April 30, 2013 / Posted by admin / COMMENTS (0)

Some Of Them

I like tennis. I played tennis. I started late and had a couple of communal lessons, but I was tall and liked to come to the net and got pretty good. I also had no head for the game. When you hear someone tell you how much of a mental game tennis is, you shouldn’t roll your eyes – they’re right.

Tennis is not a game to play angry, which is the only way I knew how to play it. I hit balls over the fence to get my rage out. I threw my racket and cursed the Gods with every mishit. I had to run extra laps before every practice, as a fine for every F-bomb, or racket bounce.

I didn’t continue to play because I started doing the plays at school. I’m still performing, but haven’t picked up a racket in a long time.

Many years ago I needed a job in the late summer and got hired at the US Open, or hired by the food vendors. I was going to bartend at a high-end restaurant, but couldn’t make the orientation, so I was relegated to a food stand that sold sandwiches, pretzels, and beer. I was pre-miserable about it before it started.

My anticipated misery was well-founded. It was two weeks of sixteen hour days, with a crew of crazy people, constant theft, and a crowd of people dressed in tennis gear to watch people play tennis. People wear jerseys to other sporting events, but to wear tennis gear to watch, is like wearing cleats to Yankee Stadium. You’re not gonna get in the game.

There are, of course, some class issues when it comes to tennis. It is a high class game, both to play it and to attend its premier events. I was working with local kids from the rougher parts of Queens, some concession stand lifers, and a lot of off-duty firefighters.

The tournament is a great event if you don’t spend it spraying water on pretzels and dipping them in salt. The scope and size of it is something to behold and the ultimate champion has to go through the brackets and conquer one opponent after another. I want to go back as a fan.

In the middle of the event, having lost track of time and my desire to do a good job, two women approached the counter and ordered sodas. I noticed a necklace on one of the women, which had a pendant in the shape of Nantucket Island, where I vacationed as a child. I mentioned her necklace to which she replied, to her companion, “How did he … Oh, that’s right, some of them are working here for college.” I was already out of college and should have been flattered that she thought I looked like a current student, but I was offended that she couldn’t believe a soda jerk at the Open would know Nantucket, or its geographic likeness. The way she called us “some of them” also tuned my fork. “I used to go there as a kid,” I said to the back of her head. OK we rented when we went to Nantucket, and I hadn’t been since I was 13, but I had vivid memories, and affection for the place. I was angry and tired and worrying about my life.

Our concession stand was deteriorating with every day. People quit. New people arrived. Our manager was fired for not being able to control the shortfalls of the registers and the inventory. I was battling new managers. Telling them that I brought limited competency, but certain work ethic. It was miserable.

To many employees the last days of clean-up were voluntary. Managers were almost begging people to come back the last day. I didn’t want to go. I talked to my Dad and he said I should honor my commitment. I tried to argue that only a dupe would show up, to be one of the understaffed, to do all the work, for a group of rotten burned out management creeps.

I went. Because some of us show up and do what we signed up to do.

April 25, 2013 / Posted by admin / COMMENTS (0)

The Cologne Incident

Families all have their stuff. You’ve heard that before, right? I’ve heard it and usually agree, but until a particular day, a few years back, I really didn’t have an incident to point to. Yes, all families have dynamics and tensions, but in mine they are largely unsaid, and in the face of other stories I’ve heard, we seem to be on a harmonious scale.

As the youngest by many years, I didn’t have the day-to-day sibling tensions or rivalries most kids did. I also tried to be on my best behavior because I wanted more time with my brothers and sister. I didn’t want to squander quality time with petty beefs that, truthfully, would need some manufacturing.

Life has it’s way of doling out wisdom and woe, knowledge and blind sides, and eventually we all catch up to each other as we get older.

Cut to: Christmas 2009, Portland, Oregon. The city was halted by the worst snow storm in 50 years, and my entire family was meeting at my brother’s house, as the storm clamped down the city and its roads. Portland knows precipitation, but not this kind. The city seemed to take a hands-off approach or they simply hadn’t had to deal with that kind of weather. Either way, it took some doing to get there and for my folks it was tough with my dad’s mobility being low, by this point. We made it, and my brother’s home was lovely, warm, and big enough for us to enjoy our holiday together, under one roof.

