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Saturday, March 31, 2018

My Ideal Band

I currently play in two marching bands. My main band is Excelsior Brigade Fife and Drum Corps, and my other band is Mark Time Marchers, a brass band. In both of these bands, I get to play the rudimentary style of snare drumming that gives me the most amount of self satisfaction that I can get from drums.
But what's missing from my life is a trio or quarter in which I can play a drum set. I recently started doing some occasional sessions with a meetup group of friends who like to jam. Ideally, it would be a group of people with whom I can also be good friends. 
I'm not in a major rush for this to happen, but I'd love for it to eventually happen.
What I'd really like is to find two or three other people who would like to form a band. Ideally I'd like to rehearse and jam about once a week. We'd play gigs about once or twice a month.
I've looked at ads looking for drummers, but I haven't found anything that appeals to me.

Thoughts on Self-Driving Cars

by Paul Pakusch

I'm not impressed by the idea of self-driving cars.  Maybe it's because I have a pilot's license.  When an airplane flies on "auto-pilot," it can take off, fly the mapped out route via GPS, and land itself at the destination. Aircraft have transponders on board that report their position and altitude to ATC, as well as signal to other aircraft that are nearby.  But this doesn't mean the pilot can sit back, relax, read the newspaper, or take a stroll into the passenger compartment.  No, pilots must remain vigilant before, during and after all phases of flight.  They must monitor all equipment, communicate with Air Traffic Control (ATC), monitor changing weather conditions, adjust the routing as needed, and be alert to other traffic.  No matter how fancy or sensitive the devices are, there is always at least one set of eyes watching everything. After all, things break!

The idea that someone can get into their car and let it drive itself home while they read, sleep, or sober up scares the crap out of me.  I don't care how sophisticated the equipment is, there is something to be said for having an alert human being watching everything while you're racing along a congested highway at 65 MPH.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Aviation Roots in Western New York

I wrote this in 2003 and it was published in the Wolfe Newspapers. 

The world will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of powered flight on December 17. It was on that date in 1903 that Orville and Wilbur Wright successfully flew their aircraft in Kitty Hawk, NC. Western New York is rich in aviation history.

During this centennial year, it's worth noting some aviation achievements that have significant Rochester connections. Among them, the first woman to become a pilot and the roots of a major aircraft manufacturer. Blanche Stuart Scott was born in Rochester and died here after an illustrious life. She was the first and only woman to be trained by famed aviator Glenn Curtiss and the first woman to solo an aircraft. The 1910 flight was made in Hammondsport, NY, near Keuka Lake in a 35-horsepower Curtiss Pusher.

Curtiss himself was a major contributor to the early days of aviation, including setting records and designing airplanes, among them the Curtiss Jenny, America's most famous World War I airplane. Blanche went on to become the first female test pilot and the first woman to ride in a jet in 1948 with Chuck Yeager piloting. Her career reached into other areas including local radio stations, major  studios in California, and writing. She died at Genesee Hospital in 1970.

Many people generically refer to small airplanes as "Piper Cubs", an inaccurate term for the thousands of different kinds of airplanes that fly the skies. The real Piper J-2 Cub is best-known as a little two-seat yellow plane whose economical costs made it popular for several generations of student pilots, including thousands of World War ll pilots. it helped develop Piper Aircraft into a leading aircraft manufacturer.

The forerunner of its design came from a small shop at Allen and Fitzhugh streets known as the Taylor Brothers Aircraft Corporation. Brothers Clarence Gilbert and Gordon Taylor came up with early versions of an aircraft known as the "Chummy" in the late 1920's. Gordon was killed during a demonstration flight, but "C.G." refined the design and attracted the attention of some businessmen from Bradford, PA, when he needed larger facilities and more cash. The financial deal worked out with them required that the company move to Bradford. When the Wall Street crash of 1929 brought the company to bankruptcy, oilman William T. Piper bought the assets.

Taylor and Piper led the efforts to design an inexpensive airplane marketed to flight schools. The final design was wildly popular and the J-3 Cub became one of the most well-known airplanes in aviation history. A replica of the Chummy was built a few years ago by local flying enthusiasts and now hangs in the lobby at the Rochester Airport. Those enthusiasts are members of Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 44 and the Geriatric Pilots Association.

Rochester will have another connection to the 100th anniversary of powered flight on December 17, 2003 in Kitty Hawk. On that date, Dr. Kevin Kochersberger, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the Rochester institute of Technology and a 1,400-hour pilot, will be one of the two pilots selected to pilot a replica of the Wright Flyer.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Autobiography Chapter 3 - "Turn the Light On So I Can Hear You Better"

