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ImageI knew very little about Eric Spicer.

He was a marketer who pitched himself as a motivational speaker and a social networking consultant. Twitter is full of guys like him.

I never met the man. But tonight, I think of Eric.

For years, I’ve wondered about social media, and its purpose. My personal Facebook page is updated carefully, and like my Twitter feed, it offers only a glimpse into my personal life. I’ve reasoned that if 1,500 people follow me on those two social media platforms, it’s better to be reserved.

I decided to go pruning, and went through the list of nearly 800 people I followed on Twitter. I started to cut away at the long list of people I’ve never corresponded with. There were liberal activists, right-wing zealots, one-issue blowhards, and a couple of random sports fans in states I’ve never visited. There were also plenty of accounts that had gone more than a year without a single update. Unfollow, unfollow, unfollow. The chopping was pathetically easy.

But I was stopped in my tracks twice. The first time, it was when I found my dad, who rarely ever tweeted. In fact, the official Twitter stat book on Thomas Reich is closed: He tweeted three times before he died last year. Twice he wanted to wish President Clinton a Happy Birthday.

The only other time I froze? When Spicer’s @speaker99 account came up. He was a prolific tweeting machine. He was friendly. And while he was hardly controversial, Spicer’s absence should have been obvious. But in the noise that is social media, I didn’t notice the man had been silenced. That’s on me.

It turns out Spicer died of a heart attack only a couple of weeks after we exchanged pleasantries about pumpkin spice coffee, and whether it was socially acceptable to drink it after Halloween. More than two years have passed, and I remember the brief discussion.

I’m not much into listening to motivational speakers. I’m driven. That’s never been a problem.

But tonight, Eric, you inspired me to update this site for the first time since I posted my dad’s eulogy.

This writer thanks you.

And thanks for the conversation. Clearly it meant something after all.

I delivered this eulogy at my dad’s memorial on March 4 in Doylestown, Penn:

The last phone call from my father came on the day before he died.

He had left a voice message stressing that I needed to call back because he had “a question.”

I called. He asked if my wife had any interest in tickets to the St. Patrick’s Day parade. I responded, tersely, “why am I being asked this? Ask her.”

And with that, I advanced the conversation, knowing that was not why he really reached out. There were usually two reasons for his calls. So I set myself up and asked “What else is new?”

First, he wanted to know what his two grandkids were doing. The little boy was playing Angry Birds on the iPhone. The girl was playing with her princess toys – which he gave her a few weeks earlier.

Second, he wanted to make a political point.

“The Republicans in Wisconsin are bastards.”

After a few minutes of banter, we left it that he would call again the next day – and that I should watch what was happening in Ohio, Indiana and a few other states, because the Republicans were out to destroy the middle class and that unions were being scapegoated. Teachers, elevator operators and bricklayers were not the people who got us in this mess, and the middle class was being pitted against each other.

Of course we never had that follow-up call. His heart finally gave out for good.

But the fight he believed in lives on through the Doylestown Democrats, an organization he fell in love with. I heard about the organization all the time. He beamed about his role, and the group’s purpose. And like with everything he ever involved himself with, he cared. Deeply. Heck, I never saw him speechless, but after Election Day last November, when the vote didn’t go the way of the Democrats, I didn’t hear from him for two days. My wife, at one point, asked “is your dad ok? Someone should check on him.”

It took him about 48 hours to bounce back from the crushing local losses to start talking about the importance of 2012. And while he won’t physically be here to help, he’s watching. May President Obama win Pennsylvania, and the election, again. And may Rick Santorum go away. Oh, how he didn’t like that guy. Really, who could?

He also lives on through his family, even if our cell phones ring a little less. Ok, a lot less. I’ll keep him close, and honor him in my own way. Last year, three generations of us went to Citizens Bank Park to see a Phillies game. My dad, brother, my son Donovan, and me all went to South Philly. I stoically watched the game, while my dad doted on Donovan’s every move – even when my little boy, in the spirit of Brotherly Love, yelled to everyone’s delight “If you root for the Braves, I’ll cut your brains out.” Oh how he laughed at that. Confession – so did I.

I had planned to go again this June – the whole gang again. Donovan and I are still going. And everywhere we turn, dad will be there, because we were there, and memories, unlike the human body, don’t die. Donovan still talks about last year’s trip – and how Uncle Jeffrey and Grandpa helped him eat chicken fingers and saw the Phanatic imitate Lady GaGa.

