Saturday, March 21, 2015

SNHU MFA Graduate, Shane Remer … The Accidental Tourist … Official Dogfella Cover … Robert Durst/The Jinx … Netanyahu (or is it Netanyahoooo) … Matthius Steiner …

Amici:
Shane Remer … received a B.A. in Communication in 2011 and his MFA in Fiction in 2013. He currently works as a paraprofessional at Charlestown Middle School in Charlestown, New Hampshire. Shane also coaches the Charlestown Middle School boys' soccer team, and is co-author of a blog with Jon Stern and Darren Rome Leo called Three Guys and a Keyboard.
 
Shane is also a devout Seattle Mariners and Seahawks fan … and has convinced himself that it was a great play by the Cheatriots that lost a back-to-back bid to repeat as world champions for the Seahawks rather than the obvious FUCP (F’ed Up Play Calling).
 
Shane’s thesis, A Grave for the Living, finds two homeless men meeting a boy running away to save his mom’s life. The two men, Goose and Beans, must decide whether or not they should help the boy (Ten-Speed). Turning the kid in could mean abuse for the boy and his mother at home, but leaving him alone could mean letting him wander the drug-stricken streets of Bridgeport, CT.  And then there’s Goose’s background, which hints at pedophilia. Beans suffers from schizophrenia and has occasional auditory hallucinations.
 
From Shane’s graduate reading:
 
Never let anyone tell you that you’re good enough. It’s a dangerous trap that wrecks creativity, ambition, relationships, and love. You don’t have to be the greatest at anything you do. Most of us aren’t even the greatest versions of ourselves. And that’s fine just as long as you’re passionate.
 
What I’ll read tonight is my best work to this point, but it’s not the best work I’ll ever create.
 
I truly thank everyone who has supported me, told me I could be better – a better writer, a better friend, a better man. I thank you for allowing me not to live trapped by the fears I create, or sustained by the dreams I chase, but instead by the reality I direct.
 
And to the mentors who have told me plenty of times I could be better – Jessica Anthony, Rick Carey, and Merle Drown – may my thanks and gratitude be expressed by acknowledging you, not in this speech alone, but in published works, too.
 
My thesis, A Grave for the Living, joins two homeless men who meet a boy that runs away to save his mom’s life. The men, Goose and Beans, have decided to care for the boy, Ten-Speed, mainly because of Goose’s direction. Beans is a man with schizophrenia and Goose has a troubled past that hints at pedophilia.
 
At this part of the story, Goose has located a foreclosed home where they camp out for the night.
 
They found what looked like foreclosed property about half a mile away. The back door was unlocked and there were old blankets in one of the rooms. Cats had pissed on the mattresses, so they flipped them over, slid the beer bottles and trash against the wall, and fought off headaches from the stench. Windows rattled in the frames. Beans tried bleeding the furnace in the cellar and had as much success with it as he did finding money in his wallet.
 
Goose woke up six times during the night, which meant he slept well. The sixth time he woke up, gray light filled the room and his breath formed heavy puffs that sank immediately. It was late morning, maybe close to ten, and clouds were settling in thick patches outside. Ten-Speed slept with his head poking out from a blanket. He slept on a mattress on the far side of the room. Goose slipped out from his blankets and stepped over his backpack next to Ten-Speed.
 
Ten-Speed breathed deeply. A bruise was turning yellow on the back of his neck, just below his ear. Goose brushed some of the hair away. Ten-Speed took a deeper breath and Goose leaned back, waited until the kid’s breathing had settled, and pulled the blanket up against the kid’s neck. He placed a hand on Ten-Speed’s shoulder and smiled.
 
He rubbed his hands on the way to the bathroom and rocked on his feet to stay warm while waiting to piss, but nothing wanted to work. Outside the window two teens hopped a fence on the property’s backyard. One carried a camera. They raised their heads and the kid without the camera pointed at him and laughed. Probably hadn’t seen a grown man piss before.
 
Not that Goose was pissing. He was still waiting. Maybe the lumps in his body weren’t knots from tired muscles, or cysts, or misaligned bones. Maybe they were cancer. And maybe it didn’t matter anymore if he ever got off the streets. Cancer doesn’t care where a man lives, it just cares that he’s capable of dying.
 
Hushed voices came through the hallway – not Beans’ or Ten-Speed’s. They were young and excited. Feet slipped past the bathroom along the hall. Goose zipped his pants and pried the door open enough to see into the hallway. Two thicker bodies with hoods pulled over their heads stood in the doorframe leading to the bedroom. The taller one had a camera aimed at the other kid, his friend. The friend had his fists curled and Goose knew immediately. They were Bum Beaters, people that filmed themselves beating up the homeless so they could post it online.
 
Goose searched the bathroom. Outside, a fist hit muscle – it was a sound he couldn’t mistake. Beans’s yelled at the teen to stop. Another first, this time against a face. Goose found a plunger and lifted. It wedged between the toilet and the wall. Another strike and bodies crashed against the wall in the room. Goose struggled with the plunger. Outside, another punch, another yelp. Goose freed the plunger and charged into the room where the shorter one, the teen, was on top of Beans and whaling him in the side. The teen had wide eyes filled with the kind of evil pleasure a man should never have. Goose hit the teen above his ear with the rubber part of the plunger. It stunned the teen and he rolled off Beans, pressed a hand against his head and rubbed it.
 

