Tuesday, December 27, 2011

"It took 40 years for me to get to ten years old."

Hmmmm . . . Tomorrow is December 28. That date rings a bell.

Mr. Charles Carrell (84) - I met "Chuck" during my stay in Dallas, TX and, at one point during our visit, he had something to say about the passage of time - his thoughts about the subject
really struck me and I'll share it with you here. By the way, I especially loved watching him as he recalled the porch setting and how the banister looked and felt. You should have seen him drawing it in the air above him as he sat on the couch next to me and relayed the story:

"Speaking of time, I tell you, when you get older, time fli
es by, it really does. I can remember when I was a kid—say, when I was eight years old—we had a front porch and the porch had this banister. And I’d lie on that porch there and look up at that banister at eight years old and think, “When I get to be ten, I’m gonna be a Boy Scout.” And I tell you, it took 40 years for me to get to ten years old. I can remember just lying near that banister on that front porch, saying, “I’ll never be old enough to be a Boy Scout.” Now, today, I work on my income tax, I take a day off, and the next thing I know I’m working on my next year’s taxes. It just sort of comes all together now; it all comes so fast.

And something else you find when you get a little older. I went back to my high school and the "big" auditorium we had over there, the "huge" auditorium (smiles) . . . why, it wasn’t any bigger than this room. The same thing was true about the "huge" lunchroom. Everything is big when you’re little, and it’s small when you’re older."

I know Christmas has come and gone, but this is a great gift for any time: Buy "gOLD" at http://amzn.to/pLXYoo

Monday, December 26, 2011

Expanding Our Minds . . . Painfully

Prof. Lyman Ray "L. Ray" Patterson was my civil procedure professor at Emory Law School and I will never forget one particular experience that may very well have removed about three years off of my life-span in a matter of just a few hours. I also studied copyright with L. Ray, but it was the first year final civil procedure exam that served to freak out me and everyone else in the room that day. You see . . . Professor Patterson operated on the assumption that if an individual makes it to law school, that, alone, is a pretty good indication the person is at least fairly intelligent. Given that, he wasn't merely going to present us with an exam that asked us to regurgitate the semester's materials. “Anyone can do that,” he would say. No - he wanted to really "test" us. He wanted to provide us with an opportunity to expand our minds, think quickly on our feet, and so on.

Well . . . all I can say about the exam is that I distinctly remember heading into the men's room at one point as I stalled for time, because I couldn’t think of one thing to write. And I mean "nothing,” which—for those who know me—is really something. There were people actually losing it in the bathroom that morning—crying, getting sick. My memory is a bit fuzzy as I write about the experience today but I do recall thinking, "Get your shit together, Harry. This is just an exam, no one is going to die here. Go in there and move the pen across the paper and, hopefully, enough words will come out of you so you won't flunk out of school."

To this day, I have no idea how I passed that exam.

I loved being able to relay this story to L. Ray when I visited with him years later to interview him for the Eldercation project. I remember how he smiled and, once again, explained the method to his madness.

(btw – if Jimmy Weil is reading this, do you remember playing tennis after that test? I remember hitting about three cans-worth of balls into the forest bordering Druid Valley.)

Buy "gOld: The Extraordinary Side of Aging Revealed Through Inspiring Conversations at Amazon.com.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


This is Pearl Thuston from Kansas City, Kansas.

When I first arrived in KC, someone suggested that I interview Pearl - knowing that I was a music lover. I headed out to her home one fall afternoon, having absolutely no idea about the musical adventure that was about to unfold. The interview was terrific, that wasn't a shock to me. But once the questions were winding down, Pearl reached into a leather folder and pulled out a play-list she had used at a recent gig. She read through a list of familiar song titles—at one point mentioning one of my favorite songs, "Misty.” I told Pearl how much I loved that song, (and loved Erroll Garner, as well - Here is a great version of "Misty" on YouTube. Enjoy.) and explained that my dad used to play and sing “Misty” quite a bit.

