Well, thanks to “da boss”, we finally have some of our Christmas party band performance on YouTube. As the tape is slowly digitized and the links trickle in from YouTube, I’ll amend this page so all links are in one location. Enjoy!
It’s back to work today. First work day of the New Year. I fought vicious “tug-of-war” battle this morning… to get out of bed or to stay in bed. Of course, I lost.
“What have you done to increase your human capital today?”
This is a phrase that my friend Mike Miller and I coined while trudging through our masters degrees at Walsh College from 2004 through 2007. Human capital is a term economists use to to describe the set of skills accumulated by an individual, specifically those skills that are in demand by the marketplace.
Mike and I were both in the I.T. profession at the time, gainfully employed and making good salaries. And yet, there we were, once a week, sometimes twice a week at Walsh studying finance of all crazy things, specifically, personal financial planning.
First and foremost in our mind, we wanted to know how to do something other than I.T. just to broaden our job prospects in the future in case it ever came down to that.
Secondly, we wanted something that could complement our current positions and certainly the core financial classes in accounting, economics, financial statement analysis, fundamentals of finance, etc, can come in handy when dealing with our corporate “users”. We can speak their language.
And finally, on a personal level, it never hurts to know how to manage your own money and the specialization in personal financial planning provided us with those skills.
For three years while much of the country was glued to the T.V. to see who was “voted off” their favorite reality T.V. shows, Mike and I were glued to our books, to our computers and to the Walsh library. Many people would consider it torture. We considered it fun. We were increasing our human capital.
Sometime after graduation, Mike observed that the large, international I.T. company he worked for was laying off more and more people. He began looking for a way to utilize his degree and move into financial planning. If you know Mike, you know that the word “prepare” is central to everything about him. Finally after many close calls, Mike received word that he too was being let go.
Fortunately the severance he received worked perfectly into his plans to study for and pass the multitude of exams required by the SEC and State of Michigan in order to become a financial planner.
Mike stopped by my house last night, invited there by me to look over some life insurance questions I had. To watch him at work you’d think he’s been a financial planner his whole life. He is not only surviving but thriving in his new career and is on track to earn more than he ever did as an I.T. professional.
I want the very best for everyone. I want all the people reading this to never want for anything. My only question to you is, “are you doing everything possible to increase your marketability?”.
Like so many, today I mourn the passing of Sparky Anderson, one of the great managers in all of baseball history.
In 1984, the Tigers were a meteor that shot out of the gate with an amazing 35-5 start. I am no statistician or historian, but I wonder if any other team in MLB history ever posted such a record for their first 40 games. That meteor continued for the remainder of the year, obliterating everything it its path. The San Diego Padres were nothing more than a sacrificial lamb and a mere footnote in baseball history that year.
When a pro sports team goes through a season like that, it carries a town. Especially a baseball team. I can’t begin to imagine the number of backyard barbecues, parties and other get togethers that summer where the voices of Ernie Harwell or George Kell weren’t present.
But imagine is all I can do…Sadly, while I can admire and appreciate how much Sparky meant to the Tigers and to Detroit, I understand it with my head and not my heart. That’s because I was serving in the Marine Corps from 1983 to 1987. I was in North Carolina up until June or so. One day over breakfast I read in a fledgling newspaper called USA Today that my beloved Tigers were 35-5! Wow! I immediately thought “damn! I wish I was there!”. Remember, there was no web, no smart phones, no MLB “packages”, no ESPN, etc.. It is strange now to think of how disconnected everything was back then. If a game wasn’t on national TV, there was no way to enjoy it… only read about it the next day in a newspaper.
In June, we boarded a ship and sailed across the Atlantic. In a bit of an unscheduled stay, we spent the next four months or so at the U.S. Navy base in Rota, Spain. Finally as the playoffs arrived, the Tigers’ games were carried by Armed Forces Radio. Every game night me and four or five buddies from Michigan would stay up to listen to the game. With Spain being five hours ahead of the Eastern Time Zone in the U.S., the games didn’t START until 1:00 AM. Those were some mighty tired days following a game.
Upon my return from the Marines, back in Metro Detroit, I did get to see the Tigers (and Sparky) win the A.L pennant on the last day of the season, wrestling it away from the Toronto Blue Jays. In fact, I was at the game.
In the years that have followed, I have enjoyed three Pistons world championships, four Red Wings Stanley Cups, a U of M football (co) national-championship and a lot of success for the MSU basketball program. In 2006, I was at all of the Tigers’ playoff games except for Game one of the World Series. The highlight of that stint was being present for Magglio’s walk-off homer against the A’s to send the Tigers to the World Series. I was even at the game when Justin Verlander tossed a no-hitter in 2007.