The Accidental Tourist, by Anne Tyler.
I never saw the film, but was intrigued by the title when searching for something new to read … very fortunate choice, it turned out to be … the death of a child has the potential to ruin any marriage/relationship and it’s no different in this wonderful novel that begins after the tragedy.  Macon Leary writes travel guide books for a living. He comes from a particularly persnickety family. He believes there’s a method to life and it shouldn’t be altered … Macon is often devoid of emotion so when he gets the bad news from his wife (she wants to talk) … it turns out that what Sarah wants is to talk of separation, and separation it is … so she leaves and Macon is left alone with his dog, Edward, to write his books and deal with life on his own … except he quickly finds Edward to be unruly (he bites people, Macon learns from the dog kennel where he’s used to housing Ed) … forced to find another on his way to the train/airport, he comes across one Muriel Pritchett (she’s a Godsend, you ask me) … she’s kind of the opposite of Macon and his whack-a-do (yous ask me again) family … and from this point on, even though I cringed at some of her desperation, I was rooting whole-heartedly for her to be saved (and to save) Macon from the life he seemed destined … Macon breaks a leg, goes to live with his whacky family … and … and there’s more (so much more), including Sarah making her comeback to the marriage with a surprise visit on foreign soil … it is all so well told, I ordered 4 more Anne Tyler books (I’m reading Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant now, which is also amazing) … so no spoilers … why do both members of the Stella famiglia continue to work 2 jobs, yous ask? Because we buy books like crazy persons, that’s why … so, amici … trust me on this, if you haven’t been as neglectful as I have regarding this (and so many other) wonderful authors, take a dip in Ms. Tyler’s pool … I promise you’ll be back for more.
 
Here’s the official Dogfella book cover … go get this book!
 
 
Robert Dust/The Jinx … Okay, so all the Principessa Ann Marie and I want to know is how the hell does the New York City cop featured in the documentary sleep nights?  Was he totally incompetent, paid off, or (more than likely) told to ignore Durst’s self-proclaimed explanation about his wife going back to New York (where the doorman saw her, except he didn’t) … and/or the telephone call (apparently made by another Durst murder victim, Judy Berman), or any of the other lies that didn’t seem to bother Detective Struk.  Seriously, is there something we’re unaware of regarding Struk’s neglect of obvious lies?  Durst lied about making a phone call, lied about stopping for a drink at his neighbor’s, lied about the doorman seeing his wife … and that’s okay? Nothing to follow there. The guy’s wife is missing? Oh, well, those things happen …
 
Hopefully, at least ONE investigation (obviously not the police in NY and/or LA) will permit his first wife’s family to sue for wrongful death … and hopefully they’ll win and get every single dime that corrupt crop of losers possess … TK used the HBO poster for the Durst case rather than anything else, because as of right now, HBO deserves the credit for busting this 30 year old fiasco of a missing persons turned likely serial killer case.
 
Netanyahu (or is it Netanyahoooo) … so Bibi came here and shit all over Obama and the Democrats, and then raced back home to declare there would never be a Palestinian state while he was Prime Minister, AND that Arab voters were turning out in droves so Israeli wingnuts needed to vote in droves to counter the Arab vote … because he wants to live in peace? Batshit crazy as that reads, the guy is no nut. He was a desperate politician looking to lock arms with what he perceives will be a never-ending relationship with the United States, especially with the GOP behind him. I don’t think he fears a Hillary Clinton Presidential victory, because let’s face it, Hillary is a lot more hawkish and much less trustworthy than Don Barzini. Our myopic view of Middle East events has become alarming, especially when one considers the amount of support the GOP is feeding Netanyahu’s war drums (and their own representatives of defense contractors, oil companies and other defenders of sending other kids off to war) … the public blow jobs the GOP continues to give Bibi would be funny if they weren’t so divisive. Bibi accomplished what he set out to do (Part I) … it’s Part II that is dangerous.  Will we be drawn into another war? Only time and another Presidential election that offers us two sides of the same coin will tell …
 
And before anyone send me ALL CAPS messages about how I’m a self-loathing Jew (I was born and raised Catholic and couldn’t reject that bullshit fast enough) or that I’m an Anti-Semite (I think ALL religions are silly but respect their right to be so, so long as they don’t harm other people—which they all tend to do—I’m just sayin’) … do me (and yourself) a favor … join the IDF and have at it already … or if you’re too old, send YOUR kids to fight wars you’re so passionate about … or join one of the American Militias going over to Syria to fight … otherwise, it’s nothing but smoke you’re blowing, and I already have my own pipe.
 
The Strongest Man in the world … Matthias Steiner (back in 2008) … an incredible lift … all emotion … his wife was killed in a tragic car accident. He’d sworn to her he’d win a gold medal one day in the Olympics … here it is.

 
—Knucks
 
Bibi talked to Boehner … and Moe talked to Barzini …

Friday, March 13, 2015

Lighting the World, by Merle Drown ... TK Feature on Harold Raschke-Robinson ... Oklahoma University ...

Amici: 

 
Lighting the World, by Merle Drown … the action takes place in Rumford, New Hampshire in 1985 in this brilliant novel about a boy (Wade Rule) emotionally and verbally abused by his mother … he falls in love with a girl (Maria) who has befriended him (she has equally traumatic and terrible issues at home with her father) … Wade has nothing but good in him … he has a crippled uncle he loves in Vermont he hopes to run away to live with … he’s a well-read kid who can live off the land and has little use for a life that requires others doing his work for him … he has a job washing dishes at a diner where his mother works (and takes half his pay each week), he has friends he can sometimes count on, friends he has sympathy for, and there’s a bully he has no use for … he wants to bring Maria with him to live with his uncle in Vermont, and when he brings a shotgun to school to expedite their escape, well, suffice it to say, shooting first and asking questions later is just the wrong way to go … no spoilers here, but this is another brilliant novel from the author of The Suburbs of Heaven (a superb book) … Drown is a master of dialogue, simile and metaphor … his down home tales of a hidden Americana, of people trying to keep pace with a world moving way too fast for its own good, are literary masterpieces. I was floored by The Suburbs of Heaven when I read it a few years ago and have been very anxious for his next works.
 
 
I read the Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) Lighting the World … it’s a brilliant, brilliant book that will be available March 15, 2015 from Whitepoint Press … … and read more about the author here:

Visit the author's webpage here:

 
Harold Raschke-Robinson … I remember him as a football player at Brooklyn College when I coached OLB’s back in the day …
 
Harold was always one of the nicest players we had; always respectful and always giving his all … Harold is a proud father now. He has a son and daughter, and he’s a goalie in the Chelsea Pier league. A goalie about to play in the playoff round as he put his team into the tournament with a 3-2 win in OT last week. Harold said, “I stood on my head to get that win.”

