Episode 92 Audio Essay #2 “Too Good to Be Ignored”

Too good to be ignored
“Too good to be ignored”

I love Steve Martin. He’s the one comedian I’ve watched for almost my entire life. I was born in 1975. Saturday Night Live premiered in 1975. Steve Martin made his SNL debut in 1975. It was at this time my father worked nights at the coal mines near my hometown of Sulphur Springs. One of my earliest memories was watching SNL with my mother when my father worked. 

I suppose it was around 1978 I was actually able to remember Steve Martin. Afterall, I don’t think I remember the 1975 episodes, but my memory begins around the age of 3. I remember when Martin would come out with his banjo, white three piece suit and an arrow through his head. Once he came out and said he had a headache so bad it felt like his head was in a vice. He was actually wearing a huge vice on his head. I had no clue what a vice was, but it was funny the man in the white suit had that “thing” on his head. He was so funny even I as a three year old, couldn’t ignore him.

I’ve been a fan ever since. Martin is the only entertainer who I have paid attention to for basically my entire life. I think he’s a comedic genius. A couple years ago I read his biography “Born Standing Up.” I had no idea what an amazing guy Steve Martin really is. I also didn’t realize he’s a native Texan, which only increases his stock with me.

It was in this book he offered some advice I heard for the first time, and has ever since stuck with me.  When once asked by a fellow performer for career advice Martin replied, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” 

In reading his autobiography as well as listening to reports on Martin’s work ethic, he shows he is someone so dedicated to his craft and has become so good he simply can’t be ignored. I heard a story of  Martin supposedly saying about playing the banjo he didn’t care how long it took him to learn. He figured if he kept at it for 40 years eventually he would have been playing banjo for 40 years. Having this sort of long-term outlook is amazing.

In my effort to hone my craft, I’ve started searching out those who are too good to be ignored. However, I didn’t want to find the obvious ones. George Clooney can’t be ignored, but it’s not because he’s such a good actor, though he is. Like all actors he’s had some breaks, is really good looking, charming and has amazing genetics. I wanted to find those who had excelled in lesser known careers but were so good they couldn’t be ignored.

These are individuals who apply what Cal Newport calls “the craftsman approach” to their work. Indeed some of them are just that–craftsmen. It was in Newport’s book “Too Good to be Ignored” he wrote, “A waggon wheel can’t be noble, but how it is made can be.” I think all these examples share a certain sense of nobility. 

Impossible to ignore #1-Jiro Ono

I wanted to watch something good for my brain. I wanted to be inspired. So I watched a documentary about sushi. I know, right? Not exactly where one would naturally go to be inspired, but that’s what I did.

I had no idea there was such an art to sushi. I got my first glimpse of this during an episode of “Billions.” Mike “Wags” Wagner is at an uber exclusive sushi bar where he notices some guy drowning his sushi in soy sauce. 

Seeing this, Wags loses his sh**. He unleashes on the guy and dresses him down, laying out point by point the training it took for the chef to master his craft. I had to know more. So I set out to find out about the art of making sushi. 

Jiro Ono is the 85 year old owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro,in Tokyo, Japan. The shop only has 10 seats. It’s located in a subway station. The average dish costs $270 USD and people are glad to pay. Sukiyabashi was the first ever sushi restaurant to receive three Michelin stars. 

The documentary is almost hypnotic. It’s not so much a fascination with sushi. I could care less about sushi. What drew me in was watching the dedication of this man who was so dedicated to his craft. From choosing the fish, handling the fish just so, to ensuring the sauces are mixed to perfection it was all something to behold. There’s not just an art to rolling the sushi, if you’re a true master you make painstaking effort to cut the sushi with surgical-like perfection.

Jiro started working in a restaurant at the age of 7. He opened Sukiyabashi Jiro in 1965. In the documentary Jiro says, “Once you decide on your occupation, you must immerse yourself in work.”

Immerse, he did. The film discusses how Jiro rarely saw his sons when they were young. He was always at the restaurant. His work ethic is out of this world. One gets the sense that not only is Jiro passionate about his craft, but he’s on a mission to continuously improve. He is quoted as saying, “I’ll keep climbing trying to reach the top, but no one knows where the top is.”

Sukiyabashi Jiro is arguably the most famous sushi bar on earth. Jiro Ono is considered the best living sushi chef on earth. So good is he at preparing sushi it is impossible to ignore him.

Impossible to ignore #2-Dominico Demarco

Who doesn’t love pizza? Benjamin Franklin once said, “Beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy.” Well, Ben never threw back a slice of I-talian pie. 