No matter how glorious the celebration… the people old enough to remember always say “this is great!, but it’s not as good as when the Tigers won in 1984”. I am forever disconnected from my fellow Detroiters in that one special experience that bonds them all together as the city’s finest hour in their lifetime.
And so, all I can do is hope against hope that somehow the Lions can win a Super Bowl because I am sure that WOULD eclipse a World Series. I can also hope that I become a billionaire. Either one has an equal chance of happening.
Sparky, thanks for the memories, old friend. I sure wish I hadn’t missed the big one, but in due time, I am sure you and I can sit down, enjoy a root beer and you can tell me all about it.
It was with sadness that I read about the passing of actor Tom Bosely, known to tens of millions as the lovable “Howard Cunningham” on the ’70’s T.V. show “Happy Days”. Howard Cunningham was “America’s dad” for a generation of this country and his TV wife, Marion, played by actress Marion Ross, was America’s mom.
I had my own special encounter with the Cunninghams, well…, at least Marion, who was known as “Mrs. ‘C'” on the show.
It was the day before Thanksgiving in 1984; the place was in Marseilles, France. I was a young Marine serving aboard the U.S.S. Shreveport as our unit was deployed to the Mediterranean Sea with our job of practicing the evacuation of U.S. embassies in the region. On this particular day, I found myself standing guard duty on the pier at the base of the “ladder” (stairs) that lead from the pier to the deck of the Shreveport.
A large motor-coach arrived nearby, bringing with it the members of a USO show that was to perform later that night. The members of the troupe included Marion Ross (Mrs. C) and Anson Williams (Potsie Weber) from Happy Days, John Walmsley who played “Jason” in the T.V. show the Waltons (he was the musician in the family) as well as many dancers/actresses from the movie “Flashdance”,
The group moved toward the Shreveport and arrived at the end of the ladder where I was standing guard. Marion Ross approached me, took one look at the little bit of red hair I had peaking out from under my Marine Corps “cover” (hat) and said ” Aw, you remind me of Richie!” and proceeded to tip-toe up and kiss my cheek.
Later that night, the USO show took place aboard the Shreveport. The tables and chairs of the chow-hall had been pushed aside. Marines and Sailors were crammed into every nook and cranny around as we watched the show, cheering and especially enjoying the girls from Flashdance. A lot of hooting and howling seems to ring a bell. At one point, Marion Ross took the stage and addressed us. She told us all what fine young men we were and how much she and the country appreciated us being on the job, protecting our country. She then spoke about our sacrifice, being so far from home during the holidays, away from family. She broke up a bit, emotionally, as she addressed us. Of course, she is a professional actress as well, so it was kind of hard to say if it was genuine or not, but we gave her the benefit of a doubt. I looked around the room to see if I was alone in my attempt to inconspicuously brush aside a tear or two. Through my blurred vision, I was relieved to see that I was not.
The show continued with the musical band playing “Splish Splash” which was sung by Potsie Weber (Anson Williams). It was just like being in a re-run of Happy Days!
As the show neared its end the Sailors and Marines of the U.S.S. Shreveport, predominately young men between 18 and 22, began chanting “Mrs. C!, Mrs. C!, Mrs. C!”. You might have expected throng of young men cooped up for months on a ship to be demanding more of the girls from Flashdance. What they really wanted on this Thanksgiving so far from home was a mother, and who better to stand in for their own mother than the lovable Mrs. C?.
I shall always remember that chanting crowd, her emotional address to us, and most especially her kiss on my cheek.
Thank you, Mrs. Cunningham, and I am very sorry for the loss of your husband, Howard.
This evening I had a very interesting doctor’s appointment.
More precisely, the doctor’s appointment was pretty boring and average. It was the time spent in the waiting room that was interesting. There was one older gentleman waiting with me. He turned out to be seventy but looked much younger to me.
Sure enough it didn’t take long and he started talking to me. I felt a little guilty, as I was trying check Facebook on my phone. Normally, this is about the time when I start thinking: “Please!! Don’t start a conversation with me!”
With resignation, I just put down the phone and listened politely.
Within a few moments, he told me that he had recently been diagnosed with terminal, inoperable cancer – in his liver, lungs, bones, lymph nodes… everywhere. He had my attention. My mind began racing… Is he going to break down and cry? If he does, should I hug him??
He continued, saying that he wasn’t afraid of dying.. only of becoming a vegetable, a burden. He wants to go quickly but the thought of his wife and daughters grieving over him bothers him.
