Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Shameless Self Promotion

Google Album of Bob in front of step-and-repeat banners
Google Photos is a harsh mistress.

Looking back on my automatically saved photos usually forces me to confront sobering questions about my life choices, like...

Why did I take selfies in front of 21 step-and-repeat banners over the past three years?

I've pondered this question before, and my best defense is simply that it's a harmless and joking way to keep myself entertained at business and charity events.

At least that's what I'd tell strangers. What I'll tell you -- since you've cared enough to read this far -- is that the truth is more complicated.

I unapologetically want to leave a mark on the world... whether it's through my family and work relationships, or through sharing on social media in different ways that will lead to real-life connections or somehow have meaning in someone's life.

So, yes, I'm a shameless self-promoter.

I plan to keep putting stuff out there too because someday, somehow, it may make a difference. Here are 10 places you can find me... if you don't happen to have a step-and-repeat banner handy:
  • Right here, where I plan to post more writing and poetry and music in the future (and, I think, even fill out past years with diary entries I've not previously shared).
  • On Instagram (my favorite platform), where I have two accounts: a main account, where I post images from everywhere (hello, NYC, my favorite city), and an experimental, slice-of-New-Jersey-life account.
  • On Tumblr (my second-favorite platform), where I'm curating "Found in New Jersey," about the quirky land I love.
  • On Twitter, where I tweet an awful lot of work stuff (including Verizon news releases and stories from me and my colleagues), but try to keep a sense of humor about it (and of course I follow back, if you're active and not a bot).
  • On LinkedIn, where I also post work stuff, and try to keep things a bit more professional and promote others -- and sometimes write original posts related to PR.
  • On Facebook, where I share posts publicly when it doesn't impact my family's privacy.
  • On Medium, where I re-post things no one ever reads (except for my oft-updated book-review post, which is a compilation of my short Goodreads reviews).
  • On The Good Men Project site, where I post things that are well-read and heavily promoted, thanks to the tremendous support of its great editorial team.
  • On Pinterest, where I indulge my love of penguins. 
  • On Google+, where I post things simply because I feel that Google can otherwise be a vindictive mistress, too. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A Haunting in New Milford

It’s October; time to get spooky. Do you believe in ghosts?

I do, or want to. There must be more to life than what we can see, and it's comforting to believe in an afterlife.

But only once in my life did I really think I saw a ghost.

Years ago, the 21 Red and Tan commuter bus from New York dropped me off right on River Road by the side of my old, historic house in New Milford, NJ. From the bus stop, I could see my wife in our back bay window. She was reaching up, hanging a flower pot.

Moments later, I was home and in the living room. No one had greeted me at the front door, and I found nothing hanging in the window. All I found was a note in the kitchen from my wife, saying she had taken our two young daughters on a play date and would be late arriving home.

I was more puzzled than frightened. I’ve lived there many years since without any similar incidents, and the back bay window was long ago replaced during a renovation. Still, my daughters swear they sometimes heard “ghost cats” from their bedrooms when they were young. That might be explained by mice or squirrels. I can’t explain what I think I saw with my own eyes.


So it was with some curiosity that I saw New Milford DPW workers recently install a banner reading “Nightmare on River Road” over the very spot where I once thought I saw a ghost. At first I thought, “I know our fence needs some repairs, but ‘nightmare’ is a little harsh!”

On further review, I realized it was an advertisement for one of New Jersey’s “premiere indoor haunted house attractions,” right in the center of my home town. There’s a a website with further information, a Facebook page (of course) and this news story in the Bergen Record, which gives plenty of details about the 23-room site, open weekends during October.

During the day, I went to check it out for myself before it opened, and a friendly representative of New Milford Boy Scout Troops 78 and 291 invited me in to look around – as long as I didn’t post any photos. The attraction was still in set-up mode – but I was impressed, both by the quality of the project and by the enormous volunteer effort that has made this remarkable Boy Scout fundraiser come to life. Or death.

Despite the warning, I did take a single photo: the one posted at the top of this page... a behind-the-scenes, real-life messy sink. It wasn’t part of the attraction, I rationalized – although it looks like it belongs in a serial killer’s lair.

I was admiring this shot on my cell as soon as I turned to head home… and promptly tripped. I instinctively used my iPhone to break my fall to the concrete. I’m OK, but the screen was shattered.

Somehow, I managed to extract the photo of the sink as a grim reminder – and warning to you -- to always listen to whatever a Boy Scout leader tells you to do, even in matters of the paranormal.


Aside from the Nightmare on River Road, I know of few other haunted places in New Milford.

The borough is, however, bookended by two sites where people have claimed to see ghosts. One is the old Steuben House at historic New Bridge Landing just over the border on the south side.

I ask you, though, does this room look haunted?

OK, so it does.

Just over the border on the north side of town, there’s also this…

… It’s the abandoned Oradell Water Treatment Plan on the Van Buskirk Island property owned by United Water (formerly the Hackensack Water Company). You can’t tell me that place isn’t haunted.

Finally, just for an October's eve adventure, I drove to another allegedly haunted site a few miles away that for years has attracted attention from the girls (my daughters included) at Holy Angels High School: The Devil’s Tower in Alpine.

According to local legend, if you drive or walk backward around the tower at least three times, you see the ghost of a woman who leapt to her death there. You might also find yourself face-to-face with the devil.

I took these 13 photos of The Devil’s Tower, but I didn’t dare drive or walk backward while there. When it comes to the supernatural, I’m a skeptical believer… not a fool.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Joe Girardi Illustrated 5 Ways Business Leaders Fail -- And 1 Way to Win

Back page of the NY Post the morning after
I grew up a Yankees fan, although these past few years I've really only followed the Mets. My wife is a lifelong Mets fan, and I have come to appreciate and believe Roger Angell's quote from "The Summer Game" that "there is more Met than Yankee" in every one of us.

Still, I like the Yankees -- and they are responsible for some of my life's most vivid memories... watching countless games on TV at home with Dad in Totowa, NJ, and a memorable Aaron Boone home run live in the Bronx with my friend John Bonomo. What's not to like about Aaron Judge or Didi Gregorius or even Joe Girardi?

Well, I found plenty not to like about Joe's managing of Friday night's Game 2 of the ALDS -- and wrote the following and posted it on LinkedIn without even getting out of bed Saturday morning. Since then, on Day 2, Joe has admitted to making errors in judgment during the game, so I'll add a 6th lesson here: Learning from mistakes is a winning strategy. Here's hoping the Yankees recover and win today and tomorrow and again next Wednesday. In the meantime, here's what I posted yesterday:

If and when New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi leaves his career in baseball, he might consider a teaching job at the Harvard Business School. He’d have valuable first-hand lessons to teach on how business leaders can fail:
  1. Rely too much on process. Girardi’s post-game “they only us 30 seconds to decide” excuse for not seeking a replay challenge of the ball that allegedly hit Lonnie Chisenhall (and ultimately changed the outcome of last night’s Game 2 of the AL Divisional Playoff between the Yankees and Cleveland Indians) is a classically lame corporate copout. It’s akin to saying “we’ve always done it this way.”
  2. Rely on poor metrics. Last night, baseball viewers were informed by cable TV announcers that the Yankees led the league in successful replay challenges (75%). And likely there are Yankees replay staff, responsible for recommending whether the manager should ask for a challenge, who stake their job security and expect a raise this year for producing such an impressive number. The thing is, it’s the wrong number. In fact, if you successfully challenge only 5% of replays – and one of those 5% happens to turn the tide of a playoff game – that’s the only right metric to be concerned about.
  3. Don’t seize the moment. OK, Joe, so you do have only a limited amount of time and your replay staff has let you down. What do you do? Nothing, is not the correct answer. (And, here, history repeats itself, because 10 years ago in the playoffs Yankees manager Joe Torre similarly did nothing as his team was literally attacked by a plague of locusts on the same field). Instead, seize the moment. Channel former Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver. I believe Earl would have shot out of the dugout, gotten in the face of the erring umpire, thrown a few things around the infield – and given his 75%-right staff more than 30 seconds to see that Yankees pitcher Chad Green had actually produced an inning-ending strikeout instead of a hit batsman to load the bases.
  4. Lack a creative spark. Oh, but Joe later explained, he didn’t want to interrupt Green’s rhythm in that situation by calling for an extended replay review. That proved very wrong. The non-interrupted Green proceeded to surrender a grand slam to Francisco Lindor, the next batter. Perhaps, given that Joe said he knew from his prior experience as a major league catcher that “interrupted rhythm” was a real concern, he could have, with a little creativity, both delayed the game to ensure a proper replay review AND had another pitcher warmed up to replace Green before he faced Lindor. So few people -- and I'll include myself here -- are able to think three moves ahead in the heat of a pressure-packed moment. The people who do are the people who lead business revolutions.
  5. Don’t listen to employees. This is the worst offense. Joe’s own on-field captain, catcher Gary Sanchez, clearly motioned to the dugout that the ball had been foul-tipped and caught, rather than hit the batter. Joe, who has recently publicly criticized Sanchez’ defensive skills (another management error), evidently didn’t believe him. What do you think Sanchez’ psyche is like now? Or Green’s? Or Todd Frazier, who Joe later pulled from the game at second base for pinch runner Roland Torreyes... who was promptly picked off, later meekly struck out, and then, having replaced Frazier in the field, allowed Cleveland’s winning ground ball to pass between him and third base on the final play of the game.
All that said, losing in a team sport – and losing in business situations – is always a team effort.