by Paul Pakusch

     I started kindergarten at Barnard School in my hometown of Greece, in September of 1966.  Greece is a suburb of Rochester, New York.  I was at Barnard for about a half a year, then my family moved to a new house and I switched to Lakeshore School, also in the same school district.
     While I was at Barnard School, my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Bender, noticed that I did not always respond to verbal discussion.  She also noticed that I was visually more observant than most of the other kids.  She suggested to my parents that I have my hearing checked.
     Mrs. Bender was right on the money.  It was determined that I have sensorineural hearing loss, more commonly known as “nerve deafness.”  In it, the ear drum is fine, but the nerve connecting the ear drum to the brain is damaged.  It’s a permanent condition which can be caused by prolonged exposure to loud noise, but in my case it’s hereditary.  My grandfather was hard of hearing, and so was my mother.  It was later determined that one of my sisters also has it and so does my daughter, Melissa.
     If you look at an audiogram of a hearing test, normal hearing would show a graph going straight across the audio frequencies.  In my case, the graph starts at near normal in the very low frequencies, dips down in the mid-range frequencies, and then curves back up in the very high frequencies.  I used to notice this with the fire station siren across the street from Mother of Sorrows School.  Every day at 12:00 noon, the whistle would blow.  The whistle would start at a very low pitch, then gradually reach a peak at a high pitch, and then come back down again.  I noticed that as the whistle cut across the frequencies, the volume would seem to drop, come back up, drop down again, and then come back up again just before the whistle stopped.
     Unfortunately for me, the mid-range frequencies are where human voices are.  What it often means is that when people are speaking, it sounds muffled to me.  Depending on the volume and clarity of the voice, I usually have difficulty understanding people that are more than three to six feet away from me.  I need to see their faces; I lip-read while I am listening to them.  I am lost if the room is dark or they are turned away from me.
     With the results of my first hearing test at about age 6, I got fitted for my first hearing aid.  Even though there was no doubt I needed one for both ears, my family could only afford one, so I got one for my right ear.  It helped, but I went way too many years wearing just one hearing aid or none at all when I should have had two.  I have no doubt that I missed out on a lot of social interaction.  In a scenario where you don’t respond to people talking to you or calling out to you, they think you are unfriendly.  I suspect I gave many people through the years the impression that I was an unfriendly person.
     My hearing aid wasn’t ready until I had switched to Lakeshore School.  The first day I wore it to school, kids started asking me what it was.  One kid grabbed at it and yanked it out of my ear, saying, “What’s this?”  I hadn’t learned how to put it back on yet, so the teacher sent me to the nurse’s office to get help putting it back in.  Right away, this led me to being very self-conscious about having a hearing aid.
     In retrospect, I don’t know why there is such a stigma attached to being hard of hearing or deaf.  Maybe it’s because if you don’t respond in the manner that people expect, they think you’re stupid.  Even today, so many people who need one are in denial, and marketing often reinforces the idea that a tiny hearing aid can be hidden.  This is so bass-ackwards!  A hearing aid should be a sign that you want to socialize with people! Not a sign that you’re stupid.  It also doesn’t help that insurance companies will not pay for hearing aids.  It’s so wrong that I can pick up a pair of $500 fashionable glasses and get an insurance discount, but I must pay $3,000 or more out of pocket for hearing aids, with no reimbursement whatsoever from my medical insurance.
     In any case, almost right from the moment I had my first hearing aid in kindergarten, I did everything I could to hide it.  Long hair for men became fashionable in the mid to late 1960’s, so it was convenient for me to follow the trend and wear my hair longer to cover my hearing aid.  If you look at all my school pictures from then through high school, that’s what you will see.  Hair long enough to cover my ears.
     I hated wearing it and often did not.  For awhile, the school nurse would come to my classroom to regularly check up on me and see that I was wearing it.  Her name was Ruth Smith.  Years later as an adult, I went back to visit Mother of Sorrows School and she was still working there.  We hugged and had a wonderful reunion!  She asked me if I remembered all those “daily visits.”  Of course I did!
     Melissa was in preschool when her hearing loss was discovered.  In retrospect, I can’t believe that it even took that long for us, or me in particular, to recognize the signs of her being hard of hearing.  Some of her language was delayed, and she often didn’t respond in a manner that one would expect.  But when the results of her first hearing test were revealed, I think Mary took it harder than I did.  Mary cried, I just sat there more or less being not surprised.
     We wasted no time in getting two hearing aids for Melissa.  As for me, in my mid 30’s, I finally grew up, saw that hiding my hearing aid was stupid, and got myself two hearing aids.  It was no longer just about me.  Now we had a daughter who needed all the help she could get.  I needed to be both a role model to Melissa, and someone who needed to do a better job advocating for himself.
     As an extremely independent person, I learned of a group called Self Help for Hard of Hearing People, or SHHH for short.  It was both a support group with ideas on how to help yourself, and a governmental advocacy group; a local chapter for a national organization.  I loved the concept of this group and started going to their monthly meetings!  It was quickly determined that I could help the Rochester chapter launch its first website.  I did, and became their webmaster for about five years.
     I learned some ideas to help myself as a hard of hearing person.  Since I worked in the TV business, I put together a PowerPoint show at one of their meetings to help them understand why closed captioning on TV sucked so badly, and what they might be able to do about it.
     In 2006, I took a course in American Sign Language at Monroe Community College.  I did well with it and started the next course as soon as that one was finished.  Unfortunately, about one week into the course, Mary had a Sudden Cardiac Arrest and I needed to drop out.  I’ve let life get in the way since then and have yet to go back to learning ASL.  I still want to learn it.  Part of my problem is that I need to immerse myself in ASL to become fluent at it, but I haven’t yet put myself into a situation where I can do that.  Maybe someday.

     In the meantime, my life is adapted to being a hard of hearing person.  I have a telephone with an amplifier and captioning on it, if needed, I have a great set of hearing aids, and I use messaging on my cell phone religiously.  Most of the time I do fine in my daily life.  Usually it’s only people with strong accents that I have a hard time understanding.

Subsequent entries to my autobiography series will be posted every Thursday morning until further notice.  If you wish to subscribe to notifications of my posts, please enter your e-mail address in the form at the right, under "Follow by e-mail."  If you wish to view previous blog posts of my autobiography, please click on the link under "blog categories" at the top right, "autobiography."

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Cruise From New Orleans on Norwegian Dawn

by Paul Pakusch


A year ago I took two cruises on the Norwegian Dawn.  For the purposes of this report, I will combine the two.  The itinerary was New Orleans – Cozumel, Mexico – Roatan Island, Honduras – Harvest Caye, Belize – Costa Maya, Mexico – New Orleans.

Anytime I fly to meet a cruise ship, I always arrive a day early in order to avoid airline hassles.  In New Orleans we immersed ourselves in the carnivalesque culture that is Mardi Gras and its after-effects.  Mardi Gras was in full swing.  Amongst a raucous atmosphere of music, parades, drinking and gaudy displays of beads, I learned first-hand how pick-pockets work.  I felt an unusual pressure against me, one that I wouldn’t normally feel in a crowd. I fended off the culprit quickly enough that I didn’t lose anything except my false sense of security.  I never did see the person, however, as he or she disappeared into the crowd as quickly as I turned around.  We toured the various shops, sought out beignet, and feasted on gumbo.  

I spent an afternoon touring the National World War II Museum. The National World War II Museum in New Orleans is an expansive complex that focuses on the contribution made by the United States to Allied victory in World War II.  It is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution.  You first enter the ticketing area in an atrium that displays a Supermarine Spitfire, a Douglas C-47 Skytrain, and a LCVP “Higgins Boat.”  Exhibits represent the amphibious landings in both the European and Pacific theatres of the War.  Once you purchase your ticket, you can participate in the Union Pacific Car to activate your “Dog Tag Experience.”  As you walk through the museum, use your dog tag to follow the personal experiences of a World War II veteran that was assigned to you.

The museum campus includes the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion, showcasing the large artifacts of the war and exhibits on D-Day at Normandy, the Home Front and the Pacific; the Solomon Victory Theater, a 4D theater showing the exclusive Tom Hands production, Beyond All Boundaries; the Stage Door Canteen, where the music and entertainment of the “Greatest Generation” comes to life; the John E. Kushner Restoration Pavilion, where staff and volunteers restore artifacts in public view; The American Sector restaurant and Soda Shop, with onsite dining options; and the U.S. Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center, where exhibits and interactive experiences paint the picture of a nation mobilized for war.

I purchased tickets for Beyond All Boundaries and the Submarine Experience.  Beyond All Boundaries is a 4-D multi-media show on a large, panoramic screen with special effects.  The show covers the American experience in World War II, from the home front, to the bloody battles of Iwo Jima, Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge, the fiery skies of Japan, and the horrors of the concentration camps.  There is plenty of archival footage mixed into the CGI graphics, and enough blood and gore to remind us that war is ugly.  I felt like this reminder is needed after the sensationalistic experience the show gives the audience.

The Submarine Experience is based on the actual combat undertaking of the USS Tang on its final mission.  The visitor walks into an interactive submarine exhibit that allows one to man the various stations of the vessel.  While adults and children alike spin wheels and push buttons, an audio track simulates the frantic discussion of crew members as they sight enemy ships, fire torpedoes, and ultimately sink as the final torpedo broaches and boomerangs back towards the sub.  Overhead, a 360-degree video shows the outside view as the sub surfaces amongst enemy ships, fires torpedoes at them, becomes a target of the ships’ bombs, and then gets hit by its own errant torpedo.  Nine men out of around 90 survived the sinking, only to become captured by the Japanese and remain POW’s until the end of the war.

The Norwegian Dawn entered service in 2002 and carries 2,340 passengers.  It underwent a modernizing refurbishment last year and has 11 restaurants and plenty of bars.

