The Glickmans and the Presidents — Part 2

In my last blog post, I marveled at how both my parents and I had each met a U.S. President. The odds of any one American meeting a President are pretty slim.  The fact that all three of us had each met one of the Presidents seemed pretty cool—and I thought you might enjoy the stories behind those meetings.

If you haven’t been taking notes, two posts ago I told the story of my meeting President Jimmy Carter. And in the last post I shared the story of my Dad meeting President Harry Truman.

Now it’s time to tell you about the time my Mom met President Dwight Eisenhower.

My Mom worked as an x-ray technician at Walter Reed General Hospital in Washington, DC in the early 1950’s. If you remember my last blog post, Walter Reed is the same place where my Dad recuperated from his World War II injuries.  But that is not where my parents met!  My Dad was a patient there almost ten years before my Mom worked there.  My Mom and Dad actually met in Atlantic City, NJ, my Mom’s hometown—and where she would come home for weekend visits while working in Washington.  It was just pure coincidence that they both spent significant parts of their lives in that hospital—but not at the same time!

But back to the story: During President Eisenhower’s first term, he found himself suffering from a lingering pain in one of his wrists.  His White House physician wanted him to get it x-rayed.   Any medical tests for the President were performed at Walter Reed.  This was not an emergency situation, so the x-rays were scheduled for about a week later—which also gave the Secret Service time to do a background check on the person scheduled to perform the x-rays, my mother.

(Yes, I was surprised, too. But, yes, they actually knocked on the doors of her old Atlantic City neighbors and made sure she wouldn’t be any kind of threat to the President.)

On the day of the x-rays, the President was driven to the hospital, accompanied by his Secret Service detail. Two agents led the President into the waiting area, just outside where the x-ray machine was housed.  My Mom was then ushered in and was quickly introduced to the President.

She was nervous—instead of calling him “Mr. President” or “Sir” she somehow combined them and called him “Mr. Sir”. But she quickly recovered and proceeded to do her job in a very professional manner.

My Mom told the President to follow her into the room where the x-ray machine was. He—along with the Secret Service agents—followed her in there.  She stopped dead in her tracks and said to the agents, “You can’t be in here.  Only the patient can be in here.”  And one of them said, “Ma’am, we’re the Secret Service.  It’s ok.”  And my Mom said, “And I’m the x-ray technician, and it’s not ok.”

They both looked at her, puzzled, and she said, “Look, it’s just not safe for you to be in here. This will take all of a minute.”  She smiled and added, “It will be fine.  We’re just doing some quick x-rays of the wrist.”  The two agents looked at each other, kind of shrugged, and said, “OK, go ahead.”

The two agents left the room—and my Mom shut the door behind them. As she prepared the equipment, she asked President Eisenhower when he first started noticing that his wrist was hurting.

He said, “I really notice it when I’m playing golf. It gets more and more painful the longer I play.  When I’m done playing, the pain starts to go away in time.  But even a week later, I can still feel some residual pain.”

My mother said, “It’s funny you say that. I play golf, too, and had some issues with pain in my wrist.  Although it sounds like your pain is a lot worse.  For me, I found if I held the club just a little bit different, I had no pain at all.”

“Really?”

“Yes,” said my Mom.

He laughed. “If it were only that simple to just change my grip and make this pain go away, that would be something.”

“Well, show me how you hold the club.” The President held out his hands and showed my Mom how he would typically hold a golf club.  And in a move that defines the word “chutzpah”, my Mom now reached over and actually placed her hands on his forearms and said, “The next time you’re golfing, try bending your wrist here slightly—like this—and see if that makes a difference.”

There was no window in the room where she now had her hands wrapped around the President’s arms—so the Secret Service could not see what was happening. This was probably a really good thing.  I can only speculate that if they had seen her hands tightly grasping the President’s arms, they might have had no choice but to shoot her—which means that she would have not married my Dad, I would have not been born, and you would not be reading this story right now.  Cue the “Twilight Zone” music.

After giving her brief “golf lesson,” my Mom then proceeded to position the President’s wrist to properly take the x-rays. And that was it.  He thanked her, she opened the door, and as he left with the Secret Service agents back in tow, President Eisenhower turned back and said, “I’m definitely going to try adjusting my grip like you showed me.”   My Mom said the Secret Service agents displayed that same puzzled look they gave her when she told them they couldn’t go into the room.  And off they went.

