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!)

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!

Lying For A Cause

It was the best week of my life.  It was the worst week of my life.  OK, I’m exaggerating about it being the ‘worst’, but it still presented a challenge that I don’t handle well.  I was asked to keep a secret—and if confronted about the secret, I was instructed to lie.  And I don’t lie well.  I look like some stammering five-year old saying “I didn’t spill the grape juice on the couch.  It was already there.”  Yeah, sure it was.

This past week I was inducted into the National Speakers Association ‘Speaker Hall of Fame.’ This induction ceremony takes place during the annual NSA convention.  It is truly a career highlight and an accomplishment that I am immensely proud of.  Most Hall of Fame ceremonies I‘ve seen for different professions are not secretive.  The audience knows who the inductees are going to be.  However, NSA likes to increase the excitement and keep the names of the winners a secret to everyone….except to the inductees themselves.

We are notified in early March that we will be receiving this prestigious honor in July.  And we are told that it is imperative, it is crucial, it is mandatory, and possibly punishable by death if we tell anyone.   And so the secrets begin. (I think this may be the one thing ‘this’ NSA has in common with the ‘other’ NSA.)

Many inductees invite family members to join them for the ceremony.  I had it pretty easy initially, because my wife and our two teenage sons already attend the convention with me each year.  Seeing them there would not raise any eyebrows.  But I also invited my two sisters and brother to fly out for the event.  I was thrilled that they accepted the invitation—but then I told them the ‘rules’.

They couldn’t tell anyone.  And they couldn’t post anything on social media about where they were going or why they were going.  Had they been Millennials, I know this may have been a deal breaker.  But with all of them being over 40 we were golden.

About six weeks out, I started getting invitations from friends to sit at various tables for the event.  I had to turn them all down, as I would now have my own table—which would be full.  But I had to turn them down with lies.

“Uh, I’ve already gotten an invitation to sit with some other folks.”

Oh, who are you sitting with?

“Hmm, I don’t remember. I think they’re some people from my local NSA chapter.”

You don’t remember?

“Oh, you know, there’s so many people.  I have it written down somewhere.”  And, no, I didn’t spill the grape juice on the couch.

Fast forward to the convention itself.  It’s several days of lying before the main event.  As I walk the hallways, many colleagues are ‘baiting’ me.

“Oh, this is the year, isn’t it?  I bet it’s you.  Come on, you can tell me.”

And I have to keep lying, “No, not this year. It would be nice, but it’s not happening.  Maybe someday.”  And my brain is screaming at me, “Liar!  Liar!  Liar!”

And so comes the big night.  A beautiful ballroom at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge in Phoenix filled with over 1300 professional speakers dressed in formal wear.  I tell my siblings to come to the table at a different time than us, so nobody sees us walking in together.  (The night before, we took separate cabs to a restaurant 10 miles away, so no one would see us having dinner together.)

In a room of 1300 people, you really can’t see too many specific people.  But anyone who is at a table near ours is going to see these ‘strangers’—who look remarkably like me.  And most people within a one-table radius of mine start to figure it out.

And at that point, there’s nothing you can do to keep the secret going much longer.  I tried lying even more as someone approached the table and said, “Oh, I see your family is here.  Congratulations.”  And I stammered some stupid response like, “No, they’re not my family.  They’re some cousins from Scottsdale.”  Which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.  Why would cousins from Scottsdale not be considered family?  But at this point, we’re about half an hour away from the ‘big reveal’, and I’m just trying to honor the secret up to the last second.

When my name is announced, there is a wonderful cheer in the ballroom.  Everyone seems happy.  I’m also happy for two reasons.  1.  I’m being honored by my peers for expertise in my profession. 2.  I don’t have to lie anymore!  And nobody else has to lie on my behalf.

