Thursday, February 21, 2008
The Aon Building
That is the Aon building, a very special building to me. It has become even more special today.
I arrived on Skid Row on February 7, 2007. That day marked the end of a horrific experience and was the beginning of a journey that had many challenges.
I remember sitting outside of the Transition House on Crocker St and looking West.
The Downtown Skyline looked so different from my position east of it. For 50 years I saw it develop from a southwestern point of view. Last year the Downtown Skylline seemed like a huge moat, beyond which was a world I knew that was so different and alien to what I was observing on Skid Row.
I would see this building each night with the Aon sign on it. I wondered what it would take to climb the side of that building and see the expansive landscape fo the city of Los Angeles. God, it seemed so hard. So Difficult. So Impossible at that time. Each night I felt overwhelmed by the tasks ahead of me. I was helpless to change certain things. I had to be patient and my time would come. I had to accept my circumstances as they were and work on changing them.
Over a period of time, I did not look at the top of the building. I looked at the bottome of it. "Walter, if you were about how to get to the top, you will never get there", I said to myself. That was a significant moment. That was the moment when I began to climb that mountain of a journey, step by step. One foot in front of the other. Chop that journey down to size over a period of time. Fight for what I want. Fight for my chance to do what I set out to do a long time ago.
I wanted to make a difference. Bad things happen to people. I had finally, after many years, experienced a life altering experience. Was it going to change my drive, or my commitment to be a person of positive change? Indeed, I was concerned. I was experiencing the "other America", the America far removed from the prep schools, Ivy League schools, powerful social and business contacts that were an integral part of my life. I was among the needy, the uneducated, the disenfranchised. I was among those that did not feel good about themselves. I was also among those that were fighting to build happy lives for themselves and for their families. Courageous men and women who taught me what it was like to fight in this war, a war of poor self esteem, of feeling rejected and unwanted. A was a different type of war. It was a new war. I had fought to feel good about myself but life is not spent in a vacuum.
I stood the test of time. I needed patience. I learned that patience takes different times as the longevity of waiting increases. The battles are less with the perceived perceptions than they are with oneself.
One can psyche oneself out of the game.
I waited. I struggled with myself and my frustrations. I hurt at night with gripping loneliness. My father taught me to be disciplined and tough in exercising it.
Those lessons paid off.
It is very easy to wallow in self pity. One can fall into that trap easily on Skid Row.
I did not waste time doing that. Instead I developed a plan to prepare myself for the job world. I sat in the guard shack all day long writing, continuing the process that I started a long time ago in elevating my ability to express and convey. I wrote about my thoughts, my emotions while I was experiencing this phase in my life. I monitored every bit of my being.
I collected cans in the compound and saved them every dime. I started out with eight dollars and my "can business" or "franchise" grew over time. Every one in the compound
had cell phones, nice clothes and people that came by to see them. I had myself and my will to survive. I had one pair of shoes, three pairs of socks, two pairs of sweat pants and washed them by hand instead of the washing machine.
There was no way I was going to dig in a trash can all day for cans and spend a dollar to buy a soda. Twenty five cans equates to one dollar. In effect, I was relearning the discipline of saving and sacrifice. Impulsive consumption was out of the question.
I stuffed my dollars in a my locker and drank water.
Over a period of time I was able to purchase a pair of work boots and a cell phone. I earned the right to work and I was now developing my communication system. Cell phone, email address were essential in making myself job ready.
The facility where I lived purchased computers. The very first thing I did was do a search on the "Logo" Aon. It was in my view every day. How I viewed that building and my climb up that side of the wall, was an indication of my attitude and strength.
People paid me to write letters or teach them how to read. Others hired me to teach them computer basics. One dollar for this, Five dollars for that. It added up.
I took a risk and purchased a camera. It was an investment in my future. In the new media, one must be exceptional in the skills of integrating multimedia elements to
make presentations visually pleasing as well as effective in producing results.
