Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Stepping up to the lectern to speak on podiums

My eyes were dancing across a newspaper page the other day and the headline on an Associated Press story commanded my attention.
“Truck carrying gear for Obama visit stolen,” said the dispatch from Richmond, Va.
What I read next stopped me in my tracks. Actually, I wasn’t in any tracks. That is just a figure of speech. I was sitting in a chair.
But what I read in the body of that story flabbergasted me, and as the late, great Steve Allen might have said, if you have ever gasted your flabber, you know how painful that can be.
Ah, Steve Allen! Now there was a late night guy not only with humor, but with class. The two main guys who are now on late at night, as an only Army buddy of mine would have put it, have two brains — one the size of a pea and one itty bitty one.
I refer to David Letterman and Jay Leno. But enough about them. What about Steve Allen?
Rummaging among some old CDs in my basement that I had never played, I came across one by the Terry Gibbs-Buddy DeFranco group. It consisted entirely of Steve Allen compositions.
One of the songs I recognized immediately because it was the opening theme of his old TV show, but I never knew it had a name.
It is called, “Mister Moon.” Every day, you learn something worthwhile. But I digress.
That story about the theft from the Obama entourage contained the following:
“Someone stole a Pentagon truck containing $200,000 worth of presidential seals, podiums and sound equipment...”
I paused right there and read it again: “Presidential seals, podiums and sound equipment.”
Now wait a minute! A thief could easily steal presidential seals and sound equipment, but there is no way on God’s green earth that anyone could steal even one podium, let alone more than one (the noun was plural).
How in the name of highway robbery could anyone steal a podium without the use of an assortment of carpenter tools and wrecking gear, not to mention one of those rigs that movers use to transport a house on the highway.
Can you even imagine what a project it would be to steal a podium? And how could the president even carry a podium around with him? It would be impossible to transport.
He might be able to bring along his own lectern, but certainly not a podium.
They probably have one or two podia – perhaps more – in Richmond, but certainly they are much too large to transport.
By the way, I would have written “podia” as the plural of podium, but perhaps the writer, who is unknown and shall remain so, wrote “podiums.” Probably never took high school Latin.
The podium dilemma afflicts others, as well.
I received an email the other day that began: “Dear Moneynews Reader:
“Gripping the podium before a herd of financial planners in San Diego, keynote speaker Alice Munnel bestows the following advice for retirement-bound retirees:”
Hold it for one minute! I am not interested in the advice that Alice Munnel bestowed. What I want to know is, how in the devil did she ever grip a podium?
What did she do, get down on her hands and knees? Lie on her stomach?
And what was there to grab? Was there something on the floor that she grabbed? What was it? A handle? Does a podium have a handle? I have never seen one.
I submit to you, ladies and gentlemen, that you can find humor in words and their usage everywhere you go.
For example: A notification I received in the mail the other day stated that the Kent State University Alumni Association was planning to hold a spaghetti dinner “at the Painesville Elk’s Club.”
Notice the insertion of the apostrophe in Elk’s Club. The event was not being held at the Elks Club, as I suspect, but at the “Elk’s Club.”
My question is: Which Elk?
I would guess there is more than one Elk at the club, so why is one being singled out to host a spaghetti dinner?
By the way, Alice Munnel purportedly was going to expose “the world’s greatest retirement lie.”
Before she does any exposing she’d better get up off the podium and straighten herself out.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

On the field and on the ballot, the truth is important

This is the time of year when we must deal with endless debate on a couple of topics, such as: a) Is it possible, in this magnificent country of ours, to have election seasons that are not filled with mindless crap? and b) can the Browns return to their glory days by implementing the West Coast offense?
Let me deal with the second subject first.
As serious followers of professional football are aware, the world’s greatest football genius, Paul E. Brown, devised the West Coast offense in 1948. He just didn’t know what to call it.
The Browns were spectacularly successful in those days, and I saw all their home games, plus the road games that were televised.
Brown’s early version of that offensive system, whose diagrams were once credited to Bill Walsh (until we learned that he got them from Brown), slowly began to dawn on me as time went on.
I knew what I was watching, but the system didn’t have a name until the 1950 NFL championship game between the Browns and Los Angeles Rams, played at the lakefront stadium.
It was a miserably cold day, and there were fewer than 30,00 people there (you can look it up).
On the first play from scrimmage, Rams quarterback Bob Waterfield got the ball into the hands of Glenn Davis, and the speedster known at West Point as “Mr. Outside” ran for a touchdown.
It was a spectacular play. And the visitors were from the City of Angels. (That is important).
I turned to my brother and exclaimed: “Wow! Is that a West Coast offense, or what?”
Thus the origin of the term now commonly employed by the media.
The guy next to me wildly cheered with reckless and carefree abandon. He was in uniform and he said he was Glenn Davis’ brother. I had no reason to doubt him.
The good news is that the Browns scored on their next possession. Much later, in the game’s waning seconds, Otto Graham, the greatest quarterback who ever lived, moved the team into field goal position and Lou (The Toe) Groza responded by kicking the winning points for a 30-28 victory.
A bit of trivia: Otto’s middle name was Everett, and the mailbox in front of his house across from Garfield School in Willoughby Hills, said “O.E. Graham.”
(I know it was Willoughby Township at the time. That is beside the point.)
My other topic, about dirty politics:
Several years ago I instituted an organization called CACA, standing for Citizens Against Crap in Advertising.
County Prosecutor Chuck Coulson liked the concept so much he drafted a charter and sent out membership cards. Well, he sent out at least one that I know of.
Filth in politics goes way back, even before the Nixon-McGovern campaign of 1972, when operatives on one side ordered several hundred pizzas and had them delivered to the headquarters of the other side.
Dirty politics still manifests itself in many ways. I am not familiar with all of them.
But I do recall the “truth squads” of the 1960s, when one side would go from town to town, correcting the lies spewed by the other side.
Extravagant claims are commonplace at election time. I am happy to report that in the race with which I am most familiar, for judge of Willoughby Municipal Court to succeed Larry Allen, none of the four candidates is telling lies. They are all honorable people.
Yet history is replete with examples of egregious lies being told, and of all places, in contests for school board seats!
It has happened before (I have witnessed it) and it is happening again. An example was recently brought to my attention by my good friend Bill Burges, and I trust his information implicitly.
And guess what? It was the same old district, involving the same old people, as in years past.
Of all places to peddle filth — a school district!
Oh well. Nothing surprises me. Well, a few things, but not many.
I am not at liberty to reveal which district it is, but if you ask Bill he will probably tell you.
And when you find out, you probably won’t be surprised, either.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Time to say goodbye to a real jewel of an owner

