Answer: When it blinds us to reality.
I first learned the potent force of positive thinking — a skill set that paid my college tuition and as an adult allowed to me to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for everything from building skyscrapers to making movies — quite by accident back in 1971.
Here’s some 70s music to enjoy while you read this personal tale that will eventually wind it’s way to my thoughts on how our current president is breaking the laws of positive thinking laid out by Norman Vincent Peale in his groundbreaking book THE POWER OF POSITIVE THINKING.
It’s the fall of 1971. As the autumn leaves sparkle in the sunset I am worrying how I am going to make tuition for the second semester. Back in high school I only got average grades except for English and Art, and barely squeaked by in anything math related. So Art college is all I can get accepted into. Layton School of Art & Design to be precise. Conveniently, Layton is only about a mile’s walk from the new home my parents bought in ’69 on the banks of the Milwaukee River.
But after almost flunking out in my freshman year, in part because working night jobs to make tuition leaves me no time to study, this year’s grades and finances are looking no better. I am a nervous wreck, because if don’t stay in college it’s straight to Vietnam for my sorry ass, stuck with a lousy #15 draft lottery number.
Born 17 months after me, my kid brother Fred lucks out and pulls a draft # 265 in the lottery. He promptly drops out of college and starts apprenticing in the trades as a welder, our dad’s lucrative job. But for draft #15 me, it’s a matter of survival I keep my butt in college. A lot of us Boomers have Uncle Sam’s terrible war with Vietnam to thank for being the first in their families to graduate college.
One Tuesday night, fed up with cleaning bed pans at a local nursing home on the graveyard shift — the latest in a succession of lousy night jobs like bottle inspector at a Pepsi plant, pizza chef, window display artist, and more I’ve chosen to forget — I’m pouting in my parent’s beat up recliner that faces the Milwaukee river.
I’m still cooling off from a bad phone argument with my girlfriend from South Milwaukee. She’s away attending the University of Wisconsin Madison to learn to be a physical therapist. Her help correcting spelling and grammar on my term papers is raising my grades, but it’s a helluva lot to ask of her when she has her own schoolwork. I don’t blame my straight A student lover for listening to her mother that maybe she should dump me. Our relationship, like everything these Nixonian days, hangs by a thread.
Desperate to make tuition, I decide to put up with the inevitable mind numbing grief of hitting Dad up again for a small loan, but he’s been gone a week. I ask Mom, sitting mesmerized by a cartoon black bear paddling a canoe in a Hamm’s Beer commercial, where Daddy dearest might be. She shrugs and says in a hoarse whisper. “Off on another of his damned benders.”
Anxiously, flipping through the Help Wanted ads in the Milwaukee Journal I spot a winner: “PART-TIME WEEKEND DISPLAY WORK, EARN UP TO $1500 A MONTH. I hop from the easy chair, revealing a cigarette burn my Dad left behind after passing out in the middle of his third six pack, and dash for the phone. I dial, my fingers so shaky I’m barely able to spin my family’s dirty yellow rotary wall phone. Dad’s a mechanic plus a welder and his grime coats everything in the house in a thin black film.
A man with a buttery voice answers my desperate call. I blurt out my experience doing window display work at Des Forges Book Store on Wisconsin Avenue. The soothingly confident voice on the grimy phone tells me, “Come on in for an interview Thursday night, Ken.”
I holler for joy startling Mom. When I explain my thrill about the interview she says dryly, “Kenneth,” as she always does when lecturing me, “There’s no part-time job on earth that pays $1500 a month to do display work. It’s a scam, hon. Don’t go.”
I not so politely remind my Mom, “Well, I am over 18 now and I’ll decide what jobs to check out. That is unless you and Dad want to help me make tuition.” Desperation makes me sound whiny. Chastened, Mom returns to watching BEWITCHED in silence.
