Why You Should Tell Bad Jokes

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Let me clue you in on this from the very beginning: this is another business metaphor. I’m telling you up front this time so you can begin to think about the connections from the moment you start reading it.

I was strolling through the National Comedy Center in Jamestown the other day, taking in with delight the many funny people who have entertained so many for so many years, when a thought struck me. Why do good comedians tell bad jokes?

When a comic sits down to write gags, it becomes an exercise of no-holds-barred brainstorming. This is by necessity. You don’t know what’s really funny while you’re creating it, so you don’t want to restrict yourself in any way.

James Mendrinos, in his book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Comedy Writing, writes: “You have to force yourself to stain the pages, even if you think the jokes aren’t your best work. I’m not saying that bad jokes are better than no jokes. I am saying that if Continue Reading “Why You Should Tell Bad Jokes”

He Who Controls The Gate Controls The City

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Back then, this mattered. I saw it with my own eyes.

I never knew what the city of my grandfather looked like. We only had a picture of his house. It was a small two-story country villa built beneath a horizon of hills. It stood alone, triumphant, defiant.

My first thought was, given those traits, how would anyone not expect my father’s father to look at those hills – actually a ridge of small mountains – and wonder, “What’s beyond them? What’s on the other side?”

Truth be told, if he ever did venture deep into the valley below his house and up those mid-sized mountain ridges, here’s what he would have discovered upon reaching the top: Continue Reading “He Who Controls The Gate Controls The City”

Why Are Hamburgers The Fast Food King Instead Of Hot Dogs?

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Hamburgers and hot dogsJuly 20th is National Hot Dog Day. It’s a perfect time to consider this intriguing question asked by Paul Freedman in his book The Restaurants That Changed America while describing the impact of the fast-food industry on Howard Johnson’s: “Why did the hamburger triumph as opposed to the hot dog?”

He points out, “Frankfurters are also easy to eat in the car and historically they were the food item most closely identified with the United States in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century… it’s clear from the lack of mammoth national hot-dog chains that even now there is something about the frank that doesn’t lend itself to the industry.”

Why are hamburgers and not hot dogs the more popular/sustainable fast food business model? This is all the more interesting because hot dogs arrived on the scene well before hamburgers.

Search newspaper archives from the mid-nineteenth century and you’ll see plenty of Continue Reading “Why Are Hamburgers The Fast Food King Instead Of Hot Dogs?”

When You Want To Control Risk, Sometimes An ‘Ace Up Your Sleeve’ Is Better Than A ‘Plan B’

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Here’s something they don’t tell you. Sometimes a “Plan B” does more harm than good.

I don’t have many regrets in my life, but I do have a few. For example, I should have listened to my brother and never sold that 1965 Topps Joe Namath rookie (in mint condition). We paid less than a dime for it and sold it for $125 a short time later. Sure, it was a pretty good return. Today, however, that card is worth $200,000 or more.

Oh well. You win some, you lose some.

But that’s not the regret that gnaws at me. This is the one that occurred in 7th grade. And, ultimately, a different type of card.

I began playing the violin in 3rd grade. It wasn’t my first choice. I kinda liked the idea of the Continue Reading “When You Want To Control Risk, Sometimes An ‘Ace Up Your Sleeve’ Is Better Than A ‘Plan B’”

Are You Grilling Or Are You Barbecuing?

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Ages ago an errant stroke of lightning struck a dry woodland. The ensuing fire consumed not only the trees, but several animals too slow to escape. A curious caveman meandered into the still smoldering forest. He stopped. What was that he smelled? It smelled… “delicious” would have been the word he would have used if he could speak English.

He looked all around for the source of that compelling aroma. Amidst the pockets of remaining flames, he found it. It looked ugly, a blackened char. Yet, it was unmistakable. The sumptuous scent came from what looked like what used to be an animal.

Salivating, he grabbed it and took a big deep bite.

Then promptly spit it out. “Yeech!” How could something that smelled so good taste so bad.

But the bite revealed the hidden treasure. Beneath the charred surface the caveman saw Continue Reading “Are You Grilling Or Are You Barbecuing?”

