In Memoriam: Happy on the inside

The DJ had the music turned up so loud that I couldn’t hear my college fraternity brother talk. We filled up our cups with more beer and went upstairs to the second-floor landing to watch out over the rest of the party-goers. While still loud, I could hear a little better what my friend was telling me.

He was a senior getting ready to graduate; I was a freshman trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. In my mind, he had it altogether. He was decisive, I was unsure of myself. He was smart and had strong speaking skills. I stuttered and stammered and sometimes had trouble expressing myself. He was weeks away from graduation and a clear path to riches and success, I still had 90-plus credits and was three years away from even thinking about graduation.


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The battle over the Oxford comma!

The English language is a frustrating friend.

She’ll wow you with great writing that reaches across the page and touches your soul. She’ll string together stunning phrase after stunning phrase that turns the mundane into something out-of-this-world and leaves you breathless.

And then you sit down to write and she’ll trick you into using “there” when you should use “they’re” or is it “their.” Another day, you’ll spend countless minutes going back and forth figuring out whether to use affect or effect, confusing you to the point where you decide to just choose another word. You go with “impact,” knowing that without “forcible contact” in the meaning, you’re using the word incorrectly. A third day, you write down “imminent” when you mean “eminent.”


English grammar and punctuation are a puzzle and I’ve been fooled too many times to count, falling in love with commas when I should be using semicolons; misspelling words that would be simple enough to spell if I just looked them up in the dictionary; and forgetting the simple rules that we learned as pint-sized elementary school kids.

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A dinosaur goes back to school shopping in the age of Amazon

When I was getting ready to go off to college back when dinosaurs still roamed the Earth, my mom and I went to our local mall to get a bed spread, shower tray, and new clothes, including several pairs of jeans. We made a day of it. We went shopping and then ate lunch at a pizza parlor located in the mall that we both liked.

I remember grabbing a slice and the enormity of the situation finally hitting me. I would be off on my own in a few days and I wouldn’t be coming home for a very long time. I was excited, but worried about how I would pay for everything and how I would survive on my own. My mother must have sensed my uncertainty and told me to do my best, everything would work out in the end.


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A new kind of College Signing Day?

The big man on campus walks across a podium in the Rice University basketball arena to the cheers and applause of more than 5,000 adoring fans. In their new book, The Power of Moments, Dan and Chip Heath describe the hoopla surrounding College Signing Day that a start-up charter school in Houston creates each year.

I can envision the scene in my head: coaches and the guest of honor seated at a table in the middle of the arena with two or three college hats with school colors situated prominently on the table. Mom and dad stand off to the side, their eyes beaming in the arena lights and the crowd explodes with excitement.


The head coach says a few quick words and then hands the mic over to the football star. Which will it be? Florida State, Miami or maybe a surprise school, Ohio State or Oklahoma perhaps?

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Ten things I want to learn

Like most people, when I was young, I learned how to read. A few years later, I learned how to throw a curveball, one decent enough to occasionally fool my friends, but not good enough to get anyone out in a real game. (The one time my coach put me in, I got lit up beyond belief, so I think I’m still working on that one.)

We spend a lifetime learning things. As soon as we come out of the womb, we work to learn everything about our new world. We go from listening and watching to rolling over, crawling, and graduate to talking and one day walking.

We never stop learning. The process is never-ending. For much of my life, I’ve been taking classes to get a grade or learn a subject or a train for a career. With two of my children now in college, I’ve been thinking about the things I still want to learn simply for fun.



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Ten years from now, will this matter?

I came out of the classroom and wanted to scream. I had spent hours studying for the Econ 101 test, but I felt like I had been lied to by the professor. His test included a number of questions on topics that had been barely covered in class or our textbook and other content that had been discussed ad nauseam was barely even mentioned. Of course, I struggled on the exam and feared the worse.

I started walking back to my dorm, but I wasn’t sure if I should laugh, cry, scream or throw a punch. Instead, I stopped and sat down on a bench under a small row of elm trees. The sun had set and it felt much later than the time. The black, starless night matched my mood.


