Tagged: observations

World Trade Center Sidebar: A Remembrance In the Round

When the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey decided to build the World Trade Center that meant the end of what was known as Radio Row on a Cortlandt Street. Radio Row was a string of musty shops that carried all manner of tubes and transistors and capacitors and resistors, circuit boards and knobs and cabinets from which radios and other electronic devices could be built or repaired.

Among them was an unexplained anomaly–a little shop that sold bowling stuff. It was there my father, who worked nearby, stopped in when the store ran its going out of business sale since Cortlandt Street was going to disappear. My father was an avid bowler and couldn’t resist the deal that was offered: new ball, custom drilled, with his initials engraved in it and a bag—10 bucks. Sold.

My dad used the ball for several years until his health faltered and bowling was just too much of a strain, so he gave it to me. My father was right-handed and that’s how the ball was drilled. I’m a lefty but the ball seemed to work just fine for me. I rolled my lifetime high game of 250 with it. Never again came close.

I still have the ball, the bag, and even the long-hardened little jar of sticky stuff you put on your fingers to keep the ball from slipping off. It stopped being sticky decades ago. When I bowl, that’s the ball I use. I love that my father’s initials on it. He passed on back in 2007, nine months before my mother.

It’s like he’s with me at the alley, exhorting me to line up with the dots, don’t cross the foul line, don’t loft or drop the ball—just roll it smoothly.

When my friends would ask me about the ball I’d always joke and call it the “World Trade Center ball,” because if they hadn’t demolished Cortlandt Street to build the towers the bowling store wouldn’t have had to run its going out of business sale and my father would never have bought it.

But ever since Sept. 11, 2001 the World Trade Center ball took on new symbolism to me. It reminds me of a time before the towers were built in the late 1960’s-early 1970’s. In an earlier post I recalled how I watched them being built during my lunch breaks when I held summer jobs in Lower Manhattan while I was in college. And now they were down. Not even 30 years old, just like many of the men and women who lost their lives when the planes hit them.

You know, when the Twin Towers were built New Yorkers hated them. They looked like two big featureless rectangles jutting up throwing the beautiful symmetry of Manhattan’s skyline. It was all wrong. The apex of the scene was always the Empire State Building, further uptown on 34th Street. It was centered, it was perfect. Now the picture was out of kilter.

Ironically, on 09/11/2001 the picture was out of kilter again. The World Trade Center was gone, the skyline the way it was before it was built. The way it was when Cortlandt Street and Radio Row and the bowling ball store were still there. Yet every day we wish those towers and the people who were in them that horrible day were still standing. What a much better picture that would be.

I don’t bowl much anymore but every once in awhile I’ll pull it out of the closet, take the ball out of that bag, look at my father’s engraved initials and wish both he, and those whose lives were lost in the buildings that stood where the old bowling store stood, were still alive.

Still Masked and Still Alive

Yeah, I’m still wearing my mask. So is the rest of my family. We’ve had our shots, we wash our hands, we keep our distance and some of us ingest sensible quantities of alcohol…as an extra precaution, and because we’re thirsty.

We still don’t eat inside restaurants, although we did eat lunch in a mall food court a couple of weeks ago on a weekday when there were maybe a dozen people there. We sat in the furthest corner of the space. Didn’t stay long. Dine and dash. Except we paid. We ate there because the paint we used to freshen our front door stunk and we needed to get out of the house for a bit.

The reasons for our ongoing masking are simple. For one, the notion of herd immunity has given way to heard impunity. Yes, we keep hearing members of a growing ilk refusing to believe the pandemic is actually not over and discard warnings about new variants that may challenge the efficacy of vaccines. Are we paranoid? Not at all. It costs nothing to be a little extra cautious. We’ve gone this long with being infected, masking up a little while longer is not an imposition. Besides, I’m not ready to die. I have like seven books I need to finish before I return them to the library and I don’t wanna leave the fines for my family to settle.

Second, I have a gut feeling people who have not actually received both shots are taking advantage of signs at businesses that say it’s OK to go maskless if you’re fully vaccinated. Why do I have that feeling? Because I’m a reporter and I’m a natural skeptic. I also believe there are a good number of people who have poor reading aptitude and think the signs say anyone without a mask receives a free rutabaga.

