Thursday, August 22, 2013

August 2013: The Curious Case of Debbie and Mark

Mrs. Marks - Math

There are a few communities on Facebook that I have recently joined and enjoy.  These are nostalgic pages where people share memories about what was once referred to as "the Wonder Bread years" through the formative years.  The memories of these years resonate more as we age.  We remember them because they are the years that made us who we are today. 
Certainly, our families were essential in molding us.  Most of us see our families continuously since those days and because of this we do not view them as much through nostalgic glasses.  Beyond family, we remember the people and places that we have not seen for a long time quite nostalgically.  Thinking about people and places we have not seen, and possibly not thought about, for years, churn up warm memories of times we all view as quite special.
The pages I liked are:

  • I LIVED IN DETROIT IN THE 60's-70's-80's
    I lived in Detroit proper in the 1960s and then in the suburbs the next two decades.
  • The Ol' Neighborhood 48227/48228
    While I lived in Detroit, our Zip Code was 48227.
    When people ask in what part of Detroit I grew up, I always answer Grand River and Greenfield.
It is not hard to see why I liked these pages.  People have posted photos of Detroit TV celebrities from Soupy Sales, Johnny Ginger, Captain Jolly, Milky the Clown, and more.  Others remind us of restaurants, parks, and other places that, given the state of the City of Detroit, are long gone or in ruin.  They were part of a time we all remember as, well, simpler.  We were wide open to learning, making friends, coming of age, and all without the worries that burden us as adults.  All the memories are good.  If I had to choose, the best parts of these Facebook pages are those about our schools, school friends, and teachers… but just by a little.
On these pages, I have met childhood friends that I have not seen or heard from in way too many years.  That is the nature of growing up in Detroit well before the era of email, cell phones, and social media.  The city was changing.  Everyone eventually moved out in what has been called White Flight.  So, we moved from the city to the suburbs and lost touch.  At least, this was my case.  It has been a wonderful experience catching up with the likes of Jim Zimmerman who moved away somewhere around the fourth or fifth grade and Patty Haley Abbott who I have not seen since ninth grade.
I have written often about Detroit both the Detroit of my youth and what has become of the city of late.  Other towns and cities have changed but not so dramatically as Detroit.  Perhaps because everything has changed so, we are all a bit more nostalgic about the Detroit, the 48227, and the Burns Elementary of our youth.
   On the Grand River and Greenfield page, a Debbie Eoll Igarashi posted photos of teachers from Burns elementary school.  Wow... She posted photos of our Principal Mrs. Larson who was famous for her lavender tinted perfectly coiffed gray hair.  She posted photos of three memorable teachers, all of which I had, Miss Johnston - 6th Grade, Mrs. Marks - Math, and Mr. Harris - 7th Grade.  These were wonderful and refreshing blasts from the past.
Ms. Larsen - Principal
   I have fond recollections of all these teachers.  Mrs. Marks stands out because she taught us something called “new math.”  Basically, we spent an inordinate amount of time in sixth grade doing base 5 arithmetic.  It was hard and tedious in terms of calculations at the time.  I was not getting it and because it was “new math,” it was beyond the arithmetic our parents took.  So, there was no help at home.  I struggled a lot with these and spent an inordinate amount of time on homework often on the verge of tears and frustration.  I refused to let it beat me.  I eventually got it and developed a passion for mathematics because of it
I commented a thank you on Debbie’s posting for these great photos.  She responded saying it was her last year at Burns and she took her camera to school.  Brilliant!  Why had I never thought of that?  I might have even had my own camera at that time.
These photos made me realize that there are almost no photos of the Burns years.  I certainly have very few and they are all family or Boy Scouts.  Almost none of us had cameras or never even thought of taking them to school.  The school simply did not have class photos or yearbooks the way my children had from kindergarten through college.  None of us, with the exception of Debbie, thought to bring a camera and capture those days.  That is what made Debbie's photos so special... they were and are very rare.
Ms. Johnston - 6th Grade
Then I thought about her comment on that being her last year at Burns?  The photos were dated June 1966.  That was my last year at Burns.  We were both in the 7th Grade.  We were both in the same class.  Odd, I could not recall her name. 
We exchanged a few more messages.  We determined that we were both in Miss Allen's kindergarten class.  We had many of the same homeroom teachers.  We remembered all the music, auditorium, math, and science teachers.  We knew many of the same people.
But, we did not seem to remember each other. 
We kept thinking of things that could spark our rusty memories.  It was odd.  We knew many of the same people.  We deduced that we were in Miss Jackson’s Choir and remember performing a concert of selections from the sound of music.
Nothing.  Nada.  Zip.  No recall.  No recollection.  We both commented that it was very odd.
Debbie suggested that perhaps we hated each other.  I discounted that.  If we hated each other, we would have certainly remembered.  One tends to remember one’s close friends and adversaries. 
Of course, each of us, being on Facebook, has plenty of recent photos of what we currently look like.  Debbie posted a few more photos of her from the Burns days hoping it might jog my memory.  Nope.
Mr. Harris - 7th Grade
I commented that I take great pride in my profession as a management consultant to noticing the little details when working with a client.  I certainly should have remembered my classmates minimally from a photo even if the name was not ringing a bell.  Debbie said pretty much the same thing.  She is in sales and prides herself on remembering peoples’ names and faces.
She posted one last photo.  She was guessing that it was about the fifth grade.  She was standing outside the school.  I really did not have any photos of that era available in a digital format.
My parents had recently assembled a montage for my 60th birthday.  It was quite special and well done.  They had it put on a DVD with my own music as a soundtrack.  They had given me an envelope with all the photos they had used.  There was only one photo from my days at Burns.  So, I took a photo of the photo and posted it.

