The following stories were originally published in the August 15, 2018, issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper.
Fast Lane Stories
Preview of the Arts Stories
Survival Guide Stories
Between the Lines
Richard K. Rein
The following stories were originally published in the August 15, 2018, issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper.
Upon first meeting drummer Joe D’Angelo at a club in New Brunswick or Asbury Park, you would never guess this long-haired guy who plays with passion for a variety of rock ‘n’ roll bands had graduated cum laude from a university or held high-level corporate jobs.
That is before he turned to playing and teaching drums full-time in 2000.
Today it is typical to see him play with a blues band in Trenton or play with a nationally known country-Americana act like Buddy Miller in the Boathouse at Mercer County Park for an affordable housing benefit for Princeton — organized in part by Miller’s father, Princeton council member Bernie Miller.
Aside from playing blues, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, and country drums D’Angelo also has been writing songs for three decades, fronted a variety of rock ‘n’ roll and blues bands, and plays piano.
What makes the Saturday, August 18, Joe D’Angelo with the Reock and Roll Revue show at the Hopewell Theater so special is he will be joined by his drummer son, Johnny D’ Angelo.
Also playing is the Billy Walton Band, which has made dozens of overseas tours of England, Scotland, and Germany with Johnny D’Angelo behind the drum kit.
Though he lived in Pennington and Titusville, Joe D’Angelo was born in Plainfield and raised in Piscataway, where he graduated from high school in 1980. It was there that he was part of the marching band and got his musical rehearsal work ethic.
His father, Anthony, was a decorated World War II Marine veteran who worked at Anheuser Busch plant in Newark but pursued jazz singing on weekends and occasional weeknights. He had some limited success with recording but never really toured. “My father cut this album in 1966-’67, and he was getting airplay in Canada, and he was ready to go out on tour, but my mom kind of put the kibosh on that,” he says.
His mother, Theresa, worked for many years as a bank teller in nearby Dunellen and sang around the house.
D’Angelo’s involvement with music came early. He says he began playing drums at five and picked up playing piano by the time he was eight. His parents were encouraging while insisting he get his college education.
He attended Glassboro State and then Fairleigh Dickinson, graduating in 1988 with a degree in business administration.
D’Angelo says it took him a twice as long to graduate from college because he was tempted by playing rock ‘n’ roll in clubs in the early 1980s.“I started and stopped (college) and I was playing around with bands, and it was very good money,” he says.
“My first actual band was in high school, we called ourselves Headin’ South, and not only was I the drummer but I was also the lead singer, because I was the only one in the band who could sing.”
Music wasn’t part of his studies in college, and he never learned to read music once he discovered that his drum playing heroes — Ringo Starr, Buddy Rich, and Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham — also did not read music.
“Drumming just came naturally to me, and so when they tried to force music theory on me, I just completely rejected it; I’m big on feel and I’m big on technique, but I was never a great theory guy, it used to turn me off.”
Meeting one of his idols, Steely Dan drummer Bernard Purdie, was a high point in his ongoing education.
Through the years, aside from high-profile Americana musicians like Buddy Miller and Vince Martell of Vanilla Fudge, D’Angelo has performed and recorded with a who’s-who of Garden State, Nashville, and Dallas-area musicians, including Paul Plumeri, Billy Joe Shaver, Marc Benno, Buddy Whittington and Jersey Shore bands like Matt O’ Ree and Eryn Shewell.
But there is also another side of him. “I was an environmental manager for Bristol Myers so I was making very good money,” he says. He worked for Waste Management, Lucent Technologies, Squibb, and PSE&G before realizing in 2000, “I just wanted to go back and play drums. The music just wouldn’t go away, and I got into jazz and started taking lessons with (Dave Brubeck drummer) Joe Morello and Purdie.”
D’Angelo’s wife, Christine, is a senior product manager for AT&T. Her promotion necessitated a move to the Dallas area nearly three years ago. There he has quickly made friends on the Dallas-area blues scene and has performed with guys from Billy Joe Shaver’s band, Marc Benno, and other titans of the country, rock, and blues scenes in Dallas and Fort Worth.
Asked about his son, Johnny, who lives in Trenton and has carved a niche for himself touring with Lisa Bouchelle and the Billy Walton Band, D’Angelo says, “I had just started getting back into drumming in 1995 or 1996 and had bought myself a kit. He was listening to me playing one day and then he just sat at the kit and started playing beats. He was like a sponge, he would absorb everything. He made all-state jazz and then he went to Berklee College for two years and then he went on tour with Lisa Bouchelle.”