Thirdly, as I’ve written previously, I am quite sure many of those not wearing masks never wore one and are of the same idiotic ilk who refuse to be vaccinated. I firmly believe a good many still rally around the Stars and Bars of the Confederacy…an infamous symbol of yet another losing effort.

Finally, I’ve grown accustomed to using masks to both hide the bottom of my face and store a couple of Tic Tacs. The mask also makes me feel a little like a bandit and whose day wouldn’t feel a little better prancing around like a “bad boy” in the produce aisle.

How much longer will we continue to wear our masks? Not really sure. Maybe we’ll never stop. Since starting to wear them last year none of us have been sick or even had a sniffle. I’ve forgotten what it feels like to blow my honker in a Kleenex or end useless conversations by complaining of a sore throat. Nowadays I only cough to dislodge a cashew that wandered down the wrong pipe. It is fun when the nut is expelled and lands in my mask…so it can make another attempt at proper ingestion.

Now I’m not one to preach, so please don’t take this as my pitch to get you to keep wearing a mask if you feel secure enough to ditch it. Wearing a mask is a private and personal decision. All I know is I have a face-to-face meeting shortly…and I know just where to quickly find a Tic Tac.

News Conferences…Hate ‘Em…Need ‘Em

I’ve had a couple of weeks to think about this whole concept of news conferences after tennis star Naomi Osaka walked away from the French Open rather than face reporters at mandatory sessions. She revealed that for her news conferences are stressful, counter productive and amount to a legitimate mental health issue for her.

As someone who’s covered a bajillion news conferences over the past 47 years, I hate them too. Oh sure, they’re a necessary evil because it’s not practical to give reporters individual interviews in most cases, but sometimes they can amount to public showcases for individuals astute at the fine art of bullshitting, self-aggrandizement, lack of preparedness or pugnacious discourtesy…and that’s just on the part of those staging the event, let alone some journalists.

LAS VEGAS, NV – NOVEMBER 9: Mike Tyson talks with the media after he was defeated by Evander Holyfield for the WBA Heavyweight tittle at the MGM Grand Garden on November 9, 1996 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Holyfield won the fight with a TKO in the 11th round. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Perhaps the worst so-called news conference I ever attended lasted less than 30 seconds. We were called to Cleveland to hear from boxer Mike Tyson after he was released from serving time on a rape rap. He was to discuss his return to the ring. After cooling our heels for quite awhile in the bowels of what was known at the time as Gund Arena Tyson finally came on stage, in a half-whisper said he was glad to fight again and walked off. No questions, no nothing. Well…almost nothing. Wasn’t worth the plane ticket or the price of the crappy hot dog I ate while waiting for the former heavyweight chump.

So yes. That’s a clear case of a useless news conference because the very word “conference” infers a dialogue. This was barely a monologue.

Then there are the news conferences where some reporters appear to want to “share” knowledge rather than gather it. If you’re in the biz you know these people. They take an eternity to let the speaker know how much they already think they know about the subject before finally spilling a question.

On the auto beat there’s one longtime reporter whom I won’t name who has gained a decades-long reputation for such endless preambles. Indeed, at an event in conjunction with the New York Auto Show in the early 2000’s two executives of a major automaker played the roles of police officer and perpetrator to show off a new police cruiser.

They staged a fake chase in front of the press corps then suddenly stopped. Fake cop tells fake perp to put up his hands. Fake perp says, “no problem. I’ll do anything you want. It would be better than enduring a question from (reporter). The guy was in the crowd and enjoyed the notoriety. The rest of us got a good laugh. Comedy based in truth always hits home best.

One time I was actually the main speaker at a news conference and gained instant empathy for those who regularly stand at the business end of reporters’ questions. It happened in the 1990’s when I was one of three pool reporters for the in-prison arraignment of James Nichols, brother of Oklahoma City bombing perpetrator Terry Nichols.

I was joined by reporters from the Associated Press and a local newspaper. When it came time to decide who would brief the rest of the press I was drafted because as the the print guys said, “you’re CNN, TV. You don’t mind facing the cameras.” No, I don’t mind cameras. It’s people who give me the creeps. I gamely gave the top line facts of the proceeding then in a case of “back at ya,” I tossed it over the print guys for “more of the details.” This was not planned by anyone…but me. I was always a decent ad libber on camera.

