Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Monday, December 31, 2012

Like A Virgin

A few weeks ago, NPR interviewed Sir Richard Branson, who has written a new book, aptly titled Like a Virgin: Things They Won’t Teach You in Business School.  Listening to him speak about the book and his career, I was vividly reminded of an opportunity I had several years ago to listen to him for the better part of an hour, when he spoke as one of the American Dental Association’s Distinguished Speaker Program at their annual conference.

Although I have heard several distinguished persons as part of that recurring series including, Madelyn Albright, Colin Powell, Sidney Poitier, Bill Cosby, Rudy Guiliani and most recently, George Will, Sir Richard was one of the most memorable.  Part of the reason for that was the complete confidence of the man.  Confidence gained through both success and failures.

He came from a comfortable life with private schooling, made somewhat difficult because of dyslexia.  When he was sixteen, he started a newspaper and did quite well with it, using it as a vehicle to popularize songs he was pushing through a fledgling record company.  That record company would eventually define the man and his business acumen.  A fellow student, working with him suggested that because they were all novices at business a good name might be Virgin Records.  And that, as Paul Harvey used to say, is “The rest of the story.”

I’ll skip the “begats” of the Virgin Empire and settle for providing you a link to Wikipedia, should you wish to explore that further.  His enterprises are certainly a work-in-progress.  As I write this, Virgin America has changed significantly in his stake in the company.  While I have yet to read his book, I am sure that the unconventional approach he takes to problem solving and his strong belief that before you start a business you should be trying to solve a problem that is meaningful to you, are keys to “Things They Won’t Teach You in Business School.”

When he spoke to the ADA he had yet to embrace his adventurous side: the search for speed in Formula 1 cars, ships, hot air balloons, and his more recent descent to the bottom of the sea.  Space interests him and he has plans to make commercial travel practical.  What I heard at the Meeting was his pride in developing Virgin Records, his pride in growing the airline that his friends told him he had no knowledge of, and his confidence that his venture into rail traffic in Great Britain and beyond would be equally as successful.

He disavowed an interest in solving the U.S. rail problem, suggesting that we were not yet at the “trying to solve a problem” phase. I found it interesting that he didn’t confess that many of our rail problems came because we started by using an English model, including the gauge of our tracks, which I am told trace their origins back to the Roman cart paths of Great Britain.

Considering why the ADA chose Sir Richard as a speaker, I think his image: that of a wide-eyed, out-of-the-box thinker who is willing to take responsibility for his own success or failure appeals to the image that the ADA thinks is their representative membership.  I am unsure if that is an accurate picture of the present dentist, particularly those coming out of school today; burdened with $250,000 or more debt, seeking security, dependent in many cases on the Corporate World, at the expense of their independence. But, even if inaccurate, it is a nice image and may serve to inspire our dentists to heights otherwise unattainable.

jonathan Goldsmith
It seems to me that the advertising agency that developed the Dos Equis commercial with “The Most Interesting Man Alive” may have cast the actor in the commercial with an eye to an image set by Sir Richard Branson.  There certainly is a resemblance, and I’m sure Sir Richard wouldn’t shy away from the coincidence.  I know Jonathan Goldsmith would not.

In my next post I’ll relate a story about Paul Harvey and how he affected my life when I was in college.  Stop on by.

Monday, December 24, 2012


Mary and I belong to several museums and actually go to most of them at least once a year.  One of our favorites is The Bowers where we recently saw a very unusual exhibit.  There are several reasons we like The Bowers:  it is local, in Santa Ana, usually a short, twenty-minute ride, even in Southern California, it is small and most exhibits can be seen in about an hour, there is a nice mixture of exhibits, some featuring antiquities, some historical, some topical, all appeal to a variety of ages and interests.  Until recently, we also had a friend who was a Docent, which gave our visits a sense of personal attention.

The museum also changes its attractions on a regular basis, making it easy to find something new and memorable.  For instance the Faberge exhibit, which we saw last summer, will change in January.  And the one we saw last week, at a Member’s Preview will only last through March.

This is a shame!

The Dutchess
It is titled “Cut” and my initial expectation was that it would be a fun blend of the film industry, of which I am an aspiring member, and costume design, a field I know little about.  I expected that it would be similar to exhibits I’ve seen in the past: Colonial attire, Court Dress of France and England, and even styles of the ‘50s.  Instead, it was a surprise from the lecture by Holly Poe Durbin, who conveyed a surprising amount of knowledge about costume design, which is her field in the Drama Department at UCI, through the actual exhibit of forty-three costumes worn by thirty actors in 25 different films.

