Archive for May, 2014

lawn boy

I remember the summer I graduated from sixth grade at Seaford Manor Elementary School.  I was eleven going on 42. (I was always a little older than my chronological age.) I had been earning money shoveling snow and raking leaves since I was nine. But now I was entering the big time. Having passed the “Lawn Boy mower test,” i.e. my father gave me permission to make money with the family mower. And that’s exactly what I did. I went around the neighborhood and knocked on the doors of only those houses that had no kids….or just very little kids. I gave a little sales pitch and asked if I could become their own lawn boy. I had an idea what the job was worth, depending upon the size of the lawn and how many times a week they wanted their lawn cut.  On average I charged $1.25. (I kept a dollar and used the twenty-five cents to buy gas for the mower.)

That first summer I signed up about six clients. Only two of them had me cut their lawn twice a week.  So my weekly “profit” was $8. Back then…and to me…that was a king’s ransom.

I earned money, but better than that I learned about money. My Lawn Boy mower was not air-conditioned, and if memory serves me, I think the temperature every day that summer had to have been at least 120 degrees (no exaggeration).  It took me anywhere from an hour to two to complete each job. That meant I was “sacrificing” about 12 hours of play time. And here, “sacrifice” is the word, because that’s one of the things I learned cutting lawns on the YBR.  I also learned that doing a better than average job actually paid off because at the end of the summer (well, early fall) when I parked the old Lawn Boy in the garage I made another ten bucks in tips!

I also learned that there’s nothing wrong with sweating your head off (other blogs might refer to another part of the body, but this blog is G rated). I think I weighed about 90 pounds  when summer started that year, and by summer’s end I weighed about 14 pounds.  Add to that, I was allergic to grass. On or about sneeze number 3,472, I couldn’t see a thing because my eyes were filled with more water than Salt Lake.  My hearing was impacted by the roar of the Lawn Boy and my vision was nil.  Little did my clients know that they had hired Helen Keller to cut their lawn.

Again, another lesson learned. I learned that doing a job meant having to deal with some inconveniences.

I also learned something about my work ethic or work style.  I was not suited for repetitious tasks.  I was fully engaged when I cut my first lawn of the day, but by lawn two I was in la la land. I had to do something to take the “tine” out of “routine.”  What did I do? Well, I’ve never told anybody this before, but since my blogship is limited, I have no fear of confessing that when I would cut a lawn I would make believe I was cutting the head of a giant…a giant with green hair.

Another lesson learned.  You need to do whatever keeps you sane when doing a job that could make you insane.

I also learned about saving money that summer.  I think I made close to$150 that summer. I gave myself an allowance of about $1.50 a week…more than enough to go wild…and I banked about $130 that summer. Believe it or not, I started saving for college, and $130 went a long way when you consider tuition and room/board my first year at Marist was $1300.

Another lesson learned. It takes time to buy a dream and time means work.

My Lawn Boy and I worked together for four summers.  I got more lawn jobs (Lesson learned? There’s nothing wrong with a good reputation.) I banked around $900 those four years.

When I turned 15 I took my first pay-check job as a bus boy at Jones Beach. I was earning $1.17 an hour (no tips).The hours were long, the sun was hot and the job was boring…but I continued to learn life lessons.

What I learned working those summers when I was a kid I didn’t learn in school. To those who are members of the Class of 2014 remember that some of the lessons that will stay with you your entire life you learned outside of the classroom.  The best dreams that come true are the result of hard work.


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Hope Floats Art by Lori McNee http://www.lorimcnee.com/

Hope Floats
Art by Lori McNee

I don’t recall there being any movie theaters in Oz…and if there were, I know for a fact that Dorothy and her traveling companions never stepped off the yellow brick road to catch the latest blockbuster. Here on the other side of the rainbow movies have been part of our shared culture for well over 100 years…if you begin with movies prior to talkies.

Despite the box office take and the plethora of movie awards, I believe movies have something to say about who we are and what the human condition was at a particular time.