Domenico Demarco is the owner of Di Fara Pizza in Brooklyn, NY. It’s easy to be ignored as a New York pizzeria. Like just about everything in New York, you have to be pretty freaking special to get noticed. When it comes to pizza, you have to be exceptional. Don’t believe me? Well, there are supposedly 32,000 pizza restaurants in the “Big Apple.” So to be truly special…forget about it!

That is unless you’re Dominico Demarco who opened his restaurant in 1959 after arriving in Brooklynn from Italy. At one time Domenico insisted on making every pie himself. That’s why I chose him. I remember seeing a segment on television about him years ago. Now at the age of 82 he actually lets his daughter do some of the preparation.

What he does not allow is any changes in his recipe. It has been the same for 60 years, and it’s not about to change. In a 2008 blog by Matt Linderman, he summed it up pretty well:

The place is a restaurant consultant’s nightmare though: The wait for food is over an hour. Sometimes two. You can’t call up and order a pie either. You have to do it in person. Ask how long your order will take and you get a shrug. There’s a permanent line all the way out the door yet the only person allowed to touch the pizzas is DeMarco. He grows his own spices on the windowsill and cuts the basil right onto the pies with a pair of shears. Prices are double what other neighborhood pizzerias charge: A regular pie costs $20. A slice costs $5 (but you can only get one of those when DeMarco feels like it). Also, the place is a mess. No one wipes the tables after meals. Stacks of used bottles line the walls. Smoke from the ovens clogs the whole room.

Inefficient, expensive, inconvenient but impossible to ignore, that’s Domenico Demarco

Impossible to Ignore #3-Rocky Carroll

For the reader outside of Texas you might have never heard the name Rocky Carroll. However, if you’ve ever functioned at all in Texas politics you know exactly who Rocky is. His boots have been clomping through the halls of the Austin Capitol for years. They have also pressed the royal blue carpet of the oval office. They have roamed the halls of 10 Downing Street as well. 

Even if you haven’t been to Texas or heard of Rocky you have a connection even if a few degrees of separation beyond your connection to Kevin Bacon. That’s because Rocky Carroll has made boots for almost every President of The United States since Ronald Reagan. He is a Texas legend. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has some Rocky Carroll customs as well.

I have a pair of Rocky Carroll boots. I’ll never forget when I decided I had reached a point in my life I could possess such a fine article of footwear. I called the number a friend gave me.

“This is Rocky!,” I gruff voice with a hurried tone exclaimed.

“Oh, is this Rocky Carroll?”

“Yea, this is him. How can I help you?”

I then proceeded to spend the next 45 minutes on the phone with the legend himself still answering the phone and taking orders and sharing stories about G.W. Bush, Rick Perry and riding on Air Force One. Rocky is said to have made 27 pairs of boots for Bush the Sr. They can be seen at the Bush museum in College Station. It was as though this legend was still trying to convince me I should have him make my boots. His clients are ones who leave Google reviews. They are the kind who have buildings named after them. 

Rocky was one of a kind, and he was so good even in a state where boots are the official formal footwear for any self respecting gentleman, he was noticed. He stood out.

Rocky kept it simple, but he was meticulous with his work. He knew his customers, and had a story about every swatch of leather used. Mine are made of some leftover shoulder hide from a pair of black cherry boots he made for George W. Bush. At least that’s what Rocky told me. That’s our story, and I’m sticking to it.

Rocky passed away a couple years ago in his recliner in his boot shop. We lost a Texas legend that day who was so good, even in Texas where there are more than enough big personalities he was impossible to ignore.

Impossible to Ignore #4-Don Ward

Don Ward is a rockstar salesman pretending to be a shoe shine. Walk to the corner of 47th and 6th Avenue in New York city with anything less than a perfectly clean pair of shoes, and get ready to be called out.

“Aw, you can do better than that!”

That’s the line you will most likely hear from Don Ward, arguably the most popular shoe shine in all New York. After losing his job, Don needed money. So he took to the streets and started shining shoes. It was here he found his calling.

Like a carnival barker with the look and humor of Dave Chapelle, Don Ward reels his customers in. You can’t ignore him. He won’t let you. But unlike so many other street vendors in Gotham you can’t help but love Don’s antics. He’s infectious. You can tell he has honed his pitch, his lines and his responses. He can spot a true customer in a crowd every time. He knows when he has gotten into someone’s head. He will stand and watch them second guess themselves. A look down at their shoes, a quick look back at Don, contemplate. “Ah, what the hell,” their face says. And into Don’s chair they go. 

Don says he goes home every single night and replays the entire day. What can he do better? How can he mix up his pitch? Does Don do a good job on the shoes? Oh heck yes. However, it’s not just being dedicated to the art of giving shoes an impeccable shine that makes Don Ward special. It’s that Don Ward the man makes himself impossible to ignore.

Think you’re doing your job well? Well, if you are being ignored, Don would tell you, “Aw you can do better than that!”

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