Johnny Depp
In her informative and entertaining presentation, Professor Durbin demonstrated the painstaking efforts that go into not only matching the period of the film, but also the character interpretation the actor chooses to play the role.  She mentioned, for instance, that Johnny Depp wanted one of his costumes in Pirates of the Caribbean – The Black Pearl to have souvenirs from his conquests, since he felt his character would have that degree of ego and showmanship.  Sure enough, when we saw the exhibit we could pick out no less than a dozen relics melded into the costume design.  The other fact that was a surprise with the two Depp costumes we saw was how rigid they were, being true to the materials of the time (no synthetic cloth), at the expense of easy movement in the action scenes.

One of the more interesting things I learned from the lecture and exhibit was the presence of an English company called Cosprop, Ltd. It was established in 1965 by John Bright, who would go on to do costumes for, among other films, Howard’s End and A Room with a View.  He and his co-designer Jenny Beavan knew how much work went into the detail of providing the right material and design for period films and felt it a shame to chalk up the expense of construction as sunk costs for the film.

So, working with Merchant Ivory Productions they developed a business model that would allow the leasing of the costumes for the film, and storage of them for subsequent showings at museums around the world.  Cosprop now houses more than 100,000 costumes, mostly in or near London and at any given time have dozens of collections similar to what is at the Bower at any one time. One avenue for bringing a display to a museum is through ExhibitsDevelopment.  Funding for the Bowers display came from the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, East West Bank, Mei-Yen Chang, and Coca-Cola.  Richard Chang, writing in the OC Register did an excellentarticle, if you would like to explore the exhibit in more detail.

In any event, I would recommend a visit to The Bowers before the exhibit closed in March.

My next post will focus on a contemporary larger-than-life figure, Sir Richard Branson and why he is currently in the news.   Please join me in about a week.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sell-By Date

Although I think I can honestly say that I pay attention to the homily delivered at my weekly church service, it is somewhat less common for me to ponder an original thought that may come from the sermon. Recently I did just that.  I heard a new concept and actually gnawed on it for the better part of the next week.

The thought?  We all have a “sell-by” date, before which we are supposed to use the talents we have been given for the good of others,  and have the responsibility of working with those without knowing when our “use-by” date will come, essentially not knowing when we will die.

I think I was a late bloomer for my “sell-by” date, pushed to the back of my shelf by being self-centered, and lacking the maturity to feel empathy.  This, in spite of priding myself in college for knowing the Spanish words, “Alma Tu”, which loosely translates to “I share your soul.”

It wasn’t until several years of sharing a marriage and the introduction of two other lives into our lives that I began to appreciate the effects my actions might have on others’ lives. I tell a story of being at a Dental Meeting social occasion when Mary and I were approached by a sales rep, who used to be one of my technicians.  Through with the small talk, he excused himself, but not before saying, “I want you to know that you changed my life.”

When we were alone Mary asked, “What did you do to make him say that?”  I had to admit I had no idea. I think that was when I became conscious of the effects on others of how I lived my life and the need to understand the lives of those around me.

I have been fortunate to have lived through two professional retirements since then and have time now to contribute both through personal and financial talents to have a positive effect in the world.  We are never in a position to know what effects we have.  I don’t know now any more than I did at that Dental Meeting, but inwardly I feel I have moved off my shelf and am being useful.

While I hope that my “use-by” date is somewhere off in the future, I can live with what comes, feeling that my contributions have not left too much in my jar.

As I write this the country, no in fact the world is consumed with a need for information surrounding the horrendous murders of 20 schoolchildren from Sandy Hook School; to figure out why it happened.  My son, who teaches at a similar school, was approached by some of his students of a similar age asking why the flag was at half-staff.  I think Tim has taken his talents off the shelf because his answer was direct, informative, and sensitive to his audience.  He said that a very bad man had done some terrible things to young people in another part of the country and this was a reminder that they and their families needed our prayers.  He then led them in a prayer for the victims and their families.

And then, when the first parent of the victims spoke to the media, he noted that his dead daughter always had a smile, always had good things to say about people and was teaching her three year-old sister to read. In other words Emilie at age seven recognized that her “sell-by” date told her it was time to give back.  Perhaps that knowledge was given her because her “use-by” date was to come so soon.

I wonder if my sharing of this simple thought, inspired by a Priest’s feeling that recognition of a public recognition of an aunt’s good deeds while she was still alive would be better than eulogies after her death, that caused me to reflect on my life will stir up similar thoughts in your mind.

