Friday, April 9, 2010


As a writer, I have used many, many pens over the years. And occasionally I get asked, as I was today, what the “best” pen is.

From plastic stick pens that cost pennies to gold-plated and jeweled fountain pens that cost thousands, I’ve loved and loathed more than the average man’s share.

Bic, Mont Blanc, Fisher, Cross, Sheaffer, Parker, Pilot, Rotring, Waterman, Krone, and the list goes on. Pens that only write right-side up to others that can write upside-down. From permanent, to erasable, to invisible inks, they all have their proper time, place and use. Thin barrels, thick barrels, barrels with finger rings and some that are sans barrel, it all depends.

As to what the “best” pen is, the answer is almost as varied as the pens themselves. Context always plays an important part in the answer. Are you looking for the best cheap pen or the best gift pen? Is it a “first pen” for a kid, or a “last pen” for a 50-year corporate executive? Do you need it to write underwater or out in space? Do you want to make an impression or mark an expression?

Whatever the “best” is, it is rarely as objective as it is subjective. And there is no one “best” answer.

Except, perhaps, for this.

The best pen is that one which works best for the writer at that moment. Even if it’s a sharp stone making a mark on a cave wall.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


It was an old upright Grand piano. About sixty years old and rather plain, it had particularly good, clean sound. All the keys played smoothly and the pedals worked flawlessly. The wood needed to be conditioned, but that was a small concern. The price was almost a steal at $35 and they were willing to deliver it for another $20. It would look good in the living room where the acoustics were the best: old-world plaster walls and hardwood floors.

I had thoughts that once the piano arrived, I would begin playing as regularly as I did as a child and maybe even begin composing again.

I didn’t.

Perhaps I had been singing and songwriting too many years with the guitar or maybe I simply lacked the self-discipline to practice the way I did as a kid, but in either event the piano didn’t get a lot of workouts. At least not by me.

My daughter, on the other hand, seemed truly fascinated by it.

She started just plinking and plunking. Eventually figuring out how the keys worked, she then graduated from plinking and plunking to actually playing simple songs. I showed her how to read sheet music, but I think she might have figured that out on her own as well.

She practiced completely on her own. Sometimes playing the same song over and over and over and over and … yes, over and over some more. I vaguely remember yelling at her once to stop playing so much because I “couldn’t take it any more” and I think I really hurt her feelings. I’m sure I apologized to her later, after the damage had already been done, but fortunately it didn’t stop her from continuing to practice and play.

Within a year, she was playing so well that she was being asked to play accompaniment with singers at her school. From classical to contemporary, she plays with accomplishment and soul, and without ever having taken a formal lesson.

She was one those gifted few who literally taught herself to play music, and she did so through sheer determination, practice and perseverance. Hour after and hour, day after day, week after week, month after month.

Frankly, I don’t know how that young girl had such tenacity, especially after her dad was such a jerk to yell at her about it, but it has indeed served her well through the years. And I don’t know if I ever told her how proud I am of her accomplishment, but if not, let me do so now publicly.

Well done, Griz, well done.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


“I don’t get it,” she said rather angrily. “Why would anyone want to hire someone like her?”

I looked up from my cup of coffee to see who was speaking.

Her blaze-orange hair, tousled and spiked, was the first thing I noticed. Followed by her black lipstick, the three rings pierced through her lower lip, and the dark purple t-shirt emblazoned with the words, “if i don’t wanna, i don’t hafta.”

“I mean,” she continued, “she’s just not real. She’s like, all perfect and all that and like not a hair is out of place. And like you can’t even tell if she’s like wearing makeup or maybe not, I can’t even tell, you know? I mean, who’s like that, you know? Nobody I know, you know? And she talks like, you know, she says, ‘Oh I’m so grateful for this opportunity’ and stuff and like she sounds like my mom or something.”

Because what manager wants a clean, appropriately-dressed, well-spoken and enthusiastic employee.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


She pulled into the parking space as neat and clean as her new silver metallic, 2010 Volvo XC70 T6. She opened the hatchback to let her dogs out to play in the dog park. Two strong-looking German Shepherds, who immediately jumped out then sat on the pavement and waited for her command. She gathered some things to take with her into the dog park, including the requisite plastic bags to pick up any dog poop that her companions were likely to deposit.

She closed the hatchback and I couldn’t help notice the three bumper stickers that she had neatly placed on it.

One said, “Recycle.” The middle one said, “Simplify.” The third one said, “Recycle Again.”

As she walked toward the gate, she simply said, “Adolph, Wolfgang, come.” And they did, quickly and quietly. They followed her inside and stayed with her as she walked to a bench to sit. As she sat, so did they. These were some very well-trained dogs.

Finally, she said, “Adolph, Wolfgang … play,” and they were immediately off and running.

I watched as the dogs did their dog park thing for about ten minutes. Then I saw something I’ve never seen before.

One of her dogs assumed the pooping posture (and yes, I have seen that before). He did what he needed to do and then, (and here’s the part I hadn’t seen before), barked twice and sat next to his deposit.

“Are you kidding me?” I thought. Who the heck trains their dogs to tell you when they’ve pooped and then wait next to it so you know exactly where to pick it up?

She walked over to the dog, said, “Good boy, Adolph,” and dutifully picked up his deposit. She tied the plastic bag well and put it in the park’s garbage can.

But, wai-i-it a minute. This is a young lady who apparently believes in recycling so much she put two bumper stickers on her new and expensive car. She proclaims that we need to, not just recycle, but to recycle again. But she just put biodegradable dog poop into a non-biodegradable plastic bag, then put that bag into a regular garbage can which will ultimately end up compacted and dumped into a landfill where it will, that's right … not degrade.

Wait. What?

Dog poop, which is a biodegradable waste product and can be safely flushed down a toilet the same as human waste, was being put into a plastic bag to be preserved for a thousand years buried in a landfill somewhere.

And then the numbers started building up. An average German Shepherd weighs about 75 pounds and produces about 500 pounds of waste per year. She owned two dogs, who would produce about a half-ton of poop per year, which she was preserving instead of recycling.

There are an estimated 77 Million dogs in the U.S., according to the Humane Society. Those dogs produce an estimated 29,000 tons of poop, according to

Twenty-nine Thousand TONS, most of which is not recycled but is wrapped up in little plastic bags and thrown in landfills.

Not exactly recyclable behavior, is it?

Monday, April 5, 2010


“Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay
My, oh my, what a wonderful day
Plenty of sunshine headin' my way
Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay”

I hadn’t heard that song in, well, let’s just say it’s been a long, long time. I was trying to get some yard work done before the rainstorm hit. The clouds were dark and foreboding and the wind was gusting enough to yank the umbrella out of its stand and throw it about fifteen feet from the patio table.

And yet, there they were. A couple of 8-10-year-olds, probably brother and sister, holding hands, skipping down the sidewalk, singing “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah.”

I’m not sure if they were even aware of the impending storm. But if they were, they were obviously more concerned with Mr. Bluebird on their shoulders and merely having a wonderful day than they were with the potential of getting wet.

And suddenly, my arms didn’t seem to feel so achy from the raking. My worry about getting it all done before the rain came didn’t seem so pressing. And I felt, surprisingly, refreshed.

Oh yeah, and I found myself singing a wonderful little ditty in the face of a storm.

“Plenty of sunshine headin’ my way,

Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay.”