The Fantastical (Real-Life) Time Machine

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I had the pleasure of being invited to perform for Living History Day at SUNY Fredonia a couple of weeks ago. The all-day event features dozens of “acts.” It’s offered to hundreds of 7th graders from throughout the Greater Western New York region. They’re bussed in early in the morning and attend live demonstrations of everything from Seneca Indian dances to artillery cannon fire.

These 12-year-olds watch as regiments from the Revolutionary War (both sides), the War of 1812 and the Civil War (both sides) conduct their drills. They see real-life colonial cooking, frontier gaming, and homespun crafts. The learn from medicine women, Suffragettes, and military historians. They discover 18th century artifacts, 19th century women’s fashions, and 20th century genealogical grave hunting.

All this is done in period dress. Not just generic period dress, but actors dress as actual historical characters. I walked in with Harriet Tubman. Later I saw her talking to Abraham Lincoln. I could have sworn I saw a British general drinking coffee with Susan B. Anthony.

And they were all in costume. Even the civilians wore clothing of the era they represented. You can see from the pictures from the event. Everyone donned the fashion of the time from which they spoke and lived.

All except me.Continue Reading “The Fantastical (Real-Life) Time Machine”

Should You Go Wide or Go Deep?

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Remember a couple months back when I said I discovered a way to add more hours to my day? (If you don’t, here it is: “That Time I Discovered ‘Idle Time’ Doesn’t Really Exist,” Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, March 14, 2019). With all that rediscovered time I was able to explore a dusty section of unread books in my expansive library. (And by expansive, I mean… Wait. Forget it. It only gets Betsy mad.)

I began this new venture by perusing an entire series of books from the pens of the greatest copywriters. These books defined the advertising industry as it emerged from the 19th century into the 20th. They represent the primordial tracks from which Madison Avenue men evolved. They spawned a persuasive style that combined art and science into an effective (sometimes too effective) tool.

By “art” I refer to the words that effectively captivate and motivate the reader. But how do the words work as intended?

That’s where the “science” comes in. Today we call it “market research.” Claude C. Hopkins, acknowledged as perhaps the greatest copywriter, called it “scientific advertising.” His book by the same name (published in 1923) shows how an ad means nothing unless it stimulates its audience to act. He not only wrote the ads, he studied how Continue Reading “Should You Go Wide or Go Deep?”

One-Upping Warren: This is the Right Way to Forgive Student Loans

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It was one of those silly socialist ideas that normally come from the mouth of Bernie Sanders. No one took it very seriously in 2016 when the then 74-year-old Vermont Senator tried to win the (we now know rigged) Democrat nomination from Hillary Clinton. He proudly declared “free college for everyone!” The kids loved it. The adults giggled.

The Clinton establishment knew this kind of talk wouldn’t fly in fly-over country (hint: that’s us). It was too radical. Too impractical. Too communist. So they laughed at Bernie and encouraged him to say what he said.

Little did we know.

Andrew Cuomo, with a watchful eye on his own 2020 political ambitions, decided to see Continue Reading “One-Upping Warren: This is the Right Way to Forgive Student Loans”

Mechanical or Intuitive: Which Approach Works Best for You? – A Real-World Lesson (Part II)

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The Conclusion of: “Style or Substance? A Real-World Lesson – A Real-World Lesson (Part I)

“Yes, you may hit the right notes more often than Chris,” she began, “but your intuitive desire to physically search for the perfect note interferes with the broader tempo of the entire piece. Chris is mechanical. To him, keeping that tempo is more important than finding the perfect pitch. The concertmaster’s job is to lead the entire orchestra in maintaining this tempo.”

The answer shocked me. I never thought of myself as a mere machine. But there it was. The teacher had just said so. I was mechanical, not intuitive.

This didn’t sound right. How could a machine find the joy in playing the way I did? Wasn’t a machine dispassionate? Doesn’t a machine work precisely because it has Continue Reading “Mechanical or Intuitive: Which Approach Works Best for You? – A Real-World Lesson (Part II)”

Style or Substance? A Real-World Lesson (Part I)

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I never had someone so mad at me. And for no reason. We were both in tenth grade. Except for orchestra, we shared no other classes. We did share an Italian-American heritage. And she was mad in a way only an Italian-American can get mad. I’d seen it all before. In my extended family. In my neighborhood. In the dark alleys of the most obscure hallways within the school.

I just didn’t get it. I didn’t even know what a concertmaster was. Yet, there I was. Her, me, and the violin teacher.

But I get ahead of myself. Let’s go back to the beginning of the story…Continue Reading “Style or Substance? A Real-World Lesson (Part I)”

Confessions of a Numbers Guy

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Admit it. How many of you read the headline and immediately thought of running the rackets? Tsk, tsk. Too many late-night gangster movies watched on AMC for you!

