Category: Uncategorized

A Long Ago Tale of Fireworks Revenge

As I lay in bed last night attempting slumber, the sound of incendiary sorties shook my walls and led me to take cover as I imagined an errant rocket fired from a moron neighbor’s yard would soon crash through my window. Ah…tradition! Celebrating our nation’s day of independence by igniting expensive explosives made by Chinese children. Let freedom boom! 

Organized fireworks display? Love ‘em. Drunk neighbors challenging my otherwise long fuse? Not so much. It all reminds me of sweet revenge on just such a jerk I encountered as a kid back in Queens, New York.

We lived in a huge garden apartment complex called Glen Oaks Village. It still exists, although it converted to condos many years ago. One of the distinctive features of Glen Oaks Village is the number what they call “courts,” where a grouping of apartments surround an open space. Some are small, but the one next to our apartment, just outside a court, was huge–the largest in the massive complex. Running along the rear of the court was a line of apartments in a long row. 

On that particular July 4 in 1966 or 67, a guy named Spencer, who lived in of one of those apartments decided he was going to blow up stuff all night, much to the annoyance of every other neighbor. We had a history with Spencer. He was a 30-ish guy who prematurely lost his hair and, apparently, his mind, as he would chase us with his car when we attempted to play football on the court’s wide lawn. We didn’t like him. It’s not good for a guy if teenager don’t like you. 

Our little gang of pimply 15-year olds marched up to Spencer as he was about to light another fuse and told him he was an asshole and was annoying everyone. He laughed and challenged us to call the cops. OK. So we left, didn’t do anything, but came back a few minutes later and told him we did call the friendly NYPD and they’d be along shortly.

Spencer wasn’t a bright man and bought our ruse. He quickly stashed what was left of his cache of fireworks under the shrubs in front of his door and ran inside his house, but not before shouting at us, “they’ll never find anything! You kids are gonna get in trouble for filing a false report!” 

Once we determined Spencer was holed up for the night, we snuck up and stole his stuff from under the shrubs and hid it. The next morning, when Spencer thought the coast was clear, he planned to reclaim his stash from the bushes but, whoa! It was gone! Damn cops must have found, and confiscated it. Spencer was sad. Since, as I mentioned, he was an idiot, he never suspected us. But we weren’t done with Spencer since we had a more demonstrative revenge in mind.

Late that night, we returned with all his fireworks and waited until we were sure Spencer had turned in. We lit ‘em all up, took off like the bandits we were and got about 50 yards when the whole damn motherlode blew up right in front of Spencer’s door. We laughed our asses off when he ran out in his little PJ’s looking very distraught and confused. While laughing our mischievous asses off we yelled from our hiding spot, “guess you found them, asshole!” 

Spencer never bothered us again, and in fact, it wasn’t long before he moved..and sadly, left us no forwarding address. We were looking forward to Halloween. 

Lost in the Amazon

There’s trouble in Amazon-land and it’s not only holding my stuff hostage, but promising delivery of an item that’s already been delivered. Indeed, I know someone who works for the online sales behemoth and he confirms, “it sucks.” 

Now I’m quite aware all home delivery services are overworked thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic that’s kept so many people at home, for fear of encountering selfish and foolish cretins who refuse to wear a mask for fear of being identified as smart, considerate or a Democrat. 

Today’s Detroit Free Press, as well as a number of other news outlets, tells the story of an Amazon driver who was fed up with the workload and abandoned his delivery van full of packages.  The guy announced his, um, resignation on Twitter. He didn’t use nice language. 

Since I’m a semi-retired journalist, I won’t use that kind of language, but you can infer similar words when I relate my latest trip down the Amazon hellhole.

First, I order a CD. Go ahead, get it out your system, “Hello Boomer!” OK..don’t infer, accept my good natured, “fuck off.” Anyway, I keep getting notifications that it will arrive some time in July. That’s awesome. I actually received it two weeks ago. I wonder if I’ll receiver another one…just to share with another Boomer who may also still have an impressive collection of 8-tracks. 

