Articles by: Darrell Fusaro

  • Life & People

    Merry Christmas Day!

  • Life & People

    George Bailey from "It's a Wonderful Life" is Based on an Italian-American

    I never get tired of this fascinating Italian-American Horatio Alger story.  My interest began several years ago when I discovered that Bank of America was originally the Bank of Italy, started by a young man named Amedeo Giannini, the son of Italian immigrants.  In my curiosity to discover more about this fact I soon learned of one of the most fascinating and generous men I've never heard of.  While gathering all these bits and pieces of information I had no idea that I would discover the man who would turn out to be the inspiration for the character of George Bailey in Frank Capra's classic holiday film, It’s a Wonderful Life.

    Amedeo Giannini started the Bank of Italy in a converted saloon in San Francisco at 9 am on Monday, October 17, 1904. On the first day, 28 deposits totalled $8,780.  The equivilant of $37,486 today.  When an earthquake struck in 1907, he ran his bank from a plank in the street.  Ironically, the word “bank” is from the Italian word “banca”, meaning a bench or counter.  The news quickly spread about his commitment to previously underserved members of the community such as the working class, immigrant populations, and small businesses.  Giannini changed the name to Bank of America in 1928 and by 1929, the bank was strong enough to withstand the Great Depression stock crash.  Matter of fact, at the height of the depression in 1932, Bank of America financed the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge. 

    In the early days of Hollywood, motion pictures were huge risk.  Many lenders felt the fledgling medium was a fad and a sure money-loser.  But not Giannini.  In 1923, he created a motion-picture loan division, which backed such luminaries as Charlie Chaplin, Cecil B. DeMille, Douglas Fairbanks and Frank Capra, and financed hundreds of films, including such classics as West Side Story, Gone with the Wind and Lawrence of Arabia.  Frank Capra was so impressed with Giannini's humility and generosity that he based the main character "George Bailey" in his 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life on him.  When Walt Disney couldn't get a loan to complete the first full-length animated film, Bank of America stepped in and lent Disney the $1.7 million he needed to finish Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

    "Much like the fictitious George Bailey, Giannini kept little for himself through all this.  Despite that fact that the bank he started was worth billions at the time of his death, Giannini’s entire estate was valued at only $500,000 when he died at the age of 79 in 1949.  He avoided acquiring great wealth as he felt it would cause him to lose touch with the working class.  For much of his career, he refused pay for his work and when the board attempted to give him $1.5 million as a bonus one year, he gave it all away to the University of California stating “Money itch is a bad thing.  I never had that trouble.”  -The Real Life 'George Bailey' who founded the Bank of Italy which became Bank of America

    Amedeo Pietro Giannini (May 6, 1870 – June 3, 1949)


  • Op-Eds

    After Mafia Hit A Boy Radically Changes His Identity

    For several years following the Mafia’s murder of our grandfather my younger brother thought he was Francis the cat.  I mean he was a normal kid with screwed up grades when he went to school, but as soon as he got back home and inside he was on all fours and he was Francis the cat.  It wasn’t that big of a deal except when he would start brushing up on the front of the TV during “McMillan and Wife.” 


    That’s when our father would take the cigar from his mouth and bark, “Jesus Eric, would you move!”


    Eric, I mean Francis, would stop and give our father the look an angered cat gives when scolded.  Then he would raise his right paw and hiss at our dad before letting out a meow and trotting off into the kitchen to clean himself. 


    “That kid’s lost in space.”  Our dad would mutter to himself and then continue to enjoy his cigar and the TV.


    At one point we dragged in a refrigerator box for Francis to sleep in.  Eventually my dad caved in and starting feeding my brother on the floor because Francis the cat wouldn’t eat at the table. 


    Our mother had moved out shortly after the murder.  So our grandmother, our dad’s mom, would swing by to check up on us and she’d always bring food.  One evening she showed up with her homemade Italian cheesecake.  She made this Italian cheesecake with ricotta cheese and orange zest.  It was our dad’s favorite.  I hated that Italian cheesecake; it wasn’t really sweet.  I don’t think it was for kids.