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Trashing a good story

The old man’s eyesight was fading and he couldn’t get around well without his walker, but you could usually find him each day on the front porch of the local grille. He’d be dressed in a pair of denim bib overalls and soiled work boots gently rocking back and forth in an old rocking chair. He’d show up late afternoon and within a half hour or so, you’d find a small group of locals circled around him on stools listening intently to his every word.

The man served as a B-17 bombardier during World War II and spent most of his life farming in the small Virginia community and had a lifetime of stories. As a young reporter, new to the area, I came to count on his stories and perspective.


I spent hours listening to him. You’d tell him a story that you thought was of particular interest and he’d come back with three or four better ones. He had a story for every day of the week and two for Sunday. The topic didn’t matter, he’d start talking and I’d be drawn-in immediately to whatever story he was telling.

He told stories about growing up dirt poor and taking care of his six brothers and sisters; how he managed to scrape together enough money for an education; and how “a young hick” like he used to call himself, came to travel to Paris and Rome and still found his way home to his wife and a life as a country farmer.

You’d ask him about his day and he had a way of making something as simple as taking his garbage to the local dump sound like poetry. Fast forward to this week. I was going through some old papers and couldn’t help, but think about the old man. I love a good story, so much so that I hoard them. I have stacks and stacks of stories, some related to my job, others dealing with topics that I want to write about in the future, and still others touching on self-help topics.

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Getting good at saying college goodbyes

The inevitable happened.

Several weeks ago, we dropped our middle child, our oldest son, off at college. He’s starting his freshman year and he couldn’t wait to start. As soon as the car was unloaded, he was ready for us to say “goodbye.” And then this past weekend, we loaded up the SUV and drove our oldest child, our daughter, to Washington, D.C. where she’s taking two evening classes and working as an intern.

In the end, it was worse and in some other ways, easier than we thought it would be. I’ve written in the past about the challenge of saying goodbye to our kids. You get used to having your kids in your life and hearing everything about their day and then one day you drop them off and you watch them get smaller and smaller in the rear view mirror. Oh, that’s life, that’s the way it’s supposed to be, we’re adults, we know that, but it can be still be a challenge.


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Two types of people: Which are you?

The woman looked like she had just come from a weekend at the spa. If not straight from the lap of luxury, then she looked like she certainly came from the dressing room of Georgio Armani, Saks Fifth Avenue, or Nieman Marcus. Everything about her gleamed and sparkled, from the bangles around her wrist to the gold on her fingers.

I could have easily imagined her stepping onto a runway, modeling the latest designer fashion, or even into a chauffeured limousine, not an office supply store in the middle of Southeastern Pennsylvania. I watched her enter the store ― it was hard not to notice her ― but my interest soon waned and I went back to searching for ink for my printer. I didn’t give her another glance until I watched her jump in line, in front of a young couple with two toddlers. I started to say something but stopped myself when the store manager waved to open up two additional check-out lines.


I soon was on my way, but I couldn’t get the woman and her thoughtlessness out of my head. I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt. I thought to myself: “Maybe she didn’t see the line of people snaking around the corner and, yes, the couple she jumped in front of were distracted by their two toddlers.” Of course, the devilish side of me said, “damn straight, she saw the line, how could she not see the line of people waiting to be served, she just thought she was more important.”

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Get on the bus!

The bus went around the curve traveling faster than it probably should have and nearly sent me sprawling to the floor. I hung on tightly to the armrest to make sure the next curve or large pothole didn’t send me flying again. To top it off, the bus engine roared louder than a sell-out heavy metal concert, making it hard to concentrate.

My daughter has my car more than 350 miles away in another state so she can participate in a summer internship and my wife needed her car for the day, so I took the shuttle bus that my company offers to get to work. The ride lacked a certain smoothness ― or even pizzazz for that matter ― but I took away a number of positives from the trip. In particular, within a few minutes of sitting down in my seat, the shuttle bus took me back in my mind to my days as an elementary and middle school student.


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