I’m Sincerely Flattered

If Oscar Wilde was correct:

I should be feeling very flattered right now. And pretty great too.

Three weeks ago, I wrote a post about the mental health perils of the coronavirus lockdown, and encouraged you (and by “you” I mean the four readers of this blog… Hi Steve! Hi Jeanne! Hi Jacqui! Hi Tim!) to reach out to four acquaintances just to say ‘hi.’

The mental health crisis is the silent pandemic. What can we do when we’re still in lockdown? We can’t hang out with a bunch of strangers in a bar (unless you’re in Sturgis for the Harley Rally – anything goes!) But we can at least reach out to a few of our casual acquaintances. Whip out that smart phone, scroll through your contacts to find four folks with whom you haven’t connected in a while, and shoot each of them a quick text. Just to say howdy.

A really smart guy, three weeks ago

OK, now let’s fast-forward to yesterday (seems oxymoronic, but just stay with me here). Ryan Estis is one of the many “achieve your dreams” gurus making fat bank off corporate speaking and consulting gigs. (His website sayeth: Ryan Estis is a sales and leadership expert preparing companies and individual contributors to embrace change and achieve breakthrough performance.) And guess what he talked about in his weekly “Prepare for Impact” email newsletter yesterday? Pretty much the same damn things I covered three weeks ago:

  1. How the pandemic was creating a loneliness epidemic.
  2. Encouraging his readers to reach out to three people via text.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

Son of a biscuit-eater… Ryan Estis stole my idea!

Ryan Estis using his talons to grab the ideas of bloggers…

I’m not upset. I’m flattered… and now I realize I’m just a sport coat, a checkered shirt and a wireless mic away from being a “leadership expert.”

(I actually do like Ryan Estis’ stuff. Obvi – I subscribe to his newsletter. His most famous presentation is at the bottom of this post. )

Hey Ryan, hit me up in the comments, and I’ll let you know my home address so you can start sending royalties my way.

Cold enough for ya?

Snow belongs on ski slopes and Christmas cards… not in my driveway.

Ice belongs in cocktail glasses… not on the roadways.

People have the power… unless ice storms take down electric lines.

Don’t take it personally, Jersey Boys, but I’d be fine with just three seasons.

And for all you “if it’s going to be cold, it may as well snow” advocates, I’d like to gently remind you that 80-car pileups don’t happen in “cold” but they do happen in snow.

“But snow looks so pretty!” Yeah, for about an hour. Then the snow plows come along and turn it into a black/brown/gray slushy mess that makes every sidewalk a Slip ‘N Slide.

Hey, if you like snow so much, why don’t you move to Colorado? (Or Austin this year…)

I suppose if the Snowpocalypse is going to happen, it may was well be during pandemic, when we already have to shelter in place, go out only if necessary, and cover up when we do go out…

The struggle was real

Gather round, you young whippersnappers, and Grandpa’s going to tell you about the good old days when we had to struggle to listen to music.

I overheard some teenagers talking about how all their music is stored on McCloud. I don’t know too much about today’s technology, so I have no idea how they can store all their music on top of a fish-out-of-water law enforcement officer from Taos, New Mexico, on assignment in New York City, winning the begrudging admiration of his gruff, streetwise boss with a folksy approach to detective work, but that’s what the kids… Grandpa was talking, it’s impolite to interrupt… oh, alright, go ahead… Speak up! What’s that you say? Oh, it’s The Cloud not McCloud? Well, that still doesn’t make any sense.

Back in my day, we only had the radio and records. If you heard a song that you liked on the radio, and the Woolworth’s was already closed so you couldn’t buy the 45 rpm single, you had to wait until the radio station played it again.

If you were smart, you had your Realistic brand cassette recorder nearby, and you’d record the song right off the air.

If you didn’t know the name of the song or the band that played it, you had to wait until the DJ said the names, or ask your friends at school on Monday, because this is the only Shazam we had back then:

There was only one good radio station in every town, an FM station that played “album rock.”  But if you had an older used car as your first car, chances are pretty good that it didn’t have FM radio in it, so you had to buy something called an FM Converter and install it underneath the dashboard of your Dodge Cornet.

It’s probably a good thing there was only one rock station, because if you tried to tune in a different station on the FM Converter while you were driving, your car was sure to wind up in a ditch.

Eventually most cars came with FM radios, but there was no way to play your favorite albums in a car until the 8-track player came along.  

Meat Loaf rocks!

But since the songs on a two-sided album had to be spread out evenly across four stereo tracks on an 8-track, sometimes the tracks wouldn’t be in album order, and even worse, sometimes an 8-track would fade out right in the middle of a song. You’d hear a loud “ca-chunk!” as the player switched tracks, and then the same song would pick up where it left off. You kids probably can’t even imagine what a letdown that would be, if, for example, Peter Frampton was in the middle of his talk box part in “Do You Feel Like We Do” on Frampton Comes Alive, the song would sound something like this: “I wanna… CA-CHUNK… duck you!” (He didn’t say “duck” of course, I’m just cleaning it up for your virgin ears. Also, that Frampton song isn’t split up on 8-track, that would be an unforgivable sin. )

Oh, and if you missed your favorite song, you’d have to wait for the rest of the album to play through before you heard it again.

Then some smarty pants realized that we should have cassette players in cars instead of 8-track players. That was much better… even if your tape got eaten by the cassette player, there was still a chance you could rescue it with some Ticonderoga surgery.

