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Showing Love For 100 Losses

10 Sep

It’s inevitable. The Astros will be watching the post-season at home. Sigh. Okay, now let’s try to turn the rest of this miserable season into something memorable.

Losing more than 100 games does not need to be the only way this team goes down in history. There is time to rebound and provide some last-minute excitement for the fans and the franchise. There is a way to better represent the city of Houston. In fact, there are 10 ways:

1. Provide free parking at every home game until the end of the season. Sure, someone has to pay but it shouldn’t be the fans. Issue parking vouchers—or send an intern from the front office to buy a ton of money orders.

2. Name a celebrity co-manager at every home game. Get Houston’s best and brightest stars in the dugout for a day. Can you imagine Carolyn Farb wearing the uniform?

3. Add some surprise promotions. Have Wandy Rodriguez sign the left arm of everyone in attendance or 10,000 of his baseball cards. Give away the bat of any player who hits a home run. Let one lucky fan shower with the team. Actually, save that idea for one of Carolyn Farb’s future fundraisers.

4. Create special 100-loss t-shirts to give away to fans. On the front, show a Texas-themed thermometer with the mercury at 100 degrees. Give it a caption like, “100 means it’s hot!” On the back, use an image of cartoon-looking ballplayers in a state of chaos. Make the caption say, “100 means we’re cold.”

5. Pay 40,000 out-of-work Houstonians to fill the seats one game. Coach them to cheer no matter what happens on the field. Keep them at the ballpark through the 9th inning by offering to pay them immediately following the game.

6. Select one lucky fan to host an Astros player in his or her home for a day. A solid day. 24 hours. Showing up at noon and leaving at three is not acceptable.

7. Add a twist to #6. Shoot a commercial showing the ballplayer doing housework for the host fan. Explain how helping the fans one at a time is the team’s way of making up for the 2011 season.

8. Take every fan out for dinner after a night game. Thank goodness Katz’s Never Kloses. They’ll still be seating fans days later, but the Cheesecake Shake will be worth the wait.

9. Fly 500 fans to Chicago for the series against the Cubs. Instead of randomly selecting fans, choose a deserving group, such as volunteer firefighters, although many of them will be busy responding to the wildfires consuming much of Texas.

10. Offer season tickets to any Houston area family that names a newborn child after any player currently on the roster. In two weeks we may want to take note of how many expectant mothers demanded c-sections on September 28.

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2 Sep

Sometimes I feel like Will Smith.

Not “Fresh Prince” Will Smith or “Independence Day” Will Smith.”The Pursuit of Happyness” Will Smith—except for the tall, dark and handsome part.

Aidan’s mom and I haven’t stuck to the custody agreement much, but last night Aidan stayed with me as outlined in the agreement. Thursday nights, plus certain weekends, are supposed to be reserved for her and I. On our way to school this morning, I explained those details to her. I didn’t have to do any selling.

It’s heartwarming to know my daughter wants to spend time with me. She even says she wants to spend more time with me. That type of comment makes me smile since I am usually alone in taking her to school, pick her up by myself most days and spend hours with her many days a week. She’s the main reason I’m so tan right now, thanks to frequent trips to the pool.

The strong connection that comes from spending time together gets reinforced by conversations about real issues. This morning, as I carried her to school on my shoulders, we passed over a bridge. She looked down and saw a blue shopping cart. Although a shopping cart left in a seemingly random spot is not rare sight in towns like Lewisville, this particular one inspired a conversation that would last all the way to school.

It wasn’t only the cart that caught her attention, it was the blanket inside. I imagined that blanket providing a bit of comfort to someone last night. It seemed likely that a homeless person used the cart and the blanket and left them in that spot while remaining out of sight nearby or heading somewhere else for the day.

Aidan listened carefully as I suggested someone without a home may have needed the cart and blanket. As a person who who walks a great deal of the time, sometimes 6-8 miles in a day, I have crossed paths with hundreds of people living on the streets of Dallas and Houston. (I remember frequently being approached by homeless people outside the Walgreen’s on Montrose near Westheimer in Houston. Aidan’s mom and I would always give them money, whenever we had cash and change in our pockets.) I told Aidan that lots of people in cities all over America are homeless.

“Why can’t they build a place to live?”

I explained how a homeless person doesn’t have the money to get the tools and materials necessary to build a home. That prompted Aidan to ask how a person on the streets can make money. I explained how I’ve often observed homeless people collecting bottles and cans in order to sell them. Aidan said, “but that’s not enough money!”

