April Fool

Holy jeez. Never, in all my years of having an April first birthday, have I ever had a prank this good played on me (though when I used to sell classified ads and all my clients canceled their ads on the same day, leaving me broke, that was close).

So thanks to my wife Cori — and all my fellow creative pals — and all the sites that helped post it. Every damn one of them is a place (and person) I love to read. My wife knows me well — and it was nice to know that if she wanted to cheat on me, I clearly would have no idea.

Also, best part? My film agent who called and said, “I believed it.”. Thanks for the faith. To see the full prank:

But most of all, thanks to all the family and friends who sent love. You know I don’t have “readers.” I have family and friends. Always have. That’s the ONLY reason I get to still do this and on a day like my birthday — when I usually get all sappy and sad — thanks for making me feel so blessed. I never ever forget you’re there. Ever.

If I could buy each of you something expensive — like a first-class Bar Mitzvah — I would.



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Plane Crash

I hate to fly. I always think my plane is going to go down — so much so, that I always leave word who should finish the novel every time I fly. And among my fantasies (for the flying part) is this one:

        Me being the one on the plane who has to suddenly…oh my!…land the plane.

       “There’s nobody else we trust, Mr. Brad Meltzer of seat 22C. You have been
        chosen. Now…land…this…plane!”

So big butterfly kisses to Air Traffic Controllers Lisa Grimm and Brian Norton for talking them down.

And thanks to Blane for sending it along.

Air-traffic controllers earn praise for a calm assist
By Joe Davidson
Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The next time you hear someone bad-mouthing federal workers as bureaucrats who sit around bemoaning this and that, tell him or her to ask Doug White about Lisa Grimm and Brian Norton.

Grimm, Norton and other air-traffic controllers guided White to safety on April 12, 2009, when the pilot of his plane died during a flight. Grimm, based at the Federal Aviation Administration’s Miami center, and Norton, who was in Fort Myers, are among the controllers that the National Air Traffic Controllers Association planned to honor Monday night in Orlando at its sixth annual awards banquet.

Six of the honorees, including Grimm and Norton, helped White after his pilot, Joe Cabuk, died suddenly while flying White’s King Air 10-seat, two-engine plane in Miami airspace. White owned the plane as an investment; he did not know how to fly it.

Jessica Anaya, Nathan Henkels, Dan Favio and Carey Meadows also were being honored for assisting White.

White had limited experience as a pilot of a two-seat Cessna, but he said that trying to fly the much larger King Air was like moving from a Volkswagen to an Indy 500 racecar with no training. To fly a King Air 200, pilots need to know how to fly on autopilot, be instrument-rated and be qualified for a multi-engine plane.

“I had only been in the plane one time before,” White said, “and the only thing I asked is, ‘How do I talk on the radio?’ That was the only thing I knew how to do up there.”

That one bit of knowledge may have saved his life — and the lives of his wife and two daughters who were with him. It allowed him to push the right button and say: “I’ve gotta declare an emergency.”

According to a transcript provided by the controllers association, White said: “My pilot’s . . . unconscious. I need help up here. . . . I need to get this thing on the ground. I’m flyin’ a King Air . . . N559DW. My pilot’s deceased. . . . I need help.”

The controllers could hear the panic in his voice.

White: Do I turn off the altimeter or not? It’s steady climbin’ . . . but it looks to me like my, uh, altitude of descent is on 10,000. I dunno why I keep goin’ climbin’. I need to figure out how to level off.

Grimm was called away from the flights she was working to deal with the emergency. A pilot and a flight instructor, she had flown other twin turboprops as well as Learjets.

That’s the kind of person flight crew members and passengers want guiding them, especially when the skies don’t seem so friendly.

Because of her experience as a flight instructor, she knew to make her directions as simple as possible. Her tone on the tape of the conversation is reassuring, and she uses positive reinforcement. “That was the goal, to convince him that he could control” the plane, she said.

But White wasn’t so sure. Alarm was what Grimm said she heard in his voice.

