Bradstein Household
Bradstein Household

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Elsa pulls on a tauntaun coat

80 miles on a bike is a long start to any day, especially one where the finish line is at 110 miles. Add rain and you’ve got a recipe for misery, unless you add a dash of hope, a pinch of purpose and a cup of context.

So, after I learned about love, we rolled out. I was with the bulk of my team, PHAT Tuesday, and with only 20 or so miles to the finish, I counted on being with them to the end of day one. Even though we only ride together once a year, I know how they ride–aware, careful and strong.

We hit the road at over 20 mph, hovering between 21 and 23 mph, as soon as we left the Pedal Partner water stop. I’d been at the water stop long enough to cool down somewhat, which was a welcome respite most years, but which would almost undo me this year.

It was soon after we restarted rolling that the rain came pouring down. Again. By this time, I was soaked with rain, road spray and sweat but now the new rain was falling cold, in bucket loads. I wouldn’t have been chilled so quickly or thoroughly had I pulled on my vest and arm warmers as we rolled out of the water stop, but I took a chance. It hadn’t been raining for awhile and I’d been overheating with either of those layers on.

Now, however, that a cold, heavy rain was soaking us, I debated–stop, put the layers on and lose the team, getting to the finish warmer, but much slower? or keep riding with the team, without the layers, and get to the finish faster?

I opted for the latter.

Honestly, at that point, anything that would have gotten me to the finish faster–paceline, bionic legs, jetpacks–was welcome. Under other conditions, I might have attempted layering on the go, but in a heavy downpour, with increasing car traffic, after that many miles wearing down our reflexes, it wasn’t worth it. If I stopped, though, I was sure I couldn’t catch back up to that train. The locomotives were too strong.

But waiting to layer was wearing me down too. I started to notice that a few of my fingers were tingly, and then I realized that I couldn’t really feel them as well as I could, well, when they weren’t numb. With layers that made as much sense as the sudden slit up Elsa’s dress that appeared while her ice castle rose from the mountainside, I couldn’t count on my clothes to save me. I started moving them around on the handlebars more, flexing my arms (don’t laugh, there are some muscles in there) and doing whatever I could to get blood–warm blood–flowing to my hands.

Whatever I did was just enough to get me to the next water stop, where I didn’t need water, but I pulled in with the team anyway. Usually we stop and chat a little, but I had only three things I wanted to do there, and talking over tea wasn’t one of them. First, I dropped off some water I picked up earlier. Second, while I was doing that, in out of the rain for a moment, I pulled on my extra layers. Finally, I got some water and poured in my recovery drink powder, so it would be all mixed in by the end of the ride, in 10 miles.

Before I could finish those three tasks, PHAT Tuesday was already back on the road.

I scrambled to catch them, through some of the worst road conditions–weather and surface deterioration–of the entire route. Fortunately for me, they got caught at a red light, so I was able to roll right up and latch onto the back of the train as they pulled out.

The rest of the way, with my extra layers, was smooth sailing. You know, smooth sailing through a gale. My hands returned from numb to tingly, and I stopped looking for a tauntaun to slice open and hibernate in. My teammate and roommate wasn’t so lucky, though, as I found out after I arrived in the dorms at the end of day one.

All you need is … what I got

Standing with 5,700 others in garish spandex, listening to an opera star sing the Star-Spangled Banner in the pre-dawn darkness, with Mardi Gras harlequin masks strapped to my helmet and beads around my neck, the 2014 Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC) got off to a totally normal start.

Totally. Normal.

Mercifully, the first little bit is a slight downhill before we hit the hilliest sections of the ride, all of which come in the first few several many miles of the first day, as did much of the rain. We went slower in the rain, more cautious on the downhills, wary of the painted stripes and reflectors, which are like ice and moguls in the rain.

Like the hills, the rain came and went, soaking us and then letting us dry out, but never really making us cold. We put our heads down when the rain came and rode on, watching out for each other and calling out warnings to one another. When the clouds parted, we lifted our heads and continued talking and laughing, giving thanks and high fives to the many who lined the route, throughout the day and throughout the rain. All of them had been touched by cancer, so it would take more than a little rain to dampen their spirits.

Lunch was a mercifully dry spot, where I was able to grab a selfie with Billy Starr, the founder of the PMC, responsible for over $450 million in donations to cancer research and patient care.