    It was on that evening that our grandmother walked in the back door with her homemade Italian cheesecake and caught our dad feeding “Francis” his dinner on the floor.  Up until then the severity of Eric’s condition hadn’t been well known.  To be perfectly honest, by then the three of us were used to it and didn’t give it much thought.  Our grandmother on the other hand flew into a hysterical panic.  She set the cheesecake on the counter and began screaming the obvious to our father.


    “Jimmy!  Jimmy!  Eric is eating on the floor like an animal!  Jimmy!”  She pleaded, “Eric, Eric get up!”


    “Ma.  Ma!” Our father shouted to snap her out of it and then coolly said,  “Leave him alone ma, he’s fine.”


    “But Jimmy, he’s eating on the floor like an animal.”  Looking at Eric with pity grandma continued, “What are you doing to my baby?”


    “Ma, ma, just take it easy.” Then my father snapped.  His brows came together, his eyes got mean and with clenched teeth he growled, “Where’s that fuckin’ cheesecake?!” 


    Our dad grabbed grandma’s homemade Italian cheesecake from the counter and while holding onto the plate with one hand he pulled open the cutlery drawer with the other.  The utensils clanked against each other as he rifled through them until he withdrew a large serving spoon.  He slammed the drawer shut and headed straight towards Eric, who oblivious to the commotion was still enjoying his meal. 


    Our father squatted down next to Eric and continued to yell at his mother, “Ma, you know what?  He’s my kid ma, and if I want to feed my son my favorite Italian cheesecake on the floor…”


    He dug out a portion of grandma’s homemade Italian cheesecake with the large spoon and plopped a heaping of it onto Eric’s plate shouting, “…then that’s what I am gonna do!” 


    Dad scooped out another heaping spoonful of the dessert onto Eric’s plate still yelling at his mother, “Just keep your beak out of it!  We don’t need your help!  WE’RE DOING JUST FINE ON OUR OWN!”


    He ended his storm with an intense gaze aimed directly into the eyes of his mother.  It was a standoff.  Everyone remained perfectly still wondering who would make the next move - except for my brother who was now enjoying his desert.  I could feel the tension growing more intense until my dad looked down at Eric, tenderly patted him on the head, and said, “That’s a good kitty.”


    Eric was Francis the cat until the summer of 1974, when he just…  Well, my dad and me were watching Nixon’s resignation live on TV.  When all of a sudden Eric stripped down naked and started doing laps in the house.  He was running upright.  Through the living room, passing in front of the TV, then through the kitchen and back through the living room, passing in front of the TV, through the kitchen, the living room, and then just as President Richard Nixon started crying Eric stopped in his tracks directly in front of the TV.  There he stood just a few inches from the screen staring at the set mesmerized by Nixon.


    “You pee on that TV and I’ll break both your God damn legs.”  Dad said from the couch pointing at Eric with his cigar like he did whenever he was making a serious threat.


    With that Eric sped off into the kitchen, dove up onto the top of his refrigerator box, which held him up for about a split second before caving in underneath him.  As he fell into the box he was laughing hysterically.  That was the last we saw of Francis the cat. 


    Today Eric is a family man and by all appearances seems to be well adjusted.  So I asked him the question that’s haunted me on and off for years.  “Why were you Francis the cat?”


    “It seemed like a good name for a cat.” He answered.

  • Op-Eds

    A Tough Guy’s Actions Expose a Soft Spot

    From the time I was nine and my brother five, my father raised us as a single parent.  He did get by with some help from his buddies.  For example, since my father worked days selling business machines for Burroughs he had his friend, a nightclub bouncer named Paulie who worked nights.  Paulie would arrive at dawn, which was the end of his shift.  That way there would be an adult in the house during the first half of the day, while my brother was home.  Around noon, I’d walk home from school for lunch, wake up Paulie, make Dinty Moore beef stew from a can for the three of us. Then I’d walk Eric back to school with me for the afternoon session.


    Our father parented us by busting our balls continuously with insults.  I have to assume this was what he believed would mold us into well-adjusted men.