Are We Losing Our Independence?

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A very good and kind friend of mine from New York City once came to visit. As we were sitting casually in the sun overlooking my front yard, he turns to me and says, “Chris, that open space is a terrible waste of good space. You should pave it for more parking, maybe put up a shed or two. You’ll get more use out of it.”

I tried to explain the fine nuance of local zoning laws, the joys of smelling freshly cut grass, and the pleasant soft coolness an expansive lawn offers, especially on hot summer days.

He would have none of these arguments. He saw only the sterile utility of the land, not the Continue Reading “Are We Losing Our Independence?”

40 Years Later And The Ties Still Bind

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Yale 82 Davenporters

D’porters (et al) begin to assemble at Yorkside

Heraclitus has visited this page in the past (“You Can’t Go Home Again… Or Can You?Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, September 22, 2016). For those new to this column, he’s the Greek fella who said “You can’t step into the same river twice.”

Get it? It might be the same river, but the constant current means the water isn’t the same. It’s a nifty little metaphor about the ever-changing world.

Cool. You can live with that, right?

Now, let me throw a monkey wrench into those churning waters of the relentless Continue Reading “40 Years Later And The Ties Still Bind”

How Ice On The Rocks Reveals Our Destiny (Part II)

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Previously: How Ice On The Rocks Reveals Our Destiny (Part I) |


You wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the glaciers.

No, really. You might be somewhere, but you wouldn’t likely be here.

And you can thank the glaciers for that.

You can’t live in Western New York (in general) and our area (specifically) without recognizing the significance of the glaciers. Our neighborhoods contain the remnants of drumlins, kames, and other glacial debris. You see it in the eskers you walk upon in Mendon Ponds Park. You see it in the cobblestone houses that dot our landscape. In fact, you see it every day, only you probably don’t notice it.

As the once majestic Acadia range eroded into what is now the Greater Western New York region, it buried the marine flora and fauna, leaving the fossil record we see today. But it’s not as easy as that, for intervening events would bury these treasures deeper beneath the surface.

“An awful lot of this is later covered by sediments trapped by the glaciers,” says George McIntosh, Paleontologist, RMSC (Emeritus) who specializes in the geology and fossils of the Devonian Period. “The giant continental glaciers that came in here starting about 2 million years ago, or so. But there are some good exposures. People from all over the world – from China, Australia, Europe, and certainly people from North America – come to Western New York to study our fossils in our rocks. There’s good exposure obviously down at Letchworth and there’s good exposures in a variety of different places.”

The Grand Canyon of the East – Letchworth State Park – stands as a testament to the forces of nature that ultimately guide our lives. The gorge itself stands as a monument to nature’s relentless fury – not just the Genesee River’s role in eroding the various Devonian Period (remember that?) shales, sandstones and siltstones. It’s something bigger, something stronger, something with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men!

“In this part of New York State, everything above the Devonian Period has been eroded from this part of the world by early rivers, but more recently by the glaciers during what we call the Pleistocene Period or the Pleistocene Era,” says Professor Richard Young (Distinguished Service Professor, Emeritus, SUNY@Geneseo). “And that’s divided into many sub-partitions when the ice advanced across this region, probably at least 10 times roughly every hundred thousand years. But the Pleistocene as it’s defined today is approximately 2.6 million years old.”

Much of the topography we see around us today emerged from beneath the retreating glaciers during the most recent Ice Age. It wasn’t a singular event, but a series of actions over tens of thousands of years.

“The last ice advance during the Pleistocene is called Wisconsin and the Wisconsin is divided into three parts, the early Wisconsin, the middle Wisconsin, and the late Wisconsin,” says Young. “What you see around you and the landscape was all formed pretty much during the late Wisconsin. That was when the ice advanced all the way down to Long Island approximately 25-30,000 years ago.”