But I’m still mad about the fact that on the cassette version of Led Zeppelin II, “Heartbreaker” and “Living Loving Maid” were on different sides. Good thing my high school buddy’s pickup truck had a cassette player with “auto reverse.” I became an expert at hitting the fast-forward button for five seconds and then hitting the “reverse” button to eliminate as much of the delay between those songs as possible.

I hear the kids talking about making a playlist by “drag and drop”… that’s how it worked in my day too. If you wanted to put together a mixtape, you’d drag your butt over to the Quasar stereo with the dual cassette deck, and drop in cassette after cassette of albums into the “playback” deck, laboriously cueing up your favorite songs just right before hitting “record” to transfer it to your Maxell blank tape in the “record” deck.

When CDs came along, it became easier to create a mix CD, but you still had to “rip” the album first, then “burn” it to a blank CD, and cross your fingers that the blank CD wouldn’t be a dud, useful only as a beverage coaster.

You kids and your streaming services and your satellite radio and your Bluetooth… you don’t know how lucky you are! Now get off my lawn, and don’t come back until I’m finished watching reruns of McCloud!

New year, same old you

Harry Shearer’s splendidly satirical radio program/podcast (he’s cross-platform!) Le Show does a great job pointing out the folly and foibles of humankind. His two-minute intro to the first show of 2021 made a great point about the silliness of a “brand new year”:

It’s so true – we put waaay too much stock into a single, solitary day on one particular calendar.

“Does the fate machine restart each time one of those flips a year?… We could just take the alternative path, resign ourselves to the ‘random now’…”

Harry Shearer

I love that phrase, “the random now.” Instead of making grandiose resolutions and year-long goals (most of which end up in the dustbin or collecting dust within a couple of weeks), just focus on the here and now. That way you won’t “break” your resolution irrevocably or feel like a failure.

Don’t take on the extra burden to create a “New You” in the “New Year.” The ‘year’ is arbitrary… the ‘you’ is always evolving, moment by moment.

Can you spot “Creed Bratton” from The Office in this band!

I wasn’t born yesterday

My birthday is New Year’s Eve. (My dad always liked to say I was a “last minute tax deduction.”) But on Facebook, my birthday is erroneously listed as New Year’s Day. Probably because my Facebook account was created without my knowledge or consent. Several years ago, my desk at work was in a “quad pod” with Jason, Navendu and Gopal. (Yes, I know, it sounds like the uber-nerds who kept getting shoved into a corner at the fraternity rush party in Animal House. )

Jason, Navendu and Gopal would always be talking about the latest Facebook happenings, and I’d be out of the loop. Blissfully so, I might add — I loved playing the cranky, technophobe, “get off my lawn” old man of the group.

But one day, as a practical joke, Gopal secretly set up a FB account in my name. (He even created a gmail account to set it up… it’s the gmail address I use to this day.) Then he, Jason and Navendu friended this account before letting me know that I actually was on Facebook.

I’m guessing Gopal just picked the default 1/1 as my birthday. When you’re creating a clandestine account (probably when I was sitting three feet away), you don’t have time for those details.

Every year on January 1st, I get several “happy birthday” notes from fellow Facebookers. They’re not only a day late, technically they’re an entire year late.

I probably should correct the date in my FB profile, but I’m not on FB enough to care… and part of me likes knowing that Marky Mark Zuckerberg and his Funky Bunch of Data Miners don’t know everything about me.

Plus, the fake date makes me look younger than I am.

Thanks Gopal!

Radio silence

My old radio boss is finally calling it quits on broadcasting. Gary Burbank was the last of his breed, a radio personality who did “theater of the mind” comedy sketches. Mel Blanc may have been called the “Man of 1,000 Voices” in Looney Tunes cartoons, but Gary probably did more voices than anyone else, including Mel. And unlike the current breed of “morning zoo” personalities, his bits were funny without being prurient and/or insipid.

Photo credit: The Cincinnati Enquirer/Michael E. Keating

Gary’s show was syndicated to multiple stations in the mid- to late-90s, which is when I was part of the cast and crew. I learned a lot from GB -about humor in general, about doing character voices, about comedic timing, about how to deal with freelance writers and how to organize a show. Every day was a new adventure. It wasn’t always easy, but the end result was always entertaining. In many ways it was a dream job for me, but I was born about 20 years too late to be able to make a decent living at it.

In 2007, Gary retired from his weekday afternoon radio show on WLW-AM (known as “the nation’s station” because as a 50,000 watt clear channel AM station based in Cincinnati, it would reach 38 states at night). He created dozens of indelible characters (a partial list is on this Wikipedia page) but the one who lasted the longest was Earl Pitts, a blue-collar, ‘murica-loving redneck. Even after he retired from his daily show, Gary continued to record Earl Pitts commentaries, which are syndicated and air on several stations around the country. Now, at 79, he’s finally calling it quits on Pitts.

logo from the official Earl Pitts website

Gary’s already in the national Radio Hall of Fame — deservedly so — and at this point in his life he’s certainly earned the right to call it a day. But it’s a sad day for radio, because they don’t make ’em like Gary anymore. The good news is, Gary is turning his attention to a podcast that will feature several of the characters he created. So we’ll still be able to hear his voice(s).

You can read more in this article from John Kiesewetter, formerly of the Cincinnati Enquirer and now with WVXU (the former Xavier University station!).

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