Greg Bardsley



Creative MeMe — Lies and Truths

You can blame Shea for this one ….

Shea tagged me for something the kids are calling a “Creative MeMe — Lies and Truths.”

Idea is, you tell “six outrageous lies about yourself, and at least one outrageous truth – or – switch it around and tell six outrageous truths and one outrageous lie. Nominate some more ‘creative writers’ who might have fun coming up with outrageous lies of their own. (Check the end of this post.)”

Shea has some doozies. What a dude. Damn, I love interesting people.

Okay, mine: One outrageous lie, six outrageous truths …

1] A while back, an unusual sequence of circumstances had me hanging out with Travolta in a nearly empty “waiting area.” We’re chewing the fat for a while, and when he learns that I’m headed to the same place he is, he gives me this look like I’m a space alien, showing me that big smile and eye-twinkle, and says, “Who are you again? And what’s your deal?” … Wish I knew, John. Wish I knew.

2] The summer before college, as a U-Haul desk jockey, I seriously freaked out a customer (a complete stranger) by correctly telling the man that I had seen him one year earlier standing in line with two ladies at a water-slide park, in a city 30 miles away, and that he’d been wearing a blue Speedo and puka shells, and that the ladies had been wearing matching one-pieces. I even told him the date I saw him.  … You should’ve seen the way that guy looked at me. … One of my coworkers spent the rest of the summer convinced I was magic.

3] My dog Venus once appeared on ABC News.

4] On a college road trip to a Sierra town east of Chester, I lost a bet to a local. To settle up, I had to go out back of this bar and squeeze into a small cage containing — I kid you not — this bobcat he’d trapped, and I had to stay in there for 30 seconds. My friends laughed so hard, one of them peed his pants. … Me? I still have the claw marks streaking down my left calf and across the small of my back [all I did was curl up and cover my face].

5] Back in the ’90s, the lead singer of Hootie and Blowfish sang to my wife for the better part of a 90-minute performance at the Concord Pavilion, and for some reason I never really felt threatened. … Me? Oblivious dingbat? Maybe, but she was going home with me, bub. 

6] In college, I circled the United States for three weeks … on $450.

7] As a teen employee of Hickory Farms, I once walked through the mall with my baggy collar shirt tucked into my too-tight pants. That would have been fine, if only my fly had been zipped closed and an enormous portion of my shirt wasn’t protruding through it — unbeknownst to me, of course.

Okay, name the lie, and after ample time, I’ll come clean.

Meanwhile, to continue the madness, I have been asked to tag a “creative writer.” And I want sick, I want twisted, I want perversion. I want Phillips!

A mixed-breed, far from home

Last week, I went to a really nice place. I went to Scandinavia.

More specifically, I went to beautiful country of Finland for too short a time — two days and two nights — as part of a video project I’m producing. In short, it was the farthest I’d ever gone from my native California, and the signs of it were everywhere. This place was green in late June. It had street names like Pohjoinen Makasinkiinitu and Kaisaniemenkatu. I got lost, and loved it. The sky was blue at 11 p.m. The brunettes had blond roots. I felt like I was perhaps the only person in the greater Helsinki metropolitan area with Mexican-American blood. It was a pretty special feeling.

My time in Helsinki, followed by two days in London, also presented a chance to learn a little more about myself. Some things I learned:

I only speak English — One would think I had realized this much earlier in life. But it wasn’t until Helsinki that I realized just how pathetic my monolingualism is. Maybe I was fooling myself. Maybe I was thinking my two years of high-school Spanish made me something more than I was — a simple man who can’t pronounce “Vuorimiehentie” to save his life.

I smile a lot — Of course, people over the years have told me I smile a lot. My mom says I was a big smiler right from the beginning. I guess I can’t help it. And hell, what’s wrong with smiling? … Well, apparently, in Europe, my level of sidewalk/bar/restaurant smiling is just plain weird. On one occasion, a Finnish man gave me the international sign for “cut it” — wagging his flat hand at the base of his throat — as I smiled at him with an open mouth. … I never was able to cut off the smiling.

People don’t like Americans — Now, I have known this, too. But again, there’s nothing like experiencing it firsthand to truly understand what it really means. And what does it really mean? People don’t like us. They don’t like our over-smiling, they don’t like our brash confidence, they don’t care for our down-home ways, and they don’t like our politics (I kept telling everyone I’m for Obama). Of course, not everyone felt this way (case in point, the Finns), but I got the message loud and clear in London.

