Archive for the ‘Career Changers TV’ Category

Game Theory: 'Stupid' Calls

February 6th, 2015

It's first and goal inside the opponent's five yard line, and your running back has been virtually unstoppable in short yardage situations. The game is on the line. I turn to my wife and predict: "Iosefa jump pass." UH fullback Joey Iosefa takes the hand-off, stops and lobs a perfect TD pass that the UNLV defense wasn't anticipating. The only reason I saw it coming was Coach Chow had called it in the last game of the prior season in their win against Army. I'm not a coach, but I did play defensive back in high school and still tend to think like a DB or coach, whose brains have to process a bunch of scenarios in seconds before each snap.

Yet I'm also a sports fan who reacts on a gut level when I watch a game, regardless of which team I'm rooting for. My wife, Isabel, is from Tacoma, went to UW and has been a longtime Seattle Seahawks fan (more so when they are winning). Me, I'm not a New England fan, but I was hoping for a good game and told Isabel to watch out for their giant receiver Rob Gronkowski (perfect name for the huge lug!) and big-time playmaker Julian Edelman. Most of all though, I respected their QB, Tom Brady.

So after the "miracle" catch by Jermaine Kearse while lying on his back, I was feeling a bit deflated -- pun intended -- about the Patriots' prospects of holding on to win the Super Bowl. Lost in all the talk about the subsequent play call on second and goal from the one-yard line to pass instead of run, was the fact that Seattle was lucky Kearse even caught the ball. It should have been kicked or batted away by the second Patriot defensive back when the ball popped up. Instead, the DB hopped over Kearse as if to avoid "unnecessary" contact that might result in a penalty. When I played years ago, DBs were taught to "finish off" by laying a hit on a ball carrier who was being held up by another defensive player, or putting a lick on any receiver in the vicinity of a live ball once it had been tipped.

That's one reason former pro football DBs had nicknames like "The Assasin" (Jack Tatum) and Fred "The Hammer" Williamson. Due to serious career-ending injuries and concussions from blind side hits, the NFL now flags those type of finishing-off plays... which is by and large a good thing. Still, the New England defensive back should have gone for the deflected ball.

Anyhow, my first reaction was Seattle would hand off the ball to Marshawn Lynch two or three times and pound it in for a game-winning TD. When he's in "Beast Mode" as they call it -- he's trademarked that phrase, apparently -- he does seem unstoppable. Everyone who follows pro football expected Lynch to get the ball. Except defensive backs and defensive coaches maybe. As a DB, I was taught my number one priority was ALWAYS to play for the pass first. Let the linemen and linebackers do their jobs. Cornerbacks and safeties have to look for the QB pulling a bootleg or play action pass.

With Russell Wilson at quarterback for the Seahawks, I have to think New England was half-expecting to see that on at least one of the four downs they had to work with. What shocked me though was New England Coach Bill Belichick didn't call any timeouts to preserve precious seconds in case Seattle did score a go-ahead TD. I also considered he might tell his defense to let Seattle score on second and one, which would give Tom Brady one more chance to win or tie the game with about 50 seconds left on the clock. It's been done before and worked.

Mind you, all these options and strategies, counter-strategies, gut feelings are going through the minds of two head coaches that have decades of real time game experience. Of course, we fans know better than they, right? I'll tell you this -- when Wilson threw on second down, my jaw dropped. I blurted out, "I CAN'T BELIEVE THEY DIDN'T GIVE IT TO LYNCH! WHAT A STUPID CALL!" I mean, I was sort of happy for Brady and New England. Still, the thing that dumbfounded me was not calling a pass play -- it was the specific pass pattern. A quick slant into the middle of the defense, which is already in a tight formation to stop the expected running play?

Had it been a fake hand-off to Lynch with Wilson having an option to bootleg or pass to a receiver on the outside, I would have said, good call. At worst, if the play isn't there, Wilson is smart enough and skilled enough to throw the ball out of bounds or eat it and call time out. Yeah, I know, I know... there are still people who will say no matter what, the smarter move would have been just to give Marshawn Lynch the ball and not overthink things.