White: You find me the longest, widest runway you can, ma’am. Grimm: November five delta whiskey, roger. I’m gonna try to keep ya. . . . Hold the plane level. . . . You’re doing pretty good, one-seven thousand. . . . Try to hold the plane level now at one-seven thousand . . . we’re gonna start a slow, shallow descent. Just easy down on the yoke, a slight descent. We’re gonna get you down to one-one eleven thousand. . . . All right, November niner delta whiskey, you’re doin’ a real good job. . . . You’re doing . . . very good . . . keeping your heading, you’re doin’ a real nice descent there.

Grimm had established a rapport with White, and there was some consideration of letting her talk him all the way in. But having controllers at the Fort Myers airport, which has a long runway, handle the approach and landing made more sense because they would be able to physically see the plane.

At Fort Myers, it was Norton, with help, who talked White through the landing.

Norton: November niner delta whiskey, are you using the autopilot or are you flying the airplane?

White: I’m in the good Lord’s hands flying this niner delta whiskey.

The unruffled demeanor and skill of the controllers helped, too.

“Their individual resourcefulness and the calmness on the radio is what got my mind thinking we can get this done,” White said in an interview. The controllers “exuded confidence through the radio, and their specific instructions gave me confidence.”

Some of those instructions were relayed from Kari Sorenson, a flight instructor with King Air experience. Favio called Sorenson, and his step-by-step directions helped ensure a safe landing.

Norton: Nine delta whiskey, the runway’s all yours. You can, uh, turn left or right, whatever’s easier for you. Power all the way back, and they’re telling me max breaking.

White: We’re down, buddy, thank you.

Norton: Nice work.

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Don’t Tell Me The Odds

I just love this story about the one person out of four million who picked the perfect bracket. It’s so simple. So perfect. And it just defies the odds.

There is no impossible (don’t tell my son that — he’s still pissed he got a few wrong).

From ESPN.Com

Autistic teen picks perfect bracket
By Eamonn Brennan

ESPN’s Tournament Challenge is currently hosting 4.78 million — yes, million — 2010 NCAA tournament bracket entries. After two rounds, not a single one of them is perfect . But the feat has, miraculously enough, been accomplished.

Who did it? His name is Alex Herrman, and he’s a 17-year-old student at Glenbrook South High School in Glenview, Ill., one of Chicago’s north suburbs. Herrmann, who is autistic, picked all the wild upsets you and I didn’t see happening. UNI over Kansas. Ohio over Georgetown. Cornell over Wisconsin. Your bracket may have survived. Your bracket might be good. Herrmann’s bracket is 100 percent perfect.

“It’s amazing,” Hermann said. “I’m good at math. I’m kind of good at math and at stats I see on TV during the game.”

Alex entered the bracket on CBSsports.com’s bracket challenge. CBS did not return several phone calls to confirm entries into its game. His 24-year-old brother Andrew, who helped him enter his picks into CBS’ bracket manager, also entered the contest — and ranks behind 500,000 other people.

“My bracket is totally shot,” his 24-year-old brother Andrew said. “So is everyone else I know.”

Us too, Andrew. Us too.

In case you needed the visual proof, NBC Chicago has the PDF right here . Another fun fact: According to Book Of Odds , the chances of picking the first two rounds of this NCAA tournament are one in 13,460,000, which means you have a better chance of winning the lottery twice over.

Two rounds is incredibly impressive, obviously, but the next step is seeing if Alex’s picks can go the distance. Can he complete the holy grail? Can he seal the perfect bracket? Herrmann’s Final Four is a bit dubious — he has Tennessee coming out of the Midwest and Purdue overcoming the Robbie Hummel injury to make it out of the South — not to mention the fact that the odds of attaining a perfect bracket are 1 in 35,360,000,000. (Or, according to Book Of Odds, “almost 18 times worse than your odds of being killed by a waterspout in a year [1 in 1,988,000,000].” So, um, yeah.) But doubting Alex now means doubting the one person who managed to get the entire bracket correct. In other words, I’m not going to do it.

