JOHN THE AVATAR

I am five foot seven and three quarter inches tall. At least that’s what the tall rangy nurse at my orthopedist told me. I had heard that you lose one inch for every ten years after fifty years of age. So, if that is true, I was either five feet ten and a quarter when I started crunching my vertebrae together or that is just a bunch of caca de toro.

I was a full five feet nine at my tallest, somewhere around twenty years of age. I had a small growth spurt after I was sixteen. Since the giants that now inhabit the earth were not around then, I felt that I was just a middlin’ height person. It enabled me to get a rebound once or twice in a real basketball game and guard whatever opponent fate threw at me. Five feet nine was o.k. and so was I.

Dunking was not a big deal then. Sure there were tall guys, both black and white, who could do it, but it was not part of the game. Why dunk when you could stand in the keyhole and just turn around and put the ball in the basket, a la George Mikan? Then they went and changed the rules to three seconds in the keyhole and widened the key to a horseshoe. Then you really started to see guys dunking the ball.

In later years, as my body cringed at running the floor and taking jump shots, I began to place more faith in my nighttime dreams about being a professional basketball player than actually playing the game. If I could not run down the court with the kind of agility needed, I would create an avatar that would be able to do it. I named my avatar John.

John was six foot nine inches tall and could dunk backhanded with two hands and snuff any other ballplayer in the NBA with ease. His specialty was to follow the other team’s fast break, with a fast break of his own and catch up to the person with the ball and then snuff him as he went up for his shot or for a dunk. As you can see, John is a veritable kangaroo.

The papers were filled with his exploits. He could play any position on the floor, backcourt, frontcourt, or in the middle. He was a superb defensive player. Other teams would not pass the ball to any player he was guarding. The end would normally be an interception, or a snuff. It made the game for the opponents different than when they played any other team.

Being a figment of my imagination was no hindrance to what John could do. There was no sport that could really challenge him. Once he was interested in a sport, he could break any of their records. An example of his prowess came in the 2020 Olympics. There John shattered so many world records, that he may have destroyed the Olympics forever.

He not only broke the running records, he broke almost all of the weight and field events. His mammoth 400 foot javelin throw and his 95 foot shot put throw boggled the minds of anyone who saw him. He had no form, but immense strength. To this day, I am not sure that he realized what he was doing. He was always a calm and placid guy. He was friendly to a fault and loved his fans. He did not want a fan club, but was accessible beyond what was expected of him

As I look backward and forward to his accomplishments, I can see that he was a special person who combined all of the positive traits than one human being can have. For some reason that I cannot explain, John had no past and certainly no sure future. Since he was my avatar, he would not be around past my death. His traits, as a human, bore very little comparison to me. As I am aggressive and truculent to a fault, John is, or was, placid, laconic and violently introspective.

His daily routine was not to have a routine at all. Since he had no real friends, except those in my semi-catatonic state before going to sleep, I could not really dredge up a life for him beyond his participation in sports. That was really all I needed. I had him in every conceivable sport from UFC to soccer; to tennis (he won the Grand Slam in his first attempt). Since he needed no practice, he could jump into any sport and be its outstanding player.

John approached the general manager of the Mets in the spring of 2019. He had just won his 5th NBA title and was looking for some new fields to conquer. John wanted to know if the Mets might be interested in a pitcher who could go out every three or four days, pitch a complete game, and be ready to do some relief work. The general manager had heard of John, and had no idea of his skill in baseball. He accorded John a tryout at the Mets training facility in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

If anyone has thrown a baseball harder than John did, no one had ever heard of it. The major league record, although it was not official, was a fellow by the name of Johnny Cueto, of the Cincinnati Reds in 2013 who threw the ball 107 miles per hour in a regular game. John began his tryout throwing the ball at 110 miles per hour and he was only just starting.

The catcher that day was a veteran catcher named Rodriguez, who had spent fifteen years in the big leagues and was now a coach with the Mets. Rodriguez had to get some extra padding for his glove and still his hand hurt. He ameliorated the pain by catching the ball the way a first baseman might, in the webbing. The Mets manager could hardly believe what he was seeing.