I think of dad’s passing and think of the good times, especially those he spent with my kids – because it took me having children to understand how important I was to my parents. I think that’s the way it usually works. So, I’ll just give thanks to having two. And I’m grateful he met them both. They’re better off for it.

Thanks.

Oh, and dad, I agree, “the Republicans in Wisconsin are bastards.”

Thomas Reich’s obit, courtesy of Doylestown Patch.

A $3 Christmas gift

All he wanted was $2.

The guy standing outside the Dunkin’ Donuts in North Babylon asked for money to buy a cup of coffee. I had little doubt that he had little desire to go inside and order, and so I instinctively pulled back and told him I didn’t have any cash on hand. I generally don’t. That’s what the debit card is for.

But the truth is I had plenty in my wallet, having just stopped at the local credit union to withdraw money for the weekend, and for coffee, munchkins and whatever else I felt like buying.

So I reached into my pocket, and gave him $3. I suppose the extra $1 was a surcharge for questioning another man’s motives for no good reason.

We exchanged pleasantries. I asked him if he was a Giants fan. The winter hat with the team’s NY logo should have given it away.

But he answered anyway, tugging on the blue cap.

“Yeah, man. That was a tough loss this week.”

I asked if he watched. His answer was inaudible. By then he had started to make his way away from Dunkin’ Donuts.

I opened my car door as he turned around to wish me a Merry Christmas. I nodded and slowly drove off. Perhaps he turned around and bought his cup of coffee. Maybe he pocketed the money to pay for food later. It really doesn’t matter.

Here is hoping he has a Merry Christmas, and that he never has to ask me for $2 again.

Behind me is Barrister’s, and an old Masonic Building that now houses some sort of woman’s clothing store. They’re having a “polka dot” sale. Looks cute. If you’re one of the hundreds walking behind me in downtown Southampton this July 4th, stop by.

Me? I’m just sitting on a wooden bench, donated by Old Town Lodge No. 908. Come to think of it, that’s tied to the Masons. That will be my homework tonight. On this Independence Day, there’s nothing wrong with a little American history lesson, and on eastern Long Island, there’s plenty of it to learn. I won’t forget. None of us should.

I’m not a patriotic sort. Most journalists, wired to be cynics at heart, aren’t. While the rest of my family will wear some combination of red, white and blue, and my little girl, at least, will wave her American flag, the most American I’ll be is my baseball hat. If I’m feeling especially proud of the USA, I’ll wear a Philadelphia Eagles hat. Come on, it’s the Eagle, the American symbol of freedom.

You can stop rolling your eyes now.

Fine, how is this for being positively American: The iPhone is pumping only U.S. artists into me as I write this. Bruce Springsteen is a 4th of July tradition, and as I contemplate ruining dinner by buying a scoop of ice cream at 4 p.m, Green Day, Lou Reed, Eva Cassidy, Keith Jarrett, John Mellencamp and the New Pornographers also play on. Come to think of it, the last of those artists is a Canadian band. That’s alright, I love that country’s ability to keep guns off streets. I’ll let “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk,” continue.

It’s a great song. We are a great country. Seems reasonable.

Have a great holiday. Be safe. I’m going to go see a friend’s artwork at a local gallery.

I chose to listen.

Not to the iPhone playing the latest downloaded album, not to another inaccurate weather report and, most definitely, not to Lady GaGa, though my little boy had requested it on the way to the car. Even I have standards. We’ve all had a bad romance. I’m not interested in hers.

Instead, I listened to my little ones debate. By the grace of God, and the car seats that kept them strapped in, they didn’t come to blows.

It started innocently enough, when Donovan, my son, looked at a gas station to his right and said “Daddy can I have a gas station toy? I want it to be yellow.”

Amelia – that would be my daughter – growled, looked at him and said “pink.”

“Yellow.”

“No, pink.”

“No, yellow.”

It sounded not unlike the state Legislature in Albany, only more effective because I was prepared to buy yellow and pink gas station toys – anything to keep the peace. Here, everyone was about to get their way.

They told each other to “stop it,” and retorted with great effectiveness, “no, you stop it,” before Donovan lost interest in the heated exchange and noticed a blue school bus.

“Amelia, stop,” Donovan shouted before adding, “Daddy blue school buses are cool, right?”

Amelia, not to be silenced, said “Daddy, blue school bus!” That irritated Donovan, who was clearly tired of sharing that morning’s stage with his punk sister.

The trip to school was completed minutes later. On our way down the hallway, I asked Amelia if she wanted a pink gas station toy. She didn’t respond, walking with her pink hat pulled over her eyes. She finally stopped, looked up and said “I’m a princess.”

