My Uncle died near St. Lo in France on July 30, 1944. He was only 24 years old and won the Distinguished Service Medal for gallantry. He volunteered for a virtual suicide mission, apparently pointing out that the other men were married. Below is a newspaper article from almost four years later. My mother was the “Norma” mentioned in the article. I later visited St. Lo and met with amazing people. One elderly woman who had lived through the battle, finally escaping with her baby out of her flattened house through a coal chute in the basement, kept thanking me. I urged her not to do so, explaining that I was a spoiled young man who had never seen combat (and didn’t want to). She said “I cannot thank your uncle, so I thank you.”
T. Recie Russ The Arcadian – 12 Feb 1948
Full Military rites were held last Sunday for Tomlinson Recie Russ, 24, of Myakka City, an Army sergeant who was killed in action at St. Lo, France, on July 30, 1944. The body had been shipped back from the European Theater of Operations under government supervision and was sent here accompanied by Sergeant Shelly Shilling of Atlanta, Ga. The services were held in the Church of God with Rev. J. J. Self officiating. Burial was in Joshua Creek Cemetery with the American Legion in charge. Robarts Funeral Home had charge of the arrangements. Sgt. Russ was born in Brownville, June 8, 1924, and had resided in Myakka City for the last several years. Surviving are: his mother, Mrs. Florence Williams; three sisters, Mrs. M. L. Putnal, of Myakka City, Mrs. George Jardine, of Glouscester, Mass., Mrs. Betty Galloway of Bonita Springs; one half brother, B. F. Snow, of Sarasota; two half sisters, Norma and Ovida Williams. Memebers of the American Legion acted as pallbearers. The honorary pallbearers included Aiden Albritton, Buck Albritton, Phillip McLeod, Chesley McLeod, Eddie Durrance, Earl Ness.
Both my uncle and my mother are gone now and there isn’t much I can do, except to make it clear that, like so many this weekend, I remember.
There’s a tradition on Facebook of Throw Back Thursday (tbt) where people traditionally post photos from their past. I do not typically participate unless it’s something unusual like a photo of my BFF Michael Lasalandra smoking weed with Bob Marley. As to my own dark past, I deny everything and demand proof. If you don’t have photos, it didn’t happen.
Nonetheless, and old friend sent me this, my first business card, some 51 years ago. Here is the shortened version of how it came to be. I wanted to be in a band, but couldn’t play for sh*t. To this day, I remain a music lover without a musical bone in my body. I have a near-encyclopedic knowledge of classical music (although maybe not as comprehensive as that of my sister-in-law Corey who can also play it all, dammit, or my sister-in-law Susan, also an accomplished pianist).
Anyway, my buddies in the band found a way to keep me (“I know, we’ll make him the manager” or something like that, I imagine). So I learned how to book the band, how to rent equipment, how to arrange transport, and how to handle the money.
I saw an article about Jimmy Buffet, where he said he performed the same functions in his band. The only difference is he’s now worth $400 million or so.
In every job I’ve had I seem to have swiftly ascended to a management position, until soon I had my own business and had no choice but to manage it. One irony is that the band was called The First Edition, and I grew to become a collector of books.
It’s pretty funny, although perhaps only to those who know me. I still subscribe the Woody Allen school of management, which is that you find a bunch of gifted people — in 1965 it was the band members, now it is the Smart Marketing staff — and stay out of their way. When they succeed, you claim credit.
I have posted on my blog 407 times since June 2004. More than ten years at something close to a weekly rate.
When I started blogging, I had a big advantage — a background in journalism. I was used to writing, I was used to expressing my opinion in public in the form of brief commentary, and I enjoyed it. For me, blogging was like being given a printing press. I loved it. Still do, kinda.