“He was a performance major up at Berklee, and the teachers up there like Terri Lynne Carrington and others, they asked him, ‘What are you doing up here, you’re wasting your time.’ They said, ‘Just go to Nashville and look up this guy, or go to L.A. and look up that guy.’ And he had a good little band, Bigfoot, with John Bushnell’s son, out of Hopewell, for a time.”
D’Angelo acknowledges he wouldn’t be able to do what he does without his wife’s well-paying corporate job and says he has never been happier.
Enthused to be on a show in a good venue like the new Hopewell Theater with his son as part of the band — Johnny will also play an opening set with the Billy Walton Band — D’Angelo says the Reock and Roll Revue people are all great musicians.
D’Angelo’s group will include himself on piano and vocals; Tom Reock on keyboards and vocals; his son Johnny on drums; Mario DiBartolo on guitar and vocals; Jerry Steele on pedal steel, guitar and vocals; Hal Jordan on bass and Emily Grove, backing vocals.
The program “is 13 songs, all mine, all written and arranged and performed on piano by me. I have had no problems leading a band as a lead singer, and I have no problems over the years leading a band from behind the drum kit, but I have never played piano publicly.”
Not surprisingly, as long as D’Angelo has been part of the Shore, Trenton, and Princeton-area club scenes, he is always ready to offer up some sage advice:
“I try to tell everybody that gets into this business or is trying to get into this business, in rock’ n’ roll, there’s no HR department, there’s no unemployment line, and there’s no severance package. You could be on a gig with Sheryl Crow for three months and then, ‘You know what Joe, we’ve decided to use another drummer,’ and I’m back in the bars with everybody else.”
“There’s no security, and you try to hustle as best you can,” D’Angelo says. “You don’t fill out any applications for rock ‘n’ roll, it’s a rough life. It’s a rough life!”
Joe D’Angelo with the Reock and Roll Revue and the Billy Walton Band, Hopewell Theater, 5 South Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell. Saturday August 18, 8 p.m. $22 to $44. 609-466-1964 or www.hopewelltheater.com.
For many, a personal journal is just that — personal, often kept in a discrete place such as the bottom of a drawer. Mikel Cirkus, on the other hand, wants to celebrate his journals with the world. His life’s experiences will become an open book at the West Windsor Arts Center August 20 through September 7, when “Cirkus Diurnus: Sketchbooks of a Traveling Artist” goes on view. It kicks off with a big party on Saturday, August 25, from 4 to 8 p.m., with live music from Dark Whiskey and DJ ItsJustAhmad — free and open to the public.
Cirkus’s personal reflections — and yes, there is a big reveal — are accompanied by drawings, ideas, quotes, and more. The 63 journals/sketchbooks span 40 years and take us on Cirkus’s journeys around the world where he seeks to “capture moments between the thought, the pen and the paper — magic that is slipping away from our increasingly digital worlds.” There are flow charts and logos and labels and notes on making ginger beer, along with ideas on names and what kind of restaurants carry ginger beer — he’s puzzled why Asian restaurants don’t typically carry it, because the ginger would go so well with the cuisine. The journal entries take you down the rabbit hole.
There are designs for string cheese with doodlings about Bruce Stringcheese and the Easy Treat Brand, although what is on view in “Cirkus Diurnus” offers more universal messages.
Cirkus believes we all walk around with “pages in our heads,” yet rarely write them down, and says he lives by Leonardo DaVinci’s axiom: “God forbid I forget my ideas.” Cirkus has been writing it down since he was 15, and losing his first journal taught him to never lose one again. He never goes anywhere without it, even to a John Cleese performance where he took notes and wrote down quotes, and then went back stage to get Cleese to sign the portrait he made of him.
The artist’s writing implement of choice: a Pilot Sharpie wing gel, which he discovered in Shanghai and subsequently ordered 10 boxes.
Don’t worry, you won’t be squinting to see inscrutable writing on pages and pages of text displayed in vitrines — Cirkus has spared no expense in having some of the best pages reproduced on metal plates, wood, and Plexiglas, among other substrates. And for one section — or as he calls them “acts” — on wine-tasting, Cirkus created prints using red wine corks that had just been pulled from the bottle.
In addition to Cleese, Cirkus has 45 signed portraits of the likes of B.B. King, George Carlin, Steve Martin, Pat Matheny, Bill Cosby, Jay Leno, and Robin Williams. His portrait of Brooke Shields includes a page of her signatures — it’s another story.
A self-styled “creative tastemaker, cultural anthropologist, and trend-spotter,” Cirkus is in his 19th year working as global director of conceptual design in the flavors division at Firmenich, the flavor and fragrance company with headquarters in Plainsboro.