Truthfully, I ended up feeling exhilarated after fielding some questions and not saying something stupid or wrong. It was a kick being quoted by CBS and others but I’d rather be the inquisitor.

Honestly, I hate to ask my best question during news conferences, especially if it was based on some information I had in hand that would give my place a competitive edge on a previously unexplored angle. Why give it to everyone else? In that case I would try to find a way to ask the question privately, but you can’t always count on that and you need an answer so sometimes you have no choice.

Look, I feel for Ms. Osaka if facing the media is stressful and unpleasant. A person’s mental health is a serious matter and should not be downplayed.

Unfortunately, professional sports is actually a form of show business where athletes’ stages are the field, pitch, court or ice. Tickets are sold and fan loyalties are stoked in part by news stories. That all can generate the millions athletes can reap from prize money, bonuses and endorsements. In other words, there’s tremendous demand for what an athlete has to say, even if it’s not especially enlightening.

For journalists, direct quotes offer depth, context and perspective to a story which adds to a richer experience for their readers or audience.

Perhaps some of the anxiety for those thrust into situations that demand presence at news conferences could be allayed by counseling or league-sponsored media training that includes realistic mock sessions using actual journalists. When I conduct media training sessions the strategy is to always put the trainees through an even tougher experience than they might actually face. Kinda like swinging a heavy bat in the on-deck circle so your real bat feels lighter when you’re facing a fast ball.

That, or know what you would be getting into before you decide to become a professional athlete or other high-profile profession, and choose another path to avoid the news conference blood sport.

Making Misbehaved 2020 Go Back and Get it Right

If 2020 was a kid we’d never let him/her get away with myriad of misbehaviors it exhibited over the past 366 days. No…we’d first have a long talk with the kid, make sure there’s an understanding of how badly they screwed up, then make the kid go back and correct those mistakes. If that fails, the errant child is grounded..in this case, the naughty year, meaning no new year for, I dunno, a year. 

You see, it royally ticks me off that 2020 is allowed to skulk into history without any sort of accounting or retribution. Is it fair to a world that has had to endure a deadly pandemic, loser’s tantrum from a roundly rejected POTUS and an all-too-soon ending to Schitts Creek? Sure…just tear off a page from the calendar, ball it up and toss it in the trash and that’s it? 

The parent in me says to order 2020 to think about its utter disregard for the health and well-being of the entire human race, then go back and do it right! No COVID, extend Schitt’s Creek another 10 seasons and send the sulking lame duck home…in silence. But that’s just for starters. Bring back all those lives lost to the pandemic, restore the businesses that went under, reduce Zoom usage to occasional meetings and family reunions or non-contact blind dates, and let our kids go back to school and workers back to the office…safely. 

Bring back hugs and visits that aren’t bisected by acrylic or glass barriers. Abolish pandemic-induced loneliness. Don’t bother restoring hand shakes. Those needed to go anyway. 

We love our sports, but not without the sounds of fans in stadiums and arenas cheering or booing or vendors hawking beers and peanuts. 

No matter how you feel about the presidential election, 2020, you need to go back and teach the loser to take it like a mensch and set an example for our kids that even if you fail, as we all do at some points in our lives, instead of pitching a fit, accept the outcome and move on. 

Of course my vision of forcing a major “do over” on 2020 is impractical since time is a one-way process. But I hope while 2021 was waiting to march in, it was watching and learning and listening…because we won’t accept another year like 2020 and there’s no option for a time out. 

So let’s hope the next 365 days offer the kind of healing and humility so sorely lacking in the previous 366, and the cast of Schitts Creek blesses us with a reunion, and perhaps a bebe.

Happy New Year everyone. I wish you all the best! 

Remembering Phil Niekro and Lessons of Retirement

Sporting News Photo

Every time I’ve thought about the concept of retirement, my thoughts would drift towards the great Atlanta Braves pitcher Phil Niekro. Those thoughts are especially vivid after hearing the sad news he passed away this weekend. 

