Friday, March 27, 2009

Good Deed

In the category of "no good deed shall go unpunished," I would place the time our oldest daughter lost her iPod in the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

Then 13, she'd insisted on bringing her new iPod on a family trip to the aquarium, and as we were leaving she suddenly realized that she no longer had it. I retraced our entire path through the aquarium and checked with the lost and found. (It turned out the aquarium didn't always keep everything in its central lost and found, so I was directed to visit the guard station on each floor as well as the lost and found.)

No iPod anywhere. She was teary in the way that a 13-year-old girl can be. Our only hope was that the person who'd found her iPod was an honest soul, since her first name and phone number were engraved on the iPod.

The next day a man from Annapolis, about half an hour from us, had her iPod. I arranged to stop by his house that Saturday and retrieve it, repeatedly thanking him and telling him how relieved and happy our daughter would be.

That Saturday our son wanted to take a drive with me, so we went to Annapolis together. When we arrived at the address we'd been given no one was there, but a note on the door said the man who'd called us would be back in a minute.

He was, and after greeting us he went inside, got the iPod, and came back out.

That's where the trouble began. He began lecturing me about being careless, hiw lucky I was that he'd been the type of person who would call about and return lost property, and how the aquarium was no place to bring an iPod.

When he paused I repeated that the iPod was our daughter's, not mine, and that I was the wrong person to lecture. His response? He lectured me more. Our son, then 11, just stared at him. This guy was a Good Samaritan Maniac.

Finally he ran out of steam and we escaped. I lead footed it out of his neighborhood.

When we were halfway home our son, who'd been silent all this time, finally gave voice to what was on his mind. "Dad," he said. "It would have been easier just to buy a new iPod."


Monday, March 23, 2009

Say It Ain't So, Joe

Joe Vitale is, by almost any estimation, a terrific drummer. In the last 40 years he's played with Joe Walsh, Ted Nugent, the Eagles, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Dan Fogelberg and many others. He's recorded three solo albums, produced or co-produced a few, and played in dozens of countries. He appears to be a very nice guy.

He has, however, produced a lackluster book, a story of life as a musician which was just released. Written and edited by his wife (it's an "as told to" book) and designed by his son, this is a real family affair. A big Italian family.  big Italian family that talks about how humble it is, how flattered it is and how many stories it has.

If you find stories about musicians falling asleep on sofas and being left behind on tour buses, guitarists mistakingly turning up fans rather than amplifiers and people drawing mustaches on pictures to be side splittingly hilarous, you'll love this book. But somehow, the funny stories Vitale keeps saying he's going to tell never materialize. Curiously, in 40 years of touring with rock bands Vitale never seems to have seen a single groupie or drug incident, never seen a performer give a sloppy performance while drunk or high, never seen anyone act less than professional.

Now that's funny.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


For those of you who haven't yet completed your Mother's Day shopping — I can't believe you've waited this long — this is the story of the best gift I ever gave my mother.

My mother, a first generation American, grew up in New York City (Queens, to be exact) during the Depression. She loved the theatre, but there was no money for something as frivolous as a theatre ticket. Most of the time, she'd join the crowd outside a Broadway theatre during intermission after the first act of a play and walk in, find an empty seat and watch the last half or two thirds of the show. She might not have been able to completely follow the plot, having missed the first act, but it was free. On the rare occasions when she was able to scrape together the money for a ticket, it was always for the cheapest seats farthest from the stage. The actors may have been tiny figures from her vantage point but at least she was there.

To my mother, the more well-to-do women in the expensive seats seemed like slightly exotic creatures. She was in awe of their greatest indulgence: even though these well dressed women were close to the stage, they still brought opera glasses to see. (For those unfamiliar, opera glasses are small, low powered, somewhat elegant binoculars.)

Those opera glasses became, to my mother, the symbol of the good life she hoped one day to attain.

Fast forward many years, to the point where I was in my late teens. By this time my mother was living a solidly middle class life. She and my stepfather, avid lovers of theatre, opera and the symphony, went to many shows a year,usually in the more expensive seats.

She could have easily afforded a pair of opera glasses, but never bought this indulgence for herself.

So one year, for her birthday, I did.

The look on her face when she opened the package was one I will never forget. Her eyes filled with tears and, I must admit, so did mine.