My next post will be a lot lighter and hopefully more informative.  I’ll share with you our recent experience going to an exhibit at the Bowers Museum: an exhibit on costumes used in film.  Check it out!

Monday, December 10, 2012

An Officer's Wife

About a year and a half ago I wrote a blog entitled “Are These My Brains?” that was triggered by some influential men being exposed for having extra-marital affairs.  I suppose I could have resurrected that to memorialize the extreme fall from grace exhibited by General David Petraeus, had I even wished to comment on the (pardon the pun) affair.  But what actually brought the event to my attention was how deeply my wife Mary, seemed to feel about the incident.

General Patraeus and Paula Brodwell
Not so much the infidelity itself (I used to say that early on in our 52-year marriage she once commented that “If I found out you were unfaithful, I don’t know if I would kill you or myself” and that indecision was a constant reminder of our wedding vows.), but of how much his wife had done in the 34 years of his service: something like 24 major moves (we had 14 or 15), the constant social requirements, particularly when he became a senior officer, and even the extra pressure of raising a family so as not to jeopardize his rising career.  Especially, boys.

When I went on active duty and we got married (a remarkably short time between those two events) we were among several young dental couples at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego.  The men (and we were all men) were indoctrinated in what it meant to be an officer, things that had missed our attention during the two week indoctrination at Newport, Rhode Island.  Our teacher was our Commanding Officer, a genial but, in retrospect, extremely knowledgeable and expecting Navy Captain.  The women (never girls) were encouraged to purchase and commit to memory the Naval Officer Handbook for Wives.  I strongly suspect that book went out of print many years ago.

In it there was mention of when to wear hat and gloves; what was respectable attire for all manner of social functions; when and what was expected for “Calls, made and received”, what to have printed on your cards for those occasions, and numerous intrusions on your personal life, excepting perhaps what to name your children.

The informal side of the Officer’s Wife’s Life was left to the CO’s wife and the Officers’ Wives Club, which had a pecking order entirely based on seniority.

In time Mary would take her own place at the helm as the CO’s wife, and although times caused many items covered by the Handbook to change, little changed in the sociability requirements of the wives.  One was expected to entertain all new officers and their wives and to provide comfort and solace to any and all single officers.  Most holiday dinners included at least one of these, certainly lonely, men.

Instruction on commissary shopping, where to park at the Exchange, how to settle children in school, and babysitter availability were routinely doled out with a precision that masked how much effort went into researching the facts.  Remember this was before Google.  More subjective, but no less common was advice on financial matters, what to buy, how to furnish where you are currently living, and what constitutes necessities.  I remember coming home from the clinic one day of that first tour, telling Mary that she couldn’t buy a sewing machine, no matter that everyone else seemed to be doing so, because we just couldn’t afford it. She later confessed that she had no intention of buying a machine she couldn’t use.

The Petraeus moves seemed of special consequence to Mary (who, reluctantly shares family spelling of her maiden name with Jill Kelley).  I had no idea that she still has recurring dreams of the movers exiting the front door and she discovering a closet, or perhaps a whole room, she forgot to have them pack. She feels that General Petreaus’ wife is owed big time for her anguish.  Of lesser concern, probably because she only has her own experience to go by, is what Mrs. Petraeus went through, coping with the effect of the moves on children: the problems inherent with new schools, leaving friends, adolescent changes in an unstable environment, and even the growing accumulation of “stuff” that needed to be packed and moved.

There are few compensatory perks for the Officers wife; certainly none to speak of until your husband reaches senior level, which might get you kitchen and household help and a bigger cave to live in, and much that comes with trade-offs. I remember when we were privileged to stay in VIP quarters in Baguio while stationed in the Philippine Islands.  The bed was huge and had three pillows.  Mary questioned why, three, and I conjectured that one was probably for the Aide, since command necessitates a surrender of privacy.

And I guess that surrender was what eventually cost the General his position, his reputation and perhaps his honor, for as an honor graduate of West Point he would have been expected to adhere to the Codes: of Military Justice and Military Ethics.

Several people have asked me why she would possibly want to stay married.  As one whose parents are both buried at Arlington (mom on top of pop) and one who hopes for the same for Mary and me, maybe she just wants a place to go when she dies. 