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Send This One To Your Grandmother

When I was little, my Grandmother used to take me to the library. She’s the one who introduced me to all those books. Her and all those librarians.

So here’s a new hero that someone sent me over the weekend… Boy, I feel like Casey Kasem doing a long distance dedication. But I used to love those dedications, so…this one goes out to Seth.

From: Seth Moore

My Hero: My grandma

For as long as I’ve been able to remember (though not my entire life), by grandpa has been restricted to a wheelchair. There was no great accident that made him this way, but rather a rare, incurable disease called attaxia. Attaxia eats away at the region of the brain controlling motor functions, slowly causing the victim to become paralyzed, be incapable of speech, and eventually leads to choking to death.

As of today, he is losing his awareness, though whether that is from the disease or just aging, I’m not sure. He sleeps nearly 20 hours a day, and eats very little. I suppose he is a little more “manageable” now than he used to be, but my grandma has never thought of him in that light.

I am 20 years old. I have never once heard her say a negative comment toward him. She worships him, always praising him for what a wonderful man he is, for his integrity, for how much he loves for her given the limited means he has for expressing it. She considers her task of caring for him to be the greatest calling God could give her.

She prays with him daily. She reads the Bible to him because he is no longer able to hold a book steady or turn the pages. He is always the most lucid with her. He is never a burden.

If all of this were not enough, my aunt has the same disease. While she is obviously younger, it progressed in her much more quickly and at a younger age. Sadly, her husband does not consider caring for her to be the joy that my grandmother finds. After years of emotional abuse and neglect, my aunt finally separated from him to live with my grandparents. Grandma cares for both her husband and her daughter.

It was about a year ago that my grandparents and my aunt moved from their lifelong home an hour from my family to a new home twelve hours north. Another daughter/sister lives up there with her family, and she is an RN. They now live in the best assisted living complex I have ever seen, and life is so much easier. My uncle comes over every morning to sit my grandpa up, strap him to a machine to move him to his wheelchair, help bathe him, dress him, take him to the restroom. But in the end, it all comes back to my grandma and her almost stubborn loyalty to this man.

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My Daughter’s Teacher

Today I went to my daughter’s school to volunteer in her class. Sure, the teacher let me read to the class. I picked Fox In Socks, my favorite Dr. Seuss book. I then taught the little evil geniuses that no one can say “toy boat” 5 times fast (which they of course tried…one by one).

And then I built to the big finish…where I did the thumb-trick where I pull my finger off. It was like being at the Prince Purple Rain concert in the Orange Bowl 1985. The crowd went wild.

But then, the crowd, as it does every day, went right back to the teacher.

She’s the one they trust. And the one I trusted.

So my hero today is her.

Sending special love to all the teachers who spend so much time with our children.

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Best Hero This Week

Every week, I’m convinced we’ve used our best hero. And every week, someone sends me a new that reminds me why I love this project so much. There are heroes everywhere. And the moment you need your life put back in perspective, well…here’s Jadie…

Sent by her father

Her Story: My daughter was diagnosed with Lupus which was brought on by a tonsillectomy and a bought of mononucleosis when she was 15. It took a battery of doctors and a laundry list of misdiagnoses to find it and she lost, literally, a year of her life to recovery. She’s now 17 and has spent the last year catching up in school, getting her drivers license and generally just finding her life again. She’s done it all with grace, commitment and a giant sense of humor. Along the way she has taught me about patience, strength, determination, sacrifice and perspective. She worries about us and how we’re doing, and that’s why she’s my hero.

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Choose Your Own Sneak Peek

The publisher has offered to put a bunch of the pages from Heroes For My Son online. The only question is, which of these (vote for your top four) are the heroes you want to see?

So please pick from:

– The Wright Brothers

– Mr. Rogers

– Miep Gies

– Anne Sullivan

– Thomas Jefferson

– Gandhi

– Rosa Parks

– Lou Gehrig

Top four win, so please vote. And please do join (it really matters): http://www.facebook.com/HeroesforMySon

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The Best Teacher I Know

New day. New hero for my children.