So the next time you have to ‘lie for a good cause’—maybe throwing a surprise party for someone or delaying the announcement of some good news until you’ve handled all the logistics—I wish two things for you.  1. There’s a great happy ending that justifies the lying.  2.  You also find it uncomfortable to be lying.  If the lying doesn’t make you uncomfortable, then you may find yourself moving from ‘lying for a cause’ to ‘lying just because.’

And We’re Walking

“We’re walking.  We’re walking.  And we’re stopping.”

Ring any bells?  Probably not, unless you’re a fan of really, really obscure movie quotes.

In an earlier blog post, The Wrong Week To Stop Sniffing Glue, I mentioned the American Film Institute’s List of  Top 100 Movie Quotations.  Most of them are lines you’d know in an instant.  And in that post, I shared some of my favorites.  But that’s not important right now.  (Uh, that last line is from ‘Airplane!’.  It’s not in the Top 100, but it is a well-known one.  Here’s a clip of it:  https://youtu.be/VOmD-xqK2Es )

But for every well-known movie quotation, there are probably 100 relatively obscure ones.  Obscure, that is, unless you’re a big fan of that movie.  So allow me to share my absolute favorite random, obscure movie quotation with you.

It’s from the 1993 movie “Dave.”  It’s one of my favorite movies—and not because the main character has the same name as me.  It’s a feel-good movie, with tons of laughs, and a powerful message.  Without giving too much away, I can tell you that “Dave” (Kevin Kline) happens to be  an uncanny lookalike for the President of the United States and is recruited as his momentary stand-in.  Well, things don’t turn out exactly as planned and Dave ends up continuing the masquerade.

There’s a scene in the movie where the actress Bonnie Hunt plays a White House Tour Guide.  You can see it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTdNSA_CWvc   (SPOILER ALERT:  This particular clip goes on for about three minutes.  The scene I’m referring to is only the first thirty seconds of the clip.  Once the clip moves away from the White House tour, you should stop watching if you don’t want spoilers for the rest of the movie!)

As the White House Tour Guide, Bonnie Hunt is leading a small group—walking backwards as tour guides often do.  But as she shares facts and figures with her tour group, she controls the flow of their movement with the line, “We’re walking.  We’re walking.  And we’re stopping.” The authority with which she delivers these directions to her group seems to exude this sense of momentum and inertia that can literally propel the group forward.

I have absolutely no earthly idea why this scene stuck with me.  If you watch the clip, you may also wonder why it stuck with me.  Or wonder what drugs I may have been on in 1993.  It’s not outwardly hilarious.  And yet I find it very funny in the way she literally ‘wills’ the movement of the tour group with her commands, lest they get distracted or begin to slow down—unless she wants them to. (“And we’re stopping.”)

But the scene, unwittingly, also gave me a tool that I have been able to use—for both myself and for my family.  Whenever I find myself ‘stuck in park’, you know, just kind of dawdling, daydreaming, or, more likely, procrastinating, I actually will say to myself….”And we’re walking.”  And it works!  That stupid phrase making fun of the White House Tour can actually jar me out of whatever distraction I’m experiencing and get me moving forward again.

Best-selling author Brian Tracy shares a similar technique, where he encourages saying the phrase ‘back to work’ when you feel yourself getting distracted.  As he explains it, you repeat ‘back to work, back to work’ to regain your focus.   That’s a great method, too—I just prefer mine because it also invokes a memory of the funny scene from the movie every time I use it.

So how does this work as a tool for my family?  Simple.  Whenever we are trying to go somewhere, get somewhere, or move from ‘Point A’ to ‘Point B’, there seem to be distractions along the way that slow things up.  Typically this happens if we’re at some activity or event where we seem to have no idea how to leave.   We’ve thanked everyone—or have we?  We’ve said ‘goodbye’ to everyone—or have we?  We know our intention is to leave—but somehow it’s not happening.

And that is when I say to the family, “And we’re walking.”  With a big smile on my face, but with purpose, nonetheless.  And I repeat it.  “And we’re walking.”  They’ve all seen the movie. They know the scene. They know that sometimes it takes a little help to get ‘unstuck’….to move forward.  “And we’re walking.”