The next thing I knew, Pearl was sitting at her grand piano, playing song after song; I'd say she played for a good hour or so. At one point—with her permission, of course—I joined in by singing a tune or two. Or seven.

I was thinking about Pearl the other day after finding out that she passed away a few months ago. I've been in contact with her nephew who was surprised and quite moved that Pearl is one of the people profiled in "gOld." He told me how happy he is that Pearl will be remembered for the great talent that she was.

A nice lady.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Old Man and the Sea

Rediscovering the Morning Walk - It's just over a year now that I moved to Vero Beach, FL. When I first arrived, I practiced a simple morning ritual that consisted of rolling out of bed, stepping into some sandals and immediately heading out to the beach for a long walk to watch the sun rise. Oh yes, I actually put on a pair of shorts and a shirt, too, so I wouldn't offend anyone. I did this every day and, at the time, I couldn't believe that I was actually living in a place so fantastic and beautiful. I'd been on vacations at the beach many times, but those trips always ended and I, of course, was always forced to return to "real life" - not this make-believe version.

As it happens, as the days, weeks and months unfolded, I started to head to the beach more intermittently. For example, when Irene was recently kicking it up just to the east of Vero, I wanted to check things out - see the sea's personality. It was awesome, (see the pic to the right, below.) Then, perhaps once or twice a week, I've made sure to carve out some time to take a walk - sometimes just stopping the car by the boardwalk, walking up to the edge to observe the waves for a moment, taking in whatever message I need at that time (probably something having to do with abundance, because that's what I feel whenever I look out over the ocean) and then be on my way.

Well, I am now pleased to report that the past few mornings I have reverted back to the daily morning walk routine and I have not been disappointed. A few days ago, for example, I saw the ocean in a way I hadn't seen it since I first arrived. This was the "brochure" setting - the picture-perfect beach scene that local magazine photographers drool over when they're putting together an annual publication. I'm talking virtually no seaweed whatsoever. You could have taken a white glove to the sand and you wouldn't have picked up a speck of dirt, as ridiculous as that sounds considering how the entire beach is covered in a form of dirt - that's how clean everything looked. The photo below might give you a taste of what I'm talking about here, but it's challenging to show you in a blog entry. Add to that, the waves - I can't really explain what was going on. It was a perfect mixture of serenity and incredible power. While the Atlantic looked tranquil and beautiful, at the same time there were these very large rolling type of waves - the kind that started far out at sea and then unfolded with great thuds onto the shoreline. And I'm telling you, these waves were big - the boogie boarders and surfers were out there, grabbing the chance to have a go at them. Several times while I was walking - not wanting to swim - I was careful to walk along the water's edge as the globs of greenish-white foam folded and then melted into the sand at my feet. The sound . . . well . . . it was the kind of sound you hear on those relaxation tapes; the perfect mix of water, breeze, splashing, birds. I know this may sound a bit corny and I can't really translate what it felt, looked or sounded like. But I'm trying over here. :-)

The Old Man and the Sea - I decided to end this particular morning adventure by walking up to a public park where I knew there was a sprinkler/faucet to wash off the sand. As I approached the sprinkler area, there was an older man sitting on a bench - he was putting on his socks and shoes. The man was wearing only a bathing suit which was wet so I quickly cobbled together his story in my head. Oh, yes, I said he was older. My guess? At the risk of insulting this stranger, I'd say he had to be in his 90's . . . at least. My impression: "Here was a man who has lived at the beach for many years now. Perhaps he's retired from work in a city up north, but he's been here for many years at this point. And during these many years, this gentleman has walked the beach and gone swimming - every single day of his life. His body had "routine" written all over it. There's no doubt about it, his body was aged. Duh. That's what happens when you live that many years. But it must be noted here that his body also looked strikingly strong and toned. It was impressive.

