Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Mad Man of Malden Mills

He was having dinner at a Boston restaurant, celebrating his 70th birthday, when word reached him of the fire. It was December 11, 1995.

Had he been celebrating his 40th birthday, or his 50th, or perhaps even his 60th, there may have been more logic to the strange plan he would soon concoct, but at an age when most business owners are already well into retirement, there really was no excuse.

While the blaze had effectively destroyed his factory, it was quickly determined that nobody had died, and with an insurance payout of $300 million headed his way, this 70-year old, who had survived decades of severe business downturns, including one bankruptcy, might have decided that his ride was finally over.

He could have continued his already generous giving, while living out the rest of his days without the headaches of running a manufacturing company where “Made in America“ was fast becoming the stuff of nostalgia.

No one could have blamed him for gratefully accepting his God-given retirement.

But this man was not what you would call good retirement material. He felt no attraction to the golf course or the yacht club. In fact it might explain quite a bit to know that in his 60s, he routinely awoke at 5:30 each morning and practiced memorization as a means to keep his mind sharp, and you should also know that the objects of his memorization were the Old Testament and the works of Shakespeare.

One could make a case that at his age, managing the nuts and bolts operations of an old line manufacturing company, vulnerable to global, low-wage-paying competitors, that he might have chosen, let us say, more practical texts for his mental exercises.

In fact, questions of what is and what isn’t practical, would come up again and again once he left that Boston restaurant and arrived at the site of his blackened factory, 25 miles north, in the city of Lawrence, Massachusetts, near the New Hampshire border.

Lawrence, is what we often call an old mill town. It would be more accurately called a former mill town. To be sure, the mammoth brick mill buildings, up and down the Merrimack River, many built in the 1800s, still dominate the landscape, but not much milling takes place in those buildings, anymore.

The milling, which was mainly textiles, and the milling jobs began leaving town a long time ago. Some just disappeared, shuttered by foreign competition. Others went to Southern, non-union states, or to Mexico and Latin America, then to China and the Far East.

For as long as I can remember, Lawrence has been the New England version of a hard luck town.

In the 1950s and 60s it "benefited" from federal money, arriving in the name of “Urban Renewal,” but that money was tragically misused to tear down old architectural gems and replace them with flat, faceless brick buildings devoid of character. You may never appreciate how much of your town’s identity is stored in the stone walls, the grand front steps, and the pillars of its post office, city hall, library, and court houses, until they are replaced by, what my wife, Elodia refers to as cigar boxes.

For a while there was some hope for revitalization. Lawrence had all of those great brick mill buildings, with high ceilings, huge windows, many with views of the river. Some were converted into offices. They waited for new white-collared tenants -- designers and sellers of the new economy.

In the 1970s and part of the 1980s, Massachusetts was a center for high technology. High Tech companies that surrounded the Boston area were multiplying fast, and spreading further to the west, south, and north. They would surely find their way to Lawrence’s affordable, abundant, and unique office space, spun from abandoned mills.

But that didn’t happen. Our High Tech was supplanted by the newer micro technology, that had taken root in California’s Silicon Valley and in the Pacific Northwest.

I worked in Lawrence in the mid 1980s, in one of those huge, renovated mill buildings. A dilapidated mill building behind ours was about to be reborn as a Marriot Hotel. This was at the pinnacle of a new found hope.

This hope sprung from an agreement that would move Emerson College from Boston to Lawrence. Land would be provided for a magnificent campus. The college would have room and resources to grow to its heart’s content. The city would flourish with the influx of students, faculty, visiting parents, and ancillary businesses.

Emerson College, considered one of the premier colleges in the U.S. for the study of communication and the arts, would lead the way to Lawrence’s renaissance -- one that would shine a light on its historic industrial past, while powering it into its future.

But time dragged on without a closing of the deal.

Landowners fought in court the eminent domain that would take what was theirs and turn it over to the Emerson outsiders. The trailblazers on both sides of the deal eventually moved on in life, and were replaced by those who were not part of the audacious plan. And the economics changed, making Boston property more affordable for Emerson to expand without sacrificing the advantages and amenities of being in “The Hub.”

Marriott did not move in. There would be no renaissance. Not then. Not now. Not ever.

So now, you have two principal characters in this drama. The protagonist is Mr. Aaron Feuerstein, owner of the company founded by his grandfather, a textile manufacturing company known as Malden Mills. And you have a second character, a sad, tired face that remains on stage from lights up to closing curtain -- the people of Lawrence -- the character called: The Town.

And there is a third.

For years, Malden Mills struggled to find a magical product -- one that would bring in enough money to justify its existence, and to keep it in a state where high labor costs and tough environmental regulations had defeated or chased away its industrial neighbors. For a while they had it in fake fur. But the popularity of fake fur crashed when real fur was brought low by those who publicly targeted well adorned fur wearers by hurling insults and splashing them with ink.

In 1982, Malden Mills entered Chapter 11...

…And emerged one-year later victoriously clutching a truly magical product. Longtime employees had discovered a way to weave synthetics, made up of 80% recycled materials, into a fabric that was warm, light weight, and could remove moisture from the body. A big, important customer, Patagonia was waiting for them to perfect it. Perfect it they did, and Polarfleece, was born.

Polarfleece, marketed as Polartec met an exploding demand for warm, light weight outerwear by hikers, climbers, runners, and the U.S. Military. Chances are you or someone you know has worn a Polartec jacket or sweat pants or slept under a Polartec blanket. You might have gotten yours at L.L. Bean or Eddie Bauer, or at some other major retailer and never noticed the “Made by Malden Mills in Lawrence, Massachusetts” label.

Imitators quickly emerged, so the Malden Mills workers had to continually improve and refine their processes. The Workers found ways to provide greater varieties of color and fabric weight. Even with everyday manufacturing, machinery could take it only so far. Human hands, eyes, and creativity were critical.

Reporter, Louis Uchitelle, writing an article in the New York Times, was looking on as Adelina Santiago operating a computerized machine, rolling out dark cloth at 50 yards a minute, noticed “the vaguest white line, invisible to an untrained eye” and quickly stopped the machine. “I give to catching imperfections the same importance that I would give if this were my own business,” said the $11 per hour employee.

Following the fire on December 11, 1995, when the drama began, the two words most often spoken were: the workers. And that character, The Workers, never, for even a moment, leaves the stage.

If this were a play, we might raise the opening curtain right here.

A gaunt, white haired Aaron Feuerstein stands against the backdrop of his blackened mill buildings. Reporters await his announcement. Will he say goodbye or will he rebuild? Of course he will lament the fact that his 3200 employees will be facing a very bleak Christmas. That’s a given.

The story in tomorrow’s papers will be about the fire. How did it start? How many were injured? With no crime of arson, it will be a short story, one without legs, as they say in the news business.

But standing before the cameras is a man who has just turned 70-years old, whose company was started at the very beginning of the century by his grandfather. This man before the cameras had carried this sacred trust through good times and bad, through three generations.

The reporters wait for their quote. The Workers, in shock, brace themselves for what might be the painful goodbye. The Town, watching from modest living rooms and seedy taverns has seen all of this before. You can fear bad luck’s arrival only so many times. When it becomes a regular visitor, you casually greet it, maybe even with a knowing “Oh, it’s you again!“ nod of the head.

But this time was different.

The mill owner was emphatic. He will rebuild. He will do it quickly. There was relief. Then he went on. He would keep all 3200 employees on the payroll while he rebuilt. He would maintain their health insurance coverage while he rebuilt. Christmas would be just fine. There must have been some momentary disbelief. Did they hear him right? While nothing was being made and nothing was being sold, everyone would be paid their full salaries?

Out of this man’s pocket?

At one of those seedy taverns, a man at the bar, hunched over his drink, mindlessly watching the local news broadcast must have sprung upright and shouted to the bartender, “Tommy, turn this up!” In living rooms, normal conversation must have suddenly stopped with the realization that something never before seen or heard was taking place.

60 Minutes ran a story. Morley Safer interviewed the newly famous CEO. Big companies were laying off in droves, providing little to their departing employees. They were of course doing what they had to do in the best interests of the stockholders, the corporation, or the brand.

Feuerstein loudly called out those corporations and those CEOs. He said that a new model must emerge. He said that companies and their workers and their communities had shared interests and shared responsibilities. He could not dump 3200 unemployed workers on an already suffering region. That, he later told Parade Magazine, “would have been unconscionable.” And, for this Orthodox Jew, it would have been a clear violation of Jewish law.

He was not quite finished. He would not just rebuild the factories, he would restore the turn-of-the-century architectural detail that his grandfather’s generation had taken such pains to craft into their historic structures. And, he would purchase state-of-the art machinery that would increase productivity, while being environmentally friendly.

And that’s how a sad-town mill owner became a hero to millions of people.

But as weeks passed, some began to wonder if this hero had promised too much? Not at all, so long as everything goes perfectly. But, of course, this is not a perfect world. Some things are bound to go wrong. The only question is: How many things will go wrong and how wrong will they go?

Perhaps a saner man would have paused.

A saner man might have calculated into his equation problems collecting all of the expected insurance money.

A saner man might have scaled back salaries paid to idle workers and even stopped payments to those with the least value or the least longevity with the company.

A saner man might have expected having to settle a law suit from some of the employees injured in the fire.

A saner man might have expected that the interruption in manufacturing would result in business lost to his competitors.

We might forgive him for not anticipating three consecutive warm winters, dampening demand for Polarfleece.

But then, why would we be surprised by the madness of this man who alone carried the sacred trust of his grandfather and his father, whose employees had lifted him from bankruptcy, and who worked for him as though they were working for themselves, and whose head was filled with the likes of Moses and Macbeth?