 
When I asked Harold if that was his daughter in the picture above, he wrote: Hi Coach, yes that my daughter Bella she my biggest fan. One year when I was playing someone ran into me while I was in goal. My son and daughter had booth come to watch me play, I found out later that my son had to grab my daughter and pull her of the ice because she was going to kick the guy butt who ran into me! I always want to play goalie but going up as a kid my parents could not afford the equipment. So a few after I started working at Chelsea piers I met the guy who was I change of the rink. We were talking one and he ask me to come skate at the rink during a skill session class. I am almost done with my Phys. Education degree, I had to work full time to take care of myself and family, so it's taken a little longer to get it done.
 
Harold has been playing ice hockey at Chelsea Piers for the last 17 teen years. Before that he played floor hockey at Brooklyn College and street hockey with his friends on Staten Island. In 2009 his team won the Division 7B championship!

 
The trophy above is given out after the championship games of the fall and spring season. His team was in a best of 3 to earn the championship trophy.
 
 
Congrats to Harold on his family, his hockey championships, his OT win to get them into the playoffs this season, his racing … and for being one of the nicest guys around.
 
 
 
Oklahoma … when institutional racism is discussed, and then completely blown off by "some" conservatives desperately clinging to a blind faith that knows no bounds (in this case, a constitution originally written during a time of slavery with a three-fifths stipulation).  To wit … Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the United States Constitution: Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. ... well, it's difficult not to want to smack them upside their heads.
 
I’ve read the article where numb nuts, Rush Limbaugh (and his minions) claim that African-Americans today owe their freedom to white men (ignoring why they were slaves in the first place) … and like most people with a functioning brain, I shake my head … but Oklahoma University was a good example of how institutional racism continues to thrive in America these days … Those were college boys (and girls) singing for their supper … future bastions of American liberty (if you’re one of those conservatives referred to above, feel free to read this part with your hand over your heart) … many will no doubt be in positions of power (whether economic, social or political), and one doesn’t have to wonder as to whether or not they’ll open any doors for minorities.
 
Yeah, there was a 15th Amendment (145 years ago … and then it took another act of Congress in 1965 (just 50 years ago) to at least make believe that all men will be treated equally under the law, but let’s face it, we’re still about 150 years, if ever, from realizing that goal. Should the idiots on the bus be expelled from school when, after all (and no matter how obscene) they were exercising their freedom of speech?
 
In a word(s), fuck yeah!
 
Personally, I feel for their parents. It reminded me of the moron who held up a watermelon for all the world (and cameras) to see the day Al Sharpton was knifed in Brooklyn during one of his opportunistic marches for future celebrity and a seat at MSNBC's tabloid table. I’m no Al Sharpton fan, but holding watermelons up for the cameras had to be one of the dumbest things I'd ever seen ... until the Oklahoma Frat video. My wife and I often talk about that (watermelon) day and that idiot holding the watermelon. We say: What if he was your kid?
 
How do you ever feel pride in little Johnny again after something like that?
 
—Knucks
 
How 'bout those Buffalo Bills!  Ground and Pound, baby ... GROUND AND POUND!
 
 
 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of … Ferguson … Netanyahu … Hillary’s e-mails …

Amici:
The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of, by Dana King … The Shamus Award nominated Nick Forte series remains strong as ever … great writing, which is what I look for most when reading anything. Nick starts off with a Maltese Falcon redux with dialogue so good, I was seeing/hearing Sydney Greenstreet throughout …
 

 
Obese and sexually perverted, Russell Arbuthnot (I couldn’t pronounce it so I used Arby throughout) is playing the Kasper Gutman character in a soon to premier one man play about the Falcon … he’s got the diction and mannerisms down … he’s also got the actual/fabled (and treasured) bird itself (or so he insists) … he’s been receiving threats, so his very attractive middle-aged manager hires Nick to protect the famous actor for $10K for 2 weeks (not bad work if you can get it) … but something doesn’t sit right with Nick …
and there are IRA issues and general bad guys in the mix … Nick has a love interest on the police force (he’s a former copper), but he also has a kid of his own and an ex-wife who gives him daily doses of agita. Fatso’s manager is years Nick’s senior, very sensual, and the kind of woman he (and many others) is/are attracted to (her eyes do it, for one thing) … the dialogue is superb, start to finish, in this fast-paced story that has much to do with the bird … or does it? No spoilers here. Just know that King is on his game big time with this wonderful read. I dare anyone to read any of his books and not want to get hold of his others. Terrific writing, end of story.
 
 
Ferguson … for those in denial of systemic racism in America, take a gander at the statistics culled from the Ferguson Police Department … along with risking their lives every time they left their homes (sarcasm attended), many members of the Ferguson police force were having fun with e-mails that tell as much of the story as does the one-sided statistical divide, one that rivals any from the old south. How old? I suspect if all police departments were investigated the way Ferguson was, we might see similar statistics south and north of the Mason-Dixon line. Not to be unfair about it all, I’m also sure it works both ways (the racist jokes/emails ... I've been called a cracker more than once for Sharpton bashing ... which doesn't bother me quite as much as being called a fat cracker).
 
So it goes.
Netanyahu … Oh, the drama … the sideshow the Republican Party orchestrated in the form of an end run around the President last week, aside from the entertainment value, was yet another drum beat for U.S. involvement in yet another war in the Middle East. Netanyahu used the survival card at every opportunity, rallying the yahoos in Congress to stand and cheer, while some Democrats grimaced, and one turned her back.
 
Talk is cheap. Iranian zealots have been calling for wiping out Israel for a long time now. They’ve also called for “death to America” … somehow the two aren’t equated. We laugh at such threats to America because we know a nuclear attack on us would require a similar response, thus ending (for the most part) this absurd form of human life as we know it. Israel has nuclear weapons. Does anyone really believe that Iran, should they acquire nuclear weapons, would risk a response? The suggestion that they might is NOT a justifiable reason to a) attack their nuclear facilities or b) preemptively hit them with nukes … or why bother waiting. You’re so sure they’re going to try and wipe you out? Really? So, what’s stopping you from wiping them out first? Can you see the insanity here? Is it at least on the horizon of your thoughts, Mr. Netanyahu?
 
