I’m a full circle kind of guy.
A little less than two years ago, the 100th Quaz featured Adrian Dessi, the father of two boys I grew up with and a man who was in the midst of a tragic-yet-inspiring battle with ALS.
Today, with Quaz No. 199, I offer up Chris Dessi—Adrian’s son.
But were this merely about sentiment and nostalgia, well, I would have picked a different person. Truth is, Chris Dessi is an absolutely fascinating guy. He is (as I am) a survivor of the gang-infested streets of Mahopac N.Y. He is (as I am) a Bon Jovi and Dave Righetti admirer. He is, as I am, eh, righthanded.
Chris also happens to be one of America’s leading social media experts. He’s a guy who saves individuals and companies by showing them the Internet light; who views technology five steps ahead and is always looking for the next stroke, the next emergence. As the founder and CEO of Silverback Social, Chris is a leading thinker on what’s coming and going. He’s a regular TV presence, an author and an absolutely brilliant dancer. Oh, and he knows if your website sucks.
Chris Dessi, son of 100 … welcome to the Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN.: No matter how well you answer these questions, I doubt you’ll be able to match what probably goes down as the most memorable Quaz—the one featuring your father. That was 100 Quazes ago. What has his fight with ALS been like for you? What are the things you’ve learned? About family, about your dad, about self?
CHRIS DESSI: Well, I think your readers should know that you wrote this question while Dad was still alive. Dad passed away on Feb. 3, while I was in the midst of answering these questions.
My whole family was with him when he passed away. My mother, brother, my wife, my sister in law, my cousins, aunts, and uncles, we were all touching him, kissing him, holding him. I was kneeling at his bedside, with my head resting on his chest when his heart stopped. This was a profound moment that I’m still digesting. It was beautiful, and an honor, and horrible all at the same time.
What has his fight with ALS been like for me? I’d have to use the word torture. I wish I could think of a more eloquent word, but it has been pure torture. My father was my mentor. He was my confidant and friend. To watch this strapping 6-foot man wither away slowly over the course of six years was, in fact, torture. For me it was, anyway.
What have I learned about my family? That we can handle anything, and that we all really love each other. My brother Mark moved mountains for Dad. He worked with the ALS Association and the Yankee organization to get Dad on the field at Yankee Stadium … where he threw out the first pitch the day Derek Jeter collected his 3,000th hit. That’s a day we’ll all cherish, and the most loving gesture from son to father I’ve ever seen.
Mom was an unwavering pillar of strength and loyalty. She survived this ordeal by relying on her faith and her pure love for my father. When I’d ask her how she was doing, she’d immediately deflect the conversation to Dad. “Can you imagine what he’s going through, Christopher?” No. I couldn’t.
In the final weeks of my father’s life many members of our immediate family lived at my parents’ house. We knew he was dying. We were all there. People stopped their lives for him. They flew in from Florida, from Texas. They dropped everything and we just huddled up. We spent time with him. We loved him. We joked with him. We all had our time with him. I learned what “in sickness and in health” means. My mom embodied the true ideal. Never leaving his side. It was like being at this bizarre extended holiday with your relatives. We all sat around telling stories and laughing and crying. He died at home, surrounded by those who loved him the most. It was important for us to give him that. To show him how much we all loved him, and how much he meant to us. If anyone reading this has read the Quaz you did with my father they may recall that he didn’t have the best childhood. He was always a bit confused by the love we expressed toward him. I think it was hard for him to understand just how much we all adored this man. Those final weeks—he knew. He finally knew how much we loved him. He felt it.
I know that everyone has his or her very own “bag of rocks,” but to see what my mother has endured for the past six years with dad, with such grace, such unwavering dignity. Well, that may be one of the greatest lessons I can take from all of this.
What did I learn about my dad? Adrian Dessi was unrelenting in the face of adversity. And he was really, really, really tough. Doctors predicted ALS would kill him in three years—he lasted six. He lived with this disease with grace. He did not complain. He did not seek sympathy. He fought with elegance and humility. He was a warrior
What did I learn about myself? I have a lot of work to do to live up to my father’s legacy. But I’m grateful that this disease allowed me the opportunity to show my father how much I loved him. Completing the marathon in his name … the disease makes you feel helpless. The whole family is in a reactive mode at all times. So running the marathon felt exhilarating. To raise money for the ALS Association and to show my father in such a literal, tangible way how much I love him. It was one of the best days of my life. I felt like I was doing something to extend his life.