OK..that one isn’t so bad. The one that’s hacking me off is my order for a new controller for my lawn sprinkler system. Yeah, yeah. First World problem. I ordered it on June 19th. Normally, even with Amazon’s slowest delivery option…aka “free” it doesn’t take more than a week. First I received an apologetic notice that it was “running late” and I could expect it this week…July 1. Then yesterday I receive another email giving me the bad news that “there is a delay in shipping some items from your order. We apologize for the inconvenience.” Aw…that’s sweet. The drone who wrote that must have been brought up with good manners. The bottom line, the “delay” amounts to basically an expected delivery a month from when I first ordered the thing. I’m glad I wasn’t ordering something more important…like a respirator…or Larry David edition of Mr. Potato Head. Maybe it’s on that guy’s abandoned deliver truck.

I know I’m not nearly alone in whining about my Amazonian experience. I know the U.S. Postal Service is under water as well and shipments are delayed due to huge volumes and understaffing. Honestly, a sprinkler system controller is not my idea of Chanukah in July, but you now how it is. Once you order something, you get anxious to receive whatever it is you wanted, even if it’s replacement vacuum cleaner bags. Hmmm…I need to order those too. Crap. …and those wet things you attach to a Swiffer…and a needle for my record player. No rush. 

A 40th CNN Reunion…in Boxes

I spent last night in a little box. I was in one of a thousand little boxes filled with faces of people with whom I once worked or who had worked in the same place as me at some point. It was billed as the CNN 40th Anniversary Virtual Reunion. Five years ago for the network’s 35th, we gathered in person and snacked on premium hors d’oeuvres in an Atlanta hotel ballroom while getting an up close look at how everyone’s aged, been preserved, thickened, thinned, dyed, dried, shrunk, grew, lost a step or lost their hair. 

On this night, through the miracle of Zoom and a Herculean effort by selfless CNN alumni who wouldn’t let a silly little pandemic spoil the party, we celebrated the network’s fourth decade.  

In the “gallery view” on Zoom it appeared as if this was the Brady Bunch open gone mad. I swiped through pages and pages of these little boxes trying to pick out familiar names with faces, in some cases, no longer familiar looking, but I was relieved to see my fellow relics still alive. 

I honestly don’t have much of a taste for reunions. I’ve never attended any for my high school or colleges, but I make an exception for CNN. You can say what you want about the network’s current programming, but as our former CNN president Tom Johnson implored us in one of the breakout chat room last night, “don’t bash the network in public.” But why would I? My 20 years there made everything possible after my employ there ended in 2001. The standards we held concerning accuracy, ethics, teamwork and unselfishness define who I am today. I’ve brought all those tenets to each of my subsequent jobs and to my life. 

We always say CNN is a family. Dysfunctional at times, chaotic at others, but always supportive, even after we’ve moved on. That’s because we know what we created. Before the media landscape changed with the advent of the internet, social media and the move by news networks to largely opinion and bullshit machines, we were all about telling stories…not just talking about them. I took great pride in my writing…still do. I wasn’t ever much of a TV personality and that was fine. But sending crews out to shoot, report and feed stories is expensive. Talking heads on a set to blab about stories is cheap and today cheap is good. The cost is the future of journalism–fairly and responsibly informing the public skillfully and effectively.

So it was fun to see old friends, even in little boxes, reminisce and trade some old war stories. For me, it wasn’t so much, though, to remember and embrace the “good old days,” but for us also trade the knowledge gained through our years at CNN and beyond, at some point you celebrate what we’ve accomplished together, knowing all that thinking outside the box brought us together inside them on this glorious night.

My Father’s Day Tribute to My Punning, Pranking Dad

My dad…Richard M. Garsten 1922-2007

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there. This is my 36th year as a dad and the 13th year since I lost mine. Oh no, we’re not gonna get maudlin. We’re gonna have some fun, because that’s what my dad was. 

Actually, he was sort of sneaky fun. Generally quiet by nature and not nearly as outgoing as my mom who aspired to sing and act on Broadway, but gave it up to raise me and my brother. Some trade, huh? She would have had a shelf full of Tonys. 

No, my father was sneaky fun in a few ways. He was a chemical engineer by trade–not a profession generally associated with yukking it up. “Hey Al, hear the one about the constricted pipe nipple?” But he was a master punster who both loved to hear them and let one loose. Whether he was delivering or receiving, at the punchline, he’d grab his throat and make a choking sound. That was sometimes misunderstood by folks out of earshot and at least one time a concerned citizen ran over about to administer the Heimlich Maneuver on my dad thinking he’d swallowed an olive whole. Poor guy. Not only didn’t he save my dad’s life, he ruined his punchline. 