“Mikel Cirkus also traffics in prophecy,” wrote Fran McManus in a profile of the West Windsor resident for Edible Jersey magazine. “The messages he gathers and dispenses … come not from the spiritual realm but from streets and gathering spots in edgy neighborhoods around the world. His job is to seek out inspiration that can catalyze new product development and innovation for Firmenich’s internal teams — as well as for its customers, which include major manufacturers of consumer packaged goods worldwide.”
His responsibility to report on trends at least a year and a half before they become a trend involves paying attention. “All my life I’ve been an acute observer, interested in everything,” he says. Even in junior high, he was aware of the next big thing well ahead of its time, wearing rainbow suspenders before Mork and Mindy popularized them and listening to a band before anyone else had heard of them, he says. As a camper in the 1970s one of Cirkus’s counselors traded him a Genesis CD for a drawing, and Cirkus became a fan of the band before drummer Phil Collins joined and they started performing in stadiums.
“If it’s already a trend, it’s too late,” says Cirkus. “I collect signals that can build to a scenario. I will look for validation around something that someone else will identify as a trend. It can take four years for a signal to become a trend.”
He takes notes, photographs, and writes everything down, so his journals trace the evolution of trends. His “Trenz Walks” may take him to Princeton’s Noodle House on Nassau Street, and specifically to a tea franchise within Noodle House, where he may introduce clients to ginger milk. Is a visit to the newly remodeled Lululemon, also on Nassau Street, important to a beverage company? he asks. “It may or may not be — it’s an established brand that changed the model. A particular pair of yoga pants may be trending.” He will ask why, and pay attention to the color, and whether we’ll see a lot of that color in the next year.
He goes to Jammin’ Crepes where he’ll look more at who’s eating there than at the menu, and take an anthropological view. “I use it to build a case and connect to other things I’m seeking.”
Roaming the streets of edgy neighborhoods around the world — he’s been to Europe, the Middle East, South Africa, the Caribbean, Mexico, Denmark, Indonesia, Japan, and such North American cities as Toronto, Seattle, and San Diego — Cirkus is studying culture and digging for what’s new. He travels so much that, on vacation, he takes a vacation from travel. “But I love it — it’s a privilege.”
Cirkus grew up in Clifton, where his parents ran a residential real estate business. The business did well, and the family summered in the South of France. His father made sure they discussed current events at dinner — he called on family members for what he referred to as their “reports,” Cirkus recounts. The “reports” could also be about music, movies, and art.
During his introverted childhood, Cirkus began drawing the moment a pencil was put in his hand. Much of his inspiration came from the cultural events his parents exposed him to. “My parents had me when they were 17 and 18, so they were young and cool. My father’s name was ‘Art’ and we were always going to New York for theater or cultural tours of Brooklyn.”
At 14 Cirkus met advertising entrepreneur Allen Kay and showed him his first sketchbook. It contained drawings of imaginary characters, automobiles, and Cirkus’s first attempts at typography design. It was from Kay that Cirkus learned there was even such a thing as a career as art director, “and from that moment I was determined to become one. His suggestion: keep a sketchbook of your thinking. He also suggested I attend his alma mater, the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California.” Cirkus graduated in 1986.
Married to West Windsor Farmers Market Manager Chris Cirkus, Mikel Cirkus has not required his daughters, now 24 and 22, to do “reports” but still believes dinner time is important family conversation time — no TV.
A West Windsor Arts Council board member, Cirkus, who created the arts center’s logo as a volunteer about 10 years ago, is renting the gallery space for the three-week duration of “Cirkus Diurnus.” He says the show came about because several people who had seen his journals suggested it, and because of his interest in doing a mural on a wall of the arts center (that project is pending).
Cirkus studied with graffiti artist Leon Rainbow, painting murals at TerraCycle in Trenton. His murals can be seen throughout West Windsor, including at the farmers market, along the Trolley Line Train, Ward Little League Field, and in private properties. He has created a mural for Firmenich’s farm and compares creating murals to the pleasures of coloring.
In the early 1990s Cirkus experienced what he describes as a spontaneous rebirth. “It’s the premise that kicked off the curation of the show,” he says, and comprises one of the exhibit’s Acts. Cirkus wrote about the experience in his 1999 book, “Rock Dove: Evolution of an Individual,” for which he is seeking a publisher. “I wanted to make the book the art and the art the show,” he says. Asked to explain that, he says: “I’ve taken stories from the journal to make the art, and then the book is the art. The art becomes the stories that become the book.”
