Sounds at Arlington


It’s only 30 seconds, but it’s a deep profound silence… and it seems like a lifetime.

And then suddenly – shockingly – four sounds, each following the other:

The first sound, a loud strident human voice, shouting, “Fire!”

The next sound, the piercing report of the rifles, “Bang!”

Then, the sound of echoes, rolling over the green vistas, reverberating back and forth,


The final sound, the sharp clicking of the rifles, “Click…click…click”

It happens three times:

Fire!             Bang!….bang….bang….bang               Click…click…click


Fire!             Bang!….bang….bang….bang               Click…click…click


Fire!             Bang!….bang….bang….bang               Click…click…click

arlington buglerer

Then, again, the sound of silence…   This time it seems like three lifetimes.

I will never forget these sounds!

My First (and only) Book Signing

I published my first poplar managerial oriented book in 1989, with my longtime friend and coauthor, Charles (Chuck) Manz. The title of the book was “SuperLeadership: Leading Others to Lead Themselves.”

Chuck and I worked very hard on the book, and… OK… I must confess we had some high hopes and dreams. I recall we talked about how we would handle it when we were interviewed on the Today show, or with Larry King. I guess it doesn’t hurt to dream, and it helps the motivation when it comes to the plodding day-by-day hard work of actually getting the book finished.

Chuck once asked me what I would do with the royalties, and I jokingly said I would buy a 45 ft. motor boat and call it “SuperLeadership”

We finished the book, and, after a long hard journey, we finally did find a publisher. We were relatively pleased with this publisher, and were totally blown away when we visited our editor in his 15th floor office overlooking Central Park in New York City. We had a discussion about promoting the book and other aspects of the publication process, but he was not very enthusiastic (and, he showed us the mock cover where my name had been misspelled!).

The book was published, and I did get some nice cooperation from the Public Information department at University of Maryland, who put out several public information releases. Also, my public speaking invitations picked up because of the book. I had sort of expected that we might “go on tour” to promote the book, but that never happened. The reality is that our publisher was better at “talk” than real action.

A few months after the publication, I received a call from the manager of the university book store in College Park Md, which was located in the student union in the middle of the campus. This was long before Amazon and Kindles, and it was a big and busy store. Also, the store had a prominent section of books by campus professors, and I had seen our book prominently displayed shortly after it was published.

The manager inquired if I would be interested in coming down for a book signing. He explained that they sometimes had faculty book signings on the Saturday’s of big football games, because the traffic through the store was extremely good. He said they would set up a table with a poster and a stack of our books.

Wow! Was I flattered! Me doing a book signing! Of course, I said yes, and we set a date. I got on the phone to our publisher immediately so that he would be sure to ship plenty of books. I think we shipped a hundred or so.

So, signing day arrived, and I got down to the book store in plenty of time. I even wore a tie for the occasion! The store had done all they had promised, and there was a table with a poster, and a big stack of books very close to the checkout counters. I brought a half-dozen thick black pens so I would be sure not to run out. I think the signing was scheduled from about 11 to 12:30 or so, in order to get the before-game traffic. I sat down excited and ready to go.

In fact, the traffic through the story was pretty heavy. There were quite a few people moving back and forth past my table. The clock moved to 10:59, and I sat, with my pen on the table, eager to start the signing.

By 11:15, I was starting to get worried. Most of the people passing by looked at me and at the poster, nervously smiled… avoided eye contact…I could see them think a bit… I could sense the “huh!” that went on in their mind as they finally realized what the table was there for. But, no paying customers yet… no one wanted a signature.

I had not brought a book of my own to read, so I started to get both embarrassed and bored at the same time. So, with nothing to do, I started to read my own book. Actually, I thought it was pretty good, but still… no customers.

I read on for a while, and I said hello to 4 or 5 people that I knew… but even my friends did not offer to buy a book. I was really embarrassed!

A little after noon, I was surprised to see that Laurie had shown up. She had driven over to the campus to support me and to see how things were going. She asked me how many I had sold, and when I said “zero”…. well…. she just started laughing, and I started to giggle too. We both laughed for a few minutes, and she said stick to it, and left. (Still, she didn’t buy a book.)

