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, July 31, 2015

Snail mail can be more reliable than e-mail

I surrender.
Unlike Perry Como, I am not a prisoner of love, I am a prisoner of emails.
They are bad enough when they are totally unwanted and make no sense. They are even worse when they never arrive at all because they can’t find me.
That is the problem at the moment. I have tremendous difficulty accessing emails that are sent to me at The News-Herald.
Let’s just say that if you send me any more emails at the paper, you might just be wasting your time.
And if you send them to me at home, I may not see them for weeks, perhaps months.
That is because I am totally disgusted with the computer I have at home. I open it only every so often — which could be next week, next month or next year.
There are two reasons for this: (a) the computer is so slow, no matter what Time Warner says about speedy service, and it takes so long to warm up that I could turn it on and prepare a standing rib roast while I am waiting to gain access to the darned thing.
I almost swore there, but I caught  myself just in time.
And (b), which we will refer to as the second reason, is that our pure white cat, who goes by the name of Ruby, spends most of her time sleeping on it. The computer, that is.
Ruby is regarded by the lady of the house as a very special person, meaning that she has far more rights than you and I are guaranteed by the Constitution.
That means Ruby can do anything she wants, within reason, and nobody can mess with her.
She has far more rights than Antonin Scalia could ever find in the Constitution.
She is, in a word, here to stay. That is actually three words, but I think you know what I mean.
So when we are eating breakfast and Ruby is on the computer, sleeping, we leave her alone. That is her domain, and we respect it.
Thus I don’t see many emails at home or at the paper.
Fortunately, I do have another source for seeing emails, at the college, and that is a good thing, because I get a lot of them there, and I read them, or at least look to see what they are about, every day.
That is a slight exaggeration. I do not see them Saturdays or Sundays. But I do see them five days a week, and I respond to them if I deem it necessary.
Now, just like the emails at the other two sources, many of them I get at the college are less than scintillating.
My email address there is widely known, and I mean widely, so I get all the latest bulletins from PetSmart, Craftsman tools, Bed Bath and Beyond (one guess who those are meant for — a hint, not me) or people who want to do things to my car, sell me things or in some other way attract my attention for purposes semi-legitimate or nefarious.
But at least I don’t get any at the college from a guy who used to work at the paper. I shall refer to him as Rob.
Rob thinks that every thought that crosses his mind in the fields of music or sports is important. It isn’t. I can do without them.
In sum, if you send an email to me, be prepared to wait a few weeks, perhaps months, for an answer.
Other than that, I love computers. I really do. They just don’t love me.
The best way to contact Jim Collins may just be via snail mail. Reach him c/o The News-Herald, 7085 Mentor Ave., Willoughby OH 44094.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Following orders is a grueling task