The close quarters may have started to take their toll, when in a silly fit of rage I confronted my brother for playfully spraying me with two different cologne samples using more mist than one would use when applying bug spray. We sat there watching a basketball game and I couldn’t shake the cloying stench of competing colognes laid on so thick, I felt transported to a whorehouse in the Wild West. I was staying at a hotel and had no change of clothes, and as the meaningless Christmas Day game warbled on, I started to let my brother know my discomfort was starting to make me angry.

My brother mentioned his legendary resolve when it came to escalating practical joke feuds. Not having grown up with the rough-housing associated with siblings of a close age I didn’t take well to personal boundaries being crossed. For some reason the word escalate seemed to cue my escalating rage, and I let loose a tirade, in third person, speaking as if I was given the chance to confront a loved ones killer in a courtroom. My brother and everyone in the room felt the atoms shift and it was parried with a thrust from my brother that ended with an expletive and a door slam (either figurative or literal, I’m not sure).

My other brother had a t-shirt for me to borrow, which may not have fit, and I stewed in my juices as I’m sure my brother did in another part of the house. We were snowed-in, to some degree, (not like Minnesota snowed-in, but, close), so walking out of the house and taking a couple of laps was not at our disposal. My cologne culprit brother was also in a walking boot, at the time, so I’m sure he felt the lack of mobility more acutely.

We made our peace in the kitchen a few hours later. It’s laughable today, and I should be glad to be in a family where this event is on the list of low-lights. I do wish it never occurred, but if you eavesdrop, to any degree, and hear the kinds of things families have done to each other, it makes you laugh, but I swear, if he comes at me with a spray bottle, I’m gonna have something for him.

April 16, 2013 / Posted by admin / COMMENTS (0)

Put It Aside

The danger of living in a social media world is that you can respond to news and trends in an instant. While being able to “like” a picture of a newborn baby in real time is an example of technology and heart working well together, this instant response is less helpful when something serious goes down, like what happened at the Boston Marathon. If you have anything to say, other than my heart goes out to the people and victims of that great city, than you need to put your hand over the microphone before you speak.

Sitting here and writing I am stymied. I was going to talk about putting aside silly notions of team pride, and how as a Yankee fan I still have affection for the Red Sox and the city they play in. I now feel that sentiment is cliche and insipid. We were wounded as a nation on 9/11 and we were wounded as a nation on 4/15, all other conjecture should be put aside. The people in law enforcement will or will not apprehend the criminals who did this.

We need to put aside all the noise that clouds our minds. Every swath of humanity is affected in these trying times. A bomb doesn’t care if you root for the Yankees or Red Sox, or God forbid, any of the Philly teams. And I don’t care what you think might have happened in the few hours after, and after the media overload began. Take a walk, call your loved ones, check in with all your Boston friends, but put aside your need to call your shot.

I’m as self-involved as the next guy, probably more so, but my need for attention can stand down in moments like these. More of us should take this note. It’s not about you. I’m not even sure who it’s about, but it’s not about me. And that’s as it should be. That’s the other fall-out of generations of me-first and the instant age. Our need to be the constant and tended-to center of our own worlds.

We have to be reminded that the cynic says human nature is bad. In New York, after 9/11, I was turned away for 2 days before I could give blood because so many had already given. Runners yesterday literally went the extra mile to give blood when it was probably unhealthy to be drained. That is not political, people care, and people respond. Maybe the thing to do is say hello to a stranger and ask them if everything is ok, or to implement a be nicer policy in our lives. Putting aside the need to be right and attempt to be righteous.

The danger with being able to post this in an instant is that I don’t know if the sentiment is well thought-out or if I sound like a jerk or a sap. I’m not sure how air-tight my stance is, I don’t even know if I have a stance. I don’t know if I’m begging for attention or trying to add to sensible discourse. I have to put it aside or I have to shelve it. That’s the risk, so if you have a larger platform you might err on the side of caution, and if you’re at the grocery store and you want to mouth off you should exercise that same caution. I hope I’ve been careful in this case, because this is a time of healing. The yank the band-aid off analogy doesn’t work. These are real wounds and caring is a verb. I’ll stop the preaching now, and I’ll try to be nicer, putting aside my fear to be well-liked.

Stand strong Boston.

April 9, 2013 / Posted by admin / COMMENTS (0)

After The Nets Come Down

I will step aside and give my father the floor, in a quick second. The NCAA title has been decided and it has always been a shared family passion. With alumni from UCONN, Duke, Michigan, and Boston College in the same family, there was a lot to root for, me being a Carnegie Mellon alumnus, I got to enjoy the best of all worlds. I did pile on with my Mom and Dad and took the Huskies into my heart. What follows is a reprint of an article my Dad wrote, that appeared in the New York Times, after the nets came down.