At first, I had both Helen Keller AND Anne Sullivan in Heroes For My Son. But the more I read about them, the more I realized that I wanted to save one of them for my daughter. The story was just too beautiful. And so, the story we used in the book is about Anne Sullivan. When Helen Keller was accepted to college at Radcliffe, one of the deans convinced her to delay her entry for a year — he said it’d be too hard. A year later, Helen risked it and entered college. But without Braille books, she had to rely on Anne Sullivan “hand-writing” all the books in the palm of Helen’s hand. What I didn’t know was that Anne Sullivan had her own eye problems — and a doctor warned Anne that if she continued to help Helen, she’d risk going blind herself.

Anne Sullivan never stopped. Never once.

And of course Helen Keller graduated.

Cum laude.

To add to it, see this video (YouTube), sent to me this morning. It’s rare newsreel footage of them.

So to all the teachers out there, thank you.

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Mr. Rogers Kicks All Kinda Neighborly Butt

Was saving this, but when I asked for great teachers who have been a hero to you, Blane Mather sent me a note about Mr. Rogers. Who, yes, is in Heroes For My Son. (C’mon, of course he is). We also have just best pic of him — and I don’t think it’s been seen in multiple decades. So thanks to the photog who gave us the rights. Anyway, Blane also sent this, my favorite list of why Mr. Rogers is the best neighbor ever (and one of these reasons is already in the book too) (via Mental Floss)

15 Reasons Mister Rogers Was the Best Neighbor Ever
by Mangesh Hattikudur – May 23, 2007 – 1:52 PM

Back when I was in 7th grade I stood up in front of my English class and delivered a tongue-in-cheek, poorly researched presentation on why I thought Mister Rogers should be the next President. I ate up the first few minutes zipping up my cardigan, and putting on some sneakers, and then I proceeded to mock him roundly. It was a riotous success. Fourteen years later, I’m using this post to repent. The following are 15 things everyone should know about Fred Rogers:

1. Even Koko the Gorilla Loved Him
Most people have heard of Koko, the Stanford-educated gorilla who could speak about 1000 words in American Sign Language, and understand about 2000 in English. What most people don’t know, however, is that Koko was an avid Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood fan. As Esquire reported, when Fred Rogers took a trip out to meet Koko for his show, not only did she immediately wrap her arms around him and embrace him, she did what she’d always seen him do onscreen: she proceeded to take his shoes off!

2. He Made Thieves Think Twice
According to a TV Guide profile, Fred Rogers drove a plain old Impala for years. One day, however, the car was stolen from the street near the TV station. When Rogers filed a police report, the story was picked up by every newspaper, radio and media outlet around town. Amazingly, within 48 hours the car was left in the exact spot where it was taken from, with an apology on the dashboard. It read, “If we’d known it was yours, we never would have taken it.”

3. He Watched His Figure to the Pound
In covering Rogers’ daily routine (waking up at 5; praying for a few hours for all of his friends and family; studying; writing, making calls and reaching out to every fan who took the time to write him; going for a morning swim; getting on a scale; then really starting his day), writer Tom Junod explained that Mr. Rogers weighed in at exactly 143 pounds every day for the last 30 years of his life. He didn’t smoke, didn’t drink, didn’t eat the flesh of any animals, and was extremely disciplined in his daily routine. And while I’m not sure if any of that was because he’d mostly grown up a chubby, single child, Junod points out that Rogers found beauty in the number 143. According to the piece, Rogers came “to see that number as a gift… because, as he says, “the number 143 means ‘I love you.’ It takes one letter to say ‘I’ and four letters to say ‘love’ and three letters to say ‘you.’ One hundred and forty-three.”

