel told of how his “seven herb and spices” recipe was actually served out of the back room of a gasoline filling station for years before he rented an abandoned restaurant across the street and actually began the business that would make him rich and famous. But the Colonel’s eyes filled with tears as he reminisced about how much more fun and exciting seeking the fortune had been as opposed to having the fortune. As Southern gentlemen are prone to do, he picked up the check, filled his chest with prideful air, and rose slowly with a wink, walking out of the place with all the dignity and grace of a man’s man.

Looking For Approval

As I consider that image, I think of how many retiring people I have waved goodbye to in the last 10 years. When I came to Cleveland Metroparks, the staff in place was generally 10 to 15 years older than I, so I have had the honor (and loss) of watching dozens of accomplished men and women experience the sunset of their careers. It has been a lesson for me like no other because it keeps repeating itself, emblazed in my mind.

Although all of these folks worry about having enough money in their retirement, that issue is typically the smallest consideration when it comes to departing a place that has been a part of their lives for more than 30 years, in most cases. The sadness comes when I realize the bulk of their life’s work is now more behind them than in front, and they seem to be seeking the self-approval that asks, “How did I do? That was a pretty nice job, a good way to spend the last three decades--being part of something so good--I guess overall--pretty well done.”

And I believe the desire for that feeling and emotion is within all of us. And perhaps LeBron and Miley and the Jacksons and Mr. Buffet all hope, deep inside, for a day when all that comes through and has meaning and clarity in their life’s history. We all have access to these feelings right now, but often the powerfully rich and famous do not. Their world is so clouded by the bulk of having so much of everything they cannot celebrate the simple things we touch every day.

A parking spot that opens up right by the door, a glass of ice-cold beer on a scorching summer day, a steaming cup of cocoa after shoveling the driveway and looking out the window at what you accomplished--the little things like that. For me, it is often the holidays when I look at my family, one member at a time, and consider what they mean in my life--the needs they fulfill and the needs they let me fill for them. I thank God for including so much happiness in this life’s mission, allowing me to serve the world in whatever capacity I can.

You Never Know

One evening, just before dusk, my supervisor Steve (the one who dined with Colonel Sanders), was dropping off his park vehicle at the garage of one of our outpost locations, and he noticed the door to the maintenance barn was open. He peered in and discovered that the stump grinder was missing. He looked around the lot and found it to be empty except for one pickup truck, which he recognized as that of a former park manager who had retired years ago, and once had been in charge of this location.

As Steve was about to call a park ranger to report the theft, he heard a buzzing noise in the distance. He got back in his car and drove toward the sound. Eventually, he saw the former park manager running the grinder over two enormous stumps on a small parcel of park land. Steve approached with a wave, and the man returned it with a smile.

“Goldie,” the boss said, “is that you?” Goldie smiled and chuckled as the motor moaned to a halt. “It’s me.” Each man stood, considering the other for a minute. The question, “What are you doing here?” was just begging to be asked, but nothing was said.

Steve finally asked, “How’s retirement?”

“It’s wonderful,” Goldie said, “but you know, I always meant to get these stumps outta here, and it was driving me crazy for the past years knowing they were still here. Still had my key to the barn, thought I’d take care of it today--with winter approaching and all.”

Steve smiled, chewing his lip and nodding slowly. “I see. Well, much obliged. Take ‘er easy.”

Goldie turned and then stopped. “Hey, I should give you back this key. I can lock up without it and shouldn’t need it again.”

Steve turned and shook his head. “You never know, Goldie, better keep it.” Goldie smiled and stuffed the key back in his pocket. It was the 1980s, and life had not yet become so complicated by all the electronic tools we need to make our lives simpler. Small gestures of trust produced large quantities of faith and good will.

Maybe the next time you pray for that lottery win, it might instead be a prayer of thanks that it never comes in. As you and your family are watching a late movie and a few of the kids are asleep on the couch, the dog curled up by the fireplace and the snow falling outside, rest secure that your blessings abound and you have privileges that others may never, ever experience--no matter what their wealth can afford.

Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at