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.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Being snake bitten can leave you feeling flat

Nothing is impossible.
Well, a few things are. For example, my father used to say that you can’t put your elbow in your ear. But what’s the point in trying to do that? It is an exercise in futility.
In the area of more practical endeavors, let’s look at some more relevant attempts to do the undoable.
A case in point: It is not possible to keep air in the left rear tire of my car. There must be a reason for this.
When Paul Brown ran the Cleveland Browns with such great success, he had a saying that applied to impossible situations. He called it being “snake bit.” When the same thing kept going wrong, over and over, he said the team was snake bit.
In other words, if there was no logical explanation for what was happening, he attributed it to being snake bit.
I am experiencing a similar situation. At least twice a week, I put air in my left rear tire.
On Sundays, my brother is with me. In the middle of the week I am by myself. I have two air gauges. One is the old-fashioned type. You push it down on the valve stem, the little stick pops out and you get a reading of the tire pressure.
The other gauge is much fancier. It gives you a digital reading to the nearest tenth of a pound.
The two gauges present similar readings – both of them presumably accurate. The car’s handbook says to inflate the tires to 30 pounds. We always put in 34. No matter. In a couple of days, the left rear goes down to 26 or 27 pounds. I find this very annoying.
The car is not very old. I bought it brand-new four years ago at Classic Chevolet in Mentor, where the people are all super friendly.
But even they can’t keep air in the left rear tire. By the way, the car has slightly over 22,000 miles on it, so the tires are definitely not wearing out.
The service man I had always dealt with, Ken Logar, is no longer there. He has been transferred to Classic in Madison. I presume he is making many new friends there.
I am not complaining, because I now deal with Jeff Gill in the Service Department, and he is very attentive to details. He listens carefully to everything I say.
I took the car in about a week ago, even though it wasn’t due for service. I got the oil changed – and I also got the tires rotated. I told Jeff about the left rear tire, the one that was snake bit.
When they were finished, and after I had availed myself of some of the legendary Classic hospitality by reading a newspaper and eating a complimentary apple, Jeff approached me in the lounge area and told me the problem had been fixed. The cranky tire on the left rear had been moved to the left front and a different wheel was installed on the left rear.
It should be OK now, Jeff assured me. They even did a little work on the rim so it would retain the air properly.
Here’s the news: The balky tire that was moved to the left front is now holding air as it is supposed to.
But guess what? The different tire they installed in the trouble spot on the left rear, and which had not previously leaked, now leaks. Yes, it goes down to 26 or 27 pounds within two or three days.
That left rear location is definitely, in the words of Paul Brown, snake bit. There is no other explanation. You never see a snake bite while it is taking place, of course. But the left rear tire on my car, even when the tires have been rotated, is snake bit.
I have always had the greatest respect for the legendary coach of the Browns, and when he said something was snake bit, he meant it.
I don’t know what to do next. I feel helpless. I can’t keep getting the tires rotated every week. And the car is far from being old enough to trade in.
Thankfully, I have an On Star button on the steering  wheel which I can push to get a reading on the pressure in all four tires.
I guess I will keep going to my friendly Sunoco station, the only place I ever buy gasoline, and pump some of their “free air” into the snake-bit left rear tire.
There are a lot of gas stations where you have to drop in four quarters just to get a pound of air.
Thank goodness “free air” is still free in some places around here.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Out with the old, in with the new in 2015