What was the pun? Oh, my father’s absolute favorite mocking of country music. The set up was, “Oh, I hate country music!” His victim would always ask, “how come?” The reply/punchline was always, “They have stupid titles like (and he’d sing it like Hank Williams) ‘He fell down the sewer and they called it sewer-cide.” Hand to the throat. Choking sound made. Victim suddenly remembers he’s late for root canal…and looking forward to it. 

One think my dad absolutely hated was cigars. Hated how they looked in a guy’s mouth and despise their smell. Back in the 60’s it was OK for folks to smoke in other people’s homes and we had an impressive ashtray collection to facilitate their early grave. Cigarettes? OK. Pipes? OK. Cigars? No OK. One night when the weekly poker game was at our house one of the players decided to fire up a stogie. My dad had laid down the ground rules many times, so he felt no need to repeat them. Instead, he simply whipped out a fat rubberband, made it tight around his fingers, and shot the cheroot right out of the guy’s mouth. The shocked guy knew he done wrong. All he could say was, “shit, I forgot the rule, but you could have just asked me to put it out.” Nope. My dad knew how to make a memorable moment…and his point, without uttering a word. 

Speaking of making his point wordlessly, that same guy who broke the no-cigar rule turned out, after awhile, to be quite the asshole and the guys wanted to kick him out of the game. They didn’t relish the confrontation so my father, ever the brilliant one, again came up with a way to send the message without getting into what would likely be an unpleasant verbal exchange. 

He shared his plan with the boys, whom he had arrive a little earlier than usual. When the jerk arrived at the usual time, he was greeted just outside the door to our apartment with 7 guys armed with seltzer bottles who drenched him in bubbly water. We never saw him again…and not a word was spoken. Told you. My dad was quiet.

I miss him every day and memorialize him by taking out my gee-tar and singing his “favorite” country song, afterwards reaching for my throat and making that choking sound. Oh, I’d never perform it in public. Would be professional sewer-cide. 

The Face Mask as Rebel Flag

It’s heartening to see display of the Confederate flag being given the improper burial it deserves along with other symbols of the former Confederate States of America—a group of states with people who believed in enslaving other human beings who were ripped from their native land, shipped across the ocean like cargo and put to work against their will. Just a simple exercise of “states rights.”

Yeah, yeah..I lived in Georgia for eight years. Attended the Stone Mountain laser show where disciples of Lee, Jackson (the Stonewall variety) and Davis yahoo in reverence to the men who led the CSA to utter defeat, but remain in high regard to many as symbols of southern culture. You can yank down monuments to these losers but you can’t really level Stone Mountain, which, by the way, is an excellent park.

In 1987 I covered for CNN a civil rights march in Cumming, Ga., about 30 miles north of Atlanta. On the day before the march I spent the day with Curtis Sliwa, founder of the Guardian Angels who came over from New York City to help, er, contain things because trouble was expected from a group of militant white racists. The Guardian Angels were not welcome by the local PO-lice and some obviously racist residents. When I asked Sliwa about that he said, “We were treated like hemorrhoids!” Such a charming New Yawk thing to say. (see video)

On the day of the march while waiting to do a live shot, I was also treated with the respect of a bulging butt growth as some fine gentleman wearing the Stars and Bars decided to welcome me to the proceedings by launching a soda bottle filled with sand directly at me. Now that’s a hearty Jaw-Jaw howdy! I narrowly avoided the projectile and those that followed. Then I had to shake my head. That’s one reason you idiots lost the war. Couldn’t hit a standing reporter from 30 feet.

Over the years, including this one, I’ve heard repeatedly that shhheeeeeeet…the Confederate Flay-ag represents Southern culture, and our rights as Amuricans. No it doesn’t. It represents bigotry, hatred and the losing side in a horrible war. By the way…that’s not Southern culture. I love Southern culture—the culture of courtesy, warmth and foods that’ll kill ya but are second to none in taste and satisfaction. When I was transferred up to Detroit in 1989, by my request—it was a promotion—I missed Atlanta and Georgia very much. Well, except for the 24/7 gridlock. But everything else. In fact, before the transfer, we were looking to move to a larger house as our family grew.