4. He Saved Both Public Television and the VCR
Strange but true. When the government wanted to cut Public Television funds in 1969, the relatively unknown Mister Rogers went to Washington. Almost straight out of a Capra film, his 5-6 minute testimony on how TV had the potential to give kids hope and create more productive citizens was so simple but passionate that even the most gruff politicians were charmed. While the budget should have been cut, the funding instead jumped from $9 to $22 million. Rogers also spoke to Congress, and swayed senators into voting to allow VCR’s to record television shows from the home. It was a cantankerous debate at the time, but his argument was that recording a program like his allowed working parents to sit down with their children and watch shows as a family.

5. He Might Have Been the Most Tolerant American Ever
Mister Rogers seems to have been almost exactly the same off-screen as he was onscreen. As an ordained Presbyterian minister, and a man of tremendous faith, Mister Rogers preached tolerance first. Whenever he was asked to castigate non-Christians or gays for their differing beliefs, he would instead face them and say, with sincerity, “God loves you just the way you are.” Often this provoked ire from fundamentalists.

6. He Was Genuinely Curious About Others
Mister Rogers was known as one of the toughest interviews because he’d often befriend reporters, asking them tons of questions, taking pictures of them, compiling an album for them at the end of their time together, and calling them after to check in on them and hear about their families. He wasn’t concerned with himself, and genuinely loved hearing the life stories of others. Amazingly, it wasn’t just with reporters. Once, on a fancy trip up to a PBS exec’s house, he heard the limo driver was going to wait outside for 2 hours, so he insisted the driver come in and join them (which flustered the host). On the way back, Rogers sat up front, and when he learned that they were passing the driver’s home on the way, he asked if they could stop in to meet his family. According to the driver, it was one of the best nights of his life—the house supposedly lit up when Rogers arrived, and he played jazz piano and bantered with them late into the night. Further, like with the reporters, Rogers sent him notes and kept in touch with the driver for the rest of his life.

7. He Was Color-blind
Literally. He couldn’t see the color blue. Of course, he was also figuratively color-blind, as you probably guessed. As were his parents who took in a black foster child when Rogers was growing up.

8. He Could Make a Subway Car full of Strangers Sing
Once while rushing to a New York meeting, there were no cabs available, so Rogers and one of his colleagues hopped on the subway. Esquire reported that the car was filled with people, and they assumed they wouldn’t be noticed. But when the crowd spotted Rogers, they all simultaneously burst into song, chanting “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.” The result made Rogers smile wide.

A few more things about him…

9. He Got into TV Because He Hated TV.
The first time he turned one on, he saw people angrily throwing pies in each other’s faces. He immediately vowed to use the medium for better than that. Over the years he covered topics as varied as why kids shouldn’t be scared of a haircut, or the bathroom drain (because you won’t fit!), to divorce and war.

10. He Was an Ivy League Dropout.
Rogers moved from Dartmouth to Rollins College to pursue his studies in music.

11. He Composed all the Songs on the Show, and over 200 tunes.

12. He Was a perfectionist, and Disliked Ad Libbing.
He felt he owed it to children to make sure every word on his show was thought out.

13. Michael Keaton Got His Start on the Show
as an assistant — helping puppeteer and operate the trolley.

14. Several Characters on the Show are Named for His Family.
Queen Sara is named after Rogers’ wife, and the postman Mr. McFeely is named for his maternal grandfather who always talked to him like an adult, and reminded young Fred that he made every day special just by being himself. Sound familiar? It was the same way Mister Rogers closed every show.

15. The Sweaters.
Every one of the cardigans he wore on the show had been hand-knit by his mother.

I can’t sign off with out citing Tom Junod’s wonderful profile of Fred Rogers and his obituary for him. They are two of the most lovely pieces I’ve (re)read in a very long time. Our researcher Kara Kovalchik also deserves credit for digging them up on an internet archive located here.

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No One Loves You Like Your Mom

First, an fyi continuation about Joe Raposo…  Beyond Bein’ Green, I had no idea he wrote all those Sesame Street songs.  Or the theme to Three’s Company.  Three’s Company!  I still want to name my band (not that I have a band, or can play an instrument) The Regal Beagle.  So yes, love Joe.

