Buzz Killers

Monday, 7:54pm
Reno, NV
“Dude, you’re harshing my mellow…”


Let me know what you think about this, will ya?

It seems, at first, to be a light-weight subject…

… yet, really, it’s one of the foundations of living a good life.

I’m talking about the people you surround yourself with.

But not the way you’re thinking.

This may even jar you a little bit. Here goes:

Early in my career, I realized that grown-up life isn’t all that much different…

… than what goes on during recess in the third grade.

There are outsiders, insiders, cliques, teams, gangs, winners and losers galore.

No matter WHAT grisly experience you had in grade school…

… you’ve got company.

It’s brutal out there.

And then you become an adult…

… and it’s the SAME SHIT all over again. Hierarchies, power-grabbing, humiliation plays, one-up-manship, and clubs you can’t belong to.

The ranks of entrepreneurs I know are filled with “recess survivors” who finally gave the finger to “The System”, and went off on their own.

As amazing as it seems, you really can get on with life without the “gotcha” games and pettiness of “Life With Bullies, Prom Queens, and BMOC’s”.


… that’s not the realization I want to share with you today.


Instead, the second part of that epiphany (that life is just a replay of third grade recess) is this:

Regardless of whether you “won” or “lost” in the social-climbing bullshit you’ve suffered through in your time…

… it can all still be a blast

… if you have the right people around you.

In other words… it’s not whether you win, or lose.

It’s how much fun and insight to life you get during the adventure.

Let’s use me as an example.

Cuz I don’t mind telling embarrassing stories about myself:

I had a very mixed record of social “success” coming up the ranks… both in school, and in early adult life.

I was okay at sports. Just good enough to make the team and suffer the anxieties and physical/emotional debt of vicious organized games. And just under-powered enough to get cut from every attempt to make varsity. So I got to play… and I got to experience the arrid loneliness of the bench and the exit door.

But I sucked, utterly and without redemption, at most social interaction. Girls scared the bejesus out of me as a kid… flummoxed me as a teen… and toyed with me after that.

I was so unprepared, so confused, and so clueless about dealing with standard issues of dating and being a cool guy and feeling like I belonged… that, if I were a character in a novel, you’d roll your eyes and say “No way could anybody be that much of a loser!”


That was me.

But get this:

I still had a BLAST.

Even when Life dialed up the most humiliating, emotionally-scarring horror possible to a shy, skittish introvert like me…

… I was able to shake it off, and show up the very next day smiling and ready for more.

“That all you got, Fate? That’s your best shot, you miserable s.o.b.? Ha!”

You know how I did it? How I survived, and even thrived while being buried in sticks and stones and the arrows of misfortune?

I’ll tell you:

I had buddies to share it all with.

Not just fellow losers, either.


And this is the essential point here: I had a close-knit group of guys (and a few gals) around me…

… who delighted in being alive.

There’s probably some social-math equation I could come up: Your ability to survive and thrive… is directly proportional to the time that elapses between a horrible event…

… and your ability to laugh about it.

With my friends and me, that time was often instantaneous.

We had a lot of practice.

(And I’m not talking about just dating disasters, or heartbreak, or social blunders. I’m including death, financial misery, and the near-total upheaval of normality. The kind of blows that can rock you to your knees.)


I’m still not yet revealing the essence here.

The take-away of this tale is not “friends are good.”

Because I will attest that there was a very definable, and very rare aspect of these friends that is absolutely essential…

… and even beside the point of being able to laugh about tragedy.

You wanna guess what that aspect is?


… energy.

This realization came rushing back to me yesterday while I chatted with my best friend from high school. Haven’t seen the dude in two years, but we stay in close touch.

And, mid-way through the call…

… I realized I ached from laughing.

Even though some of the subjects we discussed were illnesses in our families, job woes, relocation horror stories, and other tragedies.

And I was able to put a “quality” on that laughter.

It was bristling with raw energy. The “good” kind of energy.

There really are two kinds of people in the world: Those who bring energy with them to everything they do…

… and the great masses, who suck energy from you like psychic vampires. (That’s a Halbert term, by the way. Privately, we had other names for these types of buzz-killing grim reapers.)

I’ve known a lot of folks in my time. And I’ve unconsciously been putting each and every one through a little test upon meeting them.

The test is simple: Do they provide energy? Or are they leeching it from the air around us?

A party crammed with energy-gobbling vampires is a drag, through and through. Even Vegas can’t salvage a good time.

And yet, just hanging out with a single “mini-solar system” type of person in a drab coffee shop… can be pure bliss.

In business… in life… in games and in every social and quasi-social gathering…

… there is no fun, and little chance for adventure or good stories when the energy level is flat-lined.

And yet… when you are in the company of someone bursting with life-force…

… well, it’s pretty freaking magical.