The newspaper business being what it is – or was – we practitioners of the craft are slaves to the daily deadline.
I’m not sure there are deadlines any more, because so much of newspapering is now dominated by computers and blogs. Computers, as far as I know, have no deadlines. When you are finished, you post it, and that, for all practical purposes, is it.
I say that with tongue firmly in cheek, because I do not know it to be true – any more than I know anything else in the world is true. But I know that I, for one, do have a deadline for writing this piece because I write only once a week, and I am “posted” long before Sunday’s publication.
Which is an awfully long way of saying that I wrote this on Monday, three days before Christmas, but it will appear in print three days after Christmas. I realize that I am relentlessly beating around the bush, but I can’t help it, because I am trying to make sense out of the time warp I am wrapped inside.
For the next three days, after I arise from typing, I will be going about wishing people a Merry Christmas. But as you read this, unless you are reading on a blog by way of a computer, Christmas of 2014 is over, and the more appropriate salutation is Happy New Year, which I would like to wish all of you no matter when you read this.
The arrival of a New Year is an occasion for joy and happiness. And it should be, because we all have wonderful things to look forward to in 2015 (that is the first time I have ever written “2015.” I will have to get used to it.)
So I would like to end the old year on a happy note and begin the new year just as enthusiastically on a bright note. But I am compelled to inject a note of sadness. I hope it will not linger, but it is something I must address, so here goes.
I am extremely saddened that the area in which I live is losing another first-rate restaurant.
Dino’s on Route 306 in Willoughby has closed, never again to reopen – at least, under the recent ownership.
Since the building was only leased, not owned, by the family that ran Dino’s, it is my fervent hope that some new, enterprising purveyor of fine foods and wines will acquire it and fill the void as quickly as possible.
Oh, I know, Dino’s was still open as a party center as well as to large groups of people. But one or two folks couldn’t merely walk in, be seated at a table, and order from the menu, as the lady of the house and I so often did.
Yes, there were a few self-appointed experts who could always find fault, but they would probably find shortcomings with the Ritz-Carlton. In other words, there are people who can never be pleased, so I do not concern myself with them.
After Dino’s closed to public walk-ins, I still had the pleasure for the last year or so of having lunch there with the Lake County Chiefs of Police the first Wednesday of every month.
I am waiting now to hear from Willougbhy Chief Jack Beckwith where the January luncheon will be held. Meanwhile, I can only express sorrow at the closing of Dino’s.
There is still a Dino’s on East 305 St. in Wickliffe, and Dino’s still caters the fine food served at Pine Ridge Country Club in Wickliffe, so there will be several occasions when we will be going there. But no longer to the place on Route 306 – unless someone new opens it before long.
Parenthetically, all of the regulars at Dino’s have been wondering: What will be the fate of Darlene, the hostess everyone loved so much and who was such an asset to the place? She will surely end up serving the public in some capacity, hopefully  somewhere nearby.
Will she be at Pine Ridge? Will it be Manakiki? Her friends are waiting breathlessly to find out. I hope we don’t have to wait too long.
Dino’s on Route 306 was right across the street from another fine eatery, the Brown Derby, which is no longer open since it closed under a nefarious circumstance. It burned to the ground. Another great loss.
However, Dino’s is but one of a number of favorites of ours that closed voluntarily –  and for reasons I fully understand, even though I have never gotten around to a final act of forgiveness.
The lady of the house and I miss Gavi’s in Willoughby every day. Yes, I know, David and Mary have a fine restaurant in Gates Mills named for their beautiful daughter, Sara. But Gavi’s was practically in our back yard.
And the wonderful Helen’s Sunrise Cafe, across from the West End YMCA in Willoughby, is closed because our dear friend Helen got tired of getting up so early every day and working so hard.
There are other fine restaurants in the area that have closed, but I am tired of talking about it and get depressed just thinking about it.
Besides, this is a time of year to be happy, so I am closing out this year’s final effort by wishing all of you – each and every one of you – a happy, and a healthy and a  prosperous, New Year.
I’ll be seeing you next year – in all the old familiar places.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