An Angel on His Shoulder at the Final Four
date: 04-04-99 New York Times

Going to the Final Four is quite an experience, especially if you start out without a ticket.
The notion of attending this extravaganza, held this year in St. Petersburg, Fla., came to me several months ago. It would have its advantages for me: My son Steve lives and works in the area, and I would stay with him and his family and enjoy the grandchildren. I also had hope and faith that the University of Connecticut basketball team, which I have cheered and supported for 47 years, could at last attain the charmed circle of the Final Four and even go on to win the national title.

Not having a ticket, of course, is quite daunting. And on top of that, how about not being able to get a flight to Florida because all seats seemed to be sold out? What did I expect on a weekend when the Final Four, college spring break and religious observances took place at the same time.

On Wednesday I decided to pack a bag and go by train, a 24-hour trip. I would scrounge a ticket by hook or by crook. I had a limited budget of crazy money in case I caved to the scalpers.

I was off on a one-man odyssey. Before it was over, it would give me an exhilarating emotional experience, a kismet-like dimension — that was not supposed to happen in this kind of environment.

I had asked around The New York Times to see if there were any tickets available. No luck there. One editor thought he might be able to make a contact, but that fizzled. He also asked a basketball reporter to keep an eye open in case something turned up.

With the Saturday, March 27, semifinals a couple of hours away, I still did not have a ticket. UConn-Ohio State was scheduled for 5:42 p.m. I had staked out a spot near the gate for the news media, hoping to bump into someone I knew who could help me. It was hot; temperatures were in the 80s. Sweat poured off me. “I need one,” I chanted, shooting one finger skyward.

At about 4 p.m., two familiar faces bounded toward me — two reporters in ties and jackets and ready to write about the games for The New York Times. They knew of my plight, but had not come up with anything.
“Stick in there,” they said. “Something is bound to come up.”

I had become a UConn fan when I was a student there. After I graduated in 1952, I became a sports reporter for The New Haven Register and was assigned the UConn beat. Like the current coach, Jim Calhoun, I and many other fans had endured the rap that UConn was good to watch but not able to clear one hurdle, the leap to the Final Four.

As I waited, I chatted with a young reporter from The Orlando Sentinel. At that moment, I realized that at my age — old enough to retire — I must have looked odd and amusing to the young woman. I thought: what am I doing out here in this blazing sun, acting like a homeless vagabond, trying to crash an event in which young men in the springtime of their lives were reaching for a dream of excellence in a sport I once played, however tentatively, in my own springtime? And I realized that yes, that was reason enough for going.

Suddenly I felt a tap on my left shoulder. I turned to see a lean, middle-aged man, wearing glasses and a gray cap with no insignia, standing behind me.

“Hi,” he said. “I guess you’re looking for a ticket. I’ve got an extra one you can have.”

“Yeah?” I said. “How much?”

“Nothing,” the man said. “You’ll be sitting next to me.”

“You sure I can’t pay you?” I said.

“You look like a fan. I don’t think you’ll try to sell it.”

I pointed to the turnstile at Gate 6. “I’m going right in now,” I said, trying to reassure him that I would indeed not sell the ticket. “I’ll see you in there,” he said.

I was so flabbergasted, I didn’t even look at the ticket to see if it was real or where the seat was situated.

I bought a hot dog and a soft drink and went to my seat — Section 314, Row R, Seat 24, on the aisle. I was way up there, but the view was unobstructed. I could see everything. On the scalpers’ listings, this one was going for $500.

Shortly before game time, the man arrived. Quiet and unassuming, he said he thought that of the four teams he would root for Michigan State, but he liked UConn’s chances. I asked him his name, but he refused to give it. I asked where he lived, and he refused to reveal that, too.

He was very savvy about the tactics and strategy of the games — the screening, the rebounding, the inside game, the press, the use of timeouts, fouling, and how it all might play out.

Between games, after UConn’s victory over Ohio State, I offered to buy refreshments. He refused. Again I offered to pay for the tickets. I asked for his name again, his address, his phone number. Each time he emphatically refused. “You’ll only send me money,” he said.