He was fast running out of money, but there was still time to make the necessary adjustments. He had only to go before the cameras and before The Town, The Workers, and now The World, and say: “I will continue to stand by my principles to the best of my ability, but I now have to make some difficult and painful decisions.”

But, of course he did not do that. Instead, he borrowed a lot of money. From banks.

Here, I must introduce you to the fourth and final character. Until now, our little drama has gone without an antagonist. And I must caution you, that you may be inclined to see this antagonist as a simple villain, one deserving of loud jeers.

I ask you to please not rush to judgment.

Six years after the famous fire, mired in debt, Malden Mills once again filed for bankruptcy. This was more than just the bankruptcy of a company, it was a body blow to the newly hopeful City of Lawrence. People hearing the news sent in donations of $5, $10, $100 dollars. Saving Malden Mills, and its ideals, became their cause. They spoke loudly. They said, “We are in this together.”

But a new voice was about to be heard. Not that any of us actually heard the voice, any of us outside of the boardroom, that is, or not privy to the behind closed doors executive meetings. GE Capital had become Malden Mill’s largest creditor, and now they and the group they headed had the final word.

Together this group takes center stage as our final character, which we can conveniently call, The Banks.

Though no one in their living rooms or in the seedy taverns, or in the press, for that matter, actually heard The Banks’ last word, their intent was clear. It was to bring sanity back to the situation. It was to remove the drama and replace it with a strategic plan.

The first step in this plan was to relieve Aaron Feuerstein of all operational control. His role in his company would become only symbolic. Other steps would include rational solutions appropriate for a company so heavily in debt, mainly reduction of the workforce, including moving some manufacturing to Asia.

In 2004, 78-year old Feuerstein moved to buy back his company. He used the prestige he had gained from his national spotlight to raise almost $90 million in financing, guarantees, and tax incentives to put together an offer that would keep 1,000 jobs in the area and provide low cost housing for residents. The plan was creative, unorthodox, and sound.

The board of directors, led by The Banks turned down his offer without providing an explanation.

Who could blame them?

They were not going to get into a public debate with a beloved crazy man who heard moral commands to do good, and who could inspire others to play Sancho Panza to his Don Quixote. This was business.

Today, the company, once known as Malden Mills is under new ownership and is called, Polartec.

On Mother’s Day 2006, Polartec’s buildings were damaged by flood water, halting manufacturing, and requiring major clean up and restoration.

The company continued to struggle financially.

This past September, Polartec honored 154 longtime employees. As reported by Bill Kirk in the local newspaper, the Eagle Tribune, Joyce Cegelis joined the company as a clerk, “just shy of her 18th birthday.” Now, she is 68 years old, and is head of the payroll department.

She arrives at 6 a.m. and works 10 to 12 hour days. “They need me,“ she says. “I make the coffee.”

“We’ve seen floods, fires and bankruptcies,” said Loretta Riordan, a 42-year old employee whose son, Dan has worked there for 24 years. “We’re just waiting for the locusts,” she joked.

I, for one, will not be surprised if the locusts do come. I just wonder who will be there to turn them away. Of course, that someone would have to be somewhat mad to think they could defeat The Locusts.

Don't you think?

Please note: I was not able to link to Louis Uchitelle's wonderful article, published in the New York Times, July 4, 1996, to which I am greatly indebted.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Toys R Gus?

My friend Gus is nine-years old. He’s a smart kid, and I’m not just saying that because he’s a friend or because he’s a kid. I’ve known nine-year olds who weren’t exceptionally bright, but this isn’t about them. It’s about Gus, sort of.

Gus is an only child. That coupled with the fact that he has his share of aunts, uncles, grandparents, and adult friends who, from the very beginning, unwittingly conspired to teach The Guster (my name for him) that he was in fact the very center of the universe, has made my child friend the beneficiary of two fabulous treasures, each accompanied by a known and dreaded curse.

Attention is of course a wonderful gift, but one to which a little prince can become easily addicted. When little princes summon the attention that rightfully belongs to them, and that attention is slow to arrive, or worse yet, shared among others, little princes lose their patience. Sometimes real bad.

Toys can also be a wonderful gift. Toys engage a child in play. And playing, when it goes well, is happy learning. Ever since Gus could walk, a common event at our house was seeing Gus show up with a new toy – usually some foot-tall action figure that could light up or make sounds or launch small rockets from its hand.

Gus had “always” wanted that toy. He was excited to get it. He loved doing the show-and-tell, but we rarely saw him with the same toy more than twice. Well, once you see Action Figure #8 do the one cool thing that Action Figure #7 couldn’t do, you’re pretty much done with him.

Fortunately, this is not a problem. Action figure #9 will soon appear on Gus’s TV screen, saving the day by firing rockets from his boots or his helmet or from a special rocket vest, or well, you get the picture.

The toy designers are not at all alarmed by the age-old “novelty wearing off” factor. In fact, they keep their jobs because of it. And make no mistake; Gus will want their next plastic hero. He’s a smart kid, but he’s nine. He has no idea that a major corporation with a big budget is right now using little prince focus groups to test their ideas for Action Figure #17.

That’s right. They actually have other little princes on their payroll. The bastards!

When Gus was around five, his parents generously invited us to baby-sit Prince Gus while they would be out cavorting. This posed a problem. On the night of this opportunity, there would be a televised political debate that my wife, Elodia and I were anxious to see. To watch and listen to the debate would mean not just dividing attention rightfully belonging to Gus, but actually denying that attention.

We needed a strategy. Without one, the evening would end in disaster. So I did what I needed to do. I took a trip back to my childhood to see if I could find a solution. It didn’t take long. It was right in front of me. Maybe. Just maybe.

Days later, the moment of truth was upon us. Gus showed up at our door with toys in hand and his parents behind him. We told them to have a good time and not to worry. Everything would be fine. We were of course lying. Everything would probably not be fine. We simply meant that no one would die.

They’re not stupid people. They smiled and left quickly.

Oh, about revisiting my childhood. I was not an only child. I got some toys that had cool bells and whistles, but for reasons we all know, they didn’t last long. And, when they were quickly abandoned or junked, they were never replaced with something newer and better. In fact, they were never replaced by anything.

Actually, I didn’t need them to be replaced, because I had something that meant an awful lot to me, and that consumed almost all of my toy-playing time. I had toy soldiers. Hundreds of them. It started at a local Woolworth’s.

If you’re old enough to remember "five and dime" stores, that image of your own Woolworth’s, Ben Franklin, McCrory’s, W.T. Grant, or J.J. Newberry’s just popped into your mind from nowhere. You can see that store. You can smell that store. I know you can.

Strolling the aisles with my mother, who was probably shopping for sewing supplies, I discovered an aisle that had been put there just for me. It contained bins of toy soldiers.

No fancy packaging, in fact, no packaging at all. Little 4-inch figures piled high like french fries. There was a bin of Civil War soldiers, another of mounted Calvary soldiers and Indians, and the best one of all piled with World War II Army guys. Most of the soldiers were plastic, but these Army guys were heavy cast iron. After rummaging through the bin, I found that there were about a dozen different Army guys, each holding a different weapon, or striking a different pose.

I got to take home one of each. I had a collection!

Trips to Woolworth’s became a welcome experience, especially since (and you’re not going to believe this) that bin of soldiers started including newer varieties of Army guys that I didn’t already have. I couldn’t believe my good fortune.

After learning a little about the Civil War, I realized that I needed those guys too. And, after hearing the story of George Armstrong Custer, I really did need to have my own Little Big Horn. So, it quickly grew into a large and motley collection. I would set them all up on my bedroom floor, until I had the scene that I wanted. It was historically confused, but it made perfect sense to me, and that was all that mattered. Sometimes I tinkered with the scene and other times I just sat and admired it.

One day I returned home from school and they were gone. My heart stopped. Turned out that the room had been cleaned and the soldiers were in a box in my closet. Whew! Well, I knew the job ahead of me.

Now, back to The Night of The Guster.

When I got home from work, Elodia was setting the table for dinner. I held up the plastic shopping bags and flashed a cocky smile. She looked in. Individual packages of plastic toy soldiers, displayed in a clear plastic bubble, secured to a cardboard backing.

“For Gus?” She asked.

“Nope. They’re mine. Gus can borrow them whenever he wants.”

Was she pretty damned intrigued by her husband’s master plan for the psychological warfare that would soon be unleashed on our unsuspecting five-year old? Oh yes.

Dinner went as expected. At this stage, Gus was not just a picky eater, he was more of a non-eater. We gave him his favorite dinner of plain pasta noodles. He ate about three of them and played with the rest. He was growing antsy for some kind of after dinner amusement. He had no clue.

Elodia slowly reached behind her and grabbed one of the plastic shopping bags. Gus’s eyes followed her. She removed one of the packages. Gus’s eyes found the first of the soldiers. And, he knew there had to be more. He jumped up and found the other bags. There they were. A treasure trove of toy soldiers, each begging to be maniacally separated from the plastic and cardboard.

“FOR ME?” Actually more of an exclamation than a question.

“No.” I said. “They’re mine. But you can borrow them, anytime.”

He paused and processed. He would need time to digest this rather peculiar information, but while doing so, his hands would need to get to work. Immediately.

We cleared off the table and the three of us began ripping apart the packaging. This was fun, and it ate up lots of “So, where’s my attention?” time, because each package contained some tiny accessories, like guns, knives and backpacks that needed to be carefully removed and attached to that soldier.

