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, December 31, 2015

Heading into the new year one step at a time

I’ve been putting this off long enough. I promised to tell you why this column was missing from the paper for two months — basically October and November — and I have decided to quit stalling. So today I am going to tell you — sort of. I am not going to tell you the whole story because much of it is too personal, too embarrassing to talk about and, in many ways, not interesting unless you are a graduate student in medical science and want to know all the lurid details about such things. I will thus skip most of the details, while thanking you for remaining interested in my situation, calling me to find out what in the world was going on, and calling the paper to ask where I was. Things like that. It all began with an early morning trip to Lake West Hospital by way of a service provided by the Willoughby Fire Department. The first thing they did there was to introduce me to a Mr. Foley, who was to be my constant companion for the next two months. If you do not know what I mean by “Mr. Foley,” be advised that it is a medical term, and if you are not familiar with it, don’t bother to look it up. It is extremely unpleasant. I was in the hospital for a little over a week. They took very good care of me, and the food was excellent. I was allowed to order from an extensive menu, anything I wanted, so I had chocolate ice cream thee meals a day. After I left the hospital they told me I needed re-hab, so I went to Breckenridge Village for almost two weeks. Other than the constant presence of Mr. Foley, it was a marvelous experience. David Schell runs a fine program. The staff members are outstanding. I asked everyone who took care of me where they got their training, and the vast majority of them said Lakeland Community College. That pleased me to no end. I had three meals a day with a guy I really liked talking with. A widower, his name is Alvin Sabroff. He’s a retired engineer from Eaton Corp. He has a son who was a first-string running back for Mentor High for two years. Al is a most interesting guy. I hope to meet him again someday (though not in re-hab, thank-you very much). But my adventure was far from over. I was ordered to have a PET scan. That process is an ordeal in itself, unless you like being trapped in a tiny tube for a couple hours. One of the things it revealed was a “hot spot” on the back of my left thigh. So I went back to Lake West for the surgery. The hot spot was removed. Guess what? It was benign. That was the good news. The bad news was that it was attached to a nerve in my left leg, so the procedure left me with little feeling from the knee down and a left foot that is floppy. I trip over everything. Cracks in the sidewalk, rugs, anything that is slightly uneven — or even even. My stumbling is indiscriminate. If I were a football player running for a touchdown, I would trip over the 50-yard line. I walk with a four-footed cane. Meanwhile, I am awaiting an ankle brace and some special shoes so my left toe will no longer dip when I walk. The last time the lady of the house and I were at Hellriegel’s Inn for dinner, we saw dozens of people we know, many of them very good friends. They all wondered where I had been. Of course, I didn’t have time to tell them the whole story, so I gave them an abbreviated version. The staff insisted, over my protests, on wheeling me out to the car in a wheelchair when we left. So I let them. But I did it mainly to put an end to the bickering. I have no trouble driving the car. Or even getting in and out of it. But walking is a chore. If I don’t remember to lift my left foot up in the air with every step, I trip. I look goofy when I’m walking, but there is nothing I can do about it. By the time this appears in print, I hope I have that ankle brace and my two new pairs of shoes — one brown and one black. I hope to see you around someplace. If we meet, you will know if I got that brace yet by the way I’m walking.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Don't be surprised if your Social Security check is smaller in 2016