He also describes his spontaneous rebirth as a “Kundalini awakening.”
It was on a Mother’s Day weekend, shortly after Cirkus lost his best friend to brain cancer. He was attending a conference in order to create its brochure. The conference was of the “if you want to make a lot of money and be happy, do what you love/follow your bliss and the money will come” variety, and when participants were guided through a self-awareness exercise, “it clicked. All the chakras — heart, mind, throat, crown — lit up like a pin ball machine,” he says, referring to the Sanskrit term for psychic-energy centers of the body, prominent in the practices of certain forms of Hinduism and Tantric Buddhism. Cirkus says it was like sitting in a bathtub with a toaster in his lap. “I got blinded from the inside… it was [like having] a spiritual relationship with the creator.”
No drugs were involved, he swears.
Raised a Jew, Cirkus describes this “Kundalini awakening” as a religious experience. “I have not been the same since. My awareness is at a different level. It was pretty deep, and I spent a year trying to figure it out. I had the answer, but I was looking for the question.”
He spoke to a rabbi, a priest, a guru, and a Native American healer “to tell me what this was about. ‘We’re all trying to get where you got because that’s amazing,’ they told me. I know it happened but it was not intentional, and I don’t know if I could do it again. Something lined up.” He looked to Hinduism, Buddhism, Tibetan sand mandalas, and other cultures to identify his experience. “I’ve found hints in early Judaism and Islam. Culture and politics and borders have turned them into what they are today but the roots of everything were one. Somebody here got the message — hundreds of thousands of us are all searching for that same thing.”
“Rock Dove” was originally written in one of his journals, the only journal out of the 63 with ruled lines. “These unique experiences were captured raw, and later became the base stories used to write my unpublished manuscript,” says Cirkus. A selection from “Rock Dove” comprises an “Act” in “Cirkus Diurnus.”
Some artists separate their day jobs from their work as an artist; they separate their spiritual and grounded journeys, and they separate the practical from the surreal. In the journals of Mikel Cirkus, all these spheres — and so much more — blend together on the page. “You can’t predict the outcome of the sketch or thought you put down on the page,” he says.
Cirkus Diurnus: Sketchbooks of a Traveling Artist, West Windsor Arts Center, 952 Alexander Road, Princeton Junction. August 20 through September 7, opening party Saturday, August 25, 4 to 8 p.m. Free. 609-716-1931 or www.westwindsorarts.org.
With its combination of fantasy, cultural reference, and turned tables in treating a serious subject, mortality, Paula Vogel’s “The Baltimore Waltz” is director-dependent.
Make it too serious, and the comic jauntiness Vogel imposes can come across as recklessly silly or whimsy for whimsy’s sake. Go too far with the comedy, and salient points Vogel makes about coping with impending death and a yen for life that accompanies it can get lost in mayhem.
A delicate balance is called for, and Nico Krell provides it in Princeton Summer Theater’s production of “The Baltimore Waltz,” at Hamilton Murray Theater through Sunday, August 19.
Krell deftly eases the sudden yet subtle shift from the literal to the imagined in Vogel’s piece by keeping the transition clear and acceptable as metaphor, so the PST audience can immediately adjust to changes in the nature of a terminal illness and the person likely to succumb to it.
Vogel underscores a serious subject, the scourge of AIDS in the 1980s and a laxity in some quarters to mobilize against it, by moving into an alternative realm, a comic, invented universe where travelling to find a possible cure and adventures, both ominous and sexual, are a constant part of the story.
The juxtaposition of the real and the outrageous creates slippery dramatic ground that Krell and a game cast of three tread with aplomb.
For all of Vogel’s loops, dodges, and changes of pace, PST’s “Baltimore Waltz” remains breezily entertaining, fun actually, while never taking its eye off the fact that one its characters is mortally ill.
Vogel wrote “The Baltimore Waltz” in 1989. It is a dramatist’s reaction to the death of her brother from AIDS, or “complications from AIDS,” as would have been said at the time, in 1986. The lead character, Carl, is named for Vogel’s brother, and in a program note, Krell pictures Vogel devising the play while she sits in a Johns Hopkins waiting room as Carl is fading from AIDS in a nearby room.
Baltimore figures into Krell’s production in interesting ways. In one sequence, in which Carl (Sean Peter Drohan) is showing slides of a European trip he took with his dying sister, Anna (Abby Melick), the photos are all of Baltimore, including a shot of Johns Hopkins.