“This is a very unusual thing you’ve done,” I said. “Not many people would give these tickets away in this environment without seeking a big profit.”

“You’re a fan,” he said. “I know you wouldn’t sell it.”

He was the Anti-Scalper, the Anti-Profiteer. Maybe he got his kicks by standing firm in an age of fast-buck commercialism. He was taciturn, but I couldn’t call him strange or judge him. He might have thought the same about me, birds of a feather, and had picked me to receive his gift for that reason. Whatever, I was so engrossed in the UConn play and victory that I wound up hoarse.

At the end of the second game, when Duke beat Michigan State, he bounded into the crowd of more than 41,000, ignoring my pleas for information about him, and seemed to disappear.

The championship game was scheduled for 9:18 on Monday night. I was still clinging to my budget in case I had to yield to a scalper. This was one game I was not going to miss. At 6 p.m., I still did not have a ticket. UConn might become the national champion, and I might not see it happen.

I staked out the media entrance again. The same feeling I had had on Saturday came over me. The evening was cool. One fellow sported a sign reading: “Need One Ticket, Desperately. My Life Depends on It.” Panic time was setting in — surrender to the scalper or go watch it on TV.

Suddenly I felt a tap on my left shoulder. I turned to see the same lean, unassuming man with the gray cap staring at me. He was selling nothing.

“I’ve got an extra ticket again,” he said, recognizing me. “It’s yours if you want it.”

“You got to let me pay you this time,” I said.

“No way,” he said. “I know you won’t sell it because you’re a fan. I’ll see you up there.”

When he took his spot beside me — Section 314, Row R, Seat 23 — he seemed to want to say he would be noncommittal about which team he favored, but he was as engrossed as I was throughout by the exceptional play between UConn and the powerful Duke team.

“One of the best games I’ve seen,” he said.

I managed to get him to say he was from Miami, but his name, address, phone number, occupation, family remained private.

I was able to buy him a cup of Carvel ice cream at halftime. He reluctantly accepted it, and he seemed to enjoy it.

He did not stay for the post-game ceremony after UConn’s victory, disappearing into the crowd as he had done on Saturday night. He went out of my little odyssey as mysteriously as he had come into it.
I would like to think he was a true basketball fan, one who saw too much crass commercialism in an event and a game that he loved and respected, and he would not sell out. Maybe he wanted to share that with somebody, thereby coming to the rescue of a kindred spirit.

I wish I knew who he was, but does it really matter?

April 4, 2013 / Posted by admin / COMMENTS (0)

That’s Branding

The Holy Grail for a company is for their name or brand to become a verb. When was the last time you looked something up instead of Googling something? Sending something overnight, even at the post office, has become FedExing. You can Facebook someone, or aerobicize, or Victoria’s secrete, wait, that went too far, but you get what I’m saying.

People in the walk-a-day world are talking about branding themselves, because instead of rock stars we look up to business people. Seriously, guy-who-sells-books-on-the-street, you need to think about whether your brand message is working?

I can’t assume the pose of someone who hasn’t thought about this. I refer to myself in the third person on my website, have posed for pictures voluntarily, pass out business cards, and do intend to market myself. I just can’t find a way to make my name a verb.

To FedEx means to send mail or merchandise. To Google something means to search for information or nude celebrity photos. To Facebook is to waste time looking for bald high school friends or to brag about something in an effort to stave off feelings of desperation and inadequacy.

What is it to DeGregorio? Last night I had a set in Irvine and it didn’t go great, after the set I had an hour drive that was extended by a freeway closure. I was on the phone (hands-free) with my girlfriend and started complaining about my circumstance.

“I didn’t have to worry about this in New York, I live the life I live to not have to get stuck in traffic, it’s not like they have a solution after all this road work, I just ate shit and now I’m in my shitty car, changing gears manually, fogging my windows, what did I do wrong in my previous life?”

To which my girl replied, “Do you need to get off the phone?” Which is code for stop ranting or I’m hanging up. It worked to some degree and I didn’t explode.

So maybe we can get some traction that DeGregorio-ing is to have a verbal anxiety attack, extrapolating long term doom and gloom from simple hiccups and inconveniences of life. Not exactly the branding I was going for.

They say you start with the ideal for your brand and try to make it happen. I’d love for my brand to be about thoughtful humor, with hard work, and good bone-structure. I have to remember that I coined my brand as Carl D. does it, not complains about it. I have a lot of work to do.

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