    When we were upset he would cheer us up, “Jesus Christ, think positive, you miserable fuck.”


    And when we were struggling with a problem he would encourage us, “For Christ’s sake. You’re smarter than that, you fuckin’ idiot.”


    He was like a “New Jersey” New-Ager.


    All this did was make me feel that no matter what I did, I would always disappoint him.  So in an effort to become more of what seemed to be a man I started lifting weights.  My plan was rolling along nicely, then one night the three of us, my brother Eric, our Dad and myself were eating dinner at the kitchen table, when our Dad stopped eating and stared at me.


    “What?” I said with my mouth still full of food.


    “Ever since you started lifting those weights you look more and more like a fucking monkey.  Straighten your arms out when they are at your sides, at least make an attempt to appear human.” Disgusted, he went back to eating.  Honestly, I thought I was supposed to hold my arms out from my body a little bent so that it was obvious to everyone else that I worked out.  I thought the girls liked that. 


    Ironically, my working out was also the reason my dad wanted me to go to work with him one Saturday afternoon. 


    “Hey let’s go, you’re coming to work with me.”  My dad said, dressed in his suit, tie, overcoat, hat, and carrying his briefcase.


    Then he went to the front closet, took out our softball bat and I followed him out to the car.  He opened up the trunk, placed his briefcase in it, and tossed in the softball bat.  With his hand on the trunk about to close it he stopped. 


    He was looking at me straight in the eyes. “What the fuck is that?” He was serious. “Does that fucking thing make you smarter?”  He paused for a moment then,  “Take that fucking thing off before I knock it off!”


    So I took off my “Loverboy” headband, got in the car and we drove onto Route Three eastbound to New York City and into Harlem.  It was a weekend in the fall.  Traffic was light as we cruised up Third Avenue.  It was one of those wonderful days at summer’s end when the weather is how I wished it could be forever.  The sky was clear blue with puffy white clouds and the air without humidity was crisp and cool.  The warmth of the sun dialed in so perfectly you could enjoy it all day without breaking a sweat.


    “New York is beautiful on the weekends isn’t it?”  He commented before taking a puff from his cigar as he drove with the windows down.


    He turned left down a one-way street going west.  The street was lined with brownstones and we parked on the south side of the street in front of the only brownstone that had been painted.  It was obvious that it was a church because it was painted white and it had the plexi-glass encased church sign in front.  The familiar church sign; with the black felt backing and the crooked white plastic letters, announcing the upcoming sermon.  When my Dad got out so did I.  I followed him to the back of the car.  He unlocked the trunk, opened it up, took out the briefcase, handed me the bat and closed the trunk.


    “Keep an eye on the car while I’m inside all right?”  That was the last thing he said to me before turning around and walking up the stairs that lead into the church.


    There I was, all alone, fourteen-years-old, and standing on the sidewalk next to my dad’s brand new Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Brougham.  I was wearing a sleeveless teal blue muscle beach T-shirt, a pair of white corduroy Sassoon jeans I had to lie down to squeeze into, and holding a bat in the middle of Harlem.  Even I was smart enough to know that this wasn’t a good idea.  That’s when I noticed a huge black guy standing on the corner.  He also had a bat.  


    What now?  I don’t know how to sword fight with a softball bat.  I’m going to die!  Then the black guy waived at me.  He held up his bat with a smile, like we were comrades.  My sense of relief was so incredible I waved back held up my bat in unison with a smile.  Then I realized what he was doing there.  His job was to make sure that the kid running groceries into the corner store from a truck wasn’t to be screwed with.  OK, I get it, that’s how they do things around here... with bats. 


    Before I got too relaxed I noticed three more black guys walking along the other side of the street towards me, and they were dressed just like my dad, in suits and overcoats, wearing hats.  But since they were black they looked like those Malcolm X types to me.  Just as I felt my panic rise the three of them nodded and tipped their hats to me.   Confused but relieved I nodded back. 