Why Niekro? My wife and I were in the stands on Sept. 27, 1987 when he pitched in his last game. It was at the old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. CNN employees at the time were granted tickets to two Braves games each season because the company owned the team. Atlanta was as much in love with Niekro as he was with the city and team, for which he pitched for a quarter century. That’s why it hurt so much when the Braves released him in 1983. He ended up with the Yankees, Indians and Blue Jays for but longed to return to the Braves. When he was 48, the Braves, maybe feeling guilty for their premature jettisoning the pitching legend and fan favorite, offered Niekro the chance to pitch one last game as a Brave. 

It was the last game of the season for the non-contending Braves and we knew this would be it for Niekro regardless of the outcome. He started fine, but the game rapidly got out of hand against the playoff-bound San Francisco Giants. Then, in the third inning, Braves manager Chuck Tanner slowly walked out to the mound, put his arm on Niekro’s shoulders and told him he didn’t want him to be the losing pitcher. There was a long ovation, but it was over. A man’s life’s work done, and that always got to me. 

Throughout my working life I always thought what that would be like to punch out, walk away, say goodbye and never again do what I’d done for so many years. Would I be sad relieved, feel bereft, rudderless, miss the routine, miss the people, miss the work, become a pain in the ass to my wife who was used to me being away during the day, and many, many nights on the road? Did Niekro have those same thoughts as he took in the crowd’s long ovation wondering what the hell was next? 

It turns out, that when I retired in 2016 I had none of those thoughts. The truth is, I was glad to walk out of Fiat Chrysler’s Auburn Hills, Mich. headquarters for the last time. Oh, I would miss my wonderful team, because any success I had during my 11 years there I had because of them, their friendship and support. But I felt like I’d completed my task, Had many successes, overcame tons of challenges and more that anything, owed my family time I spent away chasing stories as a reporter and on business trips for the automakers. Bottom line is, I felt great. Swiped my badge for the last time, took a deep breath, called my wife and told her “we’re retired, let’s have some fun.” 

The one thought I never had, though, was that I would never again do the kind of work I always enjoyed. I love writing, and learning, and writing about what I’ve learned in both my careers as a reporter and corporate communications team leader. I just didn’t love doing it full time anymore and so I’ve spent the last four-plus years taking on some freelance work in both camps working as much or as little as I like. I don’t do it to make a living, I do it because it’s fun, stimulating and natural.  Indeed, Niekro continued to contribute to the Braves as a mentor, allowing him to stay around the game. 

No one put their arm around me as I spent my final moments working full time but I did enjoy a very heartfelt send off that I will always cherish and think about more than you might believe.  

But that day, July 28, 2016, when I left the building and headed for my car in the parking deck, I guess that’s sort of equivalent to the late Mr. Niekro walking off the mound heading for the clubhouse. Thoughts of what we both just left behind fresh and raw, but knowing neither of us was washed up. Sure, we walked away, but not too far. 

RIP Phil Niekro. 

It’s Time For the NFL To Pull the Detroit Franchise

Call it a coincidence but the Detroit Lions embarrassing whitewashing 20-0 to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday was exactly 57 years to the day Pres. John F. Kennedy was assassinated, thereby ending the idyllic era that became known as Camelot. It was also on that fateful day the franchise came under the sole ownership of the late William Clay Ford, ending the era of hope for Detroit Lions fans.

Since the Ford family took ownership of the team more than a half-century ago, the Detroit Lions, the City of Detroit and the National Football League have suffered unending embarrassment and futility. Indeed, the startlingly inept management of a lucrative franchise over such an extended period of time is more than enough justification for the NFL to invoke Section 8.13 of the league’s constitution and bylaws which states the commissioner can determine if an owner or any other official “has been or is guilty of conduct detrimental to the welfare of the League or professional football.”

While the rule is generally cited when seeking to punish a franchisee for a serious breach in personal behavior or business ethics, a more liberal construction of the rule would certainly include devaluing the NFL’s brand through an extended period putting forth a grossly inferior product through poor management decisions related to hiring team officers and coaches that led to boneheaded moves both on and off the field that make a mockery of the level of professional football expected by the NFL and Detroit Lions fans.

The closest the Detroit Lions have been to a Super Bowl came in 2006 when the big game was played in its building, featuring two other teams.