I found a way to do just that. I started my blog. This blog has given me insights into the tremendous power and reach of the internet and the ability to shape thought and mobilize action and behavior.
A temporary factory job came my way and I was able to save money in an envelope for my new life. I found a nice pair of gray slacks and a blue sport coat to wear for certain types of interviews. However, They were not enough. That attire would not get me hired in the Aon building. The Aon building was always in sight. It was my standard and there are barriers to entry. There are always barriers to entry in any endeavor or career.
A suit was needed. The right shirt and tie was mandatory. A man could have two white shirts and two ties. Shirts and ties are not equal. Kind hearted individuals gave me some shirts but they would not get me into the Aon building. It was not only in my sight but I was focusing in on it. I could feel myself elevating to the point where I could compete effectively to walk in a class office building for a position. However, I had to have the right uniform. Having the uniform was symbolic of the work it took for me to get to the point where I could walk in. Gaining admittance, with the proper prerequisite attire, I could be honest. I would not have to hide my path. It was nothing about which to be ashamed. In fact I believe the path I experienced was something about which I should be very proud.
Collecting 10 loads of cans, I was able to purchace 3 new shirts and by the grace of God I found a perfect used gray suit. The hardier you work, the luckier you get.
Finally, I called my oldest friend, an oral surgeon, and he performed a service for me and manufactured two bridges for me. There was no way that I could be considered for employment when I teeth were missing. Some things are not going to happen. Marketing positions, by their very nature, are positions where you create aesthetics, visually pleasing documents that facilitate one's ability to convey concepts and ideas.
The person who creates those documents must be a pleasing person in every sense of the word. It goes with the territory.
I acquired some black shoes and the outfit was complete. My God, what a journey. It took so much work to get to this point. Where I started out believing I had not future. Now I had hope. I endured the test of time. I avoided all of the land mines, evading self destruction. The Aon building was within reach.
The next task was my resume. It took some time but I created one. I had not needed one in over 20 years. It took time to weed out the fat. I could not respond at times to opportunities as computer accessibility was not immediate. I could not compete with those that possessed all of the necessary technology tools that expedited the information process. However, I was in the game. I was finally in the game.
Did this work start one year ago. No. It started years ago when I began to reshape my life and begin to live they way I was raised, the way I was taught. It was necessary to shed bad habits and go through my own "boot camp", one that would increase my focus and discipline exponentially.
All of that was done. It came about at my most difficult moments. Winners are born when the going gets tough. One grows from adversity. I understand the principles and standards that my parents set. Now I appreciate them. Big difference.
Every person who reads this blog knows that I have struggled to find the right opportunity. Eveyone knows how I had to work hard to get to where I am. Everyone knows how I was concerned about background checks. They are a fact of life for me until my attorney straightens that out. We are in that process now. Fortunately, through my victories over the last year, I was able to acquire a high profile attorney.
During the last year, I have built up respect and credibility. People believe me and believe in me. I earned it through patience and hard work.
A few weeks ago, I thought of a man named John. that I met him years ago. I do not know why I thought of him. I believe it has to do with the fact that I have been writing about poverty and my observations of it this past year. It was vital that I develop a network as well a maintain and increase my skills and knowledge base. Reporting about Skid Row has enabled to do both, simultaneously.
Yesterday, I saw an ad and I was surprised that the company that was advertising to fill a position was the company that John founded. It is an organization that is dedicated to eradicating poverty in all of its forms and manifestations.
I did some research and discovered that they were only blocks from me.
"Oh my god", I thought. I called their office and asked to speak to John. He was not available but I had the chance to speak to his right hand person, Rachael. She suggested that I email the resume and they would respond.
On previous occasions, I was told that by other individuals for other positions. I did not counter the obstacles well. I was not in shape in that regard.
I inquired about the possibility of bringing my resume in yesterday if she had time as I was downtown. She had no problem with it. It was like a sales call. The blood was pumping and I was excited.