When we’re growing up, we hear a lot of expressions, or figures of speech, and we don’t know exactly what they mean. For example, we hear the terms Senior Citizens. Or Golden Agers, and we wonder — or at least I did — what they mean. Perhaps they are more like euphemisms than they are figures of speech. But I always took them to mean that you reach a point where you have worked hard for oh-so-many years and now it’s time to relax and enjoy some of the things you may have missed. When I refer to all of those working years, I should point out that the number in my case is 65. And counting. I am not done yet. In that time span I am counting two years in the U.S. Army, which are counted as “good time” by those who oversee such things. “Good time” means getting an honorable discharge, as opposed to a dishonorable discharge or a discharge at the convenience of the government. I can assure you mine was honorable, meaning those 65 years — and counting — are a true measure of the kind of life I have attempted to live for all those years. I am only guessing that I am a Senior Citizen or a Golden Ager, since I don’t know if I am old enough to qualify for those titles of distinction. I do know, though, that when I was born Calvin Coolidge was president, so maybe I am either Senior or Golden. I should point out, in the interest of full disclosure, that Coolidge was only president for the first four months of my life. Herbert Hoover had already won an election shortly before my arrival on a quiet residential street (Waldamere Avenue) in Willoughby, Ohio. My first Christmas came soon after I made my first appearance in Willoughby, but please don’t ask me to recall how we celebrated the holiday that year. My sister remembers stuff like that, but I don’t. She remembers a lot more trivia than I do. But I digress. I am wondering, as 2015 draws to a close, if a lot of Senior/Golden citizens are in for a shock early in 2016. I refer to the arrival of their first Social Security checks, or bank deposits, in the New Year. Here is why I wonder. I keep records of things like that, and I know how much I got every month since I qualified for Social Security at the age of 70 and 1/2. The amount went up every year — until next year. Next year, it will go down. Here is why: They government did not allow any COLA, or cost of living, increase for next year. So you say, OK, you won’t get any more in 2016, but at least you won’t be getting any less. Wrong! Know why? It’s because the Medicare deductions will be going up, so if you receive the same amount of benefit as the year before and impact it with a greater medical deduction, then your bottom line — the amount of your check or your deposit — will be less. In my own case, my monthly deposit will be $24.40 less in 2016 than it was in 2015. I know this because I did some research on the subject — something I am wont to do when money is involved. I talked to a gentleman in the Painesville Social Security office and he didn’t even have to look up my records to tell me what the problem is. It is no COLA plus higher Medicare premiums. I have always found the Social Security Administration to be a model of efficiency, especially with regard to anything having to do with the government. So I am prepared to accept $24.40 a month less next year than this year. My question for you is this — if you receive a Social Security check, have you looked into your situation to find out how much less you will be getting next year? Do you care? I hope you do. But if you do not know what to expect next year, and you are blindsided by your new payment, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Some surprises in life can be nice. But not this kind.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Finding joy in the simple treasures of life

By Jim Collins The moment that Dave the mailman dropped off the little square brown package, I knew I was in for a treat. And as soon as I looked at the return address on the package that was exactly the size of a compact disc, I was certain that its contents would bring an extreme measure of joy. Since we are in the Christmas season, the timing could not have been better. The return sticker said Don Miller of Eastlake. Perfect! Since I now knew the package contained a CD, I was confident that it would be most welcome, since Don and I share a interest in the same kind of music. What was even better was the very kind note enclosed with the CD. Don always has something very nice to say when sends along a copy of something he wanted to share, and this time was no exception, especially because of my own particular set of circumstances over the past couple of months. If you are a regular reader of this space, you are aware that I was “out of service” during October and November. Some day I will fill you in on the details. For now, I will just say that for anyone who is in need of a rehab session, there is no place in the world that could be better that Breckenridge Village in Willoughby. As my good friend, Dave Schell, who runs the place, is quick to point out, “It is the best place you never want to be.” But I digress. The note in the package from Don Miller began: “What a pleasant surprise I was the recipient of Sunday. “You’re back in the saddle again.” (This column had been missing for two months and the first one I wrote upon my return was about the passing of Rocco Scotti at age 95. Rocco gained international fame with his renditions of our National Anthem, and I pointed out that many purveyors of the song in recent years had butchered it.) “Wonderful having you back writing your column,” Don said. And he added: “A lot of the interpretations of the National Anthem I have heard lately have been awful. “One of the best I ever heard was by The Lettermen at the old Cleveland Stadium. But that’s a story for another day.” Then he described his enclosure. As always, it was something awesome. “I have enclosed,” he said, “what I think is a unique and unusual record. It’s Urbie Green and 20 of the ‘world’s greatest.’ It’s called “Twenty-one Trombones.” “Who would have ever thought anyone would record 20 trombones backing a solo trombone and that it wouldn’t be a mish-mash? “But then a very remarkable thing happened. For the first time in their lives, these top-ranking trombonists were on a recording date. The trombone was the focus of all interest.” Don went on to describe the quality of the recordings, the balance in relation to Urbie’s solo work, the sensitivity and the dynamics of the session. Getting the 21 trombone players together for three recording sessions in New York City was quite an accomplishment in itself. I read over the list of participants. Many of them were quite familiar, including Wayne Andre, Will Bradley, J.J. Johnson, Lou McGarrity, Buddy Morrow and Kai Winding. Among the tunes are “Here’s that Rainy Day,” “The Look of Love,” “If He Walked into My Life” (what a great and tender song that is, from the Broadway show “Mame”), “Stardust,” “Watch What Happens,” “Stars Fell on Alabama” and several other great selections. I couldn’t wait to slip the disc into my living room Bose player. I needed no introduction to Urbie Green. I sat at a table with him many years ago when he played at the former Mentor Inn, which was a Ramada Inn then and was built by my best friend, Victor Hugo Bouse. My favorite Urbie story was about the time he took four days off from the Woody Herman Orchestra because his wife was having a baby. The band manager sent over to the union hall for a replacement, and the guy who showed up was Carl Fontana. (He was without question the greatest jazz trombonist who ever lived, but at the time no one had heard of him.) Someone asked who he was. He said he was there to take Urbie Green’s place. “Yeah, he’s going to take Urbie’s place,” said a tenor saxophone with a great dose of sarcasm.” “Yeah, right,” said another sideman, “he’s going to take Urbie’s place.” Well, Carl played just enough to make everyone’s jaw drop, and that was the beginning of a legend. Thanks, Don, for the great CD. And thanks for welcoming me back. I appreciate it. Now, back to the record player, as we used to call them in the old days.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Remembering favorite songs of the past

