How A Waiter's Pad Saved My Life

The other day during my Twitter Q&A someone asked me why I use a waiter’s pad to write down ideas instead of a small notepad. I didn’t give the complete answer. Now I will.

Before the waiter pad, I had lost all my dignity. It was taken from me. I had taken it from myself. There was a hole. And the hole was filled with misery, depression, embarrassment, anxiety, shame, self-hatred, suicide, fear, pain, pain, PAIN. I was isolated, disgraced, and in HELL. I couldn’t climb out. It was a hole and only bad things filled it and I was all alone.

I needed help. A symbol. I needed sex, passion, abundance, love to fill my life. I needed something to get rid of the non-stop despair. I needed a way to regenerate. To rejuvenate. I needed my dignity again. Which, of course, will eventually bring me to waitresses.

There’s two beginnings to the waiter’s pad story. Just like there are two types of explanations for every question: the “good” explanation and the “real” explanation. Think about that the next time someone tries to BS you. Example: a real estate agent will say a good reason to buy a house is because it’s “charming”. But the real reason: it’s cheap. This dichotomy of good versus real occurs with almost every word everyone speaks.

For me, there’s the good reasons when I started using the waiter’s pad. And then there’s the real reasons I was attracted to it.

Summer of 2002: I’m going to be dead honest: I was losing $40-50,000 a month just in living expenses. That’s because I’m mentally deficient. I didn’t know what I was doing. I made some money and decided to immediately up my lifestyle to unbelievable rock-star heights and then I lost all of my money in the worst horrible ways. I stimulated the economy.

So, in the worst bear market, with a loaded gun in my mouth and always a month away from dying (in Yiddish, the first language of my father, “dying” and “losing all of your money” are the same phrase) I had to make about 100% per month daytrading even though I was perpetually optimistic on the market. It was hard and I never want to do it again. I will kill myself if I have to do it again. I’m too old. I’m too tired. I don’t want to be the desperate addict again.

There’s a superhero in DC Comics in the “Legion of Substitute Heroes” from the 30th Century named “Kid Psycho”. He can move objects with his mind. As is the case with many science fiction characters who can move objects with their minds, he was bald and had an over-sized head. And his collar went straight up. But one sad difference with Kid Psycho: everytime he used his power he lost one year of his life. That’s why he was only a Substitute Hero.

(Kid Psycho)

That happened to me in 2002. I lost a year of my life every month. Nobody around me understood that. Everyone thought I was living large.But I had to hide everything, I was so ashamed. Every day  I was the worst kind of afraid. Medication and Meditation (funny how they are separated by one letter. I never realized that before) didn’t work. Only making money worked. Else I was dead. And even then, the writing was on the wall – I had four months to live.

Every day I mourned myself. The heartache was too much. Much later, I thought about the lives I could’ve saved and the lives I felt I had cost. Still, to this day, I feel lives are ruined. Heartache, despair, with every day a battle, every day, a practice or I lose against the demons.

It’s all I thought about. All I paced about. I lived 4 blocks from Ground Zero. I hate to say it but I almost wanted another terrorist attack to happen just as an excuse to have someone do me in for me.

But suddenly everything changed. I was walking around the Bowery and wandered into a restaurant supply store. Everything looked so silver and shiny. Everything brought back memories of diners and milkshakes and french fries and sandwiches. I was a little boy in a diner. And then I it. The waiter’s pad. 10 cents a pad. I bought 100 for $10.

I’ll make a list now:

10 Uses for a Waiter’s Pad

– write down ideas. It’s perfect for making a list not so big, not so small. I would write down lists of ideas every day. Bad ideas. My idea muscle had atrophied. But still a list. For instance, I would write down ideas for books I could write. Then I would write down the lists of table of contents for each book. For instance, one book I wanted to write (please steal it) was: “How To Beat Your Friends at Every Game in the Universe”. The idea was to have 4 or 5 trick techniques that if you knew them, you could always beat your friends. For instance: Scrabble. If you simply know all 2 letter words you’re going to win (especially if you know: “XI”, “QI” and “ZA” – very helpful). Also good to know the “Q” without “U”words (“QAT” and “QOPF”) being examples. Nobody will beat you except tournament Scrabble players.

Other games I had ready for the book ranged from chess to Monopoly to Hearts. I felt like I could make a series out of it. It would be fun also.

So that was one idea. Then I would write down ideas for businesses, ideas for hedge funds I could start. Ideas for potential investors. Ideas for articles I could write (and I did eventually write all of them. Even the “games” idea came back in the form of a Financial Times article in 2006.)

That’s how ideas work, they mate, they multiply, they flirt, they dance, they have one night stands, they grow in population and eventually create a child that grows on it’s own, a completely mixed-breed version of ten ideas you might’ve had over the years, as long as you treated them kindly, wrote them down, respected them.

