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, February 28, 2014

I’ll answer every email, but don’t bother me with Facebook or LinkedIn

I’m in the mood to write a love letter today, so I think I will write one – to you.
Yes, this is a love note to all of you who read this column, because I just want you to know how much I appreciate you.
And I also appreciate all the nice notes you send me. But not if they are blog notes. I never read blog notes.
There is a paragraph at the end of this column every Sunday advising you that you may leave me a message if you wish. But that applies to people who read the column on the internet as a blog. The problem we have is, that would entail me looking up the column on the internet and reading the responses.
I never call up the column on the internet. In fact, I don’t call up much of anything on the internet. It presents too much of a challenge.
Now, with email messages, that is a different matter entirely. I respond to every email message, if only to say “thank you.”
At least, I try to. The problem here is that I get email messages at three different addresses – at the newspaper, at the college and at home. And replying to them can be a problem because I don’t look at them every day.
I look at them five days a week at the college, one day a week at the paper and, at home, whenever I remember to turn on the computer.
That can be as rarely as once every three weeks. Why so seldom? Three reasons: 1) I just don’t remember to turn the thing on that often. 2) There are a lot of important papers piled on top of the computer (because it has a flat surface) and it is far too much trouble to move them. And 3) it takes too long for the thing to warm up.
A few months ago, I switched my computer line from AT&T to Time Warner, for one reason, to save money, and for another, because it would be, they boasted, 45 percent faster.
Well, guess what? It is about 900 percent slower. I think the guy from TW must have oiled it with molasses. After I turn the thing on, I can leave the room, read a couple chapters of a book, take a shower, ask the lady of the house if she needs any help with anything, such as doing the laundry (she doesn’t), making the bed (she doesn’t) or feeding the dogs, the cats and the birds (she doesn’t), or running to the store to pick up the other paper.
They only deliver the darned thing four days a week. The News-Herald is delivered seven days a week, thank you very much.
And hooray for that! But I digress.
As I was saying, I try to answer all the emails, even if only with a brief thought.
But let me interject something here. One thing I never do is sign up to be someone’s LinkedIn pal. I have never done that. Never will.
Last week, I got 37 requests to be someone’s friend on LinkedIn. That makes a total of slightly over 800 such requests since LinkedIn was invented.
Maybe it is my suspicious nature, but I do not know why anyone would want to be my friend on LinkedIn. Also, I am afraid of why they are seeking my friendship on a computer screen.
Perhaps they want to borrow money. Maybe they have me confused with someone who won the lottery. Maybe they just want to gossip on the computer.
I am not interested in any of that. Moreover, I do not have Facebook. That is for people who are bored out of their minds and don’t have any Stan Kenton records to listen to.
So, as far as Linked In and Facebook are concerned, include me out.
Now, what was I saying? Oh yes. About answering email from readers.
I got one of the nicest of all time the other day. From someone (or two) who have two dogs and two cats, as we do, and who open all of their junk mail (requests for money and information) and send it to Waste Management, as we do.
Here’s the problem: It was signed Dan Judy Cogan. Is that a husband/wife team? Is it one person with two first names? Is it an odd mixture of what would seem to be male and female names?
I just don’t know, so I didn’t know how to respond, except very respectfully, because I do not want to offend a guy named Dan who has Judy for a middle name (I have a son-in-law named Dan and he is a big guy but his middle name is not Judy), and I also do not want too offend Judy if her real first name is Dan.
These are the kind of problems you can run into when you write a column. I don’t imagine the World’s Greatest Columnist, Mike Roberts of Cleveland Magazine, has these sorts of concerns, because he writes about more important stuff.
And I would write about more important stuff too, except that I don’t know enough about it and I don’t have time to look anything up.
Normally, that would be the end of the column, except I just ended it with a preposition, and I can ill-afford to do that.
So remember, don’t send me any blogs. And don’t ask me to join you in LinkedIn or on Facebook.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The daily ritual of Opening The Mail