 My normal routine for any ship, as soon as possible after boarding, is to have lunch and then to tour the ship literally from top to bottom.  After touring the ship, there would be some time for relaxing in the cabin, and unpacking luggage if it was delivered yet.  Then came the required safety drill.  After that, head to the pool deck for the sail-away party and the first of my crazy dancing.  I love to jump into the line dancing and freestyle dancing.   Then back to the cabin to enjoy the view of the Mississippi River from the balcony.  We had the fun of making a live Facebook feed of the Louisiana marshes and watching the comments from well-wishing friends back home.

We enjoyed this late afternoon quiet time and then headed for dinner.  We had a group of 8 people meeting up for dinner.  We quickly determined we had a lively group and anticipated a week of fun and laughter together. 

Cozumel is old hat for me these days as I’ve been there six times.  It has the usual assortment of food and drink, souvenir and jewelry shops.  There’s no question that people buy jewelry on cruises, otherwise they wouldn’t keep selling it.  But jewelry is really not my cup of tea.  I prefer experiences.  We went on a snorkeling expedition and were able to see some interesting fish and underwater plant life.  Last year on a cruise to Cozumel, five of our group rented motor scooters and spent four hours riding around the island.

In Belize, we docked at Harvest Caye, a beautiful new and modern port modeled after similar resort islands that most of the cruise lines own these days. It opened in November, 2016.  It has an expansive pool area with swim-up pool bar; cabanas for rent; lounge chairs; a salt water lagoon for water sports; a large marina with a food and bar area; and a beachside indoor/outdoor restaurant featuring a scenic upper deck. 

We chose the zip line for our excursion.  We did not find this zip line to be as exciting as one taken a year ago in Honduras, which happened to be in a rain forest.  This zip line starts at a prominent lighthouse at the Caye and does several lines out and back to the lighthouse.  Then you can “fly like superman” across a much longer, final line that goes across the beach.  Plenty of opportunity to wave to the swimmers and sunbathers down below as they waved back.  We spent the rest of the afternoon lounging by the pool and the beach, taking the time to swim in both the pool and the ocean.

That evening I participated in the Dance-off contest.  In it, three male crew members and three female crew members choose three women guests and three men guests to be dance partners.  I got chosen.  I had done this before on another cruise ship (See Mediterranean cruise).  My partner was considerably shorter than I am.  I asked her only one question before we started: “Is it OK if I pick you up?”  She said yes.  I took two opportunities in two separate dances to pick her up and spin her around. Otherwise, we just made things up on the fly, playing off each other.   We were not the best dancers in terms of technique or style, but one of the judges commented that we looked like we were having the most fun.  That’s all that mattered. We came in 3rd out of six couples.  It certainly was fun and I’m satisfied with that.

Our next port was Roatan Island, off the coast of Honduras.  The island rests on an exposed ancient coral reef, rising to about 890 feet above sea level. Offshore reefs offer opportunities for diving. Most habitation is in the western half of the island.  We didn’t do much in Roatan; just explored the shops at the port and took a walk some distance into the village outside the port area.

I saw several excellent shows during the week in both the main theatre and the Bliss Lounge.

Costa Maya is a small tourist area with a newly-developed port for cruise ships.  There are shops, places to eat, a pool and a swim-up bar.  The area surrounding the port is generally undeveloped.  

We took an excursion to Chacchoben Mayan ruins. These ancient pyramids have been excavated and restored, and now stand as testament to the myths and rituals of the mysterious Mayan peoples.

After the Mayan excursion, we spent some time on the beautiful beach in Costa Maya.

A suggestion was made to me that I participate as a contestant in the Mr. Sexy Legs contest.  It’s not the kind of activity I usually do, so I was very hesitant about it. In the moments leading up to the scheduled start time, I sat by the pool and mulled it over.  A friend sat next to me.  She encouraged me to try it.  At the very last moment, I decided to do it. I was partially emboldened by the fact that the MC was one of the entertainment staff crew that I had come to know.  He encouraged me a bit, too. I felt like I put myself in some kind of a trance so I wouldn’t be “conscious” of what I was actually doing.  I was the first contestant.  It’s a good thing, because after watching some of the others, I might have backed out.  But I got through it, had a little fun with my dance, and then I was done.  I didn’t win anything, which was fine with me.  They put a video of the contest on the ship’s TV later.  I couldn’t watch myself; it just didn’t seem like me.  But having done it, I can say I’d probably do it again if I had a group of friends cheering me on.

That evening was the White Hot Party, a popular event across many Norwegian Cruise Line ships.  Everyone dresses in as much white as they can muster up.  I settled for white roll-up pants and a white button shirt.  Since it was on the pool deck, somehow it seemed appropriate for us to go barefoot, so we did.  The ship’s dancers came out with hot, sexy white outfits and angel wings. The teens in attendance cheered the dancers enthusiastically as the DJ played their music.  I didn’t know most of the songs being played, but any beat is good enough for me to dance to.  I did see some teens pointing my way; hard to tell if they were actually impressed by this older guy crazy dancing to their music, or quietly making fun of me.  I’d like to believe the former.

In any case, I didn’t care.  I was having too much fun dancing on the entire cruise.  I truly dance like no one is watching.  It became evident that plenty of people were watching.  As the week went by, not more than a few other guests approached me and told me how they enjoyed watching me have so much fun.  It was gratifying to hear that.

The final evening of the cruise, we enjoyed Broadway show tunes in the Bliss Lounge.  Then we saw the Second City improv comedy show.  After that, we participated in The Quest, an adult scavenger hunt that leaves everyone laughing hysterically.  The room gets divided into groups.  These teams must come up with items, such as clothing pieces, or body parts that match a description, to earn points.  It can get pretty rowdy and raunchy at times.  I was able to meet my team’s needs for a bald guy, and later the oldest person in the group.  After all the oldest members of each group was gathered around the scorekeeper, they told us to do a dance.  But what happens when all the old guys are told what to do?  We all looked at each other and said, “What did he say?  I couldn’t hear him!” But then they started playing music, so we figured it out and started dancing. My team won!  All that effort led to a free bottle of champagne to be shared among the winners.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Track Pack

by Paul Pakusch

For my "Symphony Sunday" blog, which is generally about music, I would like to introduce you to a group of people we call the Track Pack.  There is no official membership to this loose "organization," except that we keep each other updated on activities through a Facebook Messenger group with the same name.

Most of us met each other in the last year or two at Finger Lakes Racetrack, the "Track," in the Club Remedy Lounge; some had been going there for a much longer time prior to that. We come from all walks of life; young, middle-aged, older, and vastly different lifestyles and experiences.  What's common among us is an absolute LOVE for dancing.  Most of us are regulars at Club Remedy because they have live bands there every Friday and Saturday.  There is no admission charge and soft drinks are free.  Anyone who wishes to support Club Remedy and its entertainment can do so by the purchase of drinks, food, and/or a "donation" to a slot machine.

As we've seen each other on fairly regular visits to Club Remedy, we've formed friendships.  Most of us like freeform dancing, and some of us are good at couples dancing.  We often form a circle and dance together.

Since we also like to check out other venues and other bands not currently playing at Remedy, we had been sending various messages to each other to stay in touch about who was playing where and who wanted to go and dance to what band.  I created a group message with a list of names of everyone I was friends with who went to Remedy to try to consolidate this messaging system.  I wanted to give it a name to differentiate it from all the other group messages.  I came up with "Track Pack," a spin off the old name, "Rat Pack" of Sammy Davis, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop.  While the name was only meant to be used for a message group, many of us regularly call ourselves the Track Pack now. Unlike the Rat Pack, you wouldn't necessarily want to hear us sing, ha ha!  We'll stick to what we do well, which is dancing.