Various hospitals are visited in Vogel’s script, and the PST production does well by having as its basic setting a realistic hospital corridor handsomely designed by Jeffrey Van Velsor. In addition to standing for clinics all over the world, this set leaves Krell and cast a lot of open space in which to operate.
Vogel is full of dramatic tricks, many of them abetted by a third actor, Evan Gedrich, who plays a panoply of characters ranging from a corps of horny European bellhops to doctors bearing bad news and even the famous Little Dutch Boy, at age 50, regaling tourists with his heroic feat involving the dike.
Humor and irony are Vogel’s tools. Though it’s clear a gay man has left San Francisco to be examined at John Hopkins for perplexing health issues, Vogel goes topsy-turvy by having the man’s sister, a resident of Baltimore, become the one who is diagnosed with a fatal malady.
The playwright gets much mileage out of the disorder she chooses to bestow on Anna, and more from sending the brother and sister on a pre-planned trip to Europe, one stop being Vienna, where a doctor of equally grand and shady repute may have the antidote that can save Anna’s life.
This cure is not approved or available in the United States and may not be for ages, a true enough condition of the early AIDS era when Vogel would be aware people went to France and other countries to seek treatments that could not be proffered at home.
Once again taking an indirect route to add some fun and mystery to her piece, Vogel reveals the potent medicine is expensive and makes the means by which Carl intends of pay for it into an international intrigue. This is where “The Third Man” references come in, Carl always being off on some risky mission while Anna, whose disease only resembles AIDS in being unquestionably terminal, plans to have as much sex as she can before she dies. That’s where Gedrich’s randy hotel workers enter the picture.
Vogel may go too far and become too fanciful for her play to work, but Krell and company always keep logic and proportion in hand and make this sprawling piece look as if it has clockwork structure.
The production is always in the moment so each sequence is its own reward. Fast, broad humor carries the day. While Drohan and Melick often have to be straightforward, Gedrich can take his cadre of characters into wilder dimensions. Each of the actors has a collection of looks and leers that communicate comic volumes, but Gedrich gets to sail more frequently into satire or oversized parody of a familiar figure or situation.
Drohan makes the most of Carl’s sarcasm and sense of playfulness while Melick runs the gamut of a woman concerned first for her brother’s health, then for her own, and who finally opts for unbridled abandon on the sexual front.
A lot happens, and some scenes seem to come from left field, but Krell always manages to harness the various elements Vogel throws at him and keep this “Baltimore Waltz” coherent and entertaining. Given how hard it can be to hold this play together, he and his cast rate kudos for their achievement.
Van Velsor’s set does its versatile best throughout the production. Lighting designer Megan Berry also contributes much to enhance scenes or to divert attention so a comic or noirish moment can be set up. Video, in the form of newscasts, announcements, and occasional character revelations play a big and amusing part in Krell’s staging. No one is given specific credit for these segments, but Van Velsor is listed as technical director, and Mark Schafer is listed as his assistant, so praise can be sent their way, and they can pass it on if they are not responsible for the televised segments.
The Baltimore Waltz, Princeton Summer Theater, Hamilton Murray Theater, Princeton University. Continues Wednesday through Sunday, August 15 to 19. $24.50 to $29.50. 732-997-0205 or www.princetonsummertheater.org.
We’re always selling. All of us, all the time. That’s how Joey Himelfarb sees it. And when a guy who has spent the last quarter-century selling everything from swimming pools to Hondas says life is about selling, it’s not a stretch to believe him.
These days Himelfarb runs his own consulting/program development firm, JH Associates in Hillsborough, that caters mainly to nonprofits. He is also a substitute teacher in the Hillsborough school district. He is still selling, of course, because that’s what he does. He is just not selling items you can touch so much as the personal attitude that helps you get places, because if there is one thing Himelfarb believes about getting somewhere in life, it’s that you’re not going to get anywhere with a lousy attitude.
Himelfarb will present “Your Bad Attitude is Like a Flat Tire. Unless You Change it, You Won’t Get Very Far,” a free workshop by the Professional Services Group of Mercer County, on Friday, August 17, at 9:45 a.m. at the Princeton Public Library. Visit www.psgofmercercounty.org.
The workshop, Himelfarb says, is aimed at businesspeople and jobseekers who need to be reminded that a sour attitude really can really undermine getting a job. “When I’m looking for work, I’m looking to join a team,” he says.
But no one wants to be around someone who just moans about how bad life is all the time. Even if it actually is bad, he says, people don’t need, much less want, to hear about it. A hiring manager wants to know you can join the team and bring something to the company, not how desperately dark you think life is right now. That’s for you to bear, he says, not the people at work.
