Breaking through using Joe Kennedy

In 1999, when a Kennedy, any Kennedy, calls on behalf of little-known start up Altiga Networks, chances are very good he will either reach “power” (CEO or President) at the identified organization, or upon leaving a voice message, will likely receive a return phone call, often on the same day, within hours.   When a telesales person representing the same company tries the same, however good the offer and message and positioning, you know the likely outcome.  Since the Kennedy family name has to be one of the most celebrated surnames on the planet, the private equity firms including Bessemer Venture Partners that had invested upwards of $20 million in virtual private networking (VPN) start up Altiga Networks knew in the fall of 1999 they had to do something out of the box in order to raise awareness and gain access to “C” level decision makers in targeted companies.  Other VPN firms were being acquired.  The industry was hot.

Around the time Joe Kennedy 2nd ran his nonprofit company, Citizens Energy which distributed cheap heating oil to the poor, he also lent his name and time (in exchange for an unknown amount of future earnings) to one of the start-ups which I worked, Altiga Networks.  Using his name, Altiga (which was a made up name; we told inquirers it was the name of a mountain range in Peru, but that was fictitious) was able to prospect higher in the organization, gain access to power, and help with sales development efficiently in ways that traditional marketing and publicity activities only dreamed of.  It is important to understand that his contribution was up front in awareness-building, prospecting and “pipeline development” and not in direct sales because a VPN solution is still very much a technology purchase.  He did need to know some things about the technology though, much like a marketing communications guy would need to know.

Ultimately, the goal of his activities was to receive evaluations leading to sales of the VPN product, but even before that, when Joe Kennedy called, it was his function to get an audience for an Altiga representative to discuss the product.  It was my responsibility to define and set up the Kennedy program and monitor his function, activities and measurement. Ancillary traditional activities like a press release jointly drafted and approved by Altiga and the Joe Kennedy people was part of the plan announcing the advisory role between him and Altiga.  I spoke with him once or twice but my main contact was one of his handlers.

On January 19, 2000, Cisco Systems announced the acquisition of Altiga Networks of Franklin, MA for $351.5 million.  The acquisition enabled Cisco to expand its portfolio in the burgeoning VPN market, and for all ninety of us at Altiga, join the Cisco family and see our stock options accelerate.  Some bought Porsches and some retired.  I held on to my stock options expecting Cisco to continue its heady climb.  The Kennedy program ended shortly after it began but it met its goals. Life was good.

Time in retirement

Time just whizzes by.  For a curious guy like me, my days and nights are filled up.  There’s so much to do, so much to pursue, take care of, learn about, see, listen to, monitor, manage and update.  Much of the day I’m on my own and I like it. The responsibilities of the day be it spiritual, health, political, financial, or household-related, are all fun to do whether on my own, or with others.

And if I can’t check them all off my to do list for the day, I can take care of them the next day. I like that freedom.

It’s a whole lot different to be living in retirement where everyday is the weekend, but even more relaxed, less stressful, and more fun.  Especially in the summer months.  And I don’t have to waste my time driving an hour to Boston and back home.  (Ask me again when there’s a foot of snow on the ground and the forecast is grey, overcast and windy.)

If I were to write a memoir it’s title would have something to do with “making up for lost time”.  I’m living it now and I like it!

While much of my professional career I was able to work in my field of choice, I wasn’t always able to develop practices to solve a marketimg problem that I felt were really going to work. (That’s the way a copywriter is.). I had many bosses in the enterprise and ultimately had to do what they thought made sense.  Even if I knew the world didn’t need another newsletter, and Jane the VP thought it would be grand, I had to create a newsletter.  This caused me angst and made me unhappy; sometimes I’d let my boss know or I would ventilate and he/she would hear about it.  Always being a little self-righteous (hmm, I wonder whom I learned that from), I learned to live with it.

Central to my days today is exercise and/or sports, as I want to be independent and mobile as long as possible.  I structure some time at the gym (Planet Fitness is a four minute drive from home.  How can you beat it? It’s only $10/month.)  And then there’s spiritual development. I meditate in the morning and read spiritual literature on a daily basis.  Together these two activities help clear the air, help me process the days and set me up for a day that matters with my mission in mind.