Yet the reason Lynch and Seattle -- and New England -- had such great seasons, is precisely because their head coaches do a lot of  creative thinking and play-calling. Some of the loopholes Belichick exploited in past games with tricky offensive formations were considered "cheating" by some. Heck, when Coach Chow called Iosefa's trick jump pass play, did anyone in Aloha Stadium feel like it was a cheat? Fans want results, and how many times did UH fans grumble about our offense being too predictable (myself included) or giving it to Iosefa too many times.

Speaking of UH offensive play calls, I wish they would steal this one from New England: down inside the five-yard line, Edelman ran a pattern that is a nightmare for defensive backs to cover -- he made it look like a slant to the inside, then pivoted and broke outside. When I played in high school, we called it a button hook. Would love to see UH employ it with the QB rolling out to the same side. Tough to stop.

Getting back to Game Theory, the Star-Advertiser ran a New York Times article about the Seattle play call and how it made sense when you compare it to a game of Rock, Scissors, Paper or Jan Ken Po as locals refer to it. Here's a link to that piece. The Economist followed up with an interesting take on that piece, pointing out that it gets more complicated when you factor in how many "rounds" are being played -- or downs in this case -- and the time remaining in the game. It points out that in multiple rounds or downs, one play can be "signaling" what you may intend to do next -- or could be meant to deceive the opponent. You can read that article by clicking here.


Due to high school sports, the weekend schedule for my Career Changers TV show is a bit out of whack. However,  you can watch the special segments we did on the CabaRAE show and cast by visiting the CCTV YouTube Channel. To get the optimum viewing experience, click on the icon that looks like a gear and make sure it's set to 720 -- it's not quite as good as high def TV, but better than the lower settings YouTube automatically uses.

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McKinley Books and Music Sale This Weekend

January 16th, 2015

Friends of the Library of Hawaii is holding a three-day sale of more than 40,000 records/CDs and over 10,000 gently-used books to help support literary and public libraries throughout the islands. It will be in the McKinley High School cafeteria at 1039 S. King Street, from 9 AM until 3 PM on Sat., Jan. 17 and Sun., Jan. 18. On Martin Luther King Day, Mon., Jan. 19, they'll wrap up sales between 9 AM and 1 PM. Collectors are already planning to line up early to get first crack at possibly finding rare albums and books. Kudos to all the Friends volunteers and the Hawaii State Federal Credit Union for putting together this event!


Haven't been posting lately because my 27-inch iMac, which I love, was in the shop for a week. Mac Made Easy in Kailua diagnosed the problem and had to order a video graphics card from Texas because it's a 2009 model. Not sure if the Apple Store at Ala Moana could have fixed it sooner, but I didn't want to drive to the other side and have to lug my large screen iMac through the mall crowds. I could imagine some shopper with their eyes fixated on a cell phone walking right into me and sending my machine crashing to the ground. In Kailua, I just have to watch out for Japanese tourists on bikes crossing my path.

When I got my "old" iMac back, it was like seeing my wife after she had been gone for awhile... well, maybe not quite that emotional. But I really did miss my computer and couldn't get into writing on my tiny back-up laptop or iPad. At first, the repaired iMac seemed fine. Then a little later I noticed the right half of the screen was darker, as if covered by a shadow. I fiddled with the brightness control, moved it around, and it remained dimmer on one side. I Googled the problem, and it turns out many iMac owners reported the same glitch. They complained that Apple would not admit it was a known issue related to the 27-inch screens and was charging about $500 to repair it if not covered by warranty... which always seem to expire just before your computer goes on the fritz. In the future, I'll have to get the extended Apple Care plan I think. Sigh.

Anyhow, after shutting down the computer and rebooting, the dimming has lessened and is barely detectable. Yet it makes me wonder if Apple's famed quality control has been slipping the past couple of years. Anyone have thoughts on that?


