About the Steve O Zone

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Long A.A.R.M of Steve O...


Assemblage of 


Musings of an over-caffeinated, slightly ajar yet well-meaning writer/content creator and strategist.

Before I get to today's A.A.R.M., I wanted to make reference to the title. It is merely my very SEO-unfriendly title I use from time to time when I just want to spout off on anything that's on my mind. 

Dell Redux

Tonight, during Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve With Ryan Seacrest on ABC, Dell will release its first ad since going private. As you will see it's a very nostalgic approach playing up the not-so-small role Dell had in helping many now-famous companies become successful. It also speaks to perhaps a new approach from Dell re: going after a B2B market. 

Personally I like it for it touches on, at least attempts to, the emotional quotient inherent in all of us. Will it be successful insomuch as driving sales? Obviously only time will tell.

And as you can plainly see it's a far cry from the old "Dude, You're Gettin' A Dell" spots from many moons ago.

Can We Talk?

An article in The Atlantic caught my eye a few weeks ago, specifically the title. 

The article, as the subtitle references, is about an MIT psychologist by the name of Sherry Turkle. Ms. Turkle is in fact also a professor at the prestigious institution and the reason the article resonated so much with me is because I am, and have been a long proponent of the art of having a conversation; of actually speaking with someone either face-to-face or via the phone. 

I prefer face-to-face and with things like Skype you can of course do this without being in the same room let alone the same country. But the phone is not a bad second option. 

Here's an excerpt from  the article with some key points highlighted:

"The conclusion she’s arrived at while researching her new book is not, technically, that we’re not talking to each other. We’re talking all the time, in person as well as in texts, in e-mails, over the phone, on Facebook and Twitter. The world is more talkative now, in many ways, than it’s ever been. The problem, Turkle argues, is that all of this talk can come at the expense of conversation. We’re talking at each other rather than with each other.

Conversations, as they tend to play out in person, are messy—full of pauses and interruptions and topic changes and assorted awkwardness. But the messiness is what allows for true exchange. It gives participants the time—and, just as important, the permission—to think and react and glean insights. “You can’t always tell, in a conversation, when the interesting bit is going to come,” Turkle says. “It’s like dancing: slow, slow, quick-quick, slow. You know? It seems boring, but all of a sudden there’s something, and whoa.”

As a contributor to Forbes I am presented with many opportunities to speak with people within the marketing and advertising world. Nine times out of ten I prefer my initial conversation to be an actual conversation, usually over the phone. 

And I will tell each and every person I speak with that I prefer to do "this" - to have an honest to goodness conversation as opposed to one via email or some other non-personal medium. And when I tell the person on the other end of the line of my preferred M.O. they are always grateful and appreciative for the chance to exchange in real dialogue. 

Here's hoping we NEVER lose the art of conversation. 

Sitting Ducks

I've been reading more and more about what is commonly referred to as "Sitting Disease." It is essentially a result of sitting too long during the day, be it for work or leisure. 
Image Source: juststand.org

As one who sits a good bulk of his day this scares the you know what out of me. There's a great piece I want to share with you from a site called primaldocs.com. Click on the link to read the full article and here's some snippets:

  • Long days of sitting are linked with increased risk of heart disease, excess belly fat, chronic inflammation, insulin resistance, and diabetes. The metabolic changes predisposing us to these conditions happen quickly, within 24 hours.
  • Fortunately for the desk jockeys, former NASA researcher Joan Vernikos, who studied the negative effects of sitting and how to counteract them, presents evidence for a sitting antidote in her book Sitting Kills, Moving Heals. Vernikos’ research found you can counteract the negative effects of sitting by standing up. A lot.
  • To combat the negative health effects of sitting disease, do the following:
    • Find an online alarm or alarm app that goes off every 20 minutes, reminding you to stand. Sitting and standing 35 times in a row does not deliver the same effect as spreading it out in regular intervals.
    • If possible, work against gravity more vigorously at your 20 minute intervals by squatting or doing squat jumps.
    • Move in your chair and maintain good posture with shoulders back as much as possible.
    • Incorporate “non-exercise” activity throughout the day, such as reaching for things, bending, kneeling, walking, lifting, and so on. Basically, avoid what is convenient for what is more active.

Brier Beware

My last topic in this issue of The Long A.A.R.M of Steve O comes via my friend David Brier. Like many other friends I have made over the last x number of years, David and I met online - which sounds like met via a dating site or something. 

It was not a dating site I assure you but David and I "hit it off" as we share a lot in common, most notably our experience and passion when it comes to the world of marketing and advertising. 

Recently, as in today - December 31st 2013, David posted his latest brilliant SlideShare presentation The best business slideshare of 2014 for brands and entrepreneurs.

You notice the fact that David, quite boastfully, proclaimed this presentation as being the best of 2014 despite the fact that we are not yet in the year 2014 - at least not in the US.

Well to know David is to appreciate his brashness as well as his knowledge and he is in high supply of both and it's one of the reasons we get along so well. 

Yes, his title is tongue-in-cheek... or is it?

Here it is below. Enjoy and have a safe, wonderful and blessed New Year!


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

How Lowe's, Zappos And IKEA Use Technology To Provide Added Value To Consumers

The evolution of technology within the retail and e-commerce space is shaping how consumers behave and interact with brands and savvy, smart retailers know that understanding shoppers’ behavior is key for success. These retailers realize they can utilize technology to capitalize on consumer needs and customize offerings to help significantly increase their bottom lines.

