The shirt seen ’round the world

Look in the crowd, a little to the right of the middle and I'm the guy wearing the shirt with the Blue note on it.

Look in the crowd, a little to the right of the middle and I’m the guy wearing the shirt with the Blue note on it.

How does one assure that you’ll stand out in a crowd of about 35,000 people at a Major Golf Championship? You wear the Blue note.

That was my plan as Chris and I embarked for an epic vacation to Ireland and Scotland that would include attending The Open, held at Royal Port Rush Golf Club in Northern Ireland as well as playing The Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland.

How it all came about, resulting in the photo you see above is somewhat amazing, involving two of my fellow Blue Buddies from St. Louis U High and an ancestral journey that my wife, Chris, made to Ireland about seven years ago with her mom.

I guess I’ll start there as Chris and I would have probably never made this trip had she not first gone across the pond with her mum (we’ll use the English vernacular) to see if they could find any ties to her mum’s grandfather who hailed from a town called Ballymoney. The trip was a success, including their stay at a Bed & Breakfast. Two years ago, while Chris and I were watching The Open, a promo came on announcing future sites for The Open which included this year’s event that would return to Northern Ireland for the first time in 52 years at The Royal Port Rush Golf Club.

Chris said the site of The Open was less than 15 minutes from Ballymoney and that she would check to see if we could stay at the same Bed & Breakfast.

It was available – so that set our travel plans in motion which we expanded to include a round of our own at the birthplace of golf, St. Andrews in Scotland. Chris was quite the travel planner as she blocked out and booked all aspects of our journey. The week before, as we were discussing what all we should pack based on temperatures in Northern Ireland and Scotland at this time of year, I mentioned I was going to wear the Blue note. I know I could have opted for a Cardinals jersey but saluting the Stanley Cup Champions on a completely different continent seemed like the right thing to do.

Chris and I, striking a pose with the Open logo on the grounds of Royal Port Rush.

Chris and I, striking a pose with the Open logo on the grounds of Royal Port Rush.

I was hoping that someone, somewhere might notice. Turns out that someone did. Dave Hemenway, one of my high school classmates from SLUH was watching The Open on an early Saturday morning from his home in Cary, North Carolina and noticed someone wearing a Blues jersey behind the 6th green.

He got out his phone and snapped my image from the TV coverage and sent it along to another class of ’76 grad, Pat Leahy, who’s one of my golf buddies. Dave’s message to Pat – “Look in the gallery”

And there I was, right next to Chris, proudly wearing my Blues shirt. I don’t think it drew any comments from the TV analysts. But it did get noticed. And now, through the power of social media, will get noticed a bit more.

It’s a small world after all.

In praise of TOKY

The 53rd Communication Arts Advertising Annual arrived in my mailbox yesterday.

I love to see great work, so opening the cardboard mailer that holds each CA is always a treat. When it’s the Ad Annual, it’s like opening the Christmas present that you weren’t sure what exactly was in it but could hardly wait to get your hands on it to find out.

Last night, I quickly devoured its contents. For those of you who don’t know, Communication Arts comes out five times a year and features the best work being done in advertising, design, interactive, photography and illustration.

The Ad Annual has changed through the years. Back in the late 80s and early 90s, each annual was packed with magazine and newspaper ads, outdoor boards, as well as scripts for radio and key frames for TV commercials. These days, the Ad Annual has gotten a lot smaller but the work is still outstanding.

This marks the 33rd consecutive year that I’ve had nothing in it and that depresses me each year but I always vow that next year will be the year. I’ve actually only had a grand total of four entries that I ever considered CA-worthy. None of them made it.

So I always peruse the Annual to see if any other St. Louis agencies had anything in it. To my knowledge, there are none – though I did see a fantastic campaign created by Barkley out of Kansas City with Paul Behnen as the Executive Creative Director. Paul went to St. Louis U High, graduated a year below me and he recently moved to Barkley after spending many years in New York. I also noticed that Claude Shade showed up as a photographer for a Goodby Silverstein campaign. Claude was an awesome art director at TBWA back when they were doing great stuff here in St. Louis.

Okay, but I thought this was titled, “In praise of TOKY”.

It is. Because as I was devouring all of the contents of the Ad Annual portion of CA, I completely missed the spotlight portion that they do each edition highlighting some hot ad or design firm.

So tonight as I was getting ready to revisit all the ad work again, I noticed four letters on the cover that leaped out at me. TOKY.

I’ve know Eric Thoelke since about 1985 or so. We were both board members on the Not Just An Art Directors’ Club and Eric and I worked on a few mailers for the club together.