I ran home and polished my shoes, quickly showered and put on the uniform. I have worn suits ever since the 7th grade as military uniforms were required at Harvard School.
I feel more comfortable in a suit than anything else.
I put on the suit. I noticed that each time I put it on. I feel it better. I believe I represent what it symbolizes to the fullest. I am organized and determined, with a sense of purpose.
I walked to the address of their office. I looked up and saw where I was.
"I will be damned." IT WAS THE Aon BUILDING. I could not believe it. I was there.
Staring at the logo, the past year flashed through my mind like a slide show. The trials. The heartaches. The disappointments. The loneliness. The planning. The work. The rebuiding of confidence. The trash can digging. The determination. The primal will to succeed. The victories. The gaining support. The development of relationships. Things that came naturally through a socialization process suddenly had a different meaning.
I did not use my prep school contacts or my social contacts or ivy league contacts for this. I DID THIS totally on my own, with new contacts and new friends. I have three old friends that have given me support and God bless Randy. For without him, I would not have the smile that is necessary to compete in the Aon building.
I was there. I could not believe it. I was there and did not even know it.
Immediately, the sense of being at home was there. I was around the corner from the YMCA. All of my old friends were members of the LAAC. A classmates family owned it.
All were members of the Jonathan Club. All were within reach.
I used to use my contacts to help other people. Never for my personal gain. Now I was in position to use my extensive social network to benefit mankind with this new position.
I braced myself and walked in the door. Paula, the receptionist was so pleasant. We quickly established rapport and discovered that she graduated from the same school as my parents, Manual Arts. She made me feel right at home.
Rachael came out and talked with me. Immediately, with the information she was telling me it became clear that they needed a marketing manager and a consultant in one. They are changing their operation from a decentralized structure into a centralized one.
My consulting hat went on immeditately. I forgot I had consulting experience even though most of my marketing and sales positions were of a consultative nature.
Rachael had a problem and she needed it to be handled. However, I quickly realized the problem about which they already know was only the beginning. They needed somebody to not only do the daily duties but help create a sound information flow and that was something I learned very well at Xerox. Information management.
We had not been talking long when she introduced me to the President of the organization, Bill. I enjoyed listening to him and we spent a great deal of time talking about character. During this time, I kept looking out of the window and realized that I could see the entire LA Basin. It was beautiful. It was what I worked hard to do-to see on the other side of the Aon building.
Bill asked me a question,"Have you spent the last year being busy being down on your luck"? I waited for a second and said yes.
Immediately it nagged at me. I did not understand the question. It had been a while since I interviewed for a position and never had I discussed substance abuse in any interview in my life. I was on new territory.
I believe I misinterpreted the question. I should have told him the long process that it took for me to get to the point where I could sit in his office. It nagged at me all night. I made a mistake. I wanted to correct it.
He asked me another question about my "vision". We did not get a chance to expand on it because of time constraints.
My visions is that the new media is essential to position his organization to effectively communicate their mission to the world and to compel action that can bring lasting change. I can see the organization having a tv show or channel on the internet.
For the time being, the need some one who is not only multi task capable but multi purpose oriented. They need the every day duties done while they structure their new communication system at the same time that they develop and implement their marketing strategy. The latter can not happen without the former, particularly since they are growing globally.
I did not get the chance to convey that. I will attempt to get that second chance.
Either way, I am in the game. I was in the Aon building. I want that building to be my home. I want to be a team member. I have seen extreme poverty this past year. I have experienced and felt despair beyond anything I ever could have imagined was possible.
I believe these experiences will serve me well as their mission is to eradicate poverty.
Maybe I have to wait. I hope not.
I did not worry about certain things. I did not worry that my profile page on my blog was not what I wanted it to be. I did not worry about certain things. Maybe , they may cost me. I know this much. I can be very good at the position. I want it. I am made for it.
I made it to the Aon building. I want to stay there.