The past few days have been very emotional. His wife cries all the time. His daughters are upset. Yet,he has remained distant and philosophical about it, at least so far. He wonders when it will hit him… when he’ll break down… when he’ll “lose it”. I sensed that he waiting for the opportunity to talk to somebody who wasn’t family… who wasn’t involved.. who wasn’t close to the situation. He’d been carrying this around with him and he needed to get a lot off of his chest. Through sheer happenstance, I was the chosen one.
He went on. I marveled at his strength, at his ease with himself.. at the grace with which he was handling this most unfair hand of cards he had been dealt.
Today was his first day of chemo. Without the chemo, his odds of living one year are five percent. If the chemo works spectacularly well, his odds of living one year go up to thirty percent.
As I listened, I couldn’t help but project myself into his situation. I couldn’t imagine being as calm and dispassionate as him. It made me almost physically ill to contemplate.
By now, I was so glad that I was there for him. He obviously needed to talk.
I learned that he worked until age sixty-eight at which time he took a buyout from General Motors. Now, a mere two years into retirement, he’s staring the last year of life head on, in the face. “If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything. Money doesn’t mean shit”, he said. If I wasn’t quite convinced of this before, I was now.
He talked about other things too…. His daughters, his son-in-laws. His three grandchildren, the youngest a little girl of two.
Forty five minutes late, the office assistant finally called my name. I rose from my seat.
I walked over to him and purposefully extended my hand. I looked him in the eye as we shook hands. Our hands stay clasped together longer than a “normal handshake” called for. “I sincerely hope that everything goes just the way you want.”, I said, releasing his hand. I turned away and followed the office assistant through the door, leaving him alone with his thoughts.
As you can tell, this has had somewhat of an effect on me. So many thoughts stream through my head, but the important ones are these: Life is fragile. Life is short. And, you can never have too much of the important things: Love, family, friendship, laughter…
So, my friends, while I am in this melancholy mood of mine, I just want to thank you all for being a part of my life… I enjoy each and every one of you. Each of us has a unique relationship and they all mean a great deal to me.
Friday evening and all day Saturday, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Toastmasters District 28 Spring Conference. For those of you who don’t know what Toastmasters is, the short answer is it’s an international organization in 106 countries around the world, dedicated to helping its members improve their communication and leadership skills.
If I had to put my finger on just one single thing I enjoy most about Toastmasters, it’s being surrounded by people who are trying to improve and to be the best person they can be. If you surround yourself with toxic, negative people, there’s an exceedingly good chance that’s where you’re headed. However, if you surround yourself with positive, upbeat people who are striving to improve, to be the best they can be, and who have committed to help you do the same, well… let’s just say it’s a wonderful experience, a fantastic community and a great way to spend one’s days as we pass through planet Earth.
The keynote speaker and honored guest throughout the weekend was Lance Miller, Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM) and winner of the 2005 World Championship of Public Speaking contest. Wow… what a speaker. Perhaps the most inspiring topic Lance discussed was during his keynote address, titled “Losing My Way to the World Championship”. Lance did not sign-up of for Toastmasters and become a World Champion the next day. Rather, it took year after year of LOSING contests to achieve the world championship. It’s a great lesson for us all. The road won’t always be clear, nor the ground always level. Sometimes it’s an uphill battle and the obstacles plentiful. Still, keep your eye on the prize, honestly evaluate yourself, make corrections in your course and never, ever, give up the ship.
We also had another honored guest, Paul W. Smith, morning anchor on WJR (760 on your AM dial). Paul was a tremendously entertaining speaker and we all agreed we could have listened to him for HOURS! He was very entertaining and so gracious to accept an invitation from District 28 and to speak at our event. It’s amazing to learn that he never prepares a speech. He just gets up and starts talking. Well, let me tell you.. he is VERY GOOD at it!
I made some great new friends with some Toastmasters from across the border in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. We sat with them at lunch and engaged in spirited conversation about healthcare reform as we asked them about their system. One gentleman said “no system is perfect, but you’d be hard-pressed to find one Canadian who doesn’t like our health care” and immediately, Kevin, also a Canadian shot his hand in the air as if to say “hello! Here’s one right here!” Kevin was very passionate about politics and explained the Canadian parliamentary, multi-party system to us. Clearly, Kevin was more conservative than his fellow club members who rolled their eyes at some of his analysis. Kevin has a better grasp on American politics than many Americans, which was very interesting.
After lunch we headed to training sessions before returning to the main dining room for the International Speech contest. Once again, we found ourselves sitting with our Canadian friends. Unfortunately, I can only remember the names of Kevin, Rick, Ada, Vladimir and Susan. There were a couple more (but I am terrible at remembering new names).
