Friday, May 17, 2019

Names have been changed to protect identity


A day in 2019


Jacob and Michael - two friends

Mr “O”, a 50 year old finance entrepreneur and investor who has always loved kids and who believes he has a special connection with them decides to take a sabbatical from his normal business to work with kids as a substitute teacher.  He enters a kindergarten class of an all inclusion classroom that has kids with behavior issues, special needs and mainstream kids. Two boys in the class, Jacob and Michael are both 5 years old and pegged as troubled kids with behavioral issues.  They don’t like to sit still and the co-teachers are having a hard time dealing with them. The boys are physically restrained by the teachers when they do not want to sit still. One of the teachers holds Jacob down physically so that he will sit still in one place and listen to the lesson.  Another male teacher holds Michael by the arms during lunchtime so firmly that Michael was crying while trying to get loose. Jacob fights with the teacher and screams. Mr O, that's me, asks if I can work with Jacob and Michael. Jacob and Michael are friends.


I hadn’t noticed much misbehavior in either of them in previous days, but I did notice that Jacob said out loud one time to another kid and so all others could hear him, “The Easter Bunny isn’t real!”  And I spoke with Jacob softly one on one about what it means to the other kids when he says that and that its not his job to say that, but his the parents job to decide when. I said to Jacob, “How would you like it if someone told you Santa Claus wasn’t real?”  And Jacob replied, “But Santa Claus ISN’T real.” Jacob seemed to listen to me and converse about this in a reasonable way. So, I ask one of the teachers, Ms. Chapman, if she would allow me to work with Jacob and Michael for an hour or two. Anyway, they were taking so much time away from the other kids in the class.  She reluctantly allowed me and said, “I guess it can’t hurt at this point, right?” Also the teachers were talking about how bad those two were in front of the other kids. They were speaking out loud about whether it was “chemical” and if they thought the boys needed to be medicated.

So, I sat with both of them and told them to take out pencil and paper.  They both did and seemed eager to see what was next. I told them we were going to play a game.  They were excited. It was a mystery thing or person that they had to guess and as soon as one of them knew the answer they should raise their hand.  I chose Lebron James, thinking that they might have heard about who this basketball player is from their parents or uncles, etc. I told them I would say a letter and they needed to write it down.  They were eager and excited to begin. Both have fine handwriting and know their letters well at 5 years old. I wasn’t sure where I was going with this - I just wanted to be with them, play and see if I could sprinkle in some learning along the way.  I proceeded L-E-B-R-O-... as they easily wrote down the letters… “do you know who it is yet?”, I asked, “no” they both replied, pencil in hand, peeking up at me in anticipation. “..N….” and I said, “Lebron?….. Do you know?” “No,” they both said. We continued, “J-A-M-E-S” as they wrote down the letters.  We tried to sound it out together. I said, “Lebron James. Do you know him?” “No…” .and then Jacob exclaimed, “WAIT! Basketball!” “That’s right.” I said, “he’s a great basketball player and many believe he’s the best in the world.. Even better than Michael Jordan. Do you know him?” “No,” they said. “Would you like to see Lebron James slam dunk the basketball?”  “YEAH!!!” They said in unison. “Please Mr. O, show us. Show us!!” They said.

I noticed the teachers looking over at us, and I wasn’t sure what they were thinking.  “Ok, but let’s draw a picture of Lebron James under his name first and you can color it and then we’ll watch him play on my phone.  We can bring up some videos on Youtube… do you know what Youtube is?” “Yes,” they both said, as they continued to draw their pictures.  “Do you know who owns Youtube?” “What do you mean?” they said. Well, youtube is a company that is owned by another company...Google… do you know what google is?”  “no,” they both replied. While we were talking, they both were drawing a picture of Lebron James. “What color is his hair, Mr. O.?” Michael asked. “Its brown and he has a beard and he’s REALLY tall.” I said.  Michael proceeded to draw Lebron james with a shorter person and another person. I said, “is that you with him?” “Yes, its me and this guy is you, Mr. O!” Michael said excitedly. “That’s VERY nice that you decided to include me in your drawing, Michael.”  I said, “how about if you draw the basketball and the basketball hoop, also.” Jacob said, “Mr. O, Mr. O., can I see a picture of a basketball hoop on your phone?” “That’s a great idea, Jacob.” I said. “What is, Mr. O?” Michael asked. “Michael, Jacob wants to see a picture of a basketball hoop to know how to draw it?”  “Me too,” Michael said. So, I found several pictures on Google Images on my phone. “Which one do you want to use to look at to draw?” They chose one that had a red rim and a grey backboard. “What color is the rim of the basketball hoop?” I asked. “Its grey,” Jacob said. “Let’s look closer at it… the backboard is grey.  The backboard is the square thing on the end. The rim is red. The rim is the circle part that holds the net.” Michael was already trying to draw the backboard while I was talking to Jacob. “Mr. O, can you help me to draw the net?” Michael asked. “Of course,” I said, “we are going to make hatch marks like this.” I was thinking to myself, ‘are these bad kids?! They’re 5 years old and seem very smart’  And Michael copied the net perfectly. They seemed to really love to draw and color, sharing crayons with each other along the way. They proceeded to color and when finished, I found some videos of Lebron James which the three of us watched enthusiastically. When done, I said, “You guys drew beautiful pictures - hey guys, have you ever been in your gym that has basketball hoops? I saw it yesterday. Its really beautiful.”  “no”. “Have you ever dribbled a basketball?” “no”. This activity lasted about 45 minutes and they sat the entire time with the exception of getting up to get crayons of different colors. They interacted nicely and with manners, taking turns with me.