    After what felt like an hour I got bored, so I opened the trunk threw in the bat and left the car to go to the corner store.  I walked in the store bought myself some candy and a copy of the Daily News.  Walking out I thought to myself, “How do you like that?  Even the black guy in the candy store was nice to me.” 


    When I got back to the car, I sat in the passenger seat and read the paper while I waited for my dad. 


    Finally, my father returned and plopped down behind the wheel.  “So, any problems?”


    Now that I was clear as to why everyone was so nice, I confidently answered, “No, dad.  We are parked in front of a church.”


    “Church?  What church?”  Indicating with his thumb pointing over his shoulder at the church,  “That’s the Black Mafia.” 


    I knew it was one of those times when you don’t ask stupid questions so…


    “Dad, what are you doing with the Black Mafia?”


    “What do I do for a living?” He answered with a question.


     And so did I, “Sell computers?”


    True that’s what he did; he was a representative for Burroughs business machines, aka computers.  Keep in mind in 1976 the smallest computer was the size of our refrigerator.


    My mind began to race, attempting to make sense of it all.  First you have the Mafia: OK, let’s see, lopped off horses heads in the bed and short Italian guys in suits with machine guns in violin cases.  Then you add Black.  I’m thinking about those tall skinny black dudes with huge Afros in lime green leisure suits and bellbottoms, wearing big fancy hats with the ostrich plume, adept at using kick ass Kung Fu.  Refrigerator-sized computers didn’t seem to fit in with any of it.


    After a long silence I had to ask, “Dad what’s the Black Mafia going to do with computers?” 


    “Do you realize if you had just half a brain you’d be dangerous?  How do you expect them to run their numbers... on their fucking fingers?”  That was his answer.  He had me light him another cigar for the ride home and it was never brought up again.


    A few weeks later, my father wanted me to go out with him again.  It was a Saturday evening when he called out to me.  “Darrell, come on, we’re going out tonight.”  


    I hurried to his bedroom where he was getting dressed up.  Once I got there and stood in the doorway he stopped what he was doing and looked at me.  “Jesus Christ Darrell, do you own anything with a sleeve on it?”


    After putting on a decent dress shirt I got in the car and once again we headed east on Route Three through the Lincoln Tunnel and into New York City.  This time we drove down Broadway.  New York City in the evening resembles nothing like itself during the day.  At night, the lights in Times Square ignited the indigo blue atmosphere with bright neon pulsating colors.  Well-dressed people flowed like a river along the wide sidewalks.


    We turned west on one of the side streets and pulled up to a theater.  People dressed up like the pictures of famous actors I’d seen were gathered on the well-lit sidewalk chatting and smoking cigarettes.  They looked happy underneath the illuminated marquee.  The marquee lit up big red letters spelling out, “GiGi, The Musical!”  My father gave the keys of his car to a man dressed in a white shirt, black slacks, and vest.  The valet gave my dad a ticket stub and drove off with the car.  My dad handed me a ticket to the performance and together we joined the crowd of beautiful people.  I had never been to a Broadway show. Up until this moment, I had no idea that my dad had any interest at all in this sort of thing.  As he enthusiastically began to share with me everything he felt I needed to know about the theater that night, it was obvious that this was something he really enjoyed.


    I followed him all the way down to the edge of the stage and he pointed out the live musicians underneath the stage.  Then I followed him back several rows to our seats.  As we took our seats he said, “This is the orchestra section.  It costs a little more, but it’s worth it.  You’ll see.”


    I got my first playbill.  “It’s just like the program at a ball game."  He ran his finger down the page listing the cast and explained, “This is the starting line up, and these are the positions they play.”  Then he noticed a sliver of white paper tucked in his playbill with something typed on it. 


    “Agnes Morehead’s part is being played by an understudy.”  He said with disbelief and disappointment.


    “Who’s Agnes Morehead, dad?”


    “You know, she’s the broad who plays the mother on that show, you know, ‘Bewitched.’”


    “Oh.”  Then I asked,  “What’s an understudy?”


    He stared long enough for me to know that my question was irrelevant before answering, “Somebody else.”