Opening The Mail is a ritual we perform every afternoon when I arrive home.
The letters are neatly stacked on the dining room table in two piles, his and hers. Or, if you prefer, hers and his.
The start of the process, of course, is having the mail get to the dining room table in the first place.
It is not easy. And I am not usually home when Dave, the mailman, arrives. On those occasions when I am home, extreme care must be exercised not to announce his arrival.
One dare not say, “The mailman is here.” Our two puppies have rather extensive vocabularies, and both of them know the word “mailman,” just as they know, “out” and “go potty” and similar useful expressions that deal with their personal habits, hygiene and other necessary functions.
So the word “mailman” is forbidden at our house, as is “Danny,” because that would refer to the man from Lew’s Reliable who checks the furnace or air conditioning every six months.
Danny’s arrival also sets off a semi-annual furor, so we close off the puppies in the den until he is safely at work in the basement.
But I digress.
We prepare for the afternoon Mail Opening Ritual after I retrieve my letter opener from the room which we call the den, my office, the library, the sewing room and other descriptive names which allude to its many functions.
Actually, it is just one room.
I bring the letter opener to the dining room, sit down with the lady of the house, and proceed to slit open the mail.
However, there are occasions when merely “sitting down” requires a game of musical chairs, because one of our two kittens (always Ruby, never Angel) often sleeps in my chair.
“Often” in this context means every afternoon. Where she sleeps when the lady is taking her nap is another story.
I was going to leave out this part of the story, but I will tell it to you anyway, because insofar as I am aware, it is unique.
When the lady is sleeping on her back, Ruby sleeps on her stomach.
I used the word “unique” because I don’t know of any other kitten who sleeps on the stomach of her mistress.
But we must get back to the Mail Opening Process, because that is what I started out telling you about, and I haven’t even introduced the first item of mail yet.
To begin with, I slit open all of the mail, most of which I would describe as “junk.” Let me explain why I even bother with it. There are a good many charitable, non-profit organizations to which I send checks every December – because I believe in them and in their missions.
But there is no way I am going to send any of them two checks in a single year, even if Hell freezes over – which I am not ruling out this winter. One check per year is my limit.
Doesn’t matter to them. Most of them send me what I call “tin cup” requests about every other week. They are wasting their postage, because I will not communicate with them until December.
However, I don’t perfunctorily throw out their requests without looking at them. No. Never. I open them, look at them, and then throw them away.
Why do I do this? I don’t know. I have no idea. I just do it. There are a great many things I “just do” without knowing why.
It is just the way I am, and I am probably not going to change.
Well, we have gotten this far and I haven’t even told you yet about the first piece of mail to go into the trash after being opened and checked out.
It was from Tom Brokaw, who used to be on TV every day. I don’t even like Tom Brokaw. But I looked at his junk mail anyway.
He began: “I am sending you this letter based on a hunch. Namely, that at least one member of the Collins family helped win World War II.”
Let’s see: My father worked in a shipyard in Tampa during the big war. But he was the only one I can think of. My brother and I both served during the Korean Conflict, as they called it.
Oh, I almost forgot. My grandmother inspected artillery shells at the Case Plant in Euclid during World War II. I’m sure that helped stifle some of Hitler’s advances into France, distracted Mussolini from his schemes in Europe and let the air out of some of Hirohito’s grand plans in the Pacific Theater.
You are all familiar with Rosie the Riveter. Grandma was probably Mabel the Marauder when those artillery shells were being launched.
But that’s about it for our involvement. So no, Tom, I will not be a charter member of your honor roll. But keep those letters coming, and I will keep sending them along to Waste Management, which knows what to do with them.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Saying goodbye to a good guy from Willoughby Hills

Since I covered my first meeting of an elected body in the summer of 1950 — it was the historic sacking by city council of Eastlake Law Director Wayne Davis — I have seen a few thousand public officials come and go.

Some of them were great, talented people; a few of them were half-wits; and most of them somewhere in between — neither good nor bad in the extreme but basically decent folks who were dedicated to their jobs.

Not one of them was nicer, more pleasant, easier to get along with or more thoroughly charming than Mort O’Ryan, the hard-working and efficient mayor of Willoughby Hills whose funeral was just five days ago.

And none was more involved in his city than Mort. If anything good was going on in Willoughby Hills, Mort had a hand in it.

Let me quickly insert a note so that we will all understand the level of partnership that existed between Mort and his lovely wife, Florine.

If ever the word “partners” had real meaning, it was exemplified by Mort and Flo.

If he was there, she was there. And vice versa. If there was a Lions Club meeting or a recreation board meeting or a pancake breakfast or any of a hundred other activities going on, both were there.

For the past few years, when walking became difficult for Mort, Flo would be on the pancake serving line and Mort would be in the lobby, selling raffle tickets for chances on something or other.

The venue would be the city’s community center, a stunning building that is the focal point of the city’s social activities, not to mention the site of its library.

I can say with some degree of confidence that without the O’Ryans there would not be a community center.
I felt all along the building should have been named the O’Ryan Community Center.

That there is indeed a large meeting room in the building named for the O’Ryans is a tribute to the love and affection that most people in Willoughby Hills have for them.

Building it was not easy. There was a faction in the city that wanted no part of it. That same faction was once represented on City Council, and it exerted such a negative influence that it did not allow Mort to sit at the council table during official meetings.

The indignity which that gracious gentleman put up with during that insidious era was more than most people could have endured.

But Mort persevered, and when council was finally cleansed of the miscreants by the voters, it was a large step into a new era of decency and comity.

Flo, of course, is a star in her own right, in the sense that the also held the leadership reins of an organization of some importance.

Mort was the mayor of Willoughby Hills, and Flo was president of the Lakeland Community College Alumni Association.

The husband-wife team is so linked in the minds of the public that they were honored together as distinguished citizens a few years ago by the Willoughby Rotary Club.

Willoughby Hills has had many mayors since 1954. Only four stick out in my mind. I covered Zophar Warner, the very first mayor when council met in the basement of Garfield School (remember that?); Martha Tyler, a gracious lady if ever there was one; and Mel Schaefer, who served longer and better that most of the others. And, of course, Mort.

