I didn’t want to make you crazy
I didn’t want to pitch a fit
I didn’t want to make you pack your bags and ready to call it quits
The devil’s got a hold on me
He’s hoping for a killing*
One of the most painful events of my adolescence came at age 15 when my parents yanked us by the roots from our comfortable New York bedroom community of northern New Jersey and transplanted us into the rural pastures of Upstate New York during my high school years. Three reasons were behind the move. One was my parents’ forthcoming retirement to the area Pop called home during his own youth (the Utica area). The second was his career as a Pan Am pilot that allowed him to deadhead from Hancock Field in Syracuse to New York’s JFK, where he’d depart on his monthly runs to London, Paris, Munich or Rome.
The biggest reason, however, was the increasing sleep deprivation my parents were experiencing due to my mounting deviant behavior. They were watching me slowly but gleefully glide down a slope covered with easy-access drugs and alcohol during my junior high years.
The move was torture on me. To the mostly backwater dairy farming and poultry producing kids who lived on farms in the rural Finger Lakes region where we made our new home in the country, I was the brash city slicker new kid, an alien from that terrible place called Manhattan. I dressed different, talked different, partied different, danced different, and sorely resented my parents tugging our deep 12-year roots from one of New York’s most comfortable “Mayberry-esque” bedroom communities–Glen Rock, in North Bergan County.
But as is often the case in life, my most heinous misfortune flip-flopped into God’s spectacular, perfect divine appointment. That divine appointment would come in the form of a brotherly bond of love and respect–a “David and Jonathan” friendship–that within a few short months catapulted me from social obscurity to one of the cool kids. It was if I’d gone from urban hipster to hokey country boy in the blink of an eye.
That divine friendship was with a boy named Dale DuBois with whom I initially became best buddies by clever mutual cheating in our Algebra 2 class—and who, next to the cool football and lacrosse stars like Bob, Brian, Roger, Bennett and Tony–was arguably the most popular kid in school.
Dale had the world by the tail…a raccoon tail (he never called it by its proper name, it was always a “coon”). In addition to being a strapping, ruggedly good-looking six foot four inch 260 pound tower of muscle, he was the only kid in the league who threw a 90 mile per hour fast ball with dead accuracy. And hit grand slams every so often, but only when he felt like it.
What Dale mostly felt like doing on weekends or while playing hooky was explore the woods of the Finger Lakes with me, his fresh-faced hunting understudy. It was that sacred connection, a mutual love for the outdoors that cemented an instant bond that lasted until Dale’s untimely death from lung cancer 25 years ago.
Though the Finger Lakes may have been a cultural wasteland for a boy like me who’d routinely hop trains and buses to New York’s Shea Stadium or Chinatown to buy illegal fireworks starting around age 13, it was an exciting landscape that held the promise of one thing I’d always dreamed of becoming—a deer hunter. As such, Dale made it his nearly daily mission to teach me about the wilds of the vast Finger Lakes woodlands, and in short order I became his de facto woodsman protégé and game porter.
Dale taught me everything about the woods. How to survive in a 10 degree blizzard with nothing more than a few pieces of warm waterproof clothing, snow shoes, a blanket for a lean-to and a pack of matches. He taught me to fish for pike and perch, bass, smelt, trout and even walleye through the ice. He schooled me on trapping raccoon, mink, fox and muskrat, hunting ducks and geese, pheasant and grouse. But we didn’t just hunt. We killed game. Lots of it. Dale was a born woodsman and hunter and had a knack for bagging trophy birds, fish and anything with fur.
But the most fun—and the object of my fantasy–was big game hunting. Every part of it–tracking, stalking, standing and occasionally shooting the Northeast’s most prized of all big game trophies—the wily whitetail.
I could go on about our many hunting expeditions and the excellent success (and luck) we had, but I’d rather share what Dale’s expert hunting skills and canny intuition taught me that has so profoundly affected how I do business: the need to keep quiet and still, which applies in spades to deal-making.
Almost all of our successful hunts over a period of five years (until I moved to Redondo Beach following my college graduation) took place on private land along the base of Song Mountain Ski Resort north of Preble and Little York. It was thick forest, the perfect place to be schooled in the art of patiently waiting, watching, waiting and watching. Sometimes for 30 minutes, sometimes for four hours. Sometimes in a tree stand near a watering hole, sometimes on a bluff, occasionally in a blind near a game trail. But always in stealth silence…watching and waiting.
To this day I credit Dale for instilling in me the discipline of listening for sounds, movement in the brush, and watching for a tail or ear flicker. Curiously, I’ve applied that same discipline to the art and science of national account sales and doing deals with all types of businesses–from big consumer brands to tech start ups. Listening, watching and waiting…it’s what often separates the men from the boys.
Here’s what hundreds of hours waiting for a shot at a trophy whitetail has taught me about patience and listening, and how I use it in deal-making situations…
*Lyrics from Death Trap by Charlie Peacock (further explanation to come) >>> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVA5fFbAVEI