Still, there’s a stubbornness among those who cling to the Confederacy and that same mule-headedness has now manifested itself among those who refuse to wear a face mask. We’re not wearing them because someone is throwing a global masquerade party. We’re wearing them to keep ourselves and others from dying. Yet when you ask someone to put one on the reply is rarely, if ever, “oh, sorry. I forgot.” OR “Ooops..left it home. My mistake.” No. The retort is “It’s my right not to wear the damn thing…and it’s uncomfortable and hot.” OR “Mind your own effin’ business. It’s my decision.” What is wrong with you? Have not enough people become ill or died because of COVID-19? Got news for you.. only characters in Marvel comics have superpowers. But we all have the power to contain this viral bastard, saving ourselves and others.

Wearing a face mask isn’t foolproof, but it’s an honest effort to do the right thing—an easily accomplished act of decency and unselfishness.

Oh by the way…your “rights” don’t mean shit…if you’re dead. Just like the Confederacy… and just as useless.

The Face Mask as Rebel Flag

It’s heartening to see display of the Confederate flag being given the improper burial it deserves along with other symbols of the former Confederate States of America—a group of states with people who believed in enslaving other human beings who were ripped from their native land, shipped across the ocean like cargo and put to work against their will. Just a simple exercise of “states rights.”

Yeah, yeah..I lived in Georgia for eight years. Attended the Stone Mountain laser show where disciples of Lee, Jackson (the Stonewall variety) and Davis yahoo in reverence to the men who led the CSA to utter defeat, but remain in high regard to many as symbols of southern culture. You can yank down monuments to these losers but you can’t really level Stone Mountain, which, by the way, is an excellent park.

In 1987 I covered for CNN a civil rights march in Cumming, Ga., about 30 miles north of Atlanta. On the day before the march I spent the day with Curtis Sliwa, founder of the Guardian Angels who came over from New York City to help, er, contain things because trouble was expected from a group of militant white racists. The Guardian Angels were not welcome by the local PO-lice and some obviously racist residents. When I asked Sliwa about that he said, “We were treated like hemorrhoids!” Such a charming New Yawk thing to say. (see video)

On the day of the march while waiting to do a live shot, I was also treated with the respect of a bulging butt growth as some fine gentleman wearing the Stars and Bars decided to welcome me to the proceedings by launching a soda bottle filled with sand directly at me. Now that’s a hearty Jaw-Jaw howdy! I narrowly avoided the projectile and those that followed. Then I had to shake my head. That’s one reason you idiots lost the war. Couldn’t hit a standing reporter from 30 feet.

Over the years, including this one, I’ve heard repeatedly that shhheeeeeeet…the Confederate Flay-ag represents Southern culture, and our rights as Amuricans. No it doesn’t. It represents bigotry, hatred and the losing side in a horrible war. By the way…that’s not Southern culture. I love Southern culture—the culture of courtesy, warmth and foods that’ll kill ya but are second to none in taste and satisfaction. When I was transferred up to Detroit in 1989, by my request—it was a promotion—I missed Atlanta and Georgia very much. Well, except for the 24/7 gridlock. But everything else. In fact, before the transfer, we were looking to move to a larger house as our family grew.

Still, there’s a stubbornness among those who cling to the Confederacy and that same mule-headedness has now manifested itself among those who refuse to wear a face mask. We’re not wearing them because someone is throwing a global masquerade party. We’re wearing them to keep ourselves and others from dying. Yet when you ask someone to put one on the reply is rarely, if ever, “oh, sorry. I forgot.” OR “Ooops..left it home. My mistake.” No. The retort is “It’s my right not to wear the damn thing…and it’s uncomfortable and hot.” OR “Mind your own effin’ business. It’s my decision.” What is wrong with you? Have not enough people become ill or died because of COVID-19? Got news for you.. only characters in Marvel comics have superpowers. But we all have the power to contain this viral bastard, saving ourselves and others.

Wearing a face mask isn’t foolproof, but it’s an honest effort to do the right thing—an easily accomplished act of decency and unselfishness.

Oh by the way…your “rights” don’t mean shit…if you’re dead. Just like the Confederacy… and just as useless.

Haircuts Are Back-My Follicle Follies

You would have thought our governor announced free six-packs of Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale for all on Friday. I, personally, would have appreciated that very much, since I’m down to my last few and they’re going fast. 

No, the collective jubilation heard ‘round the Mitten was her declaration that we could all…after everything we’ve gone through over the past few months…after suffering through a terrible pandemic, mindless searches for toilet paper, avoiding human contact and appreciating the wonders of curbside pickup and Grubhub…..can finally get our hair cut! 