John did all his own negotiating and became the starter for the first game of the season against the Atlanta Braves in Atlanta. Since John refused to sign more than a one season contract, the Mets were going to use him until it hurt. The first game began with John throwing nine pitches, all strikes and striking out the side. He continued to mow them down for the next eight innings. He was on his way to a perfect game with 21 strikeouts, when he appeared to tire. It was in the bottom of the ninth, when he gave up his first walk, followed by a single.

The Mets had scored 3 runs. If the next batter for the Braves connected, it could tie up the game. However, that did not happen. He threw nine more pitches and chalked up three strikeouts, giving him 24 for the game and shattering the strikeout record, formerly held by Tanaka, Clemens and a number of others, including Nolan Ryan.

The Mets gathered round John in the clubhouse and congratulated him on his accomplishment. The catcher for that day, Sonny Diggs, had his hand in bucket of ice. He was smiling through the pain. The Mets had finally gotten a pitcher like Doc Gooden. They were thrilled at the prospect. John was his old lack of affect self. He never really cracked a smile. He was pleasant to talk to, but showed no emotion. He appeared to be satisfied with what he had done.

The season began and ended in the same fashion as the first game. John was able to win 32 games, the first in the majors since Denny McClain to win 30. His ERA was closer to 1.00 than it was to 2.00. He led the league in strikeouts, and catchers. No one could catch John for the whole season. The Mets had a number of young catchers in the minors and brought one up every month. Sonny Diggs had lasted one full month when he requested a substitute. The Mets’ manager understood and began the rotation of catchers.

Once in a while, John does do some relief work. The Mets management was worried that he might throw out his arm and never pitch again. John assured everyone that he was built differently than most pitchers and his arm could handle much more stress. Since he appeared to throw many less pitches than most pitchers, management let him go on his merry way.

Since I have so little control over my avatar, once he is in full thrall in his activities, I can relax and have him do his thing. I notice that he seems to get tired of what he is doing in a short span of time. I cannot tell you how long that is, because I am not paying attention. With my head resting on my pillow, I can let my mind wander to other parts of my brain. I have always had a devilish plan to distribute large sums of money to various people and entities. When I was younger it was one hundred thousand dollars. Now it has reached one billion dollars. The cost of inflation.

I have my billion dollars invested conservatively. However, with so much dough, the interest, even at this time, helps pay for many things. I first send a bunch of money to my children for their kids’ college education. With costs for college ballooning, I cannot take a chance that there won’t be enough for them to go to school. I also give my children substantial amounts so that they won’t have to worry forever.

Of course, I fulfill most of mine and Carol’s dreams. She wants a place that our children and grandchildren would love to visit. So, we buy a villa in Italy, right on the coast, a place at Bethany Beach and a house in Chautauqua. That should do it for a while. I also buy myself a really fancy sports care- a Maserati or a Bugati (if they still make them).

The bulk of my dough goes to rural school districts that need help. I am sure that one part of my mind thinks that’s crazy, while the other part remembers how much I owe these folks for their support over the years. I have thought about how to do it, and I have developed a system. Since I am a school finance freak, I will surely know who really needs money.

By this time, I am back to my avatar. John has completed his season with the Mets and is thinking about either going back to the NBA for a season, or beginning a new adventure in another sport. He does not age, so whatever he chooses will not affect his body in any way. At six feet nine, there are certain sports that will be difficult. He certainly does not want to do team luge or anything that he has to fold himself into.

He decides to play hockey. Although he has never skated before, he is expert the moment that he dons the skates. His first thought is to play goalie. However, all of those pads give him the willies. He contacts a number of teams who have never had the privilege of hoisting Lord Stanley’s cup. Chief among them are the Vancouver Canucks. John has never been a fan of hockey teams below the frost line. Out go all of the southern U.S. teams like Florida, Tampa Bay, Phoenix, L.A., Nashville and so on.

It is appropriate for John that a Canadian city has his skills for a while. In his discussions with the Canucks, he has to be examined by the team doctor and go through a tryout. His tryout consists of skating and shooting a puck through, under and over and to the side of goalie Jacques Lemieux. Lemieux is a twice Vezina Trophy winner and a record holder in many areas. John has no trouble putting the puck almost anywhere he wants.

Lemieux is mad and the coach is ecstatic. John is signed to a one year deal again and goes to training camp with the Canucks. Since none of John’s exploits follow him anywhere, he is free to enjoy each sport as it comes to him. Having an avatar means that John’s life is not structured the way real life and time is. Time moves backwards and forwards despite the current scientific theories. Of course, with John setting scoring records (way beyond Wayne Gretzky) Vancouver wins the Stanley Cup, winning all their games in the playoffs. Vancouver goes crazy.

