It’s All About Family

Chapter 9

For the next two days, Nick left school and made his way to the alley. Each day, Johnny Balboni waited for him, sitting on cardboard, eating an apple, and offering one to Nick. Johnny worked with Nick on his calculus. Nick left Johnny feeling more and more confident about how he might score on the SATs.  Nick took the SATs on Thursday.

On the night before Nick took the SATs, Nick’s dad told the family he got a call from the Recreation Department and he didn’t get the job. They told him, he was their second choice, but they chose someone who had more experience in that kind of work.

Nick’s spirits dropped. He hoped with his dad getting the job, he could quit working at Martini’s Deli and concentrate on school and running track in the spring. Both seemed nearly impossible to him. He was quiet during the meal. After dinner, he helped clear the table and returned to his bedroom to study for the SATs. After an hour, his dad knocked on his door. When his dad came into the room, he told Nick not to let his bad news bother him. His dad said he was sure something good would turn up. Nick smiled and half heartedly told his dad he believed him. Between his dad’s bad news and his anxiety about the test, Nick didn’t fall to sleep until nearly 3 in morning. His mom woke him up at six. By seven-thirty he had his backpack and was off to school. The SATs were at nine.

Nick felt pretty good after taking the SATs, but he knew it would take time to receive his scores, between two and three weeks. He worked on the weekends at Martini’s. He was now putting in more hours. He worked from four in the afternoon until ten at night on Friday, Saturday, and Sundays. Nick spent the rest of his free time studying.

It was Monday, Christmas was a week away. Nick walked down the alley as he did every day after school. He hoped to see Johnny. Nick hadn’t seen Johnny Balboni in two weeks. He missed him. But it was Johnny’s way to drift to different parts of the town. Nick wanted to thank him for helping him. Nick walked into his house. His mom was baking Christmas cookies, there were two plates filled with cookies, cooling on the table.

Nick said, “Hi mom.” Then he grabbed a cookie.

His mom, whose back was turned toward Nick, was peeking in the oven, said, “Hi Nick, only one cookie, don’t spoil your appetite.”

“Maybe I took two,” said Nick.

“No, it was only one. How was school?” His mom asked.

“It was okay.”

“Any news on the SATs?” Asked his mom.

“Not yet. They’ll send me an email when I can go online and look at my scores. Where’s dad, said Nick.

“He’s out. He’ll be back for dinner,” said his mom said.

Nick went into his room, he put his backpack on his bed, pulled out his laptop and took it to his desk. He opened his laptop, typed in his password that was the name of his favorite music group plus his birth year. He saw the number 4 on his email icon. He opened his email app and scanned through the unopened emails. There was the email from the College Board informing him his SAT scores were available online. There was a link to take Nick to the SAT site where he could find his scores.

Nick’s heart raced. He knew the lowest score was 400 and a perfect score on the combined exams was 1600. He also knew if he scored 1500 or higher, he was home free. He’d get a scholarship to any university in the country. He clicked on the link, filled in the identification information on the website, and saw his scores. His score for evidenced based reading and writing was 590. His math score was 701. He had a combined total of 1291. He knew this was well above the average scores of around a 1000, he wasn’t sure it was good enough to get him a full scholarship to college. His parents were adamant, he was not to take any loans to go to college and have a big bill when he finished.

Nick closed the computer and stared at the ceiling. He fell asleep. He only woke when his dad shook him, “Nick? Nick? Wake up.”

Nick opened his eyes, “I must have been exhausted. Thanks, dad.” Nick rubbed his eyes and sat up,

“Dinners ready. Freshen up. I’ll see you at the table,” said his dad giving Nick’s hair a tussle.

Laura said grace. Nick’s mom made a large lasagna. A picture of her lasagna covered with her homemade sauce and mozzarella cheese was worth a thousand words. She served Nick’s dad first with a generous piece. Then she went by age, Nick, followed by Laura, and then Stella. Nicks mom served herself last. No one ate until everyone was served.

Nick took a bite and said, “I got my SAT scores. They were terrible.”

“Terrible? What’s terrible? What’d you get?” Asked his dad.

“On the evidenced based reading and writing I got a 590 and on math I got a 701,” said Nick dejectedly.

“You’re kidding me, right? Eight hundred is perfect and you got a 701 in math? That’s awesome. Your total score was right near 1300, right?” Said his dad.

“I guess it’s good, but not good enough to be sure I’d get a free ride to any college,” said Nick.

“Don’t quit. Isn’t that what Johnny Balboni told you?” Said his dad.

“Yah. I guess. If I run track in the spring, maybe I’ll run good enough in the 800 meters to earn a track scholarship,” said Nick taking another bit of his lasagna.

Nick’s dad ignored Nick’s little pity party and said, “I have some news. I got the job at the Recreation Department. The person they wanted, turned it down. I’m okay with being their second choice. I’ll prove to them, I should have been their first choice. I start right after Christmas.”