Now, with all soldiers free of their packaging, it was time to stand them up. Not as easy as you might think. These were not the solid cast iron soldiers that I grew up with. These were modern day, made in China, highly disposable toys that were made with feet too small to easily support the body of the soldier. You had to carefully place them where you wanted them to stand.

At five years old, Gus lacked the patience needed to perform this task. So I carefully stood them up, while he watched and advised, and then he did what came naturally. He knocked them all over and cheered like he had just scored the game winning hockey goal.

The awaited debate began. Gus continued making friends with the soldiers. We got through the night. Then Elodia took him home and put him to bed.

The next day he brought his father over to see “Bruce’s soldiers.” Apparently, he had been talking about nothing else. A few days later he came over and asked if he could play with them. We had started something, though truthfully, I had no idea how long this something would last.

A few days later he was employing some never before seen patience struggling to set up the soldiers on our table when I asked him, which were the good guys and which were the bad? Without looking up, he answered that they “were all good guys.” “Which one is the boss,” I asked. Without hesitation, he replied, “I’m the boss.”

Later, he decided that the soldiers needed to be taken outdoors. “As long as you bring them all back and put them away,” instructed Elodia, keeper of the rules. Gus discovered that the soldiers needed to be placed in trees, around our fish pool, and sometimes hidden behind rocks and bushes. Gus worked purposefully. He knew which soldier belonged where.

He casually mentioned one day that “Bruce really needs more soldiers.” So, I bought more. And, I bought a large plastic container to hold them, which I kept upstairs, behind a door in my home office.

One day, Gus showed up with a friend. “Can we play with Bruce’s soldiers?” “Sure Gus. You know where they are. Just remember to put them away when you’re finished.” Gus hesitated. We have a number of neighborhood kids who drop by and hangout in our house. They make themselves at home, but they are not allowed upstairs.

Gus quickly grasped the fact that he was being given a special pass. He could go into the restricted zone for the sole purpose of fetching Bruce’s soldiers. And, any friend of Gus had an automatic guest pass. No need to show I.D. or answer any questions. If you’re with Gus, you’re in.

They climbed the stairs to my room, then came down with the container of soldiers and headed for the backyard.

I went outside and watched them at work. I asked Gus, which were the good guys and which were the bad. He pointed out the best of the good guys and the worst of the bad. I asked him how he knew. He said he could tell by their faces. I asked him who was the boss. He pointed to one of the soldiers. “Him. He’s the boss.”

One day Gus did not put the soldiers away as he had agreed. When Elodia, keeper of the rules, brought this to his attention, he explained that it was his friend, Zach’s fault. “No, Gus, you know that you are in charge of the soldiers. No matter who you let play with them, putting them away is your responsibility, because you’re in charge.” He nodded.

After a couple of years, Gus suddenly stopped coming for the soldiers. I told Elodia that the experience had ended. He had outgrown them. Then, one day, he showed up with a new friend, Charlie. After asking permission, they made the march to my room, and then to the backyard, where I heard Gus explaining to Charlie that he was making mistakes. You don’t just stick any soldier in a tree. Some belonged in trees, and some didn’t.

I think that for Gus, the soldiers had become part of his new-friend ritual.

I’m sure there are those who are horrified that I taught a child to make a game out of symbols of war. Let them be horrified. I will never catch Gus hiding behind a tree, reading the latest issue of Soldier of Fortune magazine. I did teach him something about the power of imagination. And I’ve been rewarded by seeing him teach others. And I’ve discovered that I’m not too old to learn from a nine-year old.

Many years ago, I was making breakfast and half listening to one of the morning news programs. It was before Christmas and a child psychologist was talking about toys. He reported on a study where toddlers were placed in a room full of toys and observed from the other side of a one-way window. There were toys that lit up, made loud noises, and moved across the room. I don’t know if back then, they could fire darts. Who knows?

The little lab rats went to those toys first, then soon got tired of them. Time after time, the two toys that toddlers played with over and over again were a ping-pong ball and a beach ball. They were fascinated by the tiny white ball that would make such a loud noise when hitting the floor and by the huge colorful ball could so easily be made to bounce high in the air.

It has now been more than a year since the U.S economy started to fall off a cliff, taking the rest of the world with it. Lives have been changed forever. We know lots of the statistics but only a fraction of the stories.

One of the statistics will be the total number of U.S. retail stores that will have closed their doors in 2009. I have heard predictions that they will number in the hundreds of thousands. So many people losing their jobs and businesses is a national tragedy.

But I have to wonder if we ever really needed all of those stores. Are we, after all, hard-wired to be fascinated by the ping pong ball, the beach ball, and the toy soldier that does absolutely nothing, other than what a mind can make it do?

In the summer, we go to the beach a lot. We see children who have been taught to cry, whine, and scream for adult attention. Fortunately their voices are often drowned out by the sound of the waves.

And we watch other children who arrive with shovels and pails and dig for hours. They pile up sand into mounds and they fetch ocean water to fill holes that need to be filled. From adults, they may seek approval, but never involvement. They seem to know their jobs. Should they encounter problems with the project, a pint-sized supervisor usually emerges to give the necessary directives. By the end of the day, it has all worked out.

And something was built that could possibly last forever.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Brutish Idiot

"Man as an individual is a genius. But men in the mass form the headless monster, a great brutish idiot that goes where prodded."

-- Charlie Chaplin

When I was about five, we lived in a first floor apartment, and my bedroom was close to the street. At night, I would wake up frightened by ghosts on my ceiling. When I told my father about them, he explained that I was seeing shadows cast by the headlights of cars, coming in through and around the window shades.

I didn’t believe him. He probably knew that the ghosts were harmless, and thought it best to deny their existence. They danced on the ceiling and had strangely contorted faces. They sometimes seemed to be smiling and laughing. Perhaps they had always lived in our building, and at night gathered in my room. They were probably smiling and laughing at the fear they could see in my face.

My only defense was to hide under the covers until they decided to move on.

A few years ago, my wife and I went to a nearby art museum. Usually visits to museums and art exhibits are at her suggestion, but this one was mine. I read a review of a show called: Monsters. I thought it would be fun to walk through an adult house of horror, and gaze at images so frightening that I would feel an ice cold shiver run through me.

Sadly, the show was a big disappointment. We saw paintings, sculptures, drawings and photographs of monsters. But these were someone else’s monsters. Some were repulsive, some bizarre, others pitiable, but none even slightly terrifying.

I thought about it later. I wondered about that failure to frighten.

The scariest monsters don’t usually look like monsters. They look ordinary. They look like us, that is, until in a flash, they become something very different. If your daughter had come home with her new boy friend, and said, “Mom and Dad, I’d like you to meet Ted Bundy,” you might have felt pleased that her new guy had such a charming personality, not to mention the face of a young T.V. anchorman. I am positive that his victims glimpsed a very different face.

When I was around ten, I became a boxing fan, and the great boxers became my heroes. The best gift ever was a subscription to Ring Magazine, the bible of boxing. I used my allowance to buy every other boxing magazine that I could find on newsstands.

I especially enjoyed reading about boxers from the past, mainly the heavyweight champions. I read each of their stories in detail, often more than once, and I cut out their pictures and made a big collage. They were colorful men, from the first ever to hold the title, John L. Sullivan, the Boston Strong Man, to Joe Louis, the Brown Bomber, to Jack Dempsey, the Manassa Mauler, to Rocky Marciano,
the Brockton Blockbuster.

At ten, my imagination was limitless. It put me ringside at the greatest fights of all time. It made the champions my friends. It promised to one day make me one of them. But a limitless imagination is not always a joy.

One magazine told the story of Jack Johnson, the first black man to become Heavyweight Champion of the World. The year was 1908. A picture showed Johnson battering the champion, Tommy Burns. And it showed a section of the crowd.

These men were dressed, as was the custom of the day, in jackets, ties, and the brimmed hats that were fashionable in the early 1900s. These were gentlemen. They were probably druggists, shop owners, school teachers, trolley drivers, maybe some doctors and lawyers. Some of them would have been your neighbors. If you were a child in 1908, they would know you by name.

And these men were on their feet, yelling: “Kill the nigger!”

I must have felt a cold shiver go through me. I was stunned. I carefully cut out the picture of Jack Johnson, along the outline of his body, and threw away the faces in the crowd. But those faces never left me. I had never seen hatred worn so proudly.

At the age of ten, you are too old to hide under the covers and too small to stand up to the monsters that invade your mind. So here’s what you do: You find a way to lure them into a cage, then you slam the door shut, and you lock it. Then you build a wall around the cage so that they won’t see you and you won’t have to see them. You will deal with them later, when you are a lot bigger and a lot stronger.

As Heavyweight Champion of the World, Johnson was loathed by those who believed that he had upset the natural order. Sportswriters openly compared him to an ape. An animal now held the most coveted title in sports – an ungodly mockery. The cry went out for a Great White Hope.

The cry was especially desperate because Jack Johnson’s behavior was never less than outrageous. In his match with Tommy Burns, he was called a nigger by his opponent, by his opponent’s cornermen, and by those faces in the crowd. He answered their taunts by propping up his weak opponent to inflict greater damage, not just to Burns, but to those snarling white men who were quickly losing hope. While they fought, he joked with onlookers to show how easily he was handling their champion.

Negroes were considered to be subhuman and fit only to be servants, but the champ wore handmade suits, drove expensive cars, bought a house in an upscale white neighborhood in Bakersfield, California, and he consorted with white women. He simply did whatever he felt like doing. He seemed to be living his life to taunt his “white masters” the way he toyed with Tommy Burns.