She’s right, of course. Even without knowing what a person can make from selling bottles and cans, she instantly knew it wasn’t enough to sustain a life. I did say that places and people offer help to people on the streets, providing money or food, a place to stay, and clothes to wear. But Aidan returned to the topic of homes.

“But they need their own place to live.”

Just before reaching an intersection, the conversation shifted to homeless kids. I explained to Aidan that many kids are also living on the streets. As I looked to my left, a brother and sister walking to another school stood there, mouths opened, observing us. I’m not sure what stunned them more: my candid chat about homeless kids at 7:30 am or Aidan sitting on my shoulders on the way to school.

My daughter has a tremendous amount of empathy and understanding despite her young age. She explained how a child of homeless parents may have to ask for money to help the family. I have to wonder what she’s seen on TV or heard somewhere that made her sound so informed. She even said that if her mother and I were homeless, she would ask for money. She said a kid shouldn’t have to do that but “we do what we need to do.”

She may be an only child and she may be the only grandchild on both sides of the family, but my daughter is not spoiled. At times, she’s a typical six year-old, consumed by her own thoughts and feelings. But when she and I have candid conversations, she always demonstrates an ability to think deeply, show compassion for others, share her thoughts without reservation, and try to create solutions to what really are grown-up problems.

Come to think of it, Aidan reminds me of Jaden Smith—except there are no movie cameras rolling when she’s at her best.

Ten Years in Texas

1 Sep

September marks my tenth year in Texas. The actual arrival by rental truck came on Sunday September 16, 2001. I had never been to Texas, although 2 years earlier the news director at KVIA in El Paso interviewed me by phone for an opening in the weather department. I began thinking I was destined to live here when, in the summer of 2001, Houston became a place for possible relocation.

At the time I was married and my radio news anchor wife interviewed for a job at KTRH. We didn’t tell many people about it. We had already moved so many times in the five years prior.

Ogdensburg to Watertown

Watertown to Rome

Rome to New Hartford

New Hartford to Albany

So we did our research of Houston, and didn’t make it known to most people that we could be leaving New York State soon. When the actual job offer came, and she accepted, then we shared the news. Some people we knew were happy for us. Others thought we were just moving on a whim.

In between her accepting the job and us moving, some significant things occurred. My grandfather passed away. Her mother’s health began noticeably failing. And then there was 9/11. The timing of our departure suddenly seemed horribly inconvenient, but there was no looking back.

Okay, there was some looking back after we arrived. On numerous occasions, my wife applied for radio jobs in cities such as Boston, New York and Chicago. I also applied for jobs that would have brought us closer to home again. She and I even developed a pitch for a TV show that would be shot in her hometown of Alexandria Bay, New York. So we weren’t exactly settled here instantly and planning to stay forever. But the move out of Texas never happened, although a move within Texas did occur—first by her and then by me.

Ten years later, I can look back and examine my choice to move to Texas. I wanted a change, a big one. I was not satisfied with where I was, working as a noon news producer at a local TV station. It wasn’t my dream. It wasn’t even my chosen profession. It just happened.

Houston seemed promising in 2001. In many ways, the promise paid off. Opportunities that previously appeared out of reach were realistic in Houston. I discovered new professional challenges and creative endeavors. I stepped away from TV news, except for one part-time stint that lasted a year, and produced TV shows. I wrote my first TV commercials, and began acting in commercials and films. I even started writing books, which may turn into a lifelong pursuit.

My time in Texas has also provided me with another life-altering experience. The birth of my daughter in 2005 is the most memorable moment of my life, and the joy of raising her overpowers any other experience, personal or professional, in my life. As the family’s only native Texan, she is in a class all by herself.  For her, Texas will always be home.

There is also one more valuable aspect of my Texas experience that I must acknowledge. Since arriving here a decade ago, I have met some of the most inspirational and supportive individuals in my life. Some have served as role models and mentors—even without knowing it. Others have provided support in the form of kindness, praise, friendship, even transportation. Their devotion to bettering their own lives and the lives of those around them underscores an important point for me to reflect on as I celebrate ten years in Texas. In the words attributed to Nobel Prize winner Dario Fo, whose controversial and comical works as a playwright and theatre director are popular in Italy: “know how to live the time that is given you.”

Support Through September

29 Aug

When I put Aidan to bed at night, the ritual involves a couple things. The first part is a bedtime story. Sometimes I’ll read several stories or make up a story to share. (Tonight’s story involved the toy box at my grandparents’ house and how wearing a vest from it gave us special powers.) The second part of the bedtime ritual is a series of questions for her to answer.