For the stylists, barbers and salon owners who have endured months of financial disaster, I’m thrilled. For those who have simply suffered blows to their vanity, get over it. It’s just hair. If someone only appreciated you, lusted after you, respected you only because you were stylishly coiffed, snip them out of your life! Give ‘em the brush off! I’d chase ‘em with a blow dryer and muss up their locks while shouting, “your hair sucks! We’re through!” 

Personally, I just don’t care. I own an impressive collection of ball caps that match the colors and styles of just about anything I choose to wear. Bad hair day? No problem. Pop on a top with the logo of my favorite team or car brand or place I’ve visited. I have an especially tacky one I acquired years ago while covering a story at the Ontario Tobacco Growers warehouse. It’s not only ugly, it offends anti-smoking types. I’m not a smoker, but I do like lighting up prissy puritans once in awhile. 

When I worked as a TV reporter I was forced to pay close attention to my hair. It wasn’t always bad. The TV station where I worked in Tucson, Arizona paid for our haircuts. They had a deal with a salon located in beautiful old house and my assigned stylist was gorgeous. It was a nice change from our previous salon run by a crazy woman who often ran out to her car in the middle of a styling, apparently to huff a white powder. She wielded her Conair blower like a Glock when she returned and when we informed the station we would no longer sit in her chair like sitting ducks they thankfully moved us to the much nicer place where none of the stylists potentially faced arrest. 

By the time I worked my way up to CNN, the network merely reimbursed us for our haircuts since the on-air folks were strewn around the world. At first I was lucky enough to find a young lady who was quite talented and that lasted for a year or two until she got married and quit. I looked around for someone new and was referred to a stylist who was quite experienced and received positive reviews. Things went well for a bit until she experienced “man problems.” For the entirety of my styling she’d go into a rage about men, her man, how men suck, how she’d like to kill all men. Given she was holding very sharp scissors and I happened to be a man I was not, in the least, relaxed. I finally just stopped using her and moved on. 

That was better until the new stylist said she only wanted to work one or two hours a week and none of those hours coincided with any of the hours I could come in. 

At that point I honestly didn’t care anymore. I visited my nearest Fantastic Sams. Didn’t care who I got. Waiting like everyone else. Got someone different almost every time. Got a fine haircut almost every time. No rage, no threats, no problem. Then the shop owner decided Fantastic Sams franchise fees or whatever were too expensive so she went out on her own. Best yet. Independent owner, talented stylists, 12 bucks plus tip for an excellent shearing. Sometimes they speak English, sometimes they don’t. Don’t care. They speak the common language of “follicle.” Been going there for a decade. I’ll be happy to return. 

But meanwhile, my hair has been silently growing, thankfully covering the thinning bald spot on the back of my head. I’ll miss my mop when it’s cut. I may even grow it back. I just hope the same stylists return to my favorite place. I have nightmares I’ll get in the chair and looming down over me with sharpened scissors hovering over my ears is the man hater raging about how I walked out on her all those years ago. Snip Snip. Oh shit. No tip. 

The Pandemic Ice Cream Index

maskedconesHas it happened to you or a family member yet? So far we’ve escaped, but others are not so lucky–and it’s causing longer, slower lines at neighborhood ice cream and custard stands as well as testing the patience of hardworking scoopers and shake makers.

It happens to all of us at one time or another, but since things have gradually reopened during this pandemic, I’ve been an eyewitness to a new degree of the inability to accurately convey a preference. It’s a malady I can only blame on months of being holed up at home, separated from society without the need to make any big decisions–most notably, regarding frozen desserts.

I present to you a few recent actual events as evidence.

zipdipI’m in a properly socially-distanced line at a neighborhood ice cream stand…much like those in the photo above.  At the front of the line is a guy who, let’s just say, looks like he comes here often. I can’t hear him order but the efficient worker quickly brings him two shakes. NEXT! Right? Nope. The guy kinda gives the two cups a confused look and asks, “are these mediums?” The attendant replies there are, in fact, smalls. “Aw, sorry…I wanted mediums.” The attendant apologizes and goes back to whip up two larger shakes. Meanwhile the line is getting longer and you figure when the attendant returns with the two medium shakes our guy will be satisfied. Heh. All this quarantining has his mind completely addled. “Uh…jeez…sorry again.” The attendant appears to be feeling around in his pocket for something–perhaps the cyanide capsule he’s hidden in his apron for such an occasion. “Yes sir?”  “Uh, didn’t I also order two medium twist cones?” “No sir, you didn’t.” “Aw shit, sorry. Could ya do those too?” The cyanide is looking better all the time. He dutifully makes the two cones but that’s NOT GOOD ENOUGH. “Aw, man. Could ya turn ‘em upside down and put ‘em in cups?”  Nah..cyanide is fast, but not fast enough. The attendant gathers himself and returns with the two, now, upside down cones duly placed in cups. Mercifully, the customer accepts them and leaves.