It hasn’t mattered which Ford has owned the team. After Mr. Ford passed away in 2013 ownership went to his wife Martha who talked a good winning game but in the tradition of Ford family stewardship hired a coaching staff that’s emulated even less success than another branch of the Ford family did with the Edsel. Martha Ford, in her 90’s, has now put the team in the hands of her daughter Sheila Ford Hamp. In her first year running the hapless show, the Lions suffered its first shutout in 11 years, to a team that had only two wins this season going into Sunday’s horror show.

Think about it. What if, for example, a McDonalds franchisee consistently served up rancid burgers and treated its customers like lepers? McDonalds would summarily pull the franchise and disassociate itself with someone whose actions threatened the company’s good name and reputation.

Detroit Lions’s customers, aka fans, have been served rancid burgers for almost two generations. Isn’t it time for the NFL to end its association with a perennially poor performing franchisee to protect its reputation and value of a team in a major market? We fans have been more than patient but with Sunday’s utter inability to exhibit even a hint of a professional football product the NFL must make its move.

Honestly, who wants to be served rancid burgers every Sunday?

Another View of Alex Trebek–The Game Show Thespian

I’m old enough to remember the very first day Jeopardy debuted with Art Fleming as the host. He was genial, mature and dignified, but there was no way I ever thought he knew the answers without looking at his cards–the way we thought Alex Trebek knew them.

Those who only knew Trebek as Jeopardy host don’t realize the way he convinced us all he was the smarted guy in any world was actually a master display of his genius as a thespian–playing the role of a game show host a million different ways to fit the game itself.

I first became aware of Trebek when he hosted High Rollers. He tossed ran the dice game like a seasoned croupier with his dark, curly bush of hair and suave, flowing mustache. He played the role perfectly, keeping the game moving, encouraging the contestants to go for it all while playing his rakish role in his own TV casino. 

At one point he actually ran three shows at once, but it was his time at Classic Concentration where I saw a completely different guy. He ditched the mandatory game show guy suit and tie, exchanging it for a much more casual look–sweaters in the cold weather, golf shirts when it was warm. Sporting a deeper tan and gold bracelet, the guy’s energy level was high, speaking more quickly and running down to the game board to explain each rebus. He’d even cozy up to some of the female players and they swooned at the handsome Canadian so close but lovely parting gifts and a sincere send-off away. 

On To Tell the Truth, Trebek did his best Bud Colyer, the show’s original host. Back to game show guy garb to match the mood of the show along with dialed down pacing. 

By the time he dropped all other shows in favor of Jeopardy exclusively, Trebek was ready for his greatest role. As he explained in his book “The Answer is…Reflections on My Life” his personal goal was not to call attention to himself but rather to make sure the players shined. He really never said a lot, acting more like a facilitator, keeping the game moving, encouraging players having a rough time and celebrating the successful ones. Yes, he came off a bit professorial conveying the false message that he actually knew the questions to all the answers, but man, that’s just how well he played his role. 

If there was one constant about Alex Trebek, no matter what role he was playing for each of the many game shows he hosted, honesty and sincerity were always prime ingredients of his performance. Indeed, those two qualities were who he was…and that wasn’t acting.  RIP Alex Trebek.

Playing By Baseball’s Numbers–My Personal Sabremetrics

Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash is being blamed today for making a bonehead move that probably contributed to his team’s loss in the World Series. You see, he pulled the team’s ace pitcher, Blake Snell  even though he was tossing a great game…surrendering to the endless babble of numbers, acronyms and abbreviations known as Sabremetrics…or as I call them….”WTFetrics” Cash just didn’t want Dodgers batters to get a third time at the plate against the guy, even though Snell was basically mowing them down.

As a lifelong fan of the national pastime I was content with knowing a batter’s average, a pitchers earned run average and other stats like how many homers a guy hit, bases he stole and runs he batted in.

I get that things have moved along and we now know esoterica that help managers, owners and players supposedly make better decisions on the field and off. Therefore, I’ve decided to go with the flow and adapt this development to my own life.

I started today at noon with my midday repast. As I lifted my ham sandwich to my piehole I asked my meal mate to take some video on their phones that I could later examine to better understand what I have designated my “Lunch angle.” Could I more effortlessly ingest my ham on rye by reducing the angle at which it enters my mouth? By  adjusting my lunch angle, I might be able to keep my mouth shut longer, thereby allowing me to listen to the gossip being offered before taking another sloppy, noisy bite. I love anything that improves cognition.

