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.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Something very common among recent dinner companions

“It’s too bad you and Rick weren’t at Molinari’s the other night,” I told Karen Sippola a week ago at the huge Imagine! blast at Lakeland Community College.

“We could have celebrated All-Karen night at the restaurant.”

Karen was dressed as a flapper, in keeping with the Roaring Twenties theme. She looked great, of course. But she had no idea what I was talking about.

But first let me say this about Imagine! It is the college’s biggest party of the year. Two floors of people non-stop partying. Never a let-up in the music or the flow of food and spirits, not to mention the bananas Foster.

And thanks to Connie Beverage, the First Lady of Lakeland, for telling me and the lady of the house where to find the bananas Foster. Outstanding!

But I’m getting way ahead of my story.

It is important to award a gold star for the evening to Laurie Principe, No. 2 honcho at the Lakeland Foundation and prime mover of the evening’s activities, for coming up with the Michael Petrone band for the evening’s musical treats.

I have known Mike since he was a lad. But I hadn’t seen him since he and his father, John Petrone (they are two of Northern Ohio’s finest jazz pianists) played a memorable “battle of the pianos” at Nighttown several years ago.

I had heard he was going to be at Lakeland that evening, so I told him I put in my car an arm load of favorite piano CDs to play all week.

I mentioned his own recordings, which I have a bunch of, plus Andre Previn and Oscar Peterson.
He opined that was pretty good company. And I forgot to mention Claude Williamson!

Now there are four piano players who can blow up a storm, so to speak.

A footnote: Mike is still playing at Johnny’s Downtown in Cleveland after all these years.

Thanks, Laurie, for bringing in Michael for Imagine! It probably would be asking too much to have had his father there also. I wouldn’t have had a chance to eat dinner. I would have pulled a chair up in front of the band stand and sat there, all night.

But I digress.

What I told Karen Sippola was that the lady and I had been at Molinari’s the week before and did something out of character — for us. We sat in a booth — for a change.

We go there for dinner at least once a week, but we ordinarily sit at the bar and eat. That way we can be entertained by Justin and Kim while watching the ball game.

Well, at least one of us can watch the ball game.

At the booth across from us was a beautiful woman named Karen and her husband, Bill.

We quickly struck up a conversation. We learned Karen was homecoming queen at North High in Eastlake in 1960, two years after my sister, Molly, was queen.

She said she and Bill knew Molly very well, and that Molly at one time had dated her brother, Neil Fawcett, that being Karen’s maiden name. She is married to Bill Futchi, a North grad in 1959. He excelled at wrestling and boxing — and looked every bit like a heavyweight wrestler and a boxer.

The four of us had a great chat. She said she hopes Molly comes back here from Nashville next time they have a queens’ reunion. They were pleased to hear Molly and Larry have a brand new granddaughter.

I took out my phone to call Molly, but Karen and Bill left before she answered. So we talked with her anyway — for 8 minutes and 27 seconds. Amazing what you can find out from your cell phone.

No sooner did Karen and Bill leave, but who should come in to sit where they had been but Karen and Tom Tercek.

This Karen is the one who is the operating head of the Willoughby Western Lake County Chamber of Commerce.

Amazing! Two beautiful Karens in the same seat, moments apart! I asked Karen if she was a queen and she said no, but she was in the Miami University Pageant. That’s close enough for me.

Tom works at Lubrizol and they met in college. “We were a Miami merger,” she said.

By the way, they were also at the Imagine! party.

Now we come to Karen Sippola. I told her about all the beautiful Karens and she said, “I was homecoming queen at Madison High School.”

Wow! So now my tale is complete. I ended our conversation with a story about how Karen Bates’ father, the late Dick Bates, once introduced his family when he was named Distinguished Citizen by the Madison Perry Chamber of Commerce.

Dick was one of the wittiest guys I ever knew. I always hated to follow him on a program, such as a YMCA dinner, because he was too funny.

