Friday, June 20, 2014

Breaking Routine: Go Different Places, Do Different Things -- and Have a Happy Face..

Now these are happy faces, you agree? Is this just another ordinary day for them? Not likely -- unless they are routinely out in the street to welcome the President of the United States.

Here they were in downtown Worcester, Mass. jumping up and down and giggling like school girls when they saw President Obama's motorcade pull into the DCU Center where he would address the graduating class of 2014 at Worcester Technical High School.

With no VIP invite or ticket, I was also out there on the blocked-off streets swarming with police and Secret Service. But I was just as thrilled as these three women. This was an historic event for Worcester. I had my camera and I was snapping away.

Who knows, I thought, maybe security surveillance will mark me as a suspicious character and I'll be grabbed by Secret Service for questioning. What a story that would be! What pictures!

But no grim-faced cop or Secret Service agent came and hustled me off for questioning. I guess they just saw me as a harmless old guy with time on his hands and nothing better to do. Oh well, maybe next time.

Still, this was something -- out in the street observing a visit by a sitting President -- that I had never done. I went on the spur of the moment and it was fun. Not only was I witnessing an historic presidential visit, but I was documenting it with photos, such as the one above and these:

In being there for President Obama's arrival, I gave old man routine a swift kick in the butt and the bossy grouch didn't like it one bit. Who was I to break away from routine? I put my face in his and growled, me, that's who. Out were the same old people, places, sleep-walking sameness, if only for a few hours.

Even the modern good life, which is what I have, is complex, demanding, and requires constant planning. It does not permit routine-breaking things to just happen. It works 24-7 to keep us in line. No matter how successful we are, no matter how much money we have, we easily fall into boring, same-old, stifling, habits.

What seems oh-so-comfy, however, is really a powerful barrier to anything new and different. It's a kind of solitary imprisonment without our even knowing it.

Regularly breaking out of routines, in my not so humble opinion, is important in taking the good life to a higher, more fulfilling level. When I got a call recently from my friend at a local advertising agency asking if I and my wife Barbara would be willing to play background, non-speaking, non-paid roles in a Honey Dew commercial, we didn't hesitate.

We jumped at it. 

What about the already crowded schedule? We made the time.

Neither one of us had ever done such a thing. It turned out to be a fun and enlightening new experience, which I wrote about here. The ad ran on major TV networks. You can see it on You Tube. I am the Bingo Master in the background.

And wouldn't you know, I recently got another call for a short speaking role in a TV commercial for a large, well-established Worcester used-car dealership, Linder's Inc. A speaking role!

Of course, I said yes. I told everybody that this was going to be my big breakthrough. I got lots of laughs and eye rolls. But I was also giving old man routine another swift kick in the rear end.

In the ad I and a couple of pretty young women took turns extolling the used-car buying experience at Linder's Inc. Following are  a couple of photos of the ad shooting.

I just heard that the script, including my speaking part, was dumped. But I still made it into the new TV ad. I'm the handsome guy getting into his hot Linder's sports car. The ad is running during televised Red Sox games. See it on You Tube.

Being a part of this TV ad was a new, fun, educational experience -- and a huge break from routine. I also got a $100 gift certificate. I got paid! And the team at Davis Advertising says that a speaking role for me is only a matter of time. Yes!

Earlier this month, I did something else out of the ordinary. (Are you beginning to wonder if I have any routine life at all? Well, I do.) I got an invitation to a Golden Graduate reunion at Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass. where I graduated in 1962.

Yes, 1962, 52 years ago this month!

Barbara and I decided instantly to go. If going back to days a half century ago is not a break in routine, I don't know what is. Oh, the memories that came flooding back.

It was 1958 and I was 20. I had just finished two years in the U.S. Army  and was determined to go to college no matter what. With no parents -- I grew up in foster care -- and no money, I had no idea how I was going to pull this off. I applied anyway and got accepted.

Then a miracle: The National Defense Education Act of 1958 which, as a veteran, qualified me for a U.S. Government loan of $3,000. It was enough to get me an off-campus apartment, pay the first semester tuition, buy an old used car, and feed and clothe myself for a few months. I dove into studies and made the varsity ice hockey team as a freshman.