Utah Congressman, Jason Chaffetz, on national television last week said he’d “take out” Iran for the threat they pose to Israel and America now. Does that count as a threat to survival? Does Iran get to claim we’re looking to wipe them off the face of the earth now? Politicians talk shit. They’ve been doing it forever. The one thing anyone can count on is their ability to lie and spin facts in the direction they’re heading (usually guided by the money behind them).
 
Netanyahu guaranteed there would be enormous positive reverberations after we took out Saddam Hussein.
 
Okay, so how’d that work out?
 
The simple(ton) answer is to bomb away … everyone who disagrees with us or our proxy in the Middle East gets in line or else. Nation states don’t get to protect themselves unless we (or our proxy) let them. With that mindset driving our policy there, is there really any wonder why so many in the Middle East hate us?
 
Nobody denies Israel’s right to exist. Nobody denies Iran isn’t to be trusted. Somehow, however, we and Israel are to be trusted, hands down, end of story. A couple of FACTS for the untrusting to consider:
 
We are the first and only ones to ever use a nuclear weapon in war ... and we did that twice.
 
We’re the ones who recently enough preemptively invaded two different nation states in the Middle East.
 
And our net gain from those fiasco wars? Instead of the enormous positive reverberations Mr. Netanyahu guaranteed, aside from those who have died and/or have been maimed, we average 22 American veterans a day committing suicide.
 
22 A DAY!
 
So, thanks, but no thanks to another war in the Middle East.
 
So, for those who claim criticizing American policy is traitorous (or that they’re self-loathing Americans), try using caffeine with your morning coffee. We are exercising democracy by questioning policy, which is OUR right (the same right we’re always reminded of by those who point to the sacrifices our military makes “so we can complain”). This goes for those who criticize Israeli policy as well. We/they aren’t anti-Semitic. That’s as absurd as Al Sharpton claiming that criticism of his opportunism and tax evasion makes us racist.
 
Larry David handled this wonderfully ... "You know, they got a mental asylum a couple of blocks down. I suggest you check yourself in ..."
 
For those so desirous of us going to war, whether to support Israel, or for the sake of spreading democracy throughout the middle east (that’s worked great so far—sarcasm again intended), why not join the military and walk the walk? So many of our politicians who’ve ducked their chance to prove their LOVE for America during Vietnam (Cheney, Giuliani, et al.) are always so anxious these days to send other kids to prove THEIR love of country. I call that convenient patriotism. Same goes for those who claim that any criticism of Israeli policy equates to anti-Semitism. Feeling extra passionate today? Join up. Too old? I’m sure there’s a militia somewhere in the Middle East that will gladly provide you with a uniform and rifle.  From what I gathered at the IDF site, age limits start from 26+ … I’m assuming that means way up (but I don’t know for sure). And if you are too old or don’t have the right qualifications, you could always go there and support the war effort up front and personal by doing something more than using ALL CAPS to express your patriotism.
 
The point being, curb your enthusiasm for war. At the least, try to understand that not all of the people catching American missiles dropped during drone strikes and/or from American bombers are terrorists. Try to realize that innocents killed in the Middle East during and since our preemptive wars there view us as the terrorists, no matter what label we put on our justifications.
 
So, Bibi, next time you need a stage to win an election back home, feel free to use the Congress again … it’s been enhanced as the theatre of the absurd since the party you court today (the GOP) took over anyway.
 
Hillary’s e-mails … so let me go on record and state that I am not a fan of the Clintons … in fact, it was Bill Clinton’s hard veer to the right that chased me from the Democratic Party for the two elections after he took his show on the retirement road. I’m not a fan of Hillary Clinton either, and I once called her Satan (and caught flak for it) … why Satan? Because she appeared to be willing to stick it out with Slick Willy for the sake of her own Presidency. I thought she (and he) were big phonies back then and I haven’t changed my mind an iota. I find it absolutely dumbfounding that as we go into the next Presidential election cycle, we’re likely facing Bush v. Clinton yet again. How the hell does that happen in a so-called democracy?
 
I trust no politician who a) takes money from corporations (never mind foreign countries), b) flip-flops with the political winds and/or c) has a proven record of absolute duplicitousness … and Hillary hits the trifecta based on those caveats.
 
So, does that mean I turn back to another Bush mistake? Not in this life. I’ve changed somewhat over the last few months on who I’m willing to vote for … it’s one of two people now (it was only one prior to this narrowing of the field to Clinton-Bush). I’ll vote for Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. No Bernie, no Warren = no vote. To quote my favorite coach ever … “It’s as simple as that.”
 
Now, to the emails … Seriously? She’s telling the State Department to release the emails she was willing to release? No thanks.
 
Run Elizabeth, run!
 
—Knucks
 
In honor of what STILL appears to be a Clinton-Bush Oligarchical 2016 slugfest …

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

This week's TK SUCCESS Feature ... Mike Callahan …

Amici:

Today’s feature is about a family business that has grown from small to substantial through the efforts of its owner, Mike Callahan, Jr. Mike’s ability to improvise an inclusive work environment formula has incentivized his workforce with a piece-pay system that engenders individual worker accountability as well as financial motivation.
 
Callahan Lawn Care and Property Maintenance, Inc. was started in 1994 by Mike Callahan, Sr. When Big Mike retired and turned the business over to his eldest son, the company served just six commercial clients. Today it is a thriving million dollars plus business. It is also a staple of the local community and economy it serves—Rochester, New York.
 
The last point is a significant one. Now that his business has grown, and continues to do so, Callahan finds his company up against national competitors with little to no community investment outside of profit; corporations whose investors live outside the city where the work they profit from is performed. Who would you rather have working your property, someone with a vested interest in the community, because it is where he was born and continues to live with his family, or someone looking over a faxed report in the clubhouse of a golf resort after playing 18 holes in the Bahamas?
 
If we’re talking about the snowfall in Georgia, I guess it wouldn’t make much of a difference, but when we’re talking about the kinds of snowstorms that hit western New York, having a local home-grown business with an impeccable work record seems like the smart choice to make.
 
So, how did this small business grow to the point where it has gained national attention and its owner is often quoted in national industry journals?
 