    The lights dimmed and the show began.  At half time, I followed my dad outside.  He was just a few steps ahead of me when he stopped.  He stood right on the edge of the sidewalk at the curb along side a lamppost and lit a cigar.  I just watched him.  Everyone was moving around me and chatting enthusiastically about the performance so far and I just stood there, with my father near the curb.  I can honestly say that I don't remember a damn thing about “GiGi,” but that was the best Broadway show I’ve ever been to.  For that one night, it felt like my dad and me were friends. 


    At the end of the evening as we stood on the sidewalk waiting for the car my dad asked, “So Darrell, what’d ya think?  Did you have a good time?”


    “Yeah dad I loved it.  It was great.”


    “Yeah well it really wasn’t the best show for your first show.”  He went on, “You know what?  I’ll tell you what.  Why don’t we start a new tradition?  Every year you, me, and that silly little son-of-a-bitch you call your brother will go to a play.  Would you like that?”


    “Yeah dad.  That’d be great.”


    It was a promise he kept until he died five years later.  The last year of his life he was too sick to attend but had tickets for Eric, who was now fourteen, and me.  That year I was eighteen so I drove us into New York City for a performance of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”  It was my turn to share with Eric everything daddy was once so excited to share with me.  


    When we got home we both went straight to our bed-ridden father who enthusiastically asked us, “So what’d ya think?  Was it good?  Did you have a good time?”


    Eric and I both went on to tell him how great the seats were, how I gave the car to the valet just like he had, and that the Sherriff fired his gun on stage.


  • Life & People

    Dear Moms, I drew this for you.


  • Life & People

    The Vatican has a Real Sister Act in the Heart of Screenland!

    Seems logical, but who knew that located in Culver City, CA home to MGM and Sony Studios and officially known as “The Heart of Screenland” you’d find the hippest media savvy Sisters in the Catholic Church?  I’ve driven by Pauline Books and Media located at 3908 Sepulveda Boulevard between Washington Place and Venice Boulevard for years.  And up until now mistakenly thought it was stuffy church supply shop reserved for Priests only.  Boy was I in for a surprise.  Not only is this inspirational bookstore open to the public its run by a real Sister act.  The Daughters of St. Paul, also known internationally as the Pauline Sisters, are a lot like the “Blues Brothers” - like the characters in the iconic 1980 movie "they’re on a mission from God" and just like Jake and Elwood Blues it’s show business! 

    The Pauline Sisters invest their lives to bring hope and love through our contemporary means of communication.  These are a talented group of filmmakers, singers, authors, designers and artists.  One of the local celebrities here at the bookstore is Sister Rose Pacatte whose secular movie reviews are becoming the go-to stop on-line for moviegoers. She’s a real movie lover and her unbiased reviews of the latest releases are on-the-money and fun to watch.  Just this last Thursday Sister Rose attended the premiere of “Journey 2” staring Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock.  You can check out her movie reviews at the YouTube Channel, “SisterRoseACO” or go to, “”  In addition she’s the co-author of the “Lights, Camera, Faith” book series.  These books highlight the spiritual message in contemporary films.  On-line reviewer Thomas H. Griffith had this to say about “Lights, Camera, Faith,” “What a wonderful resource! Finally, a book that looks at contemporary films--yes, secular films, no less--tells what the story is about, and offers some insightful questions to use with discussion groups.  The best part is that it doesn't use all those awful "Christian" movies--you know, the kind where no one cusses, kisses, copulates or cogitates outside of certain predefined parameters.” 

    If this sounds interesting you may want to mark your calendar because every second Saturday of the month is movie night.  Doors open at 6pm, and the movie starts promptly at 6:30pm in their upstairs screening room that seats forty comfortably.  Next screening will be “School of Rock” starring Jack Black followed by a spiritual discussion regarding the main character’s issue with sloth.  Donations are accepted for refreshments.


