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, October 31, 2013

Calm words can help solve an expensive problem

Today we will delve into the mysterious subject of consumer advocacy. It is mysterious because few people understand it — and few care. They have other things to do.

But wait! Last week I promised to put first things first, and first was to reinforce my opinion that Brandon Weeden would never make it as an NFL quarterback.

Enough of that. My point is made. Let’s move on to the second thing — helping to protect consumers.

Many papers have columnists who write volumes on the subject. I delve into it only occasionally, because I also have other things to do.

But I had a recent consumer experience that, thanks to my persistence and understanding of the problem, led to a favorable outcome.

(My first bit of advice: Always study the problem, gain a thorough understanding of  it, and then proceed hell-bent-for-election, never hinting that you are not in complete control of the situation.)

My beef, if you will, was with Sears. It is a company I happen to like a lot. My problem was of my own making. But I digress. Allow me to proceed.

I went to Sears at the Great Lakes Mall and bought an oil filter for my tractor. It cost $19.10. No big deal. I can handle it.

I put it on my Sears card. The bill soon arrived in the mail.

My long-standing policy is to pay every credit card bill that comes in the mail by return mail. I do not like outstanding debts.

I wrote the check, put the envelope in my inside coat pocket, and took it to the college the next day. I do that a lot. They pick up outgoing mail every day in our office, and it arrives at its intended destination within a few days.

One problem: I forgot to put it in the mail.

I didn’t wear that sport coat again for about three weeks. When I put it on, I found the check for Sears in the pocket.

“Oh oh,” I exclaimed. Possibly I said, “son of a gun,” or some other mild expletive befitting the situation.
I put it in the mail immediately, but you know what happened, don’t you? Right. It didn’t get there in time.

In a few days I got another bill from Sears. It was for $40.20. All for mailing a check for $19.10 just a bit late.

I studied the new bill carefully. (I study all bills carefully.) This was the breakdown: I owned $19.10 for the oil filter. Fair enough. But I also owed a late fee of another $19.10 (a bit excessive, I thought) plus $2 for a minimum interest fee, which I felt was rubbing salt into the wound. (They were kind enough to inform me that I could come in and charge another $3959, if I wanted to, but I was not in a mood to do so at the moment.)

I did what any patriotic young American would do. I called Sears to ask why their penalty was so excessive. After pushing the usual buttons, I got a very nice lady on the phone.

I explained the situation to her. I had carried the check around in my pocket for three weeks. So it wasn’t my fault it was late.

Actually, I knew very well it was my fault, and so did she. I asked why the penalty was so severe. She said that’s just the way things are.

I appealed to her sense of fairness. It didn’t work. They don’t have a court of appeals at Sears.

So I tried another tack. “Look me up in your computer,” I said, with great composure. “You will see that I have purchased a tractor, I don’t know how many lawn mowers, a stove, a refrigerator, a washer, a dryer, a fancy new stove top that the lady of the house adores and keeps immaculately clean, several gallons of paint and a bazillion tools at Sears.

“Let me assure you of two things,” I continued. “No. 1, I will send in the check for the balance today. (They had already received my first check.) No. 2, you will never again, ever, see me in Sears at the Mall. Never. Trust me. There are plenty of other places where I can go.”

“Mr. Collins,” she said, in the sweetest voice imaginable, “you have no balance. Your balance is now zero.”
“Would you say that once again?” I asked.

“The late fees have been erased,” she said. “Your balance is zero.”

“Thank you so very much,” I said. “You are a very nice person to deal with. And of course I will be back at Sears. Count on it.”

I would have added that she is probably very good looking, but I don’t like to deal in gratuitous compliments.

And that, folks, is how you handle consumer complaints. Go straight to the source and make your case. And always be kind and understanding. The person on the other end of the line has a job to do, too, you know.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Turns out, the experts were wrong on Weeden

First things first, a wise person once said.

And I take very seriously things that wise people say. One of the wisest people I ever knew was my mother.

Whenever I attended a banquet that featured haphazard seating arrangements and nobody knew which salad to eat (I am thinking now of a nameless chamber of commerce not far from here), there would be a din and a clamor, with people shouting, “Is this my salad or is it yours?” I would recall my mother’s advice:

“You eat from the left,” she said, “and you drink from the right.”

I would quote her to the other chamber members and everyone at the table would end up eating the proper salad.

I cannot vouch for what happened at the other tables. For all I know, they may still be arguing.

My mother would also say: “Well begun is half done.” I also accepted that as sage advice.

But let’s get back to “first things first.” The first thing I want to say here, before moving on to a topic of greater urgency, is to recall something I said in this space a week ago.