It seems like forever until Thursday night. As the big interview approaches all I can think of is, “Mom’s right. How the hell can I earn $1500 a month just doing part-time display work on weekends? I’m an idiot.”
The day before the interview my, lovable half the time and hateful the other half, father returns to home base. Thankfully he’s backed off beating mom on his frequent reinsertions into our lives. He’s stopped taking his self-hatred on out on Mom ever since I tossed his drunk abusive ass down the basement stairs a few months ago. I’m both ashamed and amazed I’m still alive after getting away with that angry stunt. A shrink will later explain my father was happy he forced me to sink to his level and confirm his claims I am a bad son.
Dad pops a Pabst Blue Ribbon and chortles, “Your ma tells me about this dumb ass interview you’ve set yourself up for. Ha. This how you think you’re going to make tuition? Get real. You’re on your own, Kenny boy, and I hope you flunk out. Maybe the Army can make man of you.” I storm out of the elegant north shore house that my blue-collar house poor family is over their heads owning.
His stinging words echoing in my head, I listen to my dad, except in the reverse. His disdain for the job is a huge endorsement for me. A challenge. I shout to the stars, “Fuck you, old man!”
Damn, I’m such a punk to think a man in his 40s is old.
Thursday comes at last. The glass entrance door emblazoned with gold letter reads: RAINBOW GREAT LAKES DIVISION. I am stoked. This feels like it’s the real deal, even though when I turn a corner I am taken down a set of grungy narrow stairs to the basement.
I open a flimsy hollow-core door labeled reception. My heart sinks to my shoes at the sight of a dozen other young people jammed into the dingy room built for 6 people max. I take a seat next to a kid my age and whisper, “Any idea what this job’s about?”
He shrugs and whispers back, “Fuck if I know.”
I wisecrack, “$1500 a month on weekends? Hey, maybe they’re looking for male strippers.” I get nervous laughs from the gang of applicants, but I wonder in my fevered brain, “Am I willing to turn male stripper to stay out of Vietnam?”
Before I can answer, “Hell yes!” a roguishly handsome blonde haired man, not much older than we anxious job candidates, spins into the room. Dressed in a cheap looking plaid suit, the toothy dude wisecracks, “Any of you gents wanna to learn how you can make $1500 a month or even more working part-time follow me.” He herds our bewildered clan into a crummy classroom adorned in fake wood paneling, and I grow ever more anxious.
The man in the plaid polyester suit vigorously writes his name on the chalkboard, like a teacher on crack:
Now Tom asks for our first names and rapidly jots them all on the chalkboard one at a time with intense stares that seem to be some kind of memorization thing. When my turn comes I’m tempted to give a fake name but decide, “What the heck do I have to lose?” and answer, “Ken.”
Tom tells us with broad smile that never leaves his mustached puss, which does not make him look older, “Hi. I’m Tom Deere, Branch manager for Glendale’s Wisconsin Rainbow office. I’m 24 and I make seventy grand a year. More on that later. For now there’s some questionnaires for you guys to fill out before we get rollin’.”
After hearing the fantastic five figure income Tom makes, we’re all ears.
As Tom hands out questionnaires he coyly adds, “Don’t answer the last question until I give the OK.”
The questions are super easy to answer, written at 6th grade level, but give no indication whatsoever of what the hell this job is. I eye the door ready to bolt, thinking, “This dork makes 70K a year? Right. For once Dad and Mom are right. I’m outta here.”
Seeming to read my mind Tom pats me on the shoulder and says, “Relax. You’re gonna love this, Ken.” The shock Tom remembers my first name feels kinda magical and his warm hand on my shoulder quells some of my anxiety. I settle into the cheap folding chair.
A gruff Italian guy in a dried-blood-colored leather jacket slinks into the room through a half opened door. Now my overactive imagination starts to concoct a Mafia story of us all being candidates for stripper hit men when Tom speaks up, “Everybody meet Antony. — Tony, tell the guys how much you cleared working part time for Rainbow this month.”