THE GREATEST GENERATION

As a tweener generation, neither baby boomer nor greatest generation, I am always interested what people’s views are of both. I had the privilege of watching and listening to Tom Brokaw this morning here at Chautauqua. You may know that he wrote a book called, “The Greatest Generation,” in which he talks about the people who were nineteen or twenty some at the outset of World War II.

The most interesting question asked of him, and really not answered, was would any of the subsequent generations be ready to sacrifice what that generation did. The answer really lies in the subsequent happenings. The generation that fought Korea and Vietnam were never told what they were fighting for. Sure, the spread of communism was on the banner. However, not sure that our fighting people really believed it. Then, at the end, we were told that it was all for naught.

How would the greatest generation react to that statement? True, they came out of the Depression with fewer hopes and needs. When they sat down to their first army meal, it may have been the best meal that they had ever gotten. Many of the rural kids (and they were kids) never had new boots or maybe even new clothes. Their idea of what they could expect was folded into their rifles and other armaments.

The Boomer generation had no such feelings (in the majority). We were coming off the greatest economic boom in our history. There were jobs for all and even more when men were conscripted into the military. What did they think when they got to Vietnam? Maybe, “What a shithole.” The people in that country did not even seem human to them. What the heck were they doing there? Why are so many second looies dying every day? Who is in charge here?

These were not wars of common understandings. They were fought in specific countries, rather than a world war. Even our allies were not sure why they were there. The world began to look at us as interlopers. We even had our own Tokyo Rose by the name of Jane Fonda. Why was she consorting with the North Vietnamese? Why wasn’t our carpet bombing working? So many questions and so few answers.

The greatest generation never had to face the new way of reporting news, right from the front with mangled bodies in many pictures. We had never seen such pictures. Then we find out that this whole Vietnam thing was cooked up by the politicos in Washington, much like our invasion in Iraq. There was no real transcendent reason for being there.

Now we have an all-volunteer army. Is that going to change our way of doing things. History does not show us the volunteer armies are such a good idea. What would the greatest generation think of that? Not much, I think.

 

HOW DID ALL THIS STUFF START?????

                                              HOW DID ALL OF THIS STUFF START ?

The Democratic Convention of 1972 saw the first time that most of the delegates were college graduates. I must say, with all appropriate humility, that I saw something coming our way. I am not an anti-elitist, although I do not read the New York Times, the Nation, the New Yorker or listen to NPR. I had a feeling back then, and I have witnesses, that the 1960’s spawned a reaction that would lead to regular people ( whoever they were at the time) to reject the mores of those they considered elitists.

The whole northeast liberal establishment was going to see a reaction to even the most common sense views of our world. Thus came the rebellion in music (from top ten integrated music to country western), to a resurrection of the Civil War (the South has risen), rejection of climate change and global warming and evolution, and the rejection of traditional Protestant churches to a new and more evangelical Christianity.

It hasn’t been that long since Jerry Fallwell started the Moral Majority. He was joined by so many other religious evangelicals that he was soon relegated to a back row. There were now Christian colleges (and not the traditional ones). There were Christian law schools, job sites on the net, Christian dating sites and so on. The combination of religion and politics soon became a normal part of the country’s fabric.

The so called liberal bias in the reporting of news was soon challenged by ultra right wing TV news, newspapers, magazines, and websites. Somehow capitalism (the kind Ayn Rand espoused), combined with religion, social issues such as abortion, capital punishment, and gun profusion combined to create a new way of thinking.

In his book, “Deer Hunting with Jesus,” Joe Bageant describes the evolution of fundamentalism, conservative political thought, trust no government, vote for those who espouse your views, even though they might not help with getting  jobs created. Somehow those that seem to be aggrandized by the current shape of the economy are the most vocal. They support causes, think tanks and legislation that seem to disadvantage those very people who support them.

It is hard to see how the middle class, whose definition is now beyond me and most observers, is going to survive, both financially and socially. There may still be small enclaves of those kinds of folks in many parts of our country, but they don’t really have a voice. There really isn’t much leadership for them. The “liberal” media really does not seem to represent any group of people. It is intent on its narcissistic ways, making sure that whoever it offends never sees, nor hears any of its plaintive cries.