For starters, it took a lot more than muscle and good luck for Mike Callahan to grow the family business. Mike earned his business degree from Rochester Institute of Technology, graduating with a 3.4 grade point (something his father points to with great pride). After he took over the business, Mike put his empirical and intellectual knowledge to work. Like any business, perhaps more so because of the unpredictability of Mother Nature, especially in Rochester, New York, maintaining profitability in the lawn care and snow removal business requires constant vigilance. What does or doesn’t produce employee and/or customer satisfaction directly affects the bottom line. Adapting to an ever changing business environment is as crucial as adapting to changes in the weather.
 
Mike didn’t just pick up a snow shovel one day and figure it all out. Nor did he learn everything he needed to attain success in some classroom.  Mike learned by getting his hands dirty working the business inside and out.  With pride in his blue collar roots and the requisite strong work ethic of independent business owners, Mike grew Callahan Lawn Care and Property Maintenance, Inc. with hands-on experience, and from the experience of other colleagues in the same business. Mike recognized the competitive advantage in applying technology to his trade and was quick to install web-enabled laptops in two of his company vehicles, as well as tablets in all his other work vehicles. In an article titled, “The Digital Divide”, in the national industry journal, Lawn and Landscape Market Leadership, Callahan’s use of technology is discussed.
 
During a rough year for him personally, Mike and his business took a financial hit that required spending some extra time in the field with a colleague in the business. Together they performed the necessary due diligence analysis to pinpoint the problem: where $70k of his business revenue seemed to disappear over an 8 month period. Their field research yielded the following result: wasted man hours for which workers were being paid without producing. Callahan’s solution was the implementation of the piece-pay system wherein workers were invested with accountability and rewards. Rather than pay per hour, they were paid per job.
 
The same national trade publication offers articles involving case studies that showcase solutions to specific issues confronting lawn and landscaping business owners. Mike has been featured in several such case studies, including the issue of labor and how best to provide a fair and balanced work environment. From Lawn and Landscape: “We had one crew that was backed up, and they were budgeted for 1.5 days of work from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., but they got the job done by 5 p.m.,” Callahan says. “I paid them until 11 p.m., and that was a big game-changer at our company. Employees heard about that when they got their checks Friday." Another game-changer was a lesson learned about travel time and preparing for jobs. One crew neglected to load their truck before heading across town to the job site. “They knew it would cost me more than $100 for them to drive back and grab the equipment,” Callahan says.
 
“I said, ‘Your shop time is 8:05 to 8:10, and I paid you for that, so you’ll have to come back and get the equipment (on your own time). Once we held those guys accountable, others heard about it and it changed the culture to where the guys are working for themselves under my umbrella – they are making the right decisions within the guidelines we set.”
 
Callahan says introducing the system to employees and gaining their buy-in required a couple of incentives. After a careful look at the numbers, he realized he could give employees a $1 raise with the new system, so he gave the team an instant boost. Then, he explained that the point of piece-rate pay is not to take dollars away from employees – rather, to reward them for doing good, efficient work. So if they finished a job faster than it was budgeted, they’d still get paid the full amount, plus have an opportunity to earn more by filling the “extra time” with more work.
 
The bottom line is once workers are invested in the process, they will treat the business as their own (because essentially, at that point, they become partners). It is a win-win-win scenario, during which workers are hustling and taking pride in their production, while simultaneously earning more for their efforts. The concomitant result is a happy client (for having their concerns handled in a timely fashion), and a happy business owner. While the business owner still has to oversee the entire operation, which is no small task, he/she can sleep a little better nights knowing that they’re building something good for everyone involved. Read about Mike's experience with piece-pay in this Lawn and Landscape article, "Case Studies" here.
 
No doubt Mike picked up his strong work ethic from both his parents (Mike Sr. and Donna), as well as his grandparents. Mike’s paternal grandfather was a fireman in the city of Rochester. His maternal grandfather was a milkman back when milk was still delivered door to door. Mike’s father worked as an electrician prior to starting the lawn care business, while his mother, Donna, taught special education in the Greece Central School District before retiring just a year and a half ago.  Donna’s mother, Adriana, born in Milan, Italy, 99 years ago, continues to live on her own in her own apartment.  Mike has a younger brother, Ryan, whose heart and soul NHL and Olympic hockey identity was also built around the same work ethic as his older brother.
 
So, what’s it like to run a growing operation during snow seasons the likes of which often blanket Rochester, New York? I asked Mike about a typical day in the life. His outline included monitoring the weather, especially for snow and ice, every hour, seven days a week. When snow or ice events occur, his trucks are immediately dispatched to make the magic happen. A normal day outside of snow removal involves getting summer crews out at 7:00 a.m., requiring his presence at the office an hour earlier to get things started. Mike estimates and QC run from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., at which time he can call it quits, but not necessarily call it a day. Mike interviews Mondays and Wednesdays from 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m.
 
Mike believes in family time, then resting and regrouping for the next challenge. Recently Mike’s wife, Sarah, gave birth to their first child, Stella Harper (a great name).
 
Some of Callahan Lawn Care’s recent media exposure.
 
 
 
 
I thought about changing some of an article Mike wrote himself, but decided his words and experience far exceed anything I can add.  Here’s a terrific article penned by the owner himself.
 
Handling High-Volume with Efficiency & Ease
Written By: Mike Callahan, President
 
The familiar wail of your alarm jolts you to your feet. It’s two o’clock in the morning. Outside you notice the white flakes have piled up to the point of no return. You race to the bottom of the stairs, ruler in one hand; phone in the other. The cold smacks you in the face and you begin dialing your manager to alert him to the six inches on the ground. Your mind goes to work; it’s going to be a long night that will surely string into the following day. The feat – 575driveways, 69 commercial properties, 24 employees, and 20 vehicles on the road combating the storm with about six hours to deadline. The surmounting stress is paralyzing.
 
The challenge of handling a high-volume of snow removal jobs plagues many contractors in the northeast. Managing this feat is standard practice at Callahan’s. From November to March, Callahan’s manages the stress of snow with a simple three pronged approach.
 