Here’s how the blogging process worked for me. It all started with an idea. It might be a reaction I had to some public event, or it might be a bit of humor, or it might be an emotional reaction to something in my personal life (my son’s 18th birthday, or the horrible decision to have my dog put down), or it might be the sharing of a memory, like my last post in (gulp) March, about my encounter with the poet Alan Ginsberg, in my capacity as president of my college literary society.
My friend Michael happened to catch the movie “Howl” on cable TV, the story of an obscenity trial in San Francisco, where a bookseller was accused of selling a book of Ginsberg poems entitled Howl, in 1957. I mentioned to him that I had spent a weekend hanging around with Ginsberg in 1969 and then decided it would make a good blog post.
I usually put some work into my blog posts, and this one was no different. I re-watched the movie and did some reading about the trial. I did some research to find the correct edition of Playboy magazine in which he was interviewed and included the cover. I dragged out my old college yearbook and found a couple of photos from that weekend. And I wrote the story. So, not a monumental task by any means, but not just tossed off, either.
Now you might think of me that I am a writer and writers write and have things, however trivial, to share with the world, or you might think that I am a blabbermouth who has difficulty having an unpublished thought. Either way, in a few months will come the 40th anniversary of my first published words (“published” in this case meaning they were generally disseminated, and somebody paid me).
So I had this whole blogging thing down, pretty much. Then along came “social media” which in my case mostly means Facebook and Twitter. Now when I have an idle thought, a brief insight, or whatever, I bang it out in about 30 seconds on one of those platforms and no longer feel that urgency that writers feel. My need to let the world know what I’m thinking seems to be somewhat ameliorated by these new media.
My readers, such as they are, may cheer or lament this development, but I think I’m going to make an effort (without sacrificing my social media interactions) to go back to blogging and the satisfactions it offers. We shall see where it goes.
Recently, my best pal saw the movie Howl. Most of the movie is about the obscenity trial of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Shigeyoshi Murao. Ferlinghetti co-owned City Lights Booksellers and Publishers in San Francisco. (It’s still there, by the way.) Ferlinghetti was put on trial for obscenity as the publisher of Ginsberg’s poem “Howl.” Murao was the clerk who sold the book to an uncover police officer. The movie is extremely well done, and especially interesting to me because I actually spent a weekend hanging around with Ginsberg and his lover Peter Orlovsky in 1969 when I was 19 years old.
I was attending my first college, St. Francis, and I was president of the student literary society (How did you become president, my father asked one of my classmates, who happened to be president of our dorm. I came late to a meeting, was his response). Anyway, we invited Ginsberg, likely at the behest of my wonderful literature professor, Joe Mahoney. Ginsberg was to read poems of William Blake, notably Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. The performance, which is not a big part of this story, was wonderful, a dancing, chanting rendition accompanied by finger cymbals.
The day before, I had picked up Ginsberg and Orlovsky, his long-time partner, from the bus station. Their relationship was in itself scandalous, especially at a Catholic school. Making conversation as I drove, I told Ginsberg how much I enjoyed his interview in the current Playboy magazine. He became quite excited and said he had not yet seen it, and did I have it? So I dropped them off at the house where they were staying, drove to the campus, retrieved the magazine and drove back to give it to them.
Ginsberg was delighted, invited me in, and for the next two hours, I got to talk poetry with one of the greatest poets of the 20th century. It was an amazing experience. Kids, don’t let anyone tell you that there is no value in a dirty magazine.
My job the next morning was to take Ginsberg to a meeting of the Literary Society, which had been moved to a meeting hall in anticipation of a big crowd. The idea was that students could get to know him, and ask him questions about his literary work. As I recall there were maybe 30-40 people in the room. I seated Allen in the middle of the room and waited for the barrage of questions. And waited. And waited. The silence was deafening as Ginsberg, with his beard and wild hair faced a roomful of clean-cut Catholic boys (not to mention two nuns). As I wondered what noble sentiment Ginsberg might find to break the uncomfortable silence, he leaped to his feet and shouted:
“PANTS DOWN, COLLEGIANS!”
The rest of the weekend sort of went downhill from there.