    For a real treat you may want to join the Sisters for “Soup & Cinema Divina.”  They will be screening the new film “The Way” by Emilio Estevez, starring his father Martin Sheen, on Saturday, Feb. 25 at 6:30pm (begins promptly).  They will follow this up each Tuesday of Lent, from 7pm -9pm with soup, reflection and prayer on “The Way.”  As they put it, it’s “a creative approach to our Lenten journey…”  The program is gratis though donations are appreciated for supper and the Soup & Cinema Guide.


    When you walk in Pauline Books and Media for the first time I can guarantee, whether you meet Sister Rose, Sister Tecla, Sister Jennifer, Sister Madonna, or any other member of the staff, you’ll be welcomed with a joyful heart and a sense of humor.  The bookstore is stocked with inspirational books, DVD’s, and music, and is open Mon-Sat, 10am – 6pm.  Parking is free.  There is also a charming little chapel located in the building as well.  It was designed by one of the Sisters and is the perfect place for a refreshing break from the hustle and bustle of life in Los Angeles.  After a visit with the Sisters I always leave feeling recharged and inspired.  It’s a little gem - discovered right here in “The Heart of Screenland,” Culver City, California.

  • Life & People

    Sting Prevents World War Three!

    It's truly amazing how just one idea, one little thought can transform your life.  When I was child I was terrified of flying.  I had never been on a plane, nor were there any plans for me to be on a plane - but I dreaded the thought.  When my father returned from a business trip to California I asked him about his flight.

    “Weren’t you afraid of the plane crashing?”

    “Darrell," he answered, "the pilots don’t want to crash either.”

    I never forgot my father’s casual and confidant response.  It transformed my outlook.  I remember thinking, "He’s right." I never thought about it like that before.  If the pilots don’t want to crash either they’ll do everything in their power to make sure we don’t.  My father’s simple response had the power to radically transformed my life, by forever eliminating my fear of flying.

    In 1985, I was enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard, it was the height of the Cold War and I had just finished a tour aboard the USCGC Jarvis patrolling the Bering Sea.  One of our missions was monitoring suspicious Soviet ships fearing that they might be spying on us.  These were tense times.  My fellow military members and I would share our concerns; believing we were under the constant threat of nuclear attack by the Russians.  It felt like we were sitting on a ticking time bomb that was about to go off and send us all to the front lines and certain death. 

    Then the musician Sting released a song titled, “Russians.”  (See video below).  One idea, one line of that song radically transformed my outlook.  It was the line in the chorus, "... if the Russians love their children to.”  My reaction was incredibly similar to that of my father’s idea of air travel and it's effect was just as profound. 

    I thought, "He’s right!"  If the Russians love their children too then they don't want war either.  This simple truth transformed the Russians from an army of anonymous American haters to vulnerable people just like us.  No longer having to defend against hate, I felt compassion.

    After having this realization, thanks to Sting, I decided to cooperate with it.  I purchased a beach ball that was a globe of the earth.  Each morning as I sat on my balcony to do my morning meditation I’d hug the globe and imagine love going around the world.  In my mind’s eye I’d see Russian people smiling lovingly with their children as I did ours here in America.  As I continued this practice I didn’t restrict it to just Americans and Soviets.  If there was any news of hostile situations in other parts of the world, I’d imagine the same loving thoughts about those people with their families as well.

    At the beginning of 1987, rumors of an eminent Soviet/American nuclear strike were once again spreading throughout the branches of the military.  My prayers seemed to be working because I no longer felt disturbed by this.  Deep down I felt there was no threat.  At this time I was working as a special liaison with members from all five branches of the military.  When one of my good friends and co-workers, a U.S. Marine Corps Sgt., asked me, “Aren’t you worried we’ll be at war soon?”

    I responded,  “No, The Russians don't want to go to war either."

    "Really?  I never thought about it like that before." He grinned, was relieved and we continued with our day's assignment. 

    Then within a few months the miraculous happened: the fall of the Berlin Wall.  Coincidence?  Maybe, but I choose to believe that love really is the most powerful force in the universe.  Cooperate with it and you will live in peace and harmony. 

    *Since it was recent reading from Unity’s Daily Word that inspired me to write this post, I thought I should share it below.