The urgent cry for a Great White Hope grew deafening. But, as a fighter, Johnson was far superior to any possible contender. Each white hope fell with embarrassing ease, until only one remained.

Finally, finally, finally. James J. Jefferies, the former champ, who had retired undefeated and had returned to his life as a farmer, answered their prayers and agreed to return to the ring one last time, saying, “I am going into this fight for the sole purpose of proving that a white man is better than a negro.”

On July 4, 1910, in Reno, Nevada the fight took place that was billed as “The Hope of the White Race vs. The Deliverer of the Negroes.” Johnson won by a knockout in the fifteenth round. In cities all across the U.S., blacks took to the streets to celebrate the unimaginable. Whites answered them with rage, and lives were lost in the violence.

The pillars of society could not permit this perversion of nature to triumph. If you’ve seen the movie, The Great White Hope, or the Ken Burns documentary, Unforgivable Blackness, you know the rest of the story.

Jack Johnson fled the country to avoid imprisonment for a trumped up conviction on violating the Mann Act --transporting a woman across state lines for immoral purposes. He lived in exile, in Europe and South America. In 1915, he lost his title to a mediocre fighter, named Jess Willard. Some say he threw the fight. Others believe he was just out of shape and tired of battling. He returned to the U.S. and served his prison sentence of a year and a day.

The natural order had at last been restored.

The aging Jack Johnson finished his boxing career in a lackluster fashion, losing most of his fights. He became old news. With a little time, what he had accomplished would be forgotten. One day he stormed out of a North Carolina restaurant after being refused service because of his race, and died in a car crash. The year was 1946.

He should had lived one more year.

In 1947, America’s sport was baseball. And that sport was about to assume an important place in American history.

Another black man named Jack began doing what no black man had been allowed to do. He began playing major league baseball. The story of Jackie Robinson bears few similarities to that of Jack Johnson.

Robinson was a highly disciplined man with enormous inner-strength who endured the animosity of many of his teammates, the racial slurs and the well aimed spikes and inside fastballs of opposing players, and, of course, the jeers and verbal attacks of angry fans – and, for his first two years, endured it all silently and without retaliation.

His job was to break major league baseball’s color barrier, and he did it by maintaining a standard of behaviour so impeccable that critics would have nothing to challenge. The story of Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers has been chronicled numerous times, and I can offer nothing new.

But to me, one day in his ten-year career stands out from all the rest. In 1947, the Dodgers were at Crosley field in Cincinnati warming up before the game. The crowd was the ugliest that Robinson had ever seen, and ever would see. They jeered him relentlessly, shouting “Nigger, go home!” And, they hurled bottles onto the field. It would be too dangerous to play the game.

Then, an amazing thing happened. The captain of the Dodgers, a Southerner from Kentucky, Pee Wee Reese, walked over to Robinson and put his hand on the black man’s shoulder. And then, another amazing thing happened. The jeering and the bottle throwing suddenly stopped.

Over the years, Jackie Robinson would have to endure many more acts of hatred, but he would not be doing it alone.

Before the start of the 1947 season, Dodger players, led by those from the South, circulated a petition, stating that they would refuse to play unless the black man was removed from the team. Pee Wee refused to sign it. He said that it had nothing to do with racial decency. It was all about making a living for his family, after having just returned from the war. It was a practical matter.

Some of those close to him weren’t so sure. They recalled Pee Wee telling a story about when he was ten-years old. His father took him along on a trip to Brandenburg, Kentucky. On that trip, he pointed out a tall tree, with a large branch that extended almost horizontally. The elder Reese told his son that it was called the Hanging Tree, because that’s where negroes were hanged.

As an adult, Pee Wee recalled the story to friends and family members. Clearly, it had made an impression. I think you know where I’m going with this. At ten-years old, and with an uncontainable imagination, he envisioned the faces of those men in the lynch mobs. The faces of ordinary men who turned into Freddy Kruegers.

So he did what a terrified ten-year old does. He lured them into a cage, slammed the door shut, and quickly locked it. Then he built a wall around the cage so that he wouldn’t have to see their faces.

And that day in Cincinnati, he was more than big enough and more than strong enough to face them. And they knew it.

On Coney Island, in Brooklyn, stands a statue by sculptor, William Behrends. It depicts two men, wearing the uniforms of summer. One man has his arm on the other’s shoulder. You know exactly who they are.

I’ve never seen the statue. If you decide to plan a trip to Coney Island, let me know. Maybe I can arrange to meet you there.

Monday, August 31, 2009

A Ted For All Seasons

The year was 1969. I was driving down Route 2, in eastern Massachusetts, heading west from Cambridge to Arlington. This was, and still is, a nicely kept road, bordered by trees, lawns, and attractive New England neighborhoods. So, it was a bit jarring when I noticed a giant two-word message spray painted on a retaining wall. It said, “Ted Stay.”

It must have been July 20 or 21 that I saw that crude, but effective billboard, a picture of which appeared the following day in the Boston Globe. I’m able to narrow down the time frame because the message was meant for Senator Edward M. Kennedy, in response to calls for his resignation.

On the evening of July 18, Ted attended a party on Martha’s Vineyard’s Chappaquiddick Island. He left with a 28-year old campaign worker, Mary Jo Kopechne. There is much speculation as to where they were headed, but we will never know for sure. We do know that his car went off the Dike Bridge into Poucha Pond. We know that she drowned, he survived, and the police weren’t notified until the next day.

This is too clean and simple to be totally accurate, but to me, the citizenry of Massachusetts fall neatly into three different groups. There are those who adored him, including the the Route 2 spray painter, the 62 percent of our voters who returned him to office in the next election, and the tens of thousands who lined up to view his casket or wave solemnly at his passing hearse.

Then, there is a loud, vitriolic minority who rule the talk radio airwaves, some of whom still call him a murderer, and all of whom believe that his liberal policies have contributed heavily to the decline of this once great nation.

And finally, there is a tiny (or so it often seems) third group, comprised of those of us, who view him as neither hero nor villain. For us, he was the third brother – not Jack, not Bobby. We like him a little or we dislike him a little, and the same for his policies.

Those who do not adore him believe that his family handed him a Senate seat which he did not earn. “If your name were Edward Moore, instead of Edward Moore Kennedy, your candidacy would be a joke,” said his opponent for the nomination, Ed McCormack.

And of course, he was right. It wasn’t that Ted had a lousy resume; he had no resume at all. But McCormack sounded like a bully and the voters didn’t like that. So Ted was elected. He became part of our political furniture. Certainly not a mover and shaker. He was just there. Until that night.

This past weekend, I watched nearly every minute of the services and listened to all of the eulogies. And I was moved. They described a wonderful man, with a huge heart, who treated ordinary people with the same focused attention he gave to the powerful. They described a man who had worked tirelessly, brilliantly, and selflessly, and who had become the biggest mover and shaker in Washington.

But I felt with complete certainty that, at the JFK Library and later at the Mission Hill church, Chappaquiddick silently hovered over the room. It didn’t get mentioned by name, nor should it have been.

But when Teddy Jr., delivering his eloquent and touching eulogy, mentioned redemption and referred to his father “righting wrongs of his own failings,”and when President Obama mentioned “experiencing personal failings and set-backs in the most public way possible,” we knew that they were respectfully acknowledging the invisible witness.

Ted clearly panicked that day in 1969. His actions appeared selfish and cowardly. And because he was a good and decent man, he felt unbearable shame and guilt, as any good and decent person would.

They say he lost his presidential bid in 1980 because he was unable to answer the question: “Why do you want to be president?” I think he heard a different question in his mind: “Why do you deserve to be president?” And the demons would not let him answer.

There was the period in his life of notoriously bad behavior. The public drunkenness and the womanizing. I remember, back then, hearing Orrin Hatch tell us what he had told Ted privately: that his lifestyle was getting in the way of the good work that they were doing together and should go on doing together.

The eulogizers didn’t speak about the period of self-destruction, or at least not directly. We heard over and over that Vicki had saved him. Yes, here was a man who badly needed saving. Somehow she convinced him to forgive himself, or perhaps she helped him broker a deal with his demons.

Ted never had to worry about being re-elected. Except once. In his 1994 race against Republican newcomer, Mitt Romney, the polls showed the challenger remarkably close. I voted for Romney, thinking that it would be a refreshing change to replace our senator-for-life with a younger, pro-business, fresh thinking Republican.

But Ted’s faithful were not going to turn him out. He won with 58 percent of the vote -- a squeaker for him, but convincing enough to discourage future would-be challengers from being foolish enough to enter Kennedy Country.

Mitt later saw an opportunity to win the Massachusetts governorship. Again, I voted for him. He got off to a promising start, showing us his tough, pragmatic CEO brand of leadership. Then, when we needed him most, he was missing in action.

Though he denied the rumors, Mitt was quietly gearing up for his presidential bid, using Massachusetts as a stepping-stone, and he was busy with the very time-consuming work of changing his stance on social issues to make himself acceptable to the GOP’s conservative base. To win the nomination, he would need an extreme makeover.

For all the years that liberal was a dirty word, and when successfully labeling your opponent a liberal was all you needed to win an election, Ted Kennedy proudly remained liberal-in-chief. You knew where he stood, and you knew he would remain there, no matter what.

“It was his character – his courage, his kindness, his persistence, his honesty, and his almost heroic patience in the face of setbacks – that was the most important element of his success.”

The above quote comes from an editorial comment on the inside flap of Peggy Noonan’s book, When Character Was King, a loving portrait of her boss, Ronald Reagan. Can that same character label be suitably applied to Ted Kennedy?

