Wednesday, February 26, 2014

February 2014: Ten Years

 It is the anniversary issue of this letter.  I sent out my first one in February of 2004.  Wow.  Ten Years.  I am amazed that ten years has passed so quickly.  When I first began this project, I was not so sure that it would last ten weeks or ten months, let alone ten years.  Now, I cannot imagine life without this wonderful hobby of mine.
That first letter we sent to about 40 people.  The letter was distributed by email exclusively through December 2008:  71 letters.   Each of those letters were handwritten and then typed.  I was distributing the letter to well over 300 people at that point. 
In January 2009, in the pit of the Great Recession, I had a bit of free time.  So, I learned about blogging in general and Blogger, the Google blogging platform.  I put all my previous letters on and I posted my January 2009 letter on the blog just before I emailed it out.  I continued to post on letter a month until September of that year.  I had three posting that month.   
Beginning in 2010, I began to gradually moved away from handwriting every day.  These days, I type my daily writing mostly using my iPad.  That daily writing still turns into my monthly letter.  It also results in three other blog posting and two postings to my work blog.
I still have not written the book I set out to write when I began writing every day.  I have not written a book at all, but I have written a lot.  This letter, the other This Side of Fifty blog postings, and my business blog,, form the bulk of my personal writing.  Beginning in April of 2012, I actually started getting paid to write.  Now the writing side of my consulting business is as lucrative as my supply chain work.  This, to me, is very cool. 
I like that it started off as one thing and then, as is the story of my life, became something related but different. 
Being an important anniversary, I have asked a few friends to comment on this occasion with the intent of including them in this letter.  The first to respond is Ara Topouzian whom I refer to in every two or three letters.  Thanks Ara!
AraTopouzian:  So much of what we read today can be classified as negative, self-fulfilling or politicizing. Facebook has magnified this issue. Your blog has always been from the heart and you have never used it as a platform to rally the troops to get them to convert to your way of thinking. Much of what you write is enjoyable to me and as I have known you my entire life, I can say that I look forward to reading your anecdotes, historical commentary and wit. Hard to believe I have been reading your works for ten years. Best of luck Marko on another 10 years...then let’s give it up ok? Enough already. :) 

My letters have hovered between 1,800 and 2,500 words.  This one will be much longer.  I asked several folks that have commented and encouraged me along the way to send a few sentences.  They certainly did that.  Here is one from Greg Postian.  He and I got to know each other when I was living in Connecticut and working in New York.  We were friends for sure but I must say this letter and the interaction we have had since I started sending this letter out took our friendship to another level.  We always see each other at the Armenian Youth Federation Olympic games each Labor day.  We are in touch online much more.
Greg Postian:  Congratulations Mark on starting and then continuing your This Side of Fifty e-letters!  When you first started them, I was “only” this side of forty but I am now where you were when you started your letter and appreciate even more the perspective and insight shown in your writings.  I’ve always looked forward to your letters as a welcome break from the every day, whether it’s a discussion about the comparative quality of different fine pens, the challenges of increasing ones speed on a two wheeler, heartfelt reflections on your childhood and family, musings on Armenian, Turkish and other music, views on Armenian and global history and politics or just commentary on the hot news topic of the moment, there is always a bit of warmth, friendship and truth that comes through.  Your letters have always come across as a very pleasant personal chat between friends over a cup of delicious (Armenian) coffee.  Here’s to many more cups of coffee in the future…

Mark Axelrod is a great friend and supporter.  He writes me on almost each and every letter I send out.  Given the quality and length of his responses I have encouraged Mark to start his own blog.  By profession, Mark is an ace number one recruiter of quality and manufacturing talent.  He loves his trade and is top notch at working his network and keeping in touch with people he knows and values.  I am fortunate to be in that network. 
Avocation wise, Mark and I have music in common.  The music we like and perform is not quite the same.  Mark is a barbershopper.  His is an accomplished singer in a barbershop chorus.  He is an active member of the Teaneck Chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society and has served in various leadership positions in his chapter.  He has shown me a world of excellent music that I would have otherwise not been exposed to.
Whenever Mark emails me, he refers to me as Gavoorian and signs off as Axelrodian.  This speaks to our friendship and supports my theory that the Armenians might be the lost tribe of Israel… or vice-versa.  Please enjoy his e-letter within this e-letter.  Maybe this will be his inaugural blog posting. 