I used to wake up and immediately peruse the headlines from The Washington Post and The New York Times, but now I look at them later in the day; I don’t want to read about that monster that made it into the WH and is a disgrace, racist, cheat, liar and traitor.  Don’t get me started.

Hmmm. I better go back to meditating, and build on my voter registration efforts as I joined the Franklin Democratic Town Committee. I want to preserve democracy by helping citizens to vote in the upcoming primaries and midterms.  It’s time.


The weathered look of dilapidated houses

As much as I talk about calligraphy as my primary medium of interest, it’s really black and white illustration, pen & ink and technical drawing that interests me.  I’m drawn to housing, barns, buildings and storefronts that display the ravages of time, whether born from neglect, age, weather, calamity or some combination of these.  Inanimate objects not the individual, is the subject of interest. I am practicing line drawing so as to eventually one day be able to draw the weathered look of dilapidated houses.

Weathered is timeworn. But it also means accomplished, knowledgeable, aged, dated, hoary, mature, as well as qualified, worldly and victorious.  A domicile that looks lived in is of avid interest. Side roads in New England as well as dusty worn fire paths and outback roads sometimes lead to these buildings.  These are buildings which once were lived in but have been abandoned.

The 3 R’s

Dilapitated means a state of disrepair or ruin as a result of age or neglect or use.  It may be reduced to or fall into partial ruin or decay.  Rundown. Ramshackle and rickety.

It may be a chimney that’s lost a few bricks or its dark mortar, a door opening that has leaned in or caved in, it’s paint peeling on the side, bushes and grasses in need of a cut or shears, or steps in disrepair.  Objects like rakes, shovels or poles could be left outside or be leaning against the side of the establishment too.  The buildings are rundown in disrepair.

Joys of drawing

Texture, light and shade using just black and white pen with ink can be enormously gratifying. “Rendering in Pen and Ink” by Arthur Guptill is considered one of the classic books in the field. First published in 1930, the copy I have was published in 1976 and again in 1997, and was produced for artists, architects, teachers and students alike.

Like any medium, discipline of hand and eye is essential, as is perseverance and patience.  I very much enjoy imitative representation.   Individual inventiveness will follow only after I learn all about the basic principles of composition, and am able to use a pen to copy the objects  of interest.  This is only possible when I learn to draw objects in light and shade, handle groups of objects, learn perspective, learn kinds of outline, how to handle different kinds of pens and inks, and how to use other media as well.  Eventually I’d like to learn water colors to augment and enhance the effects drawn in pen and ink.  In pen and ink drawing there is no color.  It is either disregarded or expressed to some extent through values of light and dark, and textures and form.

Artists in other medium excel only after learning the fundamentals.  Bobby McFerrin’s parents were both classical musicians; Bobby only became a creative artist following his own muse after he had thoroughly learned the classics.  He practiced imitative representation first and then embarked on his own.  I expect to do the same.

Illustrators and architectural renderers featured in Guptill include Rockwell Kent, Willy Pogany, Russell Patterson, Chester B. Proce, Birch Burdette Long and others one has never heard of.  I certainly haven’t.

In Jamestown, RI, there’s a colonial house near one of the main routes that’s beaten down and perfectly captures the essence I’m talking about.  Photographs taken will be used for practice and will be magnified to allow me to practice drawing elements of interest.  Lots of practice will follow.  The kind of practice that a pianist follows repetitiously playing the scales over and over again.

Big disappointment

When we took off from home on February 5 on the first leg of our book tour/sightseeing excursion, going south, we had planned so well, and it seemed the gods and stars were working all in our favor.   No major traffic jams or traffic accidents occurred that first day or through our entire trip.  We had a little trouble navigating through New York near the George Washington Bridge, but no worries. We ended up traveling 8,000 miles and did not suffer through any inclement weather while Boston was hit with three monsta’ nor’easters with incredible amounts of snow in a 13 day period.  We got out of Dodge on time just as we planned.

