Tonight, my brother’s girlf– wife (whoa, weird…!) — posted photos of their wedding on Facebook.
Mannnnnn, what a night.
Easily in the top 3 nights I’ve ever had. One of the nights that beats it was when we won the Pepsi Tournament in Buffalo — at which point, my entire hockey team of 12 year olds went out for pizza and wings, watched movies in the hotel, played knee hockey in the hallways, and then passed out from having too many root beer floats. Hard to beat.
So there’s that, and there’s probably one or maybe two others (the last night of college was fun…) that are up there. But that’s it. Looking ahead, I think it’s at least solidified its place at least in the top 10 for the rest of my life.
That’s a thought that stops me in my tracks. Not because I’m upset it’s happened and I’m heading downhill from here (I’m not), but because that’s how big it was. I was happy and I was proud that night. As good of a time as I’m going to have at any point in the rest of my life, that was one of them.
Imagine Bruce Springsteen sitting down to write a song, knowing that, at the end of his career, there are going to be 10 songs that are remembered as “his best.” They’re going to be the cream of the crop. And then think of him sitting down with a piece of paper and writing one of those songs. Imagine what he’d feel if he’d known that it was a top 10 song. Pride. Achievement. Success.
But he’d also probably be a little bummed, right? He’s got 10 good ones, and he just burned one. From now on, he’s got 9. And eventually he’ll have 8 and 7 and then none. He’ll be done.
Fortunately, we don’t have the kind of vision that lets us see the end of the ballgame like that (or we wouldn’t bet in favor of the Nationals, amirite?!). So we don’t know and we strive for better and better every day.
But I’m telling you, no matter what happens, one of my top 10 is gone.
It doesn’t bum me out as much as I thought it would. In fact, it’s kinda cool. It sets the bar for what to shoot for — I know how I want my big nights to go now (including more hockey trophies, chicken wings, and knee hockey sticks than Jason and Bethany’s…).
I guess what I’m trying to say was that it was a night totally deserving of a spot in the top 10, probably top 5. The friends and the family and the occasion made it so.
That’s what I got. And this: if you go out with me, let’s try to have a good night. Let’s try to top this one. But don’t count on it happening.
This weekend, I was honored to be the best man at my brother’s wedding. Part of the job was planning the bachelor party, part was helping set up for the ceremony, and part was delivering a toast at the reception. Here’s how it was written (video coming if I can get it!):
Let’s talk for a moment about the auspicious and remarkable life of Jason Shelly.
I don’t remember much about the day Jason was born, but I’m sure it was a momentous occasion. It was a momentous occasion, I know, because in addition to the world having a new, insatiably curious kid breathing its air, the world had a new set of parents looking after an air-breathing kid of their own for the first time. It was a momentous occasion because those two parents probably didn’t know what to expect or what was to come. But there were people around them who could help, people around them who knew that they’d be good parents. People who were proud of them.
And my parents had a lot to be proud of. Jason was a smart kid, precocious from a young age. He understood Rochester and its contributions to the world, which is why, as a toddler, when the car drove past Kodak Park, he marveled at the giant smokestacks and the industry of it all.
Turns out, though, he didn’t know anything about film. He thought Kodak made clouds.
He knew that he was forward-thinking, and his behavior foreshadowed his involvement in politics. When he was about three, Mom took him to Burger King for lunch and they gave him a paper crown. “How did she know I was a king?” he asked.
He was judicious. There was a time in high school when Jason refereed hockey games. There was a time specifically when he refereed one of my hockey games. I played goalie and, in this one particular time, I knocked a player from the other team to the ice because I felt he had skated too close to me. I looked up at the closest referee and it happened to be Jason. A big moment in our relationship as he caught my glance: would he call a penalty on me for my completely unnecessary reaction, or would he be cool and let it slide?
He started to raise his hand to call the penalty. My attention on him and the deafening protest I was about to unleash, I failed to notice the kid on the other team getting back to his feet. I turned back to face him just as he slugged me in the jaw. Again, I looked at Jason. He had put his arm back down and decided he wasn’t going to call any penalties on this one.
After the game, he explained: I was gonna call you for it, he said, but I thought everything kind of evened itself out after he punched you in the face.
It was then that I knew, yeah, he’s gonna make a fine lawyer.