Mark Axelrod:  Gavoorian - It is my pleasure to add a thought or two in response to your superior monthly letter, the arrival of which I always look forward to. All the more so, of course, because it is the auspicious tenth anniversary of the same. Your talent for selecting engaging topics and word smithing in your reliably entertaining and enlightening manner is a monthly gift you give to your readers.
The topic of your sermon this past month is the horrendous winter weather that has blitzed every part of the lower forty-eight except for southern California and southern Florida. How did they escape? Sometimes they don't. Of course we all complain about the weather... what else can we do? It's been trying back east, but I must say that what you've gone through in the upper mid-west would test the patience of a room full of saints. Would my speculation be accurate that the Chicago Polar Bear Club has dispensed with its annual January frolic in Lake Michigan? A wise decision... they would have had to enlist the air force to bomb the lake to break through the ice. Back here the polar bears pressed ahead with their yearly masochistic rite. Then again, that was back in December, positively balmy December.
Five or six Januaries ago I drove from Teaneck to Cherry Hill to attend COTS (chapter officers' training school) which the Barbershop Harmony Society runs at venues throughout the nation at that time of year. I made the trip on a particularly frigid Saturday morning... low single digits... which is about as cold as it gets in these parts. I picked up a fellow barbershopper in Weehawkin (I don't remember why he was there) who needed a ride to COTS. We rode for a half mile or so along the Hudson before we headed inland to hook up with the NJ Turnpike. The sight I saw that morning above the surface of the Hudson and the upper NY Harbor was one I shall never forget. Being neither a physicist nor a meteorologist I cannot explain the phenomenon, but I suspect it has something to do with the water very closely approaching the exact point at which it freezes. What I saw looked as if the water was on fire. Above this immense body of water rose a heavy blanket of what appeared to be steam (it was some form of water vapor) that stretched into the distance. It's hard to describe how beautiful the Statue of Liberty looked as it rose out of the "steamy" harbor.
I will tell you two more weather-related tales, one of the batten down the hatches variety, the other of the colder 'n' hell type. They both occurred in 1938. That year was totally miserable weather wise. In late September the Mid-Atlantic and New England states were creamed by a massive hurricane; only Hurricane Sandy in 2012 was more destructive. Back then hurricanes were not named. This one was (and is) known as the Great Hurricane of 1938. Among the many calamities it delivered, one was a great water surge that slammed into the south shore of Long Island. Water vapor was lifted aloft by the wind and soon thereafter interior Vermont and New Hampshire experienced salt water rain!
The good news is that Long Island had a tiny population in 1938. The island's great development did not begin until the GI's returned from WW2, got married, had kids, and wanted a split level and a back yard. Levitt and others like him were more than happy to provide same.
The other weather misery in 1938 was in Jan-Feb when the cold was epic. My father...never one for tall tales...told me that the Hudson was so solidly frozen that large trucks drove on it, presumably just because they could. Why else would they? My Uncle Natie had one helluva treat that winter compliments of the US Army. He was stationed in Atlantic City and his job was to scan the ocean through binoculars for ships in trouble and for German subs. Thus was the state of surveillance in 1938. Even though the war in Europe would not commence in earnest for nearly two more years, German subs were plying the Atlantic in the late 1930's and our military wanted to keep an eye on them. Uncle Natie told me that it was so damned cold that for a quarter of a mile or so out from the beach the ocean froze. The breakers were defeated! That's cold. I, too, once saw the breakers on the Atlantic Ocean defeated, but it had nothing to do with cold. I'll tell you about it at another time. Mazel tov on your milestone anniversary, my boy. Keep the monthlies coming. 
~  Axelrodian

What can I say about Tommy Vartabedian?  He retired from the Haverhill Gazette after a long career as a writer, photographer, and editor.  He is a feature writer and columnist for the Armenian Weekly.  I knew of Tom for a long time, but we became friends through the AYF Olympics.  Tom was the editor for the Armenian Weekly’s Olympic Coverage issue to which I contributed an article now and then. 
One thing about writing every day and putting it out there first by email and now by blog is that you don’t worry so much about what people will say.  You take the criticism in stride because you become confident in what you do.  So at some point in my first few years of this letter, I decided to put Tom on my mailing list.  From the get go, he was incredibly encouraging and supportive.  It meant a lot coming from a professional like Tom.
We became better friends again because of the interaction of this letter and my blog.  As a result, I took over from Tom pulling the Olympic Issue of the Armenian Weekly together.  The only difference is that Tom did 99% of the writing and photography himself whereas I had a team of ten… and we barely were able to do the job.