I looked at Debbie’s photo again.  Darn, if it wasn’t the same background.  It was quite likely it was the same day and that we did have school photos that one day.  She looked at the photos and came to the same conclusion.
We agreed that we must have been in the same homeroom and that either the teacher or a parent had taken photos of us.  Wow… but still nothing.  No hint or spark of recognition.  It was actually kind of comical at this point.  It seemed impossible that we did not know each other.
Neither of us had any recall of that photo being taken. 
Debbie Eoll and I went to the same schools from kindergarten through seventh grade at Burns High School.  Then we spent 8th and 9th grades at Cadillac Junior High.  After that she went to Cooley High School and Livonia Franklin.  I went to Cass Technical High School and then Livonia Stevenson. 
The metaphysicist in me suggested to Debbie that perhaps we attended elementary schools in parallel universes.  Both schools were in Detroit, both were called Burns.  They were identical in every way from every room, brick, student and teacher with one exception.  Debbie was in one school and I was in the other.  In this theory, the universe merged after we left junior high.  Good theory but hard to justify or validate.
It was time to let the mathematician in me take over.  A few paragraphs ago I wrote that it seemed impossible that we did not know each other.  Let’s fathom the probabilities.  There were two homerooms of students our class at Burns.  That means there were between 50 and 60 students.  If I went through and remembered every person I could I would probably come up with about 20-25 people.  A few of them, maybe four or so, would be close friends.  The rest would be acquaintances and just people that I knew.  That means there were another 25 or so that I simply would not be able to remember.
Think about where you work today.  You know people you work with closest to.  You probably know them well as you interface with them on a regular basis.  Beyond that, the degree of know and memorizing thins out pretty fast.  We can have a large number of acquaintances.  There are more who we see and recognize but don’t know.  There is a limit of people that we can know and remember while we are in the environment, be it a school or workplace.
Now… fast forward 40-45 years and ask the same question:  Who do you know?  Who do you remember?  The people we only saw, recognized, but did not really know have most likely evaporated.  Some of the acquaintances are probably hard to remember.  We can only recall for certain those closest to us.  The problem is even worse if, as in my case, you have not really kept in touch with people from that era.
There is a number, Dunbar’s Number.  It is roughly 150.  The number is named for Robin Dunbar a professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford.  In an NPR Report, she related a story about Bill Gore and his company Gore-Tex.  As his company grew, Bill Gore walked into his factory one day and realized that he did not know everyone anymore.  He also knew that the factory no longer ran as smoothly.   The conjecture was when a workplace got too big and the sense of community was gone, people were less likely to work as hard and less likely to help each other.
Bill Gore estimated that 150 people or less was the right size for a factory.  None of his factories are over 150 people.  When a factory hits that number, he will build a new factory, even if it is right next to the existing one.  In a 150 person factory, everyone kind of knows everyone.  Everyone knows the leadership team.  The factory is more agile and responsive to the changing market place.
This applies to the world of the Burns School class of 1966.  No wonder we felt a great sense of community.  We had a cohort of 60 or so.  We kind of all knew each other even though within that cohort not everyone was close to or really knew everyone else.
I imagine back then Debbie and I minimally recognized each other though we were not close.  As noted above, that bit of recognition simply evaporated over the ensuing years especially since there were simply no sightings or interaction of any kind.
This kind of explains the mystery.  While this makes sense from a probability standpoint, I am still partial to the parallel universe theory.
Anyway, I am glad to know Debbie Eoll Igarashi now and I am especially glad she took, kept, and posted those great photos on Facebook.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Wily Ara Topouzian

