Slice of Life Challenge day 10 #sol18

Sometimes movies get us thinking…

There is a saying in the basketball world: “How you play is who you are.”  This adage has been uttered in musical circles, as well.

While putting together some lunch on yet another snow day this week, the song “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” by Billy Joel began to play in my house.  As a longtime fan, I have always loved this song.  But the other night, I watched an incredibly powerful music documentary released last year entitled, “Hired Gun.”  This film, by way of interviews, old footage, and music, tells the story of the behind-the-scenes, unknown heroes of many of our favorite songs over the past several decades.


Being a musician, I know the music industry can be shady. But to hear the stories of such greats as Liberty DeVitto, Billy Joel’s drummer for 30 years, broke my heart.  By means of news stories and interviews with two members from Billy Joel’s old band (Liberty DeVitto and Russell Javors, ever heard of them? Me neither.), the movie chronicles the untold story of Billy Joel’s success; and how Billy, after many years touring and recording with his band, decided to suddenly fire his guitarist Javors and his bassist, Doug Stegmeyer for no reason, no warning, and no explanation.  Eventually, DeVitto was fired too- after 30 years of loyal contribution.  The devastation caused by these firings, incidentally, is believed to have been a key factor in Stegmeyer’s tragic suicide in 1995.

Other stories were exposed in the movie, too.  Stories of songs and stars and unsung musical monsters (for those of you unfamiliar, ‘monster’ is a good thing in music).  When the movie ended, I closed my laptop and reflected. I thought about these super famous songs, by Billy Joel and others, that feature the playing of these incredible musicians, these “hired guns.”  And yet, none of us know who any of them are.

Here’s a quick screenshot of the “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” credits from Wikipedia:


Where are the back line guys?  Sadly, this information that is shared with listeners and fans is typical.  It strikes me as odd that  “Format: 7″” takes a place in the credits here, and yet there is no listing of the people (besides Billy Joel) who brought this music to life for generations of listeners.  That takes some searching.

I know as educators, we sometimes feel like the hired guns must have felt and still feel.  Behind the scenes, we work everyday to make a difference.  To help our students be great.  To help them believe in themselves and succeed.  Just like those amazing guitarists, bassists, drummers, and keyboardists worked to make those stars who they became.

I think about that phrase: “How you play is who you are.”  Not sure it applies in every sense of those words.


Slice of Life Challenge day 9 #sol18

Playing with parallel structure and playful frustration today in a poem about snow days…


(above) view from bedroom into backyard, 7:04 a.m.

March Snow

First snow day
Greeted with guilty exuberance
What's one day?
Hot cocoa inside
Family time extended
    books, toys, baking

Fourth snow day
Met with mild resignation
What's another day, right?
Cocoa and coffee inside
Let's try to get out there today
    snow angels, failed snowmen, cold noses

Seventh snow day
Received with palpable consternation
Really? Another day?
Too much coffee inside
Stir crazy children, over-caffeinated adults
    youtube, complaining, lamenting of summer lost

Tenth snow day
Make it stop.

-Lanny Ball



Slice of Life Challenge day 8 #sol18

Missing the chaos . . .

Placing the car in park, I shut off the engine.  Almost by muscle memory, I performed my routine: grab empty coffee cup from the cupholder between the two front seats; disconnect iPhone from the stereo system; open car door and grab computer bag; sling bag over shoulder; close car door.  Always the same. Always the same.

But I knew today would be different.

I made my way across the driveway as the March sun silently filtered between large maple trees. And as I pushed open my front door, I was greeted by something uniquely unfamiliar- eerie silence.

No Hi Papa! bursting from the tiny vocal cords of a two-year old.

No voices chattering about how to improve the blanket fort.

No Mama, I need a snack! No arguments about saving room for dinner.

No confrontations about setting the table.

No debates about the merits of bathing or brushing teeth.

No desperate searches for favorite water bottles, stuffed animals, special blankets.

No figuring out how to read Boxcar Children to two older children and Goodnight, Gorilla to another.

No requests for bandaids or drinks of water right after the lights are turned out.

No chaos.

None of that.

Just peace, quiet. Choice and sanity.

But I miss the chaos.

And I can’t wait until it returns.


Note to readers:  My family flew to see relatives Tuesday.  I will be joining them this coming weekend.


Slice of Life Challenge day 7 #sol18

Chinese numerology . . .

Chinese Numerology

That table? I thought, feeling a smile cross my face.  As we’d entered the restaurant, my family and I had been greeted by a server who had ushered us to the back.  There, a long table, covered in simple white cloth, elegantly sat, set for our arrival. White napkins folded.  Water glasses already poured.  A reservation. A handful of times we have dined at “The Village,” but never have we been seated at this table; for this, the big table, hosted the larger parties of, say, twelve.  This was the Event Table.  And tonight we were The Event.

Moving around to the back of the beautiful Event Table, I watched as my wife helped my daughters select their seats.  Behind us, our good friend and her son excitedly shuffled in out of the cold and joined us.  Two more friends joined behind them.

“Happy Birthday!” one friend chirped, handing me a bottle-shaped gift adorned in sparkly foil wrap.  I thanked her, so kind.  “You know,” she began, “in Chinese numerology, the number four is bad luck.”  A little confused, I mentally scrambled to catch up.  I knew this line of conversation was going somewhere, but hadn’t yet grasped where.  “In fact, people who are strong believers in Chinese numerology will not even consider purchasing a house if the number four is in the address.  Not even if the house address is, say 13… because three plus one equals four.  The number four is just bad luck.  It’s bad.”  Nodding, I leaned in.  She was serious, and  I really wanted to get this.  But I still wasn’t there.

