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, April 26, 2013

Not always easy to detect that certain lilt in your voice

There are a lot of accents that I recognize immediately. Take someone from Canada. As soon as that person says “about,” I know where he or she is from.

Many other places on the globe are also dead giveaways. After spending two years in Texas with Uncle Sam’s Army, I could come close to guessing which county a guy lived in.

GIs from Louisiana? Easy. Their accents are different. Boston and New Jersey accents are not at all alike. Same with Philadelphia. All have their own individual sounds — a characteristic that allowed Professor Henry Higgins to pinpoint within a block or two from whence Eliza Doolittle came.

But a conversation I overheard a week ago last night had me stumped, because I could not identify the gentleman’s accent. Not that I was eavesdropping, mind you. Wouldn’t do that. However, sometimes words are tantalizing because the place of origin of the speaker is elusive.

So finally I asked.

Let me set the stage for you.

The lady of the house and I were dining with two of our closest friends, Kirtland Mayor Mark Tyler and the first lady of the city, Sandy.

When we made reservations for Giovanni’s, we made certain that the owner, longtime friend Carl Quagliata, would be there because without his presence it just isn’t the same.

We were assured he would be there. And sure enough, he greeted us at the door.

The place was packed, and our table was first-rate. It was in the back corner of the newly remodeled lounge area. Is that setting ever spectacular! It was the first time we had been there since the recent makeover, and the place was wondrous to behold.

The cocktails and the food, of course, were everything one would expect when dining at what we (and a great many other people) consider to be the finest dining experience in Northern Ohio.

Just for the record, Mark and I had short ribs and the two ladies ordered scallops. Not a one of us was disappointed.

At the table just at my left sat a handsome couple who, it turned out later, were celebrating a wedding anniversary. They looked as if they were enjoying themselves immensely.

They seemed to be having so much fun that I peeked a couple of times to see what kind of wine they had ordered.

Now, remember this — I was not eavesdropping. But I did pick up on a couple of phrases that were spoken with just a hint of an accent I did not recognize. Certainly not a heavy accent. Just a bit — a trace — that indicated he might not be a native Ohioan.

Native Ohioans are really hard to pinpoint, because the way in which we speak is so, well, Midwestern, that most everyone talks as we do.

We eventually introduced ourselves, and I said, in as diplomatic a manner as I could summon, “By the way, I notice a slight, a very slight, trace of an accent in your speech...”

I said no more. He finished my thought for me. “I’m from Switzerland,” he said.

Well. No wonder I failed to recognize his place of origin. Sometimes weeks can go by before we run into anyone from Switzerland.

We had a lengthy conversation, the six of us, and he turned out to be Christian, his wife is Kae, and he is an international banker — a vice president of international banking with The PNC Financial Services Group.

Kae was not from Switzerland. “I’m from Nebraska,” she said.

“I might have guessed,” I deadpanned. I proceeded to tell everything I know about Nebraska, which is that it has only one branch of its legislature, not a House and a Senate as the other states have, and that it is so flat that it takes two people to look as far as you can see. (The second one starts looking where the first one leaves off).

We exchanged business cards, and by Monday we had already traded emails. I am sure we will see them again — probably at NightTown, one of their favorite spots.

Friday, April 19, 2013

A fresh look at some dated subject matter

We all have our obsessions. You have yours, I have mine.

Most of them are harmless. They don’t hurt anybody or anything. They are just things we do in a routine way, or things we believe are necessary to live in a contented frame of mind.

I would tell you about a few of mine, but you probably wouldn’t believe them, or else think I am crazy for making them public and thus drawing attention to myself in a way that is not necessarily flattering.

Oh, all right. I will reveal one of my obsessions if you promise not to tell anybody.
While I am standing in the shower in the morning, I decide what kind of after shave fragrance I will apply to my face that day.

I give it a lot of thought. It is a lengthy debate.

I know you don’t think it’s important, but it’s important to me. So please understand that it’s an important decision that I make every morning as I am soaking wet — probably around the time I am rinsing the shampoo from my thickly matted hair.

Thickly matted hair runs in my family, even among the animals. Frankly, I think the dogs are beautiful with thickly matted hair. But no. Maggie had to go get a haircut on Monday, and it was Tricia’s turn for grooming on Wednesday.

That’s so they can see out from behind all that hair, I am told. Well, I never thought they had any problem seeing, especially seeing their dinner plates when it is time to eat.

So off they went to the barber shop last week, and now they will be practically naked until their beautiful coats of fur grow back.

But I digress.

Obsessions are everywhere, and no one is immune from them. And that applies to the lady of the house as well.

She has an obsession that I find amusing, but I never argue with her because there is no point in doing that, especially when I know in advance that I will lose.

So she gets her way, and I smile and say, “Well, OK, if you say so.”

Her obsession is this: She will never use any product, especially food, if it has an expiration date indicating it has, well, expired. That is to say, too old to use.