Sportswriters all over the area had a different approach than I, so I got to wondering if I could have been wrong, that my analysis of the situation could have been superficial.

What I wrote last week was: “Is there any legitimate reason why Brandon Weeden should ever, in his lifetime, ever start another game at quarterback for the Browns?”

Everyone else who commented on the situation said, “Give him another chance.”

The team cannot, they said, change horses in mid-stream. They can’t just bring in another quarterback and yank Weeden out. The team is solidly behind Weeden. They have his back and he has theirs. Don’t even think about changing quarterbacks.

Or, as Barry Byron was fond of saying, words of similar import.

My golly, I thought. Could I have been that wrong? Do I know nothing at all about quarterbacks? These guys are the experts. I never started a game at quarterback in my life.

All I had to go on was about 70 years of watching some pretty good quarterbacks play for the Browns, including 10 years of the incomparable Otto Everett Graham, the squire of Willoughby Hills (then Willoughby Township), plus guys like Frank Ryan, Brian Sipe and Bernie Kosar.

Perhaps I was spoiled, but next to those guys, Brandon Weeden looked like Andy Gump.

Yet most everyone else was writing things like, “You can’t just change quarterbacks. Your other choice is just another backup quarterback. Let Weeden play.”

So the coaching staff, not a single one of which reads this column and thus is impervious to my advice (I did not say “to my wisdom” because that sounds imperious), let Weeden play last Sunday.

Ah yes, last Sunday. Did you hear about that game, against Green Bay? It was on television and was in all the papers.

That aroma emanating from Green Bay was the smell of the Browns, typified by the unique talents of Brandon Weeden, who made all those Cheeseheads in the stadium wonder if their headgear was made of Limberger.

Oh well. As I said, I know very little about football. But I have watched a few guys who knew quite a bit about football and about playing quarterback, and they knew a cover 2 from a manhole cover.

(You see, “cover 2” means... oh, never mind. Weeden probably doesn’t know what it is either.)

I wrote today’s piece last Monday, so I have no clue what has happened in the interregnum (I love fancy words).

Maybe changes are already in the wind. Maybe decisions have already been made. Maybe all the downtown quarterbacks (writers) who said you can’t ditch Weeden have now changed their collective minds and have agreed that it’s time to scour the sandlots and find another Johnny Unitas until Brian Hoyer recovers.

I haven’t yet watched my recording of Sam Rutigliano’s Sunday night program on Channel 5. It is on after my bedtime, so I am forced to DVR it for later viewing. Sam is my favorite expert on the quarterback crisis.

One more thing: I started out by saying “first things first” with the full intention of following up with a second thing.

But I have no space now for that second thing. It will have to wait a week or so.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Clarity helps hit a few more musical notes

I thought I was going to be able to extricate myself from the bottomless pit I had been digging into trivia about Old Time Radio.

But the lady of the house raised a point worth mentioning at breakfast the other day.

“That stuff may be of interest to people of our generation,” she said, “but your teenage readers probably won’t know what you’re talking about.”

I was caught off guard — but only momentarily.

“I’m not sure I have legions of teen-age readers,” I replied. “They are probably too busy with their Facebooks, their Tweeters and their Woofers.”

I was prepared, as I mulled sermon topics, to drop the subject and go on to the burning issues of the day — for example, is there any legitimate reason why Brandon Weeden should ever, in his lifetime, start another game at quarterback for the Browns?

The answer is, are you crazy? Of course not.

I cannot drop the subject of soap operas, however, without paying respect to at least a few of the people who have been kind enough to bring their thoughts to my attention.

Ever reliable Art Baldwin, former mayor of Waite Hill, expanded on his previous comments by saying: “There was a soap about a woman with Broadway connections and I could not, for the life of me, remember the name. This morning, while reading your article, it came to me: Mary Noble, Backstage Wife.”

Yes. Or, as Bob and Ray spoofed it, Mary Backstage, Noble Wife.

Art also mentioned that he has, somewhere in his mountain of trivia, a recording of the first time Fibber McGee ever opened the door of his infamous closet.

That is worth keeping, although I am certain the studio used the same sound effect every time.

Anne Scott of Concord Township commented on the spelling of singing brothers Bob Eberly (with Jimmy Dorsey) and Ray Eberle (with Glenn Miller).

“The family name was spelled Eberle,” she said, “but Bob changed it.”

I knew they were brothers, and have a ton of records by both of them, but never knew why they spelled their names differently.

Tonda DiPlacido told of a recent trip to her hometown, Franklin, Pa., and a visit to Debence Antique Music World there.

“Many friends of my parents were instrumental in getting this beautiful and interesting tribute to music up and running,” she said.