I have always had the highest regard for Eric and he’s been the guiding force (backed by his wife and business partner, Mary) in making his shop a truly special place in St. Louis that does absolutely amazing work for a very interesting client mix. Communication Arts devoted 10 pages to profiling the company and the work they do.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Reading the article inspired me. Eric talked about the early days and how much hard work he had to put in to get things rolling. To quote him via CA, “When you get it going, it’s like pushing a boulder, all of a sudden you turn around and the boulder starts to get some momentum. Pretty soon, the boulder is chasing you down the hill instead of you pushing it. If you’re lucky, you get to hop on the boulder and kind of run on top of it for a while, while it’s moving.”

It’s moving and it’s picking up even more momentum.

Keep it going, Eric and congrats to each and every employee of Toky Design.

Myself, I’ve got a boulder that I’m trying to push.

Our man in China

Tom Jr. left today for a two-week journey to China. He won’t actually arrive until tomorrow morning around 9 am our time which I think is a full day ahead of us so he’s currently traveling into the future and will be taking a trip back in time when he returns home.

He’s traveling with 12 other classmates and three teachers from St. Louis U High including the Chinese teacher who has done this trip several times. The students are all members of SLUH’s Varsity Chorus and they’ll be performing in several different cities in China but primarily, it’s a sight-seeing, tourist-type trip with a few performances tossed in for good measure.

Chris and I both figured it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and when those opportunities come your way, you’ve got to take them. So off he went today – no longer a boy, but now a young man, a high school graduate who is ready to see the world.

It’s hard for me to fathom the adventure that awaits him. I’ve been all around the U.S., to Puerto Rico, in parts of Canada and slight ventures into Mexico. Back when I was in college, I had the chance to visit my brother, Frank, who was studying for the priesthood at the North American College in Rome. We visited several cities in Italy, saw countless museums and churches and also traveled by train into Germany, France and Switzerland.

But China! I just can’t wrap my head around China.

To me, it’s this Communistic, militaristic, over-populated land where everyone dresses alike, thinks alike and they are constantly on the go – on their bikes, their rickshaws, their small vehicles and overcrowded public transportation. All I have are assumptions. All I have are generalities.

It is frightening to think that Tom Jr. will be over there with nothing more than a passport to prove who he is and if, by some remote fluke he were to get separated from his group and wander off into a crowded market and get confused about his bearings, I would be helpless to do a thing about it.

Sure that scares me. At the same time, I am excited by the possibilities – knowing that Tom will experience a culture that I most likely never will. He’ll see the great wall of China. He’ll be in Tiananman Square. He’ll be in major cities and tour the countryside as well.

He’s taken a camera and I hope he remembers to use it and use it often. He also has taken a journal and I encouraged him to write down what he saw or thought about each day that he’s gone.

This is our first true experience of Tom being away for any extended length of time while the rest of the household is here, going about our business. So I guess it’s good prep work for when he goes away to college in the fall.

We really haven’t seen much of Tom the past year as he’s been so heavily involved in SLUH activities of one sort or another or hanging with his friends. We are sort of a boarding house in that regard. But he’s always been here in the morning or the afternoon when he got back from an overnight stay at a friend’s. Even though he may not have been at our house, we didn’t feel like he was actually gone.

It’s not like he was halfway around the world or anything.

But now he is.

Already, I miss him.

We hope he has the time of his life.

And we can hardly wait until he’s back home to tell us all about it.


One week, two graduations

This past week, my daughter Catherine graduated from 8th grade. On Sunday, Tom Jr. donned a white tux and graduated from St. Louis U High.

So Tom’s off to college and Catherine is off to high school. Grade school is now a thing of the past in our household

We’ll have one in college and two in high school. Time sure flies when you’re having fun.

And when they say, (whoever they are), “Who knows where the time goes?” – they’re right.

It flies by. When your kids are first born it’s all a blur. But then they’re walking. And talking. Next thing you know, they’re off to pre-school and when kindergarten hits, you think, “this is a big step.” And it is.

Because it never slows down from there. Everything accelerates. Now, our family is done with grade school. In a few more games, I’ll be done coaching softball and done coaching for the rest of my life.

That’s a bummer. It’s fun to coach. Grade school years were fun years. Both Michael and Tom Jr. have loved their experience at St. Louis U High. It’s truly an awesome school, so different from when I went there but yet, fundamentally so much the same. SLUH gets in your blood (pardon the pun). You realize while you’re attending there what a great place it is and then, once you’re done, you realize you’re ready to move on.

So Tom Jr. will be attending St. Louis University in the fall. Catherine will be a freshman at Nerinx. Michael will be an upperclassman at SLUH.