He was fun to be around.
When I was in eighth grade, I wanted to start playing an instrument. I told my parents and we spoke to the middle school band director. I wanted to play something cool. I wanted to play the drums. No, the band director said. I said, “fine, I’ll play something else.”
The next year, Jason chaired possibly the best tuba section Gates Chili High School has ever witnessed. He was a senior, the vocal anchor of the section. On his left, Evan Goodberry, who — as a freshman — already knew everything there was to know about playing the tuba. And then, to his left, me. I can actually think of worse things than sitting next to your brother to start every day of your freshman year. I can think of better things, too, but I can think of worse.
A few years later, Jason had graduated, Evan got bored, and and I was the only pillar of the section remaining. The band director pulled me aside. They needed a vocal senior to anchor. “That could be you,” he said. “ You could be very good, like Evan Goodberry.” “Or?” I asked. “Or, you could be like Jason.” I took the latter.
And then he went to college.
College! It’s like Christmas in August for younger siblings.
I wore the t-shirts he left behind in his closet, I read the books he left on his shelf. And then I took something I know he had meant to take to schol. I took these: (At this point, I held up a pair of old headphones, ones I had taken from him. Good ones.). Jason, I want you to have these back. I know you missed them.
Jason is prepared… And, so am I, it turns out. A few weeks ago, we drove to Pittsburgh with some friends to catch a ballgame. On the way there, someone in our car got a phone call… “Does anybody have a bottle opener?” the people who had already gotten there asked.
Dad, I know you had dreams of us following in your footsteps as Eagle Scouts, and if there’s some disappointment that we didn’t, I’m sorry for that. At least Jason gave it a try.
But I’ll have you know, when the situation presented itself, when someone could literally save the day with a bottle opener, BOTH Shelly boys raised their hands and said, “I have one.”
Jason is confident.
My favorite story about Jason isn’t funny or embarrassing, it isn’t about hockey or politics. It took place when he was back home from college on break at some point.
We were leaving a movie theatre where we had seen some spy movie. The only details that matter was that they were badass and they were the good guys. Also, they carried out missions that were incredibly dangerous.
So we’re walking to the car afterward and I don’t remember exactly what he said, but it was something along the lines of “I could do that.”
I remember my answer. I said, “What, are you crazy? I could do that for about a minute and a half and then I’d be dead. Somebody would shoot me in the face and I would be dead.”
“Nah, you’d get good at it,” he said.
His logic was this: if he wanted to become a secret agent, that’s what he’d become. And he wouldn’t worry that he wasn’t James Bond, he would figure out a way to become good at it. I looked at it and said, “that looks hard. I’d die.” He looked at it and said, “if James Bond can do it, why can’t I?”
Jason has been there for me a lot. In school, when I fought with my friends, when I was angry at mom and dad, in a million other situations. He’s never once told me, “forget about it. It’s too hard.” I don’t think it occurs to him that that could be the case. Somewhere, somehow, he’s found the confidence to do whatever he wants. I admire the hell out of that, but I also learn from it.
Jason, you’re smart. You’re judicious and you wear headphones and you’re confident. You’re prepared. Today, you made the best decision of your life.
Good work, kid.
Tonight, let’s toast Jason and Bethany many many times, in honor of the auspicious and remarkable life they’re beginning together. Starting now…
Holy wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve been over here. It’s not for lack of productivity, though. Here’s what I’ve been doing since I last checked in:
How To Do Stuff, my most recent project, is a short book of how-to guides written and designed for the iPad. The idea’s found a home on HowToDoStuff.co and I’m pushing what I hope will be a cool social arm on Facebook.com/howtodostuff.co. If you follow me on any sort of network whatsoever, you’ve probably also taken some shrapnel from my promotional efforts. Sorry for that, but I think this is a pretty cool project, so really, I’m not entirely sorry. You’re going to enjoy it.
In The Meantime is a page I put together to keep everyone up to speed when I disappear on longer projects, the way I have these past few months. It’s a list of reading, listening, and design recommendations to check out in between writing projects that I’m working on. I figure, I could just tell you to read all of my other stuff, but I want to share a lot more than just my own stuff. This is a good spot for it.