Well, there are those three groups. Those who adore him would smile with approval. Those who despise him would be infuriated by the praise. And some of us, in the third group, might finally let go of our indifference.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Superior Scribbler Award

Several weeks ago, Rae at Weather Vane presented me with the Superior Scribbler Award. I'm late in responding, but I do have excuses. To begin with, I'm lousy at following assignments. I'll spare you the self-analysis. Just take my word for it.

Also, my last post went off in a direction of its own. It became a two-parter and then a three-parter. That wasn't my plan. When you let your writing breathe, it can turn into a beast.

Rae, are you buying any of this?

You can read the story behind this award by clicking on the link below.

The award comes with a list of rules, and here they are:

1. Each Superior Scribbler must in turn pass The Award on to five deserving bloggers.

2. Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author and the name of the blog from whom he or she as received The Award.

3. Each Superior Scribbler must display The Award on their own blog, and link to This Post, which explains the award.

4. Each Blogger who wins the Superior Scribbler Award must visit This Post and add their name to the Mr. Linky List. That way, we'll be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who receives this prestigious honor.

5. Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on their blog.

So, which five lucky bloggers will be getting the news that I have designated them Superior Scribblers?

Sorry, you'll have to wait, and so will they. I'm often late on my assignments, but I do take them seriously.

Truthfully, I don't yet know how I will determine my fabulous five.

There are some new bloggers out there who would love to have this award. Maybe I'll run a contest.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Baltimore Colt & Mr Broadway-Part III

In January of 1969, I was away at college. One day, while sitting around my apartment, I answered the phone, and heard my father’s voice say:

So, would you like to go to the Super Bowl? He was headed for Miami with some of his buddies, and he had an extra ticket.

The Super Bowl? Truthfully, I was on the verge of saying, “Thanks Dad, but I’m kind of busy.” Did I really need to be in the stands, watching the NFL Champion Baltimore Colts, generally considered to be the best football team in history -–better even than the vintage Vince Lombardi Green Bay Packers-- annihilate the flashy, fun to watch, and weakest AFL Champion to date, New York Jets?

He broke the brief silence. “It will be fun. I’ll see you in Miami.” Then, he hung up.

I met him at the hotel, where we and most of his friends had to sleep in the lobby, because the rooms had been oversold. That was my father. He didn’t sweat the details. Rooms? Who needs rooms? In fact, he didn’t quite have tickets either, but he scrounged some up.

You’re probably thinking, “What a great dad, taking his kid to The Super Bowl.” True enough, but I need to provide a touch of perspective. Once I arrived in Miami, I quickly figured out what was what.

Dad wanted a week of deep-sea fishing and pool-side-vodka-and-tonic card playing with his cronies, with a splash Super Bowl thrown in. So he used the I think I’ll take our kid to The Super Bowl ploy to get a free pass from my mother, who probably thought, “Well this will be a nice father and son experience. How could I possible object? ”

Sunday, January 12, 1969, Miami, FL, The Orange Bowl

I don’t know about you, but when I arrive early at a stadium or arena to watch an event, I pay close attention to those who begin filling the seats around me, and I decide, based on very little information, what kind of people they are and whether or not I’m going to like them, or at least be able to tolerate them.

Hey, if I’m going to spend several hours in this temporary, human zoo of a neighborhood, I want to have some idea of who I’m going to like and who I will eventually want to kill. I don’t think that’s just me. I think its human nature. I’m pretty sure you do it too.

We arrived quite early. My seat was one row back from Dad and his gang, so we were kind of together, but not really. They would periodically look back and talk to me so that I would feel included. Then the seats around me began filling in, creating my very own soon-to-be community of friends, neighbors, and blood enemies.

The Colts, that season, had beaten every team they played. They lost one game to the Cleveland Browns, then came back and trounced them the next time they met. This team had zero weaknesses.

No question about it. This would not be the year for severely disrespected AFLers to show the world that our brand of football was every bit as first-class as that stodgy, stale, NFL brand that owned the majority of football hearts and minds.

To my left, a gang of eight middle-aged guys were climbing the steps and heading toward my row. They were loud NFL diehards. The odds were good they would not be sitting anywhere near me. They eventually reached my row, checked their tickets and filed in. Fabulous. These were my next-door neighbors.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly introduced themselves. Six of them were the kind of NFL meatheads who believed, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the AFL champions could be beaten by Notre Dame. My guess was that they had all been drinking since breakfast, but one of them (The Ugly) stood out from the others: louder, drunker, and proudly annoying.

Two of the eight were AFL fans (The Good), who after some quick declarations of who we all were, switched seats to sit near me. They handed me an extra beer, and started calling me: “Boston.” I called my neighbor, in the next seat, “Houston.”

We shared stories of my Patriots and his Oilers. When he especially liked one of mine, he would laugh and jab me in the shoulder. My father glanced back, took in the scene, and clearly thought it was hilarious.

Throughout the afternoon, I would hear: “Hey, pass this one down to Boston.” And, I’d be handed a beer, accompanied by a friendly punch in the shoulder.

Prior to the arrival of my new best friends, I was thinking that this would be like watching a bullfight. A young, attractive, and inexperienced matador had drawn the biggest, meanest bull on the planet, and I would be rooting for the matador not to get gored.

The five Bad Guys, to my left, would be rooting for the matador to get gored, stomped on, tossed against the wall, and get gored again. The Ugly sixth would have been severely disappointed by that outcome.

But all in all, these guys were my favorite neighbors. The group to my right included a surprising number of women and teenage girls who were obviously recycling the hats and dresses they must have worn to the Kentucky Derby. They would have little idea of what was going on down on the field. They were a football audience I had never seen before.

To drum up interest for this absurd mismatch, league execs abandoned the bland title of AFL-NFL Championship Game, and officially renamed the contest: The Super Bowl. And guess what? It actually did create a lot of good buzz, but most of that buzz was due to the fact that for the very first time, this battle between the league champions had a genuine rock star:

Joe Namath.

And like any true rock star, Joe Willie had fans – lots of them. Many were brand new to football. And many of these brand new fans were women and teenage girls. They may not have known Joe’s stats, but they knew he was sexy, and they headed for Miami or to their television sets in record numbers. This would change professional football forever.

“This will be Namath’s first professional game,” said ex-NFL quarterback and coach, Norm Van Brocklin. That insult, and others like it, were felt deep in the gut of every AFL player and fan.

Joe was not the silent type. His angry response to one public insult was: “We’ll win the game. I guarantee you.” The quote became a front-page headline in most newspapers. So, more times than I could count, the Ugly would yell out, at the top of his lungs, “This will be Namath’s first professional game.” And more times than I could count, Houston would yell back, “We’ll win the game. I guarantee you.”

And the Derby chicks to my right would look over, shake their heads, and make faces.

The game got underway.

On their first possession, the Colts marched down field, headed for a touchdown. They did not get it. Stopped on the Jets’ 27-yard line, they had to settle for a field goal. But they missed it. Houston was elated. He, of course, punched me in the shoulder.

We watched a first half of football that nobody expected to see. The Colts missed another field goal. The Jets scored a touchdown. The half ended with the Jets on top, 7-0. I was not relieved. My Bad Guy neighbors were a little quiet, but as one of them put it, “Hey for the Colts, being down 7-points at the half is the same as being up 14-points.”

He was probably right. The Colts would make the necessary adjustments, as had the Packers in Super Bowl I. The Jets had most likely played their hearts out and had little left in the tank, just like the Chiefs, in Super Bowl I.

We all figured the Colts would come out roaring in the second half.

They did not.

It was like they had some kind of collective nervous breakdown.

The Jets controlled the ball for most of the third period. When the Colts did have the ball, they fumbled, got intercepted, and blew big plays.

Houston was jubilant. His buddies were slumped in their seats. The Derby Chicks were having a ball. Namath was actually going to deliver on his guarantee. The mighty Colts were powerless to stop him. It was a little too soon to start celebrating, but we were pretty darn sure that Vindication Day had arrived for 20 million AFL fans.

Then, something happened to change the game. Well, it changed the game for me. The quarterback, Earl Morrall was pulled from the game. Morrall, who had a great season, had been the beneficiary of an injury to the Colt’s real quarterback, Johnny Unitas.

There are those who say that Unitas’ injured elbow was completely healed and there are others who doubt that it was. But with four minutes left in the third quarter, Number 19 was standing behind his center. Johnny Unitas, the quarterback who had thrown touchdown passes in 47 consecutive games, and who ran an offense better than any quarterback in history was now on the field.

Suddenly, I became unaware of what was happening in the seats around me. All of that faded to black. With the sudden twist of plot, I was into this drama, totally. If you read my Part I, you know why. At 10 years old, the greatness of Johnny U. was permanently wired to my soul.
Johnny U. played well, but not well enough to win. It may have been the sore arm, or the rust from spending the entire season on the bench, or it may have been his teammates who couldn’t shake off the bewilderment of what was happening to them.

Final score: Jets 16, Colts 7.

Namath’s teammates carried him off the field, on their shoulders. His finger, pointed high in the air, said it all, “We’re number one.” The Colt players were stunned and no doubt embarrassed. I didn’t see much sportsman-like congratulating going on. Some Colts just turned and made their way to the locker room.

But I saw Unitas shaking hands with some of the Jets. Of course.

The next day, on the plane back to college, I leaned back in my seat, closed my eyes and replayed the game. When I got to four minutes left in the third period, I stopped and realized that if Unitas had turned the game around and won it, that would have been just fine with me. I could have waited another year for the vindication that I so badly wanted.

A sportswriter wrote that if those same Colts played those same Jets nine more times, the Colts would win all nine contests. I would not have challenged that claim. But on the day it mattered, an unlikely messiah made good on an outrageous boast, delivering exactly what he had guaranteed.