Finally, the ending time came, and I was totally mortified, but grateful the ordeal was over. The Assistant Manager came by to see how I had done, and when I said “zero sales”, he gave me a big smile. He said, “Well, it happens!” … suggesting other authors had had the same experience, but it still did not make me feel any better. I concluded it was one of the most embarrassing days of my life.

When I got home and reported the zero again to Laurie, again, we both had a big, big laugh. The whole situation seemed to be a supreme absurdity. It was depressing. I guess I knew then I would not be getting a 45 ft. boat nor an appearance on Larry King.

I don’t want to leave off on this negative note however. Over time, I realized that the reputation and visibility stemming from the book were considerable, and it was immensely valuable in my public speaking and executive development work. In my executive development, I always handed out a personally signed copy at the end of my session, and I realized that most of the people receiving the book were truly appreciative.

In addition, when the paperback version came out, I had a very gratifying experience of wandering into the book store at Chicago O’Hare Airport, and seeing a cardboard rack of our own book right next to the cashier. Since I had not yet seen the paperback version, I immediately bought a copy of my own book. I was tempted to ask the cashier if I could personally sign all of the books that were there, but I knew he would think I was crazy. (Later, Chuck told me he would sometimes go into a book store and ask to sign the copies of our book that were on the rack! Ha!)

And, several years later, when all of the counting was done, Chuck and I realized that we had sold over 100,000 copies of the book in various forms. The book was also translated into several foreign languages, and we also did a revision ten years later. This is not NY Times bestseller territory, but it was gratifying. Most of all, I did have a feeling that the message of the book had reached many people.

I wish I had a photo of me with my tie on, sitting at that table in the bookstore. I would enlarge it, frame it, and hang it over my desk with this label:

Don’t Lose Sight of Humility!

It’s great to have boundless dreams,
But remember:
keep your pen on top and feet under the table
hope for at least one sale.



I try to read the paper.  I can’t.  I have a blind spot in my eye!

Two days, blind spot still there. Dr. Rutzen calls it “retinal vein occlusion”…

a small blood spot on my retina.

We try laser treatment.

Four weeks later, I still can’t read.  This is distressing…

I have written 7 books – difficult to write another if I can’t read!

Steroids injected into my eye.  Yeah –  it sounds really painful but it’s not.

The next morning I wake up, and my eyesight has returned.

I… can… read!!


“Toby, do you want these poor chickens to die?”

Between the ages of 5 and 12, I lived with my parents on Wilton Street in Greenville SC.  My Mom and Dad made their living by running a small business, a retail coal yard.  They sold coal to customers to burn in their homes for heat.  My Dad learned this business because his father had started a coal business in Greenville.

I don’t recall being poor, but then, we weren’t rich.  My mom decided to make a little extra pocket money by raising chickens and selling eggs to our neighbors.  My Dad knew how to do this because he was raised on a farm in Folk Shoals SC, and he know how to do all those farm things like raising and picking cotton, taking care of horses and mules, plowing, milking cows, and raising and butchering hogs.  Of course, they also had chickens, which they raised to produce eggs, and also to provide the occasional southern fried chicken dinners.

So, on Wilton Street, one day my Dad brought home a load of lumber in a coal truck, and he built a chicken coop behind the house and behind the garage.  It wasn’t big… perhaps 20 feet by 30 feet.  It consisted of a “coop”… a type of small shed where the chickens could roost and keep warm.  In the coop, there were perhaps 30 or so “roosts”, a sort of a box or nest, where each chicken could sit at night, or whenever they wanted to lay an egg.  The roosts were arranged in layers, with about 4 layers from top to bottom. Each roost had straw that I replaced every two weeks or so.

In addition, the coop had a “run”, where the chickens could come outside and walk around and where they got their feed and water.  There was also a box where Mom would bring out table scraps for the chickens.  They loved wilted lettuce. The whole thing was enclosed by thin wire called chicken wire, so the chickens could not get loose.

So, we got our first flock of chickens, and I recall my Dad bringing them home.  They were hens that were almost, but not quite grown.  We had about 20 or so.  Dad released then into the coop.  Of course, at first, I was quite fascinated by all this… I was about 6 years old.