Kevin Sroub said he recalled that Tchaikovsky’s “Pathetique” was the theme for Backstage Wife, but Lorraine Gauvin, one of the great teachers at Eastlake North before she retired, insists that “Story of a Starry Night” (the ‘Pathetique’ theme) introduced Road of Life.

And she has the citation to back it up:

“There’s a thorough chart listing all the radio programs, years they ran, creators, themes, etc.,” she said.

Nobody can throw more light on a subject than Dr. Ron Taddeo, a retired plastic surgeon who has a remarkable memory for just about everything.

“A memorable piece of classical music used as a theme was Rossini’s ‘William Tell Overture,’ which brought The Lone Ranger galloping into our homes. Actually, this radio drama also utilized excerpts from two other classical compositions, the ‘Hebrides Overture’ by Felix Mendelssohn and ‘Les Preludes’ by Franz Liszt.”

Who knew?

“Back in the ’40s,” he said, “every young male knew he could become another “Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy.” All he had to do was eat Wheaties and “wave the flag for Hudson High, boys, show them how we stand,” which was somewhat confusing since we lived in Cleveland, not Hudson.”

Ron even knew that the theme was sung by a choral group called the Norsemen.

He also had fond memories of Terry and the Pirates, based on the comic strip created by Ohio’s own Milton Caniff. Its most memorable character was the pirate queen, the Dragon Lady.

He also recalled that Rimsky-Korsakov’s  “Flight of the Bumblebee” introduced the Green Hornet, and we would soon hear the purring of his high-speed car, the Black Beauty.

“The Green Hornet’s faithful Japanese valet Kato became Filipino after Dec. 7, 1941,” he said.
Ah, the fortunes of war.

And just think of the wonderful organ music, “Someday, I’ll Find You,” that introduced Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons.

I can hear it now. I will never forget it.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Treasures of the basement often have special value

What’s in your basement?

I didn’t ask what’s in your wallet because that sounds too much like a TV commercial. Moreover, it’s none of my business what’s in your wallet, and I really don’t care what’s in there.

But basements are different. What’s there is a matter of interest to every red-blooded American who cares about the stuff we store away for future reference, and possible use.

Attics fall under the same category. Backyard storage sheds — not so much.

So let’s limit the conversation to basements and possibly attics.

I have asked a lot of people what is in their basements and received a wide variety of answers. Only one person said money, but I think when he moved from Willoughby to Willoughby Hills he removed the money and either spent it or put it in the bank.

Bob Riggin talked about emptying his pockets every night and putting his loose coins — no folding money — in coffee cans.

You can put a lot of change in a coffee can. But I think when he built his new house it was not practical to transport coffee cans full of money.

He had enough trouble moving a couple million photo negatives. And to think they hardly even make film any more!

Computers have so thoroughly taken over the world that every picture ever taken on film could probably be put on a digital chip or two.

But I digress.

I have made previous references to the storehouse of music I have in my basement. You may think that is all I have down there.

And it is true that I have enough 78rpm records, LPs, 45s and CDs that, if every song were played end-to-end, the unending stream of music would last forever — or perhaps longer.

Let’s put it this way: If you put “I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo” on the turntable the day it was first recorded by Glenn Miller, the music of all the other songs in the basement would still be playing without interruption or indication of ever ceasing.

I got to thinking about this as I was thumbing through records looking for theme songs of Old Time Radio Soap Operas.

I got a lot of mail on that topic, and will have more to say about it soon. A lot of readers remember those days, sharing recollections of programs I seldom listened to.

But band leaders Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Stan Kenton have a lot of neighbors down there in the basement.

There are volumes and volumes of books I have collected on any number of topics, including humor, sports, history, politics and things that intrigue me, such as the history of pi.

If you thought pi had no history you would be wrong. It has a long, colorful history, and I don’t just mean pi to 20 places.

No, it doesn’t stop at 3.14159. It goes on and on. In fact, it never really stops. I only know pi to 20 places, and it is useful when making up passwords. But it is much longer than that.

It goes on to infinity – and possibly beyond, if you can believe that.

There are also a lot of clothes in the basement. Fortunately, we have a very large basement. It is about the size of J.C. Penney.

I hate to get rid of Army clothes. They do not have any bullet holes, because I never saw combat. But there are probably some rips and tears acquired in what became famously known as “The Battle of Cowhouse Creek” at Fort Hood, Texas.

The lady of the house would be pleased if I would get rid of some of the clothing I will never wear again.

She is probably thinking of items that were so popular in the days of the disco craze. I have already shed the leisure suits, although I hated to do it.