When Oz the movie was released, Hitler was just beginning to wreck havoc in Europe and the Great Depression was still depressing millions of people around the world. Oddly enough the list of “great” movies in 1939 included, in addition to Oz, Gone With the Wind, Goodbye Mr Chips, Love Affair (remade as An Affair to Remember, which was again remade again in 1994 as Love Affair…and again remade as Sleepless in Seattle), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Wuthering Heights and Stagecoach. If there was any single theme or message in any of these films, let me use two famous lines from two of those movies. In Oz, Dorothy said “there’s no place like home.” And ion Gone With the Wind, Rhett Butler said, “Tomorrow is another day.”  What do those two lines have in common? They send a message of hope.

I believe most movie goers want to leave a darkened theater “hope-full” because life in the real world is so oppressive and so defeating. Oddly enough the message has, of late, been delivered in a plethora of movies loaded with violence and overflowing with unrelenting  anger. Movies like Iron Man, Thor, World War Z, Wolverine, The Dark Knight Rising, Captain America and the Superman, Spider Man and Batman franchises tell me that we believe we are helpless in a hopeless world.  We want there to be super heroes who battle evil and destroy the bad guy.  We want to use movies to release our pent-up aggression. And in movies like Godzilla allow ourselves to be scared…not to death, but scared to hope because we know good will ultimately triumph.

The phenomenal success of Disney’s Frozen goes to show that children want to believe that evil will be vanquished and that hearts will be mended.

Hope. Hope springs eternal. It’s the message we want. If only the real world got on board and filled us with hope.

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The Fifth Oz Commencement Address:

Today one journey ends and another one begins. Unless you are going on to graduate school, your journey along the yellow brick road of formal education is over. Kaput. Finis. Bye-bye. So I will pose the same question to you that I posed to Dorothy…in the movie.

I asked her what she learned while you she was in Oz.

She said: “I learned that if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.”

On first look Dorothy’s answer was sort of a downer. I mean, how many of you went off to spend a semester abroad? How many of you went in search of your heart’s desire by taking an internship in a distant city? Many of you most certainly didn’t spend four years in your own backyard. But, I actually don’t think that’s what Dorothy meant. To keep it simple, Dorothy was telling us that finding your heart’s desire is only possible if you take an inner journey, a reflective journey.

How much of your college journey was reflective? How many times did you turn off your cell phone, not log on to Facebook, not send a tweet, or use any other technical device? How many times did you stop thinking about your future career and take a deep breath and inhale the moment?

I fear that if you were to answer those questions honestly you would have to admit that reflection was not a main ingredient in your college recipe.

You might have amassed a great academic resume. You might have taken all the right courses to get your career started. You might have made all the right connections to open some of those corporate doors.  And while there is nothing inherently wrong with any of those accomplishments, don’t think for a minute that your degree is a guarantee…of anything. Or that you are on the right road to find your heart’s desire.

Once you leave here today, the only thing you can follow is your heart. Trust me, it’s not easy to follow your heart because more often than not it means having to make some sacrifices. You might have to sacrifice that promotion, that big raise, that corner office…

Some of you might be saying, “I never took a course that taught me how to follow my heart.”

Well, even though following-your-heart-courses might not have been in the college catalog, that doesn’t mean they weren’t offered. They were. They were disguised in all your courses, especially those courses that were not directly related to your career path.  You earned your “As” in following your heart every time you readjusted your compass to make sure you were being true to yourself, every time you read something that made you think, and every time you heard something that resonated deep inside you. You were on your way to getting a degree in follow your heart when you came to understand that your education was meant to open your mind, enlarge your heart and instill your spirit with a heavy dose of courage.

The future should excite you as it invites you to jump in and make a name for yourself.  But let me remind you that the future is filled with a number of voices beckoning you to go this way or to go that way. Unfortunately all those voice sound familiar and it’s difficult at times to know which voice is the one you should listen to you. Here’s a tip. Listen closely with your heart. If the voice doesn’t “sound” right to your heart, stop and take a deep breath. If by chance you are fooled into following the “wrong” voice, don’t panic.  Making mistakes is not a bad thing…as long as you learn from them.

If, after all I’ve said you want to be a wolf on Wall Street, and rake in the big bucks at any cost, then it’s up to you. It’s your decision, and like all decisions, you’ll have to live with the consequences of your choices.

You are about to write the story of your life. Remember that if you want your story to have many happy endings,  you don’t have to  look any further than your own back yard, because if what you’re looking for isn’t there you’re not going to find it in someone else’s back yard.

Go and find your heart’s desire on the YBR!

Commencement Addresses from the past:



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