And it works on the opposite end, too—when we’re trying to get out of the house and head to an event.  No matter what time we plan on leaving, we seem to have distractions jumping in front of us left and right.  And that’s when I say, “And we’re walking.”   We laugh.  We focus.  And then we’re walking.  It works.

So the next time you find yourself distracted, stuck, or just losing focus, try telling yourself, “And we’re walking.”  Hopefully, it will work for you, too!

Humor Trumps Anger (No Pun Intended)

There’s a great scene in Mel Brooks’ 1974 comedy masterpiece “Blazing Saddles” that is similar to a force that seems to be driving a large part of the narrative in this year’s presidential election.  The Governor (played by Brooks) attempts to demonstrate how angry he is at some situation by shouting “Harrumph!”   And not just a single “Harrumph!” but “Harrumph!  We must do something about this immediately!  Immediately!  Immediately!  Harrumph!  Harrumph!  Harrumph!  Harrumph!” as he attempts to get everyone around him to “Harrumph!” with him.  You can watch the ten-second clip here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JN99jshaQbY

It seems to me that “The Harrumph Factor” has been instrumental in the rise of popularity of both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.  The candidates are yelling “Harrumph!” which is galvanizing everyone around them to yell “Harrumph!” with them.  It doesn’t matter what the issue is—which is Brooks’ point in the scene.  “The Harrumph Factor” succeeds because people feel better when they find like-minded individuals to “Harrumph!” with—and to yell Brooks’ line of “We must do something about this immediately!”

The ‘anger’ becomes a form of communication and, perhaps more importantly, a method of persuasion.   And while Sanders will not ultimately be his party’s nominee, I believe it was his use of “The Harrumph Factor” that was largely responsible for his massive support that was totally unexpected.  (As was Trump’s.)

To be clear, this is not a political post by any means.  I am just stating that ‘anger’ has been used successfully as a persuasion tool this year by candidates from both political parties.  However, my message in this post is that I think that candidates would be far better served in using humor as a tool of persuasion than by using anger.  Yes, Humor trumps Anger.

The Presidential Debates begin in September.  My advice to the candidates as they prepare for these events is to concentrate less on the “Harrumph!” and more on the “Ha!”  We’ve seen several instances of genuine humor in this campaign over the last year—some scripted, some ad-libbed—but those moments were quoted in the press as often as the ‘serious’ verbiage being presented and/or refuted.  And in this contentious atmosphere of political discourse in our country, the moments of levity stand out in a big way because they are so welcome.

Laughter is therapeutic, always has been—but laugher is also very, very persuasive.  And, I would contend, perhaps more persuasive than anger.

The best speech I ever witnessed was by stand-up comedian, author, and activist Dick Gregory.  This was many years ago, when I was a student at the University of Florida.  Dick Gregory spoke for almost two hours.  But his presentation was structured very interestingly.  The first hour was pure humor…..and was one of the funniest, laugh-out-loud comedy routines I have ever seen.  But then he transitioned into the second hour, which was his main content and featured his ideas on important issues facing our society.

His humor was so powerful as a persuasion tool to establish and create his likability, that his message—which involved views on subjects that many in the audience previously would not have agreed with—was now being considered, accepted, and actually cheered.  I experienced it both as an audience member and as a young humorist examining the immense power of what I had just witnessed.

Most political candidates have their handful of ‘laugh lines’ they use in their stump speeches.  Like any good comedian or humorist, they know those lines are going to get a laugh every time.  But I would love to see candidates using humor as their primary persuasion source, not simply as a way to get a few quick laughs from the crowd before launching into their normal anger-driven messages.