 
The strategic benefits to standardizing equipment results in improved economic performance. Callahan’s quest for equipment standardization began with snow plows; all plows are the same make and model leading to interchangeability for every truck. Snow blowers and company trucks follow suit in the standardization. Callahan’s even works to hire subcontractors based on the make and model of the truck and plow they use; although it is not always possible in cases of subcontracting. The company even keeps a stock pile of back-up equipment at a central location. Equipment standardization allows for employee proficiency in operation, efficiency among crews, and preventative maintenance remains predictable.
 
The need for a standardized process for on-time job completion is essential. The system must be rigid enough for human accountability but remain flexible enough to adapt to unpredictability with equipment and weather conditions. Each employee and subcontractor signs an employment contract which outlines the following: job description, chain of command, details regarding payment for services performed, repercussions for failure to complete work, expectations for performance on-the-job, route sheets with budgeted man-hours to be met, and directions on how to complete and submit standardized work logs. Each employee receives on-the-job training regarding standard operating procedures.
 
Customer satisfaction is the critical element to success and technology is the key at Callahan’s. Routes are optimized using MapPoint. Service Autopilot and Ring Central automate communication with customers regarding service via text messaging and email during a snow and ice event. These same systems are utilized through mobile apps in vehicles to allow for seamless communication between employees in the field and those in the office. GPS is employed in all trucks to allow for real time crew tracking, job costing, and coverage for slip and fall litigation.
 
Through proper implementation of resources and equipment, early adoption of technology, and stellar training Callahan’s will continue to promote customer focused work of the highest quality. Continuous improvement of these systems will allow Callahan’s to remain a market leader and continue growth well into the future.
 
 
 
 
—Charlie
 
Sharing the knowledge… Mike has produce videos to aid colleagues in the business.


Should I accept one-time snow plow jobs?
 
Best Practices for hiring subcontractors …
 
Hiring & Retaining Snow Removal Employees ...
 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Momma Stella … Reviews … Neat Podcast from Brooklyn …Next Week’s TK Feature …

Amici:

An abbreviated TK this fine Saturday morning (the night after the Bolts beat the Black and Blues with a Bishop shutout and goal by Cally, Boyle and 2 from Stamkos … Go Bolts!
 
Momma Stella … was walking us through some classic Stella family nostalgia this fine Saturday … she was telling Ann Marie about her ex (my father) … Poppa Tommy had a few affairs back in the day, ultimately taking off with his first cousin’s wife, a family scandal that Momma Stella took on the chin, but was always the better off for it (the way my sister and I always felt—let loose the excess baggage and move on, MF’ers). Anyway, Annie’s only heard some of these stories a few dozen times already, and lately it seems Momma Stella’s short term memory is fading, so today it was the Dr. Pecoraro story, one Annie hadn’t heard before. It seems MS used to drive the receptionist at the Dr.’s office to work on Saturday mornings on her way to her own job, and in return would get first dibs in the office whenever MS had to get a checkup or whatever. So, one day when MS goes into the Dr.’s office for a checkup, who’s sitting in the reception area but her marital nemesis (the woman the old man took off with).  MS sees her nemesis, stops in her tracks and gives her the famous nickname for which she’s been referred to ever since. “Oh, look who’s here. It’s Gang Bang.”
 
I looked at Annie, saw her brow raise as the smile on her face froze, and then I started and couldn’t stop laughing.
 
“I was lucky she didn’t do something to my car while I was inside,” Momma Stella next said. “Although then I would’ve killed her for real, the slut.”
 
I love my Mommy!
 
House of Cards … Well, it’s back … and although I suffered through most of the first episode waiting for something to happen (while trying to remember what happened at the end of Season 2 (I’m an impatient man), I eventually wanted to move on to episode 2 … which I did this morning between some writing … then we were off to the tax man, and then our visit with Momma Stella. The gym will have to wait until tomorrow. I’ll probably watch a few more episodes later today, of course, but imagine a President so unencumbered by politics (because he’s claiming not to run again), he can be honest? Yeah, science fiction, I know, but it is fun to see a fantasy on the screen … and who better than Kevin Spacey to perform it? It’s a fun series … but I’m missing the French Spiral series and wondering if it’ll ever come back (or did it end?) …


Gypsy’s Kiss, by James Winter … a throwback to the noir PI era, Nick Kepler (former cop) owes a certain stripper/hooker his life; she once took a bullet for him. She’s also fallen for him and him for her. He’s also involved with his partner and another woman. As self-deprecating as he can be at times (which is some of the fun), Nick gets around. In this short, fast-paced read, Nick’s dealing with a special kind of bad guy, someone who leaves deposits after a visit. He’s got Gypsy’s back, but that can be dangerous. He also has money problems and a business about to go bust. A fine novella with all the PI trimmings. No spoilers here …
 
 
 
Next Week’s TK Feature … has to do with a small business grown big by the same hard work and determination that is a trademark of the owner’s family.
 
—Knucks
 
Because the wife mentioned him this morning ... and we love this song.
 
 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The First of TK’s Special Features: Vincent Miller …



Amici:
Okay, so about 25 years ago, I was coaching the OLB’s at Brooklyn College. I was new to coaching, but still fairly fresh from playing the game at a small college in North Dakota (Minot State back then, now Minot University). I was enthused at the opportunity to coach under Stew Yaker, a personal mentor of mine back in high school. Along with Coaches Frank Morogiello and Barry Cohen, Mrs. Miller (an English teacher at Canarsie High School), Father Scavo (long before high school) at St. Jude, and later Dave Gresham (Writing) at Minot, Sam Toperoff (Writing) at Hofstra and William Jannen (History/Law) at Brooklyn College, coaches and/or teachers and professors have always been the most supportive and influential people in my rather twisted life. The screw-ups along the way were all mine (to own forever, and I do own them) … any and all forms of redemption came from the decency and guidance of those mentioned above, and ultimately my wife, Ann Marie.
 