My good friend Ara Topouzian is something else.  He has many skills and talents from being CEO of the Troy Chamber of Commerce, to playing the kanun in some of the finest libraries in Southeastern Michigan, and a loving husband and father.  The purpose of this blog is to highlight his unknown and unheralded passion:  giving me grief and getting under my skin on social media.  I should mention that returning the favor is also a passion of mine.

The first thing you have to know is that we, and a few other musicians that we lasso into our jests, are basically idiots.  We really admire The Three Stooges and to a lesser degree Seinfeld and others.  We live and treat each other as if life were a sitcom.   We are always teasing and scheming to get under each other’s skin.  This all used to happen on email and phone mostly because I was a late comer to Facebook.   I was pretty good at baiting Ara.  I knew what would get him going and subtly work them into the exchanges.  I was kind of like Larry and Ara was like Moe.  I was pretty good at it.  

Recently, on Facebook, Ara has taken the game to another level and kind of turned the tables.  Now when he responds, it all is peaches and cream.  He is complimentary.  If you didn’t know him, you might think he is just a nice fellow.  For example, I just started using foursquare to inform the business doings of my day.  Ara seized the opportunity to respond with:  “Please continue to give the detail of your day in this forum. It is thrilling. Where are you now?”

I changed my profile picture.  Ara commented, “This is a very nice picture Mark. Thank you.”

He is being facetious and it is getting to me.    

Drat, he has stumbled upon my weakness.  How did he do it?  I simply do not know how to react to passive aggression or in this case, its close cousin, furtive sincerity.

I recently wrote a blog about the Racine Armenian community after we played a picnic there.  Ara commented:

I share your thoughts Mark. Racine has always been a warm community and open to sharing their friendship and love. Also picnics are a fantastic tie to our history and also hold a special place in our minds and soul. We were once referred to as merely "picnic musicians", this is much more of a compliment than what was intended. This is our history and thus we should embrace and rejoice our traditional Armenian picnics with live music.

Is he being serious?  Is he being facetious?  Yes.  Dang, he is really getting good at this.  Maybe he was being sincere but with his new strategy, I cannot tell.  This is a devious strategy and it is working!

It all started in July when I posted about picnic grape leaves.  Here is the dialogue:
Ara Topouzian:  Riveting dialogue Mr. Gavoor. I am grateful for the pictures, posing, and your prowess in picking leaves. Bless you.
Mark Gavoor:  riveting dialogue, mr gavoor, grateful, bless you??? Someone has hacked into Ara Topouzian’s facebook account!
Mark Gavoor: Seriously maybe Ara Topouzian has been kidnapped. I will have to call the Troy Business Development Office.

I called Ara and questioned his new sappy sugary strategy.  When I asked why he was doing it, he said, “I was just waiting for this exact phone call.”  I fell right into his trap. Drat.

What will I do?  I am going to have to re-tool my offense and my defense.  

Hmmm… maybe I will begin by blogging about it and him.  He does seem to enjoy the attention.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

iPhone Lost and Found

Some days, I am not sure exactly what to write about and then something happens that solves that problem.  That is exactly what happened this evening.

I lost my iPhone.

I was not happy.  No one is happy when they lose their phone.  Not having it and not knowing exactly where it is simply reminds us how dependent we are on these devices.  My iPhone is also my business number.  It is my primary phone I use to keep in touch with friends and family.  I text using my phone.  I manage four email accounts with the phone.  I was not happy at all.

I knew the phone was in one of three locations.  I first went to a supermarket to buy a fruit plate for a networking event I was planning to attend.  The networking event itself was at a driving range and miniature golf course that oddly had no windmill.  After the fun networking event, I went Kohl's as they were having a big sale.  I knew the phone was at one of these three locations.  

I suspected the phone was somewhere Kohl's for two reasons, First, I was fairly certain I had my phone before going into the store.  But then, I just turned 60 and this had all the ear markings of those senior moments I have heard so much about, so I had some doubts.  Secondly, it was a cool evening and I was wearing a windbreaker.  My phone was in the pocket of the jacket.  I had taken the jacket off in Kohl's and drapped it over a number of racks, as I tried on some blazers and sport coats.  The phone may have fallen out of the pocket.