Maybe she can get the bottom bunk.
I heard an interesting homily recently that argued we all have a “sell-by” date.  Next post I’ll share how that got me thinking.  Please join me

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Broadway Shows

Mary and I just returned from The Greater New York Dental Meeting, which we try to catch almost every year.  One of the serendipity pleasures, aside from seeing relatives and friends, is that we usually get to one or two plays.  This year we saw heavy drama in the Steppenwolf Theater’s production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe?” and balanced our mood by a delightful production of a play adapted from a series of books titled “Peter and the Star-catcher”.  The irony that this prequel to Peter Pan, which was written by David Barrie was written as were the Star-catcher series by the columnist Dave Barrie was not lost on us.

Dave Barry has always been a favorite of ours and I used to give Mary a Dave Barry calendar for Christmas until he turned his talents elsewhere.  His humor was manifest in the production and the afternoon was a true delight.  Only one thing was missed:

There was no Overture!

Actually, I wasn’t surprised.  Overtures have been disappearing from Broadway at an alarming rate, with only the revivals of classic shows, with their big casts and big orchestras creating a mood by snippets of every strong song in the score.

I saw my first Broadway show in 1953 and I saw it in Chicago with the original cast, something we rarely see today.  My mother took me to see Alfred Drake (her reason for going) in “Kismet”, an Arabian Nights extravaganza (her reason for taking me) and I loved it, from the Overture, which led into Princes Come, Princes Go, which lyrics I remember to this day: “An hour of pomp and show. Princes come and into the sands of time they go.  Wise men come, wise men go, ever wondering, the riddle of life to know. Wise men come, and into the sands of time they go.  Lovers come, lovers go, and all that there is to know they know. Lovers come, and into the sands of time they flow.” It may explain why I remain a hopeless romantic.

Testing my theory that Overtures are disappearing, I looked at some 35 of the close to 100 shows I have on vinyl or disk; a collection that started more than 35 years ago when some acting friends introduced us to their practice of collecting every musical they saw.  Although we have seen “Gypsy” on Broadway with three different stars, we don’t buy all three Original Cast Recordings. We often listen to shows at suppertime.

The concept of having an Overture in a Broadway musical came because early Broadway musicals were a close relative of Opera.  Most operas at the time had an Overture that was written by the composer, often to assist the audience in how to identify the different movements.  Paradoxically, the one overture most recognized by Americans ran all the movements together.  That would be the Overture to Rossini’s William Tell, which people remember from 30 years of Brace Beemer using it for background to “Hi Yo, Silver, away!”

Broadway Musical Overtures varied in several ways from those of opera, one of the most significant being that they were rarely written by the musical composer.  More often the conductor of the orchestra was given the score and a time limit to introduce the audience as to what would be “memorable” songs, so they could whistle them as they left the theater.  The shows in my collection that had overtures more often than not had this format but on occasion would have instead a Prologue, or occasionally both a Prologue and an Overture.

“Peter…” had a Prologue, but it wasn’t even musical, just a narrative to introduce the characters and set the plot, and perhaps provide an explanation as to why we rarely see Classic Overtures now: there were only two musicians.  When you consider that the William Tell Overture was written for 21 musicians plus Strings, you can see why it might be difficult to do that with a piano and percussion.

And I’m told that one of the major reasons most Symphony Orchestras and Opera Companies are in financial trouble is related.  Classical music is labor intensive, as is opera.  The arts have benefitted less from technology than industry has.  More the loss.

Next post will give a different slant on the Petreaus Affair: from the perspective of a 25-year career officer’s wife.  Mary weighs in!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Eating Breakfast Out

We recently had a power outage, covering two successive Sundays.  It was a little more, no; a lot more tolerable in Southern California than if we were in New York or New Jersey.  No need to evacuate.  No need for backup generators.  In fact, we were given ample advanced notice as to when and how long it would last: 8:00 AM to 1:00 PM and 8:00 AM to 3:00 PM respectively.  And the first Sunday they finished early.

So, the major complication was what to do about Sunday breakfast.  No problem; we would just “Go Out”.

Going out for breakfast in our lives falls into one of two categories and either is, as they say, “An Occasion.”  The first instance is usually a brunch to celebrate a birthday. Mother’s Day, Easter, or some other special occasion.  It usually involves reservations, a gathering of family and more often than not for me some variation on Eggs Benedict (Who was the first person to think you could improve on eggs by covering them with eggs?).  The second is usually in an airport, waiting for a plane, and separates Mary and me dramatically, she heading for Starbucks and me for the Golden Arches or equivalent.