This month's Career Changers TV episode happens to be related to computers and business education programs. We've partnered with DevLeague, a coding bootcamp, to promote what I believe is a great alternative to 4-year college computer science programs. I'm a proponent of getting a well-rounded liberal arts education -- if you can afford it, and aren't sure what you want to do for a career, that is.

But if you're interested in website design, building apps for smart devices, or becoming a startup entrepreneur in the high tech field, what you really need to know is computer coding. Nothing beats hands-on experience and small classes with guidance from professionals who know what companies are looking for in programmers and website developers. DevLeague does exactly that, and to date, they say all of their graduates have succeeded in finding employment after completing the bootcamp or their longer 24-week "part-time" program (still pretty intensive though!).

You can see that video segment on the CCTV YouTube Channel or by clicking here.

Also, we've got a sponsored story about Remington College's new Business Administration program. They consulted with local companies, big and small, who are part of their Program Advisory Committees, and revamped the biz courses into three tracks that address the needs of potential employers in Hawaii.  Their instructors have MBAs and solid real world work experience themselves -- stuff you can't learn just from text books. Here's the link to that piece.

For daily viewing times of my show, visit www.CareerChangers.TV. Have a great weekend -- and check out the McKinley Book & Music Sale if you're out and about!

Lanikai Traffic: Rep. Lee's Response

January 6th, 2015

Disclaimer: I am not a reporter for the Star-Advertiser, nor do I receive any payment from them for writing this blog. These are my opinions and personal observations only. If you disagree with my views, feel free to post comments -- which must be approved first by the blog moderator (me).

State Rep. Chris Lee didn't approve of my prior post regarding the Great Christmas Day Traffic Jam of 2014 because I inferred he was one of the politicians who only showed up to comment on the Lanikai/Kailua traffic problems when news cameras arrived on the scene. I copied his email in its entirety and added it below my last blog entry so anyone can read his point-by-point rebuttal. Rep. Lee said he called the news media, and not the other way around.

Although I didn't mean to single him out, that was the unintended effect since I didn't name other politicians, and mentioned his specific suggestion that people park outside of Lanikai and walk or bike to the beach from there. The reason I laughed at his on-camera advice was the main parking lot at Kailua Beach was closed for repaving on Christmas Day, making Rep. Lee's suggestion... well, impractical, to put it kindly.

However, nowhere in his first email or subsequent response to my follow-up questions, did he offer any explanation for why repaving work was scheduled for one of the busiest beach weeks of the year. He did note that the "irony" is these traffic and parking problems are actually the responsibility of the City and County of Honolulu. Which begs the question: why is a State Representative calling press conferences to address issues that should be handled by the City Council or Mayor's office?

In any event, Rep. Lee says far from being silent or passive about the traffic situation, he and others have already taken many steps to address the problems and things would have been "much worse" than they were on Christmas Day had it not been for these measures -- such as "No Parking" signs, increased fines for violating parking rules, and having police direct traffic. I suppose it could have been worse, but if people really were stuck in traffic jams for one to three hours as was reported, it's hard to see those efforts as being successful.

He also disputed my assertion that closing off close to 20 "private" beachside lanes has contributed to the influx of local residents who now drive to the only public parking lots at Kalama Beach and Kailua Beach, and funnel traffic toward Lanikai -- where, ironically, they have as many public beach rights of way as the entire 3-mile stretch of Kailua Beach because all of Lanikai's beach paths are still free of locked gates as far as I know. Why shouldn't the much larger portion of Kailua Beach be as open to residents and visitors alike as well?

To be clear, I don't think there is any simple solution. We can't put the genie back in the bottle and wave away tourists or locals, who are lured to Lanikai despite common knowledge that parking and traffic in that area is almost always going to be difficult on any given weekend. Will a roundabout help keep traffic flowing? I dunno -- Rep. Lee says it's been in the planning stages for a couple of years now, and that he has gotten $480K in State funding for the project, but didn't give me any dates as to when it will be done or how much longer it will take to put in that roundabout.