So now I’m back, and I have to admit I’m smiling like there’s no tomorrow. And I’m doing it with a new appreciation for all the great things that make us, as Americans, so unique. I’m also smiling with the realization that, at the rapidly ripening age of 41, I’m still such a babe in so many respects, with so much more to learn about myself and my country. Looking forward to it.

The communicator’s anti-climax

Wednesday night, I was in the midst of suffering a common malady in my profession — the communicator’s anti-climax.

Here’s how it works. The communicator, a total junkie for creating things that “connect” with viewers or readers, works his or her tail off to complete a big project. Lots of effort and thought goes into the project. Along the way, he has a blast — a blast creating, a blast getting feedback, a blast collaborating with other communicators.

This is part of the high.

The other part of the high is anticipating the connection that he hopes to make with the audience — the hope of connecting with strangers, of evoking emotions out of them that might range from laughter to glee to nostalgia to even sadness. And when it happens, when his work is unveiled, and people are affected in these human ways, the high is about as sweet as it can get. And in today’s world of blogs, metrics and email, never has the communicator enjoyed more immediate, direct and pure access to this juice, this “connection” juice.

But there’s a danger — the communicator’s anti-climax.

It happens as the “dust” starts to settle. Suddenly, there’s a void. Suddenly, the “connection” with the audience is over; they have moved on to something else. And in some cases, the reaction is not what one had hoped and the “connection” wasn’t as strong as he’d expected. And in the case of big efforts, like my work on an April Fools prank, the audience reaction, no matter how pronounced, will sometimes feel somewhat less than expected.

This is what happened to me the other night. I was crashing. I was crashing hard.

And yet, I was in denial. I kept checking hit counts and email messages, kept looking for signs that the “connection” with viewers was still there. But deep down inside, I knew it was gone. As a former newspaper reporter, and as a guy with a novel in a literary agent’s hands, I know from experience that the anti-climax is marked by a sense of failure, and subsequent exhaustion.

Luckily, my psyche re-balances, and my view of reality is more accurate, and I can better appreciate the work that has been completed, and before I know it, I’m back — ready to start something new, hoping to get another shot of that juice.

Does this happen to you with your professions/passions?

And suddenly I’m sitting down with a titan

Back in January, I took a call from a recruiter.

I was busy when she called. More importantly, I wasn’t interested in leaving Sun Microsystems. I loved my job, my boss, the Sun leadership and my colleagues. Even so, when the recruiter told me about the new job, and how much it would pay, I found myself firing off my resume.

The job was a speechwriting gig for the CEO of one of the largest companies on the planet. It would be a promotion in title, and it would pay a boatload of money. I’d been a speechwriter for a titan before, so I knew it would be a pretty challenging gig. But I also knew this was the kind of opportunity that didn’t come around very often, and the money would make a big difference in my household, where my wife stays home with our two sons.

Well, one thing led to another, and things got more and more serious. First it was a conference call with an executive recruiter in New York, then it was half a day at the company itself, then it was another visit with the chief marketing officer as well as the chief technology and strategy officer. They liked me, and I liked them.

Only one problem: I still loved Sun.

I still loved what I was doing at Sun — creating journalistic, reality-based videos for our CEO, explaining our vision and strategy to our 33,000 employees, getting tapped for humor projects and trying my best to make Sun a fun place to work. My boss had always encouraged me to use my creativity to do new and cool things, and I knew that leaders like her don’t come around too often. I can’t tell you how many times I had friends and acquaintances tell me that mine was the coolest job around.

But the other company was calling; their CEO wanted to meet with me. This obviously would be the final interview. Me and the titan, in his office.

Maybe I should have been thrilled. Maybe I should have been salivating. Maybe I should have been ready to do jumping jacks for this guy. Maybe I should have looked at the bigger title, the promise of more money — all of that — and let my eyes cross in corporate lust.

But I didn’t. I was too busy having fun at Sun.

Then came the kicker. I was in the midst of producing a video about courage and integrity at Sun. Along the way, I was able to listen in on a high-level discussion about Sun’s core values and how they are “interwoven into the fabric of who we are” as a company of integrity, transparency and mutual respect, as CEO Jonathan Schwartz put it. It was a special moment for me, because I knew he wasn’t just feeding us a line. I had been at Sun for more than eight years, and I had seen how Jonathan and his team have not only made some important moves to turn in consistent profitability, but also have emphasized the importance of treating people with respect. It’s one thing to talk about being high-integrity; it’s quite another to show it day in and day out with your actions. Jerks, bullies and self-important snobs are a lot harder to find at Sun these days, and that means a lot to me.