Tony’s grimace shows he’s not loving the idea of sharing. “Tony?” says Tom, asserting some will Tony’s way.
Tony bows his head a little. After a brief internal struggle, he finally fesses up in a barely audible mutter, “Almost two K.”
“Thanks, Tony. You know, guys, Antony was a Milwaukee public bus driver before he started raking in the dough. Wanna hear how he did it and how you can make big bucks too?”
Tom cups a hand to his ear and about half of us all quickly say, “Yeah.”
Tom shouts, “Can’t hear you!”
Now we all shout back, “YEAH!” in unison. The group energy changes. We’re all in the palm of Tom’s hands. Soft hands I can see have never seen hard labor. I look at the fresh scar from a serious wound on my left index finger, a lifelong souvenir of my bottle inspecting night job at the Pepsi plant.
Tom pulls a little machine out of a box. It’s about the size of beauty parlor’s hair dryer bonnet with a chrome dome. An air slot is mounted over a brass colored base. It all sits atop clear plexiglass basin filled with water. The damed thing looks like an astronaut from a B sci-fi movie.
Tom flicks the switch and a gentle breeze flows from the noisy gizmo, stirring the stagnant basement air. Pollution is a huge issue in 1971. Tom demonstrates this air cleaner is dubbed the Rainbow because it filters out particulates through water. I’m sold.
Tom draws a line down the center of the chalkboard. He labels one column SALARY and the other COMMISSION. On the salary side Tom writes “$500 a month”. On the other Tom takes his time to diagram how by selling 30 $399 Rainbow air cleaners a month we can make $1500 a month in commissions.
He casually adds, “It’s easy to sell Rainbows because we do all the hard work of making the appointments. You simply visit potential customers and display what this beauty can do. The Rainbow has been around since the 1930s. Stellar reputation. Gents, I promise you it sells itself.”
I wonder, “How the hell has a company I’ve never heard ’til now been selling air cleaners since the 1930s; way before air pollution was a thing?”
Then Tom adds pine scent to the water. I have a pitiful sense of smell, so the fragrance of this forest scent is magic. A memory of a happy family visit to Whispering Pines State Park, when I was two and Mom and Dad were still in love, warms my heart. My worries vanish in the piney fresh smelling air.
“Ok,” Tom instructs we eager applicants, “Time to fill out the last question. Write S if you wanna work for Rainbow on a monthly salary of $500. Or write C top have the chance to make 3 times that much on commission. Ah, but wait! Hold your pens. Almost forgot to show you why the Rainbow is even more of a synch to display.”
Tom takes the grill off the Rainbow, whips a hose out of the box, and proceeds to vacuum the cheap carpet. “That’s right. The Rainbow not only cleans your air… drum roll please… it cleans the carpet.” Tom displays away, and now I finally get this ain’t window display work! I almost say “Fuck!” out loud but manage to hold it all in with a giggle internally at my dense take on the help wanted ad for “display work” that brought me here.
“Now fill out the last question, S for salary, C for commission. Tony will grab your questionnaires on the way out the door. Night and thanks for coming, gents,” says Tom bowing out the door, not giving us a chance to ask questions.
My Bic pen hovers over the questionnaire. I’m pretty shy and I think, “Better $500 a month than nothing on commission.”
I am about to write S when Tony pipes up, “Guys, I ain’t never sold nothin’ before. But if a freakin’ bus-driver-dego-whop like me can sell 40 of these Rainbows a month and knock down a legit 2 K you can too. My advice? Check C for commission.”
Feeling a little nauseous, I check C. First to make the big decision I head for Tony at the door. As I hand him the questionnaire I ask, “When will I know if I got the job?”
“Mr. Deere will hit you up quick if you’re in. If you don’t hear nothin’ in the next 48 hours, well, you’re toast,” says Tony with a mischievous grin.
