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?”

The Aging Curse

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I sit here watching as Rob Lowe tells us in so many words of the highs and lows of the decade of the 1980s. As I view old news clips of thin ties and big bouncing perms with their constant fluttering curls, I sadly lament the innocence lost, the people lost, the dreams lost. I see in those once thin and optimistic faces the images of people I have known. Not all of them, but far too many.

In those faces I saw the hope for the future, a future that would never be. I lament those souls of time past. Perhaps it’s the Continue Reading “The Aging Curse”

Uncertainty Breeds Opportunity

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Uncertainty creates anxiety. It doesn’t have to be that way. For gamblers, warriors, and investors, uncertainty signals opportunity.

Your opponents sitting across the card table from you don’t know the hand you’re holding. Skilled players learn to take advantage of this uncertainty by bluffing their way to higher jackpots. These players accomplish this by both encouraging those with lesser hands to call their bets and intimidating those with better hands to fold. Expert poker players study how to marshall, disguise, and portray their emotions in ways to fool their opponents. That’s how gamblers win.

Similarly, seasoned generals understand the fog of war offers the opportunity to mask Continue Reading “Uncertainty Breeds Opportunity”

Thanksgiving Leftovers

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If your family is like our family, you’ve no doubt dined on Thanksgiving dinner for, oh, about five days. Nothing says “Thanksgiving” more than “leftovers.” It is in that spirit that I offer these remnants that somehow never were able to make a complete plate:

Why is it we always end up with more turkey than we started with (as in, a 21-pound turkey yields 25 pounds of leftovers)?

Will the Redskins ever beat Dallas on Thanksgiving?

*                    *                    *

Bohemian Rhapsody (the story of the rock band Queen) was much more enjoyable than Continue Reading “Thanksgiving Leftovers”

The Glorious Road to the Memorable 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair

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Panem et Circenses. It’s a philosophy that goes back to ancient Rome. Literally translates from the original Latin as “Breads and Circuses,” it defines a strategy to mollify a potentially unruly populace by distracting them with basic needs and entertainment. It’s what you do if you’re not sure the sudden surge in pitchfork sales are destined for farms across your nation or a dense mob about to knock on your front door.

Such was the condition of France throughout the period of the French Revolution. The new government, recognizing its tenuous position, organized a series of festivities beginning with the Festival of the Federation held on July 14, 1790, a year to the day about that aforementioned mob stormed the Bastille. During the final stages of Révolution française, well after the Reign of Terror, the Directory ruled France. In 1798, a little more than a year before the coup d’état that ushered in a new triumvirate that included Napoleon Bonaparte, the Directory decided Continue Reading “The Glorious Road to the Memorable 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair”