Try it. Who knows, you may even like it.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Still blooming after all these years

By Dick Hirsch
I’m frank to say that I am a late bloomer. I never realized that until one September a few years ago as they were tuning up the school buses for the new season and the papers were filled with ads for notebooks.
I’ll disclose more about my own blooming schedule later, but first I should explain that each year at this time, I suddenly detect a change in my attitude. I practice some annual wishful thinking about how nice it would be to be going back to school. If you have ever experienced that feeling, you will surely want to read on. If not, stay tuned anyway, because it’s my belief that a little reminiscence now and then may actually have positive physical and psychological benefits, resulting in lowering the blood pressure.
This sudden emphasis on recollection passes quickly, but it reoccurs with predictable regularity each September, and the intensity of the urge seems to be growing as the gap widens between the current calendar and the last time I was a student. The gap has now widened to the point where some might claim it qualifies as a chasm.
I’m not alone. I’ve discussed this sentiment with a variety of friends and colleagues, and many of them admit to a distinct feeling of melancholy as they see the fleets of school buses taking to the streets for the beginning of the new school year.
I never rode a yellow school bus to school. Yes, never. I’m a member of that declining demographic group for whom the school was within walking distance. The neighborhood school was the learning citadel in cities like Buffalo. It was only in faraway places like Cheektowaga or Hamburg that children were transported by bus.
I remember only four school bus field trips and I enjoyed each and every one because they were such a novelty. The rides took elementary school classes to Kleinhans Music Hall to hear a Buffalo Philharmonic rehearsal, to the Albright Art Gallery to look at a selected number of paintings and sculptures (no nudes on the itinerary), and to tours of the Buffalo Museum of Science and the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society.
Those trips were designed to introduce eager students to the finer things in life, in the hope that they would return sometime in the future. That is the total of my school bus riding experience. I made no bus trips in high school or college, although certain teams traveled by school bus to compete in away games.
As I watch the bus drivers meandering along their new routes during these opening weeks, I think of the attitudes being expressed by most of those passengers on board. If history is any guide, very few of them will be willing to admit they’re actually glad the vacation is over and they’re happy to be returning to school. It was always standard to complain about the reopening of school, and I doubt that has changed.
So why do people like me get sentimental when the first bells ring? That’s an easy question. The wisdom that comes with age annually reminds us that we should have enjoyed our school days more than we did. That is the message that parents attempt to convey to their children, especially in September, but only a few of them ever seem to hear the message or believe it.
The message I often heard was first enunciated by Miss Hilda Ohlmer, with whom I became acquainted in 6th grade, and repeated by others over the next few years.
“Richard is not working up to his potential,” she told my parents.
That was probably the first time I heard the word “potential.” I doubt that I looked it up in the dictionary, but somebody must have explained it meant I could do better than I was doing, that my grades could be higher. I always wondered what made her---and the others---feel so certain of that because I was doing better than some and not as well as others.
Fifteen of the smartest kids in Buffalo were in my high school graduating class. I wasn’t one one of them. I never realized why until much, much later, and then came understanding. They blossomed early while years after I decided I must have been a late bloomer. In fact, I think I’m still blooming. Maybe I’m not, but as long as I think I am, that’s what is important, isn’t it?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

I'd tell you if I could, but it's a secret

By Dick Hirsch
Do I know any secrets? Maybe, but I am not sure. I have never been sure. Over the years, people have often indicated they were telling me something that was unknown to everyone else in the whole wide world, but it seldom, if ever, worked out that way.
Telling secrets was certainly a major childhood pastime. If you didn’t tell at least two or three secrets each day and hear a couple of new ones yourself, then you weren’t leading a very interesting social life.
The dictionary says a secret is “something kept hidden or unexplained; something kept from the knowledge of others or shared only confidentially with a few.”
I suppose that is as good a working definition as you can find, but it gets a little flimsy at the end when it resorts to use of the word “few.” How many is a few? I’ve always understood that “a couple” is two, but how many is “a few”? Is it more or less than “several?”
Defining few, my dictionary says: ”consisting of or amounting to only a small least some but an indeterminately small number.”
That doesn’t really help much, either, especially when dealing with the issues of defining, learning and keeping secrets.
Years ago, one of my early editors gave me his definition of a secret. It related to whether or not certain material could or couldn’t be published in a newspaper. He was not the professorial type; most of what he learned about reporting, about news judgment, about contacts and confidences, sources and secrets, he had absorbed on the streets, not in the lecture halls. That was probably the best way.
He was trying to convince me to write a story, a story that seemed important at the time. Today I don’t have any recollection of what that story might have been about, but the rationale used to eventually get it into print still lingers.
“It’s a secret,” I explained. “I was told about it in strict confidence, so I can’t write it.” That was a rare attitude for me because I was usually eager to get any reasonable story into print before the competition.
“That’s not a secret,” he said, “and I’ll tell you why. “If three people know it, then it isn’t a secret. “Now you know it. The guy who told you knows it. And who told him? That’s at least three people, probably more. If it ever was a secret, it isn’t a secret any longer. You can write that story.”
So I did write the story and it caused no great uproar that I recall. I also don’t remember whether the source ever complained about seeing it in print.
Secrets are important to the people who keep them but less important to those who disclose them. In addition to that secret which ended up in print, in a lifetime I haven’t known many real secrets, but I can understand the temptation to reveal them must be difficult to resist.
Some self-styled authorities claim that the ideal number of people required to keep a secret is one, meaning just you and no one else. I reject that position as elementary and simplistic. Of course the risk of disclosure increases as soon as another person is told the secret.
I realize that I risk offending a large segment of my readers, but I must say that gender plays a critical role in the whole issue of secrets. Can you see where I’m heading? If you said “trouble,” you are probably quite correct.
It would be my contention that women always know more secrets than men. I say that because there have been many reports, both professional and popular, comparing the communication patterns of women vs. men. Women are known for their open and frank relationships with female friends. The operative word is usually “share.” Women share. Men don’t operate that way. They may have friends with whom they bowl, play tennis or attend a ball game, but the exchange of information and feelings is usually far different. Men are likely to keep things to themselves. The operative word there might be “closed.”
If it’s true that women know more secrets than men, how are they at keeping them? A poll of a few random bystanders yielded men who thought women were the best keepers of secrets and women who felt the same about men. I wish I knew the answer. You know that I’d tell you if I could.