Sometimes a tune gets lodged in my head and I can’t shake it. I don’t mean I can’t shake my head. I can always do that. I mean I can’t shake the tune. It seems to be there for days — until it is replaced by another tune. I am not particularly worried about this phenomenon. At least I don’t hear voices, which, I have been told, is an indication of some kind of instability. I often read in the paper about anti-social types who hear voices. Relax. I am not anti-social. And I am not a terrorist, unless you consider mild outbursts of temper tantrums — extremely mild — as terrorism. The songs I hear are mainly Broadway show tunes. And I enjoy them. The ones that I hear that are not show tunes are instrumentals, for example, “Well, Git It.” I can hear that tune from beginning to end because it is so deeply imbedded in my brain. You might consider it a show tune because it was featured in the Red Skelton movie “DuBarry Was a Lady.” But it was a big hit long before the movie came out, so I am just wasting space talking about it. But I digress. The songs that rattle around in my brain are songs I have heard so many times on the original cast albums that I can hear note-by-note, which may be good or bad, depending on your outlook. Or on your musical tastes, as the case may be. “Bells Are Ringing” is one of my all-time favorite shows. I can wake up in the morning hearing “Just in Time.” The star of the show, Judy Holliday, is one of the most talented, and cutest, people who ever lived. And I can also hear her co-star, Sydney Chaplin, singing, “Independent, self-sufficient, got nobody to rely on. Every day is Independence Day, hooray!” Which brings up a sore point with me. When the movie version of the Broadway show was made, they left that song out! Not only that, in the movie they replaced Sydney Chaplin, a very talented singer and dancer, and son of the legendary Charlie Chaplin, with Dean Martin. Look, I understand why they did that. Dean was a huge star, a box office icon, and Sydney was relatively unknown. But thankfully I can still listen to the song on the original cast album. If I concentrate I can hear virtually the entire album — in my brain, that is. There are songs in the movie version of “Guys and Dolls” I can hear Marlon Brando singing when you would think they would have been assigned to Frank Sinatra. I believe Frank thought the same thing. He often sang “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” and complained that Brando sang it in the movie because Marlon didn’t have a trained voice. But he sounded pretty good to me. If you think the songs I have mentioned have a strong Broadway influence, you would be correct. But let us not forget off-Broadway shows. I have seen some great ones over the years, the best of which were “Take Five,” “Pieces of Eight” and “Dressed to the Nines.” These were at a very small cabaret called Upstairs at Downstairs. Or could it have been Downstairs at the Upstairs. Or it could have been both — and probably was, over the years. I have been enthralled with shows I have seen on Broadway, and the music they have produced, partly because of the magic involved in sitting in the audience, listening to the overture and watching the curtain go up on another great production. The best show I ever saw was “My Fair Lady.” You know all the songs as well as I do. But it was a thrill watching Julie Andrews, Rex Harrison and the rest of the cast deliver them. A few more all-time favorite shows, with tunes that stick in my head, are “Bells Are Ringing,” “Most Happy Fella,” the previously mentioned “Guys and Dolls,” “Goldilocks” and “Silk Stockings.” Two other shows that must be mentioned: “New Faces of 1952” and “New Faces of 1956.” Yes, I know. It was a long time ago. But some great talent made its first appearance on the Broadway stage in those shows, including Ronny Graham, Eartha Kitt, Carol Lawrence, Paul Lynde, Maggie Smith, Inga Swenson and so many others. And many of the songs are absolutely unforgettable, for example “Guess Who I Saw Today” (one of the saddest songs ever written), “I’m in Love with Miss Logan,” “He Takes Me Off His Income Tax,” “April in Fairbanks,”Isn’t She Lovely,” The Greatest Invention in the Whole Wide World” (is a boy and a girl in love), and the hilarious take-off about Marilyn Monroe, a song called “Talent.” Yes, I can hear every one of the songs in my head. I could go on and on. But I have to stop someplace. It might as well be here.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