Nick and his sister shouted and got up and went to their dad and hugged him. Nick’s mom, made the sign of the cross, thanked God, and cried.

When they sat back down, Nick’s dad said, “You don’t mind working for a few more weeks until I start getting paid, do you Nick?”

Nick said, “We’re family dad. Of course not.”

Will Nick get a scholarship to college? Will he have a chance to thank Johnny Balboni for helping him with his math?

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What is Life Asking of You?

My life changed when I read Dr. Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning for the first time. Dr. Frankl’s work inspired my dissertation and changed how I viewed life. When my wife died, I turned to Frankl’s work and sought to find meaning in my personal tragedy. I found a path when I reread his book and focused on his words, “What is life asking of you?” I knew I had to answer the question if i was to move on. It is a question I pose to you, “What is life asking of you?”

Quote for Today – December 15, 2017

You’ve got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.  ~ Charlie Parker

John Updike’s Advice For Writers

Having talent is a terrific gift. Having the courage to put forth the effort to develop one’s innate talent is uncommon. It defines who we are and what we will become. The famous author John Updike offers advice for the young writer. His advice offers valuable wisdom for all our life’s pursuits.


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/70819405″>John Updike's advice to young writers</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/brainpicker”>Maria Popova</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Spaghetti & Good News

Chapter 8

“Dinner’s ready,” called Nick’s mom from the kitchen.
Nick’s stomach was doing flips the moment he walked into his house. A sweet aroma filled the house from his mom’s homemade spaghetti sauce. He loved the smell. All he had to eat since breakfast were the apple and candy bar Johnny gave him. He put his laptop to sleep and went to the kitchen. His dad and mom and two sisters were waiting for him.
Nick grinned, “Sorry, I learned how to do a really tough calculus problem today. I had a breakthrough. For the first time I understand this stuff.”
His dad broke into a wide smile and said, “I want to hear more. Mom is going to say grace tonight.”
Nick, his sisters, and his mom and dad joined hands and bowed their heads. His mom prayed, “Thank you Lord for this meal. Thank you for the people who grew and harvested the tomatoes for the sauce. Thank you for our health. Thank you for Nick’s math breakthrough, and please let Tony’s interview go well tomorrow. Amen.”
The family made the sign of the cross then Nick said, “Dad, you have an interview tomorrow?”
“I didn’t want to say anything, but you know mom, she’s not shy about praying,” said Nick’s dad.
“Well? What is it?” Asked Nick.
Nick’s dad twirled the spaghetti around his fork and put it in his mouth, he chewed it and swallowed and took a sip of red wine. He placed his glass down and said, “This is crazy. I walked down to the coffee shop this morning to give mom some space. I got a small cup of coffee and sat down. Freddy O’Leary sees me and takes his coffee over and we start talking. Little by little I tell him the whole story. Freddy tells me the director of the town’s youth recreation position is open. I told him I don’t qualify. He says I qualify because I coach youth soccer, youth basketball, and youth baseball. He says I’m perfect for the job. I went to the Recreation Department and filled out an application. I beat the deadline by an hour. I got a call an hour ago. I have an interview tomorrow.”
Nick and his sisters got up from the table and went to their dad and hugged him. His dad loved to be hugged. Nicks mom watched the love her children were giving their dad and wiped away tears from her eyes.
After Nick and his sisters sat down, his dad said, “There are four other people they’re interviewing. It’s not a sure thing.”
Nick said, “Dad tell them not to show up, you’re going to do great.”
“Yah! Said his sisters in unison.
Nick’s dad said, “Tell us about your calculus breakthrough.”
Nick told his mom and dad and sisters about meeting Johnny Balboni in the alley. He told them how Johnny gave him an apple and candy bar. Then he told them how Johnny taught him calculus in a way he could understand it.
Nick’s dad said, “It doesn’t surprise me.”
Nick said, “It doesn’t?”
“No, Johnny came to the US with his parents when he was 14. He graduated from high school by the time he was 16. He was brilliant. He had a full scholarship to the best engineering school in the world, MIT. By the time he was 20 years old he had his masters degree. He stayed at MIT and worked on all kinds of projects. He never married, his work became his life. He never made a big deal about his career, he was always a regular guy when you’d see him. I think it was when he was fifty. He was in a car accident. They thought he was going to die. He had severe injuries. He was never the same after that. He never went back to MIT. He began to drift around and soon became what he is today.”
“He wants me to see him tomorrow, he’s going to work with me some more,” said Nick.
“Do it, Nick. It will be as good for him as it will be for you,” said his dad.
“Johnny told me to never give up,” said Nick.
“That’s good advice for you and for me, Nick,” said his dad.
Will Nick’s dad get the job? Will Nick do well on the SATs in three days? Will Johnny’s mind get better

Life Is Full of Surprises

Chapter 7

Nick thought what the heck and walked over to Johnny Balboni and sat down on the cold ground next to him.

