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.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Sadness as the sun sets on a favorite restaurant

You know that little guy who pops up in cartoons carrying a sign that says, “The End Is Near?”

Well, he’s not as dumb as he looks. The end of something is always near, and today is the end of something very important. At least, to me it is.

Today is the end, as we know it, of Helen’s Sunrise Cafe across from the West End YMCA on Route 20 in Willoughby. In my small world, that is a huge loss.

The notification came about a week ago, when Helen put a notification on the bottom of her two chalkboards that announce the daily specials.

It was very nicely worded. Compassionate and all that. But it didn’t dispel the hurt. She said she and Jim, her husband, have decided to retire, and the final day would be today.

It took a while to sink in.

The small restaurant, which opened in the pre-dawn hours seven days a week and closed right after lunch, is something the area has needed for the last 10 years. It is clean, pleasant and tidy, the food is tasty, well-prepared and reasonably priced, and Helen has always been around (usually in the kitchen) to make sure her customers were happy and satisfied.

But after today, I will have three large voids to fill in my life. Those empty spaces will occur on Saturday noon, Sunday morning and Tuesday noon.

Let’s begin with Saturday. The lady of the house and I have had lunch at 12:15 every Saturday for years. The servers can read our minds. I always have an iced tea and she has a Diet Coke and we both almost always have turkey club sandwiches on wheat toast. Oh, and I have a bag of chips.

The lunch is great. But as much as the food, we will miss seeing Becky and her two little girls, Megan and Gracie, who are growing up to become beautiful young ladies. Sometimes Mike, their father, is there, so we talk about golf while the ladies talk about other things.

Mike knows everyone in northeast Ohio who has ever swung a golf club. There are other “regulars,” and I have no idea when or where we will see them again.

The following day, on Sunday, my brother and I have breakfast at 10:20 at Helen’s. Our selections are varied, but lately I have become fond of the one+two+two.  For the uninitiated, that consists of one order of french toast, two eggs and two slices of bacon. And we both order toast on the side — either wheat or rye.

The servers know we want our bacon burned to a crisp and that I want sugar-free syrup.

Helen’s is a serious upgrade over Julian’s in Downtown Willoughby, where we had Sunday breakfast before there was a Helen’s. I think Julian and his wife, Veronica, moved to Florida. Anyway, Julian’s isn’t there anymore. Doug Ciancibello next door at Burgers and Beer took it over and expanded his very nice eatery because he needed the space.

There are so many regulars at Helen’s on Sunday morning that I wonder if we will ever see them either, especially Dave and Mary Ellen. Last Sunday, Dave wondered the same thing. Oh, I know we will probably see Chuck and Mary Cox someplace, and Bill and Louise Butterfield.

But most of the regulars we only see at Helen’s. That includes Terry Daniels, the former football star at South High who fought for the world heavyweight boxing championship in New Orleans about four decades ago.

Although he lives in Willoughby, the only place I ever see him is Helen’s.

Which bring us to Tuesday, and a group once known as the Vicious Circle. At one time, going back to Fritz Reuter’s Delicatessan in Downtown Willoughby, there were 12 or 14 of us. We have met for lunch at more places that I could ever try to recall. Well over a dozen. Maybe two dozen.

Now there are just four of us, we move around bit-by-bit, and we call Helen’s home on Tuesdays. Besides me, there is Bob Riggin, Clark Hill and John Nelson. And occasionally Bob Meil. And on a recent Tuesday, Bill Behnke.

Our group, which had no official leadership (except for perhaps the late Marion Beloat) was so well regarded that on two occasions the late Fred V. Skok, judge of Probate Court in Lake County, came over to have his official oath of office administered by me in my capacity as a notary public, as the others applauded and Bob Riggin took pictures.

Fred also chaired the “Ladies Night Out” dinners held about once a year by the Circle.

Another group, the ROMEOs (Retired Old Men Eating Out) has been lunching Thursdays at Helen’s. Where will they go? And where will we go on Tuesdays? We have two days to decide.

I hate these decisions. I can’t stand the pressure. Helen, what have you done?

Friday, August 24, 2012

A lot of compassion means family grows a bit

Show me a man who is never at a loss for words and I will show you a man who is going to amount to something in life.

A person who fits that description to a fare-thee-well is Dr. Morris Beverage, president of Lakeland Community College, known to his friends as “Duke.”

At a Fast Track 50 ceremony a couple years ago at LaMalfa, I was at the mike and lamented to Marty LaMalfa that I had to walk a long way because he didn’t have valet parking that night.

When Duke took his turn at the mike, he said, “I didn’t know they didn’t have valet parking. Some kid took my car.”

At the Lakeland Hall of Fame induction a couple weeks ago, I introduced Duke as “the smartest person I have ever met.”

When he got to the mike, he turned to me and said, “You need to get out more.”

But it was something he said a few years ago that is the subject of today’s discussion. I had just heard him lecture for more than two hours on “ethics.” It was totally absorbing. I have never heard a lecture of that length that didn’t, for a single moment, get boring.