As we look toward the future, as the country heads down the path of larger divisions between the have gots and the have nots, we are assured that all that I mentioned above will continue. Once again, we can look for leadership to connect all of us (somehow Bill Clinton had some success, and yes he has a southern accent).  Whoever they may be, I hope that it comes in my lifetime.

 

MR. CAMERON GOES TO COLLEGE

 

This coming Tuesday, our oldest grandchild, Mr. Cameron, graduates from high school. It seems like such a short time ago when I held him in my arms, this small gurgling thing. When he smiled, I had a sense of sheer accomplishment. Somehow, he was doing it for me. It might have been a gaseous smile, or an undigested piece of potato (from Christmas Carol), but he did it for me.

Now, well over six feet tall and very broad, he can probably carry me in his arms. There is something about Cameron that we will never know. Not one thing in particular, but things that he thinks about, but never says. He is quite articulate, a good story teller, and when he laughs, his whole face lights up. Sometimes he is pensive and really doesn’t want to say much. I believe that there are lots of mature thoughts behind that boyish grin that will make them known in the future.

Cameron is very particular about his friends, both male and female. First and foremost, it appears that they need to have a specific sense of humor. He is an inveterate story teller. When the one dimple forms on that side of the face, you know that you are in for a spell of laughter. Somehow, he knows how to get you to laugh.

He has really never asked us for specific gifts for birthdays, or even his bar mitzvah. You may not know that there is a long held tradition of giving the bar mitzvah boy a fountain pen when they were around. It wound up as a constant joke about the bar mitzvah boy beginning his speech with, “Today I am a fountain pen.” I asked Cameron to say it in synagogue when he made his concluding remarks. He did say it and ascribed it to me, even when he did not know what it meant. Not sure there were more than 4 or 5 people in the congregation who knew what it meant.

Cameron is great with adults. He has no problem engaging in discussion with people significantly older than himself. It is truly an advantage in his present job- working in the tuxedo section of Men’s Warehouse. It is hard for me to believe that he is doing that. That all goes along with him growing up behind my back. The college that he is going to will be advantaged by the presence of Mr. Cameron. He is one singular person. Indeed!!!

I CAN NEVER PICK A WINNER, ALMOST

I guess being an old Brooklyn Dodger fan, I was always attuned to the possibility that each year of my fandom, they would lose. It wasn’t until I graduated high school in 1955 that they actually won a world series. Then they went and moved to Los Angeles and I had no one to root for. Sine that time, I have noticed that I am consistently wrong about every situation where there have been winners and losers. I have not picked a winner in a presidential election until 2012.

I picked Richard Nixon in 1960, Barry Goldwater in 1964, Hubert Humphrey in 1968, George McGovern in 1972, Gerald Ford in 1976 and so on until 2012. I have also been behind every single losing congressman in my own congressional district, no matter where I have lived. I have escaped being correct on most of the legislative races in the state and have been 50% wrong in my choices of Gubernatorial candidates.

I have mostly been wrong about Super Bowl winners, NBA champs, World Series winners, Stanley Cup champions and so on. If this tells you to always bet against my choices, you are correct. I am somehow emotionally tied to those who do not win.

That has often happened in my choices of stocks and companies to invest in. It got to the point that I gave all my dough to a financial advisor. Guess what, they didn’t do that well either. The one great choice that I made in my life that defeats all other losses is the choice of Carol as my wife. That has truly papered over everything else in my life. If it weren’t for that magic choice so many years ago, you would probably find me in a rubber room at a nearby hospital.

SO WHAT DID I FIND OUT

 

My initial foray into some real research took me over three years to set up. Besides clearing my problem statement with my advisor, which took one year, I had to take a course to plan my research scheme. I had already finished two courses in statistics. That would prove to be of immense help in my eventual dissertation conclusions.

I was head over heels sucked into the “Leadership” word. I read everything that I could get my hands on that had the word leadership in its title. Most of the stuff did not appear in my bibliography, but it clarified so many things for me. I had already been to the Boston University School of Human Relations. It was there that I came across the idea that there were scads of leadership styles that were successful. It dawned on me that my dissertation might uncover things that would help school boards and others to locate successful superintendents.