12 Books, 12 Months. When I got an iPad last Christmas, that was the promise I made myself. I’d read 12 books in 12 months, after reading a grand total of about 1 in the past 24 months. So far, I’m off to a pretty good start. You can follow along on Pinterest to see what I’m reading next!
Notes In The Margin is awesome. There, I said it. I’m really proud of it, and I hope there’s more to come. To summarize the project, it’s a website composed of a series of short stories I wrote over a one year period after moving back to the East Coast after living in LA. Then I had Todd Burnett create cover illustrations for each story. It looks good, they’re pretty quick, pretty good reads, the whole thing’s dynamite. Trust me.
The Collaborative is a group to keep your eyes on; they’re doing some cool things, helping non-profits and social entrepreneurs tell their stories. I did some copy work for their brand new website.
It’s very meta, I know. But that’s how we do it when we’re giving social media tips.
Today, I read an article about The Top 10 Ways To Not Fail At Twitter or something (why do people still write these stupid posts?). It was awful. No joke, it offered up this helpful conversation starter if you’re stuck: “Ask new followers about the weather in their city.” Awful. And it occurred to me. I could make that entire post better in one step. So I set about doing so in this fake blog post of my own:
There you have it. The #1, only thing you have to do to not suck at Twitter.
Twitter’s phenomenal. It’s enriching, entertaining, insightful, and all kinds of other things. It’s kind of like grad school: you get out of it whatever you put into it. But if you show up just expecting relationships to form, sales to spike, or anything else those bullshit “social media gurus” tell you, you’re going to be disappointed.
So follow my one rule and I promise you it’ll be better than if you don’t.
Yesterday, Aaron Sorkin was the commencement speaker at Syracuse University (his alma mater and mine!). Today, I made a desktop background based on one of the lines from the speech that I think is worth reading every day:
You already know what I know: to get where you’re going, you have to be good, and to be good where you’re going, you have to be damned good. Every once in a while, you’ll succeed. Most of the time you’ll fail, and most of the time the circumstances will be well beyond your control.
All right, so I’m probably not the guy to be writing photoshop tutorials because it’s like losing an arm-wrestling match every time I open the program, but here we are. I’m about to give you step-by-step instructions for turning this:
Seven o’clock in the morning is too early for beer. Well, for drinking beer, at least. But when my alarm went off at that hour yesterday morning, I got out of bed, beer on my mind. I had an appointment to spend the morning with Matt Spitz, co-founder — along with his wife, Lauri — of the Moustache Brewing Co.
We’d be brewing Moustache’s porter, one of the signature styles the brewery will serve up once everything was licensed and running. But they don’t have licenses yet, or, for that matter, a brewery. But that’s about to change.
Brewing, for now, takes place at Matt’s parents’ home on the South Shore of Long Island. There, the couple has built a brewing setup from scratch, gradually expanding into more nooks and crannies as the process becomes more sophisticated.
“This is the brewery,” Matt explained as he ushered me into a small room in the basement cramped with jugs of fermenting beer, tubes and buckets and measuring tools, and bags of different grains and malts and other ingredients. There were posters on the wall and a white “NO LITTERING OR DUMPING” sign, and behind all of the brewing materials, shelves held baseball mitts, board games, trophies, and other remnants of Matt’s childhood. As a kid, this had been his bedroom.
Now it was filled with the instruments used by someone who cares deeply about making beer. What started as a hobby in 2005 — the couple was unimpressed with having to travel into New York City to find what they call “interesting” beers on tap — has grown into a professional endeavor. They started asking a brewmaster friend questions about making their own beer, and it’s gotten bigger and better since. “It didn’t start off like this,” he said, pointing to his setup. “This is real brewing.”
We began setting up in the back yard, rinsing barrels and heating the water that would eventually extract the flavors of the mashed grains to create the Moustache porter. That’s when Matt took me to the basement, where he measured out each of the ingredients precisely — by weight, when it came to a batch this large, not by measuring cup the way you do when baking in the kitchen. He pulled the select grains from a cabinet, consulting his phone for the recipe. All of Moustache’s recipes are kept on a website designed to help homebrewers stay organized. There’s an app for that, too, but it’s not as helpful as the website.
He explained what he was doing every step of the way, and at this point, he held out a bag of caramel malt. “You should always try your ingredients first.” I took a few of the tiny morsels and crunched them in my mouth. “Now just let them sit on your tongue for a minute and let the enzymes from your saliva draw out the taste. I did, and it was sweet.
