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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.

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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.

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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.

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2050500153_f288d92b26I don’t like to talk about Sept. 11, 2001, and this is the first time, and perhaps the last time, I’ll write about that day.

I’ve tried to shove all of it to the far corner of my mind, hoping that as the years roll by, the memories of the low-flying plane over the Hudson River, the crash that shook my downtown building, or the ash that covered scattered workers, would fade away.

But for those of us who worked in the financial district in 2001, there is no escape. Eight years after the fact, I accept that.

I ran my first 5K today, the Tunnel to Towers event in honor of fallen firefighter Stephen Siller. It took me 35 minutes to complete the race, which included a nearly two-mile run through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. About two-thirds of the way through the tunnel, I turned to someone on my right and said “the end has to be near, right?” He laughed – or was that a cry? – and responded “God I hope so.”

I wanted to stop and walk, but another runner to my left put his hand on my back and said “come on man, you’ve got it in you.” He was wearing a fire department shirt from an upstate New York town. I regret not remembering which town he represented. A few minutes later, as I slowed again, a firefighter from Worcester, Mass. came up from behind and said “no, no no, let’s go kid.” I couldn’t let them down. Not firefighters. Not on this day.

Then, as we came out of the tunnel, hundreds of firefighters lined up to cheer us on and say “thank you.” That’s when I understood … Sept. 11 won’t go away, and there’s no use hiding from it. It was time to embrace it. It may have added a minute to my score – yeah, that’s right, I’m already making excuses – but I high-fived every single firefighter standing to the right of our path. To each one of them, I repeated their words. I said “thank you.”

The rest of the race, including a run through the Battery Park Esplanade, was a breeze. The hard part, understanding why it was so important for me to participate, was over.

None of this means I’ll open up about my Sept. 11 experience. Chances are, I won’t.

But today was an awakening. My year has been filled with frustrations, as I’ve watched friends suffer tragedies and hardships, both large and small. I try to be supportive, but what else can I do? I wish someone had an answer to that question. Meanwhile, my industry, journalism, continues to struggle mightily, and there’s little relief in sight. For some families, the long-running recession has kept food off the table.

So Sept. 27 was a blessing, a needed reprieve. It was the best day of 2009.

I’ll sleep in peace.

Here’s hoping you do too.

Good night.

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DSC04282Sitting at the breakfast table this morning, my little boy listened as I talked to my wife – and mainly to the Sesame Street coffee mug  – about Michael Vick’s return to professional football.

The night before, as I finished a sluggish treadmill session, a text message popped up on the Blackberry that simply read “Michael Vick to the Eagles.”

For the next couple hours, followers – you don’t have friends on Twitter – traded messages about the newest member of the Eagles. A few took shots at me, perhaps, because I had the great timing of tweeting no more than an hour before the Vick news broke that I hoped “the Eagles kill the Patriots dead tonight.”

This morning, Donovan – I swear I didn’t name him after Donovan McNabb – asked, simply, “Who are you talking about Daddy?”

I told him “Michael Vick. He’s a new player on the Eagles.”

He asked me if I liked Vick and I answered, quickly, “sure buddy.”

I don’t regret my response for a number of reasons. First, it would be impossible to explain to a four year old the grizzly details of a dogfighting ring that landed Vick in a federal jail for 2 years. Puppies were murdered and forced to fight, and kill, each other. It all took place on property Vick owned.

But it’s more than that. I’ve been a vegetarian for 17 months, almost entirely because I reject the notion that it’s alright to kill animals. I’ve never held a gun and have no desire to ever, ever go hunting. Killing is not a sport.

So I’m clearly with the majority who know that what Vick did was reprehensible.  It was savage and, in fact, when news first broke that an NFL team has signed him, I felt sick.

But I also believe in second acts. I want my children to understand forgiveness and to avoid passing judgment when possible. If Vick trips up, he will pay the price. The National Football League will throw him out and he will have much bigger problems than whether my little boy liked watching him play. But if Vick helps the Humane Society, works with other animal rights groups, uses his star power to help local and national charities and handles himself properly on the football field, my little boy will learn that redemption is possible.

No matter the scenario, I answered the question correctly. Daddy got this one right.

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A different view

P1010203I used to watch the snow collect on the pool cover of my childhood home in Trumbull, Conn. The dark green would slowly turn white, and if the snow was heavy enough, the cover’s middle would sag slightly, though not enough for me to worry about whether or not it would rip. Plus, it was 20 degrees out, so if it tore, whatever, my parents would pay for it.

I remember, for no good reason, talking to a friend in Paris while a storm that produced two inches of snow per hour dropped a few branches, two of which landed on top of the cover, right along the shallow end of the pool.

The bush right outside the back living room window would barely bend, but those along the front walkway sagged enough to make it hard to get to the front door from the street.

I’m writing about this memory because it symbolizes what I was far better at doing when I was younger, even if I didn’t notice it then: Slowing down and remembering what seems like a nothing moment.

So today I decided to do something about it. I turned off the Blackberry, put on the iPod and after a two-mile jog through Argyle Lake, looked out and watched as baby ducks followed behind their mother. A couple held hands, she was wearing tan shorts and a blue shirt. He wore a shirt that made some sort of fishing reference. Funny, later I received a Facebook message from someone with a cute tale about a little boy on the East End who was already prepared to give up on that recreation. I never understood how that relaxes people, but, I digress.

A blond teenage girl with a blue soccer jersey jogged and walked, jogged and walked, jogged and walked, all the way around the lake. And two guys, one in a red tank top, the other in a white Ralph Lauren polo shirt discussed the economy. I couldn’t tell who they were blaming.

At exactly that moment a song written by Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes called “Waste of Paint,” played.

I stopped to listen to these lyrics:

So I have been hanging out down by the train’s depot. No, I don’t ride.

I just sit and watch the people there and they remind me of wind up cars in motion, the way they spin and turn and jockey for positions.

And I want to scream out that it all is nonsense. All your lives one track. Can’t you see it’s pointless.

But then my knees give under me. My head feels weak and suddenly it is clear to see that it is not them but me who has lost my self-identity.

I should visit Argyle Lake in Babylon Village once a week. I’ll take that run and then watch, do nothing and watch some more. This weekend, when I’m in the upper deck at Citizen’s Bank Park in Philadelphia, I’ll take a few moments to stare out at the grass and the Harry the K sign. I won’t let thoughts consume me.

There’s a lot to learn from doing nothing.

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