The disease also allowed me a sort of freedom to shower my father with all the love I could muster every single time I saw him. To thank him for all he’d done for me, to write e-mails to him that I know I would never have written if he were well.
So in an odd, tortuous and horrible way, ALS was a beautiful gift. But at the same time, his passing broke my heart, and I’m crying while I’m writing this.
J.P.: OK, Chris, weird follow-up. Your father had ALS. Terrorists are building up seemingly unstoppable networks throughout Europe. Climate change. On and on and on. And yet, when I read your stuff and speak with you, you seem so damn … positive. Why?
C.D.: The reason I choose to be positive is because I understand that everything I put out there will be there in perpetuity. And I think about my legacy. Often.
I know that my grandchildren will read my posts. So I think to myself, “How will this piece affect them?” How will they view me if they read a rant coming from a grown man? Will that inform them how to be a functioning adult in society? Or will they cringe? I also believe that you get what you give. If you’re negative, it comes back. It is too easy to complain, and take people down. I believe that type of behavior is the toxic waste of our society. I refuse to join. So I choose to spread joy, and love and understanding. It’s hard to be thoughtful and caring. It is easy to be a jerk [Jeff’s note: So guilty!]
J.P.: So you run a social media agency with the goal of—in your words—driving “high quality engagement, viral awareness and revenue generating moments.” My question for you is, with easy access to Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, etc, why do folks need to hire someone to handle social media? Isn’t it all relatively self-explanatory at this point?
C.D.: I guess the best analogy I can think of is writing. Everyone can do it, but only certain people can do it well. But I get your question.
If you ask 100 pre-teens, “Are you a social media expert?” I bet 99 would say yes. They’d be 100-percent correct. So why do clients pay my agency to do things that a 13-year old can do? Because brands have no clue how to market a product or service via social media, and neither does that 13-year old.
Today, every large company in America has to keep its finger on the pulse of all that is cool, compelling and viral. Companies can’t just post content on social media and hope that their post goes viral. Brands need to meet people where they are, and they’re on social media. That’s where Silverback Social steps in. We wrap management around the beast of social media. We provide strategy, creative development, copywriting, design and reporting.
Everything we do for our client focuses on growth. We’re adding value and strategy. We are driving our new economy. Think about it—do you think 18-25-year-olds watch commercials? Of course they don’t. They either DVR their favorite show, or binge watch it via Apple TV. Or they watch it on their iPad or iPhone. We’re marketing to them on their iPhones, via Snapchat. Speaking to them in the ecosystem where they live. It’s less intrusive than old-school marketing, and it works.
We’re not just talking about posting on Facebook, or sending a Tweet. We define brand strategy, audience, marketing channels, and objectives and define resources. Each of these steps needs big ideas, with executable steps on the client side and agency site. Like how can a brand’s identity translate into social and still align with marketing objectives? What is our connection plan? Meaning, which social platforms do our clients spend time on? How will we map that activity to our media buying?
One of our sexier services includes growth hacking social for brands. What I mean is that we make introductions between Internet celebrities and major brands. We manage the relationship between the brand and creator. We commission creators to make unique creative content. Creators make Vines, YouTube videos, Facebook posts, Instagram photos, Tweets, blog posts, etc. This targeted creative drives interaction and awareness for the brand. It’s marketing at its most granular level. We’re building software to support our services, too. That part of our business is sort of the modern-day version of what product placement in films used to be. I’d argue that social media celebrities are the new “Hollywood.” They’re making money because money goes where the eyeballs go, and the eyeballs are on social media creators.
It’s a dynamic industry with so many nuances. Every day at work is fascinating. I’m learning all the time.
J.P.: This is sorta random, but you know more about the power of media and messaging than anyone I know. So, Chris, how do you explain the Kardashians lasting this long? Being serious. Didn’t 15 minutes expire four years ago? How is this possible?
C.D.: I believe that they have seeped into our culture due to the PR acumen of their mother. She’s the mastermind.