No offense to any of the others. It’s just that they don’t come quickly to mind.

Bob Weger, the current mayor (also one of the good ones), described Mort as honest and straightforward. That he was. Bob also praised him as a mentor who helped him in the ways of good governance.

Mort was also something else that not everyone would be aware of. He was one of the regulars for Saturday morning gatherings at the Arabica coffee shop in Downtown Willoughby.

Mort was what you might call soft-spoken, which was just as well because he was not as inclined to espouse his opinions as some of the others.

I am not going to shy away from saying this: I was always one of the more vociferous (I employ that term rather than “mouthy”) ones.

Mort usually sat quietly, sipped on his coffee, and took it all in.

The outpouring of people at the funeral home was a tribute to the high esteem in which he was held. As the lady of the house and I stood in the long reception line, waiting to hug Flo and the other family members and express our condolences, we could identify dozens of others we consider close friends who were there because they loved Mort and who realize that there would never again be anyone quite like him.

This mortal coil may have lost a great human being, but Heaven has surely gained a winner.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Too much choice makes shopping maddening

The arrival of Consumer Reports every month gives me an unrivaled opportunity to sit in my favorite chair — if none of the puppies or kitties is sitting in it — relax, and pore over the latest findings in the field of comparative commerce.

I don’t know if “comparative commerce” is a real term or not, but I don’t know what else to call it, because that is what it really is.

They take all kinds of things, from toothpicks to semi-trucks, and compare them so you can learn which ones are best, most durable and true bargains.

The lists they publish take a lot of time to digest, because you just never know what to buy until the instructions arrive in the mail.

Do you think I am kidding? I will give you an example. For many years, I bought brand new Chevrolet Impalas, because they got rave reviews — within a price structure I could afford.

Then, a couple of years ago, when I was ready for a new car, the magazine came out with the car ratings.
It found a lot of fault with the Impala but raved about the Malibu.

So I sought out my salesman, Jim Jarosz at Classic Chevy in Mentor, and bought a new Malibu — the brightest red they had.

The next year, guess what? Consumer Reports raved on and on about the new Impala. Simply the greatest! Since I put only 6,000 or so miles on a car in a year, I was nowhere near ready to buy a new car.

So there I was, with my year-old Malibu, bright and shiny red with not even enough miles on it to rotate the tires, and I was being told to buy an Impala.

My reaction: Nothing doing. The Malibu is a wonderful car, and I will keep driving it until it is ready to trade in, and only then will I think about buying a new Impala.

Depending, of course, on what the magazine has to say about the latest models. Don’t forget, I used to buy a new Oldsmobile every three or four years, and they don’t even make them any more.

I am betting that Chevy will still be making Impalas in two or three years and the color selections will be so terrific that I will have difficulty choosing the one I like best.

One year, the lady of the house and I bought twin Chrysler Sebring convertibles, hers white and mine silver, because Jim Brown had found them in Hawaii with only 12,000 miles on them.

They were great cars, but we are no longer convertible people. But I digress.

Consumer Reports not only gives me a lot of food for thought and much, therefore, to chew on, it also reinforces many of my, shall we call them for want of a better word, suspicions.

For example: On many a Sunday, my brother and I have strolled down the toothpaste aisle at Target and have been nearly bowled over by the enormity of selections.

Miles and miles of toothpaste.

A month ago they were featuring Crest. On Super Sunday it was Colgate. And there were dozens upon dozens of different flavors, whitening intensities, packaging nuances, and other considerations.

And by the way, Target in Willoughby doesn’t even sell Pepsodent. Why not? I want an answer. I have given up on Ipana (for the smile of beauty, and Sal Hepatica for the smile of health).

But anyway, in the latest CR there was an entire page devoted to toothpaste, headlined, “Too many choices?”

My response is, “Yes, far too many choices.”

“Do you pick a product,” the article asks, “to freshen breath, control tartar, combat plaque or attack gingivitis?”

Or because you have sensitive teeth, sensitive gums or sensitive enamel.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, CR says, because their shoppers on a recent shopping trip found (get this) 27 different varieties of Crest! (They found only 25 varities of Colgate).

I was overwhelmed. I modulated to the next page, hoping only to be whelmed. There I discovered the CR shoppers had found 11 different kinds of Cheerios in the breakfast aisle.

This is an outrage! Good grief, we are a big Cheerios family. We go through boxes and boxes of them, and I can’t even find Honey Nut Crunch Cheerios any more because I guess Target has given up on trying to stock all 11 varieties.

Once in a while, the lady of the house finds them at Giant Eagle, so she nabs four boxes of them.

But on her next trip to GE, alas, they are now gone.

I think you get my drift. The manufacturers offer far too many choices in everything these days, including Tide liquid laundry detergent (11 choices), Head & Shoulders shampoo (27 choices), and even Thomas’ English Muffins (12 choices).

But that’s the way it is now. There are far too many choices in everything.

Remember when Henry Ford said he would sell you a car in any color you wanted, as long as it was black?

I could live with that.