Tom Vartabedian:    As a writer and newspaper columnist over the past 50 years, my inspiration comes from reading the work of others like Mark Gavoor.
    While my focus is primarily upon newspapers, his is to a vast following of readers connected to his e-letter and blog.
    And like any good journalist, he writes it like he sees it --- straight from the heart. He hits the common good with people with everything from his travails to his frivolities, current events to the good old days of yesteryear.
    The reason why they don't get old and disappear is because Mark continues to refresh our memory. One piece that comes to mind is the good, old fountain pen.
    I don't know who gave who the idea to expound upon the virtues of good writing implements but I worked it into an Almanac column of my own.
    Shortly thereafter, a package arrived to my home addressed from Mark and behold! Inside was a gorgeous black Waterman pen emblazoned with my name. A winning lottery ticket would not have meant as much.
    Today, that pen remains a staple upon my desk, used concurrently for all my formal writing, giving credence to the adage, "The pen is mightier than the sword."
    Good luck on your 10th anniversary and may every journalistic approach open the gates to a new tomorrow.
    One other thing:  Only through this medium will he continue to get out the last word.

Ruth Swisher is another Armenian friend.  I met her when my band was playing picnics in Hartford.   I learned that her mother was from the same village as my maternal grandmother, Yeghikeh, which is part of the city now known as Elazig in the Republic of Turkey.  Our family was the only descendants of Armenians from Yeghikeh in Detroit.  Hartford was a place many more settled.  It was great to have had the opportunity to play there for the children and grandchildren of Yeghikeh. 
Ruth has also been very supportive of this project.  Again, I believe we are better friends because of this project.

Ruth Swisher:  At the end of each month, I look forward to reading your blog and find it to be very informative and educational on either current events and/or past history.  I especially enjoy reading your articles on Armenia/historic Armenia and our music.  Keep up the good work Mark.

My cousin David and I were always kind of close.  We are closer now than we have ever been.  We often see things the same and when we differ, it is nuanced.
I do believe as my cousin gets older, his inner Uncle Rouben has come out.   David keeps in touch with the family better than anyone else.  Uncle Rouben would have been very proud of him.  Uncle Rouben would have loved this writing project of mine. 

David Gavoor:  Mark:  Being a devotee (and lover) of your Monthly e-Letters, ALL OF WHICH I'VE READ, I know that February is the 10th anniversary of your "musings and meanderings."  How has the time flown by so quickly?! 
Although my first instinct was to write that I'm constantly amazed by the range you show in these letters, of course I'm not; I know you too well.  The breadth and depth of your knowledge (albeit with a little help from the Net) is nothing less than astonishing.  I literally don't know anyone else who knows more about more topics than you.  There's something for everyone. 
You've always had my ultimate respect when it comes to your mind and it is reinforced anew each month when I receive that much anticipated email with your newest piece.  Looking forward to 10, 20, 30+ more years of your incalculably enjoyable letters!  ~ Your Cuz

In my first letter, I explained how the idea for the letter came to me.  Every anniversary, I refer to Aram Kevorkian and the legal letter that he sent out on a monthly basis.  His letter grew into something much more and more grand.  I read a few of his letters in January of 2004, shortly after he passed away.  I was so moved by what Aram had done that I immediately knew what to do with my writing.  I wish I could have thanked him personally.  I get to thank his daughter Corinne every year.  We most certainly have become friends because of his letter and my letter.
I am honored that Corinne provided the following testimonial.

Corinne Kevorkian:  Congratulations on the 10th Anniversary of your Newsletter!  It is hard to believe that 10 years have gone by already.  And yet, I remember so well the day I met you, 10 years ago, at the memorial service for my father who had recently passed away.  You had never met my father, but you felt compelled to come and pay your respect to this man who had inspired you.  My father had started his own Newsletter around the time he turned 50.  And somehow from Paris, through the Armenian Diaspora, to the United States, a copy of his Newsletter found its way to you.  
I was very moved when you approached me these many years ago and told me that my father's Newsletter is what inspired you - or rather, gave you the courage - to launch your own Newsletter.  As if in his passing, he had also passed on the torch to you.  Though your styles and topics are vastly different, the passion of your shared Armenian heritage, your love of music and compassion for the common man echo in your written words.  So as I commemorate the 10th Anniversary of my father's passing, I also celebrate the anniversary of your Newsletter - in every ending, there is a beginning.   As my father used to say (which he attributed partially to William Saroyan),  "When in doubt, do the bold thing, and do it with joy in your heart!"  You certainly have.  Congratulations Mark!

For the final comments from readers, I am delighted to include this contribution from my son. 