A story I happened upon the other day mentioned that my purchases and a whole lot of others have made breakfast the most popular of Macdonald’s meals, accounting recently for more than 50% of sales.  My guess is this includes a lot more meals than what are sold in airports.

To test that theory I don’t have to look farther than across the street to my older son and my grandchildren.  Although school days offer home meals, if pop tarts constitute home cooking, weekends are definitely out of the house and, if they get up early enough to make the 11:00 Macdonald’s cutoff, probably something from their menu.

Slow Foods Logo
Recent popular backlash against fast food would seem to indicate a reversal of fast food breakfasts.  After all, aren’t we united to stop youth obesity?  Maybe not.  Of the twelve propositions voted in California in the November elections one of the prominent losers was Prop 37 which would have required listing Genetically Modified Organisms as ingredients for packaged goods: a story covered in the New York Times.  In a parallel story there has been a recent reversal of a French law, taxing unhealthy ingredients, which brought merchants and consumers united in their opposition, to the streets.  It would seem, at best we are ambivalent about our concerns.

While not related, the timeliness of the Hostess return to bankruptcy causes us to consider whether concern over unhealthy food contributed.  A recent article would argue otherwise, claiming that Union resistance to compromise resulted in 18,000, mostly members, losing their jobs.  And of course, there will be no more Twinkies.  My history with the 80 year-old history of Twinkies comes from two points of view.  The first is that some of those original Twinkies, if still in someone’s possession may be as edible as when they were manufactured.  (Actually Hostess claims they have a 21-day shelf life but they look and feel edible for years).When I do presentations to fifth-graders in the Days of Taste Program, we mention foods that are Good for Me, Foods that are Bad, and Foods that are Foolers.  Guess which group I have the Twinkies in?  Well, at least I don’t have to buy new ones every year and I have a lifetime supply.

The second history is from a play featuring the Twinkie Defense, which protected Dan White from being charged with murder in his action against Harvey Milk and San Francisco Mayor, George Muscone.  His attorneys argued that he was irrational from easting junk food.  The play, which title I forget, was staged at a way off-off Broadway (Santa Ana) venue called the Rude Guerilla, now defunct.  Although I was not in that play, I was fortunate enough to have been in a couple of other interesting plays there, “Boy Gets Girl” and “The Long Goodbye”.
Apple Pancake

Before I leave the subject of Breakfast Out, I should mention the two restaurants we visited.  One is a local location of The Original Pancake House, where I sampled their Apple Pancake.  Yum, yum!  The second was a longtime favorite we don’t visit often enough called The Snooty Fox, which has excellent Eggs Benedict.  Neither takes reservations and both have fairly long lines, but both have fast turnover and are worth the wait.

My plan for the next post is to tell you how they start Musicals on Broadway nowadays.  Things have changed since my mother took me to see Kismet.  I’ll share with you what I learned after we see Peter and the Starcatcher in NYC.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Chapter 7 of my book Harnessing a Heritage speaks to museums and the place they have in developing our knowledge base and life priorities, and Mary and I Walk the Walk by retaining membership in several, including LACMA, OCMA, the Marquette Haggerty and The Bowers, which we visit at least once a year.  Recently another came into play when we took our two grandsons, age 14 and 7 to The California Science Center for a special preview afforded members: a showing of the newly arrived Endeavour.

I think we learned as much as they did.  Starting with the spelling of the name. 

When Challenger exploded, some 73 seconds after launch, Congress responded by commissioning another space shuttle and NASA instituted a competition to name it.  More than 30 percent of the elementary and high school contestants chose the same name, referring to the HMS Endeavour (English spelling) which carried Captain James Cook on his exploration of the oceans of the world and discovery of uncharted lands.

The ship was largely cobbled together from spare parts for the earlier versions of shuttles, and was assembled in Palmdale, north of Los Angeles by the Rockwell Company.  The local assembly played a large part in determining Los Angeles as the place where one of the three retired shuttles would find a permanent home and we certainly noted pride in many of those viewing her when they spoke to their children and grandchildren of their part in constructing this awesome ship.
Endeavour docking at the Space Station

Hubble Telescope
Each of the 26 missions Endeavour made (the last being from Cape Kennedy to Los Angeles) was documented; many by video, including the trip to repair the HubbleTelescope and replenishment of the SpaceStation.  It was interesting to see how interactive they have made the exhibit including an opportunity to experience what it would be like to actually fly in a shuttle.  The fourteen year-old thought that great fun but we and his younger brother felt we would function best if we held his place in line and offered him a chance to be a “single” and jump line for his trip.

