I just bought tickets to see writer Mitch Albom speak in Scranton on April 20. I can’t wait, which is ironic since I’ve spent about 25 years trying to dislike him. That I’ve failed is a credit to him, not me.
You might think you don’t know Mitch Albom, but you do. He’s most famous for his acclaimed book “Tuesdays with Morrie.” If you didn’t read the book you may have seen the TV movie.
I’ve done neither.
Let me rephrase that. I’ve made it a point of doing neither.
I won’t read “Tuesdays with Morrie” because I can’t read “Tuesdays with Morrie.” And I can’t read “Tuesdays with Morrie” because it was supposed to be my book, not Mitch Albom’s. Only mine was going to be called “Big Sam.”
Mitch Albom got there first. Or, more accurately, Mitch Albom acted on his instincts when I did not. And it hurts.
When Mitch visited his old professor Morrie every Tuesday, he knew there was something in those visits to share. And was he ever right. “Tuesdays with Morrie” is considered the best-selling memoir of all time.
But I’m pretty sure I was visiting Big Sam Alaimo on a regular basis before Mitch reunited with Morrie.
Big Sam was a quadriplegic. I had had a telephone relationship with him long before a surgical procedure, as I understand it, left him breathing on a respirator and unable to move a single muscle from his neck down. In those early days, he coached a Teeners League baseball team and called in the results every Saturday to the kid sports reporter at the local weekly newspaper, me.
I never met Big Sam face-to-face until he was confined to a bed in what used to be his family’s living room. Once I did, I kept going back. So did many of his old friends. I often thought we weren’t actually stopping by to cheer up Big Sam, as we said we were. We were going there for him to cheer us up. He was magical.
Big Sam used to tell me he was “nothing but a brain,” and so as he lay awake at night with his whole family asleep, he would exercise his mind by working out mathematical problems. Other times, he’d just contemplate life.
I wanted to give Big Sam a tape recorder to talk into during those nights. I also wanted to take notes when I visited. “There’s a book in Big Sam,” I thought. And there was. Unfortunately, I never wrote it. But Mitch Albom did.
And I couldn’t handle it. Which left me in a real bind a few years ago when a student handed me “The Five People You Meet in Heaven,” Mitch Albom’s second book. I pledge to read any book a student recommends, so I had no choice. “Maybe I’ll discover he’s a lousy writer,” I thought. “There’d be justice in that, or at least relief.”
Who was I kidding? Mitch Albom can tell a story with the best of them. I blew through “The Five People” in one day.
That was several years ago. Afterwards I tried to put Mitch out of my mind, but that proved impossible. I teach at a community college and it seems every semester I encounter a student who says “Tuesdays with Morrie” is his or her favorite book. Some say it’s the only book they’ve ever read.
I bought “The Five People” for one of those students and decided to pick up an extra one for myself. When I glanced at the first few pages I had to smile. While I remembered the story, I had forgotten the main character was named Eddie.
Eddie dies as the book opens. He worked at an amusement park and died while attempting to save the life of a little girl. He was 84 years old.
The tale goes through Eddie’s entire life, right from the time he was born. Several chapters begin with the line: “Today is Eddie’s birthday.” My smile grew wider when I realized the day I began re-reading it was Nov. 2, this Eddie’s birthday.
Since then, I’ve read Mitch Albom’s “For One More Day,” and “The Time Keeper,” and “The Stranger in the Lifeboat,” and “The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto,” which is cleverly told through the eyes of music. Yes, music.
On page two of that book, I read, “All humans are musical. Why else would the Lord give you a beating heart?” and I was hooked.
I want to dislike Mitch Albom for writing “Tuesdays with Morrie” when I failed to write “Big Sam.” I really do. But he’s made it harder and harder.
Now I will hear him speak in person.
I just ordered “Tuesdays with Morrie” on Amazon. It’s time.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.