Outnumbered by Chinese troops during the Korean War with air support and reinforcements snowed in 20 miles away, American Colonel Lewis B. Puller had two marine regiments trapped in the Chosin Reservoir and surrounded by 60,000 enemy troops. At 25°F below zero, food and equipment were frozen and each man carried a bag of plasma in his underwear to keep it from freezing until he was shot. The assessment — Chinese soldiers on the left and right flanks, Chinese in front of them as far as he could see and more Chinese troops coming up from the rear. The predication? As a military man who’d earned both his stripes and vaunted title, Colonel “Chesty” Puller replied: “Those bastards won’t get away from us this time!” Lesson: even with a mask on, never let’em see you blink!
After the release of Guys – Not Real Bright And Damn Proud Of It! my publisher sent me up to the Thunder Bay Library to do a reading from my book. All the publicity listed the wrong day for the event. One guy showed up by accident — Walter. I offered to chat with Walter but no, he said he’d like to hear the entire 50-minute reading. I would have bolted but the librarian reminded me that unless I did the full reading I wouldn’t get paid. I did the reading… for Walter.
Near the end, the kid chauffeuring me around stuck his head in the door and seeing Walter sitting front and centre in a room with 79 empty chairs said: “So how’d the reading go, Mr. Thomas?”
“Well,” I said, “it actually went pretty well until the halfway point when my audience left to take a leak.”
Naturally, after the Q&A came the book signing and Walter fondled a copy of my book for about five minutes before deciding not to buy it. But the next day I did a signing at a bookstore downtown called “Sweet Tuesdays” and they did get the day and time right. A lot of people showed up including… Walter! Having second thoughts, he not only bought a copy of my book, he gave me a lift to the airport in his mostly home-made truck. Lesson: always give a person a second chance after a lousy first impression.
When he first ran for the US Senate, Ted Kennedy was young, rich, inexperienced and nervous. While handing out flyers infront of a Massachusettes steel mill, one worker confronted him with “Hey Kennedy. They say you haven’t worked a day in your life!” Kennedy shrunk, paled and cleared his throat but before he could say a word, the burly guy slapped him on the back and bellowed: “Let me tell ya, you haven’t missed a damn thing!” Teddy Kennedy won the election and spent 47 years in Congress’s upper chamber. Lesson: just when you think you’re in over your head, maybe you’re not.
I wrote a book titled The Legend Of Zippy Chippy about a thoroughbred racehorse that ran out of the Finger Lakes Race Track. Whereas the average thoroughbred runs 28 races in his career, Zippy ran 100 races. Whereas the average racehorse wins at least once in a while, Zippy lost 100 races in a row. Oh damn how he tried!
Whereas the lifespan of the average racehorse is 27 years, Zippy is now 31 and as cantankerous as ever. Whereas the average retired racehorse gets a job with a police force or a riding stable, today Zippy is the star of Old Friends Farm near Saratoga, New York. Zippy’s fans come to visit often, buying his T-shirts, his ball caps, his key chains and my book. Zippy now earns enough money to help support 22 other horses on their retirement farm and they did win races! Lesson: never give up. You just never know what crazy-ass surprise might be waiting around the next corner.
Louis Brandeis was a wise and brilliant justice of the American Supreme Court for over 20 years, graduating from Harvard when he was just 20 years of age. Yet one professor hated him… because he was a Jew. The professor’s prejudice peaked to the point that he returned one of Louis’ test papers with the word ‘IDIOT!’ slammed across the top of it. Louis Brandeis promptly approached the professor’s desk and said: “I see you signed this but you forgot to give me a grade.” Lesson: fight hate with wisdom and wit. When they go low, outsmart them.
When my big beautiful Border Collie Jake blew out his front right ACL I got him the best replacement surgeon at a very expensive clinic in Mississauga. Once home I cordoned off a corner in the living room with blankets and pillows making a kind of recovery room. To make sure he wouldn’t move in the night, I bedded down with him. Despite the pain in my back, I eventually did fall into a deep sleep. In the morning I woke up to find that Jake, tired of my snoring had walked into the bedroom, limped up the ramp I had built for him and went to sleep in the bed. His surgery healed just fine and surprisingly, I didn’t need any. Lesson: do the right thing and eventually it’ll work out.
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