As I sat down to put on my sneakers, the man was getting up and we exchanged smiles and "good mornings." That was that.

Then, just as I was about to leave and head in the opposite direction, I glanced down and noticed that the man had left his keys on the wooden bench. I shouted after him and, at first, he didn't hear me. A young woman passing by him, tapped his arm and pointed to where I was sitting. I was holding up his keys.

He turned, smiled and walked back toward me and I could see that he was chuckling to himself.

"I tell myself every day," he said, smiling. "Keep 'em in the pocket. Keep 'em in the pocket," he said. "Thank, you, young man," he added as he reached out, grabbed the keys and tapped me on my shoulder.

And that really was that.

I will add only this: There are some times when something as simple as a quick exchange - a smile and a tap on the shoulder - can serve as the perfect kick-start to another day of life. That was the case the other morning.

In terms of the older gentleman swimmer? There is more work to be done on that front; there is something unfinished about this story, I can feel it. I don't know why I say this, but it's my strong hunch that I will be meeting this man again some day. Then I can substitute my imagined story for the real deal. I give it a 95% chance that you'll be reading about it here some day down the road.

Monday, September 5, 2011

"You never, never know."

People often ask me, "You've done so many of these interviews. Where do you find all these people?

I have a standard answer to this question but to help me here, I'm going to turn to one of the world's foremost life philosophers. Fans of The Jerky Boys may smile at the above title as they may pick up on one of Mr. Sol Rosenberg's most quoted pearls of wisdom - one that seems appropriate for answering the question about my interview sources.

For example: Several years ago, I needed to get to Newark Airport and had decided mix things up a bit by taking a Super Shuttle instead of using a car service or cab. I usually flew out of LaGuardia but, living on the Upper West Side, Newark was often a good option. The shuttle picked me up at my West 87th Street address and when I entered the van, there were already a few other customers seated. Within a few minutes a couple of us started to chat and one woman (that would be Ms. Gayle Johnson) and I connected right away. By the time we had made it through the Lincoln Tunnel, I was already lost in a great conversation with Gayle and then, once we had hit the NJ Turnpike and she had asked about my occupation - I filled her in about the Eldercation project.

It's funny, very often I get a feeling about wanting to interview a particular individual but there is this moment of truth where I find myself hesitating - being careful not to insult someone regarding their age. Gayle was one of those people because, honestly, I couldn't figure out if she was under or over the age 70 threshold. As the van drove up to the Delta terminal, I knew it was time for a decision. The clock was ticking.

Three weeks later . . . I was sitting in Gayle's beautiful Upper West Side brownstone enjoying her company and learning about what prompted her move from Seattle to New York City many years earlier and how she had come to call New York her home.

So, yes, Sol is correct. You never, never know how a special person is going to enter your life. Go figure. A Super Shuttle ride to the airport?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

"Did you see that?!"

I love the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. I've always loved it. The mere mention of the event and my thoughts fly back to the mid '60s to early '70s - the years when I was lucky enough to spend my summers at Camp Winadu. Every year there was a home run pool run by the campers and counselors (I'm sure the directors weren't all that fond of this practice), but, still, we could count on the pool happening every year. People would contribute a few bucks and pick who they thought would hit home runs in the game. Back then we were talking about guys like Hank Aaron, Al Kaline, Carl Yastrzemski, Willie Stargell, Johnny Bench, Jimmy "the Toy Cannon" Wynn, Greg Luzinski, Willie McCovey, Willie Mays, Mike Schmidt - to name just a few of many great players. The lucky winner(s) would win some serious money - enough to cover a summer's worth of Big Beefs and Fribbles from Friendly's. One particular home run memory was the one hit by Dick Dietz in the 1970 game. Here, I would use the phrase "one-hit-wonder" since, to be honest, I hadn't heard of Dietz either before or after that home run. But one camper - I forget his name - had Dietz in the pool and, sure enough, Dietz hit a dramatic homer in the bottom of the 9th inning and the camper won big.

