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

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A trip back to Bennett High School

By Dick Hirsch

I graduated from Bennett High School but it is none of your business exactly what year that milestone occurred. I can tell you this much, though: my class included at least 10 of the smartest kids in all of Western New York and I surely wasn’t one of them.

I’ve always admired the building. It’s impressive, up on a rise, looming over Main Street, a kind of gatekeeper for North Buffalo and the University District. Buffalo has some great looking high schools; my other favorites have always been Lafayette, Grover Cleveland and what was once Fosdick-Masten, but is now City Honors. The architecture of the older high school buildings made a strong statement. I have driven by Bennett thousands of times over the years and always felt some fleeting nostalgia, but never toured the school until recently.

I lived just two blocks away and while I was still in elementary school I could hear the cheers reverberating from All-High Stadium on Saturday afternoons during during football season. And I could look out the window and see some of the Bennett students walking to school each morning. I always anticipated the day when the time would come when I would join that cavalcade, walking toward Main Street and across and up the broad steps to Bennett. The parents of some of my schoolmates made other choices, sending their children to places like St. Joe’s, Nichols, the Buffalo Seminary or Canisius. With those exceptions, most of the 8th graders from my school eagerly headed for Bennett the September after graduation. Optima Futura was (and remains) the slogan of the school---The best is yet to be---and most of us probably felt that way when we crossed the threshold as freshmen.

After all the years, what drew me back to Bennett? It was a major event in the history of the school, the rededication of Bennett after a major expansion and upgrade as part of the city’s multi-million dollar school construction program. The work is done. The school is worth bragging about, so on a recent Sunday afternoon the doors were flung open to alumni, friends, and others to see how the place looks.


The school is older than it looks. It opened in the fall of 1925, after being built on land donated by the family of Lewis J. Bennett, a businessman and Central Park developer, at a cost of about $1.5 million. At the rededication, School Supt. James Williams said some $8 million was spent on the upgrade and expansion of the building as well as the reconstruction of All-High Stadium.

There were about 200 persons at the ceremony, but as I walked through the corridors it was strangely quiet, nothing comparable to the din that pervaded the place as bells rang, locker doors clanged and students ran shouting down the halls between periods, as well as before and after school. I walked through the gym, which somehow appeared smaller than I remembered, and looked in room 206, which was the primary senior boys’ homeroom, presided over by Miss Sherman. She was a woman very capable of maintaining order with a piercing look and an intimidating whisper. She also taught me Spanish and I remember enough to ask the location of the men’s room if I am ever in Spain.

The auditorium didn’t require many visible enhancements. I don’t believe I ever before realized the elegance of the auditorium. The student body has changed considerably and the students have approved the adoption of uniforms which Mrs. Ramona Reynolds, the principal, cited as a very positive step. The cost of some uniforms is being paid by the Bennett High School Alumni Association, which has some remarkable achievements in a few short years. Its presidents, Philip Brothman, Wayne Reilly and Dr. Leonard Katz, have led the alumni in raising over $60,000 which will be used for various worthy purposes.

It was a phase of my life I remember more with ambivalence than with enthusiasm. I was quiet and shy, a late bloomer, but I always was glad I went to Bennett. It is strange what is remembered when walking a once familiar route. As I passed the chemistry lab I recalled the day Mr. Snow, frustrated with a certain student, asked him the following question:

“William, can you tell us what are the three words most often used by Bennett students?”

William shrugged and shuffled in place, flustered and embarrassed. Finally he responded:

“I don’t know.”

“Correct,” said Mr. Snow, beaming.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

A quarter inch can make a big difference

By Dick Hirsch

A quarter of an inch this way or that is not even worth mentioning if you are discussing the width of a slice of pizza or the length of your brother-in-law’s sideburns. But a quarter of an inch assumes a critical role when assessing the size and appearance of neckties in the wardrobe of today’s fashionable men.

I should admit at the outset that I am no longer the expert on ties that I was at one time. However, for what it is worth, I believe I can still justifiably claim some expertise about shirts, socks and underwear since I still regularly utilize those items. The story is much different with ties.

For years I wore a tie every working day, and, in addition, I always wore one to most social or entertainment events of any consequence. I had a rack in the closet with a sufficient selection, enabling me to rotate them, trying never to wear the same tie two days in the same week. During those years, if I happened to be walking through the men’s department, accompanying my wife to ladies’ shoes, I would often feel an irresistible urge to fiddle with the ties on the display racks. Sometimes I would buy one, take it home, only to discover that I already owned a tie that was almost identical. That is another story.

That activity now seems so long ago that, even as I type these lines, I shake my head in wonderment when I realize that the first (and perhaps only) major decision of the day was which tie to wear. I gave up regular tie wearing years ago. Yes, it was part of the office “casual Friday” revolution, true. It was also a step I must have been subconsciously yearning to take for years. I tried it on Friday and soon adopted the casual attire for every day. I wasn’t alone; I was part of a trend, a new experience for me.