1. What did you accomplish today?

2. What do you want to accomplish tomorrow?

3. How can you help someone tomorrow?

I believe it’s important to remind her that we can make a commitment to help someone else every day, even when our own lives are busy and challenging. It’s an idea I lose sight of at times. Between finishing one book, developing another, auditioning, acting when booked, taking on writing assignments, looking for new clients, marketing my services, taking my daughter to school, picking her up, spending quality time with her, blogging about our experiences together, and making time for myself, most weeks seem to provide little time to focus on helping others.

But that’s not really true, is it? As one of my former clients likes to say, “what you focus on is what you get.” By consciously setting aside time to provide a helping hand, and selecting the individuals who are deserving of that help, I can incorporate problem solving, advice, aid, guidance and support into any week—regardless of how busy my life seems.

I want to go a step further starting September 1 by devoting time each day to lifting someone else up. This form of daily support will be dedicated to using anything within my reach to assist a friend, family member or colleague. Now I can’t drive you across the country or write a term paper for you. I won’t be able to handle the responsibility of telling your boyfriend or girlfriend that you want to end the relationship. And I certainly don’t want to tell an employee of yours that he’s fired.

There are numerous lists online that describe ways to serve others. One list I read contains 100 ideas, a great place to start for anyone who has not been living a service-oriented life. While many of the ideas are brilliant, I am going to focus on the top 5 ways I can provide support in September.

1. Writing a recommendation letter

2. Promoting someone else’s idea/project

3. Volunteering for a charity or an individual in need

4. Teaching a skill that I know well

5. Giving honest feedback

That’s not to say I’ll do one good deed a day and call it quits. I’ll continue to provide help whenever I can. But the mission of devoting one act of service a day to a specific individual will help me demonstrate to Aidan that helping others is an essential step in cultivating balanced and healthy relationships. It can also empower us by keeping our energy flowing in positive ways. Those are important lessons for an only child who still believes the world revolves around her.

When this works like I expect it to, my new tradition of helping people daily will have a long-term impact as my daughter carries it forward over the course of her lifetime. She’s already got the right nickname for the role. I can even envision the headline 30 years from now:

AID HELPS MILLIONS!

100 Goodbyes

9 Aug

I never saw reaction to a t-shirt like the one my friend Victor got in Lake Charles, Louisiana wearing a shirt featuring Redd Foxx’s face above his best-known phrase from Sanford and Son:

YOU BIG DUMMY

It caught the attention of strangers who stopped him just to share how much they liked the shirt. At times, I felt like they were just moments away from hugging him. Yes, the joy in their eyes was that apparent.

I thought about that shirt tonight as I put my daughter to bed. She would say “dummy” is a bad word, and she’s right. But the connection to Redd Foxx came from surveying her room once again. It could be mistaken for a carpeted junkyard. If the reference wasn’t lost on her, I would buy her that t-shirt in her size, or she could wear a larger size as a nightgown.

I kept those thoughts to myself, and I refrained from calling her room a “disaster” like I often do. With school starting less than two weeks away, I did mention the need to get her room cleaned and organized. It wasn’t a general mention; I got specific.

Me: We’re going to donate or throw out 100 items.

Aidan: That’s everything I have.

Me: Oh, that’s not even close. You won’t even notice the 100 items when they’re gone.

Aidan:  How about 21 items?

Me: No, 100.

Aidan: 21.

Me: If we rid this room of 100 items, you’ll have room for new things.

Aidan: How about 200 items?

Me: Okay, let’s not get overly ambitious.

I left the room as she and her puppy cuddled for a night of sleep. Of course, I’m up trying to devise a plan of attack. I could bring in a shovel and a wheelbarrow. But the idea is to remove only the items we want to donate or throw out so I’ll have to be more strategic.

Evaluating her wardrobe might be an easier way to start. Anything that she’s outgrown could get set in a paper grocery bag for easy drop-off to Goodwill. I bet we could easily find 30 items to give away.

Toys she no longer plays with or has outgrown might lead to another 30 items, to donate, as long as they’re in good condition. I suspect she has a lot more toys that will just go straight into the trash. I will face resistance from the girl who believes EVERYTHING can be glued back together.

Books may only provide a handful of additional items to donate, but the real opportunity may come from stuffed animals. Yes, those prized possessions of childhood are vulnerable here. She’s got so many stuffed animals, many of them spend their days jammed together in piles and containers. The view can’t be pretty. Thankfully, they don’t need air to breathe.

