James Brown Got it Right

My high-flying former boss, it must be said in fairness, was as generous as he was eager to impress. During all the business trips I took with him in all the years in which I worked for him, he never allowed me to pay for — let alone to buy for him — so much as a cup of coffee. He also had some rather contradictory aspects to his personality. Since National Psychotherapy Day is coming up in September, I’ll give you this example to chew on (no extra charge for the psychologists and psychiatrists who might read this):

I was once privy to a phone conversation The Boss had in his car. The phone was on speaker. The conversation was with one dubiously productive employee whom the boss, nevertheless, permitted to remain on the payroll. Needless to say, the conversation was contentious.

At the conclusion of the call, I said to The Boss, “You’re one of the most patient, generous people I know.”

His response was, in the entirety of its grateful eloquence, “Fuck you.”

Such is life and inscrutability.


In the first weekend of June of 2002, The Boss and I had to be in San Francisco to attend a conference and trade show. Unbeknownst to me, The Boss had acquired a pair of tickets for the Sunday of that weekend — it was June 2, to be precise — to see the Giants play the Colorado Rockies at what was then known as Pacific Bell Park. In typically generous fashion, The Boss has scored us tickets in the Club section. The Club section was directly below the broadcast booth. That game happened to be the one being covered on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball that week. (In those days, ESPN still covered sports. It hadn’t yet begun its disastrous foray into politics.)

The first thing I did on reaching our seats was call my Dad. He and Mom were living in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, at the time:

“Dad, what are you doing?”

“Nothing. Why?”

“Turn on the TV and go to ESPN.”

“Okay. Why would I do that?”

“When the camera pans to Jon Miller and Joe Morgan, that asshole jumping up and down in front of the booth will be me.”

“What the hell are you doing in San Francisco?”

I told him this story.

Take Me Out to the Ball Games

In the top of the seventh inning, with the Giants comfortably leading the Rockies 8 to 1 and the Rockies at-bat, The Boss and I decided to meander up to the Club to refill our beer cups. Sitting high above the third-base line, the wall of the Club that faced the field was all glass. From that vantage point, we could see all the way across the entire park and clear out to McCovey Cove.

Until we’d gotten into the Club and saw what was on the TVs in there, we’d completely forgotten the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings were in Game 7 of the NBA Western Conference Finals. We stood looking up at the tube, slack-jawed, as Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant battled Mike Bibby and Chris Webber in the hardwood equivalent of a war.

With the basketball game tied late in the fourth quarter, the network went to a commercial. The Boss and I turned to the field to find Barry Bonds at the plate in the bottom of the seventh with no outs and nobody on. Facing Brian Fuentes, Bonds launched a rocket to deep right/center field. It was home run number 586 for Bonds. It tied him with Frank Robinson.

There was absolute pandemonium in Pac Bell.

The Boss and I just looked at each other, slack-jawed, both of us in wondrous disbelief at what we’d just witnessed, what we were witnessing, and where we were — in San Francisco, California, in the United States of America, in moments of history in two different sports, with that history being made right in front of two happy, hapless idiots, who just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

Dark Shadows

Removed, as we were, just nine months from September 11, 2001 — and with that date as indelibly inked in our own minds as it was in everyone else’s — the question seemed to dawn on both of us at the same time: How could anyone who understood what this country has to offer bomb it, bomb it and take the lives of more than 3,000 of its citizens?

Is that question naïve? Probably. Is it prejudicially favorable? Arguably. Is it patriotic? Certainly. Is it blind? No. Is it idealistic? Yes. Deliberately so.

For all of our personal, ethnic, temperamental, psychological, intellectual, and political differences, The Boss and I shared one thing: the pure accident of being born in the United States of America.

Should we have felt guilty about that? No. Should we have enjoyed ourselves any less on that occasion? No. Should the incredible athletic achievements we saw that day have been in any way tarnished, diminished, nullified, or relegated to less prominent places in our memories? By what? American’s remorse? Luck-of-the-draw regret? Good-fortune shame? Should we have hung our heads to signal our virtue? Should we hang them now? Did it mean we were unmindful of the people who weren’t lucky enough to be there, who couldn’t be there, who’d never have the opportunity to be there?