Himelfarb is aware how harsh that can sound. He has been down and out several times, he says, so he knows how hard it is to be out of work. But he also grew up in Yonkers in a very working-class family, which gave him an early and frequent dose of reality — namely that no one cares about how hard it is for you. When something needs to happen, you need to get it done, your struggles be damned.
Himelfarb’s father, a diamondsetter, wanted him to go to college to be an engineer. Himelfarb earned bachelor’s degrees in physics and mechanical engineering from the University of Buffalo in 1985 and promptly disliked the idea of sitting behind a desk for either career path.
He did spend 10 years at AT&T as an engineering supervisor. He worked on the company’s transoceanic fiber optic cable project, which the sales team would often ask him to talk to customers and clients about.
“Then it was, ‘Thank you very much, go back to your cubicle,” he says.
The thing was, the salespeople were landing gigantic contracts that allowed them to take their families on vacations and to high-end restaurants. Himelfarb wanted a piece of that, so he decided to go into sales.
In 1997 he began a six-year stint selling at Hewlett-Packard, and from there moved on to numerous sales jobs running the gamut from corporate training companies to National Pool & Spa to Honda of Princeton to Century 21 Worden & Green. In 2011 he started JH Associates, where, among other things, he has trained real estate agents to have better “mojoe” in selling.
The power of nice. As much as Himelfarb is about the harsh truth (i.e., stop whining and get on with it) he is actually more about being nice to people. Nice, he says, carries an awful lot of weight for a simple reason — you remember people for being nice and you remember people for being cruel, but which person would you rather have in your day-to-day orbit?
In jobseeking terms, being nice is almost a superpower, according to Himelfarb. Being helpful when you’re struggling, wearing the face of someone who can and will do things to help other people transcends qualifications like bachelor’s degrees and years of experience and titles at jobs you no longer have. Without a good attitude, Himelfarb says, “all the good vibes in your resume go away.”
Think about it — does your resume say that you led your division in sales despite going through a bad divorce and your kids don’t talk to you? Or does it just say you led your division in sales?
Getting out of the downcycle. The underlying message of what Himelfarb is talking about when he discusses having a good attitude is simply shoving the bad stuff aside. And at the core of that is the ability to handle rejection — because isn’t that what being down really is? A feeling of being rejected by life itself?
“I’ve been rejected more times than I’ve been accepted,” Himelfarb says. “That’s sales.”
But remember, Himelfarb sees all of life as sales. At work, you are selling how valuable you are to the company. At home, you’re selling your value as a companion or a parent. At networking meetings, you’re selling yourself as a candidate. And not everyone is going to buy it or keep it forever if they do buy it.
So learning to get past those rejections is critical to having a positive attitude, Himelfarb says. And having a good attitude is critical to getting anywhere you want to be. But therein lies the root question:
Where do you want to be? Himelfarb has an almost allergic reaction to taking credit for things he didn’t come up with. The title of his workshop, for example — he got the “flat tire” idea from someone on the Internet. Likewise, he is quick to point out that it was Yogi Berra who said “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.”
So when Himelfarb coaches or teaches or consults or just meets with people, he asks a lot of questions. As he sees it, without knowing yourself or what you want, Yogi is right — who knows where you’ll end up? Himelfarb refers to it as “fact finding,” and he is quick to say that whatever he teaches people about themselves is nothing he came up with either. He sees himself more as a guide than an authority, and he helps guide clients via SWAT.
SWAT, in the business world, is a look at a company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. In other words, what can you do well, what can’t you do well, what could you do if given the right set of circumstances, and what could try to keep you from doing it.
While businesses often run through SAWT assessments as whole organizations, Himelfarb says it’s a good idea to do this for yourself. It helps us find what we want and how to get there, rather than wander off into the weeds with Yogi.
Self-SWAT assessment is “not cookie-cutter,” Himelfarb says. So it’s not easy for him to answer exactly what works best — there’s simply not one answer.
But doing a self-SWAT allows you to pool your answers and get that all-important realistic look at who you are and who you want to be.
“Essentially what you have is the state of the state,” he says. “That alone opens up a floodgate.”
And once you have that state of the state, it allows you to do something Himelfarb mentions frequently in the course of a conversation — “plant good seeds.” It’s something he brought up his two sons (both in their 20s now) to understand, that if you plant good seeds, if you leave a trail of seeds that can flourish — even though not all of them will — people will remember your work.
He tells the old chestnut about the lamplighter: No one ever knew who the guy was who’d walk down the street lighting the lamps way back when. But everyone could see and benefit from his work. And your work, as he sees it, hinges on your attitude.