She’s playing to our most basic Id instincts to gain fame and publicity by using her family. I don’t agree with it. But she’s a marketing and PR genius. Kind of hurts saying it because I don’t think she uses that skill for good. But that’s just my opinion, right?
If you took Philosophy: 101 in college you’ve heard of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. In short, man believes what’s in front of his nose is reality. Kim Kardashian is everywhere, so we’re told to care about what she does and why she does it. She’s beautiful for sure. But what else is there? Not much. Zero talent. Following the Kardasians is just mindless eating to numb the pain of your own life. They’re the McDonald’s of our culture. Not to get too deep, but the people I know who have real things going on in their own lives don’t know that a Kardasian exists. So let’s all focus on what we can control—our own lives, and maybe they’ll go away. But I doubt it. Billions and billions served, right?
J.P.: In 2014 you curated what you call, “our most viral post”—one seen by 17 million people. So, I’m all ears. How does one curate a post seen by 17 million people? Like, soup to nuts, what was the process? When did you know something big was going on?
C.D.: In 1997 I graduated from Loyola (Maryland) University. Tim Russert delivered the commencement address. He told the story of the state trooper who caught Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber. The trooper had stopped McVeigh for a minor moving violation. I forget the details, but I believe it was something like a broken taillight. The point was that if this trooper had not done his job, Timothy McVeigh would have gone free. Mr. Russert was sharing the importance of every day due diligence. Urging us to take pride in the job that you’re assigned no matter how menial. Do it well, and do it with enthusiasm, and success will come. Come tenfold, even. That lesson stuck with me, and has become a core value at our agency.
Our clients pay us to be diligent on their behalf. While conducting his due diligence our employee noticed something. A mother posted a photo of her daughter to a Facebook page we manage. It was for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. It is a compelling photo. We contacted the family that posted the image and story of Makayla, who was celebrating her last day of chemotherapy. We added a logo to the image, and scheduled to post it the next day. We had a process in place for occasions like this. We did so because we had a strategy in place, and know that this type of interaction would help to grow our clients’ social media community.
About 17 million people saw the image of that triumphant little girl in their Facebook newsfeed. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society does great things, and this was one of the results of that great work.
Many brands pay us to help them to be more human. I know that sounds odd. In social media, brands are competing for attention alongside baby pictures and wedding announcements. We help them through this process. We train them, and guide them. Full disclosure—the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society is no longer a client of ours. So I’m not pumping them up to get a raise. They do great things. It is a source of great pride for us that 17 million people are now aware of the good work of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I’ll put that in the win column for Silverback Social.
J.P.: So I know you’re a survivor of the mean streets, I know your family. But what’s your life path? Like, how did you end up doing this for a career? What were the potholes? The victories? How did this occur?
C.D.: In hindsight I can see that I defined my career path by one simple decision—to study abroad. That decision set everything into motion. I was a psychology major, and when I came home from a year studying in Belgium I wanted to study business. It’s because while in Belgium, I start taking these industrial and organizational psychology classes. So instead of talking about Freud, we’re discussing why casinos don’t have windows. Which was appealing, but there’s a defining twist.
We’re in these classes and the kids are from all over—Germany, Italy, Ireland, Belgium, Brazil. Which was not unusual. The unusual thing was that the University of Chicago had a program there, too, but for their MBA students. So these students in my class are getting MBA credit for the same course that I’m getting undergrad psych credit! And I was doing great. Getting A’s. I was leading groups, and enjoying it. And it dawns on me that I’m pretty damn good at this business thing, and marketing is fascinating as hell. Business courses back home intimidated me. In Belgium I loved them. I got a nice shot of confidence that I did not have back home.
So I come home from Belgium, and of course the first thing I want to do is change my major to business. Mom and Dad don’t have enough money for me to stick around at Loyola for another year. So Dad tells me to finish my degree in psych, see how I like it, and we’ll take it from there. I got a job at a psych rehab center. I hated it, and I was desperate for direction. I told Dad I gave psychology a shot, and that I’m not happy, and psychology just isn’t for me. He sits me in the living room for a few hours. Grills me.
“Chris, what did you like about Belgium?”
“What did you hate about the psych courses?”