College football league provides fun for the entire season

Football can be a series of bitter disappointments, going back as far as 1965.
It was the previous year that the Browns won an undisputed title.
Since then, not much to cheer about when the season ended.
But college football, for some reason, doesn’t elicit that same sour emotion. Maybe it’s because there are so many good teams we can follow. I was a close follower of Ohio State this season and that loyalty, such as it is, rewarded me handsomely – in good cheer, if not monetarily.
I will leave the gambling to others. I follow teams for the fun of it.
One of the college teams I do not follow is my alma mater, Kent State, because to do so would be something less than rewarding. The Flashes have sent some outstanding players into the National Football League, but none of them played at Kent in large enough groupings to sustain a team with a decent record.
I have written previously about the Lake County Football Prognosticators, a group of 10 young (or reasonably young) men who make it a sport to select four college teams and follow them throughout the season. Three are “regular” choices and there’s one “bonus” pick. We do pony up a modest amount of money, and I must say I had a pretty good season.
I won $1.50 (that’s a dollar and fifty cents) at the season-ending “payoff” meeting. In addition, I was the only player whose bonus team was undefeated, so I laid claim to the entire “bonus pool.”
Several people have asked me just who these Prognosticators are. Fortunately, I have been given permission to tell you. This came at our payoff meeting the other day, at which I threatened to expose them whether they liked it or not. So nobody put up a squawk.
But first, this is how our selection process goes. And by the way, this is not a secret society. Its boundaries are not limited, so anyone who seeks admission will probably be considered, although there are no guarantees, because I am not authorized to speak for the others. For all I know, they may limit membership to 10.
At our August selection meeting, Dave Clair writes 10 numbers on pieces of paper and places them in a hat, or some other receptacle that is suitable. Each player selects a number. But this is not the order of the draft. It is just the order in which we select the second number, from one to 10. That is the real order of the draft. Got it?
Then we begin the draft. Once a team is selected, it is gone, so to speak. The second player must pick from the remaining college teams. And so it goes until all players have chosen four teams.
John Trebets drew No. 1, and he chose Mount Union, as he did last year, when he also selected at the No. 1 spot. He is very lucky at choosing first, because he always gets Mount Union, and it never loses in the regular season (playoff games don’t count).
Just the last 10 games of the regular season are used in our final accounting, otherwise there would be hell to pay in summing things up. So I had a perfect season with my first pick, Ohio State, because the Buckeyes won their last 10 regular season games, and that upsetting loss early in the season to Virginia Tech did not matter in our standings.
Rick Stenger, picking in the No. 2 spot, chose Wisconsin Whitewater, always a coveted team because it seldom loses.
Geoff Weaver drafted next, and took Alabama, except the Tide lost a game and finished 9-1.
Choosing next, Rich Collins took Northwest Missouri State, and that was also a good choice, because it was also 9-1.
Parenthetically, some of our players have titles such as “judge” preceding their names, but I am not including them in this narrative because it really doesn’t matter. They get the same amount of respect as the other players, which is minimal.
But I digress.
Next up was John Hurley, and he took Oregon, which also was 9-1.
Next was Clair, and he took Mary Hardin Baylor, which, as expected, went  10-0. How I love that team. I would draft it every year if it were still available.
Choosing next was Vince Culotta, and he took Grand View of Iowa, which was 9-1. Then Marty Parks chose Florida State, which posted a 10-0 record.
I was next with my Ohio State pick, then choosing last was Dale Fellows, and he took Lenoir Rhyne, which finished 10-0.
Here is where the element of fairness comes in – in the second round, Dale chose first and John Trebets last. The choices are in reverse order.
We subtract losses from wins, so in the final accounting, Fellows led the pack with 28 points, Culotta was next with 26, then Trebets with 23, Weaver with 22, Parks and me with 20, Stenger with 18, Hurley with 14, Clair with 14 and Collins with 12.
Those numbers do not reflect whole dollars. They are merely fractions of dollars.
The bonus pool went in its entirety to me, because I chose Minnesota State Mankato, which lost nary a game. Correct, it was 10-0.
And why wasn’t Mankato chosen in the first three rounds? Just dumb luck, I guess. Who would know the team would have an undefeated season?
Dale and Vince did well because their other teams were New Hampshire and Morningside (Iowa), along with North Dakota State and Minnesota Duluth.
I hate to have to report this, but the team with the poorest record among the 40 drafted was Clair’s pick of Cumberlands, Ky. Last year was great. This year, at 3-7, not so good.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Small talk proved to be a balancing act

Wherever you go, you see people in small groups, talking. Unless you eavesdrop, you cannot hear what they are saying. Eavesdropping is considered rude in some circles, but I will tell you what it is they are discussing.