Downtown Willoughby has undergone myriad changes since my high school days, when everyone I knew hung around Koster’s Sweet Shop, where the conversation continued unabated until the 10 p.m. closing time.
One of the most dramatic changes will be the departure of Tom Nichols from Dav-Ed Jewelers, almost directly across the street from Koster’s.
Tom has been at the store for a mere 66 years, which certifies him as an icon downtown. And since the store opened in 1945, that would take him back to its very beginning. Obviously, he’s not into job-hopping.
The store was opened that year by Tom’s father, also named Tom. The store’s name came from combining Dave Fertil with Ed Wyles, two financial backers. I never met Dave, but Ed was a well-known real estate broker whose claim to fame was his whacky advertising gimmicks.
For example, when I lived in North Willoughby at the outbreak of World War II, there was a house down the street built around a very large tree that came up through the roof.
Ed advertised it as “Ancient Oak,” which made it sound more like an estate than a cottage. But I digress.
Tom says he’s about ready to retire, so he found a couple of young men — from Willoughby Hills and Wickliffe, both Lake Catholic graduates — who wanted to take over where he’s leaving off.
That is asking a lot, because Tom has cast a large shadow over the downtown area. The new owners are Tom Mirabelli and Steve Manno.
Tom Nichols is one of a kind. I have spent many an hour at his counter, observing as he installed new batteries in my watches, or just talking. And for the past 13 years, Charlie, his watch dog was also there, watching.
Charlie is a handsome shih tzu who is almost as familiar around Downtown Willoughby as Tom. Charlie knows his way around. The other day I saw him “leading” Tom down the sidewalk. Charlie was on the front end of a 15-foot leash.
Charlie knew where the store was. Before Tom even neared the store, Charlie had already turned into the doorway.
If you like watches and jewelry, Tom’s store was always a great place to window shop. It was also a great place just to drop in and talk.
Tom insists he’s old enough to retire, which I challenge because he won’t catch up with me, agewise, until next March.
But let me put it this way. He started working there with his dad when he was 17 and the store opened in 1945. Do the math.
I reminded Tom the other day of the big contest they held at the grand opening. He, or his dad, put a pile of diamonds on a mirror in the window. The challenge was to guess the number of stones on the mirror. Whoever was closest would win a shiny new watch.
As I recall, there were 174 diamonds in the pile. All the high school kids went in and submitted entries. I guessed 176. Don Johnson guessed 172. We were both off by two. So they called us in and flipped a coin. Don won. He got the new watch. As a consolation prize, I got a ball-point pen.
Don’t laugh. It was a very nice pen.
Tom’s daughter Sherry Wagner told me there was a history of smash-and-grab robberies and fires at the store. I don’t recall them. What I do recall is that Sherry, an English teacher at North High School, in 2007 won the coveted Adele Knight Award as a distinguished teacher. She retired last year but still substitutes.
I told Tom that Sherry was lucky: Not only was she an outstanding teacher, but she looks like her mother. His late wife, Fran, was one of three elegant Vest girls whose presence in Willoughby made it a more beautiful city.
Tom and Fran had two other children.
A son, Tom, known as Nick, is deceased. Another son, Tim, owns a hair salon in Mentor.
I am going to miss seeing Tom, standing in his doorway, chatting with the passers-by and offering a cheery welcome every time I walk down that side of the street — which is quite often.
Sherry informed me that an open house will be held today at the store, from 3 until 6 p.m.
Now, how is that for timing! — an article in the paper about Tom Nichols on the same day his family and friends are holding an open house for him.
Of course, timing is impossible without a good watch. Just thought I’d mention that.