The Daily News' take
Sanchez looked at a third strike with a runner in scoring position, team superstar Aaron Judge didn’t produce a single RBI when it was needed most, and Green DID give up a grand slam. Even external forces produced “headwinds” (corporate jargon alert) that worked against a Yankee victory. Remember, it was home-plate umpire Dan Iassogna who first made the incorrect call on the strikeout – much to the surprise of the batter and catcher. And a New York Post photographer interfered with a play that gave Cleveland an extra base in a crucial spot. And Karma.

Winning is a team effort too. Let’s not forget that Lindor actually hit a grand slam, that catcher Yan Gomes’ cannon arm produced the Torreyes pickoff, that Jay Bruce hit a home run when his team needed it most, and that Gomes also ultimately (unlike so many hitters before him) hit a game-winning RBI in extra innings.

If and when Girardi takes that professorship at Harvard Business School, sign me up. I'm sure Yankees fans only hope it’s a course that's offered in the coming spring semester.


Read all 28 articles I've posted on LinkedIn, all touching on PR issues. Also, special thanks to my friend Michael Kasdan. He's an editor at The Good Men Project, a website founded in 2009 as a collection of men’s stories about the defining moments in their lives. GMP reposted this yesterday, just as it has so graciously posted some of my other rants.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Kurt & Me: A ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ Review Unstuck in Time

Slaughterhouse-FiveSlaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s October 2017, and a chubby, graying PR person driving a white Ford Fusion hybrid has just pulled to the shoulder past the Harter Road exit on Route 287 South in New Jersey.
He’s shouting, but there’s no one else in the car.

His radio, which earlier that morning had informed him of yet another mass shooting in America, was now streaming an Audible book. In an otherwise listless narration of “Slaughterhouse-Five,” the actor James Franco had just read this passage (read further for the context):
“It was a movie about American bombers in World War II and the gallant men who flew them. Seen backwards by Billy, the story went like this: American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France, a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew up backwards to join the formation.

The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The containers were stored neatly in racks. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and planes. But there were still a few wounded Americans though and some of the bombers were in bad repair. Over France though, German fighters came up again, made everything and everybody as good as new.

When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again."

Listen: Bob Varettoni has come unstuck in time.

It’s October 1977, and he is sitting in an undergraduate American literature class at a large Catholic university in northern Indiana. He has not completely read the latest assignment, “Slaughterhouse-Five,” because he did not have the time or (at that time in his life) the nerve to return his copy of the book to the Hammes bookstore (the old small one off the South Quad, not the megastore that graces the campus in 2017).

He had bought the book weeks earlier, but upon starting to read it he was distressed to notice that the binding was flawed. Several of the folios were missing. So whole sections of the novel weren’t included, including the description of Billy Pilgrim viewing a war movie in reverse.