I won’t tell you exactly what he said. I will just say he introduced his wife Joann as Mrs. Bates and his daughter Karen as Miss Bates.

I will leave the rest to your imagination. But he left the audience at Madison Country Club that evening gasping.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Adventures in technology leave confusion in their wake

It’s not that computers and I are not on speaking terms. There’s no hostility there.

It’s just that we do not talk the same language, which you will have to admit can be something of a problem for a typist on a mission — that being the preparation of an essay while staring at a self-imposed deadline.

There are some computer things I can do very well, such as creating new passwords. I can create a new password every day, if I feel like it.

But just the other day I could not sign onto a computer because of a mess with the password. I reported the problem to Chuck Hogye, the newspaper’s computer guru.

I discovered my own error, but not before he had made up a new password and assigned it to me. My mistake? I had misspelled my own name when signing in. Silly me.

I told Chuck I had solved the problem, but it was too late. He had already given me a new password — one which I did not necessarily care for, because I enjoy making up my own passwords, using family names of long-ago relatives, obscure dates in history and pi to 20 places.

I am very good at opening emails – if they don’t have attachments. I got one the other day from my good buddy Roger Sustar. “I hope you can open the attachment,” he said. “It’s great.”

I tried. No luck.

I found out later what the picture was. It was a coffee cup inscribed with the words, “But I digress.”

How nice, I thought. But I did not make up that expression. I picked it up from Max Shulman, a writer all my friends were reading in high school. He digressed often.

Everyone I ran around with in those days was reading “Barefoot Boy with Cheek,” “The Zebra Derby” and “The Feather Merchants.”

(I still have them, along with such classics as “Sleep Till Noon” and “Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys.” But I digress).

One of my prized possessions is an engraved brass plate I received from a great friend, the late John Roberts, who owned a company in Mentor called “E.”

I once asked him why he named the company “E,” and he said because it is the most prevalent letter in the English alphabet. John was like that.

John was president of the Painesville Gyro Club the year after I was, which was some time ago. We used to have a well-orchestrated gift exchange around Christmas. John and I were gift-swapping partners one year.

I gave him a couple of high-powered flashlights, and he gave me the afore-mentioned brass plate, which sits on my desk to this day.

It says, “Sed digredi,” which, as any Latin scholar could tell you, means “But I digress.” I love that brass plate.

Here’s another thing about the mystery of computers. There’s a ubiquitous photographer in Mentor by the name of Skip Trombetti. He has a company called Van’s Photo. I see him everywhere I go. He is at every Mentor Chamber of Commerce meeting, at every Gyro Club picnic, he has been at Rotary meetings, and wherever people congregate.

His camera is always with him. He gets people together and shoots them, as they say in the trade.

He has no film in his camera, as I have in mine. No, he has a screen that shows the picture instantaneously.

He will look at the image and say, “That looks pretty good.” But I have to take his word for it, because I never see the pictures.

He seems obsessed with taking pictures of the lady of the house because she is so pretty. But I haven’t seen the results of his work.

I told him the other day, “Skip, you have taken our picture 10,000 times, and I have never seen one of them.”

So he sent me a CD-R with “8 edited images” on it. I think you have to look at it in a computer. He asked me at the last picnic, at the Deep Springs Trout Club, if I had looked a the pictures.

I held my hand behind my back, crossed my fingers and said, “Yes.” What I meant was, yes, I had tried to look at the pictures. I put them in the little sliding drawer on the side of the computer. What I got from the computer was very little in the way of encouragement.

But I tried very hard. My next step will be to try to play them in the TV set. I have been told that will also work.

I guarantee you that the next time I see Skip, I will have seen the pictures.

Fortunately, Skip creates a picture-book after each picnic, and the pictures from Lantern Court and the Vanas home and the Robertson home and the Flanagan home and every other picnic this year are beautiful.

Here’s the thing about pictures – if you makes prints of  them and put them in a booklet, you don’t need a computer to look at them.