My Mom never did find out what the x-rays showed—and there was no mention of the bothersome wrist in the press. But the President must have remembered the brief interaction very favorably:  About two years later my Mom received a personal invitation to President Eisenhower’s second inauguration in January 1957.  Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to go.  A lot had happened in that two year period.  She had begun dating my Dad, they got married in August 1955—and I was born two weeks before Election Day in 1956.  So on Inauguration Day they had a two-month old infant—me—and it just would have been too difficult for them to go.  But my Mom kept that invitation framed and on the wall until the day she died.  (Despite the fact that she had voted for Adlai Stevenson!)

The Glickmans and the Presidents—Part 1

In my last post, I told the story about meeting former President Jimmy Carter at one of my bookings. I was later reflecting about how fortunate I was to have met a U.S. President, something that a very, very small percentage of Americans are every lucky enough to do.

But then I got to thinking about how both of my parents had also each met a U.S. President—and how incredibly unlikely that was.  We are not a political family, so the odds of any of our family members meeting or interacting with a U.S. President—let alone three Presidents—is pretty darn small.

So which Presidents did my parents meet? My Dad met President Harry Truman.  My father was injured in World War II, having lost both his left arm and left leg while in combat in Europe.  While my Dad was recuperating at Walter Reed General Hospital in Washington, DC, the White House extended an invitation for the hospital to send over a group of wounded soldiers for the President to greet and thank them for their service.

Once the soldiers arrived, President and Mrs. Truman came outside and the soldiers went through a line to meet them. My Dad had not been fitted with a prosthetic leg yet, so he was in a wheelchair, being pushed by another soldier.  As my Dad approached Truman, the President shook Dad’s hand and asked him, “Where did you lose your leg, son?”  And Dad said, “Below the knee, sir.”

And Truman laughed and said, “No, son. Where did you lose your leg?”  And my Dad laughed and said, “Like I said, below the knee, sir”, and pointed to his stump that was covered by his pants leg.

At this point, this conversation was now holding up the line, as Truman and my Dad were laughing—but neither one realizing what the other one was asking or answering.

You see, in my Dad’s world, all conversations about war injuries were from the perspective of rehab and recovery. The scope of the injury was based on which limb(s) were affected, where on the limb they were affected, and so on.

In the President’s world, all conversations about war injuries were based on where geographically the injury had taken place. Hence, the communication breakdown.

Fortunately, my Dad quickly figured out what was happening and said, “Oh, in Germany, sir. In Germany.”  They laughed again and the line continued to move again.  But it’s easy to see how an innocent question of “Where did you lose your leg, son?” could be interpreted two totally different ways.

It reminds me of the time I asked my wife, Susan, if she wanted me to get tickets for us to see ‘Chicago.’ She said, “That would be awesome!” And I said, “Great!  They go on sale tomorrow and I can get us really good seats. And let me tell you, that will definitely ‘Make Me Smile’.”

She looked at me with a puzzled look. “Yeah, I’m sure it will make me smile, too.”

“No, you know—‘Make Me Smile’—it was one of their hits.”

“I don’t remember that song. Is it in Act 1 or Act 2?”

At this point, I realized something was amiss. Yes, we both wanted to see ‘Chicago’—I wanted to see the band ‘Chicago’ and Susan wanted to see the Broadway musical ‘Chicago’.  They were both booked at the same venue, right around the same time.  Rut ro!

We quickly figured out that neither of us had a big desire to see the band/show that the other one of us didn’t think it was. So we opted not to go see either show.  Fortunately, we figured this out before I bought tickets for the wrong show, whichever one that turned out to be.

But it proves how easy it is for there to be lapses in communication—even with what arguably should be very straightforward questions. (“Where did you lose your leg?” “Do you want me to get tickets to see ‘Chicago’?”)

The key to preventing this from happening is to always try to put context and clarity into your communications. Just because something is crystal clear in your head doesn’t mean that it’s got the same meaning in the other person’s head.  You can easily remedy this by substituting casual communication with intentional communication.

In my opinion, it is better to send a nine-sentence e-mail explaining something in more detail than you might think is necessary, than to have an e-mail that says, “OK. I’m in.”   Yes, people might roll their eyes when they see the nine sentences in your e-mail—but the net result is that there is rarely, if ever, confusion about what you are trying to say.