Like most American males, I have spent a large number of hours over the years watching SportsCenter and other programming on ESPN. So when Stuart Scott died this weekend, it came as a blow. I had no particular connection to him, nor do I put TV broadcasters in my pantheon of heroes. The invention of the catch-phrase boo-yah! is not what I would call an achievement to venerate but then neither is anything I have done. Still, like neighbors, people who are on TV for so many years become familiar figures and you can’t help feeling like you “know” them somehow. Thus it was with Stuart Scott.
And, of course, we cannot help but feel compassion for someone who dies so young (age 49) and leaves behind two young daughters. So many Americans are touched, often brutally, by cancer. Perhaps that includes your family. It certainly has touched mine. My younger brother, Guy, died of lymphoma (a form of cancer) in 1996 at the age of 41. He died holding my hand and his last words were “I love you.” He too, left behind a daughter, my niece, Madeline, now 25, who will be coming to Florida to visit with me later this month.
None of this is to say anything other than it’s been awfully hard to watch ESPN the last couple of days, and I’m sure that’s true for many of you. RIP Stuart Scott.
With the holidays coming up, I will face a problem (admittedly, a first world problem) that I face every Father’s Day, every birthday, and every Christmas — not to mention in some business situations. And that is when people ask me what they can give me for a gift.
I start out with the usual really-a-gift-is-not-necessary, but the fact is that people enjoy giving gifts (I know I do!). It’s useful in this context to have a hobby like playing golf or collecting wine. Both of which I did much more often in days of yore. People send you a nice bottle or a dozen golf balls, and everyone is happy.
Just to make things more difficult and annoying, I am the type of guy who, if I want something, I go buy it. So, the trick is to find something I would like, but not enough to buy it for myself. It’s a challenge — and not one that my friends and family appreciate.
The result is gift cards. Lots of gift cards. Tons of gift cards. A shower of gift cards. Some of them are quite substantial. One is for $200, another for $400. There’s only one small problem. I never use them. I know there are places that will buy them from me, but that seems incredibly crass. Likewise with re-gifting them. And so they pile up, my secret stash, gifts for the man who has everything.
In my company’s coaching program, one of the key concepts is that people listen with their eyes. According to the studies I have seen, about 80 percent of what we perceive through the senses is visual. Lawyers, who tend to be, by nature and training, more likely to try to convey their ideas through speech and logic, are often resistant to the concept. “What should matter,” they tell me, “is what a good lawyer I am.” And I tell them, that’s like going into a singles bar and saying “What should matter is what a good person I am.”
I won’t repeat all I have to say on this subject. I first published an article about it ten years ago, and although my thinking has evolved, my opinion hasn’t changed.
I found myself thinking about this over the past week, as the scandal involving NFL players Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson came to a boil.
Rice (of the Baltimore Ravens) is the player who cold-cocked his wife (then fiancée) in an Atlantic City casino elevator, then dragged her unconscious into the hall. The incident was investigated. Rice admitted to the NFL commissioner that he hit his wife (as if we couldn’t figure that out). The NFL gave him a two-game suspension. The public was appropriately outraged at the leniency of the sentence, and the ante was upped to four games. Then the scandal-mongering website/television show TMZ bribed someone in the casino and got its hands on the video tape of what actually happened in that elevator. (There’s a whole ‘nother issue about why the NFL never saw that tape, leading to the inescapable conclusion that they didn’t want to.)
The elevator tape is appalling. A 250-pound heavily muscled football player delivers a staggering left hook to a petite woman, whose head bounces off the elevator handrail before she falls to the floor unconscious — as in, out cold.
My instantaneous reaction was that Rice was very lucky he didn’t kill her, because that punch surely could have done so.
It was horrifying.
But was it any more horrifying than it was in July, when Rice admitted to hitting his now-wife, and dragging her unconscious out of the elevator?
Yes, it was, because we could see it. And the visual sense overwhelms all others, including common sense.