At this time, the rest of the class came to where we were sitting so we moved to the other side of the room.  The teachers had given us a Bingo game to play, so I decided to take it out to play with them. “You both did such a nice job with the Lebron James game and pictures, let’s play the bingo game.”  They were really excited. So, we took the game out and I let them each choose a game card that had pictures on it. “Mr. O, will you play with us also?” Jacob asked. “Sure, I’d love to, thank you for asking me.”   “I’m going first!” Jacob said. “Jacob, what if Michael wants to go first.” “But I called it.” Jacob said. “how do you think that Michael and I feel about that?” He became silent. “I don’t know.” And, Michael waited and watched also.  “Well, what do you think?” I asked. “Bad?” Jacob said. “What’s another way we can decide who goes first, guys?” I asked. They were quiet. “How about if we play rock, paper, scissors, to decide.” I suggested. “Yes!” they cheered. And we played, as I thought to myself, ‘these kids are amazing!’  Maybe they are just bored, acting out and need a different way to learn. To me, they seemed like the smartest kids in the class.


These boys, these friends, seemed genuinely pleased to learn and be with me.
They interacted nicely and seemed to be intelligent and eager for information, and used
manners when prompted.  I’ve since learned that the methods being used to restrain the boys
is an acceptable way to train kids to sit still. Even with the crying and fighting, it is commonly
used in schools with kids who have trouble sitting still.  And I noticed in subsequent days, and
unlike other Kindergarten classes at the school, there was a lot of time that the kids had nothing
to do and there was no teaching going on. I also noticed when the kids were writing in their
journals, several of the kids had no blank paper and I needed to find new journal books for them.   
Was I making an impact on them? Did they appreciate the “attention” they were getting?
The teachers had told me that they are “attention seekers”. And they certainly are, because
likely they had been very bored.

Three days later, something truly amazing happened that I will count as one of the most
remarkable moments of my life.  I returned to the school but worked in a different classroom
that day.  When school was being dismissed, and the classes were lining up outside their classrooms,
I decided to go find Jacob and Michael. They were standing next to each other in line.
 I approached them and said, “Hi guys!” …They looked back at me, ”Mr O, Mr O. Look!” And
to my surprise Michael pulled out a disheveled piece of paper out of his pocket. He had folded
it up to fit it inside his pocket.  Now, unfolding it slowly, he held it up so I could see the picture
and smiled his big toothless smile. It was the picture that he colored from our Lebron James game.
He was carrying it around with him for the past three days. I smiled back and wanted to give him a hug.
 But, I had learned that I wasn’t allowed to touch the kids. I then bent down to Jacob and smiled to
him, “I REALLY enjoyed playing with you two the other day. You are both REALLY smart. “ And
then, Jacob, as if he wanted to share something with me too to show his appreciation, but didn’t
know what or how to say it was moving his head back and forth trying to get it out.  I said, “Its ok
Jacob, what do you want to tell me?” And he said softly, “Mr. O, U KNOW WHAT?” “What Jacob.”
I replied. “I really do eat my vegetables..” I believe he wanted to tell me that he wasn’t a bad boy.

This experience, with these two 5 year old boys, was a mind-blowing one for me, and something I
will NEVER forget.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

My brush with greatness - "You cannot be serious" - Yes, I meet John McEnroe in Year 2000

Circa year 2000, I met a childhood hero of mine, John McEnroe.  He really is the reason I picked up a tennis racket.  During the summer of 1980, the summer after I was cut from the 7th grade basketball tryouts, John played Bjorn Borg in the finals of Wimbledon in an epic battle that is considered one of the best matches in tennis history.  I was sick with mono that summer - terribly ill.  It was 1980, and I was 12.   I hadn't had my first kiss yet, but somehow I ended up with mono, and I was bedridden for several weeks.  I remember it vividly.  My grandparents had not yet moved down to Florida where we lived.  They were still in Chicago.  That was Smoky Joe (Papa Morry) himself and my late Gramma Shirley.  Papa loved golf, more than anything except his wife, kids and grandkids, and this summer in 1980, after learning I was bedridden with mono, he took to writing me long letters on the ins and outs of all the different golf shots.  His mantra was always, "You must hit down on the ball in order for it to fly up."  I can't tell you how many times he would repeat this in his golf love letters to me that summer, and even after he and Gramma moved from the windy city to Orlando, my home town.  He must have written at least 20 of letters to me on how to putt, short game, getting out of the rough, driving the ball, all of it - all the while urging me to get better soon.  I never did fulfill his desire for me to become a true lover of golf.  Despite how I tried to pick up the game, I never really developed that passion for the game.  Perhaps it was because of the ADHD in me that never allowed me the patience to truly enjoy it the way he did as well as many of my friends.  Tennis, however, was about to bite me hard.  Well, I digress, before even getting to the point of Johnny Mac.