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After that, we rolled onto the Pedal Partner waterstop. Pedal Partners are kids–pediatric cancer patients–who are in treatment, recovery, remission or who are cured, who are partnered with PMC teams. The teams support the kids by visiting with them during the year, as possible, sending them messages, etc., and the kids definitely motivate us during the year. This year my team’s Pedal Partner, Kira, wasn’t at the waterstop, but I spent a long time visiting with VampBoy, who has a spectacular smile and a wonderful little sister.

I was talking with his mom about the standard challenges of parenting elementary school and preschool kids when she told a story that stuck with me. It was about a time when VampBoy was trying to be in charge and control his little sister–stop me if you’ve heard this story before–when a squabble broke out, because, guess what, she didn’t want to be controlled. She’s now old enough to do everything herself, of course.

VampMama listened to VampBoy insist that VampGirl had to do it the right way, and to VampGirl explain why she could do it her way, then asked them, “What’s the most important thing?”

“Love,” they both replied.

Wow, I said.

I’m articulate like that, especially after 80 miles on a bike.

That’s amazing, I told VampMama. You definitely got that part of parenting right if that was their answer.

That seemingly simple exchange has stuck with me ever since. When I’m agitated, upset with someone or find myself in a power struggle with the kids, I wonder to myself, “What’s the most important thing?”

And if I look around and I don’t find love with us in that moment, I take a pause. Because really, what’s more important?

OK, so a little bit past that waterstop, love plus appropriate layers would be important, but in that moment, all I needed was a reminder of what I got.

What not to wear to cure cancer

As 5,700 of us woke to ride 200 miles on our bikes, it was dark–still nighttime–cool and wet. As I explained previously, I have something of a system for figuring out what to wear when riding, but the system falls apart a bit around the edges.

Specifically at the edge between temperatures and conditions. The day was forecast to be in the mid-50′s to mid-60′s. OK, so let’s say it will be 60. But wait a minute–it’s going to be raining. OK, so let’s assume it will feel colder than 60. But wait a minute–it’s not going to rain the whole time.

Agh.

I started my day packing my cycling vest and arm warmers in my jersey pocket. Yes, cyclists wear arm warmers. We dress to make what you wore in the 80′s–leg warmers, those colors, the whip-thin ties–look like a couture gown. Not that I ever wore any of that.

I figured that would let me adjust to conditions: push the arm warmers down if I got too warm, unzip the vest if I got warmer, even take off the vest if I got really warm, though unzipping it is usually enough since the back is just mesh. Yes, mesh. Really, we dress to make your off-the-rack outfit look like Armani.

But as we rolled from our hotel to the start line, I felt that cool air and thought maybe I wouldn’t be warm enough. Maybe I’d want my cycling jacket–you know, the stab-you-in-the-eye-bright yellow one. Decisions, decisions…but, you know, none of my decisions that day were nearly as tough as the decisions my college roomie makes right now, facing stage IV colon cancer that has metastasized to his liver and lymph nodes.

  • Write a will?
  • Stop chemotherapy?
  • Fly to Mumbai?

My decisions that morning don’t have nearly the long-lasting effects that my roomie’s do. But if I left my jacket in my duffel bag, that meant not seeing it until the end of the day, since my duffel bag goes on a tractor-trailer truck, which is driven to the end of the route. So before I handed my bag over, I pulled it out. Then, as my teammate stood patiently by, I paused.

  • Wear this jacket?
  • Wear the vest and arm warmers?
  • Fly to Mumbai?

Standing there, in the pre-dawn dark as thousands of cyclists clacked around me in their silly shoes, I hear Mama’s Grammy’s words in my head: You’re not made of sugar; you won’t melt.

No shit. I thought. Our team is riding for a 12-year-old girl facing down brain tumors a third time. If she can take three separate rounds of cancer treatment and still grow up and go to school, I can get through a little rain, even if I’m a little chilly.

Besides, breakfast was waiting.

I stuffed the jacket back in my duffel, heaved it up on the truck, thanked the volunteer who took it and tossed it into the growing heap, where it was immediately lost in the deluge of bags raining into the truck.