Hell, no.


Mark O'Brien
Mark O'Brien
I’m a business owner. My company — O’Brien Communications Group (OCG) — is a B2B brand-management and marketing-communication firm that helps companies position their brands effectively and persuasively in industries as diverse as: Insurance, Financial Services, Senior Living, Manufacturing, Construction, and Nonprofit. We do our work so well that seven of the companies (brands) we’ve represented have been acquired by other companies. OCG is different because our business model is different. We don’t bill by the hour or the project. We don’t bill by time or materials. We don’t mark anything up. We don’t take media commissions. We pass through every expense incurred on behalf of our clients at net. We scope the work, price the work, put beginning and end dates on our engagements, and charge flat, consistent fees every month for the terms of the engagements. I’m also a writer by calling and an Irish storyteller by nature. In addition to writing posts for my company’s blog, I’m a frequent publisher on LinkedIn and Medium. And I’ve published three books for children, numerous short stories, and other works, all of which are available on Amazon under my full name, Mark Nelson O’Brien.

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    • Thank you, Kimberly. I wonder if there’s a future in being a professional dots connector. 😉

      Joking aside, I’m grateful for your thoughtfulness. And I’m always grateful for our connection.

  1. Ah, Mark, your meaningful, thought-provoking essay has me reflecting on several things including how much (as a kid)I worked to convince myself that if I was good enough (as close to perfect as I could possibly become) then that would guarantee that adults around me wouldn’t be enraged with me. Your pursuit of guarantees really resonated with me as I, too, have given much life energy to the pursuit of guarantees. Wow, talk about a limiting belief-if I’m grateful enough, really, really grateful (for everything!) no more bad things will happen to people I love or to me-see there’s another one!! Ack!! I deeply appreciate how you’re willing to demystify the human experience of loss, so much loss, and how actually hard life can be. Even when it’s really good we can experience anticipatory grief (the looming departure of grown children from the nest-for example). What supports me continues to be letting go-of expectations, of fears, of preferences, of chasing, of grasping, and practicing radical acceptance of what is-right now-exactly as it is and as it is not. There’s something about Be Here Now and Savor This Moment that helps me ground in that gratitude for being alive even with a heart breaking wide open while laughing, crying, and hiccuping. Letting one moment flow into the next without ever closing my heart allows the whole cornucopia of life experiences to touch me, leave their lessons (hopefully) and their full sensory 3D impressions, and move on to the very next delicious, precious, wild, anxious, shocking, hilarious, breath-taking, life-giving, heart-filling one. No longer chasing pleasure or resisting or numbing the suffering. Trusting the whole Blood, Sweat, And Tears mixture of You Made Me So Very Happy. Thank you so much for this essay. Thank you for being you.

    • Laura, thank you so much for your comments. My entire essay could have been boiled down to what you wrote right here: “Radical acceptance of what is-right now-exactly as it is and as it is not.”

      I think I’ve shared this before, but the rest of what you wrote reminds me of this, from Jack Kerouac’s book, On the Road:

      “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’”

      Thank you for being mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, and never saying a commonplace thing.

  2. Thanks, Mark.

    Let’s talk again some time soon. I’ve been working hard on back2different and a new project, gendercrap, which is a group to share and collect stories about how gender stereotypes have created pain and loss of self in our lives. AND your piece reminded me of Character over Category (What I am is a coincidence, Who I am is a choice). We seem to be on adjacent pages here.

    And you’re spot on: I’m accidentally white, male, American, tall, middle-class, brown-eyed, clumsy, absent-minded, the list goes on. So I can be neither proud nor embarrassed by any of those categories. On the other hand, the choices I make . . . .
    Be good. And well.
    Don’t forget – – the url for the podcast. I don’t want to betray a confidence, but a guy whose last name rhymes with Schmitocco will be featured next Monday.

    • Thank you for your comments, Mac. I’m happy to talk with you any time you like.

      It may take me the entire long weekend to figure out who this Schmitocco character might be. But I should have it doped out by Monday.