Here’s how companies are using technology to provide added value to consumers:

Improved Customer Service

It is no secret that customer service is key in sustaining business growth - especially when you consider the fact that according to a CEI Survey, 86% of buyers will pay more for a better customer experience.

Retailers such as Lowe's and Zappos know this as well as anyone and have been internationally recognized for their outstanding customer service, excelling in areas such as enhanced in-store experience and free, effortless returns. Technological advancements in customer service, such as improved use of digital channels, are leading to heightened consumer expectations and higher standards for retailers. These retailers and others like them know that when they focus on the happiness and well-being of their customers, it is reflected in profits.

Simplified Checkout

Retailers are streamlining the digital path to purchase, providing convenient services such as one-click ordering, secure billing information storage, and direct purchasing from alternative retail channels, such as print circulars.  By eliminating obstacles at the point of purchase, companies like Amazon and Pounce are catering to the modern user-experience and directly impacting ROI through higher checkout completion rates.

Avital Yachin, CEO of Pounce believes the checkout is the most important part of the interaction with customers. "It’s the point where customers make the final decision to move forward with making a purchase," he said. "Essentially, this is just a 'technical' step of transferring payment from the customer to the merchant, and inform the merchant as of where to ship the order that’s been placed. Any failure to complete the process will cause in a cancellation of the sale.

Real-Life Shopping Experience

Improvements to e-commerce websites and services will be a primary growth factor behind the US online retail market’s massive $370 billion projection for 2017, according to Forrester. Enhancements such as rotating, interactive product displays and dynamic personalization are enabling retailers to deliver an online experience more aligned with consumer preferences. Companies such as RotaryView and RichRelevance are utilizing technology to create an online experience similar to what consumers encounter in-store. The convenience of online shopping paired with in-store personalization provides customers with the best possible experience.

For RotaryView CEO Gev Rotem, the key factor for retailers is to make the online shopping experience as real as possible. "Whether it’s personalizing the site appearance for each specific user, enhancing product views, or highlighting key product offerings – as vibrant SALE signs do in-store, the goal is to make the online shopping process as easy and intuitive as possible," he said. " A vital factor that sometimes is overlooked is the way products are presented. By offering consumers a more engaging shopping experience, retailers will increase conversion rates and reduce product returns due to confident purchasing. The equation is simple: show more, sell more.

Value- Added Services

When companies offer value- added services, they are more likely to cultivate strong customer loyalty providing a competitive advantage. By utilizing modern technology, retailers are now offering value-added services to transform shopping into a comprehensive, enjoyable experience. IKEA Catalog, utilizes its mobile app to provide added services with an augmented reality feature to give consumers a virtual preview of furniture in a room, allowing for a digital test-run of brand-name products.

Let's Hear From the Retailers Themselves

Those who know me know I am always one prone to dig a little deeper, to get more information and knowledge from a given source and this is no different.

To see just how they utilize technology from a customer standpoint I spoke with:

  • Tom Lamb, CMO of Lowe's
  • Darrin Shamo, Director of Direct and Online marketing at Zappos.com, and
  • Claudia Willvonseder, Global Marketing Manager, IKEA Global Retail Services
  • In addition to posing a question about the use of technology and service, I also wanted to pick their brains on a few other relevant topics to this discussion: marketing integration between online/offline and relationship marketing.

Steve Olenski:  How does your company use technology as a means to engage and relate to its consumers?

Tom Lamb: Technology benefits customer service interactions by providing consumers information when and where they want it and by supporting our associates as they work to deliver exceptional customer experiences. Lowe’s uses technology at all consumer touch points, including our stores, which are all equipped with WiFi, as well as online to simplify the shopping experience and engage with consumers from the day they first think about a project until its completion.

Darrin Shamo: Like many others in the industry, we’re on a continual quest to create a 1 to 1 connection with our customers. Technical developments such as personalized retargeting, triggered communication, SMS/push and master data management are all arrows in our quiver.  While each of these efforts help us to reach our customers in a relevant and personalized way, we still feel that the most effective form of interaction is person to person connections.  Our most effective mediums will always be those that help us connect with our customers on a personal level and leave them feeling heard, productive and ultimately wow’d.

Claudia Willvonseder: Overall when it comes to the area of Marketing IKEA is more of a low tech company. Technology for us is used if it is a good enabler to engage with the many people, stimulate their interest in home furnishing or facilitate the many people to plan and create their cosy and functional home with IKEA home furnishing solutions.  In the new IKEA catalogue for instance you can find 100 products which you can through augmented reality technique place in your room and see how it fits and would look like. You can scan the back page of the IKEA catalogue to see what is new at IKEA all of over the year. By this we use the technology to create consumer value.

Olenski:  How does your company integrate or orchestrate its offline marketing with its online?

Lamb: We are committed to reaching customers on their terms-- when and where they want to engage with us. We optimize the roles of all the different online and offline channels to communicate an integrated message to the consumer. Each channel plays a different role within the integrated campaign - reach, awareness, inspiration, product and price, just to name a few.

For example, during the fall season, we highlighted bath refreshes in several different ways across multiple channels, online and offline. We used TV (offline) to tap into a relevant consumer mindset and create urgency by messaging that guests are coming, and Lowe’s can help you update your bath by Thanksgiving. On Lowes.com (online), we delivered inspiring content with curated product lists and photography. Through tabs (offline), we demonstrated selection and price while using search (online) to be relevant to those consumers looking for additional information.

