Thursday, January 30, 2014

Get in line with the rest of us and smile

This incident happened  Saturday afternoon over at the Heinen's at Pine Ridge Plaza in Willoughby Hills.


The entrance to that Heinen's is like  every other grocery store,  involving an automatic  glass door.


The door is only wide enough for one person at a time.  I was  in a bit of a hurry.


In the doorway ahead of me was an elderly woman.


She was wearing a beautiful long fur coat, a bright red nylon scarf, and a  dark blue hat with some sort of black netting that came down over her eyes a little bit.


Grey hair coiffed perfectly, she was wearing makeup  very carefully applied, complete with  dark red lipstick,  mascara, and eyebrow pencil. The scent of a delicate perfume surrounded her.



In essence, I saw before me a  beautifully dressed grand dame, someone's grandmother who knew not to go out of the house unless she was decked out in a way that would make her family proud.


But she was moving very slowly.


Father time had shortened her steps while also diminishing their pace.


I had to stand in that doorway behind her for a good 90 seconds before I could get into Heinen's wonderful food emporium.


I waited.


I felt the presence of another person and looked behind me to see a gentleman wearing jeans and an Ohio State jacket also standing patiently behind me.


And a few seconds after that an additional middle-aged man joined our entranceway conga line.


All three of us were smiling and all three of us exchanged an unspoken message.


Here was that message: No matter how important our mission, it was important for us to patiently wait for that great lady to make her way into that store.


I think all three of us realized that we were witnessing not a reason to be impatient, but rather a reason to feel proud of the effort it took for this wonderful senior citizen to make her way through the snow and the cold.


Finally, in the store, I made my way to the section that featured dry roasted peanuts.


One of the three men in line behind me came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder. He told me that the little old lady who led us into the store reminded him of something his wife  told him earlier that day.


His wife reminded him to respect old people because he was merely looking at his own future. The time would come when he would hope that other folks would be patient with him as he shuffled his way through life because of the physical limitations of age.


He was right and I think that all three of us are grateful for the lesson we learned from that  woman.


God bless you, madam. May I become elderly with elegance like  you.


And may I continue to have  patience  with those that are just a bit slower and a bit wiser than the rest of us.



Thursday, January 23, 2014

Watch someone who loves well and learn

Some lessons are learned from observing others.


My mom taught all of us in our family of nine children just by letting us see the things she did.


Her life was  one act of compassion after another.


We noticed and soaked it all in.


Mom practically turned our home into a boarding house because someone needed a roof over her head.


Most of the overnight visitors were pregnant girls, thrown out of their home by a family that couldn't bear the shame of a daughter who was expecting out of wedlock. That was a pretty typical reaction for families back in the 1960s.


Mom made them feel warm, welcome,  and safe.


The real miracle of the sleepover guests was convincing my dad to go along with the idea.


Dad was set in his ways and turning our house into the Motel 6 upset his routine.


But Dad loved Mom and her desire to do good melted his heart.


In Mom's presence you felt an aura of kindness.






Which brings me to the story at hand.


It's been so cold lately that my memory pushed up to the surface recollections of one horribly cold night.


Dark and freezing, about 7 PM.


I was in the sixth grade.


At the door, three kids,  African-American, ages about ten, nine, and seven.


They were selling magazines.


Noses running.




Standing in the doorway of our stately rambling house on Fairmount Boulevard in Cleveland Heights.


Someone left them out in the winter chill for hours.


These kids were frozen and miserable.


Mom was moved.


She took them inside and made them hot cocoa.


They each had 2 cups but that's understandable because mom's hot cocoa was amazing. I've never tasted anything like it since.


After about a half hour mom was able to get some details about where they lived.


It was somewhere in a very poor neighborhood around E. 45th St. and Lexington.


She packed them into her car to drive them home.


I went along for the ride.


One of the kids talked about a brother who had been killed in an accident.


My heart broke and I was only 11 years old.


When we reached the destination,  Mom walked them to the front door.


