Musings, observations, and written works from the publisher of Eckhartz Press, the media critic for the Illinois Entertainer, co-host of Minutia Men, Minutia Men Celebrity Interview and Free Kicks, and the author of "Back in the D.D.R", "EveryCubEver", "The Living Wills", "$everance," "Father Knows Nothing," "The Radio Producer's Handbook," "Records Truly Is My Middle Name", and "Gruen Weiss Vor".
Friday, December 30, 2022
From the Writing Archives--Master Negotiator
Playboy Magazine once proclaimed Herb Cohen the greatest negotiator of all-time. I met him once when he came to the Loop along with his good pal Larry King. He was a great story teller too. Well, today is Herb Cohen's 84th birthday. Seems like a good excuse to repost this piece about my youngest son Sean. He might as well be Cohen's protege. I originally posted this in 2008. It didn't quite make the final version of the Father Knows Nothing book, but it's still one of my favorites...
My youngest son Sean is a master negotiator. He has been incredibly adept at this since he learned how to talk. I remember his first negotiation.
Dad: Finish your chicken Sean.
Sean: I’ll eat three more bites.
Dad: Why three?
Sean: I’m three years old.
Sounded logical to me. That’s usually how he gets me. He doesn’t just ask for special consideration, he states his case, provides a logical reason for it, and then negotiates from there…on his terms. I usually walk away from these negotiations shaking my head, wondering how he got me again.
Dad: Sean, it’s time to do your homework.
Sean: I’ll start in thirty minutes.
Dad: No, you’ll start right now.
Sean: But Dad, I only have one assignment, and it will take me about twenty minutes. If dinner starts at 6:15, that means I don’t need to start the assignment until 5:55.
Dad: What if it takes longer than twenty minutes?
Sean: It never takes longer than twenty minutes.
Dad: Humor me. Allow extra time just in case.
Sean: OK, Dad. You win. I’ll start in twenty minutes.
See how he did that? I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that he attempts to negotiate every day—nearly every single time he can. I’ve heard him negotiate circles around his older brothers. Before they know what hit them, they’ve given him things or agreed to do things that they absolutely didn’t want to give or do.
He can smell wiggle room. When I see him do something Bridget or I ask him to do without negotiating, I know that it’s something he wanted to do anyway. When I see him do something for his brothers that he clearly doesn’t want to do, I know that they have threatened him with physical violence if he doesn’t agree to their terms. It’s the only way he ever loses a negotiation.
I finally had a chance to debut his negotiating skills in the real world. He had been pestering me for weeks to allow him to sell back a bunch of old/used DS and Wii games to one of the gaming stores. I finally agreed to take him only because I wanted to see the master haggler in the wild. He sprang into action the moment we entered the store, confidently striding up to the cashier and placing the pile of games on the counter.
“What will you give me for these?” he asked.
She looked at the pile, and figured it out in her head. “Well,” she said. “This whole pile is worth about maybe, I don’t know, $16?”
I started rubbing my hands together in anticipation. Even I could smell the wiggle room in that comment. Your turn, Haggle King. Time for a counter-offer.
“Deal,” he said.
I checked his temperature to make sure he wasn’t coming down with something. Maybe he didn’t get enough sleep the night before after convincing his mother he absolutely positively needed to stay up until 11 to see which chef would be the winner of “Chopped.” It was the only possible explanation for choking under pressure like this.
“But $16 isn’t enough for a new game,” I pointed out to him.
“I know, Dad,” he said, as he pulled something out of his pocket. “That’s why I brought along this gift card.”
Why do I have a funny feeling that the actual negotiation didn’t take place in this store at all? It took place at home, when he managed to convince me to take him to the store in the first place. The grin on his face told me all I needed to know.
The Haggle King still sits proudly on his throne.
*Today is the birthday of Eckhartz Press author Ann Wilson, writer of the excellent memoir In Small Boxes...
Thursday, December 29, 2022
From the Writing Archives--Improvised Proposal
Today is the 32nd anniversary of the day I asked Bridget to marry me. It was not exactly a perfectly executed plan. Today's dip into the writing archives explains what happened. I originally posted this about 15 years ago.
My marriage proposal to Bridget didn’t go exactly as planned. My buddy Dave and I had an elaborate scheme planned. We bought rings for our respective girlfriends together, and we planned to unveil them simultaneously on New Years Eve as the clock struck Midnight.
But I made a fatal mistake. I told some of my friends at work about my plan, including my boss. I don’t know why I told him–I guess I just couldn’t contain my excitement. Plus, even though Bridget worked in the same office, I figured there was an unwritten code about ruining a surprise of this magnitude.