Shamo: Integration can take many different forms including style guides, coordinated testing, balancing demand generation with demand capture, etc.  When it comes to coordinated messaging across all marketing channels we tend to think in terms of tone and theme.  When visitors come to our offices for a tour they are greeted by departments with chants, bells or vuvuzelas.:-)  Each department is free to communicate to our guests in the way they choose but all should evoke the same disruptive tone and theme.  We take the same approach to our outward communication.

Willvonseder: Like the consumers we in IKEA Marketing do not think so much about offline and online marketing. Is an original TV ad which you watch on your tablet on YouTube while sitting in a cafĂ© an offline media content or it is online? You can hardly say. Most of our marketing communication works with all paid, owned and earned media and we use our owned media  IKEA.com as a channel for engaging the many people into the IKEA brand and company and into our home furnishing offer. Then with 210 million catalogues which are distributed every year you can see our believe that the offline world and media are still very much alive and loved by the many people who like to have a cozy afternoon on the sofa and start dreaming about a home makeover while reading and flipping through the IKEA catalogue.

Olenski: What' the most important thing a brand can do when it comes to relationship marketing?

Lamb: Good relationship marketing meets the consumer on their terms by getting to the point where a company can anticipate their needs. There is an opportunity to lead the customer to a solution. What we are working toward is pairing the data a customer provides us with information we know about where they live, such as weather, to provide relevant and helpful information to consumers at the time of need.

Shamo: Establish a reliable system for creating 2-way communication then methodically build your technology to improve this conversation.

Willvonseder: Our understanding of relationship marketing is a very wide one. Relationship marketing is in every touchpoint the consumer and customer has with IKEA , and for us the most important one is the IKEA store and the IKEA coworker you will meet there.  Here relations are built, through a good fun day out where you small kids can play in Smaland, through a good Swedish meal for a very good price in the IKEA restaurant, through friendly and helpful coworkers, through inspiring room sets which show you how easily you can fulfill your dreams in home furnishing with IKEA. When it comes to the context of external marketing we get into touch and conversations with consumers and customers through Social Media platforms.

Technology photo credit courtesy of Mervi Eskelinen aka tasselflower

[[reprinted from Forbes]]


Friday, November 22, 2013

JFK Assassination: A Fable

Below is something I wrote back in 2003 and even though I don't write much fiction these days, it is something I am very proud of and on this 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination, I thought it a good time to share it.

I hope you like it...

Arbitro Historicus
(Witness to History) 
© 2003 Steve Olenski

My name is Zachary Michael O’Neill. When I was fifteen years old, I witnessed something that forever changed my life. It is something I have kept secret to myself until now. I knew one day the time would come for me to reveal what I have kept hidden all these years.

I do not know why it remained locked within my soul until now. Perhaps it was his passing away. I know many people will be skeptical — some will be cynical. I know many people will simply dismiss this as mere folklore or the aimless and pointless ramblings of a misguided youth. Others will look upon me as nothing more than a spotlight-seeking, attention-grabbing, media hound for what I will reveal will reverberate throughout every classroom, every boardroom, every dorm room, and every hall of justice. It will be discussed around every water cooler in the free world and debated via every news-related source under the sun.

Surely upon reading my story the entertainment television shows and their mindless drivel contemporaries — that unfortunately have now become the main source of news for many Americans, will see fit to bestow the title of cause celeb upon me. But that is perfectly acceptable with me. I have come to grips with the fact that my story and subsequent ramifications it will cause therein is something I cannot control and unfortunately will be forced to deal with.


My story begins in September 1962. I was an only child living with my widowed father in South Philadelphia. When I was eight, my mother, while crossing a street, was struck by two cars simultaneously sandwiching her between two automobiles that were traveling at a very high rate of speed. Her legs, from the knee down, were literally ripped from her body. She was rushed to the hospital, but never regained consciousness.

The drivers of each vehicle were both found to be legally drunk at the time of the accident and naturally walked away from the accident virtually unscathed and never once saw the inside of a jail cell.

A few months later my father lost his job at the Pendergast Tool & Die Company. After that he bounced from job to job, not staying in any particular one for any length of time. His chosen profession was construction.

One day he got a call from an old Army buddy named Lee about a potential job in New Orleans. He told my father it was all but a done deal and that if my father would be willing to relocate, the job was his and would pay him $20,000 a year.

It did not take long for my father to decide what to do next.

Without any real family to speak of and since he never really got along with his in-laws, off we went to The Big Easy.

Needless to say, I was quite apprehensive and distraught about this drastic of a move. I would be leaving all of my friends. I would be starting a new school. I would be starting a new life.

We arrived in New Orleans on Friday, September 21st, 1962. The reason I know the date is I wrote it down. While I didn’t know why at the time, I decided to keep a daily journal beginning with my very first day in my new home.

I thought the summers in Philadelphia were rough with the heat and ridiculous humidity, but compared to the summers in Naw’lens, as the locals refer to it — it was a proverbial walk in the park.

And you wanna talk bugs? I saw things that either crawled, flew or both that could have had TWA printed on their sides.

If that weren’t bad enough the locals would invariably wind up eating many of these same creatures.

Crawdaddies? Ugh!


My father and I both started our new careers on Monday, September 24th, 1962 — he at the Tobias Construction Company and me at Lafayette Middle School.

Within a few weeks, I made some acquaintances, nothing special and began to settle in to my new surroundings.

My father and I developed a routine of getting up in the morning, having breakfast together, then him driving me to school on his way to work. Most days he would also pick me up at school. On days he was tied up at work, I simply walked the two miles from the school to our house.