Has the ban on commercial activities lessened traffic around Kailua Beach and Lanikai? Again, I don't know. I saw flotillas of kayaks paddling out to the Mokes on Christmas, and streams of people pulling rented kayaks across the street. But since the main parking lot was closed, I can't say for sure if the ban has stopped people from offering yoga sessions, windsurfing lessons or kayak rentals right there by the beach.

As I explained to Rep. Lee, I think a lot of residents are frustrated by the lack of action on things we've stood up and complained about at Neighborhood Board meetings or public hearings year after year with no tangible results. Not just traffic problems, but stuff like illegal vaction rentals, illegal fireworks, illegal blocking of parking spaces, shoreline building "creep" and beach erosion. To be fair, much of that stuff is in the City and County jurisdiction. But it seems like the standard response we get from our elected officials -- NOT YOU, CHRIS! -- is that they want to "solicit feedback" and  get more "ideas" from the public (even after years of testimony and hearings on things like regulation of B&Bs) rather than taking bold action.

What we need are real leaders who step forward and say: Enough talk. This is what must be done, and here's how we're going to do it....


For daily viewing times of the January edition of Career Changers TV, please visit our website. You can also watch video segments from past and current shows on the CCTV YouTube Channel by clicking here.

My Annual Obama Parable

December 26th, 2014

NOTE: I wrote this story in 2008 for my nieces, Sasha and Ana, who are about the same ages as President Obama’s daughters, Malia Ann and Sasha. Since the Obamas may only be returning to Kailua for Christmas another two years, I figure it's worth rerunning in the hopes that he or someone from his entourage will stumble across my cockeyed parable and invite me to lunch with the First Family. Or maybe they could just walk out in front of their beach house and wave to folks like me and my visiting relatives who walk down to the checkpoint to get a glimpse of where they're staying. Anyway, in the little hand-made books I created for my nieces, Uncle Monkey was a cynical chimpanzee writer of animal-centered tales that mirror current events. Six years later, despite all the positive improvements in our economy and world standing, President Obama continues to get dumped on instead of the pat on the back he deserves. But as Uncle Monkey cheerfully reminds the kids, things could always be worse!



“Can you tell us a Christmas story?” little Ana asked.

The chimp scratched his chin and nodded. “Hmm,” he hmmm’d. “Yes, I can, as President Obama would say. Actually, he would say, ‘Well, um, yes’… except it’s a sad tale that will leave you weeping with joy or laughing in sorrow. It’s about a character named Sandy Claws.”

“You mean Santa Claus, don’t you?” interrupted Sasha.

“No, Sandy Claws was a crab who lived in the ocean. But he liked to hang out on the beach too, where he would scavenge for odds and eggs –”

“You mean odds and ENDS,” Ana said.

“No, eggs — fish eggs and bird eggs, which he liked to eat for breakfast. Now stop trying to tell me what I mean and listen, or I will not continue!” Uncle Monkey snapped. In truth, he was cranky because he had a beginning for his fable about human greed, but he was still searching for a satisfying ending. He often told himself, It will all work out in the end. Yet all the troubles in the world never seemed to end! So how could things ever work out? This thought made him sad and depressed.

“Well,” he said, sounding a bit like the President. “I did, um, say it was a sad story… and… look, these are troubled times with enormous challenges facing crabs and sea life due to global warming –”

“AHEM, ” Ana interjected. “We want to hear a Christmas story, not a political speech!”

“Oh, okay,” sighed the grizzled old chimp. “Here is The Fishy Tails of Sandy Claws, The Crabby Crab of Christmas Beach, which was rejected by all the fish book publishers.”

“Did you try to sell it as a movie or TV show?” asked Sasha.

Uncle Monkey nodded yes. “My agent thought it would be perfect for Animal Planet Shell-o-vision, but they felt it was too depressing for kids. They thought Sandy Claws acted greedy and shelfish.”

“You mean selfish?” said Ana.

“No — shellfish! Ever since ‘Finding Nemo’ became a big hit, they only want fish stories. Not crab fables or shrimp tails. They’re prejudiced against shellfish. But I will tell you the story and you can judge for yourself if Sandy Claws was selfish.”