I kept my date with the titan. He seemed like a great guy, and he was smart. In fact, really smart. Despite my best efforts to show extreme interest in the gig, he could tell my heart wasn’t in it. At one point, he put my resume down and announced, “Well, it sounds like you’re in a great situation over there at Sun.” According to the executive recruiter, he later declared, “Greg doesn’t want this job.”

He was right.

And I got to produce an April Fools prank on Schwartz. See below for all the drooling details. Is it any wonder why Sun is such a great place to work?

I like to look

Hey, what can I say? I like to look.

I like to look at people. They interest me. What they do interests me. What they look like can be fascinating. I guess the way I see it, looking at people is one way to really “get” a person. And hell, it’s just fun to look.

The family next door put a hot tub right outside our bedroom window. My wife Nancy says to me, “Stop looking over there. What if they see you?” I turn the lights off and keep looking, gazing out the window, whispering, “I wanna see what Jim looks like with his shirt off.”

You can’t blame me. Jim and his family have lived next door for eight years. We adore them. They’re quality people. But come on, let’s be honest here — I wanna take a look at Jim in his trunks, and I bet you would, too. And why can’t I look out my own bedroom window? Should I bow my head and gaze at the floor whenever I pass that window?

When we’re out and about, I really like to look. We’ll be walking, and I’ll be looking, and then I’ll say something like, “Hey, there’s that guy from that salsa-dancing class in ’95.” I’ll wave to him while Nancy pulls at my arms. “Please don’t,” she’ll whisper. “Not here. Please don’t. It’s not him.” … I will admit that on several occasions (or maybe it’s more accurate to say, on many occasions) these people aren’t who I think they are — rather, they’re complete strangers, and it makes for some awkward moments. Really awkward moments. Nancy doesn’t like those.

Now, to be fair, I do have a freaky way of remembering faces. As a teen at a water slide park, a friend and I spent about 40 minutes standing in line behind a very amusing fellow in a blue Speedo. He was about 50. The two ladies with him were in their 30s. My friend and I had a wonderful time standing behind them, taking note of this guy’s “scene.” A year later, this guy walks into the Dublin Uhaul, where I’m working behind the counter, and I say, “Hey, you were at the Manteca Water Slides last summer, the last Sunday of July, and you had this blue Speedo on, and there were two women with you, and you had this puka-shell necklace and … and … and.” When this stunned man confirmed this was all true (and confirmed that he’d never met me in his life) one of the Uhaul lifers walked up to me and mumbled, “Dude, you’re psyschic.”

Nah, I just like to look.

Thinking about a friend

Thinking about a friend.

Thinking about a young man, 38, a father of two with another baby coming in December. Thinking about a friend who is loved and adored by his wife, his parents and sisters and so many friends. Thinking about a special man who always seems more interested in others, this man with a gentle smile and easy laugh, this man who always has carved precious time out of his hectic life to help people he doesn’t even know.

Thinking of my friend, JP, who went to the doctor’s 10 days ago and learned he has cancer.


JP has stomach cancer, but there is good news.

His cancer is in the early stages. It has not spread to his organs. It has not metastized. It is not in his lymph nodes. The doctors (and they’re the best around) have a plan; they’re going to remove his stomach, get the cancer out of his body, and use chemo and radiation to knock the tar out of any other cancer cells possibly left behind. His wife Cindy is a savvy advocate, and they are surrounded by a ton of love and support.

And they will not be alone through this thing. In the months to come, it might not feel like it, but they will have the prayers and support of not only their friends and families, but strangers they might never know. I believe they will find strength in places, and in people, they never would have expected. I know that in some sick way, this will open doors to wisdom and insight the rest of us won’t have.

And I know that this, too, shall pass. This will suck. This will suck big-time in a lot of ways, no doubt, but I do believe this will pass. There will come a time when it won’t be the first thing they think of when waking, nor the last thing clawing at their minds as they finally succumb to sleep. I believe this.


I’m thinking about a friend. I’m thinking about his people. I’m praying for them, and I am behind them. So are hundreds of others. In this spirit, I ask you to say a prayer for him, to wish him well here, or maybe just go do something nice for a complete stranger, just like JP has done for so long.

I know what’s going on

I’m on to you, buddy.

I have to admit, you have a good game. When we see each other, you smile and you charm and you engage. In fact, it’s quite apparent you don’t have a malicious bone in your body. After all, you like people – you really like people. You care about saying the right thing at the right time, and you shudder at the thought of being rude or offensive or hurtful. You want people to like you, just as you like them.

