Sunday, February 01, 2015

Parks and Sinatra

If I had to name two of the most dissimilar people in the world, I don’t think I could do any better than Mr. Parks, my high school mechanical drawing teacher, and Old Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra.

And yet these two men, who, to my knowledge never came anywhere near each other in the real world, managed to link up in the three-ring freak factory that I like to call my mind.

I know this doesn’t sound at all logical, but it’ll make sense once I explain myself. Or then again, it may not, and in that case I apologize in advance.

Mr. Parks was a compact, bullet-headed man who spoke in this very sharp, exact tone.

Presumably he was a draftsman in his early life and everything about him was precise and direct—no guesswork, no nonsense, just results.

If he thought you were goofing off, Mr. Parks didn’t hesitate to inform you.

“Hey, you, little guy,” he snapped at one of my diminutive classmates one day. “Sit down and start pushing a pencil because it’s going to be a hot summer.”

One time several guys in the class started making all sorts of stupid noises just to rile up Mr. Parks. And they succeeded.

“I look around,” Mr. Parks loudly declared, “and I see morons!”

Say what you want about Mr. Parks, there was nothing wrong with his eyesight.

But he was also very kind to me. I was hopeless at mechanical drawing and in fact I was only going to Brooklyn Tech because that’s what my father wanted and, as it turned out, he was quite wrong. I had no aptitude for this stuff, but there I was, fiddling with a T-square and a triangle, trying to come up with something before class ended.

Mr. Parks appreciated that I was doing my best and he tried to encourage me whenever he saw signs of improvement.

“Lenihan,” he told me one time, “when I look at your work, I am reminded of that cigarette commercial that says ‘you’ve come a long way, baby.’”

The commercial was for Virginia Slims, a woman’s cigarette that tried to link the burgeoning women’s liberation movement with the inhalation of tar and nicotine.

I remember thinking how strange it was to hear Mr. Parks say the word “baby.”

Hitting the High Note

When I graduated in 1975, Mr. Parks gave me some tremendous advice as he signed my yearbook.

“Just remember,” he told me, “you keep on learning until they carry you off.”

That is so true and so important to remember. Learning doesn’t stop with the diploma. That’s where it begins.

And now here’s were Frank Sinatra comes in. (See? I didn't forget.) A few weeks ago I was listening to Jonathan Schwartz on the Sunday Show and he played a recording of an interview that Sinatra did with Arlene Francis in the Seventies.

In the portion I heard, Frank was talking about the time he met the opera superstar Luciano Pavarotti. The two men admired each other’s work and at some point during their meeting, Frank asked Pavarotti for some advice.

Frank had been having some trouble with a diminuendo—where the singer holds on to a note until it fades out.

Sinatra said this is fairly easy to do if the word you’re singing ends in a vowel, but it becomes more difficult if the word ends in a consonant. So what should he do when the consonants show up?
“Oh, that’s-a easy,” Sinatra said, imitating Pavarotti’s accented English, “when you get-a to the last word, you shut-a you mouth!”

I laughed at Sinatra’s impersonation. But I was also a bit surprised that Frank Sinatra, who was at the top of his game at this time, was actually asking for help with his singing.

He was Chairman of the Board—he didn’t need help from anybody.

But obviously he did. And he wasn’t ashamed to admit it and he wasn’t reluctant to ask for it.

That’s how the greats in any profession become great and that’s how they stay great—by asking for help, by striving to improve. Or like Mr. Parks noted, they keep on learning to they’re carried off.

And so somewhere in snow-covered regions of my brain that Sinatra quote linked up with long-buried memories of Mr. Parks.

The connection may not make much sense, but it’s a good reminder to shut-a you mouth and keep on learning and you'll come a long way, baby.


Ron said...

BRAVO, Rob...fantastic story!! And yes, the connection of the two make total sense to me.

a) we never stop learning.

b) never be reluctant to ask for help.

c) and there comes a time we can no longer talk about, we just have to shut-a our mouth and do it.

Inspiring post! Thanks for sharing it. And btw, I was a huge fan of Old Blue Eyes. Still am!

Have a super week, buddy!

Rob K said...

Hey, Ron! What's up?

"...there comes a time we can no longer talk about, we just have to shut-a our mouth and do it."

Yes, yes, exactly! You can talk something to death if you're not careful.It's best to jump in there and do it--and if you need help, just ask!

Take care, buddy, and thanks for stopping by!

Bijoux said...

I'm kind of amazed that you can remember advice given to you by a high school teacher. I can barely remember their names at this point!

Rob K said...

Hey, Bijoux! Memory is such a tricky bugger.

I can remember the name of my old teacher, but yesterday I was struggling to recall the name of my ex-girlfriend from a few years back. Who can say?

Stephanie Faris said...

It's amazing to me how something someone says to us at some point can make such a profound difference in our lives. People don't realize what an impact they make on other people.

Rob K said...

Hey, Stephanie!

That's so true and I'm finding is that it sometimes takes me years to appreciate this people. Now that I'm older I can look back and think, oh, yes, that person was really trying to help me.

Jay, Sparking Synapse said...

Your Mr Parks sounds like a good guy, and he was right: you keep on learning till they carry you off. If you have any sense you do, anyway!

It's how I live. It's how OH lives, and it's how our sons are living. That makes me proud of them! If you keep your sense of curiosity about the world you shouldn't ever be bored, and you'll continue to grow as a person.

Rob K said...

Hey, Jay, that's so true! Your sense of curiosity can keep you young! I can see why you're so proud of your sons!

Anonymous said...

I think the connection makes perfect sense! Both men influenced you to keep learning and to not let one milestone stop you from continuing to grow! That is an amazing lesson and both those men clearly knew what they were talking about.

Rob K said...

Hey, Shae, you actually followed my train of thought! I'd be worried if I were you...

Seriously, though, I appreciate your thoughts on this.

You have an opportunity to learn valuable lessons every day, but you have to be ready to receive them!

Take care!

CrystalChick said...

Connection makes sense to me!
Three-ring freak factory... haha! Love that.

The advice from Mr. Parks was spot on. Keep learning!
And ask for for help when necessary.

A teacher once told my mom that I'd do great in school as long as I didn't get too interested in boys. LOL Well... I did meet my forever guy during senior year and didn't wait all that long afterwards to get married and start a family. So, college didn't happen, but the learning has continued just the same. Teachers are everywhere and the world is full of things to find out about. Each person just has to find what method works for them.

Rob K said...

Hey, Mary, how's it going?

College didn't happen for you, but you did meet your forever guy and start a family. And as you so rightly point out, the learning goes on nonetheless.

Teachers really are everywhere and it's important to keep our hearts and minds open so we're ready to learn important lessons.

Take care.