“I thought you said he was a shellfish,” Sasha noted.

“Yes, he is a shellfish. But I meant selfish this time… oh, never mind. Just read the darn story, okay?” he grumbled.

EMPTY BOXES by Uncle Monkey

Once upon a beach in Hawaii, there lived a cranky old crab who constantly complained about the litter and mess people left behind or threw in the ocean. It made him so mad that fish and “honu” (Hawaiian sea turtles) would ask if he had sand in his underpants, which might be irritating him. But since none of them wore underwear, this only made the crab even crabbier.

Christmas was the worst time of all for him. Sea birds and monk seals would mock the crab for the way he walked sideways. When he angrily raised his claws and snapped them at the birds, they laughed at him. “Ha! You couldn’t snip your way out of a wet paper bag with those weak little claws of yours,” taunted the birds.

Turning red with embarrassment, the crab retreated to his hole in the sand. Sandy Claws didn’t have many friends. Like many crabs, he was shy and at parties would not come out of his shell. And his habit of eating dead fish he found on the beach was a turn-off for live fish he wished to befriend.

The reason he disliked Christmas so much was that more humans would flock to his beach for the holidays, and many would toss their flower leis into the water or throw wrapping paper from their gifts on the sand. Sandy Claws had to pick up all the bows and ribbons these careless people threw out. But he was jealous too because no one ever gave him any gifts. All he ever got was the empty boxes people left behind.

Then one Christmas Eve, something remarkable happened. He noticed there were more humans than usual with cameras, all stopping and staring at a particular house near his hole in the sand. There were men in long pants, wearing dark sunglasses, talking into radios while standing around the house. Obviously a Very Important Person was visiting. But who could it be?

“Pssst… wanna know who it is? Do ya?” whispered a little birdie. “It’s the Obama!”

“What’s an Obama?” asked the crab.

“I dunno, but everyone is wearing shirts or carrying signs that say something about Obama,” the birdie replied.

“Well, whoever or whatever this Obama is, I hope he does something to clean up the ocean and beaches,” the cynical crab said.

As more people came and left, Sandy Claws saw that some were leaving gift-wrapped packages next to a palm tree by the Obama house. What could be in those boxes, and who were they for? “Maybe they’re for me!” thought the crab. Oh, he knew they were not meant for him, but he could not resist the temptation to pretend that these presents had his name on them.

And when he sneaked closer to the packages, what did his beady stalk eyes see, but the name Santa Claus on some labels. “Close enough,” said Sandy Claws as he began to drag the boxes back to his hole. Using his claws and smaller pincers, he carefully removed the ribbons and unwrapped each package. Then he took out the gifts and replaced them with wilted, soggy flower leis he found on the beach or other plastic junk he plucked out of the ocean. Some of the boxes he re-wrapped contained nothing at all except a little sand. After he put the bows and ribbons back on, he placed the packages next to the palm tree where they were originally left.

Sandy Claws looked at all the gifts he had taken: candy, cookies, Hawaiian goodies and also things for little girls such as dolls and toys. So it was clear this Obama had children. And Sandy Claws disliked children because they were always chasing after crabs like him or poking sticks into their holes in the sand.

“Ha! I’m glad Obama and his daughters will be getting trash and empty boxes for Christmas,” the crab muttered to himself. “Besides, why are people giving them more useless stuff when they obviously have so much already?” Which made Sandy stop to think about the gifts piled up around his humble hole. To fit in all the pilfered presents, he had to dig out more space. It was exhausting work to make room for things he didn’t really need.

Despite his constant grumbling, the cranky crab realized he didn’t have it so bad after all. He had eight good legs, plenty of garbage to eat, plus a beautiful beach he called home. “I should share my bounty with the honu, fish and dolphins. They’ll see that I may be a shellfish, but I am certainly not selfish!”