I watched Matt work through getting the entire batch ready until I had to leave around mid-morning. He was precise and patient, stopping to scrub a bucket here, fidget with a valve there. He wasn’t dabbling. He’s serious about his beer. He’s a craftsman, and he’s looking to share his passion with anyone who will listen — or drink.
A few days ago, the aspirations of the Moustache Brewing Co. announced themselves as serious, too. A Kickstarter campaign to fund the licensing process (which can take up to six months) and a new brewing location was launched. The couple hopes to raise $25,000 to get off the ground. It’s a lofty goal, but after just four days, they had crossed the $7,000 mark.
Progress is great, but they can’t relax just yet. Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing proposition. If the entire goal is not met within their own set time of one month, the brewery doesn’t receive anything and the donors aren’t actually charged for their contributions.
By the time the Kickstarter campaign is over, the porter will have just about finished fermenting and conditioning, and I’ll be able to have a pint. Hopefully, we’ll be raising our glasses to a successful fundraising campaign, to the birth of a new microbrewery, to friends whose hobby has become a craft.
It’s beer, and even early in the morning, it’s fun. But it’s serious business, too.
A Hastily-Written Open Letter To Chris Jones, who is shutting down his blog because people are morons.
For fuck’s sake. Some people don’t get it.
The stuff you put out there made you human. “Holy shit, Chris Jones keeps score, too? Chris Jones is disappointed when his stuff doesn’t win an award? I thought that was just me… I thought these prissy ‘professional’ (said as obnoxiously as I can) writers just had everything handed to them.”
I read your writing and I see Patrick Roy in net. He made it look easy. He was brilliant. And he was on an entirely separate planet from me.
I read your tweets and your blog posts and I see my next door freakin’ neighbor. I see a dude I work with. I see someone who’s playing the same game as me, except he’s figured out things I haven’t yet.
The stuff you put out there made you human. It made you inspiring, it made you accessible. Because unlike trying to figure out how the hell I get to whatever planet Patrick Roy is from, I can see that the struggles you go through are the same struggles I go through. I see that by pushing through them — and sometimes it’s the push that has as much an affect on the writing as it is the breaking through — I can get there too.
People on the internet will always attack things. Those attacks will hurt. And having not been in your shoes and not been attacked the way you’ve been, I can’t say whether or not I think shutting down your blog is the right move. I certainly don’t begrudge you if you don’t want to put up with it anymore.
But I can tell you this: to those of us who get what you’re trying to do, the blog was an incredible source of inspiration and gave us perspective we don’t get because too many people are beaten down by The Assholes On The Internet and now refuse to share it.
Somehow, you bridged the gap between planets. You showed us you’re human, and that the rest of us, who are also human, can get there too.
Fuck The Assholes On The Internet. What you did was awesome.
Last night, at a hockey game, my father leaned over to me and asked if I was on Twitter.
He knows I’m on Twitter. Er, at least, I’ve told him before. But social media to him is like reading tarot cards to me: it just doesn’t show up in my world. Tell the truth, I’m actually a little impressed he got the name right. So I wasn’t surprised by the question.
I tried to describe why I enjoy Twitter so much to a man who doesn’t own a cell phone while we were watching a hockey game.
I told him that, earlier in the week, before coming home to visit, I had sat in at an ad agency, filling in for a copywriter who had gone on vacation. The agency had called me because I had struck up a relationship with one of the partners on Twitter.
On Thursday, after my three days of playing copywriter, I had a phone call with a strategist at an agency in the City. I had the ear of someone who plays major league baseball, and he wanted to help me find a job. How did I land the phone call?
We knew each other on Twitter, of course.
Two tangible, concrete examples of how Twitter was working for me, right there, explained at a hockey game.
At one point during the game, Dad looked at the out-of-town scoreboard, which showed updates from all the other games in the league. One read: “Checkers 3, Griffins 2.”
“Who the heck are the Checkers?” he asked.
Well, I happened to know, even though they were a new minor league team that hadn’t been around for more than a few years and I hadn’t followed minor league hockey for longer than that. About a year ago, after attending another minor league hockey game, I wrote about an experience I had as a kid. We were down standing by the glass watching the teams warm up, and a goalie from the visiting Hershey Bears broke his stick. He skated over to the glass where we were standing, pointed to me, and handed the shattered stick to someone on the bench. They tossed the stick my way, and an honorary Hershey Bears fan was born.