And if you’re wondering which President my Mother met…..well, you’ll have to wait until the next blog post.

 

I Was Grandma’s Ghost Writer

She slipped me a $20 and said, “Let’s just keep this between you and me.”

And at that moment all I could think about was, “It is ‘you and me’ or ‘you and I’?  Which is it?  Now that I’m an official ghost writer I should know proper grammar, shouldn’t I?”

Not that I wanted to correct my Grandma’s grammar.  But the fact that only the letter “r” separated the words “gramma” and “grammar” made me wonder if there was some much deeper meaning here.

Nah.  I was way overthinking this.  Especially because the writing that my Grandma was asking me to do had nothing to do with grammar—and everything to do with getting syllables and rhymes to work correctly.

My Grandma, Rose Glickman, was a very creative and talented woman.  She went to an art college, which was highly unusual for a woman born in 1900.   She also played the piano and loved to write very entertaining poems for all occasions.

In her later years, Grandma lived in a Miami Beach condominium.  She was very well-liked in her high-rise building.  It seemed that every week brought another celebration of somebody’s birthday or anniversary—and Grandma would recite wonderful customized poems she had composed about the guest(s) of honor.  It was always the highlight of these large gatherings of the building’s residents.  “Quiet!  Quiet!  Rose is going to do the poem!”

The poems were composed of rhyming couplets—and were always very clever in the way they included lots of information about the honorees.    Year after year, the expectations for “Rose’s poems” continued to be high.

However, she was starting to lose her stamina for the sheer volume of poems she had to produce.  It’s not easy having to continually find rhymes for things like ‘Cincinnati’ (‘since she’s chatty’) and ‘Doris and Steven’ (‘the score was now even’) and every other conceivable name, city, hobby, profession, quirk, and other assorted customized information she worked into each poem.

My family lived on the Miami mainland—about 15 minutes from Grandma.  One day she stopped by our house and asked if we could talk…..alone.  She told me how much she loved writing these poems—but as she was going into her late 70’s, it was starting to take a toll on her.  And she wondered if I might be able to help her write one.

I was barely in my teens, but I was intrigued, flattered, and scared all at the same time.  Grandma knew that I had also developed the skill of writing rhyming poems.  So she thought I might be able to help her write a poem for a party being held at her building that weekend.

I said, “Sure!”—and with my first writing assignment in hand, I peppered her with lots of questions about the guest of honor.

I worked quickly, while she chatted with my parents.  In less than half an hour, I quietly handed her a poem she could perform on Saturday night.  And I wondered, “Would she like it?  Would she even use it?  And is ‘all knowin’ an acceptable rhyme for ‘Sol Cohen’?”

She stopped by our house Sunday for dinner.  She pulled me aside—and with a huge grin on her face told me that the poem was a huge hit.    And then she slipped me a $20 and said, “Let’s just keep this between you and me.”

I was floored.  I had not been expecting any money whatsoever.  And $20 when I was fourteen was a lot of money.  And, to top it off, she wanted to keep it secret.  The queen of the “Four Winds Condominium” wanted to hire a ghost writer….and I had passed the test!  And this clandestine ghost writing arrangement went on for years until she died in 1982.

I don’t know how many poems I wrote for her.  I don’t know how much money I ultimately made.  What I do know are three things:

First, this process opened my eyes to the power of customization.  Grandma invited me to several of the parties where she read the poems—and the screams of laughter she got on the customized material was mind-blowing.  To this day, my mantra is ‘the more specific the humor, the more terrific the humor.’

Second, it opened my eyes to the power of rhymes.  This came in very handy as I began my journey of writing song parodies—most of which need to rhyme very precisely in order to succeed.  To date, I’ve written and performed over 1,300 song parodies, almost all of which have some kind of rhyme in them.  Rhymes don’t only sound good—they feel good.

Third, it opened my eyes to the possibility of writing for other people.  I had always been comfortable writing for myself.  But writing Grandma’s poems was the genesis of the idea that I could write in someone else’s voice.  And decades later, I am still writing material for other people, in addition to writing for myself.

But Grandma was my first writing client—and, without a doubt, my favorite one.  The work was steady, she was always appreciative of the product, and she paid….on time….in cash.   Thanks, Grandma!