While my system for deciding what to wear when riding frays at the edges, at the core, there are some truths. Among those is the fact that if you’re going to ride all day in the rain, you’re going to get wet and cold and uncomfortable, no matter what you wear. Knowing that, I probably should take my roomie’s advice and pack a Magic 8-Ball to make my decisions for me.

It couldn’t do worse than I did.

Weather or not, we ride

A pilot’s life depends on their knowledge of the weather, so if you want to know what the weather will be, ask a pilot. Or, like me, drive for eight hours with a pilot toward an event in which you’ll both be outdoors for two full days.

It fascinates me that he follows the same guidelines I learned when I was bike commuting. Check the weather

  • 10 days out for big trends because specific forecasts have low probability
  • 5 days out for a somewhat accurate forecast
  • 3 days out to know what to pack
  • the day before to find out how bad it will be

We were driving up on the day before, so we already had gone through those four steps and knew it was going to rain during the ride. We started off talking about many topics–Middle East, Ebola…we try to keep it light–always circling back to a check of the weather. As we slowly spiraled around the topic, we were drawn into the eye of the forecast, which focused on one word: rain.

Thirty percent chance is where I start paying attention to rain forecasts. Lower than that, the probability of the forecast being accurate deviates from meaningful to a topic for polite conversation. (BTW, Nate Silver confirmed this in The Signal and the Noise. Part of the deviation is caused by weather broadcasters whose forecasts tend to be wet–a term of art that means something different than more milk in your cappuccino.) That meant that as we were driving, I had plenty to pay attention to.

Our route covers 200 miles–it is called the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge, after all–and about six hours each day, so it doesn’t do much good just to check the forecast in the starting town. By lunch we would be 60 miles and 3 hours from that forecast. My job was made easier by the fact that almost every town on the Saturday route had a chance of rain over 30 percent.

Sunday looked like it would be dry, and continue the low temperatures of Saturday, making our second day a pretty nice one for riding. If we survived the first day. Going back to those low temps on day one and bike commuting–I used to know that what layers to wear at each temperature and weather condition, but I’m out of practice now and can’t remember what I used to do.

I think I recall that at 60 degrees and higher, I just ride in my bike clothes–jersey and shorts. Below 50, I like to cover my joints–elbows and knees–but only lightly, or I overheat. Often a vest or jacket isn’t necessary. Below 40 and a vest or jacket is needed. Below 30 I switch to heavier tights and maybe add arm warmers below the jacket…..probably a neck gaiter too. I might add toe covers too. Below 20, I might switch to a long sleeve jersey to avoid gaposis between arm warmers and the jersey…oh, and watch for ice.

But that all changes if there will be rain, sleet, snow, or other weather that leaves you alone on the road with the postal carriers. Because the temps were forecast to be from 50 to 60 in and out of the rain, I wasn’t sure what to wear, so I brought many options, as did The Pilot.

Although I said we eventually talked about only one thing on the drive north–the weather–there really were two topics: the weather and what to wear.

Tomorrow I’ll explain how I picked the wrong thing to wear. Twice in one day.

Green is the new khaki

Since my bike helmet was flat in the driveway, the first stop in our five-hour journey was five minutes away, at my local bike shop. There are many things to love about a good local bike shop, the first of which is that they’re local.

Other things to love include a good stock of supplies from small items like energy drink powder and socks to new bikes and…well…helmets. I wasn’t surprised to find one in my size, although I wasn’t entirely pleased that it was green and white. The Pilot pointed out that it was cool because nobody else would be wearing a green helmet.

Yeah, and yellow is the new khaki.


But nice of him to try. He also pointed out that it would match the Mardi Gras decorations I put on my helmet as a part of Team PHAT Tuesday. I’m not sure it’s a sign of high fashion that my helmet matches green, purple and gold felt harlequin masks, but it’s not there to make me look good; it’s there to keep me safe. Although I never really got it fitting right, the new lid was much more comfortable than my old one, and I didn’t hurt my head on the ride. OK, mostly because I didn’t bump it, but still, just for comfort, it’s an improvement.

Bike shops are our toy stores, and we were like five-year-olds with credit cards in FAO Schwartz, but we did finally manage to make it to our extraction point with minimal financial collateral damage. We pitched everything in the back of the truck with the bikes and hit the road.

There was nothing to do but drive and talk. We have a little practice with the latter, spending hours riding bikes together. As we drove, we talked about all manner of topics, but the further we went, the more we focused on one topic, which would be the talk of the town when we arrived…and all weekend, really.