She gave a wad of cash to the mother that greeted them.


It was a quiet ride home.


I was pondering.


Even at that young age, I wondered.


What's our obligation?


What's our role in a world filled with  poor and  hungry?


Mom had it right.


Do what you can when you can.


And if need shows up on your doorstep, God is sending you a message.


Don't close the door.


Do something.


By the way, when we got home that night I found a magazine order form. Mom ordered 15 magazines that would be delivered for the next five years.


Who knew mom liked fishing magazines.




She's gone now.


But the lessons live on.


I bet somebody in your life is teaching you lessons right now.


Your job?


Observe, learn, and love.



Thursday, January 16, 2014

Houlihan the Weatherman he ain't, but that's OK

Channel 19 Television news weatherman Jeff Tanchak is one of my favorites on the local broadcast scene here in Northeast Ohio.


His style is extremely energetic and animated. Some people have criticized him by  describing his style as sensationalistic.


These critics indicate that  Tanchak frequently delivers his weather forecast in a fashion designed to inspire fear.


These critics cynically claim that he  wants to create fear in his audience so that viewers will feel compelled to continue to watch his broadcast as a way of protecting themselves against the onslaught of some oncoming weather disaster.


They claim that  Tanchak essentially is saying the following: You better stay tuned to my broadcast, because if you fail to do so you may get wiped out by a tornado without warning.


I disagree with these naysayers that don't like Jeff Tanchak's high-volume intense delivery.


He is  a refreshing contrast with the velvet voiced blown dry pretty boy frequently chosen as a TV meteorologist because of a handsome face and dulcet tones.


That's why readers of this column should realize that when it comes to Jeff Tanchak, I am a fan.


Now that doesn't mean Jeff Tanchak doesn't go a little too far on occasion.


One of those occasions occurred two weeks ago on a Tuesday night when temperatures fell well below zero and the wind chill dropped to bizarrely low levels.


It was in fact a dangerous time for seniors and small children. Schools were closed for two days.


However, in the 10 o'clock broadcast on that Tuesday evening, Jeff Tanchak went on a brief rant.


He peered into the camera and raised his voice to a fever pitch, announcing to the audience that these super-low  temperatures made him very angry.


He wasn't angry at municipal employees failing to plow the snow. He wasn't angry at education officials that might have been too slow to close our institutions of learning.


No, believe it or not, he told the entire world that he was angry at the temperatures themselves. He was enraged that a frigid front had made its way into our land of the Western Reserve.


Now really, Jeff, are you kidding me?


You are an outstanding meteorologist and one of the very dynamic broadcasters of weather information.


But I've got to tell you, that broadcast just made you look stupid. It hurts your credibility when you act as if the weather itself has some kind of human personality at which you can direct your wrath.


The weather can't defend itself, Jeff. That's because it's not human, and is merely an expression of scientific principles that you were taught during your many years of meteorological education.


Jeff Tanchak, I'm just hoping that you experienced a brief mental lapse, as opposed to trying to increase viewership with this ridiculous approach.


You've many years of great success ahead of you.


Just do me a favor and leave mother nature alone. She isn't real and all of us just want to know what you can tell us about the weather.


OK, I feel better now.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Eddie Bennet lived an honest life and you should too

Can you accept who and what you are?


And can you let others openly accept who and what you are?


I recently read an interesting story about Eddie Bennett.


Eddie Bennett was the bat boy for the famed 1927 New York Yankees.


Considered the greatest baseball team in history, their lineup featured the famous murderer's row highlighted by Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth batting in the number three in four positions.


These Yankees were also highly superstitious.


The players attributed much of their success to the good luck they experienced by rubbing the hunchback of Eddie Bennett every time they headed out toward home plate.


You read that right.


Eddie Bennett had experienced a terrible accident  as an infant in a baby carriage. It left him hunchbacked.


The  Bronx Bombers believed rubbing Bennett's hunchback led to higher batting averages and more home runs.


Nobody  considered that the players might be violating rules of political correctness.