Well, it wasn’t long before my Dad said to me, “Your job is taking care of the chickens!”  I replied, “I don’t know how!” Continue reading

Amy’s Shoelaces

I was getting very frustrated… Amy and I were late. I had to drop her off at school and then I had an important meeting at the university. I don’t like to be late. “C’mon, Amy! Let’s get going… we are late!” She sat on the stairs by the front door and yowled: “Daaad! …my shoelaces are untied!”

 Amy was… oh, maybe 4 or so, and Laurie and I had been working hard over the last month on teaching her how to tie shoelaces.  I knew she could do it, because she had successfully performed the behavior several times.  But, it was still a new behavior, and she was quite slow.

I looked at her, and I realized I had a clear choice.  I could tie the shoelaces for her, and we would be on time.  Or, I could wait for her to do it, and we would be late.

I thought about it for 5 seconds, and then I made the decision.  I sat down on the stairs next to her, and I said, “We’ll wait for you to tie the laces.  If you have trouble, I will give you some advice, but I won’t do it for you.”

 So…. Slowly and deliberately, she tied the laces.  I was gritting my teeth with impatience… WOW! She really was slow!  But, she went at it in a diligent way, and, not needing any advice, she finished and we were off.  Yes, we were both late, but I don’t think it mattered much.

Within a few more weeks, she was tying the laces with no problem at all.

 A few decades later, I was enjoying having dinner with Amy when she was a Pediatric Resident at Children’s National Center in Washington.  By then, she was an official M.D., and would soon be a certified Pediatrician.  I noticed that she glanced at her watch a few times, so I asked her if she was in a hurry.  She replied, no, but she had made an appointment to be in for the midnight shift at the hospital.

 “Why are you going in?” I asked.  “I don’t think this is your regular shift?”

 “No”, she replied.  “But, I’ve arranged to spend the night shift with the blood tech.  She knows how to take blood better than anyone in the hospital, and I want her to teach me everything she knows.”

Well, I certainly admired her devotion to her work, and especially her modest and pragmatic attitude that she (a doctor) could learn from a technician. (By the way… I also noticed this when I visited with Amy in Africa.  All the ward nurses and orderlies gave her this look of respect and adoration and called her “Dr. Amy.”)

Most of all, I thought to myself, “She’s come a long way since she learned how to tie shoelaces.”

I wonder how she is at doing stitches?

The Elevator Singer

Laurie and I went up to Baltimore today to see a touring Broadway play, “Ghost”… a musical adaptation of the well-known movie starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore.  The movie… and the play… are most notable because of the lead song, “Unchained Melody”  (Oh… my love… my darling… etc.)  Really a great song.

After the play, we followed the crowd out to the parking garage, where we had parked before the performance.  We had to wait quite a bit… maybe 15 minutes… for the elevator, since we had parked on the 5th level, and the climb was a bit too much for my 75 yr old legs.  Finally, the elevator arrived almost in front of us, and we entered, along with about 15 other people.  We did put quite a few people on the elevator.

The door closed, and people called out their various floors.  We got up to the third floor, and the elevator slowed… and then started to lurch and bump.  Lurch, bump, lurch… about 4 times.  Finally it stopped.  According to the indicator, we were at the 3rd level.  Someone said “I want to get out!” in a very insistent tone of voice, so someone pressed the door “open” button, and the door opened on the 3rd level.  About 3 people rushed out, looking very fearful.  Somebody said, “Anybody else?”, and since I still did not want to climb 2 floors, Laurie and I elected to stay on board.

So, someone pressed the 5 button, the door closed, and we started upward again.  After only a few seconds, the lurching started again… continued 3 or 4 times, and then the elevator stopped.  The indicator said 4.

Someone tried the “open” button, but that did not work.  They pressed a variety of other buttons, and none of them worked.  I think all of us realized we were stuck, and we seemed to be in total shock.

After a minute or so, and several more tries with the buttons, some bright soul found the communication controls on the control panel, and made a call.  We were all relieved to hear an answering voice.  A quick exchange of information ensued, and the voice said to hold on, someone would be right over.

So there we were… about a dozen people, average age about 70, stuck in an elevator.