I love the All-Star Game.

The other night, something else kicked in while I had the game on in the background - something I want to mention here. Several times during the game, there were moments. A great play. An interview. Prince Fielder's three-run home run - (I'm guessing some camper must have been very happy when that ball skipped off the top of the outfield wall). And during those moments, I thought about my father.

At each of those times, my instinct was to reach for the phone; I felt a strong urge to call him. After all, as soon as I had moved away from home to attend college, the phone (there was, of course, no access to the Web back then), immediately became the tool of choice that connected our family whenever we wanted to talk with one another. Special sports moments would occur and, right away, one of our phones would be ringing. A winning putt during The Masters. An exciting touchdown pass to clinch the Super Bowl. I can name a hundred situations right now. But it won't surprise any of my friends to find out here that one sport rises far above the rest for me and my family: Baseball. And whenever something spectacular happened in a particular baseball game, the reflex was always the same. I'd pick up the phone and start to dial - within milliseconds after the event occurred. Before my father would say a word, as soon as I heard the pickup click, I'd spit it out: "Did you see that?"

I'm smiling as I write this because after engaging in this practice for a number of years, the interaction became very much a two-way operation. Many times, my dad would beat me to the punch by calling me, and he'd start things off with the same, "Did you see that?"

I miss my dad, of course. It's been just over a year now since he's gone. But I have to tell you that I feel tremendous comfort and joy whenever I feel what I felt the other night. The fact is, I feel it even now as I write this entry. I had long heard that when a person dies, it's the memories that keep that person very much alive in our hearts and minds. To me, that concept always sounded like a cliche . . . I mean . . . it is a cliche. But, cliche or not, I can now say for certain that this is precisely how memories serve to operate. Whenever I watch a baseball game, I think of those "Field of Dreams" moments when I tossed a ball around in the driveway or backyard with my dad. I think about the many Mets' games we attended together with the family. (Note: Two very special games in 1969 - the last game of the playoffs against the Braves and then the World Series win versus the Orioles. I remember how my father lovingly pulled me back as I started to make my move to run onto the field when Cleon Jones made that last out - kicking off the mad celebration.) It's nice to know that whenever I have a chance to watch a baseball game these days, I don't have to use any kind of modern day gizmo to make contact with my dad. I simply think to myself, "Did you see that?" And he's right there with me.

Friday, July 1, 2011

"Filters, be gone!"

Something kicked in two days ago. Something that occurred to me as I was navigating this vast social media landscape. The way I figured it, I've been a bit too conservative wandering around out here - operating at a 40-50% contact level. I decided it was time to make a strong move to see just how powerful these modern communication tools can really be.

I decided to revisit Facebook's "Friend Finder" feature - for the 157th time. But this time I was determined to do something different. I was going to reach out to every single person with whom I've ever had contact in my life, (out of the pool of Facebook subscribers, that is.) And to accomplish this task, I knew that I was going to be required to do a bit of brain rewiring which involved modifying the filter settings. It's as though I went into my "brain preferences" folder and checked off the little box that said, "Remove Filter System(s)." Actually, I went the extra mile by selecting the "Check All" box, too. When I talk about filters here, I'm talking about the internal conversations I've always had about achieving a different level of contact out here; ideas that have repeatedly served as obstacles at a time when I am looking to build something very special with Eldercation. In the past, whenever I bumped into the "Friend Finder" page, I fiddled with it a bit. I always enjoyed browsing through the names that came up as I would scroll down . . . and down . . . and down. Then, whenever I thought I had reached the bottom of the list, it seemed to regenerate again. After a good twenty minutes of doing that, I'd have my fill, sign off (having selected no one) and then go about my day.

