I drink black coffee now. I’m not sure how it happened, but it happened.
Actually, I know exactly how it happened: I don’t have a fridge. I can’t keep milk.
The freaky part, though, is this: I don’t even like non-black coffee anymore. I was a soy or 2% guy for over a decade, until I had to make the change when I moved on Sputnik. And now… well… now I just like it black. The other day, at a cafe, I stood in front of the creamer options (skim, 2%, half and half) and I was genuinely confused about why I didn’t want milk. I wanted it black.
How the hell is that possible? How did I just start not liking what I can’t have? Weird.
I think we might be in greater control of our desires and emotions than we realize. But, then again, I’m no closer to cracking the code than I’ve ever been. In fact, I’ve been struggling.
I’m struggling because it’s a million degrees and I’m dying. In addition to no fridge, Sputnik doesn’t have an AC.
The heat is impossible to describe. So too is the way I sweat. Not just drips. Streams. This is inland Wisconsin. I need to find water. I need to get to the Mississippi.
I also need to focus on the positive: my solar situation is through the roof (what a pun!) out here. My battery hasn’t dipped below 90% despite having my little electric fan on all day every day.
Still though, I feel like I’m sweating all my energy. Every day. I feel like it’s hitting my Work productivity and my emotions.
That was a weird impulse right there, the need to capitalize the W in Work.
Let’s think about that.
I think it’s because I hate that I use the same word - “work” - as everybody else. I think that a lot of entrepreneurs and artists feel this way. I want my own word. I’m happy to share it, but it needs to mean something more than making money, because I’m obviously not doing that, or I wouldn’t be dying of heat right now. For me, Work means reading (Sidenote: Oh my God The Overstory!! Oh my god Oh My God OH MY GOD!) and writing (meaning, yes, I’m definitely working right now), sending awesomely long hand-written letters to loved ones, and, most importantly, turning Readup into a global internet phenomenon - making it huge, making the internet better for people who read and helping non-readers to experience the joy of reading.
I feel like it’s important to mention that I don’t begrude nine-to-fivers. In fact, I think I can relate to them more than most.
I’ve done a roughly equal amount of blue-collar and white-collar work over the course of my career, which began when I was fourteen. In New Jersey, that’s when you could get your working papers - at fourteen years old. They were available at the guidance counselor’s office. In fact, come to think of it, I’m fairly certain that I had my first job bussing tables at a cafe called Coffee Talk when I was thirteen, because the owner was willing to pay me off the books, without papers. And even before that, I had a Friday night piano gig at a restaurant called Conchetta’s, where I played the same few classical pieces over and over again, for two hours with a twenty minute break. That job only paid tips, but I crushed it.
But my first official job was bussing tables at 3 Brothers Pizza, where I worked my way up to counter boy and eventually grill man. For entire summers, I smelled like Italian sausages and cheese steaks, despite my best attempts to scrub the smell away. Full days in front of a steamy, greasy grill seeps into you skin in ways that few people can understand.
The job was like a puzzle for me and that’s why I loved it. I especially loved when it got really busy and the grill was like a giant gameboard. You wouldn’t believe how many combinations of things were possible: grilled (or raw) peppers and onions, hot or sweet sausage, chicken or beef steak, cheese, no cheese, extra cheese. We had a few customers who knew to ask for things like sauteed mushrooms or a toasted bun.
I took tremendous pride in never stopping the flow, although sometimes it seemed necessary with ten orders on the grill and five more coming in. There was no paper trail. The counter employees just shouted stuff in my direction: Two plain cheesesteaks and a chicken-cheese, no sauce, no onion. That probably meant that the chicken-cheese wanted pepper. Occasionally I had to clarify, but I never made mistakes. Mistakes were a nightmare.
In Reinventing Organizations, a book that radically transformed the way I think about business and management, Frederick LaLoux talks about the difference between authority that’s bestowed on you versus authority that you earn. At 3 Brothers, I achieved both.
On busy days, the boss, Ozzy, put me at the helm. At only fifteen years old, that felt like a tremendous honor. Fourth of July Saturday, manning my station on the boardwalk, for hours on end. But the true pride came from the comments from customers: “This is the best cheesesteaek I’ve ever had in my life,” and “How the hell does that kid keep all of that in his head?” The answer was concentration. Focus. The answer is that I took tremendous pride in my work.
That was half a lifetime ago. Now I’m trying to relearn how to work again, after becoming somewhat lobotomized by the corporate world, where double-speak and half-truths are the norm. Success in an office environment has more to do with performance, winning a game of theater, than it does with raw skills and capability. I think that’s why I like to think of my role as CEO of Readup as blue-collar. Also, I guess I like deluding myself. Then again, changing the oil in Sputnik is Work. It’s all Work. And I love it all.
I come from a family of entrepreneurs. Not a single member of my nuclear family - both of my parents and both of my brothers, one older and one younger - has a boss. The same is true for my co-founder and his whole family. It’s not how we roll. No grad degrees anywhere. Fuck that noise. Our collective overall college graduation rate is about 50/50, which seems pretty healthy to me.
This is how I got where I am.
I used to sweat my ass off over a grill, and now I’m sweating my ass off over my writing device, my Alphasmart NEO, disconnected entirely from the internet and talk talk talking about work, life, and why we do what we do.
I write the way I do because nobody else does and because I think we all should.
This is so much better than social media. This took me 45 minutes to write and it will take you less than ten to read. I think that’s a fair trade, and I think we’re both better off beacuse of it.
One thing about entrepreneurship is that there’s no playbook. There are no right answers. There’s just sweat. Sweat is good, I think. Sweat means you aren’t dying. Sweat means you’re alive.
90 degrees and it’s not even 9am. Holy shit today’s gonna be a hoot.
Catch you later.