    I contribute to a world of peace through the power of my word.

    As individuals we can each foster peace in our world. I can do something right now to contribute to greater peace: I can, through the power of my spoken word, extend a blessing to everyone in my awareness, even those I may consider my "enemy."

    The act of blessing creates positive energy that dissolves negative thoughts and feelings. The blessing ripples out as a vibration of healing love to my community and the world. My words not only create my life, they can also create peace--both within me and within others. Therefore, I imbue my words with loving intention and share blessings that inspire and encourage others. In this way, I help bring harmony to each interaction and

    peace to the world.

  • Life & People

    Do what you love and and money will follow - whether you believe it or not!

    We all have talent, something we enjoy doing so much that it rarely if ever feels like work.  I would often fantasize about how wonderful it would be to  draw cartoons and earn a living doing so.  I'd imagine myself living like Charles Schultz as in the pictures I'd seen of him; at his drawing table cheerfully illustrating the daily adventures of his Peanuts.  For me that seemed like the ultimate dream job.  I was enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard and shortly after boot camp we drew straws to see who would end up having to do a tour aboard the USCGC Jarvis.  Yep, of course, I drew the shortest straw.  Ever hear the saying, "Do what you love and the money will follow."?  Well, it was obvious that wasn't going to be happening for me anytime soon.  The Jarvis was scheduled to patrol the Bering Sea.  I wasn’t happy.  My fantasy about being in the U.S. Coast Guard was being sun-tanned aboard a flashy speedboat like I had seen on the TV show “Miami Vice.”  My reality however was about to be more like the series, "Deadliest Catch."  I’ll never forget that moment of pulling away from the dock in Honolulu about to set sail to Alaskan waters berating myself, “Now look what you got yourself into!”

    Once out at sea my days consisted entirely of mindless grunt work.  Being the lowest ranking sailor on board I manly chipped paint and then repainted the areas I just chipped, cleaned and organized areas that were in desperate need of organizing and cleaning, and I was also assigned trash detail.  The only time I got a break from these chores was when I had to stand watch.  Which was standing outside in the frigid cold above the bridge in the crow’s nest scanning the horizon for anything out of the ordinary.  But at the day's end I would draw.  Thinking ahead, I had packed plenty of paper, pencils and markers for my tour of duty.  This was 1985, the "olden days" before smart phones and satellite TV.  So that meant the only form of shipboard entertainment was either playing cards with other sailors, reading a book, or smoking cigarettes on the fantail.  Instead I spent each night drawing cartoons based on my daily experience at sea.  It became the highlight of my day.  Soon, I began to see each day’s mishap as content for my next cartoon.  Crazy as this may seem, but a day without some sort of challenge or comical blunder was seen as a disappointment.
    When I showed my cartoons to a few shipmates they were impressed. 

    "You should show these to the Captain!" one of them suggested.

    "Really?" I questioned somewhat flattered.

    The other sailor backed him up, "Yeah, he'd love them!"

    I did and they were right, the Captain loved them!  So much so that he immediately assigned me the task of creating and hanging a new cartoon on “the board” in the main pass each morning.  The board was the only bulletin board on the ship.  This was where the entire crew was expected to look to for each day's "Plan of the Day" and any other important news.  Located in the main pass directly outside the galley, to insure we’d all see it after morning chow, it was encased in plexiglass and under lock and key.  Only the Executive Officer had a key and was granted permission to hang the approved notices therein.  Although flattered I was apprehensive.  Sharing my drawings with a few close friends is one thing, but the entire crew?  Plus this meant that now in addition to my regular daily duty assignments I'm under orders to draw a brand new cartoon each day.  Well, no turning back now. 