And now, until we count down the actual heroes in the book, here’s a recent hero sent to me by a fellow author, Mary Jane Hurley Brant.  A few weeks back, I posted on Twitter that we need to remember who gave us our breaks.  Caroline Brant wrote back to me and told me this story: nearly a decade ago, she was sitting next to my wife Cori on a train, and they randomly started talking about a charity called Katie’s Kids.  From there, Caroline wrote me:

Cori was a huge part of Katie’s Kids for the Cure’s success. Had I not met her on a train, I wouldn’t have moved forward!

That’s the day I quit my job and ran Katie’s Kids full-time! Raised $900K!

And so, here’s the story of the hero who inspired it all…

My daughter Katie by Mary Jane Hurley Brant

My daughter, Katie Brant, was my hero.  She was given an overwhelming challenge which she met valiantly, fearlessly and always with a greater good in mind.  I witnessed Katie’s bravery early on when she marched down the hallway of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia toward the gurney for her first brain surgery. She was only 18 years old.  As Katie waved goodbye she told us not to worry because “God wasn’t done with her yet.”  Katie was self-possessed, a character strength she consistently exhibited during the many years of daunting treatments, especially after she heard more bad news about her cancer. “We’ll manage it.”

Katie was very intelligent.  During the early days of her diagnosis and treatments, while an undergraduate at The University of Pennsylvania, she enrolled in a medical school class to research her own brain tumor.  In the bibliography of her text book she saw a doctor sited who specialized in her type of tumor: anaplastic astrocytoma.  Days later she boarded a train to New York to meet him.  Of course he became her oncologist because everybody always said yes to Katie; she was engaging, spirited, and charming.  She was also beautiful and light hearted especially when she kidded me about my “Deep Thoughts” then laughed hysterically when I gave her another one.

Katie faced Sisyphean challenges again and again after being diagnosed with a brain tumor the size of a fist, a disease which turned chronic and required more and more treatments. Up she pushed the bolder then back down it rolled month after month, year after year. Sometimes her doctors reported wonderful news, “Good MRI, Katie, we think we got the tumor.”  Six months later the news turned bad, “Your last MRI shows the tumor is back, Katie; we recommend more surgery.” In all, Katie had five brain surgeries, two stem cell transplants, and a life-time’s dose of chemotherapy, radiation therapy and several experimental therapies. She agreed to undergo the experimental ones not because she believed they would help her but because she felt the data might help young children with brain tumors.

Katie’s attitude was so much about “the big picture.” During the ten years she battled her cancer she never questioned “why me?” often saying how little children and their families had it far worse.  Her optimism and confidence had no room for insecurity and nothing ever stopped her from consciously exploring what was really important to her life’s purpose.  Even during her treatments she always thought about how she could help others which led her to researching cause-related marketing (this links a charity to a corporate sponsor).  She was excited about this idea and pitched it at the new position she just landed with Time, Inc. Her passion and belief in putting the two ideas together soon earned Katie the title “Cause-Related Marketing Specialist.” Katie was a true pioneer in this endeavor and her promotion paved the way to land her dream job as National Director of Corporate Marketing for UNICEF.

But when Katie’s health deteriorated and she couldn’t manage by herself anymore, she returned home with her dad and me and established her own non-profit foundation, Katie’s Kids for the Cure.  Many days she worked long hours from her bed, too sick and exhausted to be walking around.  Few people even knew because Katie wasn’t given to having everyone else feel bad because of her plight.

Katie was the sweetest, most loving and confident woman I’ve ever known.  She helped anyone who needed her.  She was deeply loved by absolutely everyone who knew her, especially me.  Yes, my daughter Katie was my hero.  She lived the life of a modern day saint and I suspect that one day she will have that title and not just in her mother’s heart but in the world’s heart, too.

Mary Jane Hurley Brant, M.S., CGP

Please visit www.WhenEveryDayMatters.com to learn more about Katie and read an excerpt from the book of the same title.

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