Safety–and disaster–first

With a sickening crunch and a bumping jerk to a stop is how my 200-mile, 2-day bike ride to make cancer history started.

We hadn’t even left my driveway, but that’s where I’d left my bike helmet–in the driveway, on the ground, behind The Pilot’s truck. So as we waved goodbye and backed out, we rolled right over my helmet. I left it on the kitchen counter as a reminder to the kids not to leave anything behind a car, ever, not even for a moment while loading or unloading. Mom used to say it. I say it to myself. But an example is worth 1,000 reminders.

It was a good way to start the weekend, remembering my ABC’s–Always Be Careful–because it was one full of dangerous situations, each coming and going by in a flash. It was also a reminder to think about the consequences of every action–how will this affect those around me? What happens next? What would I do in the worst case scenario? It was also a reminder that when it comes to safety, it’s best to do it now, now get around to it later.

And that’s what we did.

We went straight to my LBS–local bike shop–and got a new lid for me. It was for the best. That helmet was old and worn out and may not have protected me when I needed it to, and you never know when you’ll need it the most, as The Pilot found out on day 2 of the ride.

He felt bad about backing over my helmet, but I’m the one who left it on the ground, and it was for the best, I’m sure.

Thanks! …and a hot new opportunity

Thanks to each of you who gave last week to meet my match–and if you didn’t have a chance to donate yet, I have a hot new opportunity for you to fight cancer…and make me sweat.

Together with the match from my sponsor, you gave $2,000 to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, which just announced a new prostate cancer treatment that extends patients’ lives on average by one year. Your donations fund their research, so you’ve extended the lives of thousands of dads through next Father’s Day.

My wife’s uncle was one such dad, but this spring she had to travel home to the family farm for his funeral. He had long fought cancer, and his kids lost their dad far too early. I lost my dad to cancer when I was just 16, denying my kids the chance to visit their grandfather and play catch, go for a bike ride or sail a boat with him.

If you missed the match and still want to give, I’m honoring my Dad and all fathers with a mileage match:

For every dollar you give between now and Father’s Day, I’ll ride a mile in July. (Up to 500 miles. I am only human, after all.)

Donate today.

This won’t be easy. This May I rode almost 400 miles and it just about wiped me out, so 500 will really stretch me–and in the heat of July it will really make me sweat. But it’s worth it if we can work together to let another dad live to see Fathers’ Day next year.

Let’s sweat the big stuff–curing cancer–so dads everywhere can sweat the small stuff, like thanking their kids for another tie or bottle of Old Spice.

Donate today.

Again, thanks to those who already gave. If you’ve already donated, please consider sharing this message with a friend…or 12. You can also follow me on twitter and friend me on Facebook.

30 Fathers’ Days without Dad

I want the same thing every year: A voice on the other end of the phone line. A house to send a card to rather than a cemetery to send flowers to. An ugly tie or some ticky tacky electronics from Brookstone.

I want my Dad back.

Then again, I’ve got an overdeveloped sense of vengeance.

This will be my 30th Fathers’ Days without him, so I’ve gotten used to it, but I will always miss him. Dad would have been 87 this year, so there’s no guarantee that even if a brain tumor didn’t kill him when he was 57 he would still be alive, but I wish I could know rather than having to guess.

Some things I do know about him

  • He had brown eyes, like my brother and my son.
  • He was left-handed, like me.
  • He was bald. No comment.
  • He loved sailing, riding his bike* and James Bond.

He also loved to be clean shaven. A story Mom told about him was that when she went into labor with her first baby, my oldest brother, she and Dad went to the hospital immediately. And waited. And waited. And waited.

By the time my brother arrived and my Dad could go back home it had been over a day and my Dad was disturbed–Mom’s word, not mine–that he had a day’s growth of beard. Disturbed enough that when Mom’s water broke for their second child, my oldest sister, the first thing Dad did was go into the bathroom, fill the sink with hot water and start shaving.

This is how I know that Dad would love knowing that you made me shave my beard.

I recall sitting across the dining room table from him at dinner while he angrily pulled out a clump of what little hair he had, showing me what the radiation treatments for his brain tumor were doing to him. So, I’d love to shave my head in solidarity with him–make me do it. Donate now.