When I get home Mom barely notices me slip in. She’s glued to BONANZA on her new color TV.
Recently, after a terrible fight, one that ended up with a visit from the cops, cops who always let Dad off easy even after my Mom is left black and blue — a thing still going on today in domestic abuse cases all too often — I ask her, my voice ash, “Ma, why don’t you divorce Dad? He’s going to kill you or me if this shit goes on much longer.”
Her terse answer, “Can’t afford to leave your father. He’s a good provider.”
Mom spots me pouring a milk at the fridge and asks, “How’d the interview go, Kenny?”
The dirty yellow wall phone rings before I can answer her. I’ve just gotten home so I don’t expect it to be Tom Deere on the line when I say, “Hello?”
“Tom please. Ha. You make me feel like I’m fifty. Congrats! You got the job.”
I cover the receiver and holler for joy, “I got the job, Mom!”
“What kind of job?” says Mom dryly.
“Selling home air cleaners,” I quickly tell Mom, leaving out the vacuum cleaner part of the Rainbow out.
“Sales? You get a salary?” Mom asks, her mouth full of potato chips.
In an instant the risk I am taking sinks in. It’s sell or off to ‘Nam and good chance I’ll die or be fucked up like the students I meet coming back the States after a tour of duty. The poor vets remind me of zombies. I shake off my fear and get back to Tom on the phone, dodging Mom’s fateful question, “What’s next?”
“Come in Saturday 9AM for training.”
The training is surprisingly good. My shriveled self esteem begins to blossom. I’m clumsy at first but soon I’m stunned to discover that I’m a natural born salesman. Thanks to my mother’s well-off side of the family buying machines as I train, in a matter of weeks I am the #1 part time Rainbow salesmen in Glendale. A title I never give up. It’s my first win-win experience of my life as my many aunts and uncles all love their Rainbows. I learn the lesson to offer customers advice on the best products and let stuff from vacs to skyscrapers sell themselves.
Even my hard case father is begrudgingly proud of the fact I’m learning to be a good provider like him. Tuition becomes a breeze and I even have enough money left over to, I shit you not, own a classic Lincoln Continental on campus.
My kid brother Fred seems to down on my selling to earn my way through college. A jealousy takes seed in his mind that contributes to killing him one day as he drowns his rage of never making big money in drugging and drinking. Fred never copes well with my entrepreneurial successes compared to his playing it safe as a master welder on salary plus overtime. Also, he never sought therapy to heal from Dad’s epic physical and mental abuse like I did. Hell, I had a fleet of therapist help me rise from the ashes when my $162 million skyscraper project ruined me and my marriage.
My offer to set my little brother Fred up in business, him welding sculptures I’d design fell on deaf ears. Sad. He was so talented. I really regret not pushing my Gemini brother to do that. He simply was not prepared for the Obama years when America’s jobs left for China. Being laid off finished him off.
Back to 1971. My girlfriend hates my Lincoln’s big sidewalls, but she loves our expensive dates. She will become my wife over the objections over her mother. And one day my ex-wife to her mother’s delight.
So weird my wife’s mom hated me one for not being a doctor, like she said it right to my shocked face. A constant thorn in my side, even my becoming Chicago’s #1 commercial real estate broker according to the Chicago Times 15 years later and making her baby rich, never earns my mother-in-law-from-hell’s respect.
As part of my Rainbow sales training I am given some wonderful books to read by Mr. Deere. All of which add to my successes in life, including the building of Oprah’s Harpo Studios and developing a $162 million dollar skyscraper. Sadly, I lost touch with Tom after I graduated college and no longer wanted to sell Rainbows. He took it kinda hard I left to be an interior architect. But the most amazing of these books is Norman Vincent Peale’s THE POWER OF POSITIVE THINKING.
By the way, later as I become the number one part-time sales person on the Great Lakes region for Rainbow, I learn from Tom the only question he ever checks is C. If an applicant is willing to work on commission. Applications checked S for salary are placed in the circular file.