No personal accidents, no sprained ankles, no wallets, earrings, check books or cell phones lost. Or stolen. No scams.  No vehicle breakdowns. No tows.  I had upgraded to AAA Premium coverage so if we broke down in the middle of nowhere in the deserts of Texas or the Southwest we would be towed up to 100 miles for free instead of the normal three mile tow coverage.  The chances of a breakdown was small too; we were driving a brand new 2017 Honda CRV with a little over 1,000 miles on it.

It wasn’t like forty two years ago when I travelled cross country with my older brother Skip in my mother’s beat old Toyota.  We broke down on the afternoon of July 3, 1976, in Norman, Oklahoma, the day before our country’s 200th anniversary.  We didn’t expect to find anyone open that day or weekend.  An AAA certified garage mechanic living on the second floor above his garage, answered our desperate call for help, left his fiancé whom he was marrying the next day, and took his tow truck and came out of town to repair our car.  He was a great guy and he even let us drive the car around for a while before paying.  We ended up camping outside with coyotes howling in the distance.

So far so good.

While Arlyn and I were on vacation, our workday schedules behind us, we had a travel schedule.  We had to be in Tucson, Arizona no later than March 10, the first day of the celebrated two-day Tucson Festival of Books.  Arlyn had a slot under one of the tents to sell her book to supposedly 100,000 attendees, and we had to be prepared for them all.  So we didn’t spend as much time as I would have liked in Savannah, known as the first city in North America designed to be “classless”.  James Oglethorpe set up the city in 1733 to be a classless society by following  four rules:

– No lawyers allowed in the city

– No Roman Catholics allowed in the city

– No liquor laws

– No slaves

We could only stay in New Orleans for three days because we had to drive 950 miles through Texas in two days, and could not stop in outdoorsy Austin or San Antonio because they would take us off schedule.  On February 27, we had the most beautiful room at Pensacola Beach, Florida, overlooking the ocean, able to walk the beach. We  ate snapper with black eyed peas and coleslaw but had to move on from this part of Florida that is known as the “lower Alabama”, to make it on time, rested.

Tucson had so much promise, so much purpose.  So much to see and learn and do and then sell so many books!  Tucson, here we come!

It was the 10th annual Tucson Festival of Books event at the University of Arizona campus. Over 300 published authors, 400 tents, C-SPAN, food trucks, author panels, book signings, and the chance to interact with world-class writers like Mitch Albom, R.L. Stine, Amy Tan, Jenna Fischer.  The festival is considered one of the top three largest book festivals in the country, and we had to stay on schedule.

The one thing we were unable to control occurred.

It had not rained in over three months in Tucson; the morning was okay but Arlyn only had time from 2-4. After we set up our display, it started to drizzle. By 2:30pm it was a good soaking with no end in sight.  It rained. Hard. Steady.  Constant. And the foot traffic that came past our side of the tent was light to begin with.  Nobody came by as people ran for cover, or a chili dog or  nachos, or decided to leave for the day and beat the traffic.  Or like many others, took off for the concert listening to the Book Remains, the rock band started by Stephen King that was playing elsewhere on the University campus.  Stephen King wasn’t there, but Mitch Albom and Amy Tan were in the band.  I would have run off to see them too if I could have.  Big disappointment.

Memphis blues

All I knew about Tennessee prior to arriving in Memphis in the middle of March of this year was that Al Gore lost the state in the 2000 Election, and that Memphis was the home of Elvis and his Graceland.  I didn’t know that it was also the home of the multimedia and very worthwhile Civil Rights Museum, and this year on April 4, marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.  aged 39. He was struck down by one bullet in his neck at the Lorraine Motel.  The actual bedroom that he stayed in is part of the museum, which is situated at the site of the assassination itself.  Kind of eerie. But it places you right in the thick of things where history was made. No virtual or augmented reality required.  You are there and it is shocking.  You reach his bedroom and the scene of the assassination after reading personal accounts of figures like Rosa Parks and many others earlier in the museum, people you may have never heard of who played a role in the civil rights movement.

Luminaries throughout the museum present their position on race and equality. President Lyndon Johnson in March 1965 proclaimed: “There is no Negro problem. There is no Southern problem. There is only an American problem …. Their cause must be our cause too, because it is not just Negroes but really it is all of us, who must overcome, the crippling legacy and injustice ….”  (Too bad our current president doesn’t see it this way.)