This incident was followed in the headlines by the news about Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings, accused of abusing his 4-year-old son by “whooping” him with a “switch” or as Keith Olberman more accurately put it: “beating a 4-year-old child with a tree branch.”
At first we heard stories of cultural differences and how different parents have different philosophies about corporal punishment. Then we saw the photos of the little boy, the marks all over his body (including his scrotum) and the defensive wounds on his hands.
We respond viscerally to what we see, for good or for ill. As Malcolm Gladwell argued in his book Blink, we form a visual impression in the first few seconds of any encounter, and once we do so, it is extremely difficult to change.
Call it, with some grim irony, a marketing lesson from Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson. What people see is going to be more important than what they hear, or read, or think.
My first blog post was on June 18, 2004. Since then, I have posted more than 400 times, a rate of slightly less than one a week. The last time I passed a major blog milestone, my son Max was remarkably unimpressed and sent me this. It’s worth a look at the lyrics.
I know, I know. I can’t really hate Atticus Finch. First of all, he’s not real, he’s just a character in To Kill A Mockingbird. Second, he’s a noble character — a paragon, really. A lawyer who fights against racism in a small southern town in the 1930s. A widower trying to bring up a couple of kids on his own.
“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”
He was played in the movies by Gregory Freakin’ Peck, for god’s sake. As played by Peck, Atticus Finch was voted the greatest hero of American film by the American Film Institute. He has a goddam postage stamp!
To Kill a Mockingbird, 1962 (Photo credit: mystuart)
Daniel Baldwin and Isabella Hoffman named their son Atticus. So did Summer Phoenix and Casey Affleck.
How could I hate Atticus Finch?
Because I work in the world of legal marketing, and in that world, everything is named Atticus.
There’s Atticus coaching, Atticus Digital Marketing, Atticus Rainmakers, Atticus Marketing in the U.K., Atticus Business Consulting, Atticus Management, Atticus Atticus Atticus. One of my friends in the business named his new firm Atticus and must have gotten a whole collection of cease-and-desist letters since he subsequently changed the name of his firm to Mockingbird Marketing (couldn’t get too far from Atticus).
I remember in Albert Brooks’s comedy album (if you are under age 30, feel free to contact me to find out what an “album” is) Comedy Minus One, he talks about what it’s like to visit San Antonio, Texas:
Alamo Rent-a-Car; Alamo Car Wash; Alamo Laundry (in by nine, out by five); Alamo Motel (hourly daytime rates); Alamo Diner (you’ll remember the Alamo); Alamo Quick Print; and on and on until you want to puke up the word “Alamo.”
My question to lawyers is: don’t you guys and gals have any other heroes? What about Abraham Lincoln Marketing? Or Clarence Darrow Coaching Program? Or the She-Hulk? Thomas Moore? Matisse? Julio Iglesias? Robert Kennedy? Gloria Allred? Alger Hiss? Nelson Mandela? Fidel Castro? Gandhi?
So, my grandfather came off the boat from Sicily. I still have relatives there (in and around Messina) and I can recognize and speak a fair amount of Sicilian dialect, mostly because my father would use it playfully with me when I was little. The Italian word for money is “soldi” while the Sicilian dialect is “zodi,” My father would say to me, in a comic Italian accent (think Disney cartoon) “You want-a some jingle-a-zodi?” Which meant, simply, do you want some jingle-money? The spare change in my dad’s pocket was a coveted prize and I always answered in the affirmative.
Naturally, with this kind of background, when I reached around five years old, I was dispatched to Sunday School and the nuns. The nuns were an interesting bunch, prone to asking me questions like, “When the communists come and tie you to a stake in the town square and get ready to rip your tongue out…will you renounce Jesus?” I assured them that I certainly would not, but suffered weeks, if not years, of nightmares thereafter.
Which is why my idea of Sicilian nuns did not, up ’til now, include the likes of this: