Friday, April 07, 2000


Pity the star-struck depressed illiterate.  That's because if you like celebrities and are unhappy, but are unable to read, you're missing out on what has become the mainstay of the publishing industry.  How else to explain that not a day goes by without some celebrity formula for fulfillment vying for bestseller status.

This week's publishing event comes courtesy of Mike Krzyzewski, the coach of the Duke basketball team for 20 years.  His just released, "Leading with the Heart," is an exhortation addressing how to take control of the different "teams" in your life... family, work and so on.  Also jostling for position in the red zone that is the morning talk show circuit is Mary Lou Retton, former Olympic gold medallist in gymnastics.  She's making the rounds with "Gateways to Happiness," a personal exploration of the different "gateways" you have to pass through to be happy... work, family and such.   Both of these follow similar efforts from Oprah, Joan Lunden, and a host of others.  It's only a matter of time before we see the "The OJ Simpson Approach to Keeping a Positive Attitude."

The subject matter of each of these tomes isn't the problem... it's the authors.  By their very nature, these well known personages have advantages and opportunities that remove them from the trials and tribulations of everyday life.  That's not to say that they don't have challenges and problems in their worlds.  It's just that reading how Lauren Hutton came to terms with her weight problem when she felt her wet suit was a little snug for that dive in the South Pacific rings a little hollow for Jane Doe.

What we need are self help books aimed at the average Joe that are written by the average Joe.   No glamorous starlets, no hunky leading men. The advice I want to see when I turn on the Today show at 7AM should come from somebody who is more like me.  In other words, I want tips from the guy I see every morning taking the 7:36 to Grand Central who's struggling with his gutters.  To paraphrase and with apologies to Langston Hughes, "Boring Like Me."

"Welcome back.  Next, we're thrilled to welcome the author of the just released 'Commuting to Success:  How to Catch The Express,' Mr. Kevin Dougherty.  Kevin, welcome."

"Katie, it's my pleasure."

"Kevin, tell us a little about yourself."

"Well, I'm married with 2 kids.  My wife Betty is the manager of the lingerie department at Periwinkle's Department Store.  My son, Bobby, is 12, plays clarinet in the middle school band and is a B- student.  My daughter, Amanda, is 9, has already become a clothes horse and is working on her green belt in kempo karate."

"And what about you, Kevin."

"Well, for the last 23 years, I've been with Ultrabank in the city.  Currently, I run the passbook savings audit department.  In my spare time, I work on the lawn, and occasionally get to play a round of golf on the public course near our house."

"Sounds pretty uninspiring.  So what made you write this book?"

"Well, every morning for the past 23 years I've been taking the same train.  Well, of course, there have been some schedule changes, so the 7:36 used to be the 7:34 back in '89.  But other than that, I've been riding in the same car with the same guys I don't talk to for 5 days a week year in and year out.  And yet, in spite of that, I've managed to leap over all kinds of qualified folks and get promoted to the head of my department."

"Wow.  How many people is that?"

"Well, if you count the part timers, we're talking 3 or 4.  So it was no small feat."

"I'll say.  And?"

"And I thought, gee, there must be lots of poor guys out there just like me who might be able to benefit from the lessons I've learned along the way.  So I pulled out the old keyboard, and this book is the result."

"Pretty mundane.  Can you describe the basic idea of the book?"

"Well, I tried to look at life as your morning commute.  When you get on, you have a goal.  But along the way, it's tempting to look out the window and dream about where else you could be going.  To that way of thinking, most of the stops can be viewed as distractions that keep you from getting to your ultimate destination.  Now some may be worth checking out... the zoo, a park or a new store.  But if you focus, stay on the train, and don't get caught up, you'll eventually get to your destination."

"Can you give me an example?

"Sure.  Chapter 7 is called 'The Hobby Stop.'  It would be real easy to lose your focus and get off the train to play golf, or play computer games, or go fishing.  Now, some people do that, but it delays them getting to their destination.  And some like the stop so much, they forget to ever get back on the train, and never make it.  The same goes for other stops, like family, vacation and so on.  Each can be tempting, but they distract you from the end of the line.

"And your advice for dealing with this?

"Nothing special.  Just suck it up and stop whining."

Now, that's the kind of lifestyle and advice I can relate to.  It might be entertaining to get advice on kids from Melanie Griffith, hints on marriage from Harrison Ford and career strategies from Martha Stewart.  But to tell you the truth, the stuff that really interests me, the stuff that I can use, runs more to how the guy at the end of the block got rid of his crabgrass.


Marc Wollin of Bedford is the writing the forthcoming bestseller "Clean Your Harddrive and Succeed!"  Until it's published, his column can be found weekly in The Record-Review.