Over the course of a typical week, you'll see us exchanging messages about what band is playing where and who wants to go.  Sometimes most of us end up in the same place, sometimes we end up in smaller groups at different places.  A few of our other frequented places include Nashville's on West Henrietta Road, the Sand Bar in Canandaigua, Bar Louie, private parties, Ontario Beach for the Summer Concert series, and Barnard Park.  This is not a complete list. We also invaded Eastview Mall one Sunday morning in December to pose for "Santa Baby" pictures with Santa Claus and a group of cops who happened to be there!

We have a few photo opportunists within the group, so you will almost always see photos posted on our Facebook pages by the next day.

It's a great, friendly and fun group of people with a common love of dancing.

 A typical night for the Track Pack at Club Remedy

"Santa Baby" photo shoot at Eastview Mall

Saturday, March 24, 2018

My Memories of Louise Slaughter

By Paul Pakusch
I was able to catch some TV coverage of Louise Slaughter's funeral Friday morning. I don't know why I should have been surprised by this, but it caught me off guard that Hillary Clinton was in town for this. It reminded me of how much of an impact Ms. Slaughter had not only in the Rochester area, but also in Washington and on legislation for the whole country of which she was a part of. I never really got to know her personally, but I did cross paths with her on a number of occasions through the years. Certainly everyone who knew her had nothing but good things to say about her.
Her tenure in Washington was about the same number of years that I worked at WHEC TV 10. I was a young technician when she was first elected. I remember her coming into our studios to be interviewed about her new experiences as a congresswoman. She would come back from time to time through the years.
I was an officer of NABET-CWA Local 22, the union that represented workers at my station and at WROC Channel 8. When we were in negotiations, she gave us support.
As a drummer in marching bands, I always knew to look for her in the reviewing stand at downtown Rochester parades. It was odd to not see her there last week during the St Patrick's Day parade.
Louise Slaughter was a legend in our community. She will definitely be missed.

Friday, March 23, 2018

A Repost from 2009: Why I Sold My House and Went Back to Renting

I wrote this in 2009.  Since then, I've had a few major changes in my life, including the end of my broadcasting career and the end of my marriage. I am presenting this article as I originally wrote it seven years ago......
In 2002, my mother passed away after a long, heartwrenching illness. While cleaning out her home to put it on the market, I started thinking about all the items she had collected and stored through the years. While I would never judge anyone else for what they want to keep or discard, I thought about my own possessions. I admit to being a pack-rat for most of my life. But, I wondered, what am I keeping that I seriously expect to use again? What do I own that anyone would care about when I'm gone?

In 2005, my oldest daughter got her first apartment in Baltimore, where she had moved for a job. While visiting her, I started thinking about the simplicity of her lifestyle. Her home was not crammed with "stuff" packed away in every nook and cranny. She did not have all the responsibilities of home maintenance, upkeep and repairs. She did not have to deal with contractors, painters, driveway professionals, or lawn care workers. All of that was covered in a single monthly rent payment.

It brought back memories of my own young adulthood: The dreams of getting married, owning a home and starting a family. Those dreams were well under way by 2005 and it was getting near time to start thinking about an empty nest. The lure of a simpler lifestyle was growing stronger.

By 2005 we were nearly 20 years into home ownership. We had our third home in a location that I had always dreamed of: I had always wanted either water or woods in the back yard. We had woods that were deemed "forever wild." It was a 4-bedroom house in a moderately upscale neighborhood, with a woodburning fireplace in the family room, an enclosed porch in the back looking into the woods, a wooden deck in the back, and a basement that was unfinished when we moved there in 1998. I built a soundproof room in the basement where I could play my drums without bothering anyone. I also built two smaller hobby rooms for two of my daughters. We had invested in a new roof, new driveway, paint job, a pool, had some wind-damaged trees taken down and cut into firewood, a 2.5-car garage, and ample storage for all of our "stuff." What more could we want?

Financial freedom, to travel the world, and a simpler living style. That's what more we wanted. With three daughters, we knew we were facing college costs that we hadn't adequately prepared for and weddings in the not-too-distant future. We also knew we had some large home maintenance expenses coming up, including a new driveway, a new roof, the furnace was aging, etc.

In 2004, we took our first cruise and fell head over heels in love with cruising. This is what we wanted to do in our post child-raising years: Travel the world on cruise ships. I loved being able to sit on my back porch, sipping a drink and looking at the trees, but I now desired to sit on the deck of a ship and look at a different port in the world each day while on a cruise.

While weighing the pro's and cons of home ownership versus renting, we considered our daily habits. We recognized that we were actually using a small portion of our home on a regular basis. Mary has a favorite chair with a good view of the TV and she keeps the things she regular uses handy and within reach of that chair. I had a favorite chair in the family room that had a good view of another TV. We were working split shifts at the time (Mary was on days, I was on evenings), so it really didn't make sense to have two separate locations to watch TV. I tended to spend most of my time in the combination family room and kitchen. We are not big entertainers of guests, so having large amounts of space was not necessary. We recognized that most of our activities could be confined to a minimal amount of living space.

In 2006, we decided to do it. We put our house on the market and found a townhouse that we liked. Well into their teens, the two remaining girls agreed that it would work for them. We completely filled our 2.5 car garage TWICE and had two separate garage sales. Everything went cheap and we got rid of it all. My theory about garage sales is to sell cheap so that nothing is left. If we sold stuff for what we thought it was worth, we'd still have half of it left anyways and would then have to find a way to dispose of it. But by selling cheap, literally EVERYTHING went! Bargain-hunters did the work of disposing for us! I even posted a sign on our refrigerator saying "cheap, but you must move it yourself." So, the buyer put down a deposit and came back with the equipment and manpower to move it. I didn't have to lift a finger. Ultimately we made a lot of money.

It's not easy to undo packrat habits. At first I found it tough to let go of certain things, but the more I got into it, the easier it became. Of everything we sold at the garage sale, I can't think of anything I miss or anything I regret selling. It's still an ongoing process. As of this writing, we have actually lived in three different apartments since we sold our house. Each apartment has had less space than the one before it. Each time we've moved, it meant getting rid of more stuff. Each time, it gets easier.

Although I used to be a packrat, I'm not much of a collector of anything. The only two things I've really accumulated through the years are music and family photographs. Both of these items required a fair amount of storage space; space which needed to be significantly reduced or even eliminated in order to fit our remaining belongings into apartments. In both cases, today's computer technology has helped me with changing how I collect these items.

At one time, I had several hundred albums. I've never wanted albums for the sake of collecting them; my interest has always been the music itself. I know people who are big time record collectors and I think it's an awesome hobby for them. But that's not what it was about for me. I enjoy hearing the way the music is played and I don't care what medium it's coming from as long as it sounds good to me. I made the decision to sell off all of my vinyl records and keep all my music on mp3 files or iTunes. I kept a few albums that have special meaning to me, but my vast vinyl collection is otherwise gone. It amazes me that what once took up several bookcases worth of shelves can now fit into a space that is about 2 cubic inches!