They’ll all do great.

Right now, Tom Jr. is about to depart for China for a two week excursion with SLUH’s Varsity Chorus, continuing to go places and do things that I’ve never done and that’s what life’s all about.

Get out there and live it.

Always live in the present. Remember the past. Try a bit to plan for the future but know that if you’re looking more than two or three weeks down the road, you may be overlooking the joys of right now.

I’m a proud papa. I’ve got an awesome wife. I shot in the 70s today in golf for the first time in a long time.

To quote a great singer from my far distant past, “Life’s been good to me so far.”

36 Years Between Follies

Last night at St. Louis U High, the class of 2012 put on their rendition of the Senior Follies.

Overall, it was a well done show, though if you didn’t know some of the teachers being referenced in the skits, some of the laughs may have passed you by.

Tom Jr. was on stage at SLUH for his final high school performance. He is in a class that features several extremely gifted actors and I count him among that group. Tom has a very commanding stage presence – he’s portrayed Lenny from Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”. He’s been Henry the VIIIth in “A Man for All Seasons”. In his most recent role, he was the bad guy gangster in a play set in the 1940s called “Filthy Rich”.

But last night was fun and games time. Not only did he perform in several skits, he also wrote quite a few of them, as well as shot and edited a short video that featured crisp editing, great title graphics and a funny story to boot.

He is a talent far beyond where I was when I took to the stage with my fellow members of SLUH’s Class of ’76 for our own version of the Senior Follies. There were about 25 skits last night and the show lasted around three hours. I was exhausted when it was finally over and marveled at the level of dancing, singing and acting – not from everyone, of course, but that’s kind of what makes the evening fun in the first place.

I certainly don’t remember that level of commitment from myself or my fellow classmates – let’s just say our commitments were elsewhere. I do remember that I authored a skit or two though apparently they were so memorable, I have absolutely no recollection of what they were about.

I vaguely recall a Hollywood Squares rip-off portraying different teachers. I also remember some skit where we were all dressed as Jesuits doing some sort of song and dance and one other skit was similar in style to Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In where everyone danced around. Then the music would stop and someone would deliver some witty line.

Apparently, we didn’t go too deep or perhaps, my memory just flat out fails me on this one.

I do know one thing though – when it comes to acting, I know who the amateur is and he doesn’t have a Jr. after the name Tom.

So on his final performance, I have just one thing to say …

Bravo, Tom. Bravo.

Michael takes the mound

Tonight, Michael Blood made his first start for St. Louis U High’s junior varsity baseball team. It wasn’t what I would call his best outing but in the end, SLUH won the game 5-2.

Michael went three innings and gave up one run but his pitch count was up around 60, so for the first time out, his coach went with some other pitchers.

It’s such a strange feeling when your son is out there on the mound.

Michael’s been pitching since third grade and has always done really well at it. He’s got mound presence. Though he doesn’t possess a blazing fastball, he generally has really good control, has developed a wicked curve and is a very crafty pitcher, knowing how to get hitters to go after pitches that are out of the zone. And he’s always had a strange knack for getting out of jams. Tonight was no exception. I wasn’t there in time to see the first at bat but I think he walked the guy. Next one up hits one right back to Michael and he wheeled to get a double play but the shortstop wasn’t there in time so he stopped his throw and then short-armed one to second and the runner was safe. Two on, nobody out. He walks the next guy after having him 0 and 2.

So it’s bases loaded, nobody out and up comes the clean up  hitter who strikes out swinging. The number five guy then leans his head into a curve ball (literally) and lets it plunk off his helmet – thing was, he leaned in so much, his head was in the strike zone and he gets called out by the umpire, followed by a pop up to second. Inning over.

Next inning, he gets saved my a major league double play with a diving stop by the shortstop who flips to the second baseman covering who then throws a short hop to the first baseman who stretches out to grab it right before the runner crosses.

Now, does any of this matter in the least? No. But it’s fun and it was a great day to sit outside and watch a little baseball, played by kids who aren’t being paid a dime but who put everything they’ve got into it. Now that I’m freelancing, I should be able to make a lot of games (at least in theory) so I’m looking forward to more sunshine, more baseball and more sitting back and enjoying the moment. Your kids only play sports for so many years and once grade school is done, there’s no guarantee that they’ll keep on playing.

I can still remember tossing balls underhanded while kneeling to a bunch of kindergarten boys ready to smack the ball but not quite sure if they should take off running down the first base line, third base line or just make a bee line to center field. Those boys are all sophomores in high school now.

Live in the moment and enjoy each day. Before you know it, you’ll be looking back and wondering, where did the time go?