The next year, the merger between the NFL and the AFL would be finalized. The AFL name would disappear. It would all be one big NFL, with an American Football Conference and a National Football Conference.

Three old NFL teams: The Steelers, the Browns, and the Colts would move over to the AFC, blending the two leagues into one.

That decision ended the greatest sports rivalry of my life.


Friday, July 31, 2009

The Baltimore Colt & Mr. Broadway-Part II

The famous, and often irritating, sports announcer and commentator, Howard Cosell cautioned us not to take our sports too seriously, “because lets face it, sports is the toy department of life.” I agree completely. But there are times when many of us, the highly rational included, find ourselves living in a recurring dream where no matter how hard we try to find our way out of the department store, we end up back in that damn toy department.

It’s not rational to mourn the loss of a game, as you would the loss of a person, or even a beloved pet. We know that. We know that moping around the day after our team goes down in defeat, instead of moping around about war, starvation, and melting glaciers is juvenile at best. When our team walks away losers, we of course remind ourselves that it is, after all, only a game, though it may take a lot of those reminders to ease our suffering.

I don’t know the psychology behind fan-dementia. I’ve heard the sports-as-emotional-safety valve theory. Maybe that explains it. You scream at players and referees instead of killing your spouse or children.

Then again, maybe it’s some kind of evolutionary hard wiring. Two cavemen would start pounding each other with clubs to determine who would have first crack at the dinosaur meat. A crowd would gather. Some would root for the tall, handsome caveman and others for the pudgy, endearing caveman. This may have given birth to caveman clubbing championships. Some, like me, would root for his favorite. Others, like my father, would place a bet.

January 15, 1967.

Contrary to what you may think, the game was not called Super Bowl I, nor was it called The Super Bowl. And that was just fine, because there was nothing super about it. The first ever AFL–NFL Championship Game, which pitted the champions of the upstart American Football League against the iron of the National Football League did not have to live up to the hype, because there wasn’t any, at least not by today’s standards.

This landmark game, which, years later, would retroactively be named Super Bowl I, took place at the Los Angeles Coliseum.. The merger between the leagues that formed today’s National Football League, was newly in the works, and I suppose the brass believed that the heated rivalry (more like mutual hatred) would make the game a really big deal. It did not.

Hardcore NFLers believed that the season was over with the Packers winning the NFL Championship. This was after all a great Packers team, coached by none other than the great Vince Lombardi. To hardcore and even softcore NFLers, the AFL Champion Kansas City Chiefs were little more than a glorified college team, composed of NFL rejects and wannabes. To them, this game was just a business scheme. To them, the game was a joke.

And because The Game That Was Not Called Super Bowl I was considered a a laughable contest, it did not have what we’ve now come to expect as givens in our over-the-top-hyped-to-the-max unofficial national holiday known as Super Bowl Sunday. It did not have a sell-out crowd. With an attendance of 60,000, the Coliseum was about one-third empty.

It did not have ticket prices, unaffordable to most of us. The average ticket price was $12.00, and you could have gotten a seat for 6 bucks. A 30-second television commercial did not go for $3 million. It went for $80,000.

There was however a segment of the population for whom the game did mean something – the diehard fans of the American Football League. To most of us, this game was the most important professional football game of our lives.

The Chiefs had a great season. There was no doubt in our minds that they belonged in the championship game. They didn’t get there by some fluke. They were the best in the AFL, and now they were our team.

According to Ange Coniglio who runs the site: Remember the AFL, the number of fans who attended AFL football games from 1960 to 1970 totaled 17 million. It’s impossible to know how many others watched the games on television, but I think we can safely say that there were about 20 million of us out there, emotionally involved with the Patriots, Bills, Jets, Chargers, Raiders, Oilers, Dolphins, Broncos, and Chiefs.

And at the end of the 1966 season, all of us became Kansas City Chiefs. Nick Buoniconti, the great linebacker for the Dolphins, who started his career with the Patriots (and would likely have remained a Patriot, had the team not needed to free itself of his exorbitant $38,000 salary), said that he had never rooted so hard for a team in his life.

At stake, was nothing less than vindication –-for the fans and players of the AFL.

I was away at college. There was one television set in the entire dorm, and it was located in a big room off the lobby – open to everyone who showed up.

So fifteen AFLers watched the game with fifty NFLers. It may have been my own paranoia, but within those groups there were no shades of gray. There were the arrogant Packers-This-Game-Is-A-Joke group and the confident Chiefs-Will-Surprise-The-World group. There was also a small group of those who really didn’t give a shit. Most them were girls who thought we were all morons.

The first half was a good football game. The Chiefs played the Packers to a near tie. The half ended with the Packers on top, 14-10. If not for a missed field goal, it would have been 14-13. So far, the game was anything but a joke. It was good, competitive football. The Packers players were surprised. NFL fans were pleasantly quiet. AFL fans were ready to celebrate.

You see the Chiefs really didn’t need to actually beat the Packers; they just needed to be contenders. They could be Rocky Balboa losing to Apollo Creed.

Apollo was the official winner; he won the match. Rocky was the real winner; he won the fans.

Hell, in the regular season, the Packers had beaten the San Francisco 49ers 20-7; the Detroit Lions 31-7; the Chicago Bears 17-0, and they had destroyed the Atlanta Falcons 56-3.

Losing by a touchdown or even by a touchdown and a field goal, and suddenly, we’re more than just officially in the same league – we are really in the same league.

Tragically, we would be denied both the official win and the real win. Lombardi and his Packers went into the locker room at half-time and made the necessary adjustments. The second half was the game we were dreading. The Packers won decisively. Final score: 35-10. They carried Lombardi off the field on their shoulders. His grin said it all. He had defended Rome from the barbarians.

Those of us, lingering by the television set, took the verbal blows.

We would be the junior league for another year. In fact, for another two years. The second AFL-NFL Championship Game, which was not called Super Bowl II, was nearly a carbon copy. We had great hopes for that one too. It was an upset in the making. Again it was the Green Bay Packers, but a weaker edition than the 1967 champs, against the Oakland Raiders, our toughest team. Final score: Packers win, 33-14. Oh the Agony!

And with that defeat, I started to lose hope. “Every dog has his day,” my father always said, but I really had to wonder how many long years of snickering we would have to endure before we would have ours. It’s just a game. It’s just a game. It’s just…

Twenty-six years later, I was in Miami on a business trip. I would be meeting a new business associate from Chicago for lunch, and then the two of us would spend an afternoon making sales calls together. Driving to the restaurant, I realized that I had allowed way too much time for lunch. Our first appointment was only ten minutes away. What on earth would we talk about for an hour and a half?

I asked him if he was originally from Chicago. No, he said, he was from San Diego. “Oh,” I said. “So those ’64 -’65 Chargers, do you think they could have beaten the best of the NFL, had there been a championship game?” His eyes lit up. We ordered drinks. We went over the roster, player by player. Damn, we were running out of time. We ordered another round.

I don’t remember which of us brought up The Game That Was Not Called Super Bowl I. But we felt the same way about it. He had rooted for the Chiefs harder than he had ever rooted for his own Chargers, and he took the loss as hard as I did. This was first-degree commiserating.

And then I said something.

I don’t know where it came from. Truthfully, I don’t. I said. “Look, deep down, whether we were aware of it or not, we were all afraid that the Chiefs were going to go out onto that field and be humiliated…that the game would be 60-minutes of our guys fumbling, dropping passes, getting flattened on the line, and generally, curling up in the fetal position.”

That didn’t happen.

No, we were beaten by a better team, but we were not humiliated.

But, you were afraid we would be, weren’t you?

I guess we all were. Whether we admitted it or not, we had to be.

Actually, we came out of it pretty well. We lost, but we did not look like the amateurs they took us for.

We left the restaurant feeling pretty good. We kept talking football – AFL football. We missed the exit for our first appointment, and arrived ten minutes late. No matter, the person we were meeting was twenty minutes late. We sat in the lobby, relishing the old, forgotten victory that we had just dug out of the dirt.

Call it rationalizing, and maybe it was, but I decided to hold on to it anyway. I had walked away from the television set, twenty-six years earlier, with a sense of relief, and that was a kind of victory, one that had been lost in the immediate swirl of loud, gloating voices.

And I came to discover that lots of us, deep down, felt that same sense of victory that we failed to recognize when it would have provided some welcome consolation. Thoughts and emotions can get awfully tangled up, even in the toy department.

Of course the consolation prize that I discovered in that Miami restaurant couldn’t undo the feeling of gloom I felt way back then, following that championship game. No, it would take almost a miracle to do that.

And, there was another game on the horizon –

The Game That Was
Called Super Bowl III.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Baltimore Colt & Mr. Broadway - Part I

When you’re a kid, things get poured into your brain that never leave. That’s how most of us become sports fans. We get infected before we’re able to build our natural defenses.

What I remember most about 1959 was watching professional football, on Sunday afternoons, in my living room, with my father. Being an especially astute 10-year old, I noticed a big difference in the way Dad watched baseball and the way he watched football.

When we watched Red Sox games, he would glance at the newspaper, leave the room or talk on the phone, then returning his attention to the game, he would ask: “What did I miss? But when he watched football, he watched every play. If the phone rang, he would hold it to his ear and talk, but his eyes would be focused on the screen. He had an on-off switch in his head, so that if I spoke during a play, he heard my voice, with all of the words filtered out. It converted my chatter into white noise.

In Boston, in the 1950’s, we did not have a professional football team of our own. We watched the New York Giants. We rooted for the Giants, but we knew that they were not really ours. It was like we were borrowing them.