That evening, the men in long pants with the dark sunglasses (which they wore at night to make themselves look more mysterious) picked up the “re-gifted” packages and brought them into the big Obama house. Meanwhile, Sandy Claws put all his pilfered presents into a large mesh bag he had swiped from a kayak, and dragged it into the sea to deliver his gifts to less fortunate sea life.

“Ho-ho-ho! Merry Christmas to all my ocean friends,” he called out. Soon he was surrounded by curious dolphins, fish and honu. Even a couple of sharks cruised by to investigate what was happening. He opened the mesh bag and began to give presents to the smallest and youngest creatures. Unfortunately, all the candy and cookies had dissolved into a messy mixture.

Nice,” snickered a sarcastic starfish. “Some gift!”

Undeterred, Sandy Claws gave a silver necklace with a silver flower charm on it it to a baby parrotfish…. who ate it by mistake. “That’s just great,” the angry parent parrotfish squawked. “Why don’t you just hand out sharp hooks to all the baby fish, huh?!”

“Sorry about that,” the crab said. “How about a doll then for your other baby fish?” However, as he pulled the cheaply-made doll from the mesh bag, his claw severed the plastic head. The monk seals and dolphins began to play an underwater version of soccer with the doll head. Sandy looked at the label on the doll’s body: MADE IN CHINA. “Tsk-tsk,” sighed an old honu.  “That doll was probably made by underage kids who are forced to work for slave wages!”

Sandy Claws was very sad. He tried to do a good thing by sharing his gifts. But all he got in return was scorn and scoldings. This was his worst Christmas ever. As he turned sideways to crabwalk away, he heard a small soft voice call to him from the ocean floor… “Hey, Sandy,” the tiny starfish said.

“Yes?” he replied hopefully.

“YOU’RE NOT GONNA LEAVE ALL THIS CRAP HERE, ARE YOU?” yelled the angry starfish. The gifts that looked so nice and new when he first unwrapped them were just more useless junk and garbage — because, as the dolphins would say, they had no useful porpoise for these sea creatures.


On Christmas morning, Sandy Claws woke up and decided he would return to being crabby since being generous did not work out very well for him. But as he walked home, over the sound of gentle waves breaking on the shoreline, he heard two young girls giggling with delight. It was coming from the big Obama house. “Oh, no! Those girls will be so disappointed when they open their presents and see they got garbage, or worse — nothing at all!” he blurted out to the little birdie pecking around in the sand next to his hole.

“Whatcha gonna do, Sandy? It’s too late to fix things now that you ruined their gifts… unless — nah, it’s too crazy,” the birdie said, his voice trailing off.

“What? Tell me!” the crab implored.

“You could make up for it by offering yourself as a gift to the Obama,” chirped the bird.

“Huh? You mean…” said Sandy, slowly getting the bird’s drift.

“Yeah. Crab salad. Self-sacrifice is what Christmas is all about, right?” the birdie noted.

“Maybe they don’t like crab meat though. In which case, it would be a wasted sacrifice,” said Sandy. Depressed and dejected, the forlorn crab looked up and saw the entire Obama family was gathered outside in front of the house with their presents. He quickly scooted over the sand and rocks to get a closer look at the famous family. There was the President, his wife and two young daughters, all beaming with anticipation.

The father handed wrapped presents to his wife and girls. “These gifts are from the good people of Hawaii. I wonder what they gave us! Let’s open them, and, um… let’s see, shall we?” While he and Michelle carefully opened their packages, Malia and Sasha gleefully ripped open their gift boxes.

“Hey! There’s nothing in my package,” whined the older daughter.

“Mine is empty too,” frowned the younger sister.

The wife held up a wilted flower lei that was still dripping sea water. “It smells like wet dog,” she sniffed. The father held up his empty box. A few grains of sand and pieces of plastic junk fell out. He smiled though and took the wilted lei from his wife. Then he put it around his neck.

“Dad, are you crazy?” asked the younger daughter.

“I think the people who gave us these empty boxes are the ones who are crazy,” said the older sister. “Not just crazy, but mean too. Why would anyone wrap up boxes of nothing!”