But I am on to you. I’m so on to you. In fact, I have given you a name — the nice asshole (N.A.) — and have identified some of your telling characteristics and behaviors.

Most importantly, the nice asshole does whatever he wants, regardless of who he puts out. So what if someone, for instance, has spent the better part of a Saturday preparing a nice meal for him and others? The nice asshole has found something better to do, and he’ll cancel with little notice — but always in a charming and gracious way, in that special way that doesn’t really annoy the host until hours later.

So what if a nice asshole’s children rev their muscle cars and lay down rubber in front of your house at 2am each night, despite your polite interventions? He will just shake his head, release a concerned sigh and identify with your frustration, saying things like, “I know, those boys wake me up every night, too.” But will the nice asshole do anything about it? Will he be considerate of his neighbors and take the unpleasant step of confronting his overgrown children? Hell no.

That is because nice assholes do not like confrontation. And as a consequence, they will utilize their above-average emotional intelligence to sidestep awkward moments of extreme candor and confrontation. They have found that if you’re gonna do someone wrong, if you’re gonna be exceptionally self-centered, you might as well do it in the most non-confrontational, charming and gracious way possible.

But don’t think you’ve fooled me, Mr. N.A. You’re still doing people wrong. You’re still being an inconsiderate jerk. Your self-obsession still manifests itself in a variety of ways — from your loud cars to your slight-of-hand tricks of corporate-offloading. You’re still more than willing to put people out, to treat others poorly, albeit graciously, to do what you want, when you want.

I am lucky. I really don’t have any nice assholes in my day-to-day life. Of course, we all encounter few from time to time, but my N.A. exposure is minimal. So friends and family and colleagues, please don’t think I’m writing about you. I’m not.


But for anyone who’s suddenly worried they might fit the N.A. profile, reform now. There is hope for you yet.

He “popped the hood”

My agent sent me an email Monday. And I have to say, this probably was the most satisfying email I’ve gotten in my fiction-writing pursuits.

In his email, Jeff outlines and explains his strategy for pitching my novel to editors. After working with Jeff on the editorial aspects of the book, I now got to see the other side of his literary-agent skills — architecting the submission process and discussing the sensibilities and buying habits of various editors.

Not only was I impressed with Jeff’s deep knowledge of the publishing community, but I was simply thrilled to see the names of editors with whom he wants to share my novel. They’re editors who’ve put out some truly great crime novels, and seeing their names and respective publishing-house imprints in Jeff’s email added a new layer of tangible authenticity to my adventure. It was as if he had “popped the front hood” of the publishing-world’s TransAm and let me have a nice long look at its engine — it’s fascinating, cherried-out, all-chrome machinery.

Pretty sweet.

My new love affair … with the chile relleno

All those years, and I never gave the chile relleno a real look. All those years, I was enamored with carnitas and huevos rancheros and tamales. All those years, I was missing out on the wonders of my brand new love — the cheesy, plump and complex chile relleno.

Suddenly, I can’t get enough of her.

In my family, Mexican food always has been serious business. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of things like my grandmother, Maria Cristina, making hand-made tortillas in our kitchen, my mom passing her guacamole secrets down to me, and my family driving into Oakland to buy hand-made tortillas from one restaurant on East 14th so we could have them at another restaurant around the corner. Back then, I found the chile relleno to be a too little exotic; the fact we were talking about a big pepper dipped in egg batter and smothered with a mysterious sauce didn’t help with my picky adolescent sensibilities. Decades went by, and I continued to look right through the chile relleno.

Then something strange happened: By pure chance this past spring, I bumped into her, grabbed a hold for a stolen moment and realized I didn’t want to let go. One thing led to another, and just like that, I have become addicted to her, lidding my eyes at the wonderful sequence of senses unfurling in my mouth — first the extreme softness of it all, then the mild tomato sauce with the Mexican kick, then the pronounced statement of the poblano chile pepper, and finally the creamy comfort of the melted queso Oaxaca cheese, the cheese that had been stuffed inside and was now arresting my brain in pure taste-bud pleasure.

So now here I am, completely enamored with the chile relleno, kind of blown away, thinking of this wonderful dish at unusual hours. As for why, maybe my sensibilities have matured. Maybe my physiology has changed in some mysterious way that advantages the chile relleno. Maybe I am simply in the right frame of mind — finally — to enjoy what the chile relleno has been offering all along. And that’s frightening — terrifying, in fact. What else have I been missing out on?

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