Aside from its political history, Memphis is known for its contribution to American music.  Beale Street is home to the BB King Cafe and across the street is the Blues City Cafe, not far from the Lorraine Motel.  We had  lunch and met a couple from England who had just come from Nashville.

The blues emerged from the Deep South and had its roots in songs of the field workers and the rural black Church.  The blues was an expression against shame and humiliation, personal and political, the denial of blacks to fully participate in American democracy. In this sense, the music culture and the political history came together as one in the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr., a minister and son of a Baptist pastor, an early figure in the civil rights movement.

Memphis Jones, a local artist, played a spirited set at BB King’s Club and played in front of a jam-packed crowd on a late afternoon/early evening.  A $5 cover was the price of admission.  I did what I usually do when present at a musical venue: bob my head, cautiously swing side-to-side, people watch and take it all in.  Reminiscent of high school, when the Valkyries played in the crepe-paper-decorated high school cafeteria in Wayland.  At BB King’s I stood near the amps along with Arlyn, whereas She cut loose with her physical and kinetic energy in full display, to the extent that an anonymous young man half her age swept her off her feet onto the dance floor, dancing side-by-side for a minute or two, until she respectfully told him her husband was with her.  He got the message, came off the floor, shook my hand, thanked me for the chance to dance with her, and was gone into the bar crowd.  He was harmless, just having a good time.  That’s why we were there too: to have fun.  I didn’t smell any liquor on him but Arlyn did.  His performance prompted me to join her back on the dance floor myself, though I was not as good a dancer as he.  I just didn’t want to lose her to another guy. And have fun with her to the best of my abilities.

Sam Phillps (that’s Philips with two l’s) is the one who discovered Elvis, along with BB King, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Ike Turner and the Million Dollar Quartet.  That’s Elvis, Jerry Lee, Johnny and Carl Perkins.  Sun Records and Studio started in 1950 a couple of years before I was born. Sam was a visionary, record producer, engineer, businessman, and marketer who believed that the black man’s music could improve race relations and foster peace.  He was always looking for a certain sound and packaged and promoted his musicians to personify his vision and that would sell records, build an audience and make himself a living.

Case in point: originally Johnny Cash, who called himself John Cash upon meeting Sam wanted to be known as JB in the music world.  Sam didn’t like that and argued that “Johnny” worked better.  JB became Johnny.  No one messed with his name.  Sam of course was always known as Sam.  He was an original, as original as the performers he recorded and made famous.  He eventually made a fortune, and set up his two boys in the music business.

I grew up listening to rock ‘n roll, and didn’t turn to rhythm and blues until later in life.  As a kid, age six or seven or eight, I fantasized along with my childhood friend Jimmy Powers, of being a disc jockey, having our own radio show, playing the same songs and hanging out with the musicians of the day.  Jimmy and I never did anything other than role play in the backyard, and make up a fictitious radio station call letters and slogan (“W-I-K-E that’s for me”).  Where this all came from I don’t know except I guess it was further proof that communications and content was of interest to me (and Jimmy) at a young age.

While my brother Skip played organ in a high school rock band, and I played piano, I didn’t become a performer. My father loved listening and dancing to the likes of Duke Ellington, Bobby Short, Johnny Hodges, Lena Horne and many others in free form jazz performances as that’s what jazz is about, unlike the blues.  His love of jazz grew on me but I tended to listen to other music.






Javelinas and toads

We missed the Cowboy Yodeling competition at Alpine’s own Sul Ross State University, as it was held a week earlier than our three day stay in the high desert towns of Alpine and Marfa in southwest Texas in early March. We declined to attend the Reptile and Amphibian Show whose participants all seemed to wear cowboy boots, heavy make-up and sport short cut bleached hair.  We had much more interesting activities to check out with our friend Gwynne Jamieson, my manager at Data General many years ago. She moved to Alpine, a small town of about 5,000 four years prior, and threw herself into a number of civic-minded and community-enhancing activities, from saving Amtrak service to beautifying the railroad park, becoming a naturalist and supporting the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute.  We walked up to see it’s cacti greenhouse.  Many of the cacti are native to the desert and are not for sale. Some were rescued and some were gifts to the research institute. Notable cactus were the Leuchtenbergia, named after Eugene de Bauharnais, Duke of Leuchtenberg, prince of Eichstadt, step-son of Napoleon I, and Obregonia, named after the former president of Mexico Alvaro Obregon Salido.