Ultimately, two geological forces sculpted the land around us. The pure weight of the mile high ice crushed and depressed the entire landmass and smoothed the ridges. This caused Lake Iroquois – the larger predecessor of Lake Ontario – to empty into the Atlantic Ocean through the Mohawk River rather than the St. Lawrence River as it does today. It’s also why the northern topography of Western New York is much smoother than the jagged landscape of the Southern Tier.

At the same time, moving water chiseled into the earth and carried debris to create new landforms – moraines, eskers, drumlins, kettles, and kames. As the glacier melted its way back to Canada, it unveiled a new landscape, one which would reveal our fate.

“Approximately 16,900 years ago the glacier was in Dansville,” says Young. “Then it slowly retreated northward across the State for about 4,000 years. In the process it created a series of ridges that run east-west. Those regions are places where the ice temporarily was still – it was melting, at the same rate that it was advancing. So it dropped a lot of sand and gravel and there are roughly a dozen moraines between Pennsylvania and Lake Ontario.”

You may recognize some of these familiar features.

“One of the moraines runs through the University of Rochester and that’s called the Pinnacle Hills, where all those radio towers are,” says Young. “One of the more interesting features that formed, along with the moraines, is a whole series of other irregular land forms. We have small ponds which form where ice blocks melted. And we have piles of sand and gravel called kames. Kames are simply places where piles of sand and gravel were dumped more than elsewhere, so they stand above the local landscape. But the moraines are these long ridges and a fairly complex sequence of moraines, kames and kettles formed at the location known as Mendon Ponds.”

Not only do the glaciers reshape the earth, but they can also change the course of mighty rivers.

“The Genesee Valley is formed mostly by the Genesee River, but not only by the modern Genesee River,” says Young. “There was a series of rivers over the last 2 million years. And each time there was a glacier advancing from the north, that would be followed by a reformation of the River after the ice melted.”

“The present course of the River is very complicated,” continues Young. “There are old valleys, like the one at Dansville, and the one through Nunda from the south end of Letchworth Park and Portageville to Nunda. And the newest part of the River system is Letchworth Park, and that’s clear because it’s formed in bedrock.”

We can identify the newly established river paths by the lack of sediment on the ancient rock.

Young says, “The signature for young valleys in this part of the world is that they are formed in bedrock are the ones that formed after the last ice melted. The Genesee River formed a new course that it hadn’t occupied before entirely and that’s the one through Letchworth. Then it continued on past Geneseo and through to the area of Rochester.”

But that’s not the way it used to be.

“There’s also an older channel that is often discussed in the literature and that’s where the Genesee River turns to the east in the area of Rush and then flows north into what is today Irondequoit Bay,” says Young. “But that probably happened more than once, and each time the ice advanced, it made the valleys a little bit bigger or shaped them or carved them a little bit deeper so that some of them are actually below sea level, or at least the bedrock of the valley is below sea level. Since the last Ice Age roughly 13,000 years ago, the Genesee River has never flowed to Irondequoit Bay, although it did, in the long ago distant past and maybe more than once, but the present day channel is the one that formed as the ice retreated northward and the River ended up flowing through Rochester.”

How Ice On The Rocks Reveals Our Destiny (Part I)

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They bent the course of mighty rivers. They carved and scraped, forever leaving their imprint on the land we call home. But they did more than merely shape our local geography. They have guided us through the centuries.

And still do today.

The paths we take without thinking, the things we see every day, the very property upon which we build our homes, these all seem somewhat random events that accumulate over the course of our lives. But they, in fact, map the very destiny of our lives.

It supports our every move. It carries our weight without complaint. It provides the Continue Reading “How Ice On The Rocks Reveals Our Destiny (Part I)”

Why The Things That Don’t Matter Really Do Matter

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Cars packed all the parking lots in and around the baseball fields, spilling over into the lots surrounding Ye Mendon Tavern and the Old Bean Mill. Even more impressively, they nearly filled the lower parking lot by St. Catherine’s Church.

It’s been a long time since the diamonds were this active. Perhaps it’s a sign that either the pandemic has moved behind or we simply have decided to live with it. Whatever the case, it’s good to see at least some sense of a return to normal.