After we had seen the exhibits, including the solid wheels on the vehicle that carried the behemoth on its two-day trip from the airport to the Science Center, we went to the area housing her until the new wing of the center is completed, where she will bemounted vertically.  The size of something that was able to into space was almost unbelievable.  The museum has taken the position to show her “as is” and you can see the effect of several launches and re-entry to her hull.  The skin is made up of literally thousands of small panels, about one-foot square, each positioned to protect those inside from the extremes of heat and cold.  The size was a surprise, allowing us to imagine the interior movement by the crew.

Seeing the exhibit gave me a greater appreciation for the bravery of the men and women in the space program.  A recent edition of NPR spoke to how several of the astronauts, who were modestly paid and who could not get life insurance coverage to protect their families should anything untoward happen to them, sent several letters, stamped the day of their launch to themselves, knowing that those letters would have value should their ship explode.  An eerie thought; but a brilliant idea.

Ryan and Ethan had time to see other parts of the Science Center; in particular an exhibit on the working of the human body, which greatly impressed them.  Ryan remembered the gravity bicycle from an earlier trip and had to show his brother.  We left actually riding the contraption over space for another day.

The museum experience was special for the boys but for Mary and me the special feeling of the day was having our two grandsons all to ourselves for the better part of a day.  Thanks to the museum for restricting our preview to two adults and four children, younger than our two sons.

In my next post I will tackle a subject that just recently struck me: the evolution of “going out for breakfast”.  Please plan to join me.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Harnessing a Heritage - my first book

I was tagged by a friend, fellow author and co-member of the Laguna Woods Writers Group, to do something I rarely do: continue a chain letter.  There was no threat, no claim for riches if I sent to five or more friends within the next 12 hours, no promises other than I might stir interest in my book from a group that is often both appreciative of writing efforts and occasionally willing to buy a book.

Sue Ellen wrote her blog about her upcoming book and I was very impressed.  You could read that at:,

So, I am devoting this issue of my Blog, regularly found at to answering ten standard questions about said book.  Easier research than usual and a chance to follow some new bloggers.

First Question: What is the working title?

That’s pretty easy because the book is now published and can even be found at: Amazon.

Second Question:  Where did you get the idea?

I married and entered the US Navy as a dentist right after graduation from Marquette and embarked on a 25 year career with at least 15 major moves.  With little money we rented through half that time and a major furniture possession was a Danish Wall Unit, which seemed to fit in wherever we were.  Now, after thirty years in the same place, that wall unit’s shelves and fixtures have assumed a story of their own.  As I watched television I was struck by the fact that these stories; how and why things appeared there, might have general interest.  So, each of the Chapters in the book has its own shelf or space.  The cover of the book is the wall of our bedroom, most of which are items my mother had framed, which tell the story of her family from the 1830’s to the 1880’s. It struck me that my children and grandchildren have not been gathering their heritage like my mother, my wife and I have done.  Each chapter ends with a one-pager on how you might use the information in the chapter to develop that child’s sense of their own heritage.

Third Question: What is the genre of the book?

Definitely, a Memoir.

Fourth Question: Who would you like to play the character(s) if the book were made into a movie?

As I was growing up I was continually told that I resembled either Woody Allen or Tony Bennett.  Today I suppose I still resemble Woody Allen if I substituted glasses for my bifocal contacts.  In truth I would have liked to resemble Paul Newman but when I mentioned that desire to my wife around age thirty-five, she told me I should have started earlier.

Fifth Question: Could you give a synopsis of the book?

I pretty much covered this in question two, but the chapters are topical, rather than chronological, which is another reason for Woody Allen to play the protagonist (me).  He has a film history of juxtaposing characters to provide flashbacks effectively.

Sixth Question: Is the book self-published or through representation?

Actually, a little of both.  When I decided to self-publish, on the advice of an author friend who self-published her 19th book, realizing the industry had changed, I went to Amazon and their linked service called CreateSpace. There are other, perhaps better and certainly cheaper services, but this has worked well for me and the editor feature was a true lifesaver in bettering the quality of my book.  The lessons I learned would make writing a second book infinitely easier and publishing it much less expensive.  The distribution of self-published books is a challenge as to getting it available in bookstores and libraries, but it is not insurmountable.  I would be more than happy to provide dialogue on what I learned.

Seventh Question: How long did it take to get your first draft?

