Seeing the “Odd Duck” – Why I love John Ratzenberger

why i love john ratzenberger

John Ratzenberger is famous for his role as the mail carrier Cliff Clavin on Cheers. What you probably don’t know is that Ratzenberger had originally read for the part of Norm Peterson which, eventually, he was passed over for.

Sensing an opportunity, John asked the producers if they had written a role for a know-it-all bar fly. They hadn’t, but they loved the idea and made room for the character that Ratzenberger had created. Cliff eventually went on to become one of the most iconic television characters in history, known for his “outlandish stories of plausible half-truths, uninteresting trivia, and misinformation.”1

John is a master of creativity. He not only saw what was there but also, what was missing.

Finding the rare “odd duck” isn’t easy. What is easy though, is to tell yourself that if it were doable, it would have already been done. Don’t take the easy route.

These are the type of people I look up to. Those who see patterns where none existed before. The opportunity creators. They fill holes rather than accepting the status quo.

JR totally made serendipity work for him.

What I’m Learning: Run Your Own Race

During a race, thoroughbreds wear blinders to prevent the use of extensive peripheral vision thus, cutting them off from their opponents. This enables the horse to focus only on what’s ahead and hence, run faster.

run your own race and nobody elses

(image edited, source)

After her first gig bombed in the early 50s, Danny Thomas (a respected veteran actor to whom his daughter, Marlo, was constantly being compared to) consoled his daughter by telling her he had raised her as a thoroughbred. “Wear blinders,” he said,”ignore the crowd and run her own race, baby.”

Jake Lodwick, the creator of Vimeo, is a modern-day, digital thoroughbred. Vimeo’s first incarnation was born from spontaneity and a healthy dose of impatience as a way to solve his own problem of getting video clips onto the web (this was pre-YouTube days). Today, Vimeo gets 100 million visitors a day and has carved a nice niche for themselves in the video-sharing market.

“We’re not a company that goes out and tells the same story that everyone else does. So that’s what we did. We told a  different story.”-Jake Lodwick

Strap on the blinders, tune out the crowd, and run your race.

What I’m Learning: Grandpa’s Words

At my grandfather’s celebration of life last weekend my dad, who emceed the event, opened the mic and invited friends and family to share their stories.

One person I’d become particularly fascinated with in the last seven months (I first met him in October), was my grandpa’s brother Gerald, who took the mic first.

Just 15 months younger, Gerald shared several stories and “Norman nuances” he had experienced throughout their childhood. Stories I had never heard before.


One particular anecdote revealed the inherent character strength in grandpa’s personality – his feistyness.

The bolder (and mouthier) of the two, he apparently decided to take a break from getting into “disagreements” just long enough one day to hand over a pearl of wisdom. He told Gerald, “don’t walk into the bar like you own the place. Walk into the bar like you don’t care who owns the place.”

Whether the words resonated with anyone else, I don’t know. But, I can see that his feistyness has trickled down into several of us – his children and his grandchildren. Some more than others. Me, a lot.

To walk into a new space and act like you own it completely disregards the rules set, and disrespects those who came before you. And frankly, it isn’t very smart. Or kind.

To walk into a new space and not care who owns it, is significantly different. Survey the landscape, take it in and give respect where warranted. Evaluate the precedence and then decide if you want to play by those rules, or not. Don’t let the actions of seniority dictate who you should be or what you should do.

I may never have been articulate enough to say it quite as elegantly, but I felt it. Something clicked and the timing for this “pearl” to be repeated could never have been better. I’m on the verge of coming into my own and I’ve started living what grandpa had advised decades ago. Hearing it on Sunday only made me bolder.

Thank you, grandpa for saying what I didn’t know how to make sense of.

The State of the Media: A Millennial’s View

I’ve been sitting on this article for over a week hoping it’d maturate into a brilliant masterpiece, but it hasn’t. So, why today? Erika Napoletano wrote an open letter to the media following the firestorm of shock tactics flung onto the Internet in the wake of the Boston Marathon tragedy. She gets it too. The need I felt to start BoomerangBeat and the love/hate relationship I’ve developed with the media were echoed in her post. However, I add another layer to the rant. So thank you, Erika, for inspiring me to finally post my own letter.

So I ask: will you help us learn, encourage us to listen, and remind us that there is a story behind each face, bloodstain, horrific incident, gun owner, Muslim family, and child’s smile? – Erika Napoletano

When I first started toying with the idea for BoomerangBeat I imagined a news outlet geared toward the Millennial generation. However, working through the first two posts I realized my goal isn’t to tailor information in the direction of current Millennial interest (as the name might suggest); it’s purpose is to facilitate learning in a way modern society needs  – quick, simple, truthful, and beneficial

I’m frustrated with the media. There seem to only be two options when it comes to reporting to the public  – long form journalism and empty calories.

I have a deep respect for the deteriorating art of traditional journalism and storytelling, but it’s not for everyone. It doesn’t favor the busy or the uninformed.

The empty calorie pieces are littered with humor, pop culture, blood and gore, or the too oft Breaking News: No Pope Chosen so-let’s-watch-for-20-minutes-as-his-helicopter-hovers-above-the-Vatican-so-we-don’t-miss-a-thing bullshit. Entertaining? Sure. Sustainable? No.

In the last ten years we’ve redefined breaking news from “happened yesterday” to “happened less than fifteen seconds ago.” The next order of magnitude will be prohibitively expensive and (most of the time) not particularly useful. Better, I think, to hustle in the other direction and figure out how to benefit from well-understood truth instead of fast and fresh rumor. – Seth Godin

The Millennial generation has come of age in a world where the media functions as a megaphone for complex news issues more than they do as interpreters, helping us contextualize and understand. Pew Research Center’s State of the Media 2013 addresses this issue directly.

This is a problem because as a member of this generation, I’ve often seen and felt the wrath of the finger pointing habit of older generations. We’re pegged as a group of out of touch, irresponsible, and ignorant individuals that care more about Facebook and celebrities than we do about politics and current affairs.

Maybe this is true but it circles back to my problem with the state of the media …

Though genuine efforts have been made by some to help us, we don’t need another platform regurgitating popular headlines. Technology has already allowed us to customize our alerts, Facebook walls and Twitter streams. As Doug Fisher said it best, “We can get the ‘more’ if we want it very easily. If the media wants our loyalty and engagement, the formula isn’t more, it’s better.”

If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn. – Ignacio Estrada

This is my goal with BoomerangBeat. I’m not the best writer and as Erika said, I’m throwing AP style out the window, but I’m trying to change a landscape I’m unhappy with.

And though I may be raising my hand with a slightly different problem than what Erika, Seth or the Pew Research Center are raising their hands for, I think the overall message to the media is the same – enough.