Looking back on my pattern - I'll call it - it was clear that I was looking at the names and then having a quick "Harry to Harry" conversation that would go something like this, "Oh, yeah. I remember 'so and so,' - a great person. But they don't remember me." Filter. "I don't want to bother them." Filter. Every time I saw a familiar face - Filter. Many of the folks I'd see were from my home town - people I knew from elementary, middle and high school. Then there were faces I recognized from college, law school and certain jobs. And by applying the filters this way, I was effectively limiting myself - shutting out a lot of very special people who have shared particular moments with me on this current life adventure.

Years ago, the application of such filters may have, in fact, been the best approach in terms of me having enough focus and time to write a book; it was a way for me to keep my surroundings quiet and distraction-free. But now, things are different. Now, I have something I want very much to share with people - with the world - as grandiose as that sounds.

And so yesterday was the day that I decided to change course while doing my thing in "Friend Finder." Yesterday, I decided to look at the names and whenever I saw a face, a name that I recognized as someone who has touched my life in some way - in any way - I was going to reach out to them. I clicked away for a solid hour or so. It felt good.

And now - I sit back and observe. I wait. I get to see what comes back to me. I have an opportunity to see if the person who sat in back of me in home room in the 8th grade remembers me. Perhaps the girl I had a crush on in the fifth grade ... maybe, today, I'll find out that she knew I even existed.

I don't ever want to be seen as a person who forces things on others - this has never been my style. But here's the way I figure it: If I can present something to people and it interests just one or two of them - if those one or two people are able to see the value in what I'm pursuing and those individuals then share it with their friends? Then, yes, I want to cast as wide a net as possible.

I thought of a phrase a few years ago - this was when I first came up with the Eldercation idea: "Changing the face of aging - one face at a time." Well ... now we will get to see what these social media tools can do - one face - one "Like" - one tweet - one YouTube view - at a time.

Slow growth in a very fast world.

Grass roots all the way.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Water Against The Dam

It's been a long time.

I've written that line before on here; more than a few times. But this time, I mean, it's really been a long time since I've posted on my old friend, Blogger.

In 2007, I decided to try a little experiment which involved leaving New York City and heading to the middle part of the country - to places I had never traveled before. I had always had an urge to drive cross-country so when the situation presented itself, I grabbed the opportunity to hit the road. At the time, I had merely scratched the surface of a hobby that was giving me pleasure - interviewing seniors - but I knew that it was time to get out of the city and take the Eldercation concept to a different level. (See: Not In NYC Anymore - February, 2007.)

The fact that I ended up living in Kansas City, Missouri? It is nothing short of amazing to me. I just looked at that last sentence and I still can't fully believe that I lived there. At some level, the entire Kansas City experience feels like a dream, although my memories of burnt ends and some very special KC friends serve as proof that I was, in fact, actually there.

Anyway, I'm not going to write that much today. I am determined to learn the art of the concise blog post. That way I'll be able to write and post more consistently. Right now, all I want to say is this: I have spent the better part of the past year - more than that, actually - putting together a book that is about to be released in the fall. It is titled, gOld - The Extraordinary Side of Aging Revealed Through Inspiring Conversation (Greenpoint Press). I had no idea how much work went into the writing of a book. Sure, I had tried my hand at writing articles and have had articles published. Friends of mine have told me that I actually have a Ty Cobb-like batting average when it comes to my ratio of articles submitted to those actually published. I'm happy about that. But articles weren't enough for me. For some unknown reason I had to write a book. And so that's what I did. The truth is, I didn't really set out to write a book. I was just out in the world interviewing senior citizens and once I had stockpiled many hundreds of MiniDV tapes, I had to figure out what I was going to do with all of this information. I have long wanted to find a way to allow others to, in some way, get just a taste of what I have been experiencing while I have been on the road interviewing some terrific senior citizens. A book just seemed like a great place to start.

And so that's where I am. After many years of holding things back, I am ready to lift the curtain on a good portion of this work.

As things begin to fall into place, I invite any one who is reading this to follow Eldercation and gOld at the following locations:

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