I was wrong.
The boss told her all about it.
I still have no idea why he would do such a thing, but he did. I’m just happy he did it in front of someone else, because that other person told me the secret had been revealed. If not for this friendly onlooker, my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity would have become a ho-hum-I-knew-it-was-coming moment.
I decided immediately to scrap the plan.
The first thing I had to do was come up with an alternate date and time. Should I wait until after New Years Eve (which would have crushed Bridget because now she was expecting it), or should I do it before New Years? That seemed like an easy choice, except for one thing. I was only going to see Bridget one more time before New Years Eve–and it was that very night.
“Very well, then. Tonight it is.”
Without much time to plan, and that night’s arrangements already made (dinner at a neighborhood Chinese restaurant), I really had to get creative. My brainstorm was to propose via fortune cookie. I typed “WILL YOU MARRY ME?” on a tiny scrap of paper about the size of a typical fortune before I left the office, and then as soon as we got to the restaurant, I pretended to go to the bathroom. I circled around to the other side of the restaurant instead, found my waiter, and asked him to insert the note inside a fortune cookie for me before he brought it out to the table.
“I can’t do that,” he said.
“They come pre-wrapped,” he pointed out.
As dinner was ending I still didn’t have a plan. I was considering scrapping the whole thing until after News Years, but when the waiter brought us the fortune cookies, I decided to go for it right then and there. I opened my cookie while she wasn’t paying attention, and slyly made the switch with my little pre-typed fortune.
“What does your say?” she asked me.
“I’m not sure what this means,” I said. I looked at it like it was written in Chinese.
“Let me see it,” she said.
I handed it to her and she stared at it for about three seconds before looking up. I thought she was going to pass out when we met eyes.
“Is this what I think it is?” she asked.
I nodded, and put the ring box on the table.
She started crying even before she opened the box. It looked like happy tears, but I wasn’t 100% sure. I do remember one thing very clearly about that moment. It took her forever to give me an actual answer. I don’t think she ever actually said the word yes, she just nodded through her tears.
It really was a great moment. It ended up being even better than it would have been had I gone through with the original plan. But while I was thinking about that original plan, I remembered that I hadn’t yet told Dave.
When I called him, he wasn’t pleased.
“What am I supposed to do now?” he asked.
“You can still do it on New Years Eve,” I said.
“No way,” he spat. He was ticked. “Now it just looks like I’m copying you.”
“What was I supposed to do?” I asked.
“You could have waited until after New Years,” he said.
Before I could explain my thought process to him, he swore at me, and hung up the phone.
Needless to say, Dave didn’t propose on New Years Eve. Despite already having the ring, he also didn’t propose on Valentine’s Day. He didn’t propose in March. He didn’t propose in April, and he didn’t propose in May.
He didn’t propose until late June, and he was still mad at me when he told me the news.
I guess he eventually forgave me because he asked me to be his best man.
But if you ask him about it even today, he’ll tell you that he was the first groom in history that had to settle for an “OK man.”
*Four celebrities featured in Eckhartz Press books were born on this day in history. They don't have anything else in common with each other...
Marianne Faithful is in Bobby Skafish's book We Have Company.
Mary Tyler Moore is in John Landecker's book Records Truly Is My Middle Name
Dr. Sam Sheppard (the original inspiration for The Fugitive) is in Joel Daly's book The Daly News
Theo Epstein is in Randy Merkin's book Behind the Glass, and of course, my book EveryCubEver.
Wednesday, December 28, 2022
From the Writing Archives--Christmas Vacation?
This is one of my old Father Knows Nothing columns that didn't quite make the final book. I remember feeling this way during every Christmas break when they were young. This one is from 2007.
Christmas vacation is a time for over-stimulation.
You visit strange homes. You are expected to be on your best behavior at all times. Bedtimes are stretched or ignored. All of those new toys are just sitting there, tantalizing you, daring you to play with them.
And Mom and Dad are doing a lot of screaming.
Don't do this. Don't do that. Why aren't you using your manners at the dinner table while you look longingly on that new toy that you aren't yet allowed to open or play with?
Is it my imagination, or is every bowl in every house filled to the brim with candy? Num num num. What do you mean I have chocolate all over my face?
Wow, look at my brother's presents! I bet he won't mind if I just play with this one little toy that he hasn't had a chance to play with yet…
Hey! That hurts! Stop punching me.
Bedtime? Already? It's only midnight! I haven't even had a chance to play with these presents over here. That other toy took me an hour to set up!
Let go of that present! That's mine! Mom, he's playing with my presents!