Seventeen or so years later, I was reminded of that moment again. I left the hockey game that night and went home to write about it. Then I thought I’d try to find the goalie who had made my night (my life!), and send it to him. Just a little token of my appreciation for a small gesture he’d probably not thought twice about.
Thank God for the Internet. I started looking for his stats, seeing where he had played after Hershey, and where he might be coaching today. It was inconclusive, so I moved to Wikipedia. The trail went cold after he started coaching a team called the Charlotte Checkers, a team that eventually became the minor league affiliate of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes.
I followed the head of the Hurricane’s PR on Twitter, so I sent him a message asking if he’d ever heard of the man I was looking for. He hadn’t, but he’d make some phone calls to see what he could find.
Enter Mike Lappan, head of PR for the Checkers. A few Twitter conversations later, he passed my piece along to the goaltender I was trying to reach. I got an email back a few days later from Scott LaGrand, thanking me for thinking of him, and promising that he was going to show the story to his kids, a story about their dad they’d appreciate.
A long way around the block to say that the Checkers, this newish team that my father didn’t know existed, had already played a small role in my life. Because of Twitter.
As I was telling my stories, a message popped up on my phone. A photo I had taken earlier in the game had been chosen as the Amerks’ “Fan Photo of the Game!” and would I come down to the guest services desk to collect my prize. I handed the phone to dad.
He urged me to go find out what I’d won, but it was the third period of a tied game. I hesitated. Over the next few minutes, after the Amerks had retweeted my photo, a few responses came in. The first came from Mike Lappan.
The next came from Tom Chiarella, a writer for Esquire, one of my favorites and a Rochester native: “nice shot Pete!”
Well, fine, then, I’d go pick up my prize. It was a nice little package, the highlight of which was a signed Thomas Vanek poster. Vanek, if you’re unfamiliar, plays hockey for the Buffalo Sabres, a team beloved by two of my cousins (the young daughters of the aunt and uncle who took me to see the Hershey Bears). They’re going to enjoy that Thomas Vanek poster.
About two weeks ago, Kelsey and I took a trip into Brooklyn. We got to see Jason and Bethany, and we got to sample the brilliance that is The Chocolate Room.
But the trip was made for one purpose, and one purpose only:
We wanted to buy glasses.
But not just any glasses. We wanted to buy Warby Parker glasses (Kelsey’s looking to replace her current specs, and I’d like a pair of sunglasses to complement the Sinclairs I already wear — pictured above). They offer an at-home trial where they’ll send you *five* pairs so you can see what they look like and how they feel, and Kelsey had already tried hers, but we wanted to check out one of their showroom locations in person.
So we hopped on the Long Island Rail Road (anybody know why that’s two words in their name?) and hiked into Williamsburg. On the way, I tweeted:
Before we had gotten off the subway, they responded:
How cool is that? How cool would you feel if you were their customer? I can tell you: you’d feel like a million bucks.
It’s not the first time this has happened. In December (already on the hunt for their sunglasses), they posted this response to one of my questions:
So the sunglasses are new enough that they don’t have a home try-on program set up yet, but it’s cool because I can just return them if I don’t like them. Works pretty well for me, but sounds expensive for them. I like when a company is willing to sacrifice to make sure I’m satisfied.
Then there’s this: in addition to offering crazy-awesome glasses and outstanding customer support, they donate a pair of glasses to someone in need every time they sell a pair.
And the whole thing costs a fraction of what it would if I went to a place in the mall.
In fact, I’m so sold, I want to work there. I don’t have much to offer their customer service department (except to say keep it up!), and they certainly don’t want me designing frames for them.
But they’re looking for writers, and I have a few ideas I think they’d like.
So, if you’re reading this and you work at Warby Parker, give me a call or hit me up on Twitter. I’d love to chat.
is a storyteller from Rochester, NY. Currently residing on Long Island after earning a Masters Degree from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University, he has written in various forms, from blog posts to short stories to advertisements. He also completed a feature length screenplay under the mentorship of Emmy Award-winning writer Adam Mazer in 2008.