Many of my good friends have continued to wear ties throughout the casual period and I salute them for their dedication to the old ways. Some wore ties and jackets out of habit, but most were responding to the dictates of their occupation or profession. Lawyers, bankers and clergymen were among those who continued daily tie-knotting, anticipating the day when ties would return to fashion as staples in the office. There have been a number of recent press reports indicating that the tie, in retreat for so long, is making a comeback.

Concurrently, I found a report in a trade journal heralding the news that ties were getting narrower, with widths of three inches or even less being worn at some of the in spots in places like New York and Los Angeles. That was nasty news; just as ties were regaining some popularity, the dimensions were being changed so all the ties on everyone’s rack would become somewhat obsolete. As you must know, the neckwear industry tampers with the dimensions every now and then, creating a trendlet to stimulate business. Once, years ago, in the wake of such a change, I spent considerable time attempting to track down the individual or individuals responsible for suddenly making ties much wider. I was unsuccessful; the neckwear industry dropped a cloak of security over the matter and I was unable to gather any meaningful information. But when I heard the news this time, I thought there might be a positive side.

Even though I have no immediate plans to once again become a regular wearer, I thought that the passage of time might have worked in my favor, making the old ties on my rack stylish again. I took a ruler into the bedroom closet and began randomly measuring a few ties at their widest point. They all seemed to be around three and a quarter inches.

I consulted John Huber, a retailer and a man well-known for his expertise in all matters dealing with men’s apparel, a respected traditionalist, yet a man who is always open to new ideas.

“Three and a half inches,” Huber said, defining the current most popular size. “Some manufacturers will go to three and three quarters.”

Too bad; just my luck. My ties are too wide to be trendy and too narrow to be traditional. Some clever designer must have planned it exactly that way.

“With ties, a quarter of an inch can be very noticeable,” Huber observed, with an knowing smile.


Sunday, November 04, 2007

Seeking success in a strange location

By Dick Hirsch
I never aspired to be a tycoon, but if tycoonship happened to suddenly head in my direction and seek to overpower me, I certainly would not resist. Am I too old to reverse course and become a tycoon? Not according to a brief study of recent business history. While tycoons often develop in early adulthood, some astonish their friends and colleagues by emerging as tycoons in later life.

I’m no authority on the subject, but I’ve been interested to observe certain business opportunities present themselves in what I consider to be a most unusual setting. For some reason I associate major business proposals that lead to tycooning to begin in a conference room or perhaps over cocktails in a private club.

But no. As you might have been told in your youth, there are opportunities everywhere.

Some of these opportunities are found on utility poles.

Are you paying attention? Are you being observant and remaining constantly alert for business opportunities that may lead you to great success and immense wealth? Or maybe you’re just curious by nature. If you have been keeping your eyes open, you may have seen these signs on what must be strategically selected utility poles. Here is one of my favorites:

“ENTREPRENEURS!” it screams, printed in bold black ink on a golden stock. It urges calls to a certain number which I won’t print here. Somebody or some group affixed those signs here and there, expecting to attract entrepreneurial callers. I salute them for their efforts, but I wonder what kind of fish they are going to catch with such a curbside announcement.

What kind of a hopeful entrepreneur would act upon an invitation posted on a utility pole? Those poles perform essential functions, carrying electric power, telephone and cable television service to customers. But the poles also have been attractive targets for neighborhood notices advertising lost cats, church suppers, and rummage sales, all harmless notices that eventually blow away and end up in somebody’s backyard. People must respond to them, however, because with each passing month new ones are posted.

I am curious about the success of that method as it attempts to recruit entrepreneurs. Who would call? I cannot envision any investor or would-be tycoon placing that call. Of course, I did call. Yes, I did. Curiosity is part of my job description. It was answered by a recording, of course, and the male voice, sounding extremely agitated and enthusiastic, thanked me for calling, said that a great opportunity awaited me, and urged me to leave my name and phone number. That’s where it ended and I am still wondering about the quality of responders to such an opportunity.

Here is another favorite which you may have noticed on your way home yesterday, stapled to a utility pole. I’m not giving the location, because there are probably many around the area.

“RETIRE YOUNG! RETIRE RICH!” it said, followed by a phone number. I may have the text wrong; I was driving as I wrote it down. It could have been: “RETIRE RICH! RETIRE YOUNG!”, an approach that places more emphasis on accumulating wealth rather than leaving the workplace. I called that number, too, and heard a voice that sounded very much like the first guy, the entrepreneur seeker. The story is that there are ways to amass enough money to finance an early quit.

Here is another opportunity not to be missed: “WE BUY HOUSES!” That sign relates to a sensitive area of business, with the real estate market in knots and few houses being sold. If you were a seller or a potential buyer, would you call the number on the sign? Or would you look in the newspaper or on the Internet or call a real estate broker? I know these are difficult questions, but I pose them for your consideration.

What’s the point of all this? Only to go on record as being curious about the type of respondents who would be attracted by such a rudimentary approach.

I was going to close this column by observing that Phineas T. Barnum was correct, and still is correct, when he said “There is a sucker born every minute.” Much to my surprise, I was a sucker because modest research disclosed that Barnum never said that at all; it has been attributed to at least two other people.

So I’ll conclude by encouraging all aspiring tycoons: there are always opportunities and it is never too late. You decide whether you will follow a lead on a utility pole.