TRUMP’S ABUSE OF THE POWER OF POSITIVE THINKING
Now, I don’t know if Trump’s father was even half as abusive as my messed up drill sergeant dad, but it’s well known Trump’s father Fred was a hard-case father. So much so I think Fred Trump may have shattered Donald’s self worth. In fact, as junior shrink after so much therapy, I theorize the Don’s daddy issues made him the crazed narcissist we all either love or hate today.
As for me, it will be my “accidental” introduction to the power of positive thinking that serves to rescue me from the bone crushing barrage of mental negativity that my father subjected me to from birth. I remember reading these words at age 19 of Peale’s and feeling it a godsend, a life raft that saved me from a life depression and anxiety like my brother’s:
“Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.”
Note that I italicized humble but reasonable. Assuming Trump read the same book, a bit of stretch given his dislike for reading, and like me he learned how to rebuild his self worth from an abusive father through the power of positive thinking, it’s obvious Trump has either forgotten or intentionally ignored that self-belief has to be humble and reasonable.
Now, this might not sound like big deal, but without the restraints of being humble and reasonable in one’s confidence, positive thinking has a dark side. Indeed, without tempering, someone with the gift of charisma can literally become a confidence gamer or a con man, as Trump has.
My friends, there’s a simple reason conning people is illegal: It works all to well. So don’t be hard on a loved one or pal who has been taken in by Trump’s abuse of the power of positive thinking. You see, humans are conditioned by millions of years to trust our tribal leaders.
Especially, leaders who act with great confidence, as to having the greater welfare of the tribe at heart. Trump, unfortunately, is far from humble. To me he comes off as a compulsive liar. It’s sickness. I worked for one who shall remain anonymous as he’s as vindictive as Trump. “Buh-lieve me,” as Trump likes to say. Yep. These kind of mind fuckers lie for sport.
How disgustingly different the modern world that rewards lying leaders with wealth and fame is from the caveman days when the tribe stoned or hung bad leaders. Leaders today who are truthful are as rare as the 1 million endangered species Trump could give a shit about.
Lest you think Trump’s our first unethical leader, well, please read some history. To my heightened sensitivity as an abuse survivor, Obama, the drone president, the oil president, the surveillance president, was not much a more truthful a leader than the Cheet-oh Jesus as he being called, Trump. Nope. Pretty boy Barrack was just way smoother at his political con game. Still is. Though he has nothing on Bill Clinton for being a charming liar. Reagan? Don’t get me started. What a mess we’ve been in for decades.
Folks, and I am sure you know, Super liars are in charge of our world and it must change. Humanity can no longer function this way. We, the stable clan of geniuses who have created so many endangered species are now on our own endangered list. So thank your lucky stars the clumsy buffoonery of Trump has ruined lying for all future leaders. That’s where I see some hope.
The Amazon is on fire. The vast majority of scientists and his fellow G7 leaders are telling Trump that the environment is in crisis. But “the chosen one” prefers to proclaim that it’s all a Chinese hoax. He tells his followers to support fossil fuels, avoid solar power, avoid “cancer causing” wind power. He joyfully invites his loyal followers, a loyalty he does not deserve as he’s sticking it to most of them, to think positive as he proclaims global warming is liberal lie. “No biggie, so keep on gas guzzling, everyone!”
Trump’s irresponsible lack of humble leadership is a horror show on a scale never witnessed before in human history. And sadly it comes at a time when we can least afford it. The clock is running out fast on humanity’s ability to shirk off its responsibility to Gaia.
Take it from a man who worked his way through college selling Rainbows to stay out of a war he did not believe in, versus the one in DC who gamed the system with a fake story about bone spurs: We need a total reset in 2020 with young people taking the reigns from the old who cannot fully grasp that our very existence is at stake. Sorry Joe and Bernie/
Stay positive but humble and reasonable. Aho.