Dad would probably hate to see me shave my legs. On the other hand, Dad loved all of his kids, so I’m pretty sure he would have loved to meet and play with 3B and Jewel. Throw a ball. Ride a bike.* Take them for a sail in his boat.

It makes me cry just to write that.

And so, if shaving my legs means that a Dad could meet his grandkids, means that a baby could see his brown eyes reflected in his grandfather’s brown eyes, Dad would be all for it.

After all, wherever he is, he’d love to get a phone call from me too, if only to talk to his grandkids. He’d much rather get a card scrawled all over with markers than flowers on his grave. While it’s too late for him, we can stop this same fate befalling other dads and their kids by fighting cancer in any way we can.

That would be a gift my dad would love to get almost as an ugly tie, and you can give it to him.

Support my ride to make cancer history and you’ll make more Fathers’ Days possible.

Donate today.


* Mileage match
Since Dad loved riding his bike, I’m announcing a mileage match in his honor. For every dollar donated between June 9 and Fathers’ Day, I’ll ride a mile on my bike in July…up to 500 miles. I am only human, after all.

This won’t be easy, if you match me up to 500 miles. This May I rode almost 400 miles and it just about wiped me out, so 500 will really stretch me out. But I’ll do it for Dad, and for all the other dads out there who deserve to live to see another Fathers’ Day.

Donate today.

A sponsor doubles your donation to make cancer history – this week only

You met the match! Together, you donated $1,000 to make cancer history – congratulations! On behalf of the cancer researchers, patients and caregivers who got 100 percent of your donation, thank you.

There’s still time to donate to fight cancer, even if this match is over. Remember, if you donate enough, I’ll even shave my legs on Father’s Day, so donate now.


My friends and family have lost their hair, their breasts and their siblings to cancer. I, of course, lost my Dad when he was 57 and I was just 16. So my 200-mile ride to support cancer researchers, patients and caregivers is deeply personal.

You likely already know that 100 percent of every donation goes directly to those doctors and their patients. This week, thanks to a generous sponsor, I can double your donation–but only for this week, so donate now.

1538809_10151930638677585_1261980255_nA generous donor has offered to match all donations this week up to $1,000. As always, 100 percent of every dollar donated goes directly to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, which has

I’m sure that you would love to live in a world free from the fear of cancer; where every case of this now dread disease can be prevented, treated or cured. Dana-Farber works 24 hours a day, every day of the year to make that future happen now. Please support their work and donate now.

As an added bonus, if you meet this match, you’ll make me shave my head on Father’s Day … so what are you waiting for? Make cancer history and donate now.

So, you didn’t die?

It’s only a tragedy if we don’t learn something from it.

I’m sure I said that to my kids at some point over the weekend, passing on to them the wisdom of Riff Markowitz, Producer, Master of Ceremonies, &c. of the Palm Springs Follies, which gave its final performance this weekend.

I endured many near-tragedies at the Follies, learning many lessons that I not only carry with me, but also put into action at every job I’ve had since then. Of course, the greatest gift I got from the Follies was my wife, who I hired as my Assistant Stage Manager, thanks to a recommendation from my friend. Unlike the many employees I had to let go from the Follies, she walked out on us, mid-season, just after we had finally gotten her trained–a months long process.

Obviously, I didn’t hold it against her, especially since she was leaving to travel around the world for a year on a paid research fellowship. I’d have gone too, if I could.

But I couldn’t, since I was finishing out my final season at the Follies as the Stage Manager, a job that I had backed into the same way one backs down into a cannon before being shot through the smoke, spotlights and cacophony of a three-ring circus. In my three-year trajectory at the Follies, I learned many things:

  • Never trust a monkey on stage.
  • Firing someone is never easy. It sticks with you for the rest of your life, no matter how necessary and justified it might have been.
  • It didn’t happen if you didn’t see it.
  • You’re responsible for it, even if you didn’t see it, so look harder, closer and everywhere.
  • Checklists are your friends, but never your salvation.
  • Nobody can make smoke hit a spike mark…but that doesn’t mean they can’t try, try, try, try, try, try again. And one more time, just for good measure.
  • Homing pigeons will get lost in the dark.
  • There is no detail too small.
  • Don’t be late to a meeting with the boss, if you like your job.
  • Friends are your salvation.
  • Given the means and the opportunity, there’s nothing that motivated people can’t achieve.
  • A man can fit inside a balloon.
  • Pigeons can live for days without food or water.
  • Grandmothers can be strippers.
  • You can always be kind. Always. No matter how you’re being treated.
  • 80-hour work weeks are possible without medication, so long as you don’t count coffee as medicine.
  • The ideal location for a coffee bar is next to a theater.
  • Eight-hour days seem like days off when your standard day is 15 hours.
  • The guy who leaves first isn’t always a slacker. He’s sometimes just the best organized.
  • 24-hour supermarkets are a thing of beauty.
  • You can stay calm while firing a headline act between the matinee and evening show, but the strain will still keep you awake for days, like an overwound watch spring.
  • The screamers and drama queens are loud, but watch out for the ones who are too kind. They’ll kill you with a smile.
  • It pays to plan and practice for what everyone else says could never happen.
  • Test everything.
  • Twice.
  • Never drink tequila with a man who sips it to cure his colds.
  • Everybody poops. Pigeons poop more.
  • If you’re kind, when you go over the inevitable cliff, people will throw you ropes. If you’re unkind, I hope you packed your parachute.
  • It’s better to test safety nets with sandbags than with your own body.
  • Friends will always catch you, no matter how far you fall.
  • Manners matter.
  • Texans talk a good game, but when you’re messin’ with people, remember that Missouri rolls deep.

Our profession was drama and our average employee was like me–a little too young and a little too male. This meant there were many tales told to Mr. Markowitz about hijinks and high perils engaged in on our one day off each week. He would let the tale teller get into the thick of the plot and then suddenly raise his hand to stop them, then say, “So, you didn’t die, then?” After the teller confirmed their current status among the living, Mr. Markowitz would wave them onward with his hand, “OK, then. Proceed.”

Just as we pushed ourselves hard on our “weekend,” we pushed hard at work–ourselves and each other. Because everyone was performing beyond what they previously thought they were capable of, they could get pissed–with good reason–at someone else on the show who let them down by not working up to that level. We all raised each other’s game to new heights.

We also all knew the tremendous strain the show put on us–on our relationships, our sanity–such as it was, our health. It shaped our entire lives. The first Thanksgiving in my life that I missed having dinner with my family was because I had to run shows at the Follies. And yet, I got from that time lifelong friends. They saved my ass more times than I can count–until now I just count on them like I count on the sun by day and the stars at night. And when I fall down, I look back up to them and start climbing again, always attempting to get to their level.

Because we knew the weight, we forgave and picked each other up when the load was too great.

At the start of another day in the grinder, Mr. Markowitz and I were standing in the house right aisle, discussing the events of the upcoming day, when the taciturn Audio Engineer entered the theater at his call time and walked past us up the aisle without a word, just a quick nod of the head. “Good morning, Mr. __________,” said Mr. Markowitz and I at the same time. We got a quick wave of the hand as the Audio Engineer proceeded up the aisle. As we watched, I said quietly, “It’s all about personality, isn’t it?” Mr. Markowitz nodded and said words that I can still hear, to this day.

No matter how geekish my jobs have been since then, no matter how far behind the scenes, no matter how much technology has been between me and the people I serve, that’s always been true, along with two other lessons I learned from my two boothmates. You can guess who said which.

  • Yes. It’s all about the people.
  • Never let your ass shit you out of a job.
  • First there’s a booger in the sugar and then there’snot.

After all the years, we didn’t die. Instead, we met our wives, forged our careers, started–or restarted–our lives, and we all rose higher than we thought we could. Yes, there were the dark times, the low moments–literally, when the stage lift wouldn’t $%^&ing lift for anything–and the bad times too. But let’s leave that offstage for now. Let’s live in the light, where we smile to make the audience smile with us. Where we dazzle to make them believe that the impossible isn’t. Where we do our best, because that’s what we do for friends.

The house may be dark now, and the stage barren, but the light still shines within each of us every time we do our best…and know that tomorrow we’ll do even better than that.

–Thanks to Mr. Markowitz, the entire Jardin family–Mary, Dan & Terry for the opportunities you gave and the lessons you taught. Thanks, also, to John Finkler for reminding me to laugh at least once a month.