Betsy & I witnessed all these as we arrived at our scheduled sitting for the St. Catherine’s Parish Directory pictures. As we got out of the car, we heard the distant murmur of the parents and kids cheering on their favorite ballplayers.

Suddenly, the unmistakable sharp clang of aluminum against ball rang out. As it echoed throughout the lowlands of the 100-year flood plain girding Irondequoit Creek, an excited cheerful roar quickly rose.

As we walked towards Legacy Hall (nee, “The Connecting Wing), a rush of memories swiftly appeared in my thoughts. How many times had Betsy and I been on those very same fields rooting on our children? And what did we tell them every time their team came up short on runs (even when the score didn’t matter)?

We’d tell them (even when the score did matter), “You have your whole life ahead of you and, in the grand scheme of things, what happened today won’t matter.”

And it didn’t.

But it does.

As those long ago memories filled my head, they took me back to a more relaxing time. At least how I remember it now.

Those dewy mornings, sunny afternoons, and early evenings filled with threatening skies bring a smile to my face. Despite serving as coach, the outcome of the games never bothered me, including the year our team won it all. No, it was all about the fun, the companionship, and building an inventory of happy experiences that could be called up anytime we needed a smile.

Indeed, fun was one of the handful of rules we lived by that winning season, (see “5 Tactics of a Winning Little League Coach,” Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, April 26, 2018). Winning happens when you’re busy having fun. You’re laughing too hard to worry, and worry is the quickest route to mistakes and disappointment.

Now, here’s the really funny thing. Back then, I was so focused on making sure the kids didn’t get upset when they lost (we lost half our games that season), that I convinced myself none of it mattered. And with each passing year, it mattered less and less. Life presented more important memories, and baseball faded away like an old picture.

Then we got out of the car and the crack of the bat woke up those old photographs within my head. The friends. The family. Watching a new generation emerge from naïve innocence to stalwart leaders. All that crossed my mind.

That it occurred within a day of Ray Liotta’s passing made it all the more poignant. While the headlines all led with his powerful performance in Goodfellas, my mind kept a soft focus on his portrayal of Shoeless Joe Jackson in Field of Dreams.

Like The Natural, Field of Dreams stands out as one of the best baseball movies. Despite the backdrop, they’re not at all about the game because the game doesn’t matter. They’re about the part of what doesn’t matter that does matter.

What matters? Helping demonstrate to the next generation how to make moral and ethical decisions matters. If this sounds too highfalutin for baseball or any other game, consider this: How many times have you gotten upset when someone cheats to win?

And ‘cheating’ isn’t limited to simply breaking the rules. It includes staying within the bounds of honor and of unwritten rules. It’s good sportsmanship. It’s not being a sore loser. It’s not acting like a sore winner. That’s ethics. That’s morality. That matters.

On the more casual side, friends matter. Think of all the friendships that you create, develop, and cement over the course of several seasons on the grassy diamonds. Some of those friendships slowly disappear once the kids graduate and people move on. Others grow beyond the kids that inspired them. These matter, both in terms of memory as well as your current social vibrancy.

Finally, there’s family. Nothing matters more than family. Don’t you think it’s more than a coincidence that the father/son relationship lies at the heart of both Field of Dreams and The Natural? Both movies appear to be about the game and its players, but when you get right down to it, they each end with a father and a son playing catch with a baseball.

There’s a certain Americana – a certain masculine ideal – in that image. Mothers want their husbands to nourish a strong relationship with their sons. Daughters treasure the relationships they have with their fathers, but they’re strengthened knowing there’s also a strong bond between their brothers and their fathers.

In total, youth baseball isn’t about baseball at all. Baseball is merely a metaphor. You might also see it as a tool, as a means to get to an end. And that end isn’t developing your skills for the game, it’s about developing the bonds within the family and within the community.

If your experience succeeds at this, the investment of time you’ve made on those fields of dreams will pay dividends later and forever.

You’ll know whenever you hear that distinct ding of metal on cowhide leather. It’ll take you back and you’ll add your distant voice to the excited roar of the crowd.

And, in the end, you’ll finally know why what doesn’t matter really matters.