– To-Do lists. Different from idea lists. Sometimes you want to feel good in the morning. A sense of accomplishment, knowing that you can change things in the world, knowing that the world wants to be changed by you. I would write  8 things I had to accomplish by 10am. I was a little boy again with gold stars! Not a grown man with a gun in my mouth!

(In Monopoly, the most valuable properties are the Oranges)

– I Did lists: You did a lot today. More than you think. No matter how bad you feel you did more than you could’ve imagined. At the end of the day I would write down my “I Did” lists and they were always double or triple what I thought I had done during the day. That would make me feel good. And often it would lead to ideas for the next morning.

– Gratitude lists:  I would keep track of what I was most grateful for. When you are grateful for someone, then all of the good things in their life become yours as well. If you do this every day, your abundance in the world goes up exponentially. This is what happened to me. All because of a waiter’s pad.

– Business cards. If someone needed my number, no problem. I’d rip out a page of the waiter’s pad (if you buy one of those expensive journal/notepads its harder to rip out a page) and I’d write down my contact info. And usually get a laugh out of it as well. Someone would always say, “and I’ll take a coke and fries with that”. haha. Which leads me to…

– Conversation starters. Let’s say I arrive at a meeting, everyone’s gathering themselves, pulling out their pens, their pads, etc and small talk hasn’t started yet. I am bad at chit chat. I don’t know what to chit about. I feel awkward. Now I can pull out my waiter’s pad. Everyone laughs and it’s a good conversation starter. “I’ll order a pie with that steak”. I get that a lot. I’m not good at small talk so a waiter’s pad is a convenient crutch for me.

– It’s Cheap. At 10 cents a pad nobody can accuse me of being lavish. Shows people I’m willing to be frugal. Very handy when meeting with investors. 10 cents a pad is hard to beat. Small note bads at the local art supplies shop might cost you $30.

– Its fits in my shirt pocket. Or my pants. So always very handy to pull out and write ideas down no matter where I am.

– It allows me to steal from bookstores. I hate to admit this. Please don’t judge me. But I caused Borders to go out of business. I’d go through the store, spend hours even looking at books, find the 10 I liked the best, write them down, and then sit in the cafe and order them on my kindle. Easy to do with a waiter’s pad in my shirt pocket. Who would suspect?

– Remembers names: At the top of a waiter’s pad is the shapes of different types of tables with numbers for each position. So now in every meeting I can write down who is sitting in each position and match it to the right table. Perfect for remembering names. My memory is not so good ever since I permanently attached my brain to Google.

All of these things helped me to feel better. I started building my idea muscle which made me turn into an idea MACHINE within months. I started to feel better about what I was accomplishing. I got better at small talk. I gave off the appearance of frugality despite my former drunken rock star lifestyle. It was unique so stayed in people’s minds the way tipping with 2 dollar bills stays in the memory of a waitress so she recognizes me the next time she sees me. All of these things put together brought me from idea, to execution, to meeting, to deal, to selling companies. Even the sight of a waiter’s pad now is enough to turn negative feelings into positive ones, that’s how much luck and success I’ve had with them.

But it’s the waitress comment above that brings me to the “real” reason.

A waitress reminds me of everything I love. Being served. Being a child with mom or grandma cooking. Being comforted. Being saved. Later, as a teenager or in my 20s, being served by beautiful waitresses. How the uniforms would fit them. Often a beautiful light blue with that white collar.

How they would lean to pour the water and show just enough cleavage to let loose the shadows inside. How they would always be asking me, “are you okay?” Sometimes they would add, “hon” to the end of that sentence. They would pull out the pad and ask me what I wanted. A waitress is the womb. A waitress is sex. A waitress is comfort and pleasure and for the moment, takes away the pain.

(with a waiter's pad I feel like Ben Stiller in "Mystery Men")

15 years ago I had a habit of asking out every waitress. I was obsessed. Maybe once in awhile I would date one. And now even when Claudia cooks me dinner it brings back memories of being taken care of in ways that bring me back to every decade of my life. I’m so grateful for the moments when I’m served. When I can relax. When I don’t have to think and it’s all because of a woman. And the waiter’s pad brings that all back.

I know this sounds pathetic. People aren’t supposed to admit to pathetic things. We have keep up the veneer of success, of perfection, even of dignity. But there you go. And that’s why the “real” reason is often hidden and the disguises we wear work overtime to come up with the “good” reasons.

But both the real reasons and the good reasons have made me feel better over the past decade since I started using waiter’s pads (to the day, to every day, to this morning, to ten minutes ago). They have brought me success and abundance. They have made me feel good. Today  I’m going to go into the city for a meeting that could make me money. I hope it goes well. But I know I will pull out my waiter’s pad to start things off, and no matter what happens in the meeting,  I will be surrounded in my head by sweetness, kindness, gratitude, ideas, and abundance. And life will bend over to serve me and show me it’s beautiful cleavage.

God bless you, my ten cent, light blue, red-lined waiter’s pad.

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