The most mundane tasks become a joy. (My pal Art and I used to just drive around Cucamonga, with no goal or destination… not cruising, but rather just hanging out, laughing, basking in raw energy and verve and marvelling at the cruel and wonderful adventures Life handed out.)

Life isn’t gonna treat you better when you surround yourself with heat-source types. You’re still gonna take it on the chin, still gonna encounter monsters around every corner.

My mother — after ten months of gruesome chemo — still managed to tell a joke and make me smile… just hours before she passed away.

Believe me — there was nothing funny going on that afternoon.

But I cherish that last “don’t let the bastards get you down” shared moment with her.

If you understand what I’m talking about, you don’t need to know anything else about her to know exactly what kind of special woman she was.

That was over 15 years ago. And the lesson I learned is never far from my thoughts… especially when I’m feeling like Life has it out for me again.

Screw it.

The ride’s too short.

If you’ve got that flame in your soul, don’t let anyone or anything douse it.

We need you in the mix.

We already got enough of the damned vampires hovering…

Anyway, something to consider.

What do you think?

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

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  • Great post John… really loved how you worded the whole thing. When you mentioned driving around Cucamonga,, I couldn’t help to think you were talking about Rancho Cucamonga.

    If that’s true, what are you doing there?

    I grew up in Fontana which is a craphole of a place and it’s right next to RC. A buddy and I used to ditch high school and drive around aimlessly and RC was usually one of the places we ended up.

    Anyway, the entire Inland Empire is a blood sucking vampire in my opinion. I’m glad I got out of there.


  • Wow, ok so you grew up in Rancho Cucamonga! I had to read your previous post to figure it out. That’s crazy!

    It’s weird how you find out some weird fact like that and feel closer to someone just because you grew up in the same area.

    Or that I can think now that you traversed good’ol Foothill Blvd (route 66) just like me growing up.

    Now I have a better understanding of where your rebellion comes from!

    Again, peace.. and I hope that I can attend one of your workshops some day.

    John Carlton replies:

    Dude, I grew up a block from Route 66. Just down the street from the Magic Lamp restuarant and the Sycamore Inn (which used to be a whore house along the Spanish Trail in the 1800s).

    I am glad I got out… but geez Louise, that place shaped me in ways no other town ever could. I truly identify with Frank Zappa (who lived there pre-Mothers) and Captain Beefheart (who may still be there).

    I assume you’ve read Hunter Thompson’s first novel — “Hell’s Angels” — which starts in Fontana…


  • Nancy H says:

    I’m not sure why, but when I clicked on a link to read my local Reno news your blog came up.

    I grew up in OC when it was still strawberry fields, orange groves and miles of UNFENCED beaches.

    Life was good, but it was definitely because of great friends.

  • Hey John,
    I’ve never been to the States….. never mind Cucamonga.

    However I can relate to what you write. I grew up in shit hole central, New Zealand…It’s not only a place it’s also a state of mind.

    It was grim what with loads of buddies OD ing and a whole load of other trials of the sort that you shouldn’t have to experience here in the “modern and civilised” world…

    I’m reminded of your earlier “one foot in the jungle” comment…

    It’s all about who you share your dreams and triumphs and disasters with…

    They either make you or break you…

    I’m culling my Christmas card list as I write…

    stay cool,

    Mike the Thai Guy

  • Kevin Rogers says:

    Excellent, nerve-tapping post, John.

    I spent my adolescence and young adulthood in the “life of the party” role. Classic psych profile of a stand-up comic; NEEDING the laughs to numb the pain of social anxiety.

    They say stand-up comedy is therapy – for the performer. True. But, somewhere along the line I got cured. So, I had to quit. A comic is nothing without that need for a group of dimly lit strangers to love and accept him/her for an hour.

    Once that goes, it’s lights up after last call… and the shadowy objects of your desire suddenly have bad skin and spooky teeth.

    There is no worse fate for a funny person than to “grow up.”

    Fortunately, most of my comic friends never did. They’re still my closest comrades 20 years later – and they still put me on the floor.

    Like you say, it’s about that energy. The giving kind.

    All the little shit that fear likes to project 10 stories high in the horror movie of our minds is reduced to cartoon through the filter of a trusted friend – and that energy.

    It’s like our friend Jack said:

    “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!”

  • Sara says:

    Thanks John. Your post was perfect today. I’ve been letting “them” get to me lately. Nothing major, just a lot of little things piling up. Your post was an excellent reminder that life is too short to let the vampires get to you.


  • John

    You’re right on man.

    You know I remember seeing you and David Deutsch hanging out at Makepeace’s power marketing summit… and the two of you were off in your own little world playing with a piano like a couple of kids who found a new toy… and I just thought “right on”.

    The look like “normal” guys 🙂 haha

    But yeah man, that energy is what’s awesome — even more awesome (IMHO) is women with that energy — I could talk/spend hours with women like that — it’s a special type of energy ya know?


  • Rezbi says:

    It’s funny how life can be… or may be not.