My vast collection of photo albums has also been dismantled. For the past couple of years, I've been scanning all of my photos and categorizing them by year into folders on my computer. After I had purchased my first digital camera in the early 2000's, I had come up with this system of filing my digital photos. The more I looked at the amount of space all those photo albums took up, the more I wanted to get those photos into computer files as well. I spent many months deliberating whether to do this or not; finally I decided to go for it. It's a long process, but I am very happy with the results. I have not thrown away any of the prints; I keep them in a couple of boxes, available for any family members who need them for any reason. At least this way they take up a lot less space.

I have everything backed up in three places. I keep them backed up on an external hard drive, on flash drives, and on an on-line storage site. The flash drives make it easy for me to share photos with family and friends; all I have to do is put it in their computer and they can copy what they want.

I've never been much of a collector of movies or books. I tend to like to watch a movie once and then I'm done with it. So watching one on HBO, Movies on Demand, or a rented DVD works out just fine. I don't normally buy books; I like to borrow them from the library. This leaves us with just a small collection of favorite movies and books taking up a minimal amount of shelf space.

One issue that I had to deal with was how to practice my drums. This is an issue that has continued to evolve after we began renting. First of all, a drum kit takes up space, and secondly, apartment neighbors wouldn't be keen on hearing me practice my drums. In 2006 I was still playing gigs in a rock band. My first plan was to keep my drums in storage and bring them out when I had a gig. I would practice on a set of drum pads in my bedroom. The practice set was a metal stand that had 4 adjustable arms, each holding a drum practice pad. It worked out OK, but the truth is I was starting to lose interest in playing in a rock band anymore. I spent some time looking for something else, but I didn't know what that "something" was. Ultimately, I found a Fife and Drum Corps to join. This would complement very nicely a similar type of drumming I was doing with a firemen's marching band. I realized that I wanted to move away from playing a drum kit and take up rudimentary snare drumming. Now, instead of dragging pieces of a drum kit to and from gigs, setting them up and then tearing them down, all I need to do is harness up one snare drum and I'm ready to play. I got rid of the 4-armed practice set and picked up a single practice pad. It can be set on a table anywhere. So, my newfound interest in a different type of drumming actually solved my storage space and practice issues that came with living in an apartment.

We came up with a 5-year plan to eliminate all of our debt. With one year remaining on that plan, it looks like we will come close to reaching that goal! Then we will use cash for everything we want while continuing to invest in our retirement. This, to me, is true financial freedom. People can dream all they want about winning the lottery or somehow making millions of dollars, but the idea of being debt-free and without having cumbersome assets that tie up our money is very appealing and within reach for us! It will enable us to live comfortably well within our means and to be able to travel.

What about those who say owning your own home is a great tax advantage? It's true we no longer have the credits and deductions that go with home ownership, but what we are saving in the long run far outweighs what we have lost in tax advantages. And for that matter, we no longer pay property taxes. What we previously paid per month in property taxes is only a couple hundred dollars less than what we are now paying for rent.

For those who believe we have lost the investment value of home ownership, there are other ways to invest your money and we have pursued those methods. One thing we will never have to worry about is the loss of our home, which as everyone knows, has been a major problem for many people over the past couple of years. If where we are living is not working out for any reason, we simply need to move at the end of our lease.

These days we are spending much more time on pursuits that make us happy versus keeping up on home maintenance and cleaning. Our apartment can be thoroughly cleaned in about a half hour. We have no responsibilities for maintenance inside or out. Our expenses are way down. Sometimes, while riding my bike through middle to upperclass neighborhoods, I look at the size of those homes and just imagine what the heating or air conditioning bills must be. Then there's the property taxes, the mortgage payments, the maintenance, in some cases the 3- and 4-car garages and all the vehicles being stored there, and I would imagine the credit card debt associated with all the "stuff."

It makes me happy knowing that I am no longer a slave to my dream home. These days, the world is my home! We live comfortably in a nice apartment and we have plans to travel to many places. If we want to sit by water or woods, we can go to a nice park. There is a beach within walking distance of our apartment. What we've done may not be for everyone, but it's working very well for us!

-Paul Pakusch 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Autobiography Chapter 2 - "Magic Moments"

By Paul Pakusch

     I think the first glimmer of interest in magic appeared to me through the TV series, "Bewitched."  I remember when it first came on the air in 1964.  I was fascinated by the things Samantha and her crazy relatives could do.  To this day, it's still one of my favorite TV shows.    
     Grammar school from first through eighth grade for me was at Mother of Sorrows Catholic School in Greece.  The school building was pretty basic; it had classrooms, a library, a reception desk, an office for the Principal, a teacher’s lounge, and a nurse’s office.  There was no gym and no cafeteria.  We would go outside for gym class on nice days, or otherwise go to the church building next door and use the large church hall in the basement. 
    One day, while in third grade, we had a school assembly in the church hall where a magician did a performance.  It was the first time I had ever seen a magic show and I was spellbound!  I believed that what he was doing was really magic.  Later, when I told my mother about it, she explained that it was all done by tricks.  She picked up on my fascination with magic and bought me a set of magic tricks for my next birthday.  I got such a thrill out of it and started doing magic shows in my living room for family and friends.
     I borrowed books from the local library about magic.  I learned some of the history of magic and also how to do more magic tricks.
     I discovered that there was a Rochester-area man who called himself Dante the Magician.  He had a TV show that aired locally on WOKR Channel 13 on Saturday mornings.  He also had a small shop set up on the 4th floor of Sibley’s Department Store, by the toy department.  I visited him there on several occasions.  He did magic shows on occasion at the Rochester Auditorium Theatre.  The shows would start with some magic tricks and illusions, followed by his escape from a strait jacket, and then he would finish with a Frankenstein or other classic horror movie.
     Dante became sort of a role model for me and I tried to imitate some of what he did.  I chose a name for myself, using pig-latin to call myself “Alpay the Magician.”  My sisters teased me and changed it to “Alpo,” the brand name of a dog food.  I set up a “stage” in my basement, complete with curtains and did magic shows there for neighborhood kids.

     My friend, Erik also got interested in magic.  We collaborated and created a magic show that we did once for our 5th grade class.  I did one more “big” magic show with another friend, Shawn.  This one was for a large gathering of Boy Scout troops.
     I bought most of my magic tricks from two places.  One was a small store in downtown Rochester called The Cigar Box.  It was on Clinton Avenue, across from Sibley’s.  Every year my family would go to Sibley’s to have Breakfast With Santa Claus.  After the breakfast was over, I would go across the street to the Cigar Box.  They sold a lot of smoking and novelty items, plus some magic tricks and trick card decks.
     The other source was mail order from a place in Chicago called Magic Inc.  As I write this, the store is still in business.  For the years that I was interested in magic, my birthday became the day of my annual deluge of new magic tricks.  A couple weeks before my birthday, my mother would sit and help me fill out the order blank for new magic tricks from Magic Inc.  Once the shipment arrived, I could hardly wait for the day when I could open those boxes.  I was like the kid in “A Christmas Story” who could hardly sustain himself at the thought of getting his Red Ryder BB Gun.  At least I never bought any magic tricks that could shoot my eye out.
     There are several magic tricks I owned that really stand out to me.  One was the Zombie Floating Ball.  It was a silver ball that you would cover with a silk cloth.  While holding two corners of the cloth, the ball would float underneath, lifting the cloth up from the center.  I would guide the floating ball around the stage.
     Another favorite was the magic coin box.  I would ask one of my spectators for a coin.  It would be positively identified with the year stamped on it.  Someone could even put a mark on it with a marker, if they wished.  Then I would put the coin in my hand and reach behind me and grab a small white box that was wrapped in rubber bands.  I would ask someone to take off the rubber bands and open the box.  Inside, they would find another box wrapped in rubber bands and unwrap that box as well.  Finally, they would find a small cloth sack with a rubber band wrapped around the opening.  Upon opening the cloth sack, they would find their coin!  Complete with the correct denomination, date and any mark they may have put on it.
         What…are you expecting me to reveal how these tricks were done?  A magician’s creed is that he never gives away his secrets, ha ha!
     Even with all my exposure to magic in those days, I have never been good at figuring out how illusions by other magicians are done.  When I see a magic show, even today, I’m always looking in the not-so-obvious places for clues on how the illusion is done, but can never figure them out.
     Alas, the day came at around age 14 or so when the interest in magic simply vanished.