The late, great sportswriter Hal Lebowitz and I were both fond of leisure jackets because of their supreme comfort and attractiveness.

Alas, I think they will never come back.

But I did get rid of my cheap orange suit, similar to the one Abe Abraham wore at the old Municipal Stadium when catching extra points at Browns’ games.

I bought it for $19 after six weeks of basic training at Fort Hood when we were permitted for the first time to wear civilian clothes off the post.

A bunch of us from the 18th Training Company went into town and headed for a movie. It was “Ruby Gentry.” We were all so tired we slept through it.

But it pops up now and then on Turner Classic Movies and so I recorded it. Every time I watch it, it reminds me of basic training, and taking my M-1 rifle apart blindfolded.

Shooting it blindfolded was not recommended.

I didn’t get around to telling you about the hundreds of video tapes of old movies. Thankfully, I still have a machine I can play them on.

But I never watch movies in the basement, so I guess they will just sit there, gathering dust, for the next few millennia.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Answers on old radio themes bring even more questions

Some sage once observed that nostalgia ain’t what it used to be, but that’s not so.

When I wrote the other day about old radio shows, I got a bunch of truly nostalgic replies.

But first let me clear up an item about theme songs associated with daytime soap operas on old-time radio.

I got some tunes mixed up in my mind (how careless of me), and linked Mary Marlin to “This Is the Story of a Starry Night,” which, it turns out, was not her theme at all.

Donald Miller of Eastlake copied a page out of a publication with a lengthy history of the Mary Marlin program which pointed out, among other things, that her theme was “Clair de Lune,” by Debussy, played in a “haunting rendition by pianists Allan Grant and Joe Kahn,” it said.

Of course. I should have known. And I know very well that Debussy wrote “Clair de Lune.” But I just linked it to the wrong show.

Thanks, Don, for putting my old radio thinking back on track once again.

Here’s something else I know: “The Story of a Starry Night,” a popular song recorded by Glenn Miller and sung by Ray Eberly, was, in its former life, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 (Pathetique).

I can hear it in my head at this moment. I just don’t know what soap opera it introduced. That’s my problem. I may never find the answer.

I went through a lot of old Glenn Miller 78 rpm records to find that tune. But the multitude of records in my basement will have to wait for another day as a topic of conversation, because I still don’t know what soap Tchaikovsky had in mind when he composed that haunting theme.

My only hope is that Art Baldwin, the erstwhile (am I the only one around here who knows what that word means?) mayor of Waite Hill, may know.

He sent a note saying he often listens to old-time soaps on satellite radio in his car. Perhaps one day he will hear that theme and link it to a soap.

Art chided me for omitting from my thoughts Ma Perkins, as did Wally Hintz, who also liked the old scary shows, such as Lights Out.

Larry O’Donnell of Willoughby Hills was also fond of scary shows, such as Olga Coal’s Hermit’s Cave.

I liked them too, but let’s get back to Ma Perkins, because her sponsor was Oxydol.

She was introduced as “Oxydol’s own Ma Perkins.” Now that was a real soap opera.

Wally said his entire family sat around listening to One Man’s Family. I remember it, but not well enough to recall who the characters were.

Here’s how Art Baldwin can serve mankind (or womankind, or personkind, if you are politically correct enough to worry about such things):

He has a collection of 450 old radio shows on casette and CD, which he said he is inspired to get organized after reading my ruminations on the subject.

Sharing them would be good, Art.

I possess (dare I say it?) a whole bunch of ancient Amos ‘N Andy TV shows. And I have no  trepidation about watching them, any more than I tremble at the thought of watching “Blazing Saddles,” with Mel Brooks’ introduction of the new sheriff in town.

They are funny, period.

There is a lot of hilarious comedy available on CDs, such legends as Bergen and McCarthy (once referred to by W.C. Fields as “you woodpecker’s lunch”) Duffy’s Tavern and Life with Luigi.

Steve Ambro, sales manager of the Marshall Ford Superstore in Mayfield Heights, sent me a few pages of these comedic listings.

I managed to ascertain that they are available at

What I found most interesting was a reference to Fibber McGee’s closet, which brought up the subject of old radio in the first place after a discussion at our breakfast table about the quote, “Taint funny, McGee,” a comment which the lady of the house occasionally likes to aim in my direction when I say something in which she does not find the humor.

If you ever listened to Fibber McGee and Molly, you know that a highlight of the show was when Fibber opened the door to his famous closet and everything under the sun tumbled out, accompanied by a cacophony of sound effects.

According to the promotional piece, there were more than 1,600 broadcasts of the show, but on only 128 of them did Fibber open the door to his famous closet.

Who knew?

Even more to the point, who counted?