Another stat I find useful is how I measure and regulate complaining. I’ve set a hard and fast limit by establishing a firm Bitch Count. When I find myself getting too whiny, I cut myself off after four complaints within an 8-hour period. Then I engage in a self-enforced cool-down cycle by swilling two fingers of Jack Daniels on the rocks. The same goes for anyone I happen to be with. Hit the Bitch Count and you’re cut off–forced to join me for happy hour until you calm down. Could take several rounds.

The one baseball stat I find mind-numbing is OBP, or on-base percentage. Here’s now the pros figure it: On Base Percentage (aka OBP, On Base Average, OBA) is a measure of how often a batter reaches base. It is approximately equal to Times on Base/Plate appearances. The full formula is OBP = (Hits + Walks + Hit by Pitch) / (At Bats + Walks + Hit by Pitch + Sacrifice Flies)

In real life one can use a similar formula to measure a person’s inability to use tact or diplomacy or Obtuse Bile Percentage. The formula would be expressed thusly as: OBP= Swear words + Corporate slang + Inappropriate hand gestures / Text messages with angry emojis + Selfish demands + Supportive References to Sean Hannity. A perfect score of 1.000 wins the designation as PTB or Perfect Trump Boor.

My final example is the fascinating, yet polarizing stat known as the WHIF…or Wife plus Husband per Issues Fought. It’s fairly self-explanatory and is considered an important predictor of future evenings bereft of connubial connection.

That’s just a start but I’m sure by the end of the season I will have established a new benchmark for UNR  or Useless Numbers Referenced. Play ball!

Don’t Just #WFH…Make the Most of That “H”

Been reconsidering the hashtag #wfh—“work from home” and it spark something my late, great father always told my brother and I when we were kids. “Whatever you choose as an occupation, don’t choose a job where every morning the first thing you say to yourself is, ‘oh shit.’”

Both of us heeded that admonition and ended up in careers for which we have passion, skills, satisfaction and enjoyment. Since retiring, sort of, four years ago, I’ve been doing a few freelance gigs, for the most part, yep, #WFH. Now, during the pandemic, it’s all #WFH.

But here’s the deal. #WFH isn’t enough. I’m a firm believer those three letters should mean more than simply working from home. You see, if you’re just working from home, it’s just work. So permit me to offer some additional suggestions—ones I’ve been practicing no matter where I happen to earn a paycheck.

Work From the Heart: Love what you do and everything seems a little easier. The results will be a lot more satisfying too.

Work From the Head: That softball size pile of gray matter in your noggin’ isn’t technically a muscle, but if you don’t exercise it the results are the same—it just doesn’t function as well. So allow yourself the luxury of giving your brain a challenging workout and watch the great ideas, more logical reasoning and personal enthusiasm take you into the zone where it all makes sense.

Work From Humor: Sure, we are all faced with tasks and situations…and pain in the ass co-workers that can stand in the way of a great workday. Filter it out with a little bit of humor to neutralize the tough stuff. A good laugh, even to yourself, is good for your heart and mind. Your work will turn out better too.

Work From Handling It: You’ve got this. You’re in this job because you have the skills and experience to do it. Regarding of where you are physically, you should go into every task with the confidence you’ll succeed.

Work From Hell Yes!: I once had a boss with a thick accent and quite often had no idea what he was asking me to do. At first I’d say “could you please repeat that?” Well, that pissed him off. So I got in the habit of always saying “sure!” Then I’d run the conversation over and over again in my mind to see if I could divine exactly what my orders were. More often that not, my positive attitude carried the day and the boss was satisfied. Don’t get me wrong. It makes sense to be clear on your marching orders, but sometime just telling yourself “yes!” puts the rest of your mind and body in the right place to do succeed.

So there you go. #WFH all you like. It doesn’t just have to only mean “work from home.” That just happens to be where you’re sitting. Working from different mental and physical venues can keep you from waking every morning, thinking “oh shit.” In fact, you’ll feel better traveling that mental journey from “H” and back.

