Tonight was an interesting study in human character.  A couple years ago I worked with this guy who’s about my age.  He was never military, but has had a wide range of experiences.  We have similar interests and kind of hit it off, even though we were in different departments and at different levels of hierarchy.  A couple of years ago he decided he wanted to get into motorcycling and asked me to help him shop for a new motorcycle.  We’ve gone on photowalks together, I’ve sent customers to buy hand made leather products from him, etc.

He likes this particular brand of motorcycle gloves.  I’ve always thought they looked like gardening gloves.  I tried some on in person and they were just awkward and uncomfortable.  I left that experience believing they were just a hipster badge, like drinking PBR and wearing flannel and beards.  If you want to spend your money on that, no problem.  But they aren’t for me.

When I did this last ride, I realized that my gloves suck.  I like wool, so I started searching online for wool lined gloves and the only ones I could find were made by this company.  So I ordered them, at $95/pair.  They showed up last week and were terrible.  I soaked them in water and wore them for an hour, that helped them fit better.  The next day I wore them to work.  On their website they advertise them as “winter” gloves.  When I rode to work it was 50 degrees and my hands were still cold in them.  So they officially got a “hell no” from me.

I’ve been upfront about them.  I don’t know what my end goal is, but I’m trying to grow my “brand” on social media.  I’m never going to stop being an IT guy and start being a full time photographer (at least until I retire) but I’d rather have options than not.  So I’ve been posting stuff online and building a base.  When I got the gloves I started taking photos of them, tagging the manufacturer online, etc.  And I’ve been honest.  When I didn’t like something, I said it, in public, in a public forum and I tagged the company so they could respond.  They chose not to.  And my comments haven’t been “they suck!”, they’ve been thought out and solid.  Not always as verbose as possible, given the medium, but the channel was there for the company to contact me for more in-depth feedback.

I met up with 3 Army guys after work tonight.  People I’ve entrusted with my life over the years.  I’m not going to say they’ve been perfect.  They’ve failed.  But they’ve picked themselves up and tried again.  And while we were drinking tonight we were honest again.  Told one guy how much we all hated him when we first met him.  One guy told me I needed to stop talking because my opinion wasn’t valid anymore because I’d been out of the Army too long and my info was dated.  That stung, he knew it did, but I got over it.  The mutual respect and admiration was palpable.  And because of that respect we could have different opinions and still be friends.

After I left the bar I saw I had a text.  I’d thought my former coworker had posted a photo and tagged the company that makes the gloves.  Actually the glove manufacturer had re-posted my friend’s photo.  I’d said “I’m sorry, but I can’t support you on this one, I think they’re glorified gardening gloves”.  His text was frantic.  Did I realize it wasn’t his account that I’d posted it to?  No, but I didn’t care, I’d say it to their face.  That was fine, but I shouldn’t drag him into my displeasure with their product.  How was I drawing him in?  I said I just didn’t agree with his opinion?

Well, turns out they were upset and contacted him.  They didn’t have the nerve to contact me, even though they’d admitted to him that they knew I wasn’t pleased with their product.  They weren’t willing to discuss the merit of my opinions.  But they’d helped him get some exposure as a photographer and were threatening to black-ball him in the community.  And even though he agreed that they were way over-hyped, he was scared to admit it.

I’m trying not to judge him.  I don’t know his personal situation and I don’t know what he’s going through.  I don’t know him well enough to know what motivates him.  But I do know that the timing of our conversation definitely makes me appreciate my real friends, my tribe, more.

I saw one of my soldiers today.

My son had a lacrosse game tonight and asked me if I’d photograph him.  I told him I would, but I might be a little late, I needed to run some last minute errands before leaving on my motorcycle trip.  Normally when I’ve shot in the past I’ve shown up early and stayed the whole game.  This time, because I was late and the game already started I found out that they normally charge for the games, in the past I’d just shown up before the ticket takers.

I rarely carry cash anymore so I went across the street to the 7-11.  While in line, one of my former soldiers walked in.  After I finished paying, I popped back and said “Hi”.  He still has a high and tight so I asked if he was still doing the reserves thing to which he made a smart-alecky negative response.  Outwardly I made the socially appropriate noises and facial expressions, but inwardly I gave a silent prayer of relief.

He was young when he reported to me.  And a know-it-all with no real world experiences yet to show him how stupid and arrogant (with no good reason) he really was.  He never did anything big enough for me to bust him, but he never gave me any reason to trust him.  That unit wasn’t in the pipeline for any deployments, so it was incredibly lax and really tied my hands when it came to disciplining and training my soldiers.  He never would’ve survived in an active duty line unit.  But in a reserve, rear echelon unit?  He was just one of many.  Not a team player, self centered, selfish, lazy, etc.  An oxygen thief.  Someone who milked the system for his own benefit and who I never saw paying it forward.

I wished him well and went my way, thankful that I had the excuse of my kid’s game to rush back to.  For a very brief instant, I’d been happy to see him, because of what he reminded me of, my time in service.  But once that passed, I was glad to be rid of him.  Maybe that sounds harsh, but that was my reality for years.  Working with those hard-charging units and having to build a team of solid, dependable, self supporting guys out of raw materials.  Not just in training scenarios, but for real combat.  Prepping myself, mentally and physically to be a good teammate, a good follower and a good leader.  Making the difficult judgements on my soldiers, identifying their strengths and finding ways to marginalize the impacts of their weaknesses.

I’m glad he’s out and never deployed.  I’m even more glad he’s out and never held a leadership role.