Which fits in nicely with my level of photographic sophistication.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Remembering the joys of the old radio days

We were at the breakfast table the other day. It is my favorite meal, because then the lady of the house and I have a few uninterrupted minutes to relax, talk about the agenda for the upcoming day and partake of an enjoyable meal.

We can never begin until I am able to convince Ruby, our snow-white cat, to leave so that I am able to take command of my chair.

With a little urging, she leaves and I am able to sit down.

I was barely settled when the lady jumped up and headed for the kitchen.

“Wherefore goest thou?” I asked in a mock Shakespearian tone that the Bard probably would not have found amusing.

“I’m waiting for my coffee to come up,” she replied.

“Don’t ever say that to my brother,” I responded. “He would turn it into a joke that you would not enjoy.”

She knew precisely what I meant. “Not funny, McGee,” she said to me, using a quote from the old time radio show that was almost, but not quite, accurate.

“The exact line is ‘Tain’t funny, McGee,’ ” I said. I knew it well because I had heard it a thousand times as a lad.

Every time Molly McGee would become exasperated with Fibber, she would say, “Tain’t funny, McGee.”

Wasn’t there something else that happened on the program every week, without fail, the lady asked.

“Yes,” I replied. “He would open the closet door, thousands of things would come tumbling out, and he would mutter, ‘I’ve got to straighten that closet out one of these days.”

That, of course, was before television. Radio listeners were just as loyal then as TV viewers are today. But they couldn’t see what was going on. So they would have to use their imaginations.

Every time I heard Fibber McGee utter his classic line, I watched in my mind’s-eye as all that junk fell out of the closet.

One of the keys to radio humor was repetition, just as Fibber McGee and Molly used the same lines week after week, including him trying to make a phone call and saying to the operator, “Wistful Vista one oh oh oh ooh’s, that you Mert?”

Everybody on radio used the same ruse. How many times did I hear Jane Ace say to her husband, Goodman Ace, “You could have knocked me over with a fender.”

Jane was not quite as bright as her super erudite husband.

Red Skelton had a litany of well-worked over sayings that always got a laugh.

As Clem Kadiddlehopper, he would say, “Well, here I am, on my way to see Daisy June.”
He said it every week.

He also had a debate with himself every week when he was the Mean Little Kid.”
“Should I dood it?” he would ask.

After a moment of hesitation as he thought about the consequences and asked, “Or should I shouldn’t?” he always came up with, “I dood it.”

People liked the character so much I think Skelton made a movie titled “I Dood It.”
Bob Hope started every radio program the same way.

“This is Bob broadcasting from the LaBrea Tar Pits Hope saying...”

He filled in with the name of wherever he was broadcasting from.

When Jack Benny was sponsored by Jello he came on every week with, “Jello again, this is Jack Benny.”

At one point he changed sponsors — to Grape Nuts Flakes.

“What am I going to say now?” he asked his announcer, Don Wilson. “Grape again? Flakes again?”
“How about nuts again?” Don suggested.

I loved the old radio days. When I was in eighth grade I got hit by a car in front of the old Willoby Theater on Route 20 and spent six weeks in bed with a broken pelvis.

I listened to soap operas all day long. One after another they came along, until it was time for Little Orphan Annie, Jack Armstrong the All-American Boy, Tom Mix, Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons (Bob Goulding and Ray Elliot called their version “Mr. Trace, Keener than most persons”) and everybody’s favorite, I Love A Mystery, featuring Jack, Doc and Reggie.

But the afternoon was filled with Lorenzo Jones (and his wife, Belle), Mary Foster, the editor’s daughter, Mary Marlin, Just Plain Bill, Our Gal Sunday and others.

All of them were introduced with music adapted from classics. Best known was the theme music for The Lone Ranger.

Wish I could think who wrote the classical version of “This Is the Story of a Starry Night.” It was also a soap opera theme, I think for Mary Marlin. I can hear it playing in my head right now.