He’s taking notes and flipping through pages and he’s having a blast doing this, and I’m getting excited, too. I’m realizing that for the first time in my life I’m getting my arms around finding something that I’m into and I’m good at. So I mention to my dad that I’m into this Internet thing. It was fascinating to me. Remember, this is 1997 so the Internet is still an infant. Dad was a marketing executive at Avon. He was pioneering the first Avon e-commerce site. Later he would win all sorts of awards for the work he was doing. The guy was just ahead of his time. Doing all sorts of cool e-commerce stuff. So here is this guy who loves me, wants me to be happy and I just told him I want to do what he does. I want to be just like him. He lights up. Just on fire with passion. And the thing is, so was I! We’re both giddy. So we start to put our heads together. How are we going to do this? Dad mentions that he knows a friend who sits on an advisory board at New York University, and they’re launching a new program. It was for a master’s degree in direct marketing. Dad asks if I’m interested, and recommends I do it.
He says, “Christopher, the Internet is direct marketing on steroids.” I’m excited, but a little nervous. NYU is no joke. I’m concerned about the academic workload—can I handle it? Will I embarrass my father?
I still needed the business training, and he thinks it will help me mature a bit. Dad pulls some strings, and he gets me into the program. I studied like a madman. I knew Dad had put his name on the line for me. I did well at NYU. The content was fascinating. Marketing riveted me. I’d found my niche. I graduated in May of 1999 with a masters degree in direct marketing. Proud moment.
On Feb. 14, 2000 I started my career in digital media at a company called Mediaplex. Those early days of the Internet were insane. My first week at Mediaplex was a blur, but it went something like this:
• Monday: I come into the office and they tell us we’re all going on a business trip this week. There were about 15 of us in the New York office.
• Tuesday: We work in New York.
• Wednesday: The whole office flies to San Francisco.
• Thursday: We meet the San Francisco team and hold training for one day, and then the IPO party is that night at the San Francisco MoMA. The party was insane. I took a vodka shot out of an ice sculpture shaped like the Mediaplex logo. I watched Cirque du Soleil performers navigate around our founders in the MOMA. These guys were billionaires (on paper). That sticks with you when you’re 24, just out of graduate school and ready to make your mark on the world.
• Friday and Saturday: We rent trucks and drive to Tahoe to spend the weekend skiing at the “Mediaplex” house. I get altitude sickness and puke all day. Super.
• Sunday: Fly home.
That week made an impression on me. I went from an office in New York to sipping champagne while standing next to Janis Joplin’s Porsche in the MoMa. But, well, there were also potholes …
• Pothole No. 1: Mediaplex stock was trading at 88 on the day I started. And then it all imploded. One year later they terminated half the New York office, and the stock was trading for less than a dollar. So that was it. First job out of grad school, and one year later I experience getting let go for the first time.
It’s now 2001 and I get a job as a sales person at an ad agency. But then the tragedy of Sept. 11 takes place. Days later, I find out that the captain of my rugby team, Sean Lugano, was in one of the towers and died. That experience shifted me, just as it shifted many people. But I believe, on a primitive level it changed the way I view the world. I was sort of cruising through at that point in my life/career. I needed to leave New York. So I volunteered to work at the agency’s London office. While in London, I sold a ton, and traveled a bit more. But I wanted to get back into digital. So I return to New York, leave the agency and dive back into digital. Between 2004 and 2007 is where I find my stride, and start making some money. Learning how digital marketing works. Getting to conferences, networking and enjoying it. I was director of sales at an ad network, but I wanted to be a vice president. I started to put my resume out there. I meet with headhunters and they’re sending me on interviews to be a director of sales—just at different companies. This pisses me off. I’m like, “No, you don’t get it. I want to be a vice president of sales.” I figured that the only people who knew how good I was were my clients and my boss. They weren’t going to help me get a vice president gig. So I had to somehow get the word out that I was good. I had the skill set to be a vice president. And then it dawns on me—I need to start a blog.
The early days of my blog were rudimentary, but effective. I would take trade articles, copy and paste parts of them in my blog and then write my opinion about the story. This is when something significant happened. When I would enter a room for an interview the interviewee wouldn’t ask me about my resume. He/she started to ask me about my last blog post. Defining moment.