No, this numbers guy has nothing to do with gambling. I’m not worried about some random fed chasing me down on some random RICO charge. These numbers deal with only one thing: math in its various (legal) applied forms.

My high school teachers knew me better than I knew myself. For four years I paraded from class to class singing the hosannas of science. In science class I asked the toughest questions (especially in physics). In social studies class I trumpeted the scientists during the Age of Enlightenment. In English class I rebelled – even to the point of denying any Continue Reading “Confessions of a Numbers Guy”

Classic vs. Timeless: Do You Know the Difference?

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Ten years ago, I wrote a play for The Monsignor Schnacky Players. It was called The Macaroni Kid. The melodrama told the heartwarming but comedic story of a young orphan trying to reunite with his long, lost mother. Kidnapped by gypsies as a baby, he doesn’t know her name, he doesn’t know where she lives, he doesn’t even know what she looks like. All he remembers is her voice and the beautiful songs she would sing to him.

Now a young man, he decides the only way to find his mother is to sing everywhere, every chance he has. Only then, maybe, if he is lucky, she will find him. (That’s the heartwarming part.)

The only trouble with his plan; he can’t sing. But everyone is so captivated by his story and his quest that they don’t have the heart to tell him. (That’s where the comedy comes in.)

This isn’t a new story. It’s a spin on the familiar “boy-loses-girl/boy-looks-for-girl/boy-finds-girl” three act drama well known among story-tellers, scriptwriters, and playwrights. Lest you think “mother” doesn’t qualify for “girl,” I suggest you reread that timeless Greek classic Oedipus Rex.

There. I just did it. I used “timeless” and “classic” in the same sentence.

Most people view “timeless” and “classic” as interchangeable adjectives. They’re not.

By definition, “timeless” mean “eternal” and “classic” means “highest quality.” That means Continue Reading “Classic vs. Timeless: Do You Know the Difference?”

The Stuff of Dreams…

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These are not the dreams you have in the daylight. The kind of dreams you have for your children, your career, your life.

No. These are the dreams you have at night. When nobody’s watching. Not even you.

We all dream of the places we’ve been, the faces we remember, and the events we’ve lived. Sometimes we dream of what was. Sometimes we dream of what might have been. Sometimes, well sometimes we just don’t know what we’re dreaming of.

Dreams can be a time machine. Dreams can be a soul machine. Dreams can be a wish machine. That dreams are a machine attest to these two undeniable facts pertaining to Continue Reading “The Stuff of Dreams…”

The Decade the Music Died

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We’re a few days away from February 3rd. It’s a day that forever lives in Rock and Roll infamy.

It was on a cold winter’s night precisely sixty years ago – February 3, 1959 – that Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson boarded a Beechcraft Bonanza and found Rock and Roll heaven in a barren cornfield outside of Clear Lake, Iowa.

Much has been written about this, including two film biopics (The Buddy Holly Story in 1978 starring Gary Busey and La Bamba in 1987 starring Lou Diamond Phillips). Perhaps the seminal tribute, though, remains Don McLean’s 1971 hit “American Pie.” It was his song that first used the phrase “the day the music died” to describe the plane crash that took the lives of those young rock stars.

I’m not going to add to the litany of previously published thoughts on “the day the music died.” Rather, I’m going to share with you a conversation I had with a reporter. We sat at a high table in The Menches Brothers Restaurant in Green, Ohio (between Akron and Canton, for those using a GPS). I sipped my Diet Pepsi as the reporter asked me questions about what inspired me to write Hamburger Dreams (my latest book that looks at the evidence refuting and supporting the various hamburger origin stories).

At one point, he asked if I had written any other “food” books. I mentioned A Pizza The Action (albeit it’s more about business than food). Then I added that I had penned a short article on my grandfather’s pizzeria, mapping its beginning to the emergence of Rock and Roll.

That’s when the fun started. Little did I know this reporter, though nearly my age, still Continue Reading “The Decade the Music Died”

Would You Rather Be Free or Equal?

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I call it the “Dichotomy Game.” It acts as a great conversation starter. I use it for more than that. But that’s another story. I will, however, explain how you can play it at home with your friends and family.

First, everyone must remove any self-imposed restrictions on their imagination. You need to think with complete freedom, without the artificial constraints of peer pressure, political correctness, of fear of being made fun of. In other words, you must be completely honest with yourself and with the other folks playing the game.

Ok, have you limbered up those rusty synapses in your brain? Now it’s time to create a list of dichotomies. A dichotomy is a pair of words. In the game you look at each pair of words presented and choose one. Then the game begins.

A word about dichotomies: these aren’t randomly selected pairs of words. They are carefully chosen to cause those aforementioned synapses to fire intensely. (Don’t worry, this mental heat is what fuels the fun in the game).

Here’s a trick that will help you choose enticing dichotomies. To get the gist of this trick, Continue Reading “Would You Rather Be Free or Equal?”