A Salute to My Greatest (and Most Favorite) Teacher

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What’s the difference between a mentor and a teacher? Dictionary enthusiasts will quickly point out a teacher imparts broad knowledge while mentors provide advice and guidance. Teachers offer lessons you can apply generally to all aspects of life. Mentors show us how to live a very specific aspect of our lives. Teachers educate. Mentors demonstrate.

These are very universal terms. Certainly, teachers give advice and mentors instruct. Since I’ve had great teachers and great mentors (not to mention great coaches, a wholly different creature), I want to make the distinction as stark as possible.

By their very nature, it’s likely you experienced your greatest teacher as a young child. There’s a number of good reasons for this. Youth represents your most formative – your most impressionable – years. Elementary school teachers therefore occupy the greatest Continue Reading “A Salute to My Greatest (and Most Favorite) Teacher”

Was This Written 50 Years Too Early or 50 Years Too Late?

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I‘ve always been puzzled by this thought: Was I born 50 years too early or 50 years too late? This thought resurfaced this week as I rode the train back and forth to Chicago while the rest of the world dazzled itself with remembering the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11.

It reminds me of a skit I once did as Cubmaster for Peter’s pack. We had our meetings in the cavernous Mendon Firehall. It was always filled to capacity. Filled with boys, their parents, and their siblings.

That night I donned a pair of Buzz Lightyear “wings” (actually they were my young nephew’s and I don’t know how I fit them over my shoulders without overstretching them). After strutting a few steps with those wings, I added a Woody hat on top of my head.

Maybe one of the Toy Story movies was out that year.

In either case, I asked the pack to guess who I was. Some of the boys says “Buzz” and some said “Woody.” I said “Nope” to each guess. Then I looked up to the parents in Pack 105 and said – in a distinct John Wayne kind of voice – “Well, pilgrim, some people call me a ‘The Space Cowboy.’”

And so it has been in my life. Teetering on the precipice of “born too early” while simultaneously straddling the ledge of “born too late.” Some might view this as a Continue Reading “Was This Written 50 Years Too Early or 50 Years Too Late?”

We’ll Always Have Paris… How The Business of Sequels Destroyed America’s Youth

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They say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. That may be true, but it is also the greatest impediment to progress.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a certain business sense to imitation – and I don’t mean outright theft of intellectual property. I’m referring to the “variation on a theme” that has become a successful marketing trope since well before Beethoven, Bach, and The Beatles.

Companies use the goodwill (and good publicity) generated by a top selling product, give it a tweak here and there, then come out with a “new” product that borrows heavily from the theme of the original. Rarely, however, does this sequel product ever reach the heights of its predecessor.

Here’s an example. Following the tremendous success of Continue Reading “We’ll Always Have Paris… How The Business of Sequels Destroyed America’s Youth”

To the Moon and Back: A Personal Retrospective

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To boldly go…
The Quest…
Man’s calling…
To boldly go…

As simple as opening the door to a strange room.

As complicated as unlocking the key to a new science.

The urge impels us all to take that first step into unchartered terrain.

Some would rather give others the initial chance.

But there comes a point when human nature drives us to follow those pioneers into a new land of innovation and invention.

That’s when we undertake The Quest.

The Quest.
To discover the undiscovered.
To explore the unexplored.
To know the unknown.

*          *          *          *          *

I wanted to write something special, something personal, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of mankind’s greatest voyage of exploration since Columbus… so far. It didn’t take me long to realize I had already written it and it had already appeared in The Sentinel. This Commentary originally appeared as “The Thrill of Beyond” in the July 20, 1989 issue of The Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel to mark the 20th anniversary of America’s lunar landing. Here it is in its entirety. (Click the link in the title to see the original in text form.)
Continue Reading “To the Moon and Back: A Personal Retrospective”

Betsy Ross, Quarterback Incompletions, and the Real Secret Behind How to Communicate Successfully

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It’s July and that means training camp and double sessions aren’t far behind. This makes it a great time to offer a metaphor that may just help you be a better communicator.