When I left Kohl's, I realized that I did not have my phone.  First, I looked in the car thinking I might have left it there.  No luck.  I went back into Kohl's and looked on the floor around the racks I had draped my jacket.  No luck.  I looked twice because, for me, things sometimes magically reappear on a second look.  Again, no luck.  The nice ladies in the store helped me look.  One of them suggested that I call it.  This would not work as my phone was on silent.  Dang.

It was 9 pm, so I decided to go home after leaving them my contact information if they should find the phone.  I would deal with it in the morning.  But, I was not happy and I was stewing.  

Then it struck me, there is an app just for this.  I remember activating it when I bought my iPad and registering both the phone and pad.  Cool.  I had never had a chance to use it.  So, I went to the "Find iPhone" app and logged in.  It searched for awhile and showed a blinking green dot on the map where my phone was.  The map wasn't definitive but it was at Kohl's.  

I called the store to see if they had any news.  They did not, but I learned they were open to 11 this week. So, I decided to return to the store and search more diligently.  On the way to the store, I figured the app had to have some way to lead me to it.

Once at the store, I looked at the app again and saw I could locate any device I had registered.  In my case, I had registered both my phone and my pad.  I activated both and saw I was close.  The app only got me close.  Basically, within 50 yards or so.  I selected iPhone again and a window popped up that offered three options:  play sound, lost mode, and erase iPhone.  Hmmm... Play sound.  I wondered if that would work for a phone that was on silent?  I hit the button and waited with the option was activated.  I heard a faint beeping.  I walked in the direction of the sound.  I was close.  Voila!  There was my phone not on the floor but on the rack of dark sport coats.  It was sitting on the shoulder of the sport coats.  My theory was partially correct.  The phone fell out of the pocket of my jacket, it just never fell to the floor where I had focused my earlier search.

I felt much better.  I still felt silly for losing the phone, but I felt it was less of a senior moment given the higher tech way I found it.  

They really are smart phones!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Racine Armenian Fest

We played a picnic this past Sunday in Racine.   This picnic, the St. Mesrob Church Armenian Fest, is one of two great Armenian picnics in Racine.  This picnic was held at the Racine Waterfront Festival site on Lake Michigan.  The other great picnic is the last Sunday in June:  The St. Hagop Madagh. 

Racine is quickly becoming my favorite Armenian city.  It is becoming my favorite because of these picnics.  The picnics are well attended and well attended by people who really like the old style music our band plays.  In this case the band I am speaking about is the Mid-East Beat:  Jim Hardy – Clarinet, Kai Kazarian – Guitar, Stepan Frounjian – Keyboard, and Vahan Kamalian – Dumbeg and Oud.  Vahan, Kai, and Jim were all born and raised in Racine.  Stepan was born in Lebanon but has lived in Racine for at least twenty years.  I am the only person in this band without any roots in Racine.  I do, however, feel like a loved adopted son.

What is it about Armenians and picnics?  What is it about me and old time Armenian picnics?  This is the second time I am writing about this.  The first was in August 2004.  I also wrote about this music in August 2009.  There is something about this music I love and the month of August.   There is something about performing this music that I love outside in the month of August.  In each of these postings, playing music outside on picture perfect August days has been involved.
It must be something about being outside.  It must be something about shish kebab cooking and the beer flowing.  It is definitely about the really good weather we have had for the picnics so far this year.  It has been in the low 70s and blue sky sunny.  As stated in the August 2004 piece, I have to believe that we are simply feeling closer to our agrarian past.  We create our own Armenia for a few hours on a Sunday afternoon.

The highlight for me this Sunday was playing a medley of dances from Kharpert.  Jim Hardy and I both have grandparents from there.  When we play those tunes together, I am totally in a different zone.

The other special thing about Racine is that not only do people like our music but the dance floor is always full.  That is a rare event these days.  I have not seen this in any of the other picnics I have played or attended around the country in the past twenty odd years.  Bands like ours play dance music.  No matter how “on” we are, we are never playing as well as when the dance floor is full.  The band and the dancers energize each other. 

I am lucky.  I get to play three more picnics this month.  These are in Chicago.  They are good picnics as well but not as special as the Racine picnics.  Two with my other band, the Hye Vibes of Chicago:  John Harotian – Clarinet, John Paklaian – Dumbeg, and Kraig Kuchukian – Keyboard.  The third Chicago picnic is again with the Mid-East Beat.  The only thing missing is Ara Topouzian.

I hope we get great weather...