The leverage the blog gave me helped me to negotiate a vice presidency gig at a German-based company called Zanox. They liked that I had spent time abroad, and they were thinking about buying up U.S.-based companies because they want to expand. They have a huge budget to staff up. I was flying high. Top of the world, nice salary, nice signing bonus—I took my signing bonus and bought a house in Chappaqua, New York. And then the economy imploded.
• Potholes No. 2 and No. 3: They came fast and furious. Here comes the whiplash part of my career.
The economy is bad, and Zanox is slowing down U.S. operations. I get laid off, but remember I have been through this before. I know that I have to stay calm. I think—no big deal, I’ll pick up another gig. Just two weeks later, I get offered another job at a company called Miva. I’m thrilled. A pay cut, but that’s OK. I have severance money and a new income. Put that in the win column. Five months later Miva gets acquired. I get laid off … again. At this point, my head is spinning. I need to take stock. I have a wife, a mortgage, a new baby girl and some money in the bank. This is the “pure hustle” part of my career …
I had seen Gary Vaynerchuk speak at the Web 2.0 conference in 2008 in New York while I was a Zanox. He got me excited about social media. Gary impressed me with his passion. At the time I couldn’t make the leap into social. Now I’m thinking that things are different. I’m unemployed and hungry. This excites me. I feel that fire in my belly I had in the living room in Mahopac with my dad back when I first got into business.
I sit my wife down and tell her that this is it. Social media is the next thing, and I need to be a part of it. I use my own cash to head out to San Francisco for the West Coast Web 2.0 conference. I reach out to trade publications and offer to write pieces while I’m out there for free, just to get my name out as a social media pundit. It works. I get published in Adotas. I start to Tweet to the people who were doing exciting things. I notice this young woman who is getting some attention for launching Twittershouldhireme.com. So I buy Facebookshouldhireme.com (while I’m still in San Fran at this conference). Fortune Magazine featured the site in an article covering creative ways of gaining employment.
I get back to New York, and all I want is to work for this one company called Buddy Media. I get the job, and I loved it there. I sold social media software to some big companies—NHL, Saks Fifth Avenue, Michael Kors. The first week I’m there I introduce Michael Lazerow (CEO of Buddy Media) to Gary Vaynerchuk. Gary incubated Vayner Media in the Buddy Media offices. I was in heaven. Gary is my social media hero, and he’s in the Buddy Media offices. I get to learn from this guy every day now! At this point in my career, I’m bouncing around like a 20-year old. I’m so in love with social media, the company I work for and the people, too.
• Pothole No. 4: Then something happened. They hire a GM from Google, and things get odd. We don’t click, and a few weeks later they fire me. I was so stunned I couldn’t speak. I tried to speak, but nothing came out. I still have nightmares about it. The next day I promised myself that I’d never work for anyone ever again. Ever. Two years later Salesforce bought Buddy Media for close to $1 billion. I made money on the deal (nowhere near what I would have made if I hadn’t gotten fired), but I guess no harm, no foul.
1. Launching Silverback
2. Creating the Westchester Digital Summit (Last week Forbes named the summit one of the “Conferences That Will Keep You Ahead Of Marketing Trends This Year.” It’s only the third year of the event.)
3. Self-publishing my book, Your World is Exploding. It hit No. 1 on Amazon’s “Hot New Releases.”
4. Getting paid to speak about what I’m passionate about.
5. Appearing on national television.
When I stopped relying on other people for my happiness and success, things started to click. I guess that’s the biggest lesson here. No more speechless moments for this guy.
J.P.: What’s the most-common social media fuckup committed by companies? By individuals?
C.D.: It’s the same f-up that people and companies do in person. Not being respectful to people. Insulting people’s intelligence. Not thinking before you speak (Tweet, post etc). Not speaking in their native tongues—i.e., posting PR announcements on Facebook and thinking you’re “doing social.”
J.P.: One thing that irks me about the modern state of us is the nonstop ode to self. I’m being serious: Selfies, Tweets, Instagram shots. It seems like social media has made us infinitely more self-indulgent and, as a byproduct, annoying. Agree? Disagree? And what to do?
C.D.: I see how the trend can irk you. I can. But that’s just because it’s a new cultural phenomenon of human expression. At first it feels egregious and narcissistic, but I choose to see the positive. It’s about self-expression, and creativity. I know it can be off-putting to some, and I agree that some of it is vomit inducing. But when my daughters create beautiful photos and cool video vignettes with APPS like Phhhoto or Instagram, I think it’s a good thing.