Dad found this great little house to rent. It was a one-floor ranch style house, with a big back yard and a garage. I had my own room, which when you’re a teenager and puberty and the corresponding hormones are hurtling themselves in your direction at warp speed and your hormones are in overdrive, is indeed a beautiful thing.

Occasionally his old Army buddy Lee would come by and have a beer with Dad and the two of them would reminisce about their days together in the military. They would always go in the garage to drink and talk. I never thought much of it; only that they were trying to be quiet as I went to bed.

Lee was a small, balding man, not very gregarious toward me. He wasn’t mean or anything, he just didn’t say much to me. A quick ‘hi’ and ‘goodbye’ was pretty much the extent of our conversations.

Then he stopped coming around. I remember asking my Dad what happened to Lee and why he doesn’t come by anymore.

When I would ask him, my father would quickly change the subject, and I quickly realized it was better to not even bring it up.


Our first Christmas in Naw’lens was, um different. The year before, we awoke on Christmas Day in Philadelphia to thirteen inches of snow.

We awoke on Christmas Day in Naw’lens to a temperature of seventy-five degrees and rain.

“I’m dreaming of a wet and balmy Christmas” just doesn’t cut it. But we made the best of it.

The next year we got to experience our first Mardi Gras. All I will say about that is I think I had a great time. I honestly cannot remember. I would tell you what I wrote in my journal, but the page for that day is blank.

It would turn out to be my one and only Mardi Gras in Naw’lens.


When school ended in early June of 1963, I was anxious to hang out with my friends. There were three of us, all the same age with all the same inexperience and collective wetness behind our ears. We were all eager to explore everything The Big Easy had to offer to a bunch of fifteen-year-olds.

As it would turn out, I would get to hang with my friends a lot more than I had planned on.

When we first arrived in New Orleans the previous July, my father gave me a curfew of 9:00PM each night. This would remain my curfew until it such time school started. Not having any real or close friends yet, the majority of my time in my new home was spent in the comfort of my room, alone. And when I did venture out, I never even approached the imposed time limit. Most nights were spent documenting my day in my journal.

So when the ’63 school year ended, I assumed the same curfew would be enacted. I was actually hoping to extend it slightly, perhaps to 10:00PM.

As it would turn out, I got a lot more than I bargained for.

The very first night I was home without the ‘tomorrow’s a school night’ edict hanging over my head, my father informed me I could stay out ‘as long as you want.’

He went a step further and told me not to come home before Midnight.

Why was he telling me this? Why was he allowing his fifteen-year-old son to not only stay out as long as he wanted, but not to return until at least Midnight?

I didn’t know and I didn’t care. All I knew was I was given a free pass and I was not about to question why?

Now, I was not a bad kid or anything. But tell me: What would you have done in my situation?


For the first few weeks of the summer of ’63, I was having a great time. Getting home around 1:00PM each night with not a care in the world.

Granted staying out until such a late hour did cause a cramp in my journal keeping, but I did manage to stay on top of it by writing about my day the following morning(s). On most nights my father would already be asleep when I got home. By the time I got up the following morning, he was already gone, on his way to work.

One night however, things would change.

I believe it was a Thursday. I was out with my friends as per the norm when I suddenly started to feel ill.

Was it something I ate? Perhaps. There are only so many bags of potato chips a person can eat before ones’ innards begin to rebel.

Was it something I drank? Before you start to think that my friends and I were consuming mass amounts of alcoholic-type beverages, think again. Yes, we did occasionally get our hands on some beer or wine, but for
the most part, our beverage of choice was Coca-Cola or any other soda pop we could get.

Perhaps it was the combination of the chips and cola that was causing my insides to erupt. I didn’t know and frankly I didn’t care.

I wanted to go home. I wanted to crawl into my bed. I didn’t even notice what time it was. All I knew was I wanted to be home, now.

A block from my house, I noticed the light on in the garage. Then it hit me.

It’s too early. Sure enough I looked at my watch and it read 10:30.

What do I do?

I have to go home. It’s that simple. I know my father told me not to come before Midnight. But this was my father after all and I, his son, was sick. Surely he would understand.

As I approached my house, I could see through the garage window that there were quite a few people inside. They were making quite a bit of noise. No music was playing or anything like that, but rather loud discussions or better still, arguments.

As quietly as I could, I made my way into the house and to my room. My plan was to be as silent as I could until Midnight. It would not be easy.

My silence lasted all of two minutes.

The lava that was the contents of my stomach was beginning to rise to the surface. Eruption was imminent. There was no way I could wait until Midnight. My mind was willing but the intestinal storm inside me was not.

I exited the bathroom after emptying my insides to find my father waiting for me just outside the door. He was not happy.

“What the hell are you doing home?!” he bellowed.

Although I tried to explain the circumstances behind my being home earlier than the pre-determined time, my father had absolutely no compassion.

“I will let it slide this one time” he stated matter-of-factly. “But don’t ever let it happen again.”

I had never seen my father so enraged. I was, for the first time in my life, afraid of my father. I was afraid he would actually physically hurt me. After a pause that seemed to last forever, he threw daggers at me with his eyes, then left to return to the garage.

I went right into my room and closed the door behind me.

I cracked my window to let in some much-needed fresh air, and just as I did I could hear voices. Although I could not see anyone due to the way the house was situated in relation to the garage, I could clearly hear the conversations.

The first voice I heard was that of an Hispanic man. He was speaking Spanish so I could not understand what he was saying. I could however tell from his tone, that he was serious, that he was trying to make a point as his voice kept rising over others.