By now, with those waiting standing six-feet apart, the line is roughly 50 feet long and up to the counter steps a skinny codger with a scraggly white goatee. I tell my son, “this guy’s trouble.” Father knows best. Customer places his order. “I’d like two small chocolate cones.” Easy. Not easy. Attendant still recovering from the last customer quickly comes back with two chocolate cones.  “Aw, crap. Jeez.” Attendant starting to take on that 1000 yard stare. “ I really wanted TWIST and not just chocolate.” Attendant disgustedly dumps the two chocolate cones in the trash, and remakes the guy’s two cones. Hands them to him without a word. Customer endures hard stares from those in line and submits to the walk of shame back to his car. We all hope the cones melt before he gets there.

My turn at last. The attendant is wary. He’s thinking, “oh shit, another old guy who looks like a Rocky Road short of his 31 flavors.” I pick up on this. I order. “Two small cups of vanilla and one SMALL twist cone.” I see the doubt on his face. I smile, and add, “and that’s my final answer.” He laughed. I laughed. I paid and left. The crowd applauded.

One day this will all be over. Our minds will recover, and it will be safe to once again order frozen desserts correctly.

When A Graduation Goes Awry..And You End Up Dry

VBphotoI hadn’t planned on watching Graduate Together last night but I stumbled on it an stayed with it. I’m glad I did. I feel terrible for all the seniors who have missed out on all the things that make senior year fun and memorable. As I watched I thought back to a couple of my senior years and remembered, sometimes even when there’s no pandemic, getting to the finish line can have it’s unexpected moments.

First…I present to you my embarrassing photo from Futura ’69…yearbook for Martin Van Buren High School Class of 1969, Queens Village, New York. Full disclosure, our high school team name was lame…the VeeBees. Get it? We instilled fear in no one.

Of course, being pimply teenagers we thought we were pretty hot shit being from Class of ’69…oooooooohhhhhh 69! So ready to take on the world… if the world was populated primarily by oversexed 18 year olds. I was only 17 and severely undersexed. I achieved high school graduation at an earlier age because I scored high enough on a test in 6th grade which allowed you to skip 8th grade. It was cool to go from 7th to 9th grade except pissed off 8th graders always wanted to punch you during lunch.

FuturamaSenior year was eventful. It was during the Vietnam War and students were active in protesting it. Some of the more “radical” kids pasted anti-war stickers on street light posts with little explosives under them. If you tried to remove the stickers you might get burned.

Another set of students were a bit more obtuse. They set off a larger explosive in one of the administrator’s offices. That move cost us our senior trip to Shea Stadium to see the Mets.

It’s important to point out our school was hugely overcrowded–5,300 students on triple session. Seniors had the best schedule–early session. If you could manage to drop lunch, you were in by 8 and out by noon..plenty of time to take a part time job, or screw off the rest of the day. Sophomore had it the worst–late session. In at 12:30pm out at 5:15pm. During the winter it was dark when you got out. Upside, you could either sleep in or attempt to complete your homework in the morning because by the time you got home the night before it was time to watch TV.

So you can see that the run up to graduation was already fraught with unpleasantness. We did have a prom but I didn’t go. Let’s just say my acne would have been an impressive gameboard for connect the dots. Not exactly a chick magnet.

Our graduating class, as you can imagine, was also oversized–1,735 students. You could be 500th in the class and still be considered not so dumb. By the time graduation day arrived the sheer size of the class, combined with the weather, conspired to turn the planned pomp and circumstance into a frantic “run for it!”

You see, the top VeeBees decided to hold our graduation outside–at a bandshell in leafy Forest Park. Beautiful venue on a beautiful day. This was not a beautiful day. As we sat listening to the first remarks from our principal very dark, scary clouds moved in. The wind picked up to the extent we thought via the benefit of our mortar boards we would shortly take flight.

This did not go unnoticed by the principal who decided to call an audible, which was interesting since Van Buren High School was one of the few NYC high schools not to have a football team.