Also, try to remember what your parents were saying the first time they heard you blast the Beastie Boys. I’m sure they cringed when they saw Madonna slinking acrpss the stage to “Like a Virgin.” Now try to remember what your parents told you about their parents’ reactions to Elvis, or the Beatles, or the Rolling Stones. It’s a cultural phenomenon, and it’s just the way it is. We should all try being less irked, and dive into the joy and creativity of it all.
J.P.: You and I have talked a bit about the Ice Bucket Challenge, which I had some trouble with. It just felt, oftentimes, like a trend for celebrities to take advantage of. But it also generated a ton of money. So, well, what’s your take?
C.D.: I think anything that raises money and awareness about this horrible disease is great. I can care less of someone who has never heard of ALS does it because their manager told them it would help their career. The ALS Association needs money, and support. This accomplished that—so I love it. Dad loved it too.
J.P.: What makes a crap website vs a good website vs a great website? And are websites as important now as they were 10 years ago?
C.D.: I was speaking at a luncheon in Greenwich when a woman in the audience asked a question. Well, it was less of a question and more like a statement. She said, “Why don’t people just call me?”
I gave a confused look, and she continued. “Someone just like you (meaning me) told me I need a website. But then people started to e-mail me, and I don’t like that. I want them to call me!” Now she was agitated. She continued, “So I made the font of the phone number larger, and asked people to call me.” She explained that potential customers still send her e-mails. She finally blurted out, “Why don’t they just call me!” The crowd was a little stunned. So I told her, “Who cares what you want?” You could hear a pin drop. The room was silent. I went on to explain that If she had potential clients who want to e-mail her, than she should e-mail with them and be thankful she has clients.
The point I was making is that we live in a decentralized customer-driven and customercontrolled environment. Those who lament and battle this fact will whither and die. Fact. If customers only want you to be on Facebook—then only be on Facebook. If they need you to communicate to them via Snapchat, then figure it out. This isn’t 1987, and it will never be 1987 again. People have choices, and voices. They will go elsewhere to conduct their business. Here’s the kicker—when they leave, they will do it quietly. They don’t care. They’ll just find someone else who will respond to their e-mail. And that woman will still worry that her phone isn’t ringing.
Websites are still a piece of the puzzle, and an important piece, for sure. But brands need to have a social media ecosystem supporting their site. Listening, learning and helping the brand stay relevant. Real time communication is just the reality of our world. You can’t survive with just a website anymore. You can’t.
As for a crap website? Hard to navigate and last updated 10 years ago. A good website? Easy to navigate, clear call to action, ever evolving and help the user share the great information you provide on said site. Mobile ready, too. By 2016 45 percent of the world’s population will have a smartphone.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH CHRIS DESSI:
• Rank in order (favorite to least): Archie Manning, Jon Bon Jovi, Brewster, Snickers, Dave Righetti, Amy Poehler, basketball shorts, Ice Cube, Freight House Café, Frank Miele, octopuses, James Bond movies: Jon Bon Jovi—obviously; Dave Righetti—My brother and I made a sign for him during a Yankee game in the 80s that read, “We like Spaghetti, but we love Righetti”; Amy Poehler—huge talent. HUGE. Powerful, intelligent, AND funny. I’m a fan; Ice Cube—anyone who can transition from gangster rapper to mainstream movie star is aces in my book; Archie Manning—great football player, better father; Brewster—my wife has taught there for years. Great place, great people. Plus they have the Red Rooster (mini-golf + soft ice cream = heaven); Freight House Café—It’s in Mahopac, and I know the owner, Donna. Great place, great person. I’m in; Snickers—favorite candy bar of all time; Frank Miele—He terrified me when he was my baseball coach. His heart was always in the right place. He dedicated his life to us kids. Good guy; Basketball shorts—Like the short 1980’s shorts, right? I hit puberty early and hated wearing them because my legs where hairy in 5th grade; James Bond movies—never did it for me. I always thought Vito Corleone looked cooler in a Tux; Octopuses—unless they’re on my plate, I’m not a fan;
• Celine Dion calls. She wants to pay you $100 million for 2015 to enhance her digital image. However, you have to spend the entire year living in Las Vegas, you have to clean her feet three times per day and you can only utter three words the entire year: Horse, astronaut and latke. You in?: Chris Dessi rule to live by: Never stay in Vegas longer than three days. Sorry Celine. Your heart will go on without me.