I don't think she's ever used her opera glasses, but she's kept them in a prominent spot on the shelves in their living room everywhere she's lived since then. When she dies, I'll give them to one of our daughters, whichever one I think will most appreciate them.

I'll tell our daughters the story of how their grandmother came to own such a magnificent, fancy, frivolous item as a pair of opera glasses. And I'll let them draw their own conclusions.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Separated at birth

Which one is Tony Kornheiser, ESPN and Monday Night Football commentator, and which one is me? Hint: I'm grayer but he's younger (and taller and richer).

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


One of the very few heroes I have whom I've actually met died yesterday: Father Joseph Martin.

Father Martin, a Baltimore native, was a recovering alcoholic who developed a series of chalk talks based on the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, and toured the world delivering his talks. Tapes and DVDs of his speeches have, no doubt, been seen by hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people. He also co-founded Father Martin's Ashley, a recovery center in Maryland.

I met Father Martin in July of 2003 while visiting someone at Ashley. He and I spoke for, at most, five minutes. In November of 2004 I saw him again. Not only did he remember me and my religion, but he also asked a question related to our 2003 conversation. In the 16 months between meetings he had, I'm sure, spoken to thousands of people. I was astonished that he remembered our five-minute conversation.

But that's not why he's my hero.

Michael Deaver, Ronald Reagan's chief of staff and a recovering alcoholic who was a patient at Ashley and served on its board, said he'd met "presidents, kings, popes and prime ministers, but Father Martin was the most powerful person I'd ever met." Why? Because he "had the power to change people, to make them better, to make them whole again."

Directly and indirectly Father Martin saved thousands of lives, and that's not hyperbole.

But that is why he's my hero.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Big wheel keep on turning

In the past two weeks I've been contacted by three people I never expected to hear from: my first wife, my last boss (who fired me) and a girl who, in high school, once threw up in my car.

Apparently the karmic wheel is turning in mysterious ways, though I can't imagine what I've done to deserve this.

For the record I bear none of these folks any ill will. My ex-wife was, and probably still is, a great person. We just weren't great together. We both recognized that fact and moved on. My former boos taught me a lot, and although I wasn't too happy about being fired — "shocked" would probably be a better term — it ultimately changed my life for the better.

And the woman who once threw up in my car, who found me on Facebook, had to remind me about that incident. I'd forgotten all about it, and I never liked that car anyway. (She, on the other hand, was a sweetheart then, and probably is today.)

Now, though, I'm thinking about all of the people who ever wronged me, or who I wronged. Every day is a potential Ghost of Christmases Past.

I'm afraid to check my email.

Higher School

During my sophomore year of high school, the school hired two gym — excuse me, physical education — teachers for the year, with the understanding that only one of them would be kept after that year.

One, a former Marine with a buzz cut, was close to being a fascist, and was astonished when any of us didn't share his enthusiasm for sweaty physical activity. (A passion, I'll point out, that he talked about but never appeared to partake in himself.) The other had longer hair and was much more laid back, occasionally cutting class short on hot days.

Unfortunately for most of the students, gym teacher #2's car was found abandoned along the side of the road, apparently after an accident. The police found a bag of marijuana in the car and, some time later, found the gym teacher. who'd fled after the accident.

You can guess which teacher received the contract for the following year.

That teacher, who insisted on being called "Coach" by the students, would have been surprised by what we called him behind his back: his name was Schlenker, but we referred to him as Canker.

"Clueless" might have been closer. He once asked us to form a semi-circle, and we dutifully sat in front of and beside him. He looked behind him and saw no one there. "Why isn't anyone behind me? he asked. Another day, when he was teaching the health unit, he asked us which would get a person cleaner, a shower or a bath. Our consensus was the shower, because laying in a bathtub meant soaking on one's own dirty water. With a gleam in his eye — the wily Coach had put one over on the students! — he informed us we were all wrong, wrong, wrong. A bath, he said, would get a person much cleaner. Why? Because after soaking in a bath one should drain the water and quickly rinse under the shower.

Our protest that his solution was neither a bath or a shower, but actually both, fell on deaf ears.

He also, during driver's ed, insisted that the gears on an automatic transmission car were Park-Neutral-Reverse-Drive. When I offered the observation that Neutral was, in fact, between Park and Reverse, he was so incensed that he sent me to the Principal's office.

It was the best day in gym class I ever had. No one ever had to exercise in the principal's office.