I then heard a familiar voice, that of my fathers’, but he too was speaking Spanish.

‘Huh? ‘

‘Since when does my Dad speak Spanish?‘

I then heard another familiar voice, that of Lee — Dad’s old Army buddy that hadn’t been around in quite some time.

Lee too, was not speaking English. But he was not speaking Spanish, either. I did not recognize what language it was at the time. I would come to learn later that it was Russian.

There were others in the garage but the three doing the most talking were my dad, Lee and the Hispanic man.  There was some English being spoken, but in my near-catatonic state, I was not able to decipher or remember much. The only thing I would recall the next day was my father saying, in English:

“No, I still say it’s got to be October. It makes the most sense. St. Louis in October.” My father was quite adamant in his tone.

The next day I awoke expecting another tongue-lashing but instead found my father cooking breakfast, acting as if nothing had ever happened.

I never once asked my father about what I heard nor did I ever arrive at my house during the balance of the summer any earlier than Midnight, no matter what condition or predicament I may have found myself in.

But I never forgot what I overheard that night.


September came and it was back to school and the 9:00PM curfew was reinstated. As soon as the school year began, the meetings in the garage ended. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this is exactly the time of year that Lee stopped coming around the year before.

Given what had transpired during the summer, I thought or assumed that our daily routine of dad driving me to school and picking me up would cease. I guess I figured he might be mad at me still, even though he never yelled at me again.

But once again, my father surprised me and on my first day of school in September of ’63, there he was — ready to take me to school.

Even though things had returned to some sense of normalcy, I still not could get out of my mind what I heard my father say or what exactly it meant. As I said earlier, my father was adamant, almost defiant in his stance.

When October rolled in, I nervously, or better still, anxiously waited for my father to tell me he was going to St. Louis. Why? I didn’t know, really. I just expected him to tell me this at some point.

But that never happened.


In the early morning of Wednesday, November 13th, I was suddenly awakened by the sound of the phone ringing. It was 2:00AM.

Thought: Why is that whenever the phone rings in the middle of the night, it’s more than likely
bad news?

But I digress.

Since his room was right next to mine, I could hear my father speaking to someone on the other end. He spoke in Spanish and English.

Unlike the last time I overheard a conversation my father had in which he spoke Spanish, I was completely in control of my faculties and wasn’t faced with the urge to visit the porcelain god every two minutes.

And while he tried to keep his voice down, he raised it a few octaves during the course of the conversation thereby allowing me to clearly hear what he was saying.

It was during the higher-volume portions of the call that I was able to make out my father saying the words, verbatim:

‘Ft. Worth. Dallas. Houston. November.’

The next morning I remember asking my father who had called so early in the morning.

Hesitating at first, he said it was Lee.

“What did he want?” I inquired.

“Nothing, just needed to talk to me about something,” my father replied.

With that, the subject was closed and off to work and school my father and I went, respectively.

I could not concentrate all day. My father was into something, but I didn’t know what. I could just feel it. I could not escape this overriding feeling. I could not come out and ask him for fear of angering him. I needed to know. I guess I would just have to wait until something happened that was out of the ordinary and that hopefully would shed some light.

It would not be a very long wait.


The next Thursday, November 21st, my father picked me up at school and announced that he had to go to Dallas later than night. He explained to me that he was asked to go to Dallas by his boss to help on a construction site. He told me he would only be gone one night and would be back late Friday evening.

We arrived back at our house, my father went to his room, packed a large suitcase and left. It was that quick. It was that abrupt. He was gone.

About an hour after he left, I made a decision. I made a decision that would change my life forever.

I decided I needed to go to Dallas. Why? I had no idea. All I knew was I needed to go to Dallas. My father was going to Dallas and he was up to something. I had no idea what. I just knew I had to go.

Scraping every last penny I could find, I rounded up what I hoped was enough money to purchase a round trip bus ticket to Dallas.

I went to the bus station as soon as I awoke the next morning.

Fortunately for me, I did in fact have enough money to purchase the ticket and I was on the 8:10AM bus to Dallas. Sitting on the bus, it hit me.

‘Why didn’t I think of this sooner?’

‘Why did my father need to take such a large suitcase with him if he was only going one night? He could’ve easily fit one day’s worth of clothes in a smaller bag.’

Now, my curiosity as well my heart was racing. Upon arriving in Dallas other thoughts came across my mind.

‘How in the world am I going to find my father?’

‘Why didn’t I ask him the name of the construction site he would be working at?’

‘I could’ve just told him I needed to know in case I had to reach him in an emergency.’

‘Why am I just thinking of this now?!’


Walking through the bus station, I felt this overwhelming sense of electricity around me. There was a buzz among the patrons that day. It was clearly discernible.

“Come on, we gotta hurry up,” said one woman hurriedly to her husband.

“What time is he getting here?” asked a man of another as they stood in line to buy a newspaper.

I had to find out what was going on. I went up to a little old man who stood patiently waiting to shine shoes. He was easily in his sixties, perhaps even older. He wore a kind face so I felt comfortable approaching him.

“Excuse me, sir. Can you please tell me what everyone is so excited about?”

“Are you kidding me? You really don’t know?”

“No, I really don’t. I just got off a bus from New Orleans.”

“The President’s coming to town today! He’s gonna be here in the afternoon and he’s gonna ride through the streets so everyone can see him and wave to him!”

“The President?” I asked just to confirm.

“Yeah, John Fitzgerald Kennedy himself, right here in Dallas.”

“Where will he be?”