     I credit magic for getting me interested in reading biographies.  I think it was 7th or 8th grade when I borrowed a library book about Harry Houdini.  It was the first full-length biography I ever read and I was fascinated with his life.  It inspired me to keep reading biographies about other people.

Subsequent entries to my autobiography series will be posted every Thursday morning until further notice.  If you wish to subscribe to notifications of my posts, please enter your e-mail address in the form at the right, under "Follow by e-mail."  If you wish to view previous blog posts of my autobiography, please click on the link under "blog categories" at the top right, "autobiography."

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Hooks, Riffs, and Catchy Rhythms

In recent months, as my new girlfriend Stacey has gotten to know me and my hearing loss better, I've become more aware of how many old songs I have no idea what most of the lyrics are. In many cases, I know only a few words and phrases. The way my hearing has been since birth is that the human voice sounds muddy to me. I wear hearing aids, but for the most part, they only amplify sound. They don't correct sound the way glasses correct vision. Most popular music from the late 1960s through now is recorded and mixed in a way that the music drowns out the vocals for me, or the vocals have audio processing done in such a way that I can't understand most of it. In order for me to know what is being sung in most cases, I need to read the lyrics. I do pick up key phrases and chorus parts that are repeated.

So, one might wonder, if I can't understand what's being sung, how do I enjoy what I'm hearing? There are two parts to the answer. The first is that a lot of recorded music from the 50's and early 60's emphasizes the vocals over the music. This is one reason I enjoy music from that time period so much. I can actually understand what's being sung.

The other way I enjoy music is by listening to the instruments themselves and how the voice fits in with them. The voices can be singing anything; English, other languages, scat, doo wop, backup oohs and ahs; it all sounds the same to me. When it's sung well with good harmony, the voices are just another instrument to my ears and I am in melodic heaven. I am just as happy listening to instrumental music as I am music with vocals.

What makes a song stand out to me above others are catchy riffs, hooks and rhythms. Pop music producers were notorious for coming up with these in the 50's and 60's for commercial and marketing  purposes, but it's another reason why I love the music of that era so much. The guitar licks of the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" are probably one of the best known hooks of all time. Mix that with a solid beat, and I have a catchy rhythm that makes me want to dance. I know Mick is singing something about how he "can't get no satisfaction," but to this date, I still don't know what the rest of the words are to that song because I've never looked them up. Yep, it's true. Welcome to my life as a hard of hearing person. But I'll get up and dance to it any time because of the rhythmic beat and catchy riffs.

A good rhythm will make me want to dance. That's another factor in what makes me like a song. Some examples of songs with catchy rhythms that I like to dance to are "At the Hop," "Shake Your Body Down to the Ground," "Heart of Glass," "Shut Up and Dance," and "Loverboy." I can certainly follow the bah, bah, bah, bah vocal harmony buildup of "At the Hop," but don't ask me what the lyrics of the other songs are because I have no idea.

I am equally as happy going to an Oktoberfest, which always has danceable music. The fact that much of the words are sung in Germany are no more foreign to me as most songs that I can't understand in English.

One reason I really appreciate Stacey is that she goes out of her way to find out if I'm hearing things. When we go to concerts, she will ask me if I can understand the lyrics. Usually the answer is no. But I remind her that this is how it has been all my life and I am used to it. I do get benefit at Christian concerts that she likes to go to because they display the lyrics on a large screen. Got to get the message out, I guess, lol.

Friday, March 16, 2018

A Bike Ride Through Memory Lane

Originally written in 2009

by Paul Pakusch

I bike ride on average about 4 times a week. One night, it was twilight when I set out. Since I didn't have lights on my bike, I did not ride in the road after dark. I stayed on the sidewalk.

Very often, I do not have a route in mind when I set out to ride my bike. Usually I head into the wind so I can pump hard the first half of my bike ride, then let the wind push me a little while I ride back. On this evening, I don't know where to go. The wind is coming out of the west, so I simply head west, into the wind.

As I ride along, I start to think about the route I used to take from home to school. My current home is about a mile from the house where I grew up, and by staying on this road, I will ride past the old neighborhood. I lived there for 17 years.

The route to school is slightly over a mile from my old home, so it is a little over two miles from where I live now. Even though I drive this route frequently today, it's not very often that I use the sidewalk next to the road. And that sidewalk is where I spent 8 years of my youth.
I ride past my old neighborhood. From the side street where I used to come out to the top of the prominent hill where my old school still sits, I once knew every single crack, hill and dip of that sidewalk. I stepped on a lot of cracks in those days; my poor mother's back!

As I ride along, on the right is the public school where I spent the second half of my kindergarten year. We moved into this neighborhood in February, 1967 when I was 6. The old donut shop next to it was there for a long time. Sometimes I stopped there on my way home from school. Now it is a pizzeria. I also remember the steak house that used to be in the same plaza. Other businesses have come and gone so many times I've lost track. Next to that is a bowling alley. I was in a league in my youth; my 15-pound bowling ball was torture to carry this far and back!

Next is the only major intersection I had to cross. If I took a right here, I'd be in the neighborhood where I once had a weekly paper route. After crossing the intersection, I look to the right and see the empty lot where a popular pizzeria and deli once stood. It burned down years ago. Weeds now grow through the cracks of its concrete foundation. On the left is a creek where a brick bank building once sat on the shore. Nothing but grass on that spot now, overshadowed by the plaza beyond that has expanded since then.

After a slight dip, the long climb up the hill begins. My modern 24-speed Trek eases up most of the way with little effort on this Fall evening. Back then, my 5-speed Stingray was a chore to pump up the hill. But the climb isn't constant. The sidewalk levels off here and there, and there is yet another dip to coast down before the ultimate and steepest climb begins. Oh, how I looked forward to flying down that hill at the end of the school day!

Here it is mostly residential. Most of the houses look pretty much the same as they did years ago, but with new paint jobs or siding. One very large piece of property has been broken down into several lots with new homes. Across the street, an old apple orchard still exists, but its trees are old and spindly.

After crossing a side street, I now reach the final, steep stretch. Most of the time I'd get off my Stingray here and walk it to the top. Occasionally, I'd pump hard, knowing that when I reached the driveway, I'd make a left turn and be able to enjoy a ride down a slight hill. This evening, my Trek makes the grade in no time flat, and next thing I know, I'm riding down that driveway. Past the old convent and into the church parking lot behind the school: The site of many recesses and phys ed ball games, sometimes with the boys playing "shirts" against "skins." I'm sure that's illegal for schools to do these days. And yeah, in choosing team members, I was one of those where they saved the best for last! LOL!

