Me and My Drum

December 25, 2009

chicago_christmas_street_105208_lYesterday I was in a store doing some last-minute holiday shopping when The Little Drummer Boy started playing. It’s magical how music can shift your mood and reconnect you to people, places, situations and feelings you thought you had forgotten.

When I was around six years old, my sister and I used to perform The Little Drummer Boy together. Connie is seven years older than me and played piano. I sang and operated the sustain pedal. Since The Little Drummer Boy was the only song we performed, December was our busiest month. Connie had a larger musical repertoire, but most of her songs didn’t require vocals… or so I was told. Had I only known “Alley Cat” had lyrics, we could have doubled our set list.

Our primary audience consisted of my mom, dad, brother and dog—in various combinations. (Note: Were it not for my love of animals, Punky, the meanest dog I’ve ever known… may he rest in peace… would not be included in this story, nor considered an audience member.) Since the piano was adjacent to the kitchen, my mom heard us perform the most. Read more

Do Opposites Really Attract?

December 19, 2009

cappuccinoOne day while out for a long walk, I stopped in at a little coffee shop and took a seat at the bar. The barista was steaming a cup of milk, singing and dancing to the background music. For a barista, she had an exceptionally beautiful voice (not that I profess to have any expertise in singing baristas), but experiencing her preparation of a coffee drink was more like attending a stage performance.

“One moment… I’ll be right with you,” she said as she artfully spooned the froth into a large cup of espresso without missing a beat.

After finishing her masterpiece, she glided over and placed it in front of this rigid looking guy sitting across from me. He studied the cup closely, then bent down and took in the aroma. When he came up for air his fogged glasses slid partway down his nose. He looked to be in his early 50s, but after removing his glasses to wipe off the condensation, I wasn’t sure. Add to this his froth mustache, and he could have been a kid again.

“Well, what do you think?” she asked him.

“Excellent… another ‘10’ Larissa,” he answered, looking pleased with her work.

Larissa turned to me. “Okay, then… what can I make for you?” Larissa’s smile matched her voice.

“I guess I’ll have what he’s having,” I responded.

“Great choice, you won’t regret it,” the guy said wiping off his mustache. I smiled and nodded.

“Okay, Larissa, now will you please change it?” Before she could respond, he added, “I bet this gentleman would like it changed, too.” I hadn’t a clue of what “it” was, but considering I was the only other patron, I assumed the gentleman he was referring to was me.

“Wouldn’t you rather listen to Mozart?” he asked me pointing up to a speaker, shaking his head and rolling his eyes disapprovingly.

mozart-01“Oh, Robert… you and Wolfgang,” Larissa said in a kidding voice, then added, “Robert is a music expert… he knows everything and has a doctorate degree in music.”

“Whatever you two decide to listen to is fine by me… I plan to shove off in a few minutes,” I answered.

Even so, it seemed a shame to change the music. Larissa was really enjoying it… and so was I. The music was Brazilian and judging by her appearance, accent and the fact she was singing along in Portuguese, I assumed Larissa might be, too.

51t8efbjr0l“Is this Bebel Gilberto?” I asked.

She glanced up and smiled, “Yes, do you like it?”

I nodded and smiled back as she rhythmically created my drink to the beat.

“Of course you do,” Larissa said, “Brazilian music is the best.”

“I can’t believe it!” Robert said semi-jokingly. “Another person claiming to like this noise… what are the odds of that?” Larissa and I both smiled and played along but it was obvious to me that Robert liked more than just Mozart and coffee… and I think Larissa felt the same toward him.

“Why don’t you put on that piano concerto you played yesterday, Larissa? Wasn’t it um… No 21 in C… Andante… 2nd movement… I believe it was K467?”

Larissa looked through rows of CDs before picking up a Mozart sleeve and studied it for a moment, “Right again, Robert, it was K467… I told you he knows everything about music… and he’s teaching me too.”

“I assume you like Mozart?” Robert asked me.

“I’m not sure… I’ve never listened to him.” Read more


December 8, 2009

I just learned that my second grade teacher, Mrs. Storm, is very ill… it’s been 45 years since I was in her class but I still have many fond memories.