Smiling at me, my friend continued, “And so, you are leaving your forties.  You are no longer going to be living in a decade with a constant four in your age.  So…Happy fiftieth!  Cheers!”  All the adults lifted their glasses.

Ah, got it.

Reflecting, I thought: Wow, I’m sitting at the Event Table.  And now this.  Gazing at the menu through my new spectacles, I realized I may have a lot to look forward to this decade.


Slice of Life Challenge day 6 #sol18

A Small Glimpse of Humanity

My colleague and I stepped into the subway.  All around us, the chatter of the day’s events at Teacher’s College consumed the space.  Yes, an amazing day.  Entering the train, I immediately looked to my left, spotting two empty orange seats between passengers.  Wow! I thought.  At such a busy time, what are the chances?  Hurriedly, my colleague and I lowered ourselves into the two seats.  Feeling tentatively good– and definitely lucky– I settled in for the short ride to 96th Street where I knew we would transfer.  My colleague joined me in the other seat.  But as a former New Yorker, I continued to study the passengers entering the train car.  I watched as more able bodies crowded onto the train, and, clutching a silver pole, located a square foot of real estate in the bustling car.  I studied each of them.

And then it happened.

An elderly woman entered the fray.  Dressed in a white fleece jacket and leaning on a walker, I watched her eyes scan the crowded car.  No seats.  Suddenly I stood, and reached out my hand to direct her to my seat.

But someone had already beat me to the gesture.  A young man in a black waist-length coat had abruptly risen and politely began ushering her to his former seat.  Carefully and slowly, the woman made her way to the gifted bench spot and sat.  I thought I saw their eyes meet as she nodded brisk appreciation to the stranger, thanking him for this favor.

As I lowered back down, I silently thanked the man, too.  Not because I was able to keep my seat, but for the humanity he exhibited in that moment.  It’s nice to see that once in a while.


Slice of Life Challenge day 5 #sol18

Birthdays are times for reflection…


Birthdays are Times for Reflection

I closed the car door.  Walking toward the house,  I could feel a wave of reflection beginning to churn, like a storm, uncontrollable.  Entering through the front door and stepping into the house, I met my wife coming to greet me.  “What is it?” she asked.  I guess she could tell I had something on my mind.  I paused, not sure how to put words to feelings.

“Have I done all I could have?” I mused aloud.  Although I’m not sure that particular grammatical structure captured my exact sentiments, she knew what I was referring to in the question: My birthday.

Yes, another birthday has found me.

Thinking back through time, I remember birthday number 30.  A surprise party.  I had met the girl of my dreams. Things were progressing well, something I had resigned would never happen. But yet it had.  Great hope. Anticipation for what would come next in life.  The next ten years brought great adventure.  A wedding.  A house.  A move.  A new house.  New friends.  Wonderful friends.  All good. All good. Ten years move past.

And then, somehow another round-number birthday found me.  This time a trip to Costa Rica.  Two beautiful children.  Another move, to New York City this time.  A new job.  Amazing new colleagues.  Then another move.  New job.  One more baby.  All good.  All good.  Except Mom, losing her. Tough. Terrible.

Not speaking of my mom, my wife asked, “Would you have traded any of that?”  Inhaling deeply, I shook my head.


Have I done all I could have?  The question echoed in my thoughts.  Then, Is that even a fair question?  I realized… I’m so grateful for the many blessings, people, experiences, family, knowledge, and opportunity that have graced these past fifty years.

Today is my birthday.  Here’s to another decade of adventure…


Slice of Life Challenge day 4 #sol18

A small moment story about the kindness of a stranger…



A Little Kindness from a Stranger

Check engine light.  Something most of us abhor.  But they do a job, right?  An important job. They inform us when something is awry within a vital material possession: our vehicle.  In my youth, no such technology existed.  In fact, it’s difficult to imagine where a check engine light would  even have been situated in a 1967 Volkswagen Bug.  But modern cars are able to let us know when something is wrong, even when we can’t detect what that something is ourselves.

As the snow began to overtake the rain, I jammed my 2009 Honda Pilot into park.  Wind whipped into my face as I made the reluctant mini-trek into the repair shop, umbrella in hand.  If tamping down anxiety were a skill I could monetize, I’d be on the cover of Fortune Magazine.  But that’s unfortunately the chief effect a future car repair produces in me.

“Can I help you?” came the voice from the buoyant, greasy kid behind the counter.  Approaching him, I provided my information and he located me in the appointment system.  “Okay, we’ll give you a call once we figure out what’s going on with your vehicle,” he assured me.  I thanked him and headed toward the exit.  “Wait a minute, you walking?” he asked.  I responded affirmatively, briefly explaining that I did not live far.  Maybe 15 minutes.  “You wanna ride?” he offered.  I paused. Glancing through the shop windows, I could see today’s Nor’Easter generously sharing plenty of wind and precipitation.  This would be no easy walk, but I had come prepared with my… well, my umbrella.

“I could drive him home.”

To my right, I turned to see from whence this voice originated.  Sitting calmly in a waiting room chair sat a woman.  Adorned in a sand-colored camel hair coat, tightly coiffed blonde hair, the woman was perhaps sixty years old or so.

I had never seen her in my life.

Our eyes met.  “Well, unless you’re an axe murderer?” she quipped, cracking a polite smile.  Chuckling and returning the smile, I explained that no, I was actually a teacher.  Not much of a risk.  “Come on,” she motioned as she stood up, “I’ll drive you.”

Apparently I had not tripped the woman’s check engine light.  Nothing awry here.  And grateful I was for this unexpected kindness from a stranger.