Johnny reached over and grabbed a piece of cardboard and handed it to Nick, “Sit on this. It won’t be so cold.”

Nick took the cardboard and slid it under himself. He said, “Thanks, Johnny. How are you doing?”

Johnny stuck out his hand and wiggled his hand, “So, so. I do okay, You don’t look so good. You got girl troubles?” he said.

Nick shrugged his shoulders. He didn’t feel like talking. He started to get up, but stopped when Johnny put his hand on his arm.

“You got to talk to somebody or you gonna go nuts. Me, I live by myself. I don’t tell anybody what you say to me. I’m not gonna make any judgements. Before you tell me your problems, here’s an apple, I got two of them, we’ll eat and talk, that’s a good combination,” said Johnny wiping the apple first on his raggedy overcoat, then handing it to Nick.

Nick took the apple from Johnny and took a bite, “Thanks, Johnny. I was hungry. I didn’t eat lunch today.”

“Okay, what’s going on? I got all day to listen,” said Johnny.

Nick took another bite of the apple, chewed it, looked off across the ally, swallowed his bite, and began to talk. He told Johnny how he wanted to go to college out of town. He told him how he needed a scholarship so he could go to college. He told him how and why his dad got laid off. Nick talked for twenty minutes. Johnny sat beside him, listening, occasionally nodding his head.

When Nick finished, he said, “I spilled my guts, Johnny. The way my life is going is I’m waiting for the next bad thing to happen. I’m on a losing streak and there is nothing I can do about it.”

Nick scrambled in a bag, You want a candy bar, I got a couple or three in here?”

“No, you keep them,” said Nick.

“What for? You a growing boy, you need your strength. Here,” said Johnny handing Nick a Snicker’s bar.

“Thanks, Johnny.

“Not a problem. Now we gonna start with the first problem and then we gonna work through the rest of them,” said Johnny.

Nick’s first thought was I have homework to do. I have to study for the SATs. I made a mistake sitting down.

Before Nick could decide what to do, Johnny said, “What’s the problem in calculus? Maybe I can help you with it.”

Nick turned to face Johnny, “You know calculus?”

“Hey, maybe I’m 87 years old but I still know calculus.”

“How do you know calculus? Johnny asked.

“We gonna talk all day or you gonna show me the problem?” Said Nick.

Nick pulled out his iPhone and showed Johnny the photo of the calculus problem Mr. Durlo put on the screen. “I can’t figure out how he got the answer. I admit I wasn’t paying attention.”

Johnny didn’t say anything, he took Nick’s iPhone and stared at the screen. He held the iPhone in his right hand. His left hand gestured in the air. After a minute he handed the iPhone to Nick and said, “Listen up. You got any questions, you tell me after I splain it to you.”

Nick nodded. Then Johnny began taking Nick through the calculus problem one step at a time. Twice, Nick wanted to ask a question, but he stopped himself. By the time Johnny finished, Nick understood the problem and how Johnny arrived at the answer.

“I understand it perfectly, Johnny. I can’t thank you enough,” said Nick and started to get up. Johnny’s hand stopped him again. Nick took a deep breath and sat down.

“Not so fast, Nick. I’ll be here the next two days at the same time. I’ll help you with your calculus. You gonna do okay on the test, don’t you worry about it. That’s the first thing. The second thing, you gonna have disappointments in life. They happen to everybody. What you got to do is never give up. If you quit, the game is over. You as good as dead. But if you keep trying, you never know what’s gonna happen tomorrow, maybe the sun will shine on you.

“But, Johnny, it’s my dream to get out of town and study someplace else. I don’t have a chance,” said Nick.

Johnny shook his head, “Who told you that you don’t have a chance? Somebody send you a letter telling you not to try?”

“No?” Said Nick.

“Then you making this stuff up. You don’t know until it happens, You understand me?” Said Johnny.

Nick thought about it for a minute, then realized Johnny was right. He knew he was making it up.”

He turned to Johnny who was now standing. Johnny said, “I can’t spend anymore time today, I got to make my rounds. You remember what I tell you and I’ll see you tomorrow, right?”

“Right,” said Nick.

How does Johnny Balboni know calculus? Will Nick’s bad luck change? Come by tomorrow for another chapter in the Christmas story.

Be True To Yourself

Who are you? When we discover the who we are, everything changes. We suddenly become the person we are supposed to become. We have a new authenticity. Legendary singer, Ray Charles, gives advice to young singers about being true to themselves. His advice applies to all people in all walks of life. Reclaim your authentic self. Enjoy

Quote for Today – December 14, 2017

Kindness and compassion toward all living things is the mark of a civilized society. – Cesar Chavez

Quote for Today – December 13, 2017

I’m not strange, weird, off, nor crazy, my reality is just different from yours. – Lewis Carroll