Every time I hear “Marfa”, an eccentric and artsy little town of 2,000, next door, maybe 20 miles from Alpine, surrounded by working cattle ranches and mountains along with mysterious white, yellow and orange night lights (known as the Marfa Lights),  I think of Martha, my stepsister who died a few years ago of breast cancer and was a theatrical and musical artist in her own right.  She would have fit right in with the bohemian town of Marfa.  It’s branding campaign is unique: “Marfa: Tough to get to. Tougher to explain. But once you get here, you get it”.  There are numerous articles about Marfa found in Forbes and travel magazines.  Marfa attracts visitors worldwide including Beyoncé, Kevin Bacon and writers like Leslie Jamison, author of the new book “The Recovering” . I just finished reading the book and was surprised to learn she spent two weeks in Marfa editing it.

The Marfa Book Store is a magnet for the town’s creative community and features an astonishing selection of hard cover and paperback art, interior design, architecture and philosophy books, along with a small art gallery.  I thought of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) when I entered and got lost in the books and ambience.  One would not expect to find such a bookstore in such a little town.  But that’s Marfa!

Beyoncé visited the permanent installation of Prada Marfa, situated on Rte 90, about 37 miles west of town, on the way to Valentine.  This 15′ x 25′ store was designed by Elmgreen and Dragset, two European designers, and erected in 2005, and included goods from the Prada 2005 collection. It is constructed of adobe, plaster, paint, glass, aluminum frame, fiberboard (MDF) and carpet.  It is their most famous installation.  We took pictures of this incredible scene much like Beyonce and countless others. The permanent installation mimicked a small Prada retail store and featured atmospheric installation lighting.  It will never serve as an actual boutique as the door cannot be opened.

Unfortunately, even though Marfa is in the middle of nowhere or maybe because it IS in the middle of nowhere, the installation was vandalized and broken into, the handbags and shoes of stolen.  Nonetheless, the installation and exhibit was repaired and replacement accessories were displayed, but this time only shoes for the right foot were installed and the handbags’ bottoms were cut away so they could not be used.  There!

Aside from Prada Marfa, until the 1970s, Marfa was best known as the film location for James Dean’s final movie, GIANT, also starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and Dennis Hopper.  (Earlier in our travels, Dennis Hopper was noted on one of our tours as a resident of Wilmington, NC. He got around.)

Not to be out done by Marfa, Alpine has its own celebrated artists. With Gwynne we stopped by the Curry Studio & Gallery on West Murphy Street, near the Amtrak Station, after purchasing the first of two Javalinas mementoes of my stay in the Southwest. Tom Curry, an editorial cartoonist counts the New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, Rolling Stone as clients, all from little Alpine.  He also creates whimsical horney toads, about five or six inches long, and found in his backyard.


Writing culture

Almost the first thing I did upon returning home after my last day working was emptying the contents of my twenty-five year old, well-worn and creased tan leather portfolio that Arlyn had given me. (She has good taste and people often compliment me on the occasional shirts she buys me).  I kept this portfolio in use with its accordion-style design, its zippered compartments and lean look for a good long time.  I like holding on to things that serve me well, but sometimes I over do it, as I’ve been told.

Before tossing away my portfolio into the kitchen trash can, I first removed everything from its various zippered compartments: Boston and Massachusetts transit road maps, various pens picked up at trade shows, antacids and Tylenol, cheap notepads, Manila file folders, crumpled news articles, large paper clips, a matchbook, Xerox copies of “Google search tips and techniques”, and related paraphernalia.  I saved a few of these things for possible future use, and then finally stuffed the empty portfolio into the trash.  Good riddance.