“Well, I don’t know ‘zactly, but I’m heading over to Dealey Plaza cause that’s one place I know he’s gonna be passin’ through.”

I slowly ambled away from the man and began to walk away and head toward an exit door to begin the search for my father.

“Hey, you wanna come wit’ me?” a voice cried out.

I turned in the direction of the voice and it was the same little old man.

Thinking to myself that I didn’t really have any idea of where to start to look for my father and this may be a once in a lifetime chance to see the President of the United States in person…

“Sure. I’ll go with you.”

Why I decided to go anywhere with a total stranger was beyond me, but off we went.


About halfway into the twenty-minute car ride over to the Plaza, a strange, yet unmistakable sensation came over me. I had never felt these feelings of unnerving anxiety combined with maddening anticipation before in my life and frankly never have since.

As we approached our destination, we could see that there were hundreds, if not thousands of people already there, lining the streets surrounding the Plaza awaiting their chance for a glimpse of the President.

The old man, whose name I never did get, nor he mine — parked his car as close to the Plaza as possible, which was about three city blocks away.

We walked the three blocks and stopped at the corner of Elm and Houston Streets. The electricity in the air was absolutely palpable. I got chills standing on that street corner. It seemed as if the whole city came out to see the President. And I had completely forgotten about looking for my father. It was the furthest thing from my mind.

After just a few minutes I felt the need to move. I didn’t know why or to where, but all I knew was I wanted to move around; to circulate.

I said goodbye to my newfound friend, thanked him for the ride and off I went.

I didn’t get very far until the crowd was in a complete frenzy. I asked someone what was happening and they told me that someone had spotted the President’s motorcade and that it would soon be here.

So I stopped right where I was and decided this would be my vantage point to see the President of the United States as he passed by.

What would transpire over the next several minutes would change my life forever.


I spotted the President’s motorcade across Elm and across the Plaza. It seemed to be moving in slow motion; it was travelling very slowly.

He would be passing by me from my left to my right. My heart was pumping extremely fast and I was sweating. The noise was deafening. It was as all just so exciting. I thought about my friends back home in New Orleans and how I couldn’t wait to tell them that I got to see the President! How I would explain being in Dallas was another story.

The motorcade turned the corner onto Elm and for the first time, I could make out the President’s face.

‘Wow, that’s really the President!’ I thought to myself.

Suddenly and without warning, the President threw his hands in the air. It just seemed out of place. You didn’t know why or what has happening, it just seemed odd. He wasn’t waving or anything, he just threw his arms up.

Almost instantaneously, someone yelled out that the President’s been shot. Not everyone heard this as most
continued watching the motorcade. The voice came from my right and I instinctively turned in that direction.

Not thirty yards from where I was, a man stood with a rifle in his hands. He was in a shooting position. I distinctively remember thinking to myself, ‘Who is this and what is he doing?’ and ‘Why isn’t anyone stopping him?’

The entire area erupted in complete panic-mode. A man screams in pain and a woman shrieks like the wail of an air raid siren.  Police whistles blow from every direction.  People fall to the ground for safety. I however, did not. My focus was on the man with the rifle.

I started in his direction and saw that he now was carrying a bag over his shoulder, which presumably contained the rifle, which was now nowhere to be found. He was now walking away from where he had stood just minutes before. He was not running. He was walking and was doing so in a very calm manner. I got to within maybe twenty feet when I finally got my first, real good look at this man.

Webster tells us that the word “surreal” means having the intense irrational reality of a dream.

Intense irrational reality is the perfect way to describe what I was feeling throughout every fiber of my being as I confirmed that the man I just witnessed shooting at the President of the United States was in fact, my father. Or someone who bore an unbelievable and uncanny likeness to him.

Somehow I ended up on the ground as when I awoke from my surrealistic dream that is where I lay. Gathering what was left of my senses, I immediately got up to look for my father. I ran in the direction I last saw him, but he was not there.

I thought I spotted him near some train tracks. But it was not he. I thought I saw him amidst a crowd of people standing on the Plaza grass. Again, it was not he. I even thought I saw him when I made my way back to the bus station, several hours later. Again, a false alarm.

I didn’t want to leave, but I knew I had to. So back on the bus and back to New Orleans I headed. What awaited me there was anyone’s guess. On the ride home there were so many thoughts and scenarios running through my head.

‘Do I go to the Police?’ ‘Would they even believe me?’

‘Do I confront my father?’ ‘What do I say to him?’

I had a lot of thinking to do and spent the entire ride home planning my next move.


By the time I turned the corner and spotted my house for the first time since the incident, my decision had already been made.

I was going to confront my father. I felt I had no choice. I had to find out what he was doing in Dallas. The closer I got to my front door, the more I wanted to run away and hide. I opened the door and to my relief and amazement, my father was not home yet. It seems I had gotten home before him somehow.

Of course all this new found free time allowed me to start thinking of altering my plan. I literally went through a roller coaster of emotions and thoughts:

‘You know it might not have been my dad I saw.’

‘It is possible it was someone else.’

‘But if it wasn’t him, then what was he doing in Dallas?’

‘After all, I heard him mention Dallas specifically during that early-morning phone call.’

This game of emotional Ping-Pong went on for the next hour or so until…

The front door opened and there appeared my father, looking like he had just gone through a car wash without the car. Haggard. Disheveled. Unkempt. He walked right past me without so much of a greeting and went straight to his room, closed the door behind him and proceeded to sleep to until around 5:00PM the
next night, Saturday, November 23rd.