    The Captain entrusted me with a key to the case.  Then he surprised me with an incredible benefit, he made arrangements for me to have access to very my own designated area on the ship to draw.  There was an available drawing table located in the ship's marine safety office and from now on it was all mine.  That meant no more fighting to find an open table somewhere to draw, nor did I have to unpack and repack my pens and pencils every evening.  I was blown away.  So I began; each evening after duty I'd complete a new cartoon and in the morning hang it in the main pass alongside the "Plan of the Day."  At first I felt self-conscious, but soon I became more comfortable.  Some nights I found it hard to sleep so excited to share what I drew with the crew in the morning.  I became a bit of a celebrity too.  Sailors would make it a point to pull me aside and tell me how much they enjoyed a cartoon.  Pretty soon putting up the morning cartoon became a major event.  The sailors would crowd around the bulletin board after breakfast and wait patiently, as I pushed my way through the crowd to unlock the case and post the latest cartoon.

    Although I had been drawing these cartoons in addition to my regular duties it didn’t matter - I loved what I was doing!  But little did I know there was a conspiracy brewing.  I was called into see the Captain.  He told me that a couple of the Chief Petty Officers were wondering if I could be given a new daily duty assignment, and the Captain agreed.  From that moment I was relieved of all my previous daily grunt work.  My new full-time shipboard job was to design and create murals for designated areas of the ship.  All to be done in my style of cartooning.  If this hadn't happened to me, especially under these most unlikely of circumstances, I'd never would have believed it.

    “All things are ready: I have knowledge, intelligence, all I need....

    The false belief of limitation and fear that I have had no longer has any power over me... 

    I am hemmed in by what seems like a very real doubt of myself. 

    But if I use my own true talents, the way will open out before me. 
    I need not work to make this true.  IT IS TRUE.” -Emmet Fox


    (Toward the end of our tour I was given a special mention in the "Plan of the Day."

    Click on image to Supersize it!)

    (I specifically remember asking a friend to take this shot because we hit an eerily calm patch of sea

    that we were all very apprehensive about. What a trip!)

  • Life & People

    Christmas is over - time to have fun making your returns.

    Yes the day after Christmas is the busiest day of the year for returns and exchanges.  Just imagining the lines at customer service is agonizing.  However, if you've received a gift that isn't 100% and it needs to be returned or exchanged there is a way to make it fun.  It's simple; add a positive note for the next customer who buys the item you're exchanging.  For instance; If it's an article of clothing, stick the note in a pocket, a book - slip the note between the pages.  If its an appliance slide your message in the box through the narrow slit where the box is sealed.  If you've opened the box, then before you reseal it place the note in the instruction manual or right on top of the item.  Now if it is an item that is defective and needs to be replaced add a positive note complimenting the employee who will receive it back at the factory.  If some of your friends have items to return as well become partners in crime.  If you've got kids, get them involved.  They'll love doing this with you.  It's always more fun when you have an army of co-conspirators.

    This simple practice transforms the burden of returning gifts into a wonderful adventure where you get to participate as an undercover agent of good will.  Long after you've made your returns you'll find yourself reflecting back on your mission and smiling as you wonder how your unexpected surprise was received.

    Here's how to get started.

    All you'll need are the following:
    A pen, marker, crayon, or pencil &
    3 x 5 cards or small sheets of paper.

    Next write your anonymous compliment. 

    Personally I like to keep them simple, like these;

    "You look great when you smile."

    "Your dream is worth it."

    "Someone is thinking about how special you are."

    "You look really good today."

    "You have plenty of talent, skill and ability to do whatever it is you desire."

    That's it!  Now you've got all you need to start on the adventure of many happy returns.

    "Christmas is love in action.
    Every time we love, every time we give, it's Christmas."
    - Dale Evans

  • Life & People

    Thanks Giving!

    This morning my friend, Ed Biagiotti, was having trouble getting started.  His son didn't want to go to school.  Ed felt himself getting frustrated but rather than attempting to intimidate his son into compliance, he instead stepped outside onto his porch, took a deep breath, and simply said, "Thank you." 

    Soon he felt relieved of the burden of trying to force his will and things seemed to unravel themselves; father and son were moving forward.  Ed finished sharing his experience with me by saying, "Life's too short to say anything but 'Thank you.'"

    Now that's the best thing I've heard in a long time.  Thanks Ed!

    This one (cartoon) is all your fault.