If we just focused on stuffed animals, saying 100 Goodbyes could happen in a few minutes. But there is no way she’s going to part with 100 stuffed animals all at once, even if she almost never plays with, looks at, or remembers they exist. I could suggest donating them to children who would be comforted by them. She would like that very much, but I suspect we wouldn’t get more than 10 donated.

Obviously I won’t wait for her to start selecting items. I’ll have to schedule a day for this massive undertaking. We’ll have pizza and ice cream and anything necessary to make the process a bit more tolerable. And I already have one item in mind that can go: the IKEA bed she no longer sleeps in. If I could convince her to donate every toy in the boxes that cover that bed, we would reach our goal 10 times over.

 

 

Five Sundays on the Sidelines

5 Aug

I heard some great news on Thursday from my friend Drea Avent in L.A. She will be working as a sideline reporter during five games for FOX NFL SUNDAY during the upcoming season. The news came via Facebook, and I quickly posted a message of congratulations. This is national TV, the big time for a sports reporter who has been working her way up for years.

I’ve known Drea since she and I worked together at News 24 Houston, a now defunct 24-hour cable news channel owned by Time Warner Cable. She was very green at the time, but clearly demonstrated both an in-depth knowledge of key sports and a passion for learning her craft as a sports reporter. Seven years later, I am so proud to see her move to the next level in her career.

There are football fans who don’t share my appreciation for female sports reporters. Some may keep their opinion to themselves; others boldly tell anyone who will listen. In fact, on Friday morning I heard from a friend online who didn’t hesitate to share this perspective:

“I don’t think women should be police officers, fight in combat or be NFL sideline reporters. Period.”

This statement wasn’t made by a man. It came from a woman who considers herself a die-hard football fan. It reminded me of a story my ex-wife once told me about her line of work as a radio news anchor. Despite her superb on-air delivery, listeners in some of her markets have called to complain about a radio station having a woman anchor the news. Some listeners even said they couldn’t understand her. Clearly they must be deaf or have ears that were programmed to understand men’s voices only. Otherwise, I have no explanation for this phenomenon.

But back to football, one could argue that networks place women in high profile positions on camera to draw more men to the broadcast. Female sideline reporters may also draw more viewers who are women, perhaps looking to find someone they can relate to during the game. Whatever the argument, or the reasons given, women are here to stay in the field of sports reporting. They’ve earned it. They deserve it. And just like the men in the same field, there are good ones and not-so-good ones in those roles.

I suspect some people mistakenly use the argument that women can’t understand football because they haven’t played it. But one of America’s most celebrated sportscasters, Bob Costas, hadn’t played a single professional sport when he began his play-by-play duties for minor league hockey games while still attending Syracuse University. Later, at NBC Sports, Costas served as a play-by-play for NBA games despite never having dunked a basketball or even attempted as much as a foul shot.

As Derek Jeter approached the 3000-hit milestone this season, he wore a wire so the experience from his perspective could be captured by HBO for a documentary on the Yankee captain. But Jeter didn’t suddenly start doing his own play-by-play. He continued doing what he gets paid to do: play baseball. He left the play-by-play and color commentary to the people whose job it is to provide it.

You see, sports reporting and announcing is a different game altogether. Those talented men and women who bring us stories from the studio, the booth or the field come a variety of backgrounds, but the mission is always the same.  They serve to tell us what we need to know and what we want to know about a sport, a particular game and its players. They’re storytellers. Plain and simple. The good ones provide helpful insight and observations; the best ones break national stories. Ultimately, they all look at what’s going on, interpret what they see, and communicate with us, the fans.

It’s a similar situation in wartime news coverage. We don’t assume radio, TV and print journalists and photojournalists covering the stories actually spent time in basic training or on a battle field fighting the enemy. Their training came in how to effectively tell a story using the medium in which they work. The award-winning journalists—who often risk their lives to get the story—did not become better at their jobs because they had tours of duty in Iraq. They mastered their craft.

As the father of a six year-old girl, I listen to the “women shouldn’t be” objections carefully. I can’t brush them aside because that’s the reality of the world my daughter is growing up in. Once upon a time not everyone accepted women as doctors, but it still happened. Not everyone agreed that women could be astronauts, but it still happened. And not everyone is happy to see women working as sideline reporters, especially my friend who said, ” I’d rather look at a man than a woman.”