This was one of the more significant lessons I learned about writing.  I had heard several authors speak about writing habits: “Write every day at the same time.” ”Start with the end in mind.” “Don’t move on until you have that first sentence exactly the way you want it.” But for me writing developed into putting the chapter in my mind, noodling it until I felt I had a handle on the content, then researching what background was needed to flesh out the subject and then just writing what ended up being a stream of consciousness narrative approximately 3,000 words long. Completing the thirteen chapters took almost a year, but I didn’t write something every day.

Eighth Question: What would be a comparable book?

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I haven’t seen a book that used either the format or the content of Harnessing a Heritage, but books of a more traditional, chronological format that I would like to be compared to would include Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself by Alan Alda and Open by Andre Agassi.  Both seem honest and were written with intent to inform in a humorous fashion.

Ninth Question: Who or What was your inspiration?

When I came up with the concept of a memoir based on a wall unit, I bounced the idea off a personal friend, mentioned above, who is a successful author, Rosalie Maggio.  Rosalie has written nineteen books now, with subjects as diverse as a glossary of politically correct words, Dictionary of Bias-Free Usage to a collaboration with her brothers and sisters, Pieces of Eight.  She encouraged me but offered the sagely advice, “If you want to actually sell a book, find a ‘How To’ hook.  People want to learn something from what they read.”  From that piece of news came my end-of-the-chapter tag of how one might use the information in the chapter to encourage one’s children or grandchildren to develop a sense of their own heritage.  Also, that gave me the idea for the book cover.

Tenth and Last Question:  What are some links to your book?

That’s easy.  Advanced reading on any of the chapters would be my finest recommendation.  Learn more about, books, photos, music, other cultures, art, museums, and more importantly, involve children in your search for knowledge in these fields.  I can’t imagine a better indication that my book accomplished what I hoped it would.

Well, I’ve completed my assignment and actually have had fun doing it.  I’ll forward this to five blogger/authors I know and hope they have as much fun next week as I did today.

Next post at will be on a practical application from my book: taking my grandsons to the LA Science Center to see Endeavor.  Please check me out.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers

I am Chairman of the American Institute of Wine and Food for Orange County, California.  As such I am in contact with National Officers and Chapter Chairs and others working with this group in their efforts to provide funds for Scholarships in the Food and Wine industry and Days of Taste; the program that brings good food knowledge to Title 1 fourth and fifth graders.  The other day I received such a call and, knowing it required my undivided attention I excused myself to turn off the radio.

“Radio!  You still listen to the radio?” asked an incredulous Daniel: chef, entrepreneur, and culinary school contributor from South Miami Beach.  I confessed my addiction to NPR, which Daniel admitted he listens to on Sirius XM as it streams from his car’s 12 speaker system.  When we finished our conversation I began to reflect of what part radio has played in my life.

Click and Clack
A fitting topic as this month marks the end of one of radio’s most popular shows, Car Talk.

The show had humble beginnings.  Tom Magliozzi was encouraged by his younger brother Ray to appear on a local radio station as part of a panel of local (Boston) mechanics to answer listeners’ questions.  No one else showed up, but Tom’s easy manner and breadth of knowledge impressed the show’s host enough to invite him back the next week with Ray.

After ten years of weekly appearances, for the most part unpaid, the Brothers were picked up by NPR as a commercial project.  The show is by any measure a success, with 3.3 million weekly listeners on 660 stations, according to NPR spokeswoman Anna Christopher, making it NPR’s top-rated weekend program.  NPR intends to continue broadcasting repeat shows for the foreseeable future.

This is somewhat ironic in that during the twenty-five year evolution of the show, an ongoing feature is blending some past shows with the current one in a seamless and unaccredited manner. Other features of note include who has called in for advice; for example several celebrities, including John Grunsfeld, who called in from the Space Shuttle.  In fact NASA has called more than once, including one session where an anonymous caller was asking about problems surrounding a car kit, which eventually was identified as the Mars Rovers.

For many years I listened to one or more of the 660 stations broadcasting Car Talk and thoroughly enjoyed the humor and caller involvement.  There is something about a blonde trying to mimic the engine sounds of her 1998 Volvo as it goes through its gears that is unique.

Even before Click and Clack my generation had a love affair with radio.  When my wife Mary would come home from school she would listen to The Lone Ranger before going out to play “Hide and Seek” or ‘I’ll Draw the Frying Pan”. We grew up to follow the Masked Man into television, film and even personal appearances.  The voice and one of the most famous of those appearing belonged to Brace Beemer, a six-foot five personality who actually could ride and shoot, but whose greatest claim to fame was his deep voice which announced at the start of each show, “Hi-Yo Silver — A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty Hi-Yo Silver … the Lone Ranger!”