Aram Gavoor:  Dad, twelve years ago you embarked on a personal goal to write every day. Ten years ago, you began sharing your writing in a monthly letter.  The goal was to be self-reflective with your thoughts and experiences of the human condition.  Your monthly blog, which organically grew from your humble desire, has blossomed to a delightful reminder of how proud of you I am each month. Your unique insight and consistent discipline are a splendid example of the importance of living a life of conscience. Congratulations on the first ten years. I look forward to the next twenty-five!

Fulfillment and success in life differs from person to person.  Probably, there are always riches involved.  For some, it is the richness of fame.  For others, it is gold that glitters most.  It can be love of friends and family.  It is the inner pride that comes from what we have built, made, or… it my case written.  I am proud of what I have accomplished. 
I am excited to take it to new heights. 
Thank you again one and all for reading my musings and meanderings.  Thank you for your encouragement and feedback.  I greatly appreciate it.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

A Documentary on Armenian Music In Detroit

Ara Topouzian
Anyone who reads this blog knows Ara Topouzian is a good friend and fellow musician.  I refer to him often in reaction to comments he has made or to bait him for future comments.  I have even featured him twice in these postings:
This is the third time I am writing about Ara.  This time, it is to introduce a very special project Ara is working on.  

In the January 2010 piece, I wrote:
Ara is very entrepreneurial. He is a natural marketer and salesman. He used these skills to build American Recording Productions. He recorded with a wide variety of musicians including two CDs yours truly. To promote his CDs and music, he would play in book and music stores. He even got a grant from the State of Michigan Council of the Arts (presumably back when they actually had a budget) to teach a seminar on Middle Eastern music in the local schools, children’s museums, and other venues.
Since then Ara has gotten two more awards: 
  • In 2012, Ara was name a Kresge Arts Fellow in the Performing Arts.
  • In September, 2013, Ara was one of fifty artists to win the Knight Foundation Detroit challenge. They awarded him a matching grant of $12,000.  
The Ardziv Ensemble
The project in question has to do with the Knight Foundation Detroit Challenge.  He applied for this grant in order to produce a one hour documentary on the history of Armenian Music and Musicians in Metropolitan Detroit 1920-1970.  This will cover three to four generations of musicians beginning with those that escaped the 1915 Genocide and settled in Detroit to work in the automotive industry for the most part.  

The music those first immigrants brought with them survives to this day.  I was proud to have been been both a beneficiary and contributor to that legacy.  The music has been a great influence and factor in my life as it has been for Ara.  I have blogged more than a few times on this subject.  The pieces more pertinent to the Detroit Armenian Music Heritage are the following:
In order for Ara to get the grant and make the documentary, he has to raise $5,000.  His is hosting his fundrasing campaign on Kickstarter, the on-line fundraising portal for creative projects. Detroit HYE Times - Armenian Music in Detroit.  At the time of this writing he is about halfway to his goal.
What is amazing to me is that this project is being done in Detroit and about the Armenian Musicians of the Motor City.  We certainly have a proud Armenian music tradition in Detroit but not as strong as that in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Fresno.  But there are no documentaries in Boston, New York, Philly, or Fresno.  The difference?  Detroit has Ara Topouzian a man of vision, marketing savvy, panache, and action to make projects like this happen.  

I am delighted Ara is doing this.  Many of these musicians, their songs, and memories are already well faded.  The photos and information Ara will use in his documentary could easily slip into oblivion. This film will help preserve that history, those memories, and create a legacy.  

If you value such a documentary.  Please go to the Kickstarter site, learn more, and contribute.  I am making my donation as soon as I post this piece.

Bravo Ara.

Saturday, February 8, 2014


My cousin David texted me saying I should blog about Affluenza.  Huh?  Affluenza?  Did he mean and simply mistype influenza?  Very unlikely.  David is a much better proofreader than I am.  So, I did what I always do when I am curious about something:  I solicited the internet.

The term has some buzz because of the recent case of 16 year old Ethan Couch of Texas.  It seems young Ethan got really drunk, somewhere in the neighborhood of three times the legal limit.  He was driving his fathers F350 pickup at a speed of 70 mph in a 40 mph zone.  He lost control of the behemoth pickup truck and plowed into a stranded motorist and others who were trying to help her.  Four people were killed and two others were severely injured.  It was a horrible accident.

The prosecutor wanted a sentence of 20 years.  Ethan's parents are wealthy.  They hired the best attorneys their money could buy.  These attorneys went with the "Affluenza" defense.  Basically, the defense argued that "he was coddled too much by his wealthy parents, who have never held him accountable for his actions."  NPR


The reason that this word and this case is getting attention is because this argument won the day.  Ethan Couch was given ten years probation and his parents will be sending him to a very expensive rehab center for some undisclosed time.