When I ‘punch up’ speeches with humor for executives and professional speakers (and the occasional candidate), I make sure humor is placed throughout the speech, reinforcing the messages from start to finish.  Most politicians don’t have the luxury of Dick Gregory’s two-hour platform to present—so his model would be difficult to replicate.  But I would suggest that any candidate who is willing to use lots and lots of humor to drive their messages—albeit appropriate humor, but humor nonetheless—will find themselves with far greater influence than one relying primarily on anger.

Yes, Humor Trumps Anger.  (OK, maybe pun intended.)

The Wrong Week To Stop Sniffing Glue

Do you have a favorite movie quote? The American Film Institute (AFI) has published a list of the Top 100 Movie Quotations in American cinema history. Chances are you know almost every one. Quotes like:

“Show me the money!”

“May the force be with you.”

“There’s no place like home.”

“You can’t handle the truth!”

“I’ll have what she’s having.”

And there’s another 95 that are just as ubiquitous and part of our everyday lexicon.…..and that’s only because the list stopped at 100. You could easily double or triple that list with movie quotes that you remember and enjoy. Just looking at the list puts a huge smile on your face as you’re able to relive the experience of each movie often based solely on a famous line from it.

On my first date with my wife, Susan, we had an immediate connection when we discovered that we both had the same favorite movie: Airplane!. When she told me that was her favorite movie, I said, “Surely you can’t be serious.” And she said, “I am serious….and don’t call me Shirley.” (By the way, #79 on the AFI list.) And the rest, as they say, is history. (Which is not a movie quote, but really should be.)

There’s a running gag in the movie Airplane! where the character Steve McCroskey (played by Lloyd Bridges) reacts to a challenge by saying, “Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit smoking.” As the movie progresses, each time he’s faced with a new, larger challenge he repeats the same line, but with a different ending:

“Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit drinking.”

“Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit amphetamines.”

And, finally, “Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.”

When Susan and I first got married, that last line, “Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue” became a great ‘go to’ line for us to use whenever we were faced with challenges. (Just to be absolutely clear, Susan and I have never sniffed glue. Playdoh, perhaps. But glue, no.) To this day, we still use that line when we’re faced with obstacles that we weren’t expecting. And the joke actually works better when we’re dealing with several challenges—simultaneously—that are causing angst.

Think about it: We’ve all had a day when the water heater stops working, the computer decides to do ‘updates’ when you’re in a huge rush, you discover that tomorrow’s deadline is actually today, and you just chipped a tooth. As the pressures pile on, one on top of another, we have found it incredibly cathartic to say the line, “Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.” It immediately defines that there is a problem (or problems), but give us some ‘comic relief’ as we face the mess that’s staring us in the face. We are transported back to the movie, even for just a brief moment, and are able to laugh at the predicament that we’re in.

Does it change the predicament? No. Not at all. What it changes is the way we’re now looking at it. I can tell you that line has turned my ‘oy’ to ‘joy’ more times than I can count.

I have friends who have used the same technique as stress-busters with their own favorite movie quotes. And it doesn’t always have to be a comedy—although I think they work better.

But some people find great power in movies that aren’t so funny.

When my friend Dave Timmons is faced with challenges, he paraphrases the famous line from Jaws and says, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.” The actual line is “You’re gonna need a bigger boat”, but when faced with your own problems, it makes more sense to adjust the quote from “You’re” to “We’re”. (It’s ok to adjust the quote—you’re using it for you, you can do whatever you want.)

Take a look at famous movie quotes. You can check out AFI’s list or one of the many other lists that readily available on-line.

Are there any that really resonate with you?

Any that create that same sense of ‘wow’ that you experienced when you first saw the movie?

And, most importantly, are there any that could become your own personal mantra? A quote that works either just for you—or is a shared experience, like I have with Susan—that can work for two of you? Or maybe even for your entire family or a team at work?

Feel free to use the line from Airplane! if that works for you like it has for us. But I bet you’ll be surprised at how many great memories come flooding back as you look at the list. And I bet you’ll find a great movie quote that becomes your new ‘go to’ line when you’re facing your own daily challenges.