There was a little restless conversation and one more communication thru the box over the next 10 minutes or so.  Very soon, it got hot, and I started to sweat.  Some woman kindly handed me a Kleenex.  My 75 yr old legs were rapidly giving out, and I wondered about the others… some of whom were several years older than me.  I leaned my head against the wall, and about three people asked me if I was OK?  I said yes, but in fact, I really wasn’t OK.

I thought about sitting on the floor, but there really was not enough room to do that.  It got worse when one of the ladies talked about her sister being claustrophobic.  She looked at me and asked, “Are you claustrophobic?” Actually, at that moment, I was, but I said I was OK.

Finally, I thought to myself, “I’ve got to do something.  This is driving me crazy.  What can I do?”

And then, I had a great idea… something that would distract me and perhaps the other people too.  So, in my strong authoritative male voice, I brashly said:

Would it be OK with you folks if I sang a song?

Well, I do have a commanding voice, and I certainly got their attention.  I said again, “I’d like to sing a song… would that be OK with you?”

People were staring me as if I were crazy (which I am), and 3 or 4 said “yes”, and one woman said “As long as it’s a happy song!”

I replied:  “I have just the song for you.”

So, they were quiet… I cleared my throat, and began, in a very good voice:

I see trees of green… red roses too…

Well, you’ve never seen so many smiles in all your life.  It seemed everyone on the elevator recognized the song (that is, “What a Wonderful World”… Louis Armstrong… but I don’t sing like him).

By the middle of the second line, almost everyone on the elevator was singing along with me… all of them with big smiles on their face! I sang all of the verses, and while many people didn’t remember the precise lyrics, the group sing continued until the end. Clearly, everybody was enjoying themselves.

If you don’t know this song, it has very tender and warm music and tones, and wonderfully optimistic lyrics.  It’s one of my favorite songs, and I have probably sung this song more than any other.

At the end, there was uproar of applause and cheering, and I felt really good.  I had forgotten about my tired old legs. I think everyone realized they had just shared quite an unusual experience in this crowded elevator.

The woman next to me said, “Are you a professional singer?”, and I felt good all over again.  I said no, it was just a hobby with me.  After this, everyone on the elevator was in a much more upbeat mood, and the conversation over the next 5 minutes or so was quite lively.  Since I do like to sing, I started another song, “Try to remember, the kind of September…” and once again, they joined me. But then, I bungled it, and forgot the second line lyrics of the second verse, and started doing “… la  la… la la… etc.”.  We all laughed.

About this time, we heard some knocking on the door, and it seemed our rescuers had arrived.  There was an exchange of words with those outside, so the songs were soon forgotten. After about 5 minutes or so, the doors opened, and we were looking at about 10 firemen, and the opening was between floors, with the 4th level at about my chest in height.  We all cheered the firemen.

The firemen really looked good.  Many of them were young, and they were all quite buff… they must have a good gym at the firehouse.  They also had big smiles on their faces.  So, two of the firemen dropped down into the elevator, and they handed down a tool box, which we used as a small step stool.  We took turns, with each person stepping up on the tool box, and the two strong firemen in the elevator doing the lifting, and many hands above to catch and lift up.  Well, the firemen did indeed “get personal”, if you know what I mean, but I don’t think anyone minded much.

I was the last one out.  I turned my back to the door and stepped backward on to the tool box.  I had strong hands helping me, but I basically lifted myself up so that my butt was sitting on the outside level above, and my legs dangling in the elevator.  From there, I had about a dozen hands lifting me to my feet. I looked around, and saw the firemen, a sheriff’s deputy, and a Univ of Md security person.  They were all in a jovial mood.

So, I led a cheer for the firemen, and then Laurie and I went up the stairs to the 5th level and started walking up the driveway to our car.  About 3 cars went by, with people leaning out the windows, saying, “Great Song! … Great singing!”  So, I felt good all over again all over again.

Getting stuck on an elevator is certainly an obstacle, but, all in all, I think it turned out to be a fun event.  The obstacle became an opportunity.

Laurie insisted that she needed to drive home, and I decided not to argue with her.  After all, I had made my contribution for the day.  In fact, for one shining moment in time, I was

The Elevator Singer!


[1] This is a true story that happened, Sunday, April 13, 2014