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Jeff Benedict

Blog

BIOGRAPHY

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August 20, 2014

PALO ALTO, Ca. A week ago Monday my son walked into the living room and announced that Robin Williams had been found dead inside his San Francisco home. It was suicide. He was 63. The news was all over the Internet.

 

SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER

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August 12, 2014

DARIEN, Ct – There’s no greater turn-on than being married to a daring woman. I’m talking about a wife who is unafraid to step into the dark; try new things; go against conventional wisdom; figure stuff out; fall down and get up and try again.

Earlier this year Lydia decided to start her own business. That’s pretty daring considering she’s running a family farm and raising four children, three of whom she’s home-schooling. Plus, she has no business experience, no MBA and no financial backing.

But she had a pretty good idea – selling all-natural ice cream from a mobile cart — and a lot of moxie.

First, she researched the health code and licensing requirements. Then she worked with a company in Texas to manufacture a very hip cart with cold plate technology, meaning it can maintain a sub-freezing temperature for up to 24 hours without electricity. Next she purchased two storage freezers, a portable generator, and a trailer for towing her cart. Her total investment was under $7,000.

At the end of June her first shipment of ice cream arrived.

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Lydia inventories her first shipment of ice cream with deliveryman Chris Downs

The supplier is Trickling Springs Creamery in Chambersburg, PA, where the cows are strictly grass fed and the dairy uses no artificial flavors, colors or sweeteners. No genetically modified sugar, either. Put simply, this ice cream tastes so good it’s sinful.

As soon as her custom cart arrived on a tractor-trailer truck, Lydia took it to a local graphic designer to have logos applied.

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Lydia talks with graphic designer.

Then on the Fourth of July she did her first event – an all day festival at Virginia Military Institute. By the time the fireworks ended she had sold almost $1,000 worth of ice cream. Salted caramel was her top seller, followed by cookie dough, coffee and mint chip.

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All summer she’s been hitching her trailer to the back of our family pick up truck, strapping down the cart, and hauling it to county fairs, farmer’s markets, and street festivals. At one carnival she even stopped to go on the rides – barefoot, no less – with Clara Belle.

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This weekend she’ll be at a men’s softball tournament that draws teams from all over southern Virginia. Our children will be working, too. They fill orders, handle money, and interact with customers. And they see their mother running a business.

Who knows where this will lead? But Thomas Edison said, "We often miss opportunity because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." This summer I’ve fallen deeper in love with a woman who isn't afraid of hard work.

Speaking of hard work, I have spent my summer writing the final chapters in the life story of perhaps the hardest-working player in the history of the NFL. Usually at this stage I am done researching. But NFL Films recently agreed to let me have access to their film and audio archive. So in July I made two trips to Mt. Laurel, New Jersey, where I spent hours and hours watching tape.

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Studying film of NFL games from the ‘80s and ‘90s is not the most obvious environment to get a man thinking about mortality and what matters most in life. But I was allowed to do my work in the office of Steve Sabol, the former president and co-founder of NFL Films.

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Steve was a legendary filmmaker and a master storyteller who won more Emmys than I can count. In 2012 he died at age 69, succumbing to an 18-month battle with brain cancer.

He worked right until the end. His private office is exactly how he left it. His handwritten notes and inspiring sayings are still on his desktop. His toothbrush and cologne remain in his private bathroom. In an inspiring sense I felt his presence. I also felt unworthy to sit in his chair and use his viewing machine to watch tape.

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But while I worked I was reminded that we have a very finite amount of time on earth. The combination of sitting in Steve Sabol’s chair and writing the life history of a former NFL great got me thinking about my own life.

I’m 48. Time is not my friend. As soon as I returned home from NFL Films I gathered up my three youngest children and set out on our annual summer vacation to the Connecticut shoreline – the place that has most shaped my life.

Many of our family's best memories were formed on Long Island Sound. Every summer we go back in hopes of making new ones.

In Niantic I took my kids to the town’s annual street festival, where we bumped into our old neighbors...

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…hung out with friends I grew up with …

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…watched the fireworks from a blanket on the beach ...

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…and tasted the offerings from the crowded street vendors that were set up a few blocks from our old home. The next day we ended up on the front page of the newspaper in a photograph of the fair.

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One day we took the train into New York City to see a Broadway play.

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My daughter Maggie turns 12 later this month and all she’s been asking for is to see the musical NEWSIES before its final show in two weeks.

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After the show Maggie got autographs from almost all of the boys in the cast.

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In Greenwich we visited friends who own a fairytale-like property on the water.

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The best part of the vacation was the simple things – playing whiffle ball in the afternoon sun; sucking on popsicles; collecting seashells and hermit crabs; taking outdoor showers; and cooking fresh-caught fish and garden vegetables for dinner each night.

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Right now I’m sitting at a picnic table in a park in Darien, listening to Bruce Springsteen on an iPhone while the kids play on the swings and I work on this blog. An American flag flutters in the breeze. The grass is green. Parents are wearing shorts and flip-flops. The sun is setting. Summer is winding down.

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JERSEY BOYS

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This post is about nostalgia and family bonds. But first – a postscript about my last blog entitled MAYBE I’LL MEET A GIRL:

I never expected a simple story about my friendship with a gay Mormon who performs in the Broadway musical The Book of Mormon to strike such a chord. But the moment the piece went live on June 23rd I was inundated. Over 200,000 people read it on my website. Over 35,000 readers Liked it on Facebook. An even greater number shared it on Facebook and tweeted it on Twitter. The comment page on my website got so overloaded we had to disable it.

 

MAYBE I’LL MEET A GIRL

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This post is about same sex attraction, loneliness, faith, despair, and unconditional love.


Clark Johnsen is a 37-year-old Broadway actor. Back in 2010 he heard about a new musical coming to Broadway called The Book of Mormon. The satirical script tells the story of 19-year-old Mormon missionaries sent to Africa to convert villagers to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

 

BLACK TIE

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This post is about frustration, love, stress, longing and tapestry.

Two years ago I was commissioned to write a man’s life story. It’s not the first time I’ve been hired to write for someone. But this one’s different. After two years on the project I’ve developed deep affection – love, really – for the man I’m writing for. Good enough just isn’t good enough. I want his narrative to be the best thing I’ve ever written.

 

MOMENTS

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Recently a friend went for some routine dental work. She had her head back and mouth open when the dentist accidentally dropped a crown down her throat. She choked. EMTs kept her alive. But the crown ended up near her lung. She was rushed to an ER, where a thoracic surgeon removed the shiny object.

 

REASON TO SMILE

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It’s official. The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football has been optioned to become a television drama.

Armen Keteyian and I signed a deal with Colin Callender, the former president of HBO Films. He plans to use our book as the basis of a weekly one-hour show called “The System.” Armen and I are consultants on the project. Our literary agent Richard Pine put the deal together.

 
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Jeff Benedict is a special features writer for Sports Illustrated and a bestselling author of twelve books, including My Name Used to Be Muhammad and The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football. The System is being made into a television drama.

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