Dad! I can't concentrate on these Lego directions while Mom is screaming like that! Tell her to stop screaming! Now I can't hear because you're screaming!
Where is that crying coming from?
I'm hungry. I need a snack before bedtime. What do you mean I should have thought about that before I walked away from my lunch and my dinner? But my tummy hurts…
It's day nine of Christmas vacation and we've had one emergency doctor visit (scratched cornea from a poke in the eye), one gouged gum (thanks to a kick in the mouth from one brother to another), and one Christmas morning vomit.
And it's much, much better than any Christmas vacation I can remember so far.
When does school start again?
*On this day in 2021, ESPN's Jeff Dickerson passed away. Eckhartz Press author Randy Merkin (Behind the Glass) was a good friend of Dickerson's, and he appeared on our podcast to talk about his fallen comrade.
Tuesday, December 27, 2022
Back in the DDR
Another day, another "Back in the DDR" reader review: "Great read Rick! Gave me great insight into the Army brat life. I felt like I was there with you crossing into East Germany." Thanks! https://t.co/8c0ekF6kIm— Rick Kaempfer (@RickKaempfer) December 27, 2022
From the Writing Archives--Rolf & Liesl
Charmian Carr played the part of "Liesl" in the Oscar winning film "The Sound of Music." She sadly passed away a few years ago. Today would have been her birthday. In honor of that, I'm re-posting this story about her from my radio days.
When I was growing up, The Sound of
Music was a very important film in our house. My father came
from Austria and he forced us to watch it so many times that we knew the film
by heart. After he died, The
Sound of Music reminded us of Dad even more.
When I produced the morning show at WJMK in the 90s, I made the mistake of telling John Landecker about this, and he thought it was hilarious that a 30-something straight male loved that movie. He brought me along to an interview with Julie Andrews to embarrass me. He thought I was in love with her--but I confessed after the interview that I was actually in love with the girl who played Liesl, Charmian Carr.
As it turns out, telling that to John was an even bigger mistake.
I figured the odds of running into her were minimal, but wouldn't you know it, she came to Chicago just a few years later to promote a sing-a-long version of The Sound of Music. When John heard she was coming, he insisted that I book her to appear on the show.
I did. But I knew I was in for it.
He wouldn't tell me what was going on in the days before the interview, but I heard a lot of whispering between John and the other members of the show. Whenever I walked into the room, they shut up. Or they laughed. I was bracing for the worst.
On the morning of the interview, I was unbelievably nervous. John had even been warning the audience about my childhood love of Liesl, and that something truly memorable was about to occur.
She arrived at the studio about fifteen minutes early, so I met her at the door and brought her to the green room. I must say, she was still quite beautiful. I know she's easily fifteen years older than me, and I know how ridiculous this sounds, but I couldn't even bring myself to shake her hand. I had sweaty palms.
I tried to warn her that something was going to happen. I told her that John had been teasing me about my love of the movie, and described our Julie Andrews experience to her. She seemed amused by it all, but I must admit...I had a difficult time maintaining eye contact.
Take a look at those eyes.
When I brought her into the studio, John was nearly bouncing off his seat with excitement. Within seconds, he was handing each of us a script, and explaining to the audience what was about to occur.
He had transcribed the love scene between Liesl and Rolf, and wanted to know if Charmian would recreate that scene live on the air, with me playing the part of Rolf. I don't think I've ever been more embarrassed in my life.
She was obviously a little taken aback by this, but after looking at me, shrugged her shoulders and said "Sure, what the heck."
John cued the music, and boom, we were acting out the scene. I was sitting five feet away from the real Liesl, and she was calling me "Rolf" with love in her voice. I stammered through my first line, which sent John into convulsions, and onto the floor, but it didn't stop Charmian. She was such a good sport about it.
We did the entire scene. For those two or three minutes, she was sixteen going on seventeen, and I was the blond-haired Austrian teenager she was in love with.
Can I confess it now?
It was probably one of my all-time favorite moments in my radio career because it was such a unique and personal experience.
Don't tell that to John, though. It would ruin the moment for him.
How many people have both of these autographs on their "Sound of Music" soundtrack?
*Today is Mick Jones' birthday. Mick was the founder and guitarist of the band Foreigner, which is prominently featured in Mitch Michael's Eckhartz Press book Doin The Cruise. (Photo of Mitch above by Barry Butler)
Monday, December 26, 2022
Back in the DDR
Reviews for my novel "Back in the DDR" are coming in from readers: "It made me laugh, made me learn, made me wonder and truth be told the writing was exceptional. I would definitely recommend the read to anyone looking for a fantastic book to read!" https://t.co/8c0ekF5MSO Thanks— Rick Kaempfer (@RickKaempfer) December 26, 2022
From the Writing Archives--Danger Radar
This week I'll be posting a few of my old Father Knows Nothing columns that didn't quite make the final book. This one is from 2009.