Do  you ever get the feeling that you are always getting orders to do this or do that?
Taking orders is OK if you are in the Army and your first sergeant is telling you what to do. In that situation, you had better follow his instructions or you could end up walking around picking up papers with a nail on the end of a stick, with a large “P” on your back, and a guy carrying a shotgun is following you.
That, of course, is a rather extreme example of what can happen when you don’t follow directions. What I have in mind at the moment is much benign.
I am thinking about more everyday orders, which come at you from every direction no matter what you are doing.
I mean, you can’t even pay a bill through the mail without somebody telling you what to do.
Just the other day (once a month, actually) I wrote a check to the gas company.
Some people, especially those who understand and are able to live comfortably with computers, pay bills electronically. I do not do that. And I don’t make bank deposits or withdrawals on a computer. Too many things can go wrong. I read about those terrible occurrences every day. They are frightening.
The Cleveland paper has a regular column about things that go wrong because people depend on computers to make financial transactions. You can lose your bank account, your house, all of your hair and your composure to boot if you use a computer to do all of your everyday chores for you.
But I digress.
I was talking about simply trying to pay a gas bill and encountering more “do this” orders than I was comfortable with.
Most business envelopes have a couple of instructions — you know, in case you are too dumb to figure them out for yourself.
You have already written the check, you have the check and the stub from the bill in one hand, and you are ready to put them in the envelope.
But when you open the envelope and prepare to lick the gummy part, the first thing you see is an order: “Put your account number on your signed check payable in U.S. dollars.”
I am constantly getting orders to put my account number on my check, no matter where the check is going.
I never do that. If the people in the office who open the envelope can’t keep from getting the checks and the payment stubs from getting mixed up, that is their problem, not mine.
There is no way I am going to pay the same bill twice just because some clerk can’t keep the checks and the stubs straight.
Of course, it may not be a clerk that is opening the envelope. It may be a machine. That is not my problem either. The company should invent better machines.
The next order aimed at me by the gas company is: “Fill out money orders completely and include your account number.”
That one I can understand. Money orders are different than checks. I suppose they can be trusted, but as a matter of policy, I never use them.
Order No. 3: “Use only blue or black ink.” I understand why Bob Feller used only black ink when signing autographs, because that is the American League color, and the National League uses blue ink (I hope I don’t have that reversed) and the distinction is important to him as a matter of pride and policy.
But why should the gas company care? If I used red ink, or green ink, would that invalidate the check?
(Don’t tell me that a machine is reading the checks, and it can only read black or blue ink. I don’t want to hear about that.)
No. 4: “Do not fold, staple or use paper clips.” We all know that one. Why would anybody want to fold a bill, staple it or clip things together? Somebody would just have to take them apart. That is a lot of extra work. Studies have shown that companies have spent hundreds of thousands or dollars removing staple and paper clips. The gas company would just have to raise the price of gas to pay the extra people doing this unnecessary work.
No. 5: “Do not send cash, stamps or rebate coupons.” I suppose there are people who actually do this. Obviously, it is not a good idea. For one thing, the person opening the envelope might grab a couple of bucks before turning the rest over to the company. With a check you cannot do that.
No. 6: “Do not include correspondence.” That should be at the top of the list. There are probably people who pay bills who can’t resist the urge to let off a little steam — to get a deeply held gripe off his or her chest.
No, don’t do that. Find a better way. Call the president of the company and tell him your gripe.
If he is any kind of an executive, he will listen to you and take immediate action.
That is a list of “commands” that comes every month with the gas bill. And that is only the gas bill.
Think of all the other mail you get every day or so that comes with a set of instructions telling you to do this or don’t do that.
It can be suffocating. I am all for having a brave new world with a lot fewer orders.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Fond memories of Tony Ocepek, a man who lived a full life

I was going to write that Lake County lost one of its brightest, most innovative and most creative minds with the passing of Tony Ocepek of Waite Hill.
But that doesn’t scratch the surface in describing the far reaches of his thought process.
His memorial service a week ago yesterday at the First Presbyterian Church in Willoughby was a huge outpouring of friends who wanted to pay their respects to a man they knew so well — and for so many different reasons.
He did so many things for so many worthwhile causes. Yes, he owned a lot of radio stations all over the East Coast, including the former WPVL in Painesville. It would be difficult to list all of them. And he was a naturalist and nature lover beyond description. That’s why he and his wife, Peggy, gave their old schoolhouse home in Kirtland Hills to the Lake Metroparks District — so that young people could be taught in the ways of nature.
He was a bank director, college trustee, investor in Cleveland Magazine and wore so many other hats that it would take a book, a rather good-sized book, to describe all of them.
But when someone would ask me how Tony accumulated so much wealth, I didn’t attempt to describe his many ventures. I would merely say “vertical real estate.”
That was what Tony called it. He would approach land-owners all over the country east of the Mississippi and tell them he wanted to buy just a tiny plot of land — just a few square feet. No problem. They were willing sellers. And on those tiny specks of land he would build transmission towers for cell phones and other signals that must be relayed because the signals travel in straight lines, they don’t follow the curvature of the Earth.
The three speakers at the service — Steve Madewell, Walter Tiburski and Jon Rowley — all did masterful jobs. Steve is the former director of Lake Metroparks and he and Tony had many dealings that revealed the inner nature of Tony’s deeply-held feelings about the outdoors. Jon was general manager of the former Painesville Telegraph. He and Tony were close buddies. And Walt was his business partner. He knew the inner workings of all of the many dealings they worked out.
And there were a lot of them. They demonstrated Tony’s mental toughness, his unwillingness to take “no” for an answer, and his powers of persuasion to get a deal done.
If you ever knew Tony, you would get the point of a story that Walt told, when they were in New York City working on yet another business deal and were staying at a hotel owned by Donald Trump. As they stepped off an elevator, the guests were being greeted by The Donald himself. He was taking an off-the-cuff survey. He asked if anything could be done to serve them better.
Tony’s response, in Walt’s words, elicited a roar of laughter from the packed church. “As a matter of fact, there is,” Tony told Trump.
That was Tony, all right. He had a better way of doing everything, and he never hesitated to express his feelings.
I did a series of television interviews with 15 of Lake County’s top business executives about six years ago. The setting was the beautiful Mooreland Mansion on the campus of Lakeland Community College. I gave a lot of thought about whom I wanted to interview first. A lot of names flooded my mind. Tony Ocepek, Jim Zampini, Bill Sanford, Dick Muny and his family, the Milbourn Family, Harry Allen, Nancy and Ed Brown, the Crocketts — who would I lead off with?
I picked Tony. It was a great choice. He explained the inner workings of his multitude of business dealings and brought along a couple of devices which I didn’t understand at all that were essential to how some of the electronic things work.
Copies of the interviews — all of them — are still available, and I suppose I could provide some if I can get a price from Phil and Sam in our TV department. I don’t know how much they would charge to recover the cost. But I will tell you this — those two beautiful, large, color photos of Tony that were displayed at the altar during his service were taken from that tape of my interview with Tony, I sent them to the family as tiny attachments on an email, and they had the enlargements made. Technology is amazing these days.
But I digress.
At a service the size of Tony’s, with hundreds of people waiting in line to pay their respects and say a few words to family members, there is never enough time. One doesn’t want to hold up the line. So I shook hands with his children, Mark and Paul and Beth. I wanted to say to Paul, “I remember you as the star football player at Kirtland High School,” but I didn’t want to hold up the line.
And I wanted to recall with Tony’s wife Peggy the days when she taught third grade at Grant Elementary School in Willoughby and I told her at the time, “Don’t you dare retire until my grandsons have had you as their teacher.”  And she did have Bryan and Louie in class, but she missed Kenny.
Peggy often asked me about Bryan and Louie. She loved them and they loved her. In her own way, Peggy was every bit as tough as her husband. And that is saying a lot. Because if you were ever going to enter into a business dealing with Tony, you had better bring your “A Game” with you or else you would come out second best.
If you don’t believe me, just ask Walt Tiburski.
He’ll set you straight.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Dealing with physical ailments can be painful at times