A tribute to Rocco Scotti, not just a great singer, but a great American

I’m baaaaak. One of these days I’ll get around to telling you where I’ve been (it was neither exciting nor fun) but right now let’s proceed with a story I was beginning to tell you before things went haywire. It goes like this: There was only one Rocco Scotti. If you have lived anywhere near a Cleveland Indians baseball game in the last half-century, you certainly knew who he was. And if you were in the vicinity of a ball game, you probably heard him singing the National Anthem. Yes, he sang “The Star Spangled Banner” that loud. And he sang it with respect. No fancy flights of awkward notes that we hear from so many would-be singers at football games — people who have no respect for either the words or the music. If you can’t sing the proper lyrics and somehow merge them in with the notes as Francis Scott Key intended them to be sung, why even sing it at all? Why not just sing “God Bless America.” Or “My Country Tis of Thee” (I don’t think that is the right name, but you know what I mean.) The National Anthem gets a lot of “interpretation” at sporting events, but the purveyors are not doing it a favor. They should learn the words and the notes or leave it alone. Rocco, who died recently at the age of 95, and I were hardly bosom buddies, but we knew each other well enough so that I could impose on his friendship a few times to sing the anthem at the annual Pearl Harbor Day remembrance at Hellriegel’s Inn in Painesville Township. Of course, he made a big hit with the veterans, who are patriotic to a man — and to a woman, too, for that matter. In those days it was my wont to take my camera with me everywhere I went. Do they still make 35 millimeter film? I don’t know, but for years I took bunches of pictures — before The Digital Revolution — and I still have most of them around someplace. Don’t ask me where, but they are not lost, they are just misplaced. Some of the ones I treasure are from Pearl Harbor Day at Hellriegel’s. Front and center in many of them are Rocco Scotti, former Browns Coach Sam Rutigliano, the late and great Harry Waterman of Mentor, and others I managed to round up for appearances before my lens. One of my encounters with Rocco was a bit weird. That is not the right word, but it will do. I was flying home from the Ft. Myers airport in Florida after a February golf trip. This was a long time ago. The flight was late at night. Rocco was seated in the row in front of me. Seated alongside him were two nuns. I do not know if he knew them or not, but he soon got to know them. Here’s why. Minutes after we took off, the pilot got on the intercom. He told us we were going to return to the airport. He didn’t say exactly why, but we (all of us on the plane) became concerned, because we felt it was unusual to land moments after we took off. As we approached the airport, every light in the area was on. Everything on the ground was lit up. The landing strip had so many lights on that it looked like New Year’s Eve. There also appeared to be a lot of fire trucks along the strip with their red lights flashing. Rocco turned to the two nuns. “Ladies,” he admonished them, “start praying.” I guess he figured that if we didn’t know what was happening, we could use all the help we could. I think he asked them especially to pray for the pilot to land us safely. Well, the rest was uneventful. Apparently some danger signals went on that alerted the pilot that there may be trouble, but there was none. It was a false alarm. We landed safely, we transferred to another plane, and got back to Cleveland a little later than we had planned. As we exited the plane in Ohio, I thanked Rocco for intervening, thanked the two nuns for their prayers, and we all were grateful for being back on terra firma, or terra cotta, or whatever we were on. Rocco had a good, long life. At 95, he probably sang the National Anthem more times than anyone in history. May he rest in peace, knowing that he was a highly respected American — as well as a great singer.