When your children are little you develop a sense of radar for danger.
It begins when the kids are very little. I’ve seen many parents (including me) down on their hands and knees crawling at toddler level, looking for sharp edges that needed to be padded and potentially toxic items that needed to be moved to a higher shelf. Unfortunately, we usually don’t do this until something unexpected has already happened. (Who knew Junior would open the pots and pans cabinet and smash his head with a sauce pan?)
As the kids get older, we become a little more proactive. Disaster doesn’t even have to strike for the radar to kick in. What parent hasn’t watched their kid carelessly playing on the monkey bars without visualizing the inevitable emergency room fall?
The problem with the radar is that you may be on alert, but you aren’t quite equipped with the proper communication skills to convey the potential seriousness of the situation. Your words say “Be Careful,” but you’re thoughts are saying, “If you fall on your head, you could break your neck and become paralyzed, and then we’ll be taking care of you for the rest of your life.”
Some parents get lucky. They have children that recognize the risks and take steps to avoid the potential hazards. I have one of those kids. My oldest boy Tommy.
But I also have two that are not like that all.
And one of them almost gave me a heart attack over Christmas break.
We were skiing in Michigan and I was urging the boys to be careful. They are relatively new to skiing, but have a ridiculous amount of confidence in their still developing abilities. My youngest son Sean, in particular, thinks that he can tackle any hill at the fastest speed possible, despite the fact that he hasn’t quite learned the art of stopping.
He had a few minor mishaps in the first few days, but one incident on the last day took several years off my life.
It was a wet and rainy day on the hill. The combination of the rain and the snow and a very dense fog made it difficult to see more than twenty or thirty feet in front of you. It was our last run of the vacation–the one that led us toward the lodge at the bottom of the hill.
This run was considered a green (easy) run, but there were several potential hazards. For one thing it was a very narrow path. In addition to that, each side of the path posed definite risks. On one side there was a steep drop-off that even I wouldn’t tackle in these conditions (and I grew up skiing in the Alps). The other side of the path was lined with trees (remember Sonny Bono?).
And have I mentioned you couldn’t see more than thirty feet in front of you? You couldn’t even see the drop off.
I was in the middle of urging Sean to be careful when he and cousin screamed: “It’s a race!”
They just went straight down the hill, side by side, inches apart, as fast as they could on a path that barely had room for two skiers. Any false move by either of them, and one would have fallen off the edge, and the other would have gone crashing into the trees. I was so shocked at what was happening, my voice betrayed me. Before I could utter a word, they had vanished into the fog.
When I finally screamed out, they were long gone.
I can’t recall the last time I was that scared. I went down the hill as fast as I could, trying to catch up with them, but I knew it was no use–they were going way too fast. So, with my heart in my throat, I scanned the trees looking for bodies, and prayed that they hadn’t accidentally fallen off the edge.
When I got to the bottom of the hill I saw Sean standing at the end of the lift line. I could tell he was scared too, but it wasn’t because of his near death experience.
He was anticipating another one at my hands. He knew he was in big trouble.
I was so relieved that he was unharmed that I didn’t know what to say or do. I just took off his skis. He shied away from me waiting for the other shoe to drop, and I was trying to figure out how to drop it, when my mother, who we had also taken along on the trip, intervened on Sean’s behalf.
She reminded me of the many times I had done exactly the same thing to her. One time when I was 15, they even had to send the ski patrol looking for me because I got lost in the woods. I didn’t make it down the mountain until it was dark that night.
She pointed to her gray hair and said: “Where do you think this came from?”
I think I actually saw her struggling to contain a smile. What goes around comes around.
That’s when I came up with my plan to deal with Sean. All I have to do is wait thirty or forty years for him to have his own son or daughter.
I’ll grant you it’s a long term plan, but judging by the look on my mother’s face, it may just be worth the wait.
*Happy birthday to Eckhartz Press author Bill Paige. He wrote the highly entertaining Everything I Know I Learned from Rock Stars. Dave and I chatted with him on our podcast about that book a few years ago.
Sunday, December 25, 2022
For no good reason at all WILL FERRELL and JOHN C REILLY get dressed up…— James Leighton (@JamesL1927) December 23, 2022
…as DAVID BOWIE and BING CROSBY to sing LITTLE DRUMMER BOY…
…and they’re pretty damn good. pic.twitter.com/Il9W28gtiz