He listed 16 values people hold to be important, and asked his audience to rank them in order of importance. Virtually everyone listed “honesty” as No. 1. I put it in second place. I rated “loyalty” as the most important characteristic in a person, and I still hold to that belief. I don’t care how smart or how honest you are, without loyalty you are nothing.

When I told that story to the lady of the house, her response was immediate: “What about compassion?”

I told Duke about her remark and he quickly agreed to add compassion to his list. There will now be 17 noteworthy values worth mentioning. Compassion has made the list.

I bring that up today because the lady of the house is the most compassionate person I have ever met. By far.

A prime example: Last week she welcomed a new kitten into the household. The poor thing was on death’s door.

Her brothers and sisters were healthy and she was obviously the runt of a litter who had been abandoned — virtually on our doorstep — by her uncaring and heartless mother.

I pointed out that we already had two cats, as well as two dogs. No matter. This fragile, abandoned kitty had to be saved.

I am now happy to report that after a few trips to the vet’s, special formula, special medication, four feedings a day and virtual sequestration from the other animals, this tiny ball of fur, about the size of your two fists put together, is hale and hearty.

Well and good. The only thing I insisted upon was naming rights, which was agreed upon. I named the other two cats after songs, “Angel Eyes,” (Matt Dennis) and “Ruby, My Dear” (Theolonious Monk).

As you already know, the puppies are named after people I like. Thus Maggie and Tricia. But I digress.

I gave the naming of the new kitten considerable thought. Remember, it had to be a song title. “Misty,” “Laura” and “Emily” came into contention. But the eventual winner was (and we have come to love this) “Mimi.”

Ah yes. Mimi. You funny little good for nothing Mimi. (I can hear it now, swirling in my head.)

Truly, the only reason Mimi is alive and thriving is because of the compassion of the lady of the house. That and that alone.

But not everyone loves cats. We had dinner at Dino’s the other evening with two of our greatest friends, Wimp and Mary Ann Moyer, who were on a brief visit back here from their adopted home in Florida.

I showed them a picture of Mimi. Wimp was appalled. He professes to hate cats. He said one of his favorite books was something about, “100 Things to Do with a Dead Cat.”

Hey. Not everybody agrees on everything. That’s why we have elections.

I’d be more inclined to read, “100 Things to Do with a Dead Baseball Team.” You see, that’s where loyalty comes into play. The Indians are dead, but I still watch all their games. True loyalty. Has nothing to do with honesty or compassion.

Meanwhile, life goes on in our household. Angel and Ruby ignore Mimi. Maggie and Tricia can’t figure out what she’s doing there. But beyond sniffing, they haven’t done anything that is the least bit anti-social or confrontational.

The only thing is, we don’t dare leave Mimi’s food where Tricia can get at it. She would devour it in a nanosecond.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Lights! Camera! Action!: It’s back to the studio

Famous Quotes from History: Dec. 17, 1903, Orville to Wilbur Wright, as Orville climbed out of their aircraft following a flight of only 120 feet:

“Oh well, back to the old drawing board.”

Those were my thoughts precisely after learning that Steve LaTourette and Dan Troy will be pulling their names off the November ballot.

We had completed 11 televised interviews with candidates for local offices and I thought we were finally done with them. Now, it’s back to the drawing board.

The interviews, which are time-consuming and require a good bit of effort, are enjoyable to do but also good to finish and look back on as they disappear in the rear view mirror.

Because they take a healthy bite out of the afternoon, I count the days until they are over. But now, thanks to Steve and Dan, they are not over. So once again we will be trudging to the TV studio at Lakeland Community College, listening to the instructions as Phil and Sam tell us to turn off our cell phones, spell our names for the sound checks and settle back across from a new cast of characters we will face on the firing line.

Well, half the characters will be new. The other half will be the same people we interviewed in July.

Instead of LaTourette it will be Geauga County Prosecutor Dave Joyce (R) running against Dale Blanchard (D) for U.S. Congress. I have interviewed Dale several times, most recently a few weeks ago when he and Steve sat across from The News-Herald interviewers and expounded on their views to help lift the country by its bootstraps.

And instead of Troy it will be Mentor-on-the-Lake Mayor John Rogers (D), who will be taking up the gonfalon against Lori DiNallo (R) for state representative from the 60th Ohio District, which is essentially the western end of Lake County.

All four of the subjects did well last time around. The interviews were a snap for Steve and Dan because they have held office for what seems like eons. Now it is up to Dale and Lori to do as well as they did in July against a fresh set of opponents. Fortunately, they are good-natured people and are willing to do it all over again.

I hope all of you understand what is going on here. More than that, I hope you understand why all this is happening.

The reason Dan Troy pulled off the ballot was because after many years as a Lake County commissioner — and with two years remaining in his current term — he decided it was important for him to stay on as a commissioner because he was needed in Painesville and he was not as desperately needed in Columbus.