There are many who have memories of the personal appearances.  The most popular of which is on You Tube as Jay Thomas’ memory of the Masked Man on the David Letterman Show.

Another classic from the Golden Age of Radio was The Shadow, which as I remember it was one of the Sunday Evening's must-hear.  There are few of us around anymore who “Know what evil lurks in the hearts of men”. I also remember the tremendous variety of the radio shows: the drama of the Lux Radio Hour, the humor of Burns and Allen, Jack Benny and so many others, the suspense of the Serials, and the mystery and terror of the creaking door from Inner Sanctum or Orson Welles War of the Worlds adaptation, whose anniversary we celebrate this month.  And of course there were the educational elements of Let's Pretend.

As my friend reminds me, we still can have those shows, streaming to us as we commute, but it isn’t quite the same as hunkering down, close to the radio, often as a family, sharing the experience.  I can’t help but feel we may have lost something, especially now that Click and Clack are leaving us.  What do you think?

Next Wednesday I will be sharing a little about my book, Harnessing a Heritage and offering contact with some interesting fellow authors who blog.  Please come and visit.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Tim Burton

I overheard my wife talking to someone about the controversy surrounding Tim Burton’s new film Frankenweenie and I was reminded of the enormous and complex talent that man has.  Mary and I attended a show of his work in mid-2011 at the LACMA, a fitting venue for the native son from Burbank.  Prior to that I had no idea of the body of work he has generated over a thirty year career, nor how diverse it was.  Of course he started early.

There is actual footage of a film he did as a 13 year-old and by then he had been playing with film or animated film for five years.  His art took a serious turn when he was at CalArts in Santa Clarita where a student project Stalk of the Celery Monster caught the attention of animators in the Disney Studio.  He was hired, but was never a good fit for the strict corporate structure of Disney and fairly soon branched off on his own, shortly after they released Frankenweenie, which he wrote and produced as animation in 1984. When asked where the idea came from he confessed there was a lot of his own childhood in the story.

One of the featured actors in the film was Shelley Duvall, and Burton started what would become a signature; working with the same people over and over again.  The person who scored Frankenweenie was Danny Elfman who has continued in that role on all but two of Burton’s films: Sweeney Todd, which used Stephen Sondheim’s music and one other film when the two were briefly estranged.

The variety of film topics is truly amazing, ranging from Beetlejuice, which connected him with Michael Keeton, who he then cast in Batman and Batman Returns through Edward Scissorhands, which started a longtime deep friendship with Johnny Depp and reunited Burton with Winona Ryder featured in Beetlejuice, to films inspired by authors who influenced his youth, like Roald Dahl, who had written “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “James and the Giant Peach”.  Along the way he brought us such cult classics as Corpse Bride and The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Beginning with Pee-wee’s Big Adventure so many of his films have become box office hits that securing backing is no longer a problem, and it seems the farther off-the-wall the concept, the better.  In the current 3-D Black and White Frankenweenie he finds humor and pathos in a boy, whose dog dies.  He has capitalized on the recent craze for Lincoln with his adaptation of “Abraham Lincoln; Vampire Hunter”, joining Bill O’Reilly and Steven Spielberg in giving perhaps our greatest President a different spin.  I am anxious to see what Daniel Day Lewis does with the role.

When Mary and I were at LACMA I was also amazed at what Burton’s contributions were to the features of his films: from the costuming of Planet of the Apes, to dressing Danny DeVito as a Penguin and Jack Nicholson as The Joker, to Johnny Depp’s actual Scissorhands.  The Exhibit also had examples of his art; he is truly a Jack-of-all-Trades.  His movies have won several costuming Oscars and been nominated for many more, as have Elfman’s scores.  Many of his lesser known or at least less successful films are also notable: Ed Wood, Big Fish, and perhaps Dark Shadows come to mind.  And one of his films, which I confess I turned off while on a flight, Alice in Wonderland for a long time was the second highest grossing movie of all time.

At one time I envisioned this post as sharing the careers of Tim Burton with Sir Richard Branson, who has a new book out, but I will save the Virgin owner for another day. There was just too much to say.

My next post, or at least the first post in November, will be a departure.  I have been asked by another author to join a project called Blog Hopping, where we discuss a recent book we have written, in my case “Harnessing a Heritage”, and introduce those who read our blog to five or more authors who have done the same, by answering ten questions about our book.

I hope you will join me for that November 7 Post.