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Jewish World Review July 13, 2001 / 22 Tamuz, 5761

Bob Greene

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Consumer Reports

If at first you can't get your act together . . .


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- THERE are no second acts in American life. At least that is what the oft-quoted, oft-paraphrased literary admonition proclaims.

The problem, though, is that the admonition is wrong. There are second acts -- and third, and fourth -- but there is no guidebook on how to approach them. First acts -- and they are always assumed to be glorious and triumphant, even though they usually aren't -- we deal with by innocent-eyed instinct; after that, though . . .

Well, for the second act and beyond, you need help. And there often is none.

A couple of business promotions that are going on right now inadvertently point this out. The first is for the Chicago Bulls -- specifically, it is an advertising campaign endeavoring to persuade people to purchase season tickets for Bulls games.

The headline on all the ads is: "WHY Season Tickets?"

The implication is that Chicagoans need to be given a reason to consider buying the tickets. Never mind that just three years ago the waiting list for Bulls tickets stretched from here to Denver.

One of the current ads answers the question with a quote from a fan identified as "Cathy Daniels, retail manager, Chicago." Her answer to "WHY Season Tickets?", as quoted, is: "Because I love watching Kobe, Iverson, Shaq, Carter. . . ."

`So, in the second act, it has come to this: There is not even a pretense of trying to sell Bulls tickets on the premise that the Bulls themselves are a good attraction. The team is reduced to telling Chicagoans: Come on out to the United Center. The visiting teams are quite talented.

Of course, the implied first act -- the championship years -- was not truly the first act. The championship Bulls came along after decades of struggles by previous teams wearing Bulls jerseys. First acts in American life seldom genuinely are the curtain-raisers -- by the time the world notices you, you've been trying your best in the shadows for quite a while.

Which brings us to the second current promotion. A business-motivation forum that, coincidentally, will take place at the same United Center where the come-see-Shaq-and-Kobe Bulls play, has taken full-page ads to try to sell tickets. There are many motivational speakers listed: Zig Ziglar, Debbi Fields, Joe Montana, Peter Lowe. . . .

What is instructive is the billing of the two speakers whose photos in the ad are the largest. Here is how they are billed:

"MONTEL WILLIAMS, Emmy Award Winning Television Talk Show Host, and PRESIDENT WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, 42nd President of the United States."

At least Clinton's photo is larger than that of Ryne Sandberg, another speaker at the event. But during the years that Clinton was climbing the ladder toward the White House, keeping his eyes on that seemingly impossible goal, there probably wasn't the time, or inclination, to consider the question that people on the rise almost never dwell upon:

What if I get there? And then, when it ends -- what do I do when it's over?

From the presidency, to second billing under a midlevel talk show host . . . from the hottest sports ticket in the world, to "come on out -- please -- and watch Allen Iverson play the hometown squad. . . ."

Oh, well. Sometimes, it seems, it's best if first acts begin inauspiciously. Sometimes, at the very beginning, it's best to get the message: It's always going to be an uphill climb. My favorite newspaper clipping of all time is from the Lubbock, Texas, Avalanche-Journal, evening edition, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 1936. It is a birth announcement:

"A daughter weighing 8 1/2 pounds was born at 6:10 o'clock Monday afternoon at Clark-Key Clinic to Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence O. Holley of 7913 Sixth Street. Holley is associated with a tailoring establishment here."

There was just a slight error in the story that told the town a new human was among them -- and it had nothing to do with the spelling of the name.

The daughter who was born really wasn't a daughter. The baby was a boy.

Buddy Holly.

So for all of you -- whether you're just starting your first act, or you're in your sixth or seventh:

Keep your chin up.

Rave on.



JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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