As for me, I’ll be watching the upcoming NFL season with a new sense of excitement and purpose. On five Sundays, my dear friend will be on the sidelines doing what she enjoys most in front of a national TV audience. And I’ll have Aidan by my side so she can see, despite the objections of some, it can be done.

Timeshare Farm

3 Aug

As a kid, I remember a cousins’ plan to buy the LaBrake farm. The meetings typically would take place at The Farm on a holiday or a Saturday evening visit. As I recall, the discussions usually involved my brother Will, my cousin Stephen, my cousins Julie and Tammy, and on occasion we would allow younger siblings to attend these impromptu meetings. It seemed like we were discussing how all of us could live at The Farm at once, if I recall correctly. There were a lot of rooms in the 2-story house and lots of land around it so it’s reasonable to think we felt there would be room for everybody. Or maybe we talked about buying The Farm and taking turns living there. Timeshare Farm! I think anyone who took their turn in the summer would automatically be responsible for all the haying demands. Oh, I really wish I could remember the plan, and nobody ever wrote it down.

You can probably guess our Timeshare Farm idea never became a reality. As we grew older, The Farm still held a special place in our hearts, but the idea of buying it was never brought up. I suppose it was replaced by other interests we each had developed in our teenage and early adulthood years. Some of us got married. Some found a steady job in the workforce or the military. Others went through a string of relationships or bounced from job to job. By the time The Farm was being sold, not one of us had the funds or the focus to make that earlier dream come true.

This month marks ten years since I was last at The Farm.  My Grandpa died that month, and all 14 of his children, many grandchildren and great-grandchildren came together to mourn the loss of our family patriarch. I didn’t want to leave. I knew that visit would be the last time I went into the house, as it was, and walked through the barn, as it was, passed through the machine shed and the garage. The whole place would be different eventually, and I wanted to absorb as much of it as I could.

The visit was cut short. While many relatives were still gathered inside and outside the house, I was getting back on the road with my wife. We would make the 45 minute drive from Lisbon to Alexandria Bay, leaving the Brown Road and taking Route 68 to Route 37 to Route 12. The emotionally-charged day would continue when we arrived at my in-laws home to discuss the health problems of my mother-in-law.  (It turns out, she would only live a little over two more years after that day.)

In the month following my grandfather’s death, my wife and I moved from Albany, New York to Houston, Texas. The distance away from family felt painfully long in the days following the 9/11 attacks, and made it difficult to visit home in the months ahead when the business of auctioning items from The Farm and selling the property was underway.

Later I would learn that my absence during that process was a blessing. Unlike my brother Will who was in the house after it was emptied, I have no memories at all like that. I can still  see how the furniture was set up in the living room and some of my favorite family photos on display in there. I can still see the large dining room table, with my aunts and uncles surrounding every inch of it on a Saturday night. I can still see the Christmas tree in the front room, beautifully decorated and visible to cars passing by. I can see it all as if it’s still going on right now. I could walk right into that house today and—

Of course, it’s not there to see. Sure, the house is still there but it’s not the same house, really. Someone outside the family owns it these days. I’ve been by it a couple times during trips to see my parents. I think I even took Aidan over there once when was very little so I know she has no memories of it.

Perhaps that’s the most profoundly sad part of the story for me. I can go to The Farm anytime, in my mind, but my daughter will never know the place the way I did. She was born almost four years after my grandfather died. But knowing her, she would have relished a visit to her great-grandfather’s farm. She would have wanted to explore every bit of it, just like her daddy did starting almost 40 years ago. I can see her wanting to help unload hay, just like her great-grandmother did for years. I imagine she would sneak into the machine shed, just her like daddy did, to play hide and seek and climb on equipment that we knew was dangerous to be around, just for the thrill of it.  She might even try to climb a silo, like her daddy and Uncle Will did—until Grandpa caught us and “convinced” us to come down. She would find some of the same books in the living room, from decades ago, and enjoy them like I did. She would mingle with her grandmother and great aunts in the kitchen, wanting to help cook the large meals necessary to feed so many people on a holiday. She would love every kid she met and ask every time if she could have a sleepover. She might accompany her great-grandfather on trips to the diner down the road and offer to help in the garden. She would have wonderful memories and the smell of Cedar trees anywhere else in the country would always make her smile and cry a little bit.

Now at least she’s been there, in my mind.

Please visit the fundraising page of my latest book project, Outside the Touch of Time, and consider making a donation. Your support will help us preserve stories of  the love, lessons and longevity of 14 siblings born between 1933-1955.