Even a can of beans that expired yesterday. To her, too old means too old.

I have tried to reason with her about these matters. I say things like, “Look, that doesn’t mean that an egg that expired yesterday will kill you today.”

“Oh yes it will,” she insists.

“Look,” I respond, “I read the obituaries every day, and I never read about someone who died from eating an egg that expired the day before.”

Have you ever hear the expression about words falling on deaf ears?

When I attempt to make my case, applying cold, clear logic, for using expired food because it is wasteful to throw it away, the ears that my words fall upon are deaf.

Period. Discussion over. Throw it out.

Some expiration dates are really hard to find. Have you ever tried to find an expiration date on a tube of toothpaste? You know, so you won’t kill yourself in case it expired the day before.

I really think some manufacturers try awfully hard to make their expiration dates hard to read. That is foolish on their part, because if you are inclined to throw out something that is only a week or two past its prime, you are more inclined to go out and buy a new batch of it, as, for example, in the case of cough syrup.

Nobody who has a cold buys a bottle of cough syrup, takes it home and uses up the whole bottle before it expires. It doesn’t make sense. Nobody coughs that much.

I will wager, if you look in your medicine cabinet, you will find a bottle of cough syrup that expired at least a year ago. Or maybe even five years ago.

If you are coughing in the middle of the night, get up and grope in the dark for the cough syrup, do you try to read the expiration date before you take a gulp? Of course you don’t. You pour some in a spoon, or in the measuring cap that comes on the bottle, drink it, smack your lips and you go back to sleep.

My brother was over the other day, and we were watching a ball game. I asked him if he wanted a beer. He said sure. I said there was some in the refrigerator in the basement. So he got one.

Later, the lady of the house asked me how long that beer had been there. I told her Dick Stone brought it over for the class reunion. It was left over. When was that, she asked. I think it was 2006, I replied.

Maybe beer doesn’t have expiration dates. But my brother is still OK, and that was seven years ago.

Now, you can tell when potato chips are stale by the way they taste. But beer? I guess it only gets stale when you open it and let it sit.

One product that never goes bad is Altoids. Someday I will explain, because I know what I’m talking about.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Going through the years to find favorite Indians players

As I have said so many times in the past, baseball is the greatest game ever invented.

It is better than football, basketball, bridge, whist, parcheezi, Old Maid or two-card monte.

I never even knew Monte. The only Monte I ever knew of was Monte Pearson, who pitched for the Yankees. And, of course, Leon (Monty) Montgomery, who was police chief of Wickliffe when I was a lad, and who parlayed his skill as a policeman into being a scratch golfer at Pine Ridge. But I digress.

So imagine my elation the other day when I picked up the paper and discovered inside it a 48-page tabloid section devoted to the history of the Cleveland Indians. Sheer excitement coursed through my veins. I read the section twice before putting it down.

Those sections are still a hot over-the-counter item at The News-Herald. The picture on the cover shows Omar Visquel wearing a batting helmet with Chief Wahoo on the front. On many of the Tribe’s new baseball caps, the Chief has been replaced by a Block C. Did they forget to put the P in front of it?

I will give you a minute to think about that. OK, time’s up.

I was sitting at the team’s home opener, an inglorious loss to the Yankees, and we were talking about Indians history. Greg Sanders, who runs the Foundation for Lake Health, asked me who my all-time favorite Indians player was. I answered without hesitation, “Ken Keltner.”

But I have a lot of all-time favorite Indians. There is nowhere near enough space to list them here without resorting to the type size they use in Friday’s paper to report the foreclosures.

But here are a few of them. I remember them well, some because they were massively talented, some because of absurd things they did and a few merely because they had wonderful names.

My favorite pitchers were Bob Feller, Mel Harder and Herb Score. I have a great picture of Herb and me taken at a Willoughby Police golf outing many years ago.

But how about Bob Lemon? And Ray Narleski and Don Mossi? And then there was Willis Hudlin. And don’t forget Earl Whitehill. I used to do an impression of him warming up.

Everybody loved the shortstop/second base combination of Lou Boudreau and Ray Mack. But another shortstop I liked was Broadway Lyn Lary. And for second base, how about Odell (Sammy, Bad News) Hale?

And for a first baseman, there was nobody like Hal Trosky. He could really crush the ball. We don’t have any hitters like him any more. I liked the way he dug in his spikes at the plate when he batted.

Eddie Robinson was another guy who dug in as if he were drilling for oil. Sort of like Reggie Jackson and Richie Allen, to mention a couple of guys on other teams.

The Indians had three catchers I admired for their bravery – Rollie Hemsley, Frankie Pytlak and Henry Helf. They once stood on the sidewalk outside the Terminal Tower as the strong-armed Keltner fired baseballs down from the top.

I think Helf was the only one who caught a ball. The others missed them and they bounced several stories high off the cement. If anybody had been hit by a ball, he would probably be buried next to Ray Chapman.