So take a lesson from something Himelfarb has on a refrigerator magnet in his house, a quote from Robert Louis Stevenson: Don’t judge every day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you plant.
And those seeds, Himelfarb says, are coated with karma.
“So be nice,” he says. “Just be nice.” People will always want you around if you’re nice.
Nominations are due Friday, August 17, for the sixth annual New Jersey Immigrant Entrepreneur Awards celebrating the “history and academic influence of New Jersey’s immigrant entrepreneurs and their contributions to communities throughout the state.”
Awards are given in five categories: Immigrant Entrepreneur of the Year, Caspar Wistar Award for Growth; David Sarnoff Award for Advocacy; Albert Einstein Award for Innovation; and Ida Rosenthal Young Entrepreneur Award or Rising Star.
For more information or to nominate an entrepreneur visit www.njieawards.com.
With all the digital tools out there, it’s easy to get caught up in the latest thing, says Joseph Lamberti, an officer at the Union County Economic Development Center (UCEDC). But if you’re a business person whose goal is to win new customers, it pays to develop a strategy for choosing which tools to use and how to use them.
To help business owners make better decisions, Lamberti will present a workshop titled “Digital Marketing & Social Media Intro for Small Business” at the Bordentown Library on Wednesday, August 22, from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. For more information, visit ucedc.com or call 908-527-1166.
The workshop will cover business websites, search engine optimization, technology, and traditional marketing. Lamberti, who has worked in the field for 35 years, observes that the sheer number of online choices creates challenges by fragmenting potential customers but offers opportunities by making it easy to target specific audiences.
Lamberti finds that successful marketing comes down to identifying your best potential customer and minimizing waste of exposure. “It’s a mantra I live by for my business and in counseling other businesses,” he says. He suggests several questions that will help you define your ideal customer. What do they look like in terms of demographics, geographics, and psychographics? What are they doing; what places do they visit; what are they reading; what are the viewing; what are their interests?
The closer you can align your marketing communication to where and how they spend their time, the better you will be at minimizing your wasted exposure, which will make you more productive by saving time, energy, and money, he says.
For example, consider a downtown restaurant that benefits from traffic within about five or ten miles. It wouldn’t make sense to advertise to the Washington Metro area simply because someone occasionally comes from there.
If you do some research, you can get an idea of what publications people in your radius are likely to read and what billboards they are likely to see. Based on their interests, determine where they are likely to spend their disposable income. Get onto those social media platforms and establish a presence in the traditional media that appeals to their interests.
Because no single medium has ever completely replaced another as a means of advertising, Lamberti recommends that business owners integrate traditional forms of communication with digital media. When radio became popular, it didn’t replace the newspaper. When television became popular, it didn’t replace radio. All three still exist today despite the internet. And the printed book called the Yellow Pages is still around.
In his role as Training & Technical Assistance Officer with UCEDC,Lamberti writes and updates training curricula and provides individual counseling to students and program participants. People come to him for help with marketing, writing business plans, and getting final reports in order, he says.
He finds that may people are familiar with social media for personal use but don’t know how to make it work for their business. “They know enough to make themselves dangerous,” he says, noting that they often get swept up with the latest technology. But UCEDC helps people decide where digital and social media fit in with their overall marketing and communication strategy. He notes that video is a popular communication tool. But, before creating one, decide if you have something valuable to say, he recommends. Video is a good tool as long as it serves a purpose.
Lamberti says he was fortunate to know that marketing was the career path he wanted to follow while he was a student. While studying at the University of Maryland, he worked on the college newspaper, “Diamondback,” which still exists today. He started in advertising sales as a freshman and was later promoted to advertising manager.
Lamberti grew up in White Plains, New York. His father, a carpenter, and his mother, a seamstress moved to the U.S. from southern Italy in the 1950s. “They put four kids through college,” he says. “Their work ethic rubbed off on me. In my free time, I like doing home improvements, so my father’s career skills rubbed off on me too.”
Lamberti is the founder of SMART Marketing Partners, LLC, which focuses on targeting potential customers and delivering their promotional messages. Throughout his career, he has worked with Money Mailer Direct Marketing, WorkPlace Media, Verizon, GoDaddy, and several other companies.
He holds a master’s degree in marketing from Drexel University and a bachelor’s from the University of Maryland. He honed his teaching and coaching talents as an adjunct professor at the business schools of Drexel, Rowan, and Camden County College, and he served as a consultant for the Small Business Development Center of New Jersey and the Rutgers School of Business, Camden.
Lamberti extols the business website as an effective tool for promoting services and products. So it’s not surprising that he encourages people to explore the UCEDC website to learn how its programs can help them.