I’m going to have to correct a previous statement. I rooted for the Giants. Dad rooted for a different team every week. When I asked him why, he explained that when he bet on a game, it only made sense to root for the team that his money was riding on. He added, instructively, that I should never, ever make a sentimental bet.

Some fathers preach safe sex, mine preached safe gambling. I suppose all vices can get you into trouble, so you need to watch the ones that you think are most likely to entrap your kid.

One Sunday afternoon, the Giants were about to play the Baltimore Colts. When quarterback, Johnny Unitas took the field, my father said, without taking his eyes off the set, “He’s the best there ever was.” Dad was not one for superlatives. With all the games, in all the sports that we watched before and after this one, he only said that about one other player, running back, Jim Brown.

For me, this was one outstanding piece of information. I knew that I would walk into school the next day and let my friends know how smart I was. The method chosen for this sort of announcement would be critical. If I stood up and blurted it out, it would be obvious that I was simply passing on information that I just received from someone else. So I knew that I would have do it with a kind of casual thinking-out-loud delivery:

Hey, did you guys watch the Colts game yesterday? Man, Unitas has to be the best there ever was.

It has been said about Unitas, that for most of any game, he was great, but there were other quarterbacks who were his equal, that is, until the final two minutes. Back in those days, quarterbacks called their own plays. Unitas was completely in charge, and he was a master. For him, being down by a touchdown, with two minutes to play was like playing with the game tied.

Johnny U. (as he was called) completed a touchdown pass in 47 consecutive games. A feat, often compared to Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak. The 1959 season ended with the Colts beating the Giants in the championship game, which is still often referred to as the greatest game ever played. For most fans, it solidified Unitas’ position as football’s number one QB.

Finally, in 1960, we got our own team, the Boston Patriots. They were the last franchise awarded in the upstart American Football League. Mainstream pundits everywhere said the league wouldn’t last. Earlier attempts to challenge the NFL had failed, and surely this one would be no different.

That old AFL were a fun gang to watch. With wide-open offenses, they scored a lot of points. The uniforms were colorful and so were the players – like Abner Haynes, Clem Daniels, Elbert “Golden Wheels” Dubenion, Cookie Gilchrist, Gino Cappelletti,Wahoo McDaniel, Big Daddy Lipscomb and Lance Alworth.

But it was not always easy being a fan. For one thing, the Patriots had no home of their own. They borrowed playing time at Harvard Stadium, Boston University Field, Boston College’s Alumni Field, and Fenway Park. Following the Patriots, literally meant following them around.

Worse than that –much worse than that– was the putdown factor.

NFL fans, players, and most sportswriters looked down upon the AFL as a junior league. I heard this a lot: Any AFL team could be beaten by a good college team. AFL teams can’t play defense. Their biggest stars wouldn’t even be starters in the NFL. No matter how much success the league began to enjoy, the insults never let up.

You’d be sitting at a bar, watching the Chargers and the Chiefs, or the Pats and the Raiders, and someone would yell to the bartender to switch channels to the real game, meaning the NFL game, regardless of how dull it might be. You might protest, but you would usually be shouted down.

The AFL wasn’t going to go away. AFL teams were attracting more talented players, which included opening the doors to more and more black players, never an NFL priority. We AFLers were extremely loyal fans. Our days of borrowing an NFL team were over for good. We were not going to let this league die.

Seeing the writing on the wall, the NFL made a big strategic move. They would merge with the AFL. Well, imagine that!

The merger would not be fully completed until 1970, but in 1967 they would begin their new relationship with a slate of inter-league exhibition games. On August 13, the NFL Baltimore Colts played the AFL Boston Patriots at Harvard Stadium.

That morning, my father put down the newspaper, and said, “We should go to the game.” I probably told him I was busy. After all, I was now a semi-rebellious 18-year old, living THE Sixties.

He probably told me to stop thinking I was so cool. We drove to the stadium, bought tickets and ended up in about the fifth or sixth row. The announcer began calling the names of the Colt’s starting offense. With their helmets tucked under their arms, Each player trotted onto the field, right up to the section of stands where we were seated.

We all gave each Colt a warm welcoming applause. And, then, the announcer’s voice said, “at quarterback, Johnny Unitas.”

And, instantly, I was 10 years old.

He trotted toward us and stopped, as had each of his teammates. But this time, the crowd rose to its feet, clapped – louder than any clapping I had ever heard – and cheered, and didn’t stop. The slender man wearing the white uniform, the crew cut, and the boyish smile seemed genuinely touched. He nodded a thank you. Near me a man with a small boy had tears in his eyes. And so did another. And another.

Mind you, this was years before men got together for the specific purpose of group crying. Public tears, in the men’s department of life, were not yet fashionable.

My father looked at me with a grin. The grin said, well you hot shot, smart-ass, think you know everything little punk, you will never forget this moment as long as you live.

And he was right about that. Actually, he was right about all of it, but that’s another story.

The Colts beat the Pats 33 to 3. I didn’t remember the score; I had to look it up. The score really didn’t matter. It was just a meaningless exhibition game. But for the fans of the Boston Patriots, of the American Football League, who happened to be in the stands that afternoon, this was Validation Day.

If you happen to be an old AFL fan, I do not need to explain what we felt on that August afternoon, watching our guys, the new guys, the cast-offs, the disrespected, playing on the same field with the Baltimore Colts.

Or, how it felt having The Greatest There Ever Was as a guest in our home.

My father has been gone for nearly two decades. Often, when I think of him, I think of that day.

But there is more to this story.

In fact, this is really just background information, intended to put the real story more squarely in perspective.


Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Jenny Sanford is the first lady of South Carolina, and might have been in the running for next first lady of the United States. That is, until that wild and wacky hiker of a husband of hers confessed to spending Fathers Day down in Argentina, doing the dirty tango, thus putting a rather abrupt end to his political future and probably his marriage.

Please shout: Olé!

Jenny seems like a nice woman. So I thought I would send her some words of advice. Sure, she’s probably getting plenty of that already, but mine is different, because I’m putting my advice in a song.

To get the most out of this, you will need to sing it as you read it. I’m not kidding. This is the only way it’s going work.

But first, I will need you to go grab some of your favorite gangsta rap music and play it until you are immersed -- mind, body and soul. Select that tender tune you first heard blasting out of car, in line at the drive-thru, or stopped next to you at an interminable red light, to which you responded by racing to the mall in breathless pursuit of your very own CD, which you’ve been saving, like a chilled bottle of champagne, for the right occasion, which just happens to be right now.

So pop it in, and by all means, crank up the volume.

Please no cheating. I shouldn’t have to say this, but you will not get the same effect from Rod Stewart’s Greatest Hits or anything from Norah Jones. That stuff will not help you with the proper interpretation of my song. In fact anything like that will kill the message, not to mention the rhythm.

O.K. I’m assuming you’ve done as I asked, and your mind and body are now on the same wavelength with mine. But first let’s do a short warm-up exercise to help open your lungs and close your mind. Ready? All together now, one…two…three…sing…


Again. This time, Louder.


I can’t hear you! Jenny can’t hear you!


Great. Now please take a moment to catch your breath.

Now visualize yourself staring straight into the MTV camera.

You should try to come up with a threatening facial expression. Think gangsta. And, for the best possible delivery, keep pointing your index finger as though you’re jabbing it into someone’s chest.

Oh, one more thing: there’s no profanity in my lyrics. If you really dig your gangsta rap, feel free to drop-in the F-word, wherever you think it’s needed.

Ready? All together now, one, two, three…















A very special thanks to those of you who actively participated. If Jenny will sing this number with the same sneering, finger pointing, take-no-poop attitude, she’ll be just fine. Trust me. Music works miracles.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Mama and The Papa

Her nickname was Mama, pronounced Ma-maah. She was a black woman from Louisiana, who came to New York to begin a career that she would not be allowed to pursue in almost any other U.S. city. In 1961 she rented the basement of a building on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and started an experimental theater, which she named Café La Mama.

She started her theater to help two of her friends who wanted to be playwrights. Even back then, Broadway was ruled by box office mainstreamism, and Off-Broadway -- once a freer alternative -- was fast becoming a near clone. The fresh artistic voices that were often angry, irreverent, even revolutionary, found homes in the random collection of New York churches, cafes and basements that became collectively known as Off-Off-Broadway.

La Mama began with tiny audiences. Mama would walk on stage before each performance and ring a cowbell to get all five or ten, in attendance, to stop talking. To sustain the theater and the playwrights and actors who slept on her floor and ate her food, Mama kept her day job.

They did daring, ground-breaking work in that basement at 321 Ninth Street, work that got them noticed, but they were forced to move, several times – pushed out by complaining neighbors, racism, phony charges of prostitution, zoning regulations, and license requirements aimed at cleaning up the riff-raff.

New York was not hospitable, but Mama dealt with it all, attracting, protecting, and nurturing new artists, allowing them to push the artistic envelope, while she battled city hall.

Mama’s real name was Ellen Stewart. You can be an avid theatergoer and not recognize the name. She was a tireless promoter, but never a self-promoter, which might explain why the names of some that she nurtured: Sam Shepard, Terence McNally, Nick Nolte, Bette Midler, Harvey Keitel, Danny DeVito, James Coco, and Al Pacino are more recognizable. Ellen introduced Harold Pinter to American audiences.

In 1965 Ellen took her show on the road. Her troupe performed in Belgium, Germany, Italy, Denmark, and eventually in more than 70 countries. Ellen spread the gospel of experimental theater all over the world, and brought the world’s artists back to La Mama.