Now, given the fact that the news about the President was everywhere on the radio and TV and that everyone was talking about it — and that my father had just returned from the very same city in which the President was shot, you would think he would at the very least want to talk about it.

I guess not.


I was in the kitchen when he awoke and came in to find me sitting at the table. He joined me at the table and asked me how things were in his absence. I lied and told him things were fine. After what seemed like an eternity of silence, I decided to stick to my guns.

“Dad, can I ask you something?”


“What were you doing in Dallas?”

My tone must’ve spoken volumes because my father fired back at me.

“What? What’ya mean, what was I doing in Dallas? I was there on work, you know that.”

“Anything else?”

My dad sat up in his chair.

“Anything else? What the hell’s goin’ on? Why do I get the feeling I’m being interrogated?”

“Dad, I have something to tell you.”

“I was in Dallas yesterday, too.”

My father cleared his throat, took a sip of his drink.

“Okay, what the hell is going on? I want to know exactly what you’ve been doing since I left. And I want to know now.”

“After you left, I decided to follow you to Dallas.”

“What? … Why?!”

“Because there were just too many strange and unanswered things going on around here and something told me to go.”

“Strange things?”

“Yeah, like the people in the garage that night when I came home sick. They were speaking Spanish. You were speaking Spanish. I never knew you could speak Spanish.”

“Like that phone call in the middle of the night when I heard you say the words Dallas and November to the person on the other end. Then a week later you tell me you have to go to Dallas that same night.”

“I can’t explain it, Dad. I just got this feeling. That’s it.”

My father sat stone cold quiet for the next few minutes.

“What did you think I was up to in Dallas? What did you think you would find me doing in Dallas?”

“I don’t know, Dad. I really didn’t.”

“So you followed me to Dallas. I don’t even wanna know how you got to Dallas, but okay.”

“I took a bus.”

“Where’d you get the money for that? Never mind. Well obviously you weren’t able to find me cause I never saw you at the construction site I was working at.”

“Well Dad, that’s just it. I did see you.”


Here it comes, I thought to myself.  Now I sat up in my chair.

“Dad I was there. I was there when the President got shot.”

“What?! How the hell did you get there?”

“It doesn’t matter. I was there.”

“Wow! That must’ve been something son. Are you okay?”

“No, I’m not.”

“Did you get hurt?”

“After the chaos started Dad, I saw a man shooting a rifle at the President.”

“What?! Are you kidding me?”

“I got a real good look at him, too.”

“Really? So you can identify him?”

“Yes, I can.”

‘This is incredible. I cannot believe this. You realize you are witness to history? This is incredible! We have to call somebody.”

Now either my father was the greatest actor in the world or he really was not where I thought he was because he genuinely seemed and sounded completely taken aback and in total shock over what I had just told him.

“Dad, there’s one more thing.”

“More? Jeezus! What else?”

‘The man I saw shooting the President… kinda’ looked liked… you. Plus…right before you got up just now, they flashed a picture on the TV of the man they have accused in the shooting of the President. His name is Lee Harvey Oswald. And he looks exactly like your Army buddy Lee.”

After what seemed like an eternity of silence, I stood up and moved to the other side of the kitchen. My father remained seated.

Having just got this most recent news, coupled with what I already knew, my head was spinning and my emotions were in a free-fall.

“Dad, what the hell is goin’ on?”

I had never used bad language in front of my father before.

Over the next three and a-half-hours my father and I spoke, right there in the kitchen. He told me everything. He told me of being in Dallas. He told me that it was in fact the same Lee Harvey Oswald, the man accused of shooting the President of the United States that had been to our house.

He told me he didn’t tell me the truth for reasons of national security. That he was protecting me. He told me of the evil that was President Kennedy and that he needed to be stopped and that if they didn’t do it, someone else would.

And he apologized. A lot. And said he hoped I could one day forgive him.

I went to my room and literally shut myself off from the world. No TV. No radio. Nothing. I did not want to talk to anyone nor see anyone.

I was preparing for school on Monday when my dad told me that schools had been closed as a result of the President being shot.

I returned to my room and stayed there.

Two months later my father told me we were moving to Tennessee.

Neither one of us ever mentioned New Orleans, Dallas, JFK or anything remotely related to the incidents ever again.


I am forty-two years old now. Married with one son. Last week I said goodbye to my father. He passed away quite suddenly and unexpectedly.

The doctor told me it was a massive heart attack brought on by stress. He told me he was surprised because my father had always been the picture of health.

“It’s as if his heart just gave out,” the doctor said to me.

Guess you can only keep a secret for so long.

All images courtesy of Google Images 


Thursday, October 31, 2013

October Rain

This (below) is something I wrote back in 2004. I just re-discovered it after thinking I had lost it forever and I wanted to share it with you.

It is a very personal story that has to do with the experience and epiphany I received 5 years prior as a result of  my daughter being born.

Hope you like it...

October Rain
© 2004 Stephen P. Olenski

We are all conditioned at an early age on a varying and sometimes dizzying array of topics. We are conditioned to never trust strangers. We are conditioned to believe that if you do well and are good to people, you will one day make it to heaven. We are conditioned to love our mother and father; our brothers and sisters; our pets and perhaps our favorite foods. And if we are truly lucky; truly blessed; downright shined upon, we are also air-conditioned.

Okay, a little levity…sorry.

One additional item that we are conditioned upon, is the weather. Mother Nature and her oft-rambunctious children have a funny way of leaving their mark upon our psyche.

Snow conjures up, amongst many images — carefree days as a child spent frolicking playfully and Christmas and all the enjoyment that goes along with that time of the year. Generally speaking, the thought of snow has a relatively positive connotation.

