Category Archives: Things You Might Not Know About Me

Why This Is A Sad Day For Me

Today is International Women’s day, and I salute all the trailblazing, pioneering women who have brought about the tremendous progress women have made in our society. This is a joyous day for women. But it’s a sad day for me.

Because of what March 8th meant for my mother.

A Powerful Woman

My mother was an amazing singer with a powerful, rich voice. She entered a singing competition, the American Idol of her day, with the grand prize being a spot in New York City’s prestigious Metropolitan Opera Company.

Mother placed very high in the competition, but she didn’t win. That prize went to another young Armenian singer with a rich voice, Lucine Amara. Amara was one of those pioneering women, who during her 41-year career at the Met, had to sue her employer for age discrimination. She won her suit, and performing women all across the country benefited.

Meanwhile, my mother’s career got a boost from the contest. Big enough to leave home, move to Los Angeles, and pursue a singing career and a recording contract.

She went into a studio and cut a demo record. While she was trying to shop it to RCA, she auditioned for singing roles around LA. And one night during this time, she went to sing at the USO Club in Hollywood.

The Night Everything Changed

My mother had no way of knowing that the love of her life would be waiting for her at the club. He was a sailor on a 3-week shore leave from the Navy, where he was stationed on a tiny island off the coast of Alaska. He happened to be a fantastic piano player and dropped in at the club to play some music and have a good time.

It didn’t take long for that sailor to catch my mother’s eye. Or, should I say, her ear. She was really impressed with this piano player’s talent, and before long was sitting with him at the piano singing along to every song he knew.

When she found out he was full-blooded Armenian like she was, the deal was done. They fell madly in love, and after a whirlwind romance, the two eloped. When his 3-week shore leave was up, the piano player returned to his station in Alaska a married man.

A Wartime Bride

My mother married that sailor but had to live apart from him until his duty was done in Alaska. Then they did the awkward work of meeting each other’s families. Can you imagine what it was like for this traditional, church-choir-singing girl to explain to her family that she just married a sailor who blew into town on shore leave without a proper church wedding?

But it was wartime in a different era, and it was not uncommon for women to get married and wait for their new husbands to come home. After Alaska, the two of them moved to Washington DC, where my father finished his tour of duty at the Pentagon.

Their first child, my sister,  was born at the naval hospital in Bethesda.  When my dad was finally discharged from the Navy, they headed back to California where it was warm.

My dad was sick of the cold. He grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, home of the Green Bay Packers and their frozen tundra, Lambeau Field. Then the Navy shipped him off to a floating glacier called Adak, Alaska. After suffering through all that,  he was determined to live in the warm climate where he’d met my mother. Fortunately for me, they chose San Francisco.

My Mother’s Sacrifice

While my father went to college on the GI bill to become a studio musician, my mother put her musical career on hold. A year later my brother was born, then I showed up a couple of years after that.

Our mother sacrificed her career to care for us. She played the dutiful mother and housewife role, while my father pursued his musical career. Though she loved her husband and her family, it must have been tough to set her dream aside while he pursued his.

She had wanted to be an opera singer for most of her young life. But women back then didn’t have their own careers. They stayed home, raised the children so the men could have careers.

And though my father was a great musician, my mother may have been even better.

She probably thought she would have another chance at a singing career. Once we were all in school, she could go back to auditions and demo records.

But she never got that chance. Shortly after I was born, she began to get sick. She was in and out of the hospital for most of my early life. Had they found the cause early on, she might have had a chance. But two months shy of my 4th birthday, when she was just 36 years old, she died of breast cancer.

Her death certificate is on my bulletin board just above my monitor. It’s dated March 8th, 1962.

Celebrate International Women’s Day Today

Please give some thought to all the strong women who sacrificed so future generations could have more. The women who fought for the right to vote, to drive, to own a business, and to do the same kind of work that men have taken for granted for generations.

And while you’re at it,  please give a thought to my mother and the many women like her. I’m sad today because I grew up without her, and she never had a chance to pursue her dream.

But we should all celebrate this day. Because it’s our mother’s sacrifices that allows us all to pursue our dreams.



3 Reasons Why You Should Celebrate Labor Day

width="449"Labor Day Weekend is here, a time for parties, camping trips, and conventions. Whoohoo! A 3 day weekend! But it should mean far more than that to you. The Labor Movement in America earned us all a lot of benefits. So go celebrate Labor Day like it’s your birthday.