Back in my novice coaching year, I had a group of young men to coach and work with. One would suffer a horrible tragedy when his sister was murdered during the season. He was strong as a bull, tough as nails, and would go on to be a fine policeman. Another was already married, was also tough as nails, and would always give everything he had. Another was the guy we’re featuring tonight, Vincent Miller. A young man with a ton of determination and desire, Vincent was a coach’s dream: somebody who paid attention, did the work, and was always anxious to learn and do more. I’d say Vincent had about as much desire and determination as anybody I ever played with, and I played with two guys in college who went on to play in the NFL.
About six months ago, I hooked up with Vincent via Facebook (how else?) What a pleasant surprise it was and has been.
 
I decided to feature some posts about people with extraordinary stories … people with that special brand of work ethic and/or determination that allowed them to pursue and achieve their interests and dreams. When I asked Vincent to fill me in on what he’s done since we parted so many years ago (I hadn’t heard anything about him), he sent me an email that tells an extraordinary story. I was literally dumbfounded by what he wrote me (including learning that he was actually failing off the football team back when I was coaching him—I left midway through the following season during a marital breakup and lost contact with pretty much everyone).
So, here’s Vincent’s story … in his words (with some minor editing from me) … it’s actually quite amazing.
Vincent L. Miller is the senior BPI Project Lead at ADP’s Innovation Lab in Chelsea NY.  He received his MBA, in strategic management and a MS in Finance from Baruch College in NYC. A lean transformation specialist and an authority in service operations management, he is a member of member of the Adjunct Faculty at Baruch College, he is certified in Lean by the Society of Mechanical Engineers, certified in Six Sigma methodology by the American Society of Quality (ASQ) and he is a certified in Quality Engineering by ASQ.
Born in Brooklyn NY, Vincent is the eldest son amongst six children.  With an early interest in learning, he excelled in school. Smart enough to be selected for the SP class in Junior High School, he was skipped from the 7th grade to the 9th grade.  Electing to follow his friends rather than focusing on academics, he decided to go to Automotive HS.  The summer before entering HS would change his life.
Growing up in Brooklyn, Vincent played football in the street every day. Developing a love for the game, he played from morning to evening.  That particular summer, he and his brothers visited family in Alabama, where he met his cousin Donnell and decided he wanted to play organized football. Upon returning to NY, Vincent began his journey. Playing sandlot football for Dave Johnson, who instilled a strong work ethic and a high standard of achievement.
Upon graduation from Automotive, Vincent took a year off from school before deciding to go to college.  Holding miscellaneous jobs he devoted his time to weightlifting, hanging out and training to play football.  Prompted by his desire to play college football, he decided to apply for college. He gave some consideration to Colorado State, Alabama A&M and Alabama University, but he feared home sickness and enrolled in Brooklyn College.  In his first year, his focus was academics, and playing football for Kings Bay. That year his GPA was 3.3.
In 1981 Vincent joined the BC football. An undersized first-year outside linebacker, he immersed himself into football and started every game that season.  (Here Vincent was very kind to me, but we’re gonna skip that part). That same semester, Vincent’s GPA was 0.00—four classes and four F’s. (Amici, when I first read this, I did a double-take and said, WTF?) (smiley face, I think) ... 
For the next 3 years, “Right” (Vincent’s nickname) subordinated everything to football, weights, track and partying---all in that order.  For three straight years, he failed half his classes during football season and passed every class during the spring semesters and summer sessions.
In 1983, the NFL was very interested in small college football players. And in1983 Vincent/Right was considered one of the best small college football players on the East Coast. So with his last year coming up, he put all of his eggs in one basket. He stopped going to class totally.  He worked out twice a day. He joined the track team.  He worked all summer to get his 40 speed down and his weight up.  That year he went to camp in his best ever shape. He figured in order to make himself marketable, he had to excel at as many aspects of the game as he could.  That year he started returning punts.
Well into his first game of the season, Right was having the worst night of his college career.  In the third quarter he had no tackles, no assists--nothing.  Determined to do something exceptional, he told his running mate that he would take the next punt. He caught the punt and returned it 45 yards, giving the team excellent field position, but when he was tackled, he was hit in the ankle by a helmet.  In a single moment, his hopes for a professional career in the NFL were gone. His ankle remained swollen for the next 3 weeks.  When the scout came to check his time in the forty, it went up from 4.5 outdoors to 4.8 indoors—much less than average.
Other opportunities did present themselves.  Kicked out of school for poor grades, Vincent left BC without a degree and headed to Italy and play and coach professional football.  During that time he learned to speak Italian.
Upon his return to the states, Vincent began his professional career. After a few miscellaneous jobs, he landed a position with Schmitt Sussman.  Promoted 3 times in 5 years, from Sales Representative to his final assignment of Assistant Vice President within this $500 million dollar insurance agency. For eight year he lead a staff of 35 service agents and support staff, producing $13 million in annual sales—50% of the agency’s annual revenue. While at Schmitt Sussman, Vincent was recruited by MCU to turnaround an underperforming operation. Vincent was responsible for new customer acquisitions, managing service channels and defining service standards for nine offices and 300 frontline staff within the organization.  At MCU, Vincent led the development and execution of strategic plans that doubled assets from $575 million to $1.1 billion through the acquisition of 235 new corporate accounts and 60,000+ new customer accounts during his tenure.
 
It was during his time at MCU that Vincent decided he wanted an MBA. His problem was he needed to finish his undergraduate degree first. In the spring of 1999, fourteen years after being kicked out BC, he enrolled in the New School in New York, and in one year he took 40 credits and graduated.  After graduating, Vincent entered Baruch College. There he studied strategic management for two-years. He graduated with a 3.79 average. A year later he completed his MS in finance, graduating with a 3.53.
 