From the church parking lot we go behind the school building, where the younger kids' playground was. It was always pavement; the two swing sets, the slides, the monkey bars, the carousels caused many skinned knees! The lot is empty now as I ride through it, up to the iron grille where I used to lock my Stingray. The grille is still there! Bent, painted over many times and showing some rust, it's the same one!

I look across all the windows and pick out my old classrooms. This is a parochial school and I was here from first grade through eight grade. Grammar school and junior high. There was no "middle school."

From here I ride past the big windows of my old first grade classroom and reach the front parking lot, which back then was the bus loop. This is from where I got my biggest thrill as a bike rider to school back in those days, and I am about to relive the moment: The ride down the big hill!

I start building up speed as I intersect the sidewalk out front. I stop pumping and let gravity do the rest. Faster I go, the wind blowing across my body. It blew through my hair then, but I have a helmet now. I watch carefully for traffic coming out of the side street at the bottom of the steepest part; I have never forgotten the day that the brakes gave out on my Stingray and I was unable to stop the roll down the hill. I nearly collided with a school bus that had stopped there. The bus moved out of my way just as I reached the street. It could have been ugly. So tonight, I give the brakes a quick squeeze and make sure there is no traffic before I continue downhill.

It is well past sunset now as I continue the route back to my old neighborhood. Past the orchard, the creek, the bank, the deli's old foundation, across the intersection; I roll past the bowling alley, the restaurant, the pizzeria, and the public school. This time, I turn down the side street to the training grounds of my youth: Where I learned to ride a bike in the street for the first time.

I ride past the homes of schoolmates and friends I grew up with. A few of their parents still live here. I pause by the home where I grew up. I moved in there as a 6-year old and moved out the day I got married at age 23. The living room's two front windows are illuminated by the glow of a TV that sits in the same spot where our old Zenith console once sat. That TV's innards were tubes; color tubes! It had a loose connection in it somewhere that caused the picture to turn to snow a lot. Stomp your foot on the floor and the vibration would jolt the picture back again.

I look up to the dormer that was my old bedroom. When we moved into that house, the upstairs was unfinished. My dad, a carpenter, finished it. I was always proud of his carpentry. He was very good at what he did. Moving into that room was my 9th year birthday present. I wonder what the current owners have done with my "secret room." It was an attic that was only accessible by going through my closet and opening the sliding half-door. You had to crouch down to get through it. My "secret room" was my little hideaway. Years later as a tall teenager, I wondered how I ever fit into that little crawl space!

The route of my school journey is complete. It's another mile back to my current home. As I continue riding through the neighborhood, I pass the house of one of my sisters. She recently moved back to this neighborhood and her back yard is only several hundred feet away from the back yard of our old house. At the time we moved there, her current house didn't exist. In fact, her entire street and the next street down didn't exist, either. It was all woods, with a creek running through it. It was a young boy's delight to have that creek and the woods. The times I swam in the creek, my friends and I picked up bloodsuckers. And how I loved to climb trees!

Yet it was actually a thrill when the woods were being bulldozed over, conservation be damned. This young kid loved tractors. I watched as Drott backhoes dug the basements of dozens of these homes. On evenings and weekends, my friends and I crawled down into those rectangular pits and threw around the freshly-layed stones meant for a foundation. We played in the wood frame rooms of many unfinished structures. Only one time was I ever chased out; a friend and I just happened to be in one of those homes when the future family showed up to see its progress. We were caught. The father simply said, "Don't go in there again." After they moved in, they became among my family's closest friends to this day. A 40-year friendship that endures!

I ride out of the old neighborhood and stick to the sidewalk. It is dark now as I head back to my current home. I had no plans for this evening's bike ride. I simply headed west, into the wind.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Autobiography Chapter 1 - "Autobiography of a Nobody"

Autobiography Chapter 1
by Paul Pakusch


     It’s conceivable that I could change clothes four times in one day.  I might wake up to put on jeans and a t-shirt to drive my school bus.  After the morning run, I’ll change to a men’s suit so I can officiate a wedding.  Then I’ll change to jeans and a t-shirt again.  When the afternoon bus run is complete, I’ll put on an authentic Civil War uniform and march in a parade, playing my rope snare drum well into the evening.