That summer, I was plunked down sick on the couch in our living room in Winter Park, FL (that's near Orlando) where I was born and raised - watching a small tv my mom set up for me.  I turned the channel one day and saw a confident, wild, brash, curly haired kid of 20 having advanced to the finals against Borg that year in this now well-known epic match.  I remember it clearly with NBC playing music in the background of "The Boy from NY City" . So the network carrying Wimbledon (I think NBC) played this song displaying Mac on the court, yelling, swinging his racket and ranting and raving.  Yes, I was 12 at the time, in 7th grade, and as I mentioned had recently been cut from my junior high school basketball tryouts.  This was a big surprise to me and a lesson of the importance of preparation, or lack of preparation rather and its ill-effects on life.  This had been the most traumatizing event of my life of my 12 years, and proved to traumatize me for many years afterward, affecting my confidence.  I became mesmerized by Mac during this Wimbledon tournament.  I promised myself that once I recovered from mono, I would pick up the sport and it has in fact become my favorite sport of my life.  Hey, come to think of it, maybe the trauma of getting cut from the basketball tryouts was actually what caused me to get sick.  Just thought of that now.  I truly enjoyed watching him play tennis as well as his antics on the court.  He was entertaining in a way I had not seen in any sport before that.

I was very fortunate to meet him twenty years later just after he started the senior tour in Chicago.  I was 32 at the time.  I would meet him a second time along with Martina Hingis years later at a Chase MVP event.  Anyway, during this first meeting, I had a very nice chat with him and very memorable moment, and I will explain it here.  I was with my friend Tanya at the time who had accompanied me to the tournament. After the match, John was walking alongside a reporter and there was a crowd of obnoxious people yelling at him trying to get his attention, "Hey Mac, let's see that temper!"  and all kinds of things like that.  I moved my way through the crowd and started walking alongside him and said very quietly since I was a bit nervous, "Hey John, I just want to pay you a compliment."  His reply, "Oh yeah? What's that buddy?"  He must have thought I was going to say some sarcastic comment to him.  "Well, when I was a kid, I was sick with mono the year you played Borg, and you are what got me interested in tennis.  Well, you are an amazing commentator now and you've been so great for tennis, so I want to tell you Thank You."  He looked over at me and said, "You know what, pal, that means a lot to me.  I really appreciate it."  And I said, "sure thing."  So, he kept walking and stopped to do an interview from behind a roped off barricade, and the crowd of people were still yelling at him and asking for a signature or a photo.  "Come on, Mac, sign my kids tennis ball!" one guy yelled.  I was just standing there next to Tanya, and as he was doing the interview, he kept glancing over in my direction while he was talking to the interviewer.  I have to tell you, I still get chills and teary-eyed remembering this for some reason.  So, he didn't give any autographs or pictures to anyone, and then, without warning, he yells out and points in my direction, "You!  Come over here!"  I couldn't believe it!  So, I stepped over the rope and stood next to him in the picture you see below.  Tanya couldn't figure out the camera and was taking a little long to snap the photo, and John says, "So, are you gonna take the damn picture already, or what?!"  And then she snapped the photo that you see below.  We shook hands and I thanked him.  One of the best memories and moments of my life.  I'm still not sure why this man climbed into my heart and still remains there.  Maybe it was my hurt from being cut from the basketball team after that sport was such an identity crisis for me - it really did crush me.  Perhaps, he saved me, in a way - and with his soft, creative and artistic way on the court, I was truly mesmerized.  John, you're a legend, and I'll always be grateful to you.  The photo kind of looks like we had played together which I sometimes joke around about with my friends, and one friend even commented that we had the same hairdo! But truth be told, we have never been on the same court, but maybe that will be for another time.  John, if you're reading this, or if someone who knows John personally is reading this, I would be indebted for a short court-time with you one day.


John McEnroe and Joe Omansky, game, set and match.



An Original Song by Me

Happy Birthday - A shout out for Matan and Yonit

A Shout Out Happy Birthday for my yeledim hijos.

Redemption Song Improv

Redemption Song Improv

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Some ole tune I thunk up

https://www.dropbox.com/s/o7k8p7bl7kf06jj/OriginalSongWrittenByMe.mov?dl=0