Something To Talk About

For the past few years, most of my work has been with students having special needs, many of whom are non-verbal communicators.

Earlier this year, I worked in a special education classroom at a West Michigan elementary school. It was my very first time in the school, thus I was not at all familiar with the students.

Before the first bell, one of the administrators asked me a question from the hallway, and I walked out to speak to them.  I saw there was a young man sitting outside the door, and I asked him if he was in my class and  if he wanted to come in. He sprung up and walked briskly into the room and chilled on a beanbag chair, about as far as he could get from my desk.

I asked him an occasional  question for the first hour or so to which he responded with either a nod, a head-shake, or a quizzical look that suggested, “I don’t know.”

His participation in the class’s morning meeting, was limited to pointing at objects on the projection screen.

About two, three hours into the school day, I was chatting with the classroom’s paraprofessional about: the students in the class, our own children, travel and eventually current events.

I was startled when the young man jumped up and said, “I know about Kim Jung Un. Have you been to North Korea? There’s two Koreas, right?!?” He then mentioned several countries from around the world as well as a few other topics that interested him.

For the rest of school day, he peppered me with questions and comments, about countries around the world, science, and he even wanted to mix it up with me about whether Michael Jordan was a better basketball player than Wilt Chamberlain.

That day ranks as one of my favorite experiences I’ve had working in schools, primarily because of how entertaining and engaged that young many suddenly, and unexpectedly  became. I’m glad that I had stumbled upon something he’d wanted to talk about. There’s no way I could  have planned that.

I’d rather be lucky than good.

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“I Wish I Had A Camera”

In modern times, where we carry pocket-sized computers with AV-production capabilities wherever we go, you almost never hear the phrase “I wish I had a camera.”

There was period in my younger days where I often said those words to myself nearly every day.

In the weeks before I ended my 15-year tenure as a Floridian, I fired off dozens and dozens, of cover letters and copies of my résumé (yes, with the correct spelling of “liaison”) to organizations in Boston, and to a lesser extent Washington DC (where I was staying with some friends). The US was in a recession, so I was rather surprised by the number of interview requests that I received.

For a couple of months, I found myself frequently traveling the length of the “BosWash” megalopolis, carrying a suit and a briefcase. I padded my schedule so that I could reacquaint myself with people and places, and encounter some new ones. I would often drive to my sister’s house in Central Connecticut where, depending on time constraints, I would hang out for a few hours or a couple of days before I headed up North.

On the way back, I would often divert to upstate Massachusetts, and again to Central Connecticut to see family and visit my childhood haunts for Jerry’s pizza or Kimball’s ice cream, or to savor the placidity of Walden Pond, The Delaware Water Gap, or the Little League field where I hit a walk-off grand slam.

I have especially fond, perhaps rose-colored, recollection of that period of my life. <Sigh> I wish I’d had a camera.

The only archival records I have are located in my mind. Since my memories are are decreasing in resolution and color depth, and are likely selectively edited, the Modern Lovers video below, is seeming more and more like it could be a clip from a documentary about my life.

Have you ever wished that you had a camera?

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A Cup of Coffee

If you follow baseball,–or have you’ve seen enough baseball movies–you might be familiar with the term “a cup of coffee.”

In baseball parlance, a cup of coffee refers to situations where a player has an especially short stint with a Major League Baseball team.

An example might be that a team calls a player up from its minor league farm system, and adds the player to its roster; however the player might only appear in only a few games, or no games at all.

In many cases they might never return to Major League Baseball again.

On baseball’s Opening Day a few weeks ago, I had a fond recollection (a “misty, water-colored memory”  Barbara Streisand might say) of my own cup of coffee in the big leagues, with the team in my adopted hometown.

The Call

I will never, ever, forget the thrill of checking my voicemail to hear a message from the Chicago Cubs. My first reflex was to call back immediately. Though I paused a few minutes to allow my quickened pulse and respiration rates to calm down.

When I returned the call, I was asked if I could report to Wrigley Field the following day! I was given instructions on which door to enter and how to get their personnel offices.

Their personnel offices! My only experience on the inside of Wrigley was for fan seating, concession stands, and bathrooms. Now, I was being invited into their offices, though what sounded like a secret entrance.