    I had a very similar youth, with a bunch of friends who were probably some of the best guys you could have around you.

    The thing is, I always thought I was a loser but, looking back, I realise I was the only one to think I was a loser.

    No one else had any inkling as to how I felt.

    I never felt a part of the gang because I felt they were all better than me but, as it turns out, I was very much a part of that gang…

    And they, my friends, never thought any other way.

    Funny how our minds can play tricks on us, huh?

    At the end of the day, it’s how we perceive ourselves that really matters.

    If that perception is negative, then we go on through life being miserable and vice versa.

  • David says:


    Your post hit home for me especially hard.

    Someone smarter than me once said “You become the sum of the 5 people you hang out with the most ”

    Its something I have preached to my kids and it has bourne out to be very true with them.

    Thanks for the insights,

  • Lisa Manyon says:


    Great post as usual. There’s definitely something to be said for synergy and laughter. That’s why I feel, well, blessed to have a great group of entrepreneurial friends to hang with.

    I’m sequestered in Idaho but recently started helping create and teach a script school for Digital Buddha Studios in Minnesota. I get to work and play with fun, like minded people and write viral video scripts while playing around on the soundstage. This means travel and a change of pace. Good stuff for writers who tend to hermit out a bit.

    I’m still buzzing with energy from the great group of people involved in the gig. In fact, when I got back to my home office I decided from now on I’m going to throw laughter into the mix of my success gage. If I’m not having fun while I’m working it defeats the entire purpose of creating the writing life I love. Plus, the funny thing is the experience made we aware of several vampires I needed to slay (well at least remove from my life).

    It’s back to basics. Learning, love, laughter, friends, family and of course writing!!!

    Thanks again for the food for thought…always a pleasure.

    Write on~


  • says:

    Buzz Killers…

    It seems, at first, to be a light-weight subject… … yet, really, it’s one of the foundations of living a good life. I’m talking about the people you surround yourself with. But not the way you’re thinking….

  • Right on, John. Don’t let them vampires try to drain you.

    It’s so funny – when I deal with many people from my adolescence, it’s like an emotional black hole. (I rarely see them anymore… guess why).

    Now, my circle of friends is a bunch of people who are starting and pushing forward their own projects all the time. Some projects are big, some are small – but they all come from a place of joy and playful passion, and those folks are vibrant with life, being with them is fun.

    Last week I got mad because of a technical glitch that evaporated about 60 hours of my work. My blood boiling from anger and frustration, I picked up the phone to call a friend – five minutes later we’re both laughing and having a good time.

    It’s those simple things that make life good or bad – but most people don’t get that.

    The world is a madhouse… but being in a madhouse isn’t that bad if you have a couple of fellow friends with common sense.

  • Man… I’m totally familiar with the Magic Lamp and Sycamore Inn! I also grew up exactly one block off of Foothill Blvd.

    And I totally agree where you grow up shapes you in some way.

    I had to look up Cucamonga and Fontana in wikipedia just to get some facts straight.

    Some interesting facts about Fontana you might not of known…

    – Travis Barker from Blink182 is from there.
    – Sammy Hagar of Van Halen grew up there.. and is actually friends with my older sister. His son Aaron and her are good friends.
    – Al Capone had a house there.
    – The Hells Angels actually formed in Fontana in 1948
    – Grady from Sanford and Sons lived in Fontana and went to Chaffey college in Rancho Cucamonga

    And I didn’t know Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart both lived in Cucamonga. That’s awesome…

    Small world.

    I don’t think I could of gotten farther away from the Inland Empire then I am now… Oslo, Norway. A much different place.

    Coming to Norway anytime soon?

  • Mark L says:

    Hi Folks,
    Cucamonga/Upland/Ontario produced a very interesting
    group of mutants. I’m here to tell you John’s Tales of the Sons of Cucamonga are true. Since I was there as part of the wrecking crew which triggered high speed police chases, whacked-out parties and all-night guitar jams fueled by Red Mountain wine and other goodies I’d rather not mention.
    I had Frank Zappa’s dad for a math teacher at Upland High. Frank would make his way back to Cucamonga to get inspiration for the fear and loathing that ended up in his songs like “Let’s Make the Water Turn Black” (about two Cucamonga brothers I knew on the edge of town).
    The place had a strange energy to it… I must admit.
    We were in striking distance of the beach cities and Hollywood which gave us access to great music and more “search and destroy” missions outside our turf.
    John drove a ’62 Chevy Impala that was our trusty battle wagon.
    The car was amazing – he never changed the oil or even washed it. A tribute to American know-now and engineering!!
    I’ve proud to say I still have 5 close friends (including JC) from the Cucamonga days and the energy still burns bright anytime
    I connect with them.
    Hey John, wanna get a burger at “Alphies”?

    John Carlton replies:

    I do miss the naked pool parties in Newport…

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