Their father nodded thoughtfully, paused for a second as he looked out at the beautiful blue ocean and white sandy beach. “Well, girls… um… maybe someone less fortunate than us needed what was in those boxes, or wanted those things because they lack, um, something. So they took the things inside the boxes… and, um… they forgot that they could not take what the gift-givers intended to share with you — with our family. And that is the gift of love. What I see in this empty box is Hope and Love.”

Sandy Claws’ eyes welled up with tears. But as he tried to wipe them with his big claw, he nearly cut his eye stalk off. He sniffled and turned to the little birdie. “The Obama understands the true meaning of Christmas. Sometimes the best gift is… nothing!”

Then they heard loud laughter — it was the father and mother, who were consoling the crying girls. “Nah! Just kidding. Your mother and I got you real presents that are inside. You think we’d give you nothing for Christmas?” the father chuckled.  The sisters wiped their tears off and smiled. Their father sniffed the soggy lei and made a face. “I bet some crabby old McCain-Palin supporters left us those packages. At least we can be thankful it wasn’t a bomb.”

So Sandy Claws was right after all. Sometimes an empty box is the best gift.



Ana and Sasha looked at each other. “That’s a terrible Christmas story, Uncle Monkey!” said Sasha. Ana agreed: “Nobody would give a bomb for a Christmas present!”

“Ah, but they could. That’s the point of my story. Things can always be worse than they are,” the chimp replied. “So, a box full of nothing can be better than a box that has useless stuff in it… or worse, BAD things in it.”

Mele Kalikimaka! May all your empty boxes be filled with good memories and room for better things to come. You can still catch the Christmas edition of Career Changers TV daily at different times on OC16. Click here for the viewing schedule and links to videos on the CCTV YouTube Channel.

Posts from Christmas Past

December 24th, 2014

Note: Of all the articles, screenplays, blogs and other stuff I’ve written over the years, this piece I wrote for the old Honolulu Star-Bulletin's 2008 Christmas Day print edition best sums up the story of my life… and why I feel so grateful to be where I am today. BTW, OC16 is running a Christmas show marathon on channel 12/high def 1012 that will include a special Career Changers TV compilation of stories from past episodes. For daily viewing times of our regularly-scheduled show, visit www.CareerChangers.TV. Mele Kalikimaka!


A Wrong Turn Leads to the Right Place by Rich Figel

Like many people, my wife and I collect Christmas ornaments as souvenirs from places we’ve traveled to. My favorite is a delicate piece from Venice made of green, white and red glass shaped into candles. It’s missing one candle though. That’s why it holds special meaning for me.

In recovery, we’re taught to live in the present because we can’t undo the past. I try not to dwell on the wrong turns I made. But I can’t minimize the wreckage alcohol and drugs caused in my life either. My flame could have been snuffed out by two drunk driving accidents I had when I was a reporter in New Jersey, fresh out of college. I was lucky. No one was injured by my reckless disregard for others. Instead of giving up drinking, however, I gave up driving and moved to New York.

All of that was a distant memory when Isabel and I took our first trip to Italy in the summer of 1999. This was a reward of sorts for living sober. To make the most of it, we studied guidebooks, listened to Italian language tapes in the car and carefully planned our itinerary months in advance. Nothing was left to chance — or so we thought.

After nearly 24 hours of flying economy class and long layovers in Newark and London, we arrived in Venice. Our luggage did not. Wearing smelly clothes, we checked into our hotel on the Lido, a small island across the lagoon. International movie stars flock here for the annual Venice film festival. But when we opened the door to our room, my wife’s face dropped. It looked dingy and rundown, nothing like the charming photographs on the website. The trip of a lifetime was off to a disappointing start.

Things began to look better the next morning. The hotel’s breakfast room had a a glorious view of San Marco, where the Doge’s Palace and the Basilica are located. We hopped on the vaporetto, an unglamorous water bus, and as we cruised down the Grand Canal, I became oblivious to the stifling heat and the B.O. of tourists crowded around us. I only saw the fading grandeur of this dream of a city.