The idea of testing sitting superintendents in creative problem solving required that I define specifically what that was. Eventually, through a morass of information, I would focus on three kinds of skills- Ideational Fluency, Remote Associations and a test of Problem Seeing. Others that followed used other measures.

My trek across Pennsylvania to meet the fifty supers was an experience I will never forget. I am still the only person who knows who the successful superintendents were and who the random people were. This was all done in a 6 month period of time between September 1979 and March of 1980. I had written to Intermediate Unit Directors (in New York State they are called BOCES directors and in other states RESA directors and mostly county superintendents) and professors of educational administration at schools that certified superintendents.

I asked them to identify one successful superintendent and tell me why they thought they were successful. It was interesting to see that some of the choices were duplicates. To select the random group, I used a book of random numbers (who knew there was such a thing) and selected twenty five.

I also created a set of variables that might have something to do with their success. I asked about whether they had lost a parent at a young age, whether they were left handed, whether their parents or parent came from another country. What showed up was that the targeted group believed that they had IQs above 125, that they socialized with their board members and that they had no problem arguing with their board members at public meetings.

The three things were statistically significant. It wasn’t as if they all did it, but in at least one case, IQ, the targeted group all believed that their IQs were above 125. It may well be that the targeted group had more confidence or self-esteem. Whether they really had IQs above 125 was moot.

I can remember distinctly the moments when I sat with particular superintendents. Many were interested in the outcomes and asked that I send them an executive summary of the research. I did send it to those who asked. The final part of the dissertation was to see what the tests showed.

Of the three tests given- ideational fluency (the ability to create new ideas in a short time period), problem seeing (self-explanatory) and remote associations (ability to combine disparate pieces of information and combine them into a whole), the only one that did NOT show any significance was ideational fluency. Both problem seeing and remote associations showed statistical significance, with remote associations showing the most.

I must admit that I was surprised that ideational fluency showed nothing. The production of ideas is usually seen as a harbinger of good work, intelligence and diligence. I guess I was wrong. When I thought about it afterward, I understood how the other two tests were integral to a successful leader. Seeing problems before they crop up and knowing how things fit together are much tougher to do, but also rarer.

I have never followed up on my research. However, I have done a large number of superintendent searches. I have found that I have inserted questions that do not rely heavily on new ideas, but seem to dwell on how one knows there are problems ahead and how things that seem to be disparate fit into a unity. They are usually bizarre questions (I am told), but my track record is pretty good.

HENRY KISSINGER GIVES ME MY DIPLOMA

One bright sunny day in May of 1980, I was awarded my Doctorate by Lehigh University. For those of you who have gone through the pain and agony of such an undertaking, you understand how wonderful it felt to finally finish and stop all of the apple polishing and gut wrenching work it took to finally get to the end. A friend of mine has actually written a book about the experience. I have no great desire to read it.

The final event was that bright day in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, when President Deming Lewis called my name and I walked up to the rostrum and was handed my scroll by none other than Henry Kissinger. It did not dawn on me till later why he was there. Henry was married to Nancy Maginnes, the daughter of Albert Maginnes, for whom a building was named on Lehigh’s campus. She was a researcher for Nelson Rockefeller. She is also a philanthropist.

The words that came out of Henry Kissinger’s mouth as he gave me my scroll sounded like someone gargling. However, it must have been something like congratulations Dr. Hillman. I could not have been prouder on that day. To say that I had worked my butt off for that degree is to minimize the effort. I had worked full time as a school superintendent, was president of my rotary club, written my dissertation and had built a room in the basement to get my work done.

I have been reminded of my work just recently. My dissertation title was, “Creative Problem Solving and Success as a school Superintendent.” Just that title took me one whole year of reflection and arguing with my advisor, Dr. Charles Guditus. Charlie would not let me inject one extra word into my problem statement. I argued that people would not understand what I was doing if I did not explain it. He would laugh at me and tell me to work harder. He must have been right because I won the Lloyd Ashby Award for the best dissertation.

I am not usually given to brag about my accomplishments. It’s a family tradition. However, my dissertation was followed up by four other dissertations. However, none of my followers had the same experience that I did. My understanding of education in Pennsylvania began with my travels around the state to actually speak with and test 50 different superintendents of school- 25 successful ones and 25 randomly chosen. The results of my research changed the way I looked at education forever.