After the speakers had delivered their speeches, the room was cleared to prepare for dinner. Upon re-entering to be seated, Magda O’Hanlon (our treasurer) and I found ourselves seated completely on the opposite side of the room from where’d been sitting all day. Still, we landed with another table of Canadians – a different group this time. But alas, Magda tapped my arm and jerked her thumb over her shoulder. There were Vlad, Kevin, Ada and Rick sitting right behind us, back to back.
I have no clue how speech contests are judged. We are given scoring sheets so we can follow along and do our own scoring. I rate the speakers according to my own thoughts, but any speaker I rank as first has no chance to actually win the contest, and so it was again last night.
Let me tell you about one of the contestants, Lynn Fitzsimmons. When she was announced to speak, Lynn entered from the back of the room as all speakers do, but she was assisted by a companion who helped her make her way between all the tables and chairs in the banquet hall as she approached the stage. You see… Lynn is blind! With help from her companion and the Toastmaster of the Day, she climbed the steps and was lead to center stage. Lynn delivered a stirring speech of what it was like to be born blind, one of three blind sisters, to a blind mother and an angry, alcoholic father. She was misdiagnosed and put into a school for developmentally challenged children. Fortunately, one of the teachers saw the true Lynn and knew that she was not developmentally challenged. With this teacher’s help she made her way to a school for the visually-impaired and then a regular high school after that. She joked that when she was set up on a date with her future husband, he didn’t realize he really was getting a “blind date”. Lynn is now a mother, grandmother and successful business woman. Oh, and by the way, she’s also going represent District 28 at the World Championship of Public Speaking in California, because she won the contest! The new format of competition has eliminated the regional-level competition, so Lynn goes straight to the World Championship, though there are MANY semi-final rounds there to thin the ranks to a smaller group in the finals.
Whew… this is more typing than I planned on this Sunday morning, but I just wanted to convey to you the wonderful time I had at the Toastmasters District 28 Spring Conference. If you’re not a Toastmaster and this sounds motivating or inspiring to you, give me a shout and we’ll talk. It’s one of the best things you can do with your time.
This evening I left work and was headed to a Toastmasters event and didn’t have much time. I ducked into a McDonalds to grab some dinner. The drive-thru line was really long, so I decided to just go inside.
I had no sooner sat down, when a soldier dressed in desert fatigues darted past my table, bent over at the waist to avoid being seen. He went to a nearby booth and lay low there. I happened to be facing him (he was about 20 feet away) and it felt sort of awkward, but fortunately, it didn’t last long.
Just then, on the other side of the Mickey D’s, a couple who appeared to be in their middle fifties entered, accompanied by a young woman and cute little girl with blonde hair, probably three years old at the most.
They turned the corner and were suddenly in front of the booth where the soldier lay crouched in waiting. The woman looked at the soldier as he stood up. “Are you kidding me?!?!?” she cried. They embraced. I’ve never seen people embrace so tightly that they were literally shaking. They embraced, they kissed, they embraced again. They embraced like people who weren’t entirely sure that the last time they embraced wouldn’t be their final time. It was as if their love for each other were transformed into electric energy. The room was absolutely alive with emotion. It was hard to tell whose eyes were more misty – theirs or mine.
The soldier then picked up his little girl and held her close. The shaking embrace of a spouse was replaced by the gentle but firm embrace of a father. He slowly stroked her beautiful blonde hair over and over as he whispered in her ear. Then he stood and hugged his wife and daughter together (group hug!).
I’ve seen these sorts of reunions on the evening news taking place at airports or at schools, but to see a surprise reunion, up close and in person moved me in ways that I don’t have words for.
I won’t poison this post with any debate or discussion of whether or not our military should be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. But, as a former Marine, I would like to point out the tremendous sacrifice our men and women in uniform WILLINGLY endure to do what they believe in, to protect our country, to protect you and me. It’s a sacrifice to serve when every waking moment may be your last. It’s a sacrifice to be away from loved ones and friends for months, or years on end… It’s a sacrifice to miss the only second birthday your daughter will ever have.
And so, it will be a long, long time, if ever, before I forget what I witnessed this evening. And, I hope in some small way my words might prompt you to give a moment of silent thanks for all those brave men and women who are willing to lay down their life, to protect yours.
I certainly didn’t want to intrude or break up this happy reunion, but as I left, I walked past and caught the soldier’s eye. I said “Thank you for all you do.” He stopped, turned toward me and said “thank you for your support”. I am not sure whose words meant more to whom.
Though it ended production in 2005, it was only recently that I watched the entire HBO series Six Feet Under (Thank You, Romeo Public Library).