However, for whatever the reason, our initial thought processes regarding water falling in drops condensed from vapor in the atmosphere otherwise hereto for known as rain is to equate this natural phenomenon with gloom and unhappiness and an overall sense of the blues. As children we associate rain with one undeniable, irrefutable and unmistakable truth:

We are not allowed outside to play!

As we get older of course, we learn that rain is not always necessarily a bad thing. We are educated on the ways of nature and how our mother from time to time must feed her children.

As adults we are further schooled on the intricacies and previously hidden meanings and nuances of these tears from above.

There’s a line from a song that reads: "I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger."

Obviously this little bit of hindsighted, retroactive insight can be applied to a myriad of subjects — but in terms of rain, if we knew of rain’s alter ego as children, perhaps this would have helped lessen the indignation we felt towards the heavens whenever it had the audacity to rain upon our proverbial parade.

But alas this is not the case and it is not until we are older, wiser and more experienced that we can genuinely appreciate the subtleties of rain.

To paraphrase a great American, there all kinds of rain: “Little bitty stingin' rain... and big ol' fat rain. Rain that flies in sideways. And rain that seems to come straight up from underneath.”

To build upon Mr. Gump’s words of wisdom, there are additional varieties of rain — some with their own distinct significance and meaning. Often times however, the hidden message which accompanies such rains, is not readily apparent to those it falls upon or is simply lost on misguided or preoccupied souls.

One such unique and meaningful rain fell upon me on the afternoon of Wednesday, October 20th in the year 1999. That particular day started out in a somewhat less than typical fashion as my wife Terri, already ten days late with our first child, awakened me at the ripe hour of 4:30AM. She was having contractions and insisted — make that demanded, I join in on the fun.

After speaking with her doctor and timing the contractions accordingly, we left for the hospital around 7:00AM.

The weather: sunny, warm, especially for this time of the year — literally not a cloud in the sky. An absolutely glorious day to be sure.

After getting checked in and getting settled, we assumed the parents-to-be position.

My wife in a bed with yours truly right beside her on an unusually-comfortable-hospital-provided-expectant-father-chair.

Approximately four hours into our journey, my wife decided she had had enough and was now ready for essentially any pharmaceutical she could get her hands on. After receiving an epidural, she was ready to relax and wait.

To aid in her relaxation, she asked that some music be played via the CD player we brought with us from our home.

So, as the one playing the supporting role in this ever-changing melodrama, I proceeded to make the necessary arrangements. Got the CD of choice out its case, placed it in the player, hit the necessary functionality feature and…nothing.

Not a sound. Not a peep. Nothing.

Much like my wife, the batteries were in their own anesthetized-state. The difference being that unlike my wife, they would not be coming out of their current condition any time in the foreseeable future.

Like some sort of superhero, I immediately processed the information through my brain as to where I could obtain batteries in the least amount of time and quickly devised a scheme to achieve the desired outcome.

‘I got it!’

‘The gift shop in the Lobby!’

Off I went.

As luck would have it, they were out of D-Size batteries.

‘Okay, Plan B.’

‘The drug store down the street.’

‘But my car keys are upstairs in the room.’

‘A little exercise never hurt anyone and time is of the essence.’

So off I went, again.

I was not twenty feet out the front door of the hospital when my very own epiphany-inspired rain began to fall.

From out of the blue…sky, the rain fell as the skies instantaneously turned dark and threatening and the temperature inexplicably plummeted.

Running as if someone’s life depended on it, the un-timeliness of this rain and change in the weather crossed my mind. And even though I am a firm believer in the adage everything happens for a reason, I decided I needed answers to some questions.

‘Why are you doing this to me, God?’

‘Why is it raining now?’

‘Why was the gift shop out of D-Batteries?’

‘Why does this particular CD Player use D-Batteries?’

Arriving at the drug store and looking as if I just went through a car wash without the car, I located the section of the store that housed batteries, made my purchase, exited the store and returned to full gallop.

I immediately returned to the engaging conversation I was having with myself and the rhetorical questions I was posing to God.

‘Why didn’t I go back for my car keys and drive to the drug store?’

‘Why didn’t I bring the electrical cord for the CD Player with us as a backup in the event of battery failure?’

‘What types of medication are on the market to help someone like myself who holds conversations with themselves and can I get some when I get back to the hospital?’

The one prevailing question that kept returning to my thoughts was…

‘Why is it raining now?’

Halfway back to the hospital I realized there must be a reason. There must be a reason why on this day of all days did the weather pull an abrupt about-face at virtually the exact same moment I began my jaunt to the store, leaving me essentially at the mercy of the cold and damp conditions.

I never once thought it was some kind of omen or sign that something horrible was going to happen to my wife or child. Those kind of morbid thoughts simply never entered my head.

But what was the reason?

‘Why is it raining NOW?’

Then came the epiphany. The reason behind this natural phenomenon.

God was testing me.

This realization instantly lessened the child-like indignation I was feeling towards my maker.

I realized the rain that was falling was his way of challenging me. I could have easily turned right around at the very first drop and my wife would have understood completely. She didn’t even know of my journey for as far as she knew I was going to the gift shop.

But he knew, as did I, that the batteries — materialistic as they may be, were a vital component to my wife’s being relaxed and at peace until he decided it was time.

God tests each and every one of us in many different ways.

On this day mine just happened to come in drops condensed from vapor in the atmosphere otherwise heretofore known as rain. October Rain.