Nevertheless, by that time Bob had already read “Cat’s Cradle” and “Breakfast of Champions” so he concluded he had already read enough of Kurt Vonnegut’s work, and gotten the gist of “Slaughterhouse-Five,” to submit a critique – which received an A – stating the author was too clever by half in writing about such a serious topic as the firebombing of Dresden.

Bob smugly recalled this A years later, while watching a Jon Lovitz sketch on “Saturday Night Live.” As Master Thespian, Lovitz would perform a ridiculously self-centered conceit, an over-the-top bit of stage business – which would all be explained and justified by the catchphrase, “Acting!”

That’s the way Bob, for decades, had thought of “Slaughterhouse-Five,” smugly thinking that its Famous Author had (much like this review) called more attention to his craft than to his message:

“And so it goes... WRITING!” “Brilliant!” “Thank you!”


Vonnegut and Krementz, a 1978 photo by Saul Leiter.
It’s now October 1997, and Bob is attending a breakfast event at the Regency Hotel on Park Avenue in Manhattan. He works for a telephone company called Bell Atlantic, which has sponsored a Columbia Journalism School series about First Amendment issues.

An elegant, dark-haired woman approaches Bob to say hello. She’s the photographer Jill Krementz. Bob had recently helped fix problems with her phone service.

Jill greets Bob warmly and turns to introduce her husband – who, a surprise to Bob, is the Famous Author, Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Jill invites Bob to sit at their table and whispers something to Kurt. He smiles and asks Bob about his job. “It’s only PR,” Bob demurs. Kurt replies, “Nothing wrong with that…” adding that he used to do PR for GE in Schenectady many years earlier. Soon others are vying for his attention, and panel presentations begin.

The speakers spoke fluent Academia, and sometimes their words struck Bob as unintentionally funny. Bob tried not to react, but caught Kurt’s eye from across the table, and the two had a great time over the next hour conspiratorially exchanging glances. They were, it seemed to Bob, the only people in the room who were in on the joke.

Kurt had a twinkle in his eye, reminding Bob of the times he spent as a boy with his witty, unconventional, larger-than-life grandfather, whose photo he keeps at his desk in his virtual office in the year 2017.

In the photo, Bob’s grandfather is nearly passed out drunk at a table, while Bob obliviously plays at his feet. You really can’t see Bob in the photo… just one chubby arm and a sliver of a child’s body in overalls… but somehow, this image never fails to make him happy.

Back in October 1997, Bob gathered his courage at the end of the breakfast, shook the Famous Author’s hand, and said, “I’ll never forget this morning.” Kurt wordlessly bowed, like Master Thespian.

And now it’s October 2017 again, and Bob Varettoni is driving to work.

He has wearily turned off radio news accounts about someone who had somehow purchased 33 guns in the past year, converted many of them to automatic weapons and stashed them in a Las Vegas hotel suite, from where he then shot 58 people to death the previous Sunday evening.

Instead of listening to more of this, Bob attempts to finally listen to the entirety of “Slaughterhouse-Five,” 40 years after he was originally assigned to read it in class.

Approaching the exit to Harter Road on Route 287 South, he hears James Franco intone, “It was a movie about American bombers in World War II and the gallant men who flew them. Seen backwards by Billy, the story went like this…”

The absurd, and clever, genius of the images that followed… the scene’s message of peace and nonviolence, and its literal deconstruction of all the senseless weapons… is the stuff of great literature. Bob got goosebumps as he continued to listen. These words were so utterly unexpected in the context of his life it was as if someone had pried open the top of his head to fill it with something altogether new.

By the time the narrator reached the part about dismantling the cylinders and separating the dangerous contents into minerals and how – touchingly – it was mainly women who did this work, Bob had to pull over to the side of the road to collect his thoughts.

When James Franco continued to read about how the minerals were shipped to specialists in remote areas… about how it was their job to return the minerals to the earth, hiding them cleverly, “so they would never hurt anybody ever again…” Bob pounded his hand against the steering wheel of his parked Fusion hybrid and shouted, “What the hell!... I mean, seriously, what the hell!!”

Perhaps he even used an expletive other than “hell.” He repeated, in astonishment, “What the hell was THAT?”

That was Kurt, the Famous Author, finally saying goodbye.

And so it goes.