Now an Adjunct Professor at Baruch College, Vincent is teaching 3-courses this semester. A senior member of the American Society for Quality (ASQ), he was selected to present at 2012 World Conference on Quality Improvement.  Vincent is married and has three children.
Okay, so what does his old OLB coach say to a story like that?
Bravo, of course … and, Sei un compagno straordinario, Vincenzzo.
Next TK Special Feature has to do with another hard working individual who built a small family business into a million dollar enterprise. Look for it over the next two weeks (not that we won’t remind yous) …
—Charlie

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Book Review: Holy Fool, by Ken Butler … Movie Reviews: The Judge, A Five Star Life, Chef … NEW TK FEATURE STARTING NEXT WEEK …

Amici:

Holy Fool, by Kenneth Butler … Brendan Malcolm O’Toole has a dilemma. He’s questioning both his faith and purpose. It’s not so much the existence of a God that concerns him, but O’Toole wonders whether he’s worthy of serving.  He likes women. In fact, he’s come to crave them. In the small town where he’s trying to hold onto his flock and the church it serves, there’s a young woman hot to trot with O’Toole. While O’Toole struggles with his personal problems, Sissy St. Hilaire has even bigger issues. She’s been a serial adulterer throughout her marriage to her wealthy, materialistic and atheist husband, George. Her kids are going through normal youthful dysfunction complicated by wealth. When Sissy receives a call about George’s recent car accident, her world is turned upside down. Sissy is flummoxed to learn George has taken a change of heart (and soul). He’s become a spiritual man and wants to serve the lord in ways Sissy (and at least one of her kids) can’t fathom (like giving up all his riches to become a priest). She asks George to check into the local loony bin and it’s there she comes across Father O’Toole. There’s chemistry in the air, but George leaves the hospital and nobody knows where he’s gone. The fun starts early on and becomes uproariously funnier with each titled chapter (which are also funny).
 
There’s a message in the book as well. It isn’t a novel making fun of religion, not by a longshot. The author, Ken Butler, was born a Catholic, lost his faith, and then regained it. He’s also been a playwright and teacher. I met him up in the MFA program at Southern New Hampshire University and can still remember his graduation speech (he had the place in stitches).
 
Holy Fool is a wonderful read you won’t put down. Clever, cynical, sarcastic, witty and profound. Ken Butler has nailed it. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
 
Kenneth Butler was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire when it was still a blue-collar seaport town. He graduated from Portsmouth High School just as the city was discovered by the artistic, then the financially comfortable, and began on a course that has concluded with a fine and complete gentrification of the city. The most telling symbol for this transformation was the greasy-spoon Teddy's Lunch on Market Square morphing into Cafe Brioche.
 
Butler was a film studies major at Emerson College in Boston. In 1983, through connections there and sheer favoritism, he secured a job as a Story Editor for Roger Corman's New World Pictures in Los Angeles, where he had a brief and undistinguished career writing script reports on the screenplays in the studio's slush pile. Over the course of the next twelve years, he would return to Hollywood several times to work in various low-level capacities for MGM/UA, the Walt Disney Studios and Columbia Pictures. He also collaborated on five screenplays, all of which met with varying degrees of failure -- or at least no success.
 
Somewhere in there he got married and divorced (no children), and traveled a half-dozen times to Europe, visiting England, Wales, France, Germany and Sweden.
 
He returned to New England in 1995 and enjoyed favorable productions of three full-length stage plays -- Chinese Checkers, Cannibals (about the disappearance of Michael Rockefeller in New Guinea in 1961) and A Pound of Flesh. When he failed to secure productions by any major American theatre companies, he threw in the playwrighting towel.
 
In 1999 he received a BA in Creative Writing from Plymouth State University and taught History and Drama at the Woodward School for Girls in Quincy, Massachusetts from 2000-2007. He also taught eight summers at Phillips Exeter Academy, and one year at the Holderness School. It was during this period that he wrote his first two novels, The Ghosts of Swallowtail, about malevolent spirits in a girls school near Boston, and A Pound of Flesh, a comic caper novel that was also a fleshed-out, expanded narrative which taking its premise (disparate and desperate eccentrics fighting over Grigori Rasputin's preserved penis) from his earlier play of the same title.
 
In 2012 he received an MFA in Fiction from Southern New Hampshire University, with authors Robert Begiebing, Katherine Towler, merle Drown and Richard Adams Carey as his mentors. His third novel, Holy Fool, served as his master's thesis.
 
He now lives in New England, where he teaches literature and film courses at a private prep school. He is at work on his fourth novel.
 
 
 
 
Movie Reviews:
The Judge … we both enjoyed this more than we expected. Robert Downy Jr. does his usual cynical, sarcastic character (I don’t think I’ve ever seen him not play a role this way), but it was the rest of the cast I enjoyed, Robert Duval, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio and Jeremy Strong. Duval is always Duval (and it always works for me) … a hotshot lawyer comes home after a prolonged estrangement from his family (his father, the Judge, Duval, for reason you’ll have to watch the movie to learn) to bury his mother and winds up defending his father in a murder case. Nothing profound, but it was pleasant viewing for a frigid afternoon last weekend.
 
A Five Star Life … I enjoyed this one solo … mostly because I’ve seen the actress (Margherita Buy) in other eye-talian flicks … she’s a “mystery hotel guest” (someone who rates the service of luxury hotels), but it’s become her life, a lonely one she discovers … there’s a series of crisis around her and her family as she comes to terms with life on the road. Stefano Acorsi is also wonderful in his role as ex-husband in a frightening (for him) new role. A good view any time.
 
Chef … probably the best of the feel good trio, written and directed by John Favreau … it’s an all-star cast that doesn’t disappoint. SofĂ­a Vergara, John Leguizamo, Scarlett Johansson, Oliver Platt, Bobby Cannavale, Dustin Hoffman, and Robert Downey, Jr. (doing his usual cynical, sarcastic shtick). Lots of fun, start to finish. And the music really truly rocked. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
 
NEW TK FEATURE STARTING NEXT WEEK …
 
Okay, so every once in a while, Temporary Knucksline will feature an individual for being anything from interesting to successful to interesting and successful … artistic, a humanitarian, and sometimes for just being a decent human being. Next week we’ll feature a kid I once coached at OLB at Brooklyn College, Vincent Miller. He’s no kid now. Wait’ll you read this kid’s story. Truly amazing.
 
 
Vincent Miller the way I remember him ...

Vincent Miller today.

In a few weeks, we’ll be featuring another success story that also deals with an incredible work ethic and the kind of determination that turns a small family business into a million dollar enterprise. You want clues? Stay tuned, amici … stay tuned.
 
—Knucks
 
Taking care of business …