Matter of fact, I encouraged him in this very space a couple of weeks ago to get out of the statehouse race and stay on as commissioner, so I am happy that he did what he did.

Dan said several other people asked him to stay as a commissioner. So his move was neither a surprise nor a shock.

Steve LaTourette’s move, on the other hand, was both surprising and shocking. Anyone who says otherwise is subject to wild flights of reverie and should not be trusted in matters involving the judicious use of the truth.

If you did see it coming (and of course, you didn’t) you should be able to make a comfortable living at the blackjack tables in Cleveland.

We conducted the 11 interviews in July this year because several candidates asked me to. The requests were based on the mania for early voting.

It’s also a lot easier to schedule the use of the Lakeland TV studio in July because the fall semester of classes has not yet begun. The later in the year we do the interviews, the more I have to throw myself to the mercies of Phil and Sam and their bosses to find available time in the studio.

I presume you have watched these interviews from time to time over the years. The first ones were filmed in a makeshift studio at The News-Herald in 1982, and while the quality left much to be desired, the reception by the voting public was encouraging.

Since 1984, they have been filmed at Lakeland, and the overall quality of the pictures as well as the sound is first-rate.

This year’s interviews will start running on the Lakeland channel in September. If you have a favorite candidate, watch for the scheduling and be sure to tune in. I guarantee you will like what you see.
Watch me and one of your favorite News-Herald staff members as we hold the candidates’ feet to the fire.

Well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But you know what I mean.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Some simple solutions to outrageous problems

Sometimes the court system gets it right when punishment is handed out to lawbreakers.
Mass murderer Jeffrey Don Lundgren — the death penalty.

Corrupt Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora – 28 years to sit in prison and think about it.

Anyone with an ounce of sense knows those are horrendous crimes and deserve having “the book” thrown at the bad guys. I’m not sure what book that refers to, but if it’s the one that makes the punishment fit the crime, I’m for it.

But there are occasions when far too much leniency is shown when justice is administered. I can think of three offenses that would be capital offenses if I wrote “the book.” But alas, they draw only slaps on the wrist from pantywaist judges. The offenses – as bad as they come in a civilized society – are identity theft, computer hacking and bullying.

Someone who would steal the identity of another deserves nothing less that a public hanging, or at least a public flogging.

Or at the very least, caning. That’s what they do in Singapore, you know – beat offenders with canes.

Those who steal identities should be caned – in public – every hour on the hour for six months.

Minimum. Gives full employment to caners. Those are good government jobs. I wonder if caners are unionized?

Computer hackers should be dealt with in the same manner – public caning, every hour, for maybe a year or two, with no time off for good behavior.

If anything, if they complain, they should get an additional year of caning.

Now we come to bullying. That is an offense that is widespread yet no one knows what to do about it.

I have been inside school buildings in Lake County that have “No Bullying” signs posted
everywhere. It has become an epidemic. When I was in school I never saw a “No Bullying” sign.

The schools then were more concerned with whispering and gum chewing in class.

I don’t ever remember a bully at Willoughby Union High School. The closest I ever saw was one day when a kid called me “four eyes.” I sneered at him. That was the end of it.

One of the best ways I know of to deal with bullying is to engage in self help, although the schools frown on it.

Let me give you an example of something that happened several years ago which I found out about just the other day.

I have three grandsons who are big, strong kids and who have big, strong fathers.

If you ever saw any of them, you wouldn’t mess with them. The kids are not kids any longer, however. In fact, one of them has three little girls of his own, whom I lovingly refer to as my great-granddaughters.

There was a time when one of my grandsons was having a problem with a bully. He never brought it to anyone’s attention, but his mother (my daughter) learned of it because he came home from school every day with most of his lunch money still in his pocket.

She gave him $2 every day for lunch. When he brought home $1.25 every day, his mother asked him, “What do you have for lunch?”

He replied, “Soup.”

“Why do you have nothing but soup?” she inquired.

“Because,” he responded, “that’s the only thing the other kids can’t take off my tray.”

If he bought french fries, or a hot dog, he never got to eat them because they were grabbed away from him.

My daughter thought that was terrible, but never did anything about it. Then one day his father found out about it. He took the lad aside and offered a set of instructions that finally settled the matter and put a quick end to the bullying.

“The next time that happens,” his father said, “punch him right square in the face.”

And it did happen again. Very soon. And in a punch Rocky Marciano would have been proud of, my grandson decked the kid. Pow! Or, as it says in the comic strips, “POW. Take that!”

It was a one-punch knockout. No counting at the bell. It was over. And my grandson was never bullied again.

But somehow the school didn’t approve of fighting. So one of the officials called my daughter and told her the breathtaking news about the “fight.”

“We are going to suspend your son from school for five days,” the school official told my daughter. Then he asked, “What are you going to do?”

“Well,” she said, “I think we’ll take him out to dinner.”

Case dismissed.