Venice on foot is a different matter. The guidebooks are useful as long as you stay close to the major tourist sites. Venture into the heart of the city, and you soon discover that streets often go by two names, smaller canals and bridges don’t correspond with maps, and many passageways are dead ends. We got completely lost, which can be fun if you’re in the right frame of mind. But we were like those couples on “The Amazing Race” TV show, who blame each other for every mishap. When we returned to the hotel and saw our luggage had been delivered, I thought we had turned the corner.

Wrong again. The next day was even hotter. Shorts and bare shoulders are forbidden in Italy’s centuries-old churches, so we had to dress appropriately and sweat it out in line with hundreds of others who were waiting to get into St. Mark’s Basilica. You’ve probably seen pictures of it: the Byzantine domes in the background while lovers embrace amid flocks of pigeons. Since we were quarreling, the grubby birds were merely a nuisance to us. We came to see the church treasures — not for romance.

A group of German tourists were ahead of us. They seemed to know where they were going, so I followed them. Awed by the marble geometric designs under our feet and the ornate ceilings above, I missed the entrance sign for the museum where the church relics are displayed. Before we knew it, Isabel and I were back outside the Basilica. Despite my pleas of ignorance, a guard told us we had to stand in line again if we wanted to reenter.

Screw it, I said. We decided to move on to a less famous church. According to our map, Santi Giovanni was a short walk from there. But I made a wrong turn somewhere. What should have been a 10-minute stroll became another frustrating excursion that stretched into an hour of wandering around in a steamy maze.

Finally, we found Santi Giovanni. It is huge. Inside, the soaring vaulted arches resembled the bow of a gigantic wooden ship turned upside down. The stained glass windows and altars were works of art. Yet it felt strangely empty to me. We walked over to another section that was like a small chapel. As we were leaving, a priest walked past us with a beatific smile on his face.

Back in the main area we saw the German tourists again, standing in the center of the church. The men had cameras around their necks and their heads were bowed. They stood in a circle, holding hands, and began to sing a hymn in perfect harmony. Their voices filled the church. It was the most beautiful sound I have ever heard.

Tears streamed down my face. Perhaps it was their devotion, or the acoustics … or maybe it was the collective effects of being weary and flustered, but the church that seemed cold and dead to me was brought to life by their singing. I looked at Isabel and she was crying too. Neither of us is religious, but I felt blessed to be there with her. Had we not gotten lost and taken so many wrong turns, we would not have been here to witness this moment. I held my wife’s hand and listened in rapt wonder.

When the men finished, they simply smiled at each other — the same smile I saw on the priest’s face as he walked past us. Then the Germans quietly left and we never saw them again.

That was in 1999. Two years later, after the devastation of 9/11, we went through the ritual of decorating our Christmas tree. It was a somber time. Isabel’s business, which depended on tourists visiting Hawaii, was struggling. I worried about the future, and stopped writing. What was the point? Nothing made sense.

A couple of days later, the tree toppled over. It was a mess. The strands of lights were tangled and twisted. Ornaments were strewn about. A glass candle from the Venice piece had broken off. Isabel was at work, so I asked a neighbor to help me stand the tree back up. I restrung the lights and was able to glue together some of the broken ornaments, but the glass candle wouldn’t hold. I couldn’t fix that one.

While I was washing my hands and thinking to myself that the tree didn’t look quite as nice as it did before, I heard a commercial on TV. It said it was all right to grieve for the victims of the 9/11 attacks, but the best way to respond to terrorism is to live.

I broke down and cried. There I was, fretting and cursing earlier because our tree fell over and some ornaments broke. It was nothing compared to what happened three months before. I thought about the church in Venice, and how lost I felt at different times in my life. I can’t say if it was chance or fate that I survived the car wrecks and alcoholism, to wind up here with Isabel in Hawaii. I can only wonder, and be grateful for what I have.

So each year when I unwrap that ornament, I remember how fragile life is. I think about the missing candle, and it puts everything in perspective.

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