I hate it when people start presentations by defining a word or phrase from the dictionary. You know, shit like “Webster defines unimaginative as a person who starts his presentations with dictionary definitions.”

To be fair, I don’t hate those people. Hell, I don’t even know most of them. I’m sure they have wonderful imaginations that simply escape them at the very moment they need to begin their presentations or speeches. I just think there are better ways to get to what a word or phrase really means. Ways like… oh, I don’t know, asking people what it means to them. But I’ll get to that in a minute. Right now, let’s get back to my word.

Remarkable. Third grade me would’ve defined that word as “something worth making remarks about.” Over the years, my definition has included these events (and many more, too numerous to mention):

  • Al Michaels’ 1980 call when the USA hockey team beat the vaunted Soviet Union in Lake Placid. That one was so remarkable that an entire world dubbed it a “miracle” even though the team hadn’t won the gold medal yet.
  • The fateful day in 1985 when I veered from my usual route (the window) to exit my bedroom (which may or may not have smelled a little like weed camouflaged by shitty cologne) and first laid eyes on the girl at the bottom of the stairs.
  • The night I caught an earful from my hungry girlfriend (same girl) for making her wait at my mom’s house before taking her to dinner. And even more so a couple hours later when despite my faulty timing, she agreed to marry me anyway.
  • The minute I became oblivious to the mixture of bodily fluids spilling onto my shoes from my wife’s C-section because it was also the minute I met my son.
  • The day that same boy and his sister hatched a plan for me to move out of the house so they could have a cat and I wouldn’t sneeze. That plan was doomed from the start, or at least once we learned that Emily is even more allergic to cats than I am.
  • The time my little girl broke my heart by telling me I had to let her grow up, and then repaired it with a hug and an assurance that she would always be my “Goon.” I think she was 5. And yes, I still call her “Goon” from time to time.

Clearly, the word remarkable has range like DeNiro. It can be scary as shit, like when he played that whacko superfan in the Wesley Snipes movie. What was that? I forget. It can be wildly inappropriate (but still hilarious) like in Bad Grandpa. And it can be a simple “everything’s gonna be okay” vibe, like the one he gives off in The Intern, which I admit I only agreed to see because I have a bit of a crush on Anne Hathaway.

But tonight, remarkable is a man I don’t know but would like to meet, if only to shake his hand and thank him. A man who grew up in the same part of New York state as I did but started his life about 15 years later.

Zach Anner is a remarkable person who has already lived a remarkable life. A friend told me I had to read his book, IF AT BIRTH YOU DON’T SUCCEED, because he’s from Buffalo, extremely funny, and tells a great story. I bought the book right away because I trust Sara’s judgment. But, for a variety of reasons, it took me a while to get reading. And, because I’m the world’s slowest reader, I just finished it tonight. Now I’m writing about it. Remarkable, right?

I’m not going to go through all the great stuff I read in Zach’s book, mostly because I want you to get your own copy. Or do what I did—buy two copies and give one to a friend. You’re also welcome to borrow my copy as long as you buy one for someone else, too. Trust me, it’s that good. He’s that good.

The truly remarkable thing is that you’ll find it every bit “that good,” but not for the same reasons I did. For me, Zach painted mental portraits of Western New York that made me smile, but he also wrote things that conjured up the spirit of my grandmother and Aunt Eva. Of Uncle Barty, my brother, Tim. Of Bill, and Aunt Evelyn. People who taught me that happy and sad live in the same space—it’s all about your perspective.

Reading about all the amazing things Zach has accomplished—even when “failing forward” (as my good friend Amanda would say), made me thankful for all the wonderful people and things I’ve experienced in my life. Zach reinforced what another of my closest friends always tells me. I’m paraphrasing now, but Zach basically says that as random as life can be, hope is one of its few constants. See, Kali. I do listen sometimes.

Okay, I’ve been rambling for nearly 900 words, making this the perfect blog for the just sharing category. What I’m really saying is whether or not you’re from Buffalo, check out Zach Anner. If you’re not a reader, watch his show on YouTube. He’s all the things Sara promised me he would be. Then come back here and try to define remarkable without thinking about him.


Originally published at


  • michael marotta

    40 kilometers south of Canada and a little left of center

    Michael Marotta started making up stories before he started school in Lockport, New York (a.k.a., South Canada). He would sit for hours, imagining himself into his grandmother’s memories of growing up during The Great Depression and World War II. Fascinated by the people in those tales, he began to make up his own characters (and no small number of imaginary friends). He honed his craft in high school, often swapping wild stories for the answers he didn’t know to cover up the fact that he hadn’t studied. You’d be surprised at how many good grades he “earned” based on how complete his essays appeared!   Today, Michael’s the guy making up histories for people he sees at the airport, in restaurants and grocery stores, on the golf course, or simply hanging around in his hometown of Franklin, Tennessee. Most of the imaginary friends have moved on, but their spirits live in the characters and stories he creates—pieces of real people marbled with fabricated or exaggerated traits and a generous helping of Eighties pop culture.   Michael’s characters appeal to many people because they are the people we all know. They are our friends, our families and people we encounter every day. He writes for the love of writing and for the crazy old lady who raised him.