SouthEastThere’s one very vivid memory I have never shared before… but under the circumstances, I’d like to share it now. Besides, the statute of limitations for second grade violations surely has lapsed by now… right? I’ll let you be the judge.

SEE ME!” was written in red ink at the top of my paper. After making my way to Mrs. Storm’s desk, she said, “Michael, a period is a small dot… why do you insist on making yours so large?” I glanced down at my paper. The nearly dime-sized dots sprinkled about suddenly seemed to be the only visible things on the page.

“Um, I really don’t know,” I responded. My answer wasn’t truthful. I knew exactly why I made my periods so big. I also knew I couldn’t tell her. In kindergarten I learned our imaginations were good things. In fact, kids like me with overactive imaginations were actually celebrated. But this celebration stopped—abruptly—in first grade. By the time I reached second grade, my glory days of sharing unusual ideas and observations with others had ended. But Mrs. Storm was a nice person and the fact I couldn’t tell her the truth made me feel terrible.

My punctuation problem (large periods) started one cold and rainy fall afternoon. Instead of going right home after school, I hung around the playground with some older kids until it started to get dark… until only Jim and I were left. Jim didn’t attend our school and I didn’t know him too well… only that he was considered a hoodlum of sorts by many parents, including mine. Read more

Does Your Map Align with Reality?

December 5, 2009

It’s no secret… I am directionally challenged. More times than not, I’m lost. Unlike some people (typically men), however, I have no problem stopping to ask for directions. In fact, I’ve been known to stop at a couple gas stations in a row just to confirm that the first person’s directions were right. Knowing this, you might imagine how elated I was when GPS (Global Positioning System) became available. No longer was I stressed out by looking at maps, calling the office for help, or pulling over at gas stations. For the first time, I always knew where I was, the route I was traveling, and approximately how long it would take to reach my destination. GPS had solved my problem… or so I thought.

Believing I knew the quickest route to and from my office, I decided one night after work to see if my GPS concurred. I touched the “Home” button and in moments a pleasant female voice announced, “Please proceed to the highlighted route,” so I did. As predicted, the route it had calculated was the same as mine… until I reached a particular intersection. It was then my cheerful navigator confidently said, “Turn left in 500 feet – turn left.” This made no sense.

GPS-1Turning left would have taken me the long way home—several miles more. Knowing this, I ignored her advice and took my regular route. Her response? “When possible, make a legal U-turn.” To reinforce her point, a U-turn arrow was displayed on the monitor. When I ignored them both, she started repeating, “When possible, make a legal U-turn,” and the arrow flashed. It was probably my imagination, but each time she repeated herself, I swear her voice seemed to grow more irritated.

GPS-2Within two miles of my home, both the verbal and visual GPS commands abruptly stopped… then something unbelievable happened. It was a miracle! Read more

Improve Your Creative Ability: Embrace the Golden Rule

December 3, 2009

alaska-eagle-usaLate one fall evening, I was in Alaska delivering a speech to about 500 people. My challenge was to motivate them to embrace creative thinking and to be open to new possibilities. The event theme, “Flying Outside the Box” (the subtitle of my book “Paper Airplane”), seemed especially fitting, considering the audience consisted mostly of pilots and aviation experts.

Having spoken for 45 minutes, I was nearly finished when I said, “Before I close, does anyone have any comments or questions?” A woman toward the back of the auditorium stood and raised her hand. “Thank you for coming to Alaska and sharing your inspiring insights on creativity with us… I have thoroughly enjoyed your presentation. But I do have a question for you.” With everyone’s undivided attention, she continued, “What can we do right now to improve our creative ability?”

Before I share my response, there are a few things I need to tell you:

1) I had just arrived in Alaska that morning.  2) Chicago is 3 hours ahead of Alaska… and while the clock read 9:30 pm… to me it was 12:30 am.  3) This was not a religious event.  4) I am a truth seeker and don’t like being misled.  5) Sometimes when I’m tired, my brain filters stop working properly and I become brutally honest. Read more