His reporting on “9-11”was heartbreaking
A little more than a year ago, Wyndmoor magazine writer and business book author Bob Calandra got a phone call from his agent with a book proposal. He said that a publisher he knew wanted a book written on “how to keep your job while everyone around you is losing theirs.” This was several months before the near-Depression collapse of the U.S.economy, fueled by countless home foreclosures, unwise mortgage loans, overextension of credit, etc.
Calandra, 57, contacted a friend, Michael J.Kitson, a Coatesville resident with an MBA and 35 years experience as a business consultant. The two knew each other from playing ice hockey together at least once a week for the past 25 years. (They now play with a bunch of other guys from ages 20-something to 61 every Sunday morning at the University of Pennsylvania ice hockey rink.)
When Kitson gave his buddy the go-ahead, they signed a contract on September 7 and agreed to have the book completed by January 1, 2009. Then, exactly eight days later came the catastrophic news about the economy imploding. “I thought we were geniuses,” said Calandra. “Suddenly, it was a perfect time for a book like ours. The publisher (F+W Media, Inc., of Avon, Massachusetts) quickly moved up the deadline to December 1, and there were many 15 to 16-hour work days after that, including every weekend.”
On December 1 last year at 9 a.m., the Wyndmoor author hit the “send” button on his computer, thus transmitting the 226-page book, “How to Keep Your Job in a Tough Competitive Market: 101 Strategies You Can Use Today,” to the publisher. “A guy at the publishing firm then said to me, ‘I know we gave you the December 1 deadline, but no one here actually expected you to make it. We expected you to be calling today for an extension.’”
With people still losing their jobs faster than a Cole Hamels fastball and unemployment rates climbing like a mountaineer trying to reach the summit of Mount Everest before frostbite sets in, you would think that every newspaper, magazine and TV station east of Mongolia would be contacting the authors for interviews. You might as well bet that the Philadelphia Eagles would hire quarterbacks based on character and the ability to refrain from torturing and killing animals.
“I’m not a self-promoter or a hard-sell guy,” said Calandra, “so I’ll admit I’m awkward at it, but I have called a zillion newspapers all over the country and sent them out books, and I can’t get anyone to even talk to me. With this economy the way it is, we thought this would be the perfect book. It is chock-full of usable information, but I am getting nowhere. The publisher also sent out press releases at the beginning, but there has been no follow-up since then.”
In June of this year, the Philadelphia Inquirer did run a “Q & A” article in their business section about the contents of the book, and there have been radio spots in Milwaukee, Lansing (Michigan) and Kenosha (Wisconsin) as well as a blurb in Marie Clare magazine, but that’s it (not counting this article, of course). “I truly do not understand why every publication and news outlet does not want to do a story on this,” said Calandra.
The book is not intended only for these hard economic times but as a career guide during both good times and bad. You have probably read many of the authors’ suggestions in other newspaper and magazine articles and on TV segments, but their book has organized the tips in a user-friendly manner. Each of the 101 tips is followed by a full explanation and specific examples. For example, one is to volunteer for a community board or committee (like one of the committees of the Chestnut Hill Community Association). “You won’t make any money,” explained Calandra, “but you will get to explore new skills and meet power brokers in your community. They will see how you work, and these are ‘connected’ people you would not otherwise get to know. You never know what might come out of these new relationships down the road.”
Some of the authors’ other suggestions are: “Come in early and stay late;” “If you make a mistake, own up to it quickly;” “Blow your own horn but never too loudly;” “Meet with your boss regularly;” “Look for a mentor;” “Let people know you enjoy your job;” “Develop an anti-gossip plan;” “Take a promotion without the pay increase;” “Keep your job by staying physically fit;” “Don’t spread rumors;” “Create a non-business network;” “Always carry a business card;” etc. (Ed. Note: When I asked Calandra for his business card, he replied, “I don’t have any. I guess I’m not taking my own advice. I’ll have to get some made up.” “As soon as you get new cards,” I said, “I’m sure your books will be flying off the shelves.”)