The Accidental Labor Organizer

I happen to know a bit about organized labor. In 1999, I worked for a company that made us work on ergonomically dangerous equipment. I developed a repetitive strain injury, and though Workers Comp covered my medical treatment, the company did nothing to correct the problem.

So I did what any of you would do. I took action. No, I didn’t hire a lawyer and sue. I called up AFTRA, the American Federation of Television and Recording Artists, and asked for an appointment with the Union president.

He met with me, then sent me home with a stack of Union organizing cards. If I could get the majority of my co-workers to sign for a union vote, AFTRA could come in and represent us.

There was only one catch. If management found out what I was up to before I submitted the cards, they could fire me on the spot and the Union could not protect me. Gulp.

But my co-workers had my back, and two days later I returned to AFTRA with signed cards from 90% of the unit. No one ratted me out, though Management soon figured out who the shit-disturber was. And just as the Union president warned, they went after me.

The Empire Strikes Back

They started by changing my schedule from the weekdays to weekends, and from morning shift to graveyard. Then they cut my hours just enough to deny me health care coverage. Moves designed to make me quit.

Meanwhile, AFTRA came in, conducted a vote, and the employees chose union representation by an overwhelming margin. I got to supervise the balloting on voting day, as an official Witness chosen by the National Labor Relations Board. That was a cool day at work.

But I would not be around to enjoy the fruits of my labor. I resisted the illegal treatment for a while, but soon gave into their pressure and left for a better job.

Return Of The Jedi

As it turned out, the Union couldn’t prevent the company from violating my rights under the National Labor Relations Act. They could only sue to make me whole after the fact.

So sue we did. It took a full year, but I had my day in court. I testified as the witness for the prosecution, in a lawsuit brought by the National Labor Relations Board. That was a cool day too.

In the end, the judge acknowledged the company’s wrongdoing and pushed for a settlement. I got a check for ten times what the company owed me – enough for a new synthesizer and a week’s vacation in Hawaii. Probably my coolest day ever.

A New Appreciation

The whole experience left me a bit wiser, and a whole lot more appreciative. Grateful for the sacrifices other people made to get the National Labor Relations Act signed into law back in 1935. Though most Americans aren’t represented by a collective bargaining agreement today, most of us have been receiving benefits for generations thanks to the labor movement.

It’s easy to complain about Union workers. Always the joke about a group of Union guys resting on their shovels watching one man dig. And there’s been corruption in Union leadership just as in corporate leadership. You’ve probably heard a few Jimmy Hoffa jokes as well. These are the stereotypes we know about Unions.

But we owe those folks plenty. Their willingness to fight for fair wages and workplace treatment benefits us all.

Things most of us have taken for granted. Things like…

Worker Safety

in 1911, 146 low-wage immigrant workers died in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, due to criminally unsafe working conditions. It was the deadliest workplace incident in New York history, right up until the World Trade Center attack on 9/11.

Public outcry from this tragedy, and steady advocacy from labor unions, led to the formation of OSHA, which has been protecting us on the job ever since. If you’ve ever had a company issue you a hard hat, steel-toed boots, an ergonomic office chair or computer accessories, you have the Labor Movement to thank for it. And if you do get injured on the job, you can thank them for the Worker’s Comp and State Disability Insurance that will make you whole again.

Health Insurance

The main reason Congress got away with voting 54 times to undo the Affordable Care Act, is that the vast majority of working Americans get their health insurance from their employers.

But if it weren’t for the Labor Movement, you wouldn’t be getting company-sponsored health insurance. There were no employer-sponsored health benefits before WWII. It took the threat of a strike by organized labor to create our current system. If you have an employer plan, thank those lazy, shovel-leaning union workers for sticking their necks out for you. And their corrupt Mafia bosses too.

Paid Time Off

The 40-Hour work week, weekends, lunch breaks, vacation and sick days are all benefits we enjoy thanks to the Labor Movement.

Back in the day, companies would work you for as little and as long as they could. They’d work your kids to the bone in factories too. And if you balked, they’d bring in slaves from Africa or low-paid workers from China and cut you right out of the deal.

And you could forget about retirement. There were no such things as pensions or 401k contributions before organized labor. This country has a long history of workers being exploiting for profit.

So Party Like It’s Your Birthday

That’s right. Get together with friends and family, and do it up right. Just make sure you honor those who sacrificed so you get paid well and treated fairly at work. And when politicians start pouting anti-union rhetoric, remember who’s always had your back on the job.

Then if you feel like walking on the wild side, go ahead and show up for work next Tuesday wearing white slacks. Because I for one will fight for your right to wear white after Labor Day.