Most interestingly, Eddie Bennett liked the idea of serving as a good luck charm.


Bennett was credited for the success of the Chicago White Sox and the Brooklyn Robbins who both won pennants with Bennett handing them the pine before each AB.


That's why Yankee owner Jacob Ruppert was determined to bring Bennett into the Yankee family.


Bennett's addition to the Yankees produced the greatest string of winning teams in the history of major league baseball.


It makes me wonder if all of us in our polite modern world are being just a bit dishonest.


We pretend not to notice the obvious flaws that we have to live with in  each other.


Maybe if we were open about each of our own physical drawbacks we could take away the power that they seem to have over us.


Wouldn't  it be nice if we could talk openly about each other's negative physical features.


We could get on with the business of living life without being self-conscious of our weight, or that mole on our face,  or even that hunchback.


When I was a kid there was a boy down the street with a  glandular problem that caused his body to grow to an enormous size.


He actually went by the nickname of "Tiny".


As a result, he wasn't self-conscious about his weight as it was out there for everyone to talk about instead of being the elephant in  the room everyone is trying to avoid.


There's a guy in Euclid who goes by the name of "Skinny"  who is anything but.


He's not self-conscious and no one is cruel for calling him by this name.


All  I'm trying to say in this column is that our obvious physical frailties can and should be openly discussed and acknowledged with each other so that we can get past them.


Why carry  around emotional baggage created by avoiding the obvious in conversation.


It worked for Eddie Bennett.


And it can work for us.


Think about it.


Next time you see me just call me Fatso.


I promise I won't get angry.


I'll appreciate the honesty.


Ready to live life like that?



Friday, January 3, 2014

Cosmo cuts a cool figure in our hearts

I love Kramer. You know who I'm talking about, Cosmo Kramer from the Seinfeld show.


You love him too, and probably for the same reasons.


We love Kramer because he's an oddball who thinks that being the oddball is  a very cool thing to do.


Kramer tells us that it's okay to have a strange personality with peculiar habits as long as we live life with zest and confidence.


In fact, Jerry, George, and Elaine have great affection for Kramer, especially because he carries out his antics as if he lived in a state of complete normalcy.


For example, Kramer doesn't believe in shaving cream. It's his view that butter from the refrigerator softens the beard and leaves the user  a nice clean shave.


He refuses to carry a wallet because he insists that it will throw his delicate frame out of kilter. He's obviously not afraid to be his own orthopedist.


Kramer is also quite frugal. He has solved the healthcare crisis by insisting  people be treated by veterinarians. He reasons that the tremendous variety of species treated by animal doctors demonstrates their superior mental faculties.


And leave it to Kramer to stroll straw into the office of a major publisher and convince the publisher to buy into Kramer's brilliant idea: a coffee table book about coffee table books.


We laugh right along with the rest of the cast and the audience because it's not the antics of Kramer that make us want to be friends with him.


It's the way that he convinces us that his crazy activities are completely natural and in sync with the core of his personality.


For him.


We know that if we did the things that Kramer does  we would be embarrassed and unable to face our friends the next day.


We've all experienced this kind of person.


When we are at a  party, some guy is acting like a cutup and engaging in some bizarre behavior that makes us laugh.


We think that the person in question is sort of an exhibitionist and we're willing to whisper that we think he's an idiot.


But deep down we have a little bit of admiration for him.


That's because inside each one of us, there is a Kramer.


The desire to do something outlandish, which we never do because our social governor indicates that we must not violate the bounds of propriety.


But we secretly wish that we could be that kid that challenges the teacher openly in  class.


We don't reveal it, but we wish that we had the guts to be the guy that wears a gorilla suit to the Halloween party.


The fact is that we need the Kramers of the world to remind us that sometimes it's okay to violate protocol.


Historically, some of the great inventions and ideas have found fertile ground only in the hearts of those willing to tilt at windmills.


We need the Einstein's, the Eddison's, and the Galileo's.


And all of us need a Kramer.