I was at a game at League Park with my grandfather, and during batting practice Joe Vosmik, an incredible batter, was leaning against the screen waiting his turn. Billy Sullivan hit a ball about a mile, straight up in the air. When it eventually came down, Vosmik casually reached out and caught it with one bare hand. I never forgot it.

Joe’s widow, Sally Vosmik, lived on Gardenside Drive in Waite Hill. I used to see her at a lot of parties. She was a very good dancer.

One of my favorite outfielders, beside Rocky Colavito, Rick Manning and Jeff Heath, was Earl Averill, the power-hitting centerfielder. My dad took me to Municipal Stadium on Earl Averill Day. It must have been 1937 or ‘38. The team gave him a new Cadillac with EA-3 on the license plate.

On the Fourth of July, Earl had a firecracker go off in his hand. His picture was in the paper, sitting up in a hospital bed, holding up two bandaged fingers like a V for Victory. After he was released, my dad took me to his home, I think it was in Cleveland Heights, and he autographed that picture for me.
Guess what? I still have it.

The good stuff you just don’t throw away.

It’s too bad Hal Lebovitz is no longer around. I would tell him these stories and he would just nod and say, “Yes, I remember.”

Friday, April 5, 2013

Never know who you'll meet at the area's restaurants

After dealing with a serous subject – autism – for the past two Sundays, I shall now return to the frivolous.

But first I must point that those last two essays dealt solely with a fund-raising effort by the Willoughby Rotary Club to raise money to buy iPads for children who suffer from autism and not with the difficulties and heartache that autism can bring. The club feels it is a worthy project, and one that deserves our attention and our support.

I in no way intended to imply that I have any real knowledge of autism, because I do not. So if any readers felt that I approached the subject too casually, I did not mean to. I apologize for perhaps lacking more sensitivity than I might have shown. But as I responded to one reader, whose entire family I know quite well, my heart is in the right place.

Now, back to something far less important. It has to do with dining out, and especially the interesting people you can encounter in Lake County’s fine dining establishments.

There certainly is no shortage of top-shelf restaurants in the area. They are many and varied. They all have different reasons to attract patrons. But since one of our main considerations is proximity to home, there are four places we seem to be attracted to most often. There are many, many others we visit on occasion, but when it comes time to respond to the question, “Where would you like to have dinner tonight?” (other than the obvious response “at home,”) we usually find ourselves choosing one of four nearby favorites: Skye, Molinari’s, Dino’s or Noosa.

Our choices became severely limited with the passing of Gavi’s. We miss it greatly. And someday – someday – it will open under new ownership. The sooner the better. Who knows when?

I told the lady of the house there are probably 100 people we will never see again since Gavi’s closed. Maybe 200. But I digress.

Be that as it may, one of the main attractions at our favored places is the people we see there — and talk to. She should have been a reporter — or perhaps a prosecutor. She asks better questions than I do.

One of the great qualities about Skye is that it is also a hotel, so you meet travelers from all over. Some of them are sales people, coming and going about their business, from Indiana and Minnesota to Queens, N.Y., and some are just homebodies enjoying a night out.

The other night, as the couple next to us was checking out, we heard the gentlemen caution against keeping the pen that is presented by the server to sign the check, because “it is bad karma.”

He explained. He recently pocketed a “house” pen and had very bad luck the entire next day. So he couldn’t wait to return the pen a day later.

Well, we talked about “bad karma,” we introduced ourselves, and he turned out to be a local CPA, Alan Hill, with Rea and Associates in Mentor.

The server couldn’t find the Mentor tournament basketball game for him on the TV, so Alan said they would go home and watch, although, he pointed out, “I don’t know why. I went to Willoughby.”

So did I, I said, when it was Union High, long before it was South.

His wife is Kristina Hill. She said she is a paralegal in Cleveland.

Where? I inquired. “Baker and Hostetler, 27th Foor,” she replied.

My response was an unbelieving “WHAT?”

She wondered why I was stunned. “Because,” I replied, “one of my very good friends is a partner at Baker.”

I told her his name is Wade Mitchell. She laughed with incredulity. “I do a lot of work for Wade,” she said.

Small world. We agreed he is an outstanding lawyer.

“Wade is not only an outstanding attorney,” I said, “ but I hire his band, Plaid Sabbath, every year to play for the Painesville Gyro Club’s St. Patrick’s Day party at Hellriegel’s.

“I already have him booked for 2014,” I said, adding, “I pass Wade and Carol every Sunday, walking down Center Street in Willoughby, walking to Burgers-n-Beer for breakfast.” They live just a few doors down from my brother on Glenwood Avenue, so it’s just a short, leisurely stroll downtown.

I could tell similar stories about people we meet at all the other restaurants. One just has to keep one’s ears open — and basically let the lady do most of the talking.