Sunday, August 13, 2006

The graduation that was too short

By Dick Hirsch
The small auditorium was nearly filled with family members and friends, restless in their seats, eager for the program to begin. Meanwhile, on the large screen at the front, photos of the class members appeared over and over, in sequence. Then the screen was retracted, it grew expectantly quiet, and the strains of Pomp and Circumstance filled the room.
The double doors at the rear opened, and the nine smiling graduates, each accompanied by a volunteer aide to guide them, strode confidently down the center aisle to their seats at the front. This was graduation day, and, since it was no ordinary graduation, I will tell you the names of each graduate right at the top. They are: Kathleen Benjamin, Barbara Bolot, Wayne Adam Borer, Daniel Fedele, Amy Hawthorn, Maria Heinlein, Charlotte Hunter, Rebecca Irvin and Elizabeth McClerkin.
For the first time in my experience, I didn’t yawn once during a graduation ceremony. I’ve been to more than my quota of commencements, and the yawns were always contagious. I tried to stifle them, but could not. I was yawning and I was surrounded by other involuntary yawners. Most attendees would agree the programs are too predictable, too dull, and too long. Starting now, however, I can no longer generalize about graduations. The one I attended just recently almost seemed too short.
The class graduated from the 13-week program at the National Statler Center for Careers in Hospitality Service, a program of the Elizabeth Pierce Olmsted, MD Center for the Visually Impaired, at 1160 Main St. The graduates, all blind, visually impaired or otherwise disabled, were trained in the use of computers and schooled in the operation of the software programs generally used in the hospitality industry, primarily hotels, travel agencies, restaurants. As they marched in, took their seats and the ceremony began, among those in the audience, there were lumps in many throats.
Conceived in Buffalo, the program, supported by million dollar grants from the Statler Foundation and the Conrad Hilton Foundation, as well as substantial gifts from other donors, has achieved a national reputation since its inception seven years ago. The latest group was the 21st such class, and 87 percent of all graduates are employed, a statistic that all those involved cite with considerable pride. People who once might have been working for years in a sheltered workshop were trained to enter the mainstream of the labor market.
The program grew from an idea hatched by Ronald Maier, the executive director of the Olmsted Center. Seeking funds from various sources a few years ago for roof repairs and other needed improvements at the building, he discovered that the Statler Foundation, headquartered in Buffalo, earmarked all of its grants to programs related to the hospitality industry. Some research disclosed that there were many computer-related jobs that could be performed by properly trained blind workers. The Olmsted staff, consulting with hotel executives and assisted by many people in the hotel business, designed the program and it has proven to be a resounding hit, successful beyond expectations.
It was a happy time for all, including the cooperating local firms that arrange “externships,” for the students, enabling them to get some operating experience, and allowing each company to assess the abilities of students. Paul LeMere, employment manager at the Adams Mark Hotel and an instructor in the program, was the master of ceremonies, and Tom Ayers, president of We Care Transportation, Inc., was the keynote speaker.
They were both very well received, but the most enthusiastic round of applause was reserved for Wayne Adam Borer of Hamburg, one of the graduates, who was selected by the others in the class to speak on their behalf. He was accompanied to the podium by his dog, John. Borer, 42, introduced each of his classmates, extolling their various virtues in a light-hearted fashion, and said the most valuable lesson he learned was how to work with others. He praised the program and said the program would always be there to help people in the future. Then he got to the really important part, saying: “This program has made me into a productive worker.”
Borer received his certificate from Tom Molenda, general manager of the Holiday in on Camp Road, in Hamburg, where he had an externship. “I’m happy to report that Wayne is our newest employee at the Hamburg Holiday Inn,” he said.
Later, reflecting on the excitement of the day, Borer explained: “I don’t consider myself disabled. I’m just blind.”