The term Affluenza was not created for this case.  There was a 2001 anti-consumerism book, Affluneza:  The All-Consuming Epidemic by by John de Graaf, David Wann, Thomas H. Naylor, that talked about the ills of the contagious disease of having to amass vast amount of things most of which we do not need.  In 2005, another book, Affluenza: When Too Much is Never Enough by Professor Clive Hamilton and Richard Denniss addressed the same issue i.e Western Society being addicted to over consumption.  Heck, I have even blogged about it in March 2007:  Consumerism.

Using Affluenza as a legal defense is a new twist and use of this term.  It seems many are offended by this.   Leaving out the use of this term, Affluenza, this trial just confirms a well known and well worn state of affairs in our legal system.  Basically, if you can afford the best attorneys money can buy, the probability of conviction and jail time is minimized.  To me this is what happened in the Couch case.  Ethan's parents basically bought his way out of juvenile detention or jail.

It reminds me of another case:  O. J. Simpson.  When this trial was taking place, the nation was polarized around race.  I followed the case because of the hype and show put on by OJ's attorneys:  Johnnie Cochran, Robert Shaprio, and others.  When the final verdict came in and the case was dismissed I recall seeing photos of elated black folks and white folks in shock... in the same photo.  There was a lot of talk about the case and again it was polarized by race.  I also remember thinking, this case was not about race but the fact that O. J. Simpson had enough money to hire a crack team of lawyers pure and simple.

I feel bad for the victims and the families of the victims of Ethan Couch's drunken driving.  He or his parents should have had to do some time and that money the paid for attorneys and the rehab would have been better used to pay for the funerals of those who died and the medical bills of the two injured parties.  This is not legally thinking but more my sense of right and wrong.

Affluenza indeed.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

CVS to Stop Selling Tobacco

There was report on NPR this morning, February 6, 2014, that CVS is planning to stop selling tobacco products in their chain of stores:  Link to NPR story.  
Saying it is "the right thing for us to do for our customers and our company to help people on their path to better health," the CEO of CVS Caremark announced Wednesday that the company's 7,600 pharmacies will stop selling cigarettes and tobacco products by Oct. 1.
CVS claims that this move is consistent with their transition to a chain of wellness centers.  Quietly they have placed medical clinics in their stores and are favoring that image and branding.  Cigarette and tobacco sales are not consistent with that image.  So, they are making a strategic move and foregoing $2 Billion in cigarette and tobacco sales of their $125 Billion in overall sales.

Rhode Island base CVS is the #2 in the pharmacy/convenience store category behind the Chicago base Walgreens chain.  Walgreen has not made a similar announcement but, in reaction to the CVS announcement, did issue a statement saying they are evaluating their product offerings versus their customer wants and needs.  President Obama reacted strongly and favorably to the CVS announcement, again per the NPR story:
"As one of the largest retailers and pharmacies in America, CVS Caremark sets a powerful example, and today's decision will help advance my administration's efforts to reduce tobacco-related deaths, cancer, and heart disease, as well as bring down health care costs — ultimately saving lives and protecting untold numbers of families from pain and heartbreak for years to come."
Overall, it is no doubt a good move for the company as they strive to change the image of the company.  Will it help reduce smoking even more in this country?  No doubt it will have some impact, how much is hard to predict and I am not sure can even be accurately measured a few years down the road.

Of course,  I would not be writing about it if I did not have my own little spin on this.  OK... ban cigarettes and tobacco.  I last smoked a cigarette in December 31, 1989.  My days of buying cigars and pipe tobacco from a store like CVS are also well in my past.  They just do not carry the quality of cigars and pipe tobacco I puff on these days.

Beyond this I question a few things.  Our CVS stores here in Chicagoland offer many other dangerous substances including beer, wine, and liquor.  They carry all kinds of salty snacks.  They care a wide variety of refined sugar products... products made with load of white sugar if you can believe it.  If they are serious about their health image, they ought to stop carrying these kinds of products as well.  Oreos probably are not good for us.  They shouldn't be selling pork rinds or potato chips.  Maybe they should stop carrying products such like
 NyQuil as some holistic health mavens think this chemical cocktail does us more harm than good.  Toothpaste contains fluoride crying out loud and antiperspirants all have aluminum in them! 

Where will it all end?  Not just with tobacco says I.