Well, I can’t tell you exactly what they are talking about, because what they are saying is not important, and it is not important that we know. But here is the gist of the situation – they are making small talk.

Small talk is the opposite of large talk. An example of large talk would be on the order of world concerns, for example nuclear energy or brain surgery. Those are indeed matters of great import.

Some items of large talk are in dispute, for example, global warming and global cooling, both of which, I understand, exist to some degree. When the degrees become higher, it is warming in nature. And when the degrees go down, that would be an example of cooling.

Small talk is not conducted at nearly such a high level. The topics are important in our everyday lives, and they are meaningful because we care about them.

Many people make small talk about gasoline prices, for example. The higher they go, the more we talk about them. Prices are going down right now, so we don’t make as much small talk about them as we used to.

Last weekend, there was much small talk about football, specifically, about the Browns and Ohio State.

The talk about the Browns was depressing. Conversely, the talk about Ohio State was exhilarating. What we are looking at here are losers and winners. The Browns cannot win even when they hold their opponents to a minimum of points, because they have forgotten how to get the ball into the other team’s end zone.

Ohio State is quite the opposite. The Buckeyes scored a monstrous 59 points against a Wisconsin team that has over the years given them fits. Ohio State has three or four quarterbacks who could be starting for the Browns, but that is neither here nor there.

You will never see more groups engaging in small talk than you will at a fancy dress party, which is why it was so fascinating to see all of the small groups of people engaging in it last Sunday night.

I must inject a disclaimer here. When I include references to specific days in these essays, you should be warned that I usually do my writing on Monday afternoon, with the pieces intended for publication the following Sunday – six days later.

But the essays are usually “posted,” as they say in computer jargon, a day or so after they are written.

Thus when somebody from Arizona, Florida or South America calls or emails to say, “I just read your blog,” they mean they read something intended for print publication the coming Sunday.

I have no control over that, and actually I don’t mind too much, because it sort of adds to the mystique of the whole situation, if you know what I mean. If you don’t, well that’s how it goes. I can’t help you with that.

The bottom line, if there indeed is such a thing here, is that I no longer mind having people referring to my efforts as “blogs.” I know. It sounds almost obscene, but I no longer worry about it, because it is beyond my control, and I have more important things to worry about.

But I digress.

I got caught up smack dab in the middle of some small talk last Sunday at a fancy dress party hosted by the Women’s Committee of the Fine Arts Association. Lynn Smith and I were resting, sitting on a sofa and listening to some cool jazz being played just a few feet away.

We were talking about our balance. This has nothing to do with bank accounts. It is about walking.

The lady of the house sprang to her feet. She had spotted Tony Ocepek and rushed over to beckon him, because he was walking, as is his wont, with a cane. Some might call it a walking stick. He sort of swaggers when he walks with it.

He came marching over, and we engaged in a lengthy session of small talk having do to with walking, maintain balance and avoiding falling down. That is a matter of ongoing concern to both Lynn and me.

I told them I am sometimes accused of shuffling because taking short steps is a way of maintaining one’s balance. I can take longer steps if I wish to, with the accompanying risks involved.

Both Lynn and I quizzed Tony on his sources of procuring canes, or walking sticks, if you wish. I told him W.C. Fields had a hollow cane, filled with whiskey, which does not interest me in the slightest. I merely mentioned it because we were talking about canes.

Tony noted that he has a cane from which one could withdraw a sword, if sudden attack by a stranger or a duel became imminent.

I also mentioned that I have a shillelagh that Bob Murphy brought back to me from Ireland. It could serve as a walking stick, if necessary.

I think both Lynn and I are intrigued by the possibility of acquiring walking sticks as soon as Tony informs us where to obtain them.