He looked at the sky, then gazed upon the 1,735 graduates, their parents and siblings and thought about how freakin’ long it would take to call out each of our names, have us traipse onto the stage and return to our seats. There was no way possible before the skies would open and, two months before Woodstock, we would be slopping in mud.

Suddenly, the principal made the call declaring “move your tassels over to the left. You’re all graduated! Now…quickly head to a picnic table located in the rear where your diplomas are in envelopes in alphabetical order. Good luck! Bye! Hurry!”

And so went the the Martin Van Buren High School Class of 1969 into the world. We just beat the rain, prepared for whatever storms life would toss us in the future.

This is how I looked four years later at in my college yearbook. My parents refused to display it. Oswegophoto

Those Uncomfortable First Days

firstday

While we’re all waiting for the world to spin back on its axis and people aren’t getting sick or afraid of breathing in public, I thought it might be fun to kill some time thinking back to one of life’s most uncomfortable episodes–that horrible first day on the job.

You know how it is…you don’t know where anything is, everyone in the office is giving you the eye wondering if you’re OK or a jerk or if you’re gonna try to steal their job or be an ass-kisser or slacker. Your main challenge is delicately asking where the washroom is and where the office supplies are hidden. Some wiseass gives you directions to the washroom, but after you memorize every turn and finally find the door as you’re about to explode, you discover the schmuck didn’t add that you need a key to enter. Sound familiar?

I’ll start with a couple of my most memorable/horrible first days, and then I invite you to join the fun by adding yours in the comments.

egcnnanchorThe date was November 30, 1981. My first day at CNN in Atlanta. I was hired as one of the first producers to launch their second network which was known at the time as CNN2. It later morphed into Headlines News and now HLN.

I had been working as a producer, reporter, anchor at KGUN in Tucson, Arizona. If you know anything about Arizona, it’s extremely laid back. No one gets dressed up, much. Especially producers.

Well…I saunter into the crazy, busy CNN headquarters on my first day figuring I’d wear my “producer clothes.” In Arizona that meant casual pants, an open-necked button down shirt and comfortable shoes. Psych. I look around and everyone else is wearing serious business clothes. Women wearing dresses. Men in dress shirt, ties, jackets, polished, black shoes. I’m already marked as a rube from out west. My boss kindly takes me aside and whispers, “you may have noticed there’s a bit of a dress code.” Well..yeah…would have been nice if someone told me in advance. But that wasn’t the worst thing about my first day. That would happen momentarily.

The boss said we should go out onto the newsroom floor and learn how the national assignment desk worked. So I go up to the first guy I see on the desk. He’s a big, balding, bearded volcano about to erupt. I introduce myself and ask if he could take a moment to explain how things work. Cue the eruption.

“YOU WANNA KNOW HOW THE FUCKIN’ DESK WORKS! WATCH THIS!!!!,” he screams at me. He picks up the tie-line to the DC bureau and starts screaming at the producer on the other end using the most vile language one could muster. This goes on for about 20 seconds. He slams down the phone, glares at me and screams, “THAT’S HOW THE FUCKIN’ ASSIGNMENT DESK WORKS. NOW GET THE FUCK OUTTA MY FACE!!!!”  I took that as a most instructional lesson, took my leave and, you know, I never got the guy’s name or saw him again, which was just fine. Boss later asks me if I got the lay of the land on the national desk. I told him about the “guidance” I was given and just grinned, replying “yeah, that’s pretty much how it works.”

garstenLAautoshow1First day number 2. August 23, 2005. My first day at what was then DaimlerChrysler and now Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. It was my first corporate job. Hired away from The Detroit News to ghost write and manage a blog for the head of corporate communications. Cool job.

I’m led up to the sixth floor PR offices at corporate HQ and plopped in my new boss’s cube for all the first day stuff. First thing I was told was to look at my new badge.

“See your badge? It’s green. That means you’re a contractor not a REAL employee. REAL employees have blue badges.” I feel welcome already. Then the next indignity.

“Come with me. Let’s look out the window. You see those parking decks close to the building. You can’t park there. Those are for REAL employees. See that surface lot..somewhere beyond the horizon? That’s where contractors park. So that’s where YOU park. It’s not too long a walk…except when it’s raining, snowing or the wind is howling. Then…it sucks. Welcome to the company!!”

I became a REAL employee about 13 months later but always hid my blue badge. It was out of consideration for the other green badged contractors who were still trudging into the office from the corporate back forty. They would also call me bad names.