How many times have you been watching a football game and see a quarterback throw a perfect spiral to… no one but an empty piece of turf? He had all day to throw, was under no pressure, and seemed incredibly self-assured as he released the ball. Despite all these things going in his favor, he completely missed the nearest receiver by more than a mile.

“Stupid quarterback,” you mumble if he’s on your team.

“Ha! Ha!” you laugh if he’s not.

No matter which colors you’re wearing that day, you might be wrong. It’s very possible Continue Reading “Betsy Ross, Quarterback Incompletions, and the Real Secret Behind How to Communicate Successfully”

Party Like It’s 1959 – The Beautiful Dance of Strategy and Tactics

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The gray mid-day sky lit up with a brilliant blinding flash. Moments later came a sharp crackle. Its echo reverberated as if it came from inside a deep canyon.

Thus, were the thunderstorms of my youth. Short. Spectacular. And always worth pulling up a lawn chair and watching through the open garage door. It was only a one-car garage, but the space proved wide enough to fit me, my brother, and my father.

You know the kind of lawn chairs I’m talking about. They’re classic. The thin aluminum piping folded for easy and convenient storage. When unfolded you’d sit on its plastic webbing that cushioned your bottom for comfort. Kenny and I would often struggle to avoid being left with the one with the loosest webbing.

Best of all, these classic lawn chairs could get wet. This was often a risk while watching those wandering summer storms. Sometimes a gust of wind would blow the pouring rain beneath the slight eave of roof covering the garage. When that happened with sudden Continue Reading “Party Like It’s 1959 – The Beautiful Dance of Strategy and Tactics”

I’d Rather Have A Bottle (of Diet Pepsi) In Front of Me…

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Those of a certain age remember Dr. Demento. Those who aren’t of a certain age should discover Dr. Demento.

Dr. Demento was what might be called a “free range” DJ in the waning days of AM music. He didn’t fit in any acceptable genre. He played novelty songs no one else would play. In doing so, he popularized Elmo and Patsy’s “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” and would help launch the career of Weird Al Yankovic.

It wasn’t all about the music. Dr. Demento’s shows featured oddball skits and comedy routines. In the late 1970s and early 1980s it was likened to an audio version of Saturday Night Live. (Those of a certain age know that was Saturday Night Live when it used to be Continue Reading “I’d Rather Have A Bottle (of Diet Pepsi) In Front of Me…”

What’s in a (Middle) Name?

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Bart Starr passed away a few weeks ago. If you don’t know him, he was the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers during their glorious Vince Lombardi years when the Packers won the championship five out of seven years, including the first two Super Bowls. He was old time football. Perhaps not brilliant like Johnny Unitas, or as glamorous as Y.A. Tittle, or as athletic as Otto Graham, Bart Starr was workmanlike and effective. He was like the IBM of quarterbacks when IBM was the kind of company “no one would ever get fired for choosing.”

What you might not know about him is Bart Starr is the reason why I have the middle name I have.

Truth be told, Starr’s era had peaked by the time I Continue Reading “What’s in a (Middle) Name?”

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”

Dad and the Art of Lawnscape Maintenance

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In the art of landscape maintenance, my son and I have what you might call “creative differences.”

You see, I love mowing the lawn. It’s relaxing. It’s simple. It allows me a couple hours of free uninterrupted thought to think about whatever happens to flow through this brain of mine. In fact, this Commentary evolved from just one of those self-contained inventive sessions.

For me, cutting the grass represents a calming interlude in the maelstrom of a busy life. Sure, I want the yard to look good, but I don’t want it too fancy. Fancy implies labor-intensive. It’s not worth it. I’m a trained scientist. In my eyes, the world is not a show Continue Reading “Dad and the Art of Lawnscape Maintenance”