Every morning at the same time, after we have attended to the needs of the animals, the lady of the house and I sit down at the table and enjoy breakfast together.
She pours her Cherrios and I pour my Cranberry Almond Crunch (hey, we can’t agree on everything) and I turn the small dining room TV on to the national news. You might say we are creatures of habit.
The  news is alternately informative, interesting and depressing. The commercials are uniformly revolting. The vast majority of them are about dread diseases guaranteed to either kill you or leave you in no condition to enjoy life, cure you with pills and ointments that have horrendous side effects, or leave you gasping for breath while waiting for the Grim Reaper to haul you off.
The awful side effects are so dreadful that, if you survive the medications being advertised, you will probably wish you were dead.
If you have seen any of these TV blurbs, you know exactly what I mean. It seems virtually impossible to survive the side effects.
A close friend of mine uses one of the advertised products despite the dire warnings because it does produce the desired result of relieving the pain in his feet.
I also endure pain in my feet, or rather, my left foot, but I would rather live with the pain than with the morbid thoughts of death and transfiguration warnings that accompany the pills.
I first learned to identify the foot pain, a nerve condition, while talking with another friend, my long-time golf partner, Ken Gamiere (the one from Lubrizol) who has the same kind of pain – of approximately the same degree.
The only thing you can do about it, as far as I know, is to take pain killers. If ordinary over-the-counter pain pills don’t do the trick, then the only solution is to go to the doctor and get a prescription for something stronger – something you had better not get caught carrying around without the proper credentials from your doctor, shall we say.
And that is my course of action. The pain is enough to make you wish you were on a desert island someplace.
The good news is, the pills make the pain go away. The better news is, the pain is erratic. I have taken as many as two or three in one night so I could sleep. Other times I don’t take a pill for two weeks. So that is good. I do not ever want to become a pill junkie, although I understand there are addicts who take them not for pain but rather for the “high” they bring on.
That high is not for me. Not for a moment. I would love to be pain-free and pill-free. But if that never comes about, I will continue taking as few pills as possible.
Lately I have noticed that I have become obsessed with shoes, particularly with the footwear people have on and whether the occupants seem comfortable in them.
I bought a couple pairs recently that look like bowling shoes. If they happen to feel good, appearances can take a back seat. Besides, there is nothing wrong with bowling shoes, is there? They wear them in bowling alleys, don’t they?
My mother often complained about pain in her hip, which she said was rheumatism. She took Anacin tablets, and they did the trick for her.
Anacin never did a thing for my foot. Neither does Tylenol, Advil, or anything else you can buy over-the-counter.
Mom was tough. She lived to be 93, worked hard all her life, and was sharp-as-a-tack until her last day, which came in a half-baked Florida hospital, where she went to get a stitch for a tiny cut on her head and they turned it into pneumonia.
I wish I could get by on Anacin, but I can’t. So I take the little white pills and I take them as infrequently as possible.
And I’m still looking for more canvas bowling shoes. I have some black ones and some grey ones and I’m looking for some blue ones and maybe some tan ones.
My foot doctor, Dr. Arthur Weinstein, known by his license plate as DR TOE, who has practiced in Willoughby almost as long as I have worked here and who is very sharp in every way, including in his medical practice and in his attire, told me not to wear loafers.
So I do my best to follow his advice. But I notice that sometimes he wears loafers. Maybe his feet don’t hurt.
His son shot the all-time lowest round of golf, a 63, at Oakwood Country Club in Cleveland. His record will never be broken because it is no longer a golf course. That is another story. But I digress.
Meanwhile, do all you can do to be healthy, wealthy and wise. And pain free.
You will enjoy all those other things more if you are pain free.