Meanwhile, I presume Lynn and I will continue taking small steps in order to maintain our balance. And to think he is 11 years younger than I!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

At last, another college football season is almost over

The college football season is about over. Thankfully.
Although I enjoy the sport very much, there will be no sadness on my part when it finally comes to an end. It will, if nothing else, be a blessing. Free at last!
Professional football is another matter. I love it also, almost as much as I love baseball. But college football wears on me because of the amount of record keeping I must do each year.
Well, I don’t have to do it. But somebody has to or it will not get done. That’s the tragedy of the situation. It is altogether too time consuming. I do the record keeping on a volunteer basis, and for a generation or two nobody else has stepped forward to keep the weekly scores of 40 college teams.
And without those records, of course, nobody will know where we stand come season’s end. So I will keep churning out the records, hoping that in a year or two another player will step up and say, “I will keep the scores next year.”
And I will shout, “Huzzah,” because that will mean I can merely keep track of my own four teams and let the others worry about theirs.
This all has to do with a group of friends, many of them trained in legal matters but some not, called the Football Prognosticators. I have been a member of the group for only 30 or 40 years, but I understand its roots go back to the 1940s, when the late John F. Clair Sr. was an attorney waiting to become the first judge of the Willoughby Municipal Court in 1952.
The judge, along with some other stalwarts, including Harry Ohm, founded the Prognosticators with the aim of seeing who could do the best job of selecting college teams that would end the season with the top records.
There have been four Clairs who have been Prognosticators. One of them still maintains the final tally. There are 10 of us now, and by the time the season ends for all our teams, I will have several reams of scores ready for final tabulation.
I emphasize that this IS NOT gambling. It is a game of skill involving so miniscule a payoff at season’s end that it fails to reach the level of penny-ante poker.
Many years ago, one of the players was the late Common Pleas Court Jim Jackson, who objected to my writing about it because he thought it was unseemly, he being a judge and all that.
But as I told him then, and as I repeat today, “Nonsense.” It is just a bunch of friends having fun to see who can outsmart the others by picking college teams that finish the season with the best records.
But I digress.
We have had 10 players for the past few seasons. Each player chooses three teams plus one bonus team. Ten players times four teams is a total of 40 teams to keep track of every week.
If all the scores were listed in the paper every week, keeping track would be a snap. Alas, some of the teams are virtually unknown to the wire services. But they all have computers, so it falls upon someone (me) to look up the scores on the internet.
And since I am not a whiz on the computer, finding scores sometimes takes time away from other activities, for example, sleeping.
We hold a draft of teams each August, and Mount Union is always the first one chosen. The next team that goes is Wisconsin Whitewater. Simple so far.
Linfield is a popular choice, as it North Central Ilinois, Eastern Washington, Lenoir Rhyne and a few others that seemingly never lose. Mary Hardin Baylor never lasts long in the draft.
Our system takes into consideration only the final 10 games of the regular season, no playoff games, so I got lucky this year because I picked Ohio State and it went 10-0, with no losses in its last 10 regular season games.
My bonus pick was Minnesota State Mankato, which also was 10-0. I was fortunate, because one of the other players had John Carroll as his bonus pick, but the Blue Streaks lost to Mount Union in their last regular season game, clearing the way for me to be the bonus champ.
I also had Carroll Montana, which went 9-1 in the regular season – not too bad except for a single disappointing early season loss. My other team was Wisconsin Oskosh, which had a fine season.
The 10 players really do their homework. You can’t merely look at the past season’s results and hope for repeat performances. I found that out the hard way a few years ago when I picked Tuskegee and Middle Tennessee State.
They went from great records one year to terrible the next. It is no fun showing up for the December meeting of the Prognosticators when you have a team with a losing record.
There are several colleges with the same name. Not good. That creates a problem for the official scorer. There are Wesley teams here and there and multiple St. Francis teams, not to mention trying to differentiate between Cumberland (singular) and Cumberlands (plural.)
Well, It’s about over. It will be nice to watch bowl games this year without caring who wins.