• In exactly 27 words, tell me the story of a Bar Mitzvah you’ve attended: I thought the cocktail hour was the party. I said, “Wow, this is really nice.” Then they opened the partition to the main ballroom and dance floor.
• I’m working on a book that I’ve been told won’t sell. Do you think, through the power of social media alone, that forecast can change?: To hell with the pundits. If you think it’s good than self publish, sell it for $2 a copy (ebook only), and watch it explode. Take that proof of concept to the publisher to get a book deal. And get the damn thing published. Social media is the great equalizer
• Three things you can tell us about the day you guys met Derek Jeter at Yankee Stadium? And what did he smell like?: 1. Reggie Jackson took a knee next to my Dad and was chatting with him when Derek came over. Reggie moved out of the way for Derek; 2. While we were on the field, I asked one of the Yankee employees if the magic of being on the field was ever lost on her. She explained that it wasn’t. That it’s hallowed ground. I found out later she was George Steinbrenner’s granddaughter; 3. When Jeter shook Dad’s hand he addressed him as “Sir” and said it was an honor to meet him. From his wheelchair my father poked Jeter in the side. He told him how he had been at Fenway Park to witness Carl Yastrzemski’s 3,000th career hit in 1979. He said to him, “If you hit your 3,000th today that would make you the second big leaguer I’ve seen hitting their 3,000th in person.” There was an awkward pause. And my brother blurts out, ‘No pressure,’ and we all laughed.
What did he smell like? Success.
• Four companies you would never work with, money be damned: 1. Any tobacco company; 2. The Boston Red Sox organization; 3. GoDaddy. They’re the devil; 4. Vapor Cigarette companies. I just feel like it can’t be safe.
• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Yes. I was heading back to London while I was living there. Returning after attending my Brother’s wedding and serving as his best man. I was homesick and not happy to be heading back to London alone. I was feeling restless, but I had just gotten myself to sleep by lying down three across in an empty plane. The plane dropped out of the sky and woke me. I sit up and think we’re just plummeting out of the sky. There’s nobody around me. I’m looking around, getting no answers, until they finally make an announcement. Someone had a heart attack on board, and we had an emergency landing in Newfoundland. Not a good feeling, but I have always felt like I’m OK with dying. I’m not one to leave things unsaid. Those, whom I love, know it.
• I have a pretty exciting plan for the future: We bottle farts, mix with water and sell them as energy drinks. I need a promoter. You in?: I’m not a promoter. Call Don King.
• How did this woman end up working for you?: She was doing us a favor. Can’t answer this one. You were great, but I don’t want to mock.
• Five reasons one should make Mahopac, N.Y. his/her next vacation destination?: I love Mahopac, but I’m not sure if it’s a vacation destination anymore. We ended up in Mahopac because my Dad and his family would come up during the summer from Brooklyn. I can close my eyes, and recall these vivid, perfect, wonderful, warm memories of Mahopac. Riding bikes with my friends, playing baseball on the fields at Lakeview Elementary School. Spending summers at Camp Sycamore. I don’t have one bad memory from that town. I find myself driving through Mahopac to center myself. I’ll drive past the home I grew up in on Kia Ora Blvd.
I’m still close with the friends I made there. I have a core group of guys that I met in elementary school, and now our children are friends. I left Mahopac when I was 18, but I’ll always have Mahopac in my heart. There is something about the community, the people that I feel creates some of the worlds greatest people. People who honor the things that make this country great, you know? There are lots of hard workers who value family and community. When Dad passed his wake was at Joseph Smith’s Funeral Home in Mahopac. It was standing room only. People we hadn’t seen in 25 years where there. These are good people. The best.
Oh yeah, you said five reasons. Sorry, sorry. I love that town and can talk about it forever.
1. The people are the best; 2. The lake is gorgeous; 3. The food is great. Get the chicken parm at Gino’s or a sub at Bucci’s; 4. Lots of pretty Italian girls (I married one); 5. Friday night football games under the lights. Magic.