Like Brayden Harrington, I Spent My Life Working For A Flawless Voice

It’s been a few days but I can’t stop thinking about Brayden Harrington. He’s the brave young man who spoke during the Democratic National Convention despite his stutter. He appeared because he was encouraged, and given the confidence to overcome his speech impediment during an encounter with Joe Biden. The former vice president revealed to young Brayden that he, too, stuttered, and knew, through his own experience, it’s possible to sublimate it. 

Brayden has stayed with me because I spent most of my school years in speech clinics and with speech therapists attempting to rid me of my terrible lisp. Ironic, huh? A kid whose tongue couldn’t figure out how to articulate without spraying people with spit ends up in broadcasting…but it’s true.

I didn’t know I had a lisp until a visit to my father’s cousin Doris and her husband Lou when I was about 7 or 8. Lou was a cool guy who always had the latest electronic gadgets. He was the first person I knew that owned a TV with a remote control. He was also the guy to introduce me to what my voice sounded like to others, when he whipped out his shiny new tape recorder. 

I was appalled, and embarrassed by what I heard–a toneless drone where every s sounded like a th. The family thought it was funny, tormenting me by saying, “Hey Eddie, what-th goin’ on? It’s a nith thunny day day out thide!” Real funny. No wonder I avoided tape recorders for years. 

My grade school teachers quickly detected my problem and assigned me to weekly sessions in speech clinic. Was there really a way to rid myself of this embarrassment? Thanks goodness there was Mrs. Hohensee. Looked like a granny with wire rim glasses and braided gray hair piled on top her head, and an attitude that said, ‘kid, we’re gonna do this..together.” I attended speech clinic with Mrs. Hohensee for three or four years…every week. She’d hand me a little metal mirror so I could see what my tongue was doing. As we went through various exercises I saw my tongue less and less, but I wasn’t yet cured.

I was assigned speech clinic in junior high and high school and then I graduated believing I’d finally learned to properly articulate. 

The odd thing was I loved to be in school plays and was not shy about auditioning for lead roles or even singing parts. True. I played the Cowardly Lion in 5th grade and sang all the songs…I had the nerve! 

In high school, I had a part-time job as a stock boy in a department store, but when the “bargain broadcaster” quit, I forgot about my lisp and quickly volunteered to make the in-store sale announcements. There were no complaints until I was a wiseass and made the announcement, “Ladies….hop on this in-store sale on bras. If you don’t know your size, come up to the booth and I’ll measure you!” I was dis-invited to make the announcements for a week or so but the manager didn’t hold a grudge for long and some of the shoppers actually laughed…and bought bras…without taking advantage of the service I had offered.

One thing I had always known how to do was hide my New Yawk accent. I was brought in Queen and tawked like every New Yawkuh. During my freshman year at SUNY Oswego, in Central New York, I joined the campus radio station and wiped off my accent when I was on the air. But when I had to give a speech during my public speaking class, I got a little lazy and my prof…Kansas-bred Dora Lee Dauma, busted me and said I had to meet with the speech clinician until I got rid of my accent. Still a wiseass I shot back at her, “Ms. Dauma, there at 18 million people in New York State and 15 million of them (accounting for NYC and Long Island) speak like me…so who has the accent?” She wasn’t impressed. I’d get an incomplete in public speaking until any verbal vestiges of my home town were erased. 

When I met with the speech clinician I put on a show for him. Speaking naturally in New Yawkese, then the same passage without my accent. He sighed, then signed my release and Dora Lee Dauma had to admit defeat. I went on to a successful broadcasting career in radio and at CNN as a correspondent and anchor and was never once told I had an accent or a lisp.

In fact, the geniuses at CNN once took me off the air for a short while not because of how I spoke, but because I simply looked young for my age. Fake News! 

The fact is, a speech impediment is brutal. It can sap you of your confidence an self-worth, if you let it. Thank goodness for Mrs. Hohensee for her wisdom, encouragement and her little metal mirrors. I’m sure my future would have been much different without her. Just as I’m sure Brayden Harrington might not have had the courage to speak on the biggest public platform without the encouragement of his family..and Joe Biden.

It’s so important to speak with a strong voice, even if it’s technically flawed. As I’ve learned through my own experience, in the end it’s not how you say it, it’s what you say that matters the motht…er…most.