Donovan had moved on as well, making a bee line for his cubby, where he shoved in his hat before heading over to the computer to play some game. Their days as gas station operators had come and gone.

Glad I didn’t miss it.

Tuning out

I buried a piece of my childhood this weekend.

For five years I resisted doing the inevitable, and my Sony Walkman rested on my nightstand, unused. On occasion, I’d slide AA batteries in, just to make sure the old warhorse was still alive. Each time, it was.

The walkman, complete with a digital radio, served me well in high school, college and jogs through Washington, D.C. neighborhoods. It served me best after sundown. That’s when it would work its magic, pulling in far-away radio stations from Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Montreal. Montreal was the greatest treat, for the news broadcast was in French, and I’d feel a sense of accomplishment when I understood a word, sometimes “aujourd’hui,” and, if the static wasn’t too great during the sports report, “gardien de but.” Gardien de but means goalie, and aujourd’hui is French for today. There, I still remember that. Meaningless information, I realize, since I can’t identify any of the other words in the sentence. Perhaps I’d be able to say “Today’s goalie.” But I doubt it – some tense issue would trip me up.

From Chicago, Loop traffic took center stage in the early evening, while WBAL ran its Orioles pre-game show, leading right up to game time. I can’t remember any WBZ reports out of Boston, but the music pumping out of WKBW in Buffalo was clear, and often enough, Don McLean’s American Pie was the DJs song of choice. American Pie was also a favorite on WNBC, back when Wolfman Jack did overnights in the 1980s and I listened to the New York station from my Connecticut bedroom well after my parents had gone to bed.

Now the Walkman is asleep, perhaps for good. It’s been replaced by the laptop, my iPhone, and digital cable, all of which make it too easy to watch news, or sporting events, from anywhere. Two weeks ago I walked to pick up some chips and salsa – my daughter demanded, so I delivered – and I turned on the Major League Baseball app on the iPhone. I quickly flipped from one game to the next. There was no challenge. For $14.99, you too could listen to tonight’s Padres-Phillies or Red Sox-Indians game, no matter where you live. For $99, go ahead, watch it.

No longer am I at the mercy of atmospheric conditions. The AM waves may or may not be bouncing off the clouds tonight. Who cares? I have the iPhone. In a way, that’s too bad.

A part of me misses the game of chance, never knowing if 1100 in Cleveland would come in, or if 1090 in Baltimore would bleed through. I knew one thing: WTIC 1080 out of Hartford would never be audible, as its signal would rocket north, leaving many of us in Southern Connecticut in the dark about news from our state capitol. I suppose there is an app for Hartford news too.

For the record, I didn’t really bury the Walkman, I just put it in a storage cart in the basement, where it will stay, off, as its been for all these years.

IMG_3535The copy editors would disappear for a few minutes, perhaps to get a cup of coffee – though the rumor was they were having sex in some back room – before returning to their desks. Sometimes one of them would remember to bring their prop, a mug full of java, though it mattered little to me, so I can’t confirm that detail.

I couldn’t care less that they had significant others. My only concern? That they would finish whatever they were doing in time to edit my copy, because they were easier to work with than some of the other copy jockeys. They usually did.

Random stories make life interesting and I try to hold on to them for moments like this weekend, when I drove by the Register building for the first time in at least a year, on my way to a family get-together in Essex. The building itself looks no different than it did a lifetime ago.

I spent the better part of two years at the New Haven Register, writing whatever the editors needed. If no one was available to cover that Lyman Hall girl’s basketball game, I’d be ready and willing. If the Hartford Whalers beat reporter needed someone to carry the Tandy computer, I’d be at the Civic Center, watching the Whalers play in front of their standard audience, a half-empty arena. Long Islanders, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

The truth is even as a sophomore in college, I was being told by professors and “experts” that making a living in media was impossible. At a Society of Professional Journalists convention in Tennessee, a columnist from the Miami Herald told the students in the audience “do something else if you want to be successful.” My quiet response? “Fuck you, don’t tell me what to do. I’ll do just fine.”

But to do “just fine,” I’d had to deliver whatever the Register editors wanted. That included more high school sporting events than I’d care to remember. It also meant going to work the night I graduated college. All hands were on deck that month, as both the Rangers and Knicks were making championship runs. The Rangers would later deliver for their faithful.

The Register is still there, though, like most newspapers, the staff isn’t what it used to be. The good news? If two copy editors have time to kill, hey, there’s plenty of unused space to share a quiet cup of coffee.