Photograph of scoreboard at Wrigley Field. In descending order:Three flagpoles showing various national league teams. The analogue clock, main board showing scores of other games, top of centerfield bleachers.

The Friendly Confines


This might be an appropriate time to clarify that “the call” from the Cubs was to schedule an interview for a graphic designer position where I would be working on their print publication (or “magazine” as the kids used to say), which I believe was called “Vineland.”

The interview was early on a chill morning, thus when offered a beverage, I chose the hot and caffeinated option. Regardless of the outcome of the meeting I knew I could truthfully say that I was called up by the Cubs for a cup of coffee.


The conversations that I had with HR, and one of the designers, went really well. At that point in my life, I had already logged many thousands of hours on Macintosh computers; and Quark XPress, then the industry’s dominant computer, and design software, respectively. I also offered experience in management, and had done a bit of copywriting.

Though, most of my work been had with a real estate publisher, followed by some freelance jobs making truck parts mailings. My portfolio was a bit of a yawner. I did not expect to get a job offer.

Still, I left the interview feeling great. When I got home, I wrote up notes of thanks to the people who interviewed me. Then I worked on some other opportunities I was pursuing.

Early the next day, I picked up some stamps and mailed the letters. I literally got my rejection in the mail moments later. It was as if the Cubs had thrown me a high, inside, fastball (“chin music” is the appropriate baseball term in this case).

I was mildly impressed by the speed of the rejection. I realized later, that they had some candidates in mind when I interviewed.

I hope they had at least waited until I was out of the building before generating their form-rejection letter.

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It’s a curious thing that, for the majority of my life, Super Bowl weekend has caused me to wonder about the health of a person whom I’ve never met, and likely won’t ever meet.

This all began at the age of 16. That year, as a high school junior, I took Anatomy with a teacher, Mary Cabell,  who was something of a school legend, largely because of her knowledge of the subject, coupled with her wry (and occasionally caustic) sense of humor.

She made every topic instantly relatable with a one-line “case study” of any injury, illness, or treatment, to which she attached a familiar name of someone ( often a celebrity, fellow faculty member, or one of my teammates  who tore an ACL under the “Friday Night Lights.”) of someone who was, in her words, “ill and afflicted” with that condition.

One day, I don’t remember if we were talking about the lymphatic system, or the digestive system, or something else, but I was anticipating the name-drop of the ill-and-afflicted human subject.

She surprised us by  revealing  that years earlier–when she had  taught in Ohio–one of her students was (then future) Hall of Fame running back, Larry Csonka, a member of the Miami Dolphins teams that won two Super Bowl championships. This included one season in which they were 17-0, still the  only undefeated team in NFL history.

I assumed that Csonka was that day’s ill and afflicted subject. Though Csonka was still playing at the time, I couldn’t think of any illness that he’d had.

Then she told us that when Csonka was in her class, his sister was the victim of a violent knife attack from which she would lose her spleen and her pancreas. There were a few gasps in the room. I mouthed the words “Holy shit.”

Actually, I said the words….a  bit louder than I intended.

Thus, from the time I was 16, I’ve periodically wondered about Csonka’s sister. Was she still alive? If so, was she in good health?

Because of that one undefeated season, it seemed there was always a few moments of  highlight footage featuring  Csonka, during Super Bowl pregame shows. So, at least once a year, I flashed back to that long-ago anatomy lecture.

After a years-long waning of my interest, and steady increase in my disdain for the NFL, and the NCAA,  I stopped watching football, over a decade ago.

Though I still  wondered about the health of Csonka’s sister due to occasional reminders that were not football-related.

A few months ago, I stumbled upon some news.

I entered a bookstore, and on the shelf of new releases I saw  Csonka’s recent memoir “Head On.” Though I don’t watch football now, its past history has quite a nostalgic allure.

I thumbed through the book for a few moments. Looking for mentions of Csonka’s teammates, Bob Griese, Mercury Morris, Jim Kiick, Bob Kuechenberg, Larry Little…. I was about to close the book and reshelve it when I spotted this (paraphrased)  family update in the epilogue:

“My sister completely recovered from the stabbing, and to this day is still a horse nut.”

I smiled as if I’d received good news of a health update about family member, or close friend.

It was great to learn that she remains undefeated. I hope that her streak continues for many years to come.

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