I try not to become consumed with songs I hear in my mind but can’t think of by name.

It took me three days to come up with “Bouncing with Bud,” until I thought of it one morning, like a bolt from the proverbial blue, as I was brushing my teeth.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Changes leave questions about future of one daily

I didn’t mean to leave you hanging last week.

I had intended to write a piece about the Cleveland Plain Dealer but ended up giving advice to Laura Kessel on how to make notes for future columns so as never to run out of ideas.

What I mentioned last week about The PD had to do with my perception of its rapid, downhill decline.

Allow me to elaborate.

And be assured that anything I say about what had at one time been a Downtown Monolith is said not in any sense of glee, but rather in a tone of sadness, because I love newspapers, and I hate to see anything bad happen to them.

There was a time when five daily newspapers competed for readers in Lake County. And they were fierce competitors. At least, I thought they were.

But with the demise of the Cleveland Press, the Cleveland News and the Painesville Telegraph, there remained but two dailies left to compete in this county.

But the competitive factor has become something of a joke — especially with The PD now abandoning home delivery on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.

(I wonder what the paper will do on Thanksgiving, which falls on Thursday and which usually produces the fattest paper of the year, advertising-wise?)

But I digress.

I now have to go to the corner gas station to pick up The PD three days a week. And it wasn’t even home delivered on Labor Day! Gadzooks! As Durante would say, what a catastroscope!

Until the powers that run The PD made the clearly articulated decision to place their efforts into a timeless daily Internet production with no deadlines and a total absence of competitive zeal, the paper was extremely well edited.

I am a close reader of newspapers, and would venture that the editing of The PD until a month ago was first-rate.

That is no longer the case. I now see a lot of sloppy editing every day. I started marking examples and saving them, but gave up on that project as pointless. Who am I going to make a case to? I talked with people at a Willoughby Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon just Tuesday who told me the same thing. They said The PD editing is careless and slipshod.

There’s one item I saved because I found it amusing. Henry J. Gomez, who is a very good political writer, wrote: “Ohioans are warming to erstwhile NBA star LeBron James, but not to the idea of Gov. John Kasich for president.”

My question: Is there something the basketball player and the league aren’t telling us? Won’t he be back next year?

Whenever I hear anyone misuse the word “erstwhile” my mind drifts back many moons to a meeting of the Mentor Chamber of Commerce at which then-Congressman Dennis Eckart introduced me as “the erstwhile editor of The News-Herald.”

I asked him (and the audience): Is there something you know that I don’t know?

I have consulted beaucoup dictionaries and have found only one definition for “erstwhile.” It means former or formerly. You can look it up. No, don’t bother. I already did.

What has happened to the print edition of The PD makes it look like My Weekly Reader. And I am sad to report that, because there was a time when I enjoyed reading the paper very much.

The first weekend that the “new” Saturday PD came off the presses, I turned in haste to what I hoped would be a business page and the weekly effort of one of my all-time favorite columnists, Teresa Dixon Murray. It was not there!

I was aghast. My breath began coming in short pants. I couldn’t abide the day without her wisdom. Who knows or understands area banking better than she?

But she showed up on Sunday. I could breathe again. I found the birding column on a new day, although I have yet to find the Dog Lady’s column. I guess it has been dropped.

I always appreciated the terrific efforts of The News-Herald, produced at great competitive disadvantage because a suburban daily cannot compete money-wise with a downtown paper.

But as one of my best students, Dave Jones, a former city editor of The N-H who is now retired, would tell you, our watchword was, “Get it first, and get it right.”

Dave was always very good at that.

I think The PD still strives to get it right. But with the paper’s new fascination with the Internet, getting it first is now meaningless.

Perhaps I am the one who is out of step with the current version of reality. But reading a paper on a computer is not for me. Never will be. I need to see ink on my fingers when I’m finished reading.