Unfortunately, toward the end of the first semester, I was out of money.  Second semester tuition was due and I had no way to pay it.

Then another miracle. A week before the end of the first semester, Father Paul  Thibeau, the Athletic Director, called me into his office. He handed me a letter and said, "A four-year full-tuition athletic scholarship, congratulations."

An impossible dream come true!

The scholarship, plus working part time in the student union operating the telephone switchboard as well as working in the deli of a nearby supermarket, got me financially through the four years at Merrimack. My grades were good enough to get me a Research Associate appointment at UMass Amherst and free tuition while earning a Master's Degree.

In my year at UMass Amherst, I did research for a leading scholar on Africa, Dr. Gwendolyn Carter. That got me interested in the Dark Continent. Soon, with a new bride, I was off to teach for three years in Kenya and Nigeria.

How about that for going somewhere new?

In Nigeria, I taught in Maiduguri way up in the north where Boko Haram, the fanatical, ultra-violent Islamic sect now terrorizing all of  Nigeria, originated. As I write this, they are holding a couple of hundred school girls hostage.

My students were all Muslims and totally indifferent to learning. Afternoons I would see them sitting cross-legged by the side of the road with the Koran, heads bobbing, mumbling prayers over it. This was where the present horrors originated. I saw it firsthand. I understand it.

These were just a few of the memories that flooded back as Barbara and I had a fabulous lunch and chats with fellow graduates of Merrimack classes 1951 to 1963. (Merrimack was founded in 1947.) The President of Merrimack, Dr. Christopher E. Hopey, visited each table, welcoming and chatting with Merrimack's earliest graduates.

I looked for graduates of my year, 1962, but did not see a single one. They must have found out I was coming.

We were given a tour of a beautiful 220-acre campus where 75% of students live on campus and come from all across the U.S. and around the globe. Here are photos from the reunion:

The driver kindly took this picture of the tour group.  I'm up front with my Merrimack College hat on.

This is our table with my empty chair front and center, which is appropriate since I kept leaving to wander around, snooping and taking pictures. Barbara is at far left. She socialized with all, but especially so with the woman next to her. She is Mary Rae, 85, graduate of Merrimack class of 1951.

Barbara had noticed her walk in with her husband and thought "how great" she looked.

Mary Rae said that when she first saw Barbara, she "knew instantly" that she wanted to talk to her. And talk they did.

"She was just so fascinating," Barbara said. "And she had learned so much about what's important in life, what's not, and how to be happy."

Barbara summed up Mary Rae's prescription for happiness this way:

Don't take things personally. Don't let anything people do or say hurt you. You are better than that. You are who you are. Don't sweat the small stuff; life is too short. Don't hold on to things! Let them go! Whatever comes your way, deal with it and move on. Don't try to be what others think you should be. Be true to yourself. Don't let anybody make you feel less than you are. Just be who you are!

I would add: regularly give old man routine a swift kick.

So long, and keep moving.

NOTE: I have a new short novel, Something Tells Her. Jane is abandoned at birth and then placed in ever-changing, uncaring, and often abusive foster homes. At age 12, her latest foster father makes a sexual advance on her and, with something telling her this is not right, rears back and kicks him you-know-where. Leaving him grabbing his crotch and yelping like a hurt dog, Jane runs out the door. On the street, alone, no family, nobody, not even a last name, how is she going to survive?  The E-book, is now available on Barnes and Noble and  Amazon. 

                         Other Amazon E-Books by George Pollock

"State Kid: Hero of Literacy" is fiction based on his real-life experiences growing up in foster homes; "Last Laughs," is the true story of how five foster kids (he and four younger siblings) found their way in life and each other. "Killers: Surprises in a Maximum Security Prison," is the story of his being locked up for 23 hours with killers in a maximum security prison; "I, Cadaver" is about his postmortem adventures and mischief in the anatomy lab at UMass Medical School. “A Beautiful Story” demonstrates the art and process of creative writing as a 16-year-old boy goes all out to write a story that literally saves his life. "Unlove Story," is the true story of a husband -- writing anonymously as "Elvis" -- who is dumped after 38 years of marriage and lets it all out on love, marriage, life, everything. A guy doing this? It's unheard of.

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