Located in Cranford, the organization offers in-depth training programs on business basics, entrepreneurship, and next level business planning. It also offers a program on government contracts and provides assistance with applications. Other services include resource guides, county reports and a mix of business tools. For businesses and startups in need of cash, UCEDC offers loan programs and financial advice.
In addition to the digital marketing event, introductory workshops in August and September will cover the topics of intellectual property; doing business with government agencies and departments; pricing and profitability; financial statements; and the basics of financing.
While I am not in a position to dispute the statistics offered by Irwin Stoolmacher’s Interchange article “Assaults on Charities”, I would suggest that if he’s going to use them as a platform to bash Donald Trump, he might reference such stats as they might have occurred on Trump’s watch. All of the ones he cited took place before Trump even took office!
I would also make a couple of other observations:
1.) Stoolmacher claims that the increase in the federal income tax standard deduction to $24,000 for couples will “reduce the number of low- and middle-income taxpayers who itemize and take the charitable deduction, which was a key incentive for charitable giving.”
Oh, really? Irwin, you know damn well that such people don’t itemize in the first place because they rent and have no mortgage interest or property tax deductions to claim. On the other hand, the increase in the standard deduction is a blessing to such people who cannot afford to own or choose not to own their homes.
2.) “Estimates are that this drop in giving would cost 220,000 to 264,000 nonprofit jobs.”
So the whole point of charity is not to help the sick and the poor, but to provide (well-paying?) jobs in the nonprofit sector?
3.) The “assault on charities” comes from the left too, because the left doesn’t want such services provided privately when government should have a monopoly on them. That explains why Catholic adoption agencies have steadfastly stood by their religious beliefs and ceased operations rather than place children with same sex couples.
What bothers me most about Stoolmacher’s position is that it is formulated under the assumption that charitable contributions should be made only when subsidized by a tax write-off. That is truly ugly, and undermines the whole principle of charity — to help the less fortunate without asking anything in return.
But don’t worry, Irwin. Both New Jersey and New York are trying to figure out how to make state and local taxes into “charitable contributions” so that they can continue to be deducted from income for federal tax purposes. Heh. Good luck with that one.
— Howard Hirsch
The writer, a retired utility regulatory economist who lived in Ewing while working for PSE&G, now lives in Henderson Harbor, NY.
Thanks for the great article about seeing some of the outside world without leaving New Jersey. We are actually very fortunate to have all created such a diverse state.
I wanted to also recommend for the future another nice place where it’s possible to see a little bit of another country — Ukraine.
St. Andrew’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church, at 280 Main Street in South Bound Brook, is a really beautiful building inside and out. Next to it is also a gorgeous old cemetery with many beautifully carved artistic gravestones. For a little bit of history of Ukraine and Eastern Europe as you walk around the cemetery you may find graves with inscriptions for people who are not there — they either died in Siberia or of the artificially instituted starvation in the 1930s. A great piece of history, in my opinion.
Please explore this little gem as well and I hope you will find it interesting enough to add to your list of things to see without leaving New Jersey.
— Roman Makukha
When does a news organization refuse to print idle speculation that is unsubstantiated by actual facts? That’s a hot topic in these days of fake news and inciteful diatribes by provocateur-commentator Alex Jones, whose “stories” have included accounts of how the Sandy Hook school murders were really hoaxes.
U.S. 1 waded into the morass on July 18, when it printed a letter from a reader praising a Route 1 gas station for charging less than its competitors, and for charging the same price whether one paid with cash or credit card. She also quoted an attendant who noted that other companies “watered down” their product to save money. No elaboration was offered.
In the August 8 issue another reader took issue, stating that the claim could have been “simply a tactic to demean other unnamed competitors.” This writer was “disappointed to see this letter published as it is, without at least an editorial footnote on the veracity of the claim.”
At the time we dismissed the original letter writer’s claim as “fanciful conjecture.” But, when one of our own staff members pointed out that water and gasoline never really mix, we took a closer look. A Google search revealed recent fuel quality inspections by the state Office of Weights and Measures. Based on unannounced tests at about 10 percent of the state’s gas stations, the state found only two selling fuel with octane levels lower than advertised — enabling the station to sell it for about 50 cents a gallon more than it was worth — figuratively speaking, “watering it down.”
The state inspections also resulted in citations against 20 stations for a variety of other violations, including failing to disclose higher credit card pricing. So we credit the “fanciful conjecture” with prompting us to look more deeply at the subject and for reminding consumers (of news or any other product) it is still caveat emptor.