In the late 1960s, La Mama, the anti-Broadway, harnessed the energy, creativity, and social upheaval of the times in ways that sometimes pushed their productions onto Broadway stages, Hair, Godspell, and Jesus Christ Superstar started at La Mama before going neon.

Even with success, La Mama lacked a permanent home, that is, until 1970 when Ellen’s tenacious fundraising, having won grant money from the Ford, Rockefeller, and Kaplan foundations, enabled La Mama to buy its own building, from which it could not be evicted.

That is, until 1992, when the theater was threatened with foreclosure and needed to be saved.

Friends, made along the way, helped rescue La Mama. Friends like Robert DeNiro, Estelle Getty, Sally Kirkland, F. Murray Abraham, and Billy Crystal. Mama was never about getting rich, and maybe that had a little something to do with earning the respect and admiration of those who mattered most.

For nearly 50 years, Ellen Stewart has provided a stage for the new, the original, and the provocative.

Still, her work is not done. Asclepius is now running at La Mama. Asclepius was the Greek god of medicine and healing. Some think the play is Ellen’s poetic commentary on our present health care system. Asclepius was conceived, written, and directed by Ellen Stewart. She is believed to be 91 years old, and has been in ill health for the majority of those years.

The story of Ellen Stewart and La Mama -- from a dingy dirt floor basement to one of the most influential forces in American theater -- really is quite a story.

But it is not the story I came here to tell.

You see, in 1950, when Ellen first arrived in the Big Apple, with sixty dollars to her name, it was to pursue her dream of becoming…

…a fashion designer.

Alone and broke, she walked into St. Patrick’s Cathedral, lit some candles, and prayed for a break. On the way out, she noticed the sign across the street for Saks Fifth Avenue. She had never heard of Saks Fifth Avenue, but she walked in, found the personnel department and asked for a job. While sitting there, designer, Edith Lances walked in, looking for someone to snip threads from brassieres. Instantly, Ellen had a job.

If you don’t have religion, that might make you reconsider.

Black women who worked at Saks were required to wear blue smocks. I’m sure all blue smocked black women looked pretty much alike to everyone else. Maybe that was the point: to conceal their individuality. But, customers began to notice the colorful handmade clothing that Ellen wore under her blue smock. They wanted to know what department they could visit to buy something like it for themselves.

Three months after starting at Saks, snipping threads from bras, Ellen became executive designer of sportswear. Her designs were a sensation. She became the only American to have two gowns at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. The career of her dreams was now reality.

And she lived that reality, until her health made her quit. She had a heart condition and more. Ellen does not shed much light on the details of her life. Those who love her story are left to connect the dots themselves. But she ended up resigning from Saks and doing freelance designs for Bergdorf Goodman, Lord & Taylor, and Henri Bendel.

Then, she had a nervous breakdown. She went to Morocco for a change of scenery and a change of life. She rested and reflected. Then, she returned to New York, rented a basement and opened her theater.

And now, as commentator, Paul Harvey used to say, you know the rest of the story.

Well, not quite. There’s still a piece missing.

And here it is.

When she first arrived in New York, in 1950, she explored the neighborhoods. On the Lower East Side, she happened onto Orchard and Delancy Streets, where the sidewalks were crammed with tables and pushcarts, piled high with fabric.

There she met Abraham Diamond. The elderly Jewish merchant and the black woman from Louisiana became friends. When she’d visit, he would hand her a packet of fabric with a request to make something special. She would come back, wearing what she had made, and he would parade her around, showing off her creations -- the creations that, at Saks, would be seen and admired, sticking out, irrepressibly, from under her blue smock.

The fabric, of course, was a wonderful gift, but perhaps not as precious as the accompanying words of advice, that to find fulfillment, she should have a pushcart, and that she should push it for others.

Ellen later said that, while recovering in Morocco many years later, the words of the man she called, Papa Diamond came back to her.

The basement she rented at 321 Ninth Street was supposed to be a studio, for displaying her designs. Instead it became Café La Mama, with a pushcart wheel hung over the entrance.

Find fulfillment by pushing the cart for others. Interesting concept.


Postscript: It is not easy to obtain the facts of Ellen Stewart’s life. Do the research and you will find contradictory information on her age, place of birth, the exact nature of her health problems, and other details that would normally be easily accessible. But, on personal matters, Ellen has not been one to set the record straight. One day there will be a definitive biography, written by a privileged member of her inner circle. Until then, she will live in the kind of mystery that surrounds an avant-garde stage character. And, she probably prefers it that way.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Dear Ford Motor Company, I Have An Idea...

That’s right FMC, I have an idea, and I think you’re going to like it.

But first, let me just say congratulations! You won. You played it perfectly by not taking the bailout money. GM took piles of it and then went back and begged for more, and now they’re in Chapter 11 anyway. It couldn’t have worked out any better if your own writers had written the script.

And by the way, did they? Just thought I’d ask.

Didn’t you just love (privately, of course) that little business of closing all of those dealerships with almost no notice? What mischievous Tokyo consulting firm suggested that PR triumph?

Story after story of family-run dealerships, doing business in their communities for generations, sponsoring little league teams, supporting the local theater company, remaining loyal to GM and Chrysler through good times and bad, suddenly and callously forced to sell the their cars at huge losses – cars they had bought in good faith, cars they were often pressured to buy – putting their employees out of work and driving the owners into financial ruin. Nice.

And won’t that be the gift that keeps on giving, as we get to drive by all the prominently located shuttered dealerships, in buildings that will likely sit depressingly empty for a very long time, serving as monuments to incompetence. Catchy phrase, don’t you think?

So, while GM continues to implode (and Chrysler, well, I think we can safely forget about them. Can’t we?), Ford is fast on the way to becoming America’s Car Company.

And, your brilliant strategy is starting to show.

Your cars have been getting some very impressive reviews. I rented a Fusion recently. Not a bad car at all. And, I can see myself driving a Mustang, or maybe an Escape, but I’ll get to that later.

In the past few weeks, I’ve noticed at least three taxicabs that were Escape hybrids.Yup, the next time the price of gas goes out of sight, those guys will be shuttling passengers without losing profits. Smart. Very smart. It’s great street-level, sticky advertising, and it won’t cost you a dime.

And, speaking of great street-level, sticky advertising, here’s my idea.

This has been a bitch of a year for all of us. You’re probably stuck with some cars that, sadly, will never get sold. I’ve heard that some of those cars will eventually be worth less than the ground they sit on and will be sent to the crusher to be turned into metal splinters.

I would like you to save one of those for me. My Subaru Forester is on its last legs. I’ve been driving foreign cars my whole adult life. It’s time for me to get with the program – The Ford Program.

Here’s my deal. Give me one of those cars. Like a lot of people, I happen to be a victim of this very dismal economy. But, please do not think that I’m asking for a gift. Far from it. I want you to turn the car into a mobile billboard. You could paint a powerful message on both sides like: Ford Escape Hybrid – 34-MPG City, or Most Fuel-Efficient SUV On The Road Today – something like that.

Your job is to figure out the message and my job will be to get out there and spread that message. And I just happen to have a few strategies for doing this.



I would intentionally get caught in traffic jams, where I’m on a highway, heading in the jammed up direction. Where heading south is bumper to bumper, I would be heading south.

I would be sure to be in the left hand lane, so that free flowing traffic, heading north would have to see your mobile billboard, and I would smile and wave as those cars pass by. They would plainly see how much I was enjoying the traffic jam in my comfy, fuel stingy Ford.

I would commit to doing this at least three days per week, for at least an hour per day. We’ll put that in my contract.



I will make weekly trips to Costco, where I will buy cases of as much bulky product as could be neatly packed into the car.

First, I would be centrally parked so that shoppers going to or from the store could watch me cheerfully loading cases of toilet paper, paper towels, humongous bottles of salad dressing and tomato sauce, into the cargo space. While loading my mobile billboard, I would loudly remark, “I can’t believe how much this car can hold. It’s practically impossible to fill this baby up.”


This little gem is called the HERE COME THE ELEPHANTS STRATEGY.

For exposure to pedestrian traffic, there is nothing better than being downtown when families are walking from the parking garages to the civic center or arena to go see the circus. The trick here is to be stuck at a crosswalk where the pedestrian traffic never lets up. If you don’t hit it just right, you circle around until you do.

It’s not just circuses. This strategy works great for sporting events, home or garden shows – any event where pedestrians cheerfully exercise their right to ignore green lights and saunter across busy streets, sticking it to people behind the wheel. I confess, I don’t understand the mentality, since most of those pedestrians had just, themselves, been behind the wheel. But, no matter, it works every time.

Well FMC, are you with me so far? Admit it, you like this, don’t you? Now, let me give you the big picture, which is not just me out there spreading the good word about America’s Car Company, its lots of us. It’s an army of highly trained, super motivated, unemployed foot soldiers (make that: car soldiers) positioned strategically across the country, on a mission.

Are you seeing the heartwarming PR in this fabulous campaign?

Well, Ford guys, that’s just a taste. I have other ideas. Lots of them. But, I don’t want to give them away all at once. If you like this deal, I’ll be happy to send you a proposal with lots of detail. I don’t want to be negative, but I did see that movie about the guy who invented the intermittent windshield wiper, who brought his idea straight to you and you stole it, basically ruining his life.

Look, we’ve all done things we’re not proud of. And, besides, that was the old Ford Motor Company.

The new Ford Motor Company has found its Focus, created its Fusion, made its Escape, and gained its Edge. Pretty good, hah? And, there’s a lot more where that came from.

I’ll be waiting for your call. Oh…and, red, if possible.