Friday, July 3, 2015

If you need more info on Lake County senior centers, just ask

Necessity has brought me before the TV cameras many hundreds of times over the past three-plus decades for the purpose of interviewing people in the course of my workday.
Most of the “victims” of my interrogations have been political candidates, although a good number of them have been folks who have been successful in various business ventures around the area.
Thus I have tried to make myself look as decent as possible to the viewers, many of whom don’t know me and probably wonder what I look like.
I prefer, in a word, to be presentable to those who are watching.
But what about radio? Who cares what you look like on radio?
I asked myself that question the other day as I was driving down, or over, if you prefer, to Station WINT in Willoughby, the station that was once known as WELW.
I also asked myself along the way, why do stations keep changing their names? There was once a station in Painesville called WPVL, and they billed it as “Where People Value Listening,” which I thought was reasonably clever. But they changed the letters. For what reason I never knew. But it bothered me.
I shouldn’t let things like that upset me. But I digress.
I was driving to WINT to submit to an interview with my good friend Joey Tomsick, an accomplished accordion player and band leader, but who in other circles is known as Joseph R. Tomsick, Chief Executive Officer of the Lake County Council on Aging.
It was in the latter capacity that he wished to talk with me. Not that I am aging that rapidly, mind you, I pointed out with my typical good nature, but because he wanted to help get out the message that there are some fascinating stories that can be told to the people who visit Lake County’s 12 senior centers.
We spent almost the entire show talking about those four programs, and if anyone in Lake County would like to have one of the four programs presented at a meeting, I am the person to call to set it up.
You may have seen one or more of the programs. We have been putting them on for several years to senior centers, libraries, service clubs, retiree groups such as Diamond Shamrock, church groups and many others. If your organization wants to schedule one, all you have to do is give me a call. I will get to that in a moment. We have presented them for as many as 200 people or as few as a half dozen.
My job is to do the introductions. The actual narratives are handled by Kathie Purmal, the retired executive director of the Lake County Historical Society.
Joey Tomsick showed up for our radio interview in a spiffy dark colored suit, button-down shirt and neat yellow pattern tie. Me? I was wearing khaki shorts and a blue T-shirt with some kind of lettering on it. I told him that as soon as we were finished I had to go home and cut the grass.
My point? On radio, who cares what you look like? Certainly not the engineer who is controlling the dials. Radio isn’t, after all, TV.
The four topics available, in case your group wants to hear one of them, are: The Mansions of Lake County, The Fabulous Ladies of Lake County, The Underground Railroad in Lake County, and “Betcha Didn’t Know About Lake County,” a sort of quiz in which members of the audience are encouraged to yell out the answers – if they know them.
You may have seen one or more of the programs. If you have not seen all four, then you still have some learning to do.
At least four times during our interview I told Joey how I can be reached to schedule a program. My number at Lakeland  Community College is 440-525-7522. If I’m not there, leave a message and I’ll get back to you. It’s as simple as that.
There are six non-profit partners in putting on the programs. They are, in no particular order, the Lakeland Foundation, the Lake-Geauga Fund of the Cleveland Foundation, Holden Arboretum, The Lake Health Foundation, The Lake County Council on Aging and The Lake County Historical Society.
There are also two partners in the business world who help with publicizing our activities – The News-Herald and Radio Station WINT.
We will try to accommodate as many requests for programs as possible, with this proviso – if Kathie Purmal is not available on the date and time of your choosing, then it will be extremely difficult to have the show go on.
There may be others who can handle the power point presentations, but I don’t know who they might be.
Keep in mind also that the price is right. The programs are free.