     As an avid reader of biographies, it has always struck me as quirky that people would gravitate to biographies of historical figures or celebrities.  Reading a historical biography makes a lot of sense.  It’s how you learn what influenced or shaped the course of history.  Celebrities are generally egomaniacs that sell their stories to make a buck, or someone else trying to make a buck off their story. (So, what does that make me, since I’m writing my autobiography?)
     One of my favorite biographies is “On Hitler’s Mountain: Overcoming the Legacy of a Nazi Childhood,” by Imgard A. Hunt.  It’s a fascinating story of her youth as she lived a short distance from Berchtesgaden.  She lived a seemingly simple childhood but with constant exposure to history.  At first she was under the influence of Hitler’s propaganda, but later became skeptical.  Never a celebrity or a powerful figure of history, Imgard shares the story of her life in a historical setting, one that could have been told by thousands of other people in similar situations.
     Another favorite biography written by Violet Jessop, an ocean liner stewardess who survived two famous ship sinkings:  The Titanic in 1912 and the Brittanic in 1916.  She was never successful at publishing a book during her lifetime but her niece found her manuscript and had it published long after her death.  Obviously capitalizing on the resurgence of all things Titanic after the 1997 movie came out.  In the book, she talks not only of the two sinkings, but of what life was life in the cruise ship industry in the early 1900’s.
     In both cases, these were not historical figures, nor were they celebrities.  Just ordinary people living in extraordinary circumstances.
     So, what am I?  I’m not a historical figure nor am I a celebrity.  The title of this chapter jokingly implies I’m a nobody, yet I’m writing my autobiography.  Part of the reason I did this was for therapy.  I was going through a divorce when I started writing this, a very difficult time in my life.  I never saw it coming.  I was under the impression we had the perfect marriage.  Maybe we did for a quarter century, but then we drifted apart.  I’m middle-aged and was starting over again.  In counseling to deal with the breakup of my marriage, it was suggested that I keep busy.  It was also suggested by my nephew, Matthew Martino that I write a book about the many experiences I’ve had in my life. I’m proud of those experiences and I’m happy to share them with people who want to read about them in my blog.  And while writing my autobiography, it  gave me something to do.
     This first chapter will be a timeline of my life up to now, highlighting those experiences.  Subsequent chapters will give further details of those different experiences.  This format will allow the reader to first get an overview of all I’ve done, and then be able to read in depth about the experiences that interest them and skip the chapters they are not interested in.
     Many of my memories have been preserved in journals and letters that I’ve written on and off since freshman year in high school.  In my first English class, we had an assignment to start each class by writing in a journal.  I continued my journal writing when I got involved in my first band.  Then letters to my friend Burt after he moved away and we continued our friendship in a pen pal-like relationship.  I saved all those letters.
     My girlfriend Mary, who later became my wife, and I wrote a lot to each other in our early years.  I’ve  kept random journal entries on my computer.  I also sort of journalized a lot of my thoughts on an internet political forum for several years.
     I’m using a lot of these letters and journals to help me remember what was going on at various stages of my life and of the activities I was involved in.
     My dad emigrated to the U.S. from Germany in 1955.  His parents had six children, five of whom came to the U.S.  They grew up in Nazi Germany and became refugees during the movement of German civilians from east to west.  My mother and her sister grew up in Rochester, New York, to parents who were also of German heritage.
     I grew up exposed to a lot of German culture, although I never learned the language.  I remember going to parties with German bands, early Oktoberfests in Rochester at the Hofbrau Haus on Lyell Avenue, and parties at the Labor Lyceum where a lot of other kids wore lederhosen.  I hated most of the German food as a child, but happily, my tastes changed and nowadays I enjoy a lot of it!
     If you read virtually any history of the 1960’s, you would think that every young person was a hippy and went to Woodstock, everyone protested the Vietnam war, and everyone was listening to psychedelic rock. That’s not how I remember it.
     I was born in 1960, so this period accounts for the first ten years of my life. I was doing what kids that age typically do. I occasionally saw long-haired teenagers called hippies, but most of what the sixties are known for was not a part of my life. Superman, Batman, comics, Bewitched, Adam-12 and the NASA rocket launches and recoveries were. I had a cool 5-speed Stingray bike that I rode constantly all over the neighborhood. I loved climbing trees; we had a couple of trees in our yard that were awesome for climbing. Eventually we put a rope swing on one. My parents listened to country music of the day and so did I.
     I remember President Johnson. I didn’t really understand who he was or what he did, just that “President Johnson” had a nice ring to it and couldn’t imagine saying “President-anybody-else”. I was too young to remember Kennedy. I once asked my mom what I was doing when the word of his assassination came on TV. She told me I was playing in the living room. She remembered Walter Cronkite breaking down on TV, so I guess I must’ve seen that. On November 22, 1963 I was a few weeks away from my third birthday. I do remember watching the episode of Bewitched in 1968 that was interrupted by a news bulletin about Martin Luther King being shot. Before then, I didn't know who he was. I also remember watching the long train ride of Robert Kennedy's funeral on TV and my mom crying.
     My first big interest was magic.  When I was in third grade, we had a school assembly where a magician did a performance.  I was spellbound!  Pun intended!  At first I believed everything he was doing really was magic.  After that, I learned that there were tricks and secrets to what he was doing.  I started borrowing books from the library about magic tricks and purchased some magic sets.  That interest lasted several years and then eventually faded away.  By my early teens, music was becoming the most important part of my life.
     In November of 1971, my mother signed me up to join the Greece Cadets Drum & Bugle Corps.  She had seen a clip in the newspaper that they were recruiting new members.  The day she took me in the first time, I met the director, Dale Bond.  I didn’t play a music instrument at that time so he asked me if I wanted to learn drums or horns.  Without giving it any thought, I blurted out, “Drums.”
     That single, impulsive decision has been the catalyst for just about everything I’ve done in my life since then, and it has affected untold numbers of other people.   In 1975, to further my drum education, my mother signed me up for lessons on a drum set.  That led to my forming a band in 1978 with a group of Greece Athena students.  I went to Greece Arcadia at the time.  Most of our rehearsals were in my basement, which meant my sisters and their friends got to meet these Athena students.  This is something I think about from time to time and it still boggles my mind.  Who knows if they would have met otherwise?  Friendships, relationships and families formed and many of these people still socialize on a regular basis.  Because of my drumming, I’ve joined other bands through my life, met more people, and have formed friendships with many of them.  I’ve introduced some of these people who have met other people and formed more friendships.  It’s just really interesting for me to think about how I impacted other people’s lives.
     In 1974, I was invited along with about 10 or 12 other members of the Greece Cadets to appear on a local TV show in Rochester named after the host, “Louise.”  The purpose was to promote a show that we had coming up.  We entered the studios of WOKR Channel 13 and I was intrigued by all the TV equipment.  I wanted to see more.  I wrote to one of the news anchors, Don Alhart, and inquired whether I could come and visit to watch them do a newscast.  I made several visits, both to WOKR, and also to the two other affiliate stations in town, WHEC Channel 10 and WROC Channel 8.  My career began in high school radio in September, 1975 when I joined WGMC radio in Greece, NY, when I was 14.  That led to both part-time and full-time radio jobs through the next few years at WEZO/WNYR, WPXY/WPXN in Rochester, WJJB in Hyde Park, and WSAY in Rochester.  I was heavily involved in college radio & TV at SUNY Geneseo from 1979-1983, at WGBC-AM, WGSU-FM, and GSTV.  In the summer of 1982, I worked at WROC TV 8 and then WHEC TV 10.  My career at WHEC lasted from August, 1982 to September, 2014.
      In 1973, my family was vacationing in Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire, where I saw a sign advertising seaplane rides.  No one else wanted to go for a ride, but I convinced my parents to let me go.  So I did.  I’ll never forget the feeling of transitioning from skimming across the water to floating in air as the seaplane lifted off from the water.  In 1978, I had an opportunity to fly again, with a neighbor who was taking flying lessons.  My next flight occurred in 1984 when Mary and I flew to Florida for our honeymoon.  It was during that trip that I determined I wanted to take flying lessons.  I couldn’t afford them until 1990, but in the intervening years, I subscribed to aviation magazines and read everything I could possibly find about flying.  I passed my flight test in September of 1991.
     I met Mary at college in a folk dance class in 1981 and we quickly became college sweethearts.  We married in 1984 and had three girls; Kristi in 1986, Tracy in 1988, and Melissa in 1991.  I was so in love with my family and imagined that we would always be close.  My relationship with Mary was so passionate; I couldn’t believe we would ever drift apart, and I always felt like we were a model of how a marriage should be.  Mary survived a Sudden Cardiac Arrest in 2006.  She nearly died in my arms.  She is now in the “5% Club.”  Only 5% of people survive what she went through.
     In 1985 I became a union officer.  This was a pivotal moment for me as it led me into experiences that I never dreamt would occur.  It not only exposed me to the whole labor movement, but also introduced me to bookkeeping and accounting.  I was my Local’s treasurer for a good part of the next 30 years.  That led me into getting an accounting degree, bookkeeping experience, and starting up my own tax preparation business.
     Also around 1985, I tried my luck with a DJ business.  I got a few gigs but quickly lost interest.
     Travel is a recurring theme throughout my life.  I’m addicted to travel and can never get enough.  In 1995, we took our first family trip to Disney World.  That led to quite an association with Disney, as we got my sisters and my mother to join us on a big family trip in 1999.  We’ve had more group trips since then, and ultimately my nephew and then Kristi ended up working for Disney in the college program.  In 2004, we took our first cruise.  It was a 9-night Western Caribbean cruise and I fell head over heels in love with cruising!  I loved it so much that I decided to try selling travel, with an emphasis on cruises.  I became a home based travel agent for about four years.

     In 2014, coincidentally just about the time I lost my job at WHEC, I signed up to become a Wedding Officiant.  It’s turned out to be the biggest success story of all my side ventures.   Also in 2014, as a direct result of losing my TV job, I decided to try out as a school bus driver.  These are two paths that I never pictured myself taking, but together they have become my new life.  Neither one of them earns me enough to live on, but together, they are now what I do for a living.  I thoroughly enjoy both!

Subsequent entries to my autobiography series will be posted every Thursday morning until further notice.  If you wish to subscribe to notifications of my posts, please enter your e-mail address in the form at the right, under "Follow by e-mail."