Calandra grew up in the Grays Ferry section of South Philadelphia. He graduated from Bishop Neumann High School and Slippery Rock State College as an English major. After several years as a reporter for the Main Line Times and then as a news director for Comcast, he went to see a Philadelphia Inquirer editor about a job. (Bob’s dad was a driver for the Philadelphia Daily News.)
“I stepped into the office of the editor,” recalled Calandra, “and the carpet was so thick I couldn’t even see my shoes. The editor advised me to get a graduate degree in journalism at Columbia University (Bob was 28 at the time), so that’s exactly what I did. I got a master’s degree in journalism at Columbia and came back to Philly and was hired by the Inquirer as an education reporter for their Neighbors section in Horsham.”
Calandra went on to write for many newspapers and magazines (he was also an editor for four magazines), mostly as a freelancer. He taught writing at three colleges and won numerous journalism awards. In his more than 30 years of professional writing, however, the one job that stands out for Calandra like a beacon in the night was his assignment by People magazine to cover the after-shocks of 9/11 in Manhattan in 2001. To quote a phrase used by novelist Sherwood Anderson in “Winesburg, Ohio,” you might say that Calandra was assaulted by “the sadness of sophistication.”
“I’ve covered a lot of terrible things,” said Bob, “but never anything else nearly so emotional. People were coming up to me on the street with photos. They would say, ‘Have you seen this person?’ This would go on for block after block. It was the toughest story I ever did. At nighttime you could have played touch football on the Avenue of the Americas because there was no traffic whatsoever.”
Calandra wrote freelance articles for People magazine for 10 years until 2003. “Their fact-checking was amazing,” he said. “Everything is very, very closely edited and then vetted by attorneys. They are the best of the best. The Inquirer was very good, but People was levels above that.”
Despite his admiration for People magazine and many fascinating assignments, including the Rabbi Fred Neulander case in Cherry Hill (Rabbi Neulander was convicted of hiring a psychologically fragile member of his congregation to murder the rabbi’s wife), he left the magazine in 2003 when it made a dramatic shift from compelling human interest stories with a modicum of celebrity coverage to almost all frivolous celebrity gossip stories and items and paparazzi photos.
“All-celebrity magazines like Us were gaining in circulation while People was losing it, even though they still had 34 million circulation worldwide,” explained Calandra. “So I went from doing stories about people like Ira Einhorn (the highly regarded “futurist” from West Philly’s Powelton Village neighborhood who was eventually convicted of murdering his lover, Holly Maddux) to being told to track down Jennifer Aniston and see if John Mayer was with her. I just could not take that, so I stopped writing for them.”
How did Bob feel personally about the celebrities he did meet? “Some were very nice like Rob Reiner, Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas, Renee Zellweger and Mel Gibson, but some were really obnoxious like Winona Ryder, Edward Norton and Kevin Spacey. I could not take those people. They are very lucky to be doing what they are doing, but they are just so full of themselves. Edward Norton really disrespected me. If we had been back in Grays Ferry, I’d have clipped him.”
Another memorable story Bob wrote for People magazine was his piece about a séance held at the home of G. Gordon Meade Easby, now deceased, on Mermaid Lane in Chestnut Hill which is believed by many to be haunted by ghosts. (Calandra did not get the assignment because he had been a professional “ghost writer.”) “He had amazing things in that house,” recalled Bob, “like a 15th century Italian sedan chair and an inscribed pocket watch that Josephine had given to Napoleon.”
Calandra has lived in Wyndmoor for seven years with his wife of 23 years, Linda. They have one daughter, Lindsey, 21, a junior nursing student at the University of Delaware. His book is priced at $12.95, or as Bob would say, “the price of a couple cups of coffee at Starbucks.” It is available at all Barnes & Noble stores and at amazon.com. Borders does not carry it, but they will order it. There is also a link on Bob’s web site, bobcalandra.com, to Barnes & Noble. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org