I also tossed the most recent Harvard Business Review, a subscription that my manager, the CEO, gave me, but I rarely read.  I hadn’t read much of the last few issues, actually, and I was not interested in it at this time.   Throwing away something as valuable as the coveted HBR would never have been my practice several years ago.

This occurred despite the fact that one of my joys in life is reading books and being educated by reading the New York Times and certain journals.  There’s a website — that provides free access to newspapers of the world, literary and academic journals and the like, which I frequent to see what’s covered in various media.  How’s Trump’s escapades being reported on in Jerusalem?  Japan?  Scandinavia?  How is USA Today and the Christian Science Monitor writing about it, or is it?

I’m just not interested in reading the latest business books anymore.  I may be interested in 2019, but I need a break.

In the last few years I spent my weekend free time reading of interests I would pursue when retired; it’s time has come.

Pens and art materials are my interest too, harking back to my early years.  In March while in New Orleans, after listening to a jazz band parked in the street, I entered a stationary store and picked up a copy of PEN World, “the journal of writing culture” which featured an article on vintage Waterman pens and nibs.  Later this month, I’ll be attending a lecture on ‘nibs for drawing and calligraphy’ at the Boston Pen People show.  Boston Pen People is an organization of people from all walks of life who are interested in pens, writing, pen making and repair, paper, illistration and collecting.  I’m looking forward to the lecture as I further my self-guided education in writing, pen and ink illustration and technical drawing.  I eventually want to  practice pen and ink drawing, and to a lesser degree, collect fountain pens.

No more pencils, no more books!

School’s out!

No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers, dirty looks!

It may be February 2, and while Punxsutawny Phil saw his shadow predicting six more weeks of winter, it dd not matter to me for today was my last day of working at my employer.  Come February 5, the following Monday, the day after the Patriots lost the Super Bowl to the Philadelphia Eagles, my wife Arlyn and I headed out in my brand-new Honda CRV embarking south to Gaithersburg, MD on the first leg of our planned two month cross-country road trip.

February 2 was also the day of my retirement party dinner and while I received a nice writing journal and personalized pen from my colleagues I knew and they probably knew that the likelihood of ever seeing each other again was nil.  We all got along okay, but half the group had very different politics than I, and it was not the culture of the organization, starting from the top, to really share one’s personal lives, or at least I didn’t feel comfortable doing so.  It could have been different but I learned a long time ago to accept it for what it was.  Heat trickles down, not up.  The cheery hello, how are you? we exchanged as I came in the door a few minutes before 9:00 (usually) was about all the warmth that occurred during the day.

So on February 5 we took off.

I had interest in exploring cities and towns like Wilmington, NC, New Orleans and Savannah, GA,  one of the first planned cities in North America, the desert and wide open plains of Southwest Texas three hours south of El Paso, and Memphis, home of blues legends BB King, Elvis and Johnny Cash.

We want to move where the skies are blue and the weather is warm, so we visited with friends in Tucson and Santa Fe who have made the move already from British Columbia, Wrentham, Franklin and Shrewsbury, MA.  That was another reason for the trip to the Southeast, Florida and Southwestern states.

My wife Arlyn Hope Halpern had just completed her memoir ” Dancing into the Light: a spiritual journey of healing” and she had already presented at a 55+ residential retirement community on the Cape, and at a local library. As part of her pre-launch, we had set up author events in New Jersey, Virginia, Florida and Arizona for the months of February and March, as well as a table at the Tucson Book Festival in downtown Tucson on March 10 advertised as the third largest book festival in the country, with 100,000 attendees.  With a sell sheet, boxes of books and a fascinating story to tell we took off.

Even before Punxsultawny Phil cast his shadow, we planned our escape from a frigid January, timing it to avoid whatever February and March had in store for Franklin.  We timed it well as I watched from the Weather Channel how Boston got hammered by three nor’easters in a 13 day span while we were walking the beach in Pensacola, hiking the Catalina Mountains near Tucson and walking the waterfront in Wilmington.  Life was good.

So the trip was a trip to see America, kick off my retirement, conduct a book tour and escape the cold, cloudy and stormy, snowy New England.  We were hoping we could find our future home.



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