Friends: The TV show reminds of the real thing

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

On this New Year’s Eve, my wife decided that we should watch hours and hours of Friends since they are taking off of Hulu tonight. (And she’s not feeling well and looking for something easy to take in.)

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There are so many things to say about this torment, but several hours into the TV marathon, more than anything, I’m struck by the charity and goodness of a friend who had my back at a very young age.

The guy’s 12 years older than me— which is no big deal now that I’m 42, but meant much more when I was 17.

Especially since while I was a smart kid, I still had a lot to learn about just about everything.

He looked out for me— and I’m sure he did so in ways I’ll never know about… but did so in a “cool big brother” sort of way where it never felt that way to me.

I never felt like “the kid,” I was “one of the guys,” which was true up to a point.

Knowing his ball-busting skills, Chris Parker could have crushed the life out of me in half-a-second the time showed up at the radio station dressed to go out, and I said he “looked like he stepped out of an episode of Friends.”

It wasn’t meant as a compliment, and wasn’t received as such. Hahaha.

Anyway, the torrent of terrible, scathing things he could have unleashed on my little suburban punk ass would have left me broken like a mini liquor bottle-filled Rickey Henderson piñata.

Those comebacks are filling my mind even at this moment… but my man let this pup have his day… whenever that was— maybe 26 or 27 years ago.

Now as I sit here rubbing my own nose in it, thinking about the kindness showed to me that day, I know the reason he didn’t bust me into a pile of dust is mostly because he was a good guy who was watching out for the kid.

So mostly because he’s a good guy, but maybe… just maybe… he also knew there was also a smidge of truth in what I said.

Hahaha. Even as I’m subjected to this torturous binge watching penance I still can’t help myself.

And still, I imagine, the worst I’ll raise our of my old pal is an under-his-breath “asshole,” which— even though deserved— will be abated with a chuckle.

So thanks for looking out for me all those years ago, and thanks for always being one of the good guys. Happy New Year.

Cocktail sauce is for shrimps and other supermarket truths

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Image may contain: drink

I’d say I’m pretty harmless looking, and I know I’m tall.

Nearly everywhere I go, the confluence of those two facts leads to diminutive women asking me to get things off of high shelves for them.

It’s always women. A guy— especially a short guy— would never ask for that kind of help.

Anyway, at the grocery store today, twice in less than five minutes, tiny women asked me to reach up to the back of the top shelf.

One was the typical transaction— I was standing nearby and a grandmotherly type asked me to grab a bag of coffee.

Done and done with a smile.

The other instance was a little more strange. I was walking past an aisle when this miniature Edie Falco sounding woman yelled “HEY!”

I looked up, making eye contact.

“COM’ERE!”

Now, I’m always willing to help anyone, anytime, especially with something so silly and easy as grabbing something off a shelf, but I’m getting the vibe here like this woman did me a favor by calling me over to be her stock boy.

She continued to yammer as I reached way back to get the thing she needed— cocktail sauce.

As I handed it to her, the word SHRIMP jumped off the label at me in giant glowing letters.

“I wouldn’t dare mention the irony,” I said, after what felt like an hour of internal deliberation— but it couldn’t have been more than a second.

“What,” she said, curt and dismissive, clearly annoyed and certainly not sure what I meant— maybe not even sure what irony is.

“Just that you couldn’t reach shrimp sauce,” I said.

“Ohh, yeah,” she said, trailing off too absorbed in her own thought to say anything else, and off to find her next victim.

I’m not sure she even realized I called her a shrimp, and I’m not necessarily proud that I did, but sometimes you have to step outside of your comfort zone for the sake of humanity.

The challenges of the holidays

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I share this because I know it’s true for so many of us: Some of life’s challenges made parts of this Christmas holiday muddled and painful in my heart.

The good news is, it just makes me extra thankful for all the great friends, family, and loved ones who keep me going whether they realize it or not.

Most of life’s lessons are impossibly simple (but often feel simply impossible.) I was thinking specifically about: Let it unfold one day at a time, be your brother’s keeper, and allow your brother to be your keeper.

May we all continue to focus on life’s blessings and pray they counterbalance the challenges.

“Maybe Christmas, he thought…doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps…means a little bit more!”

Happy Birthday Number 68 to my ol’man in heaven

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

This is my ol’man’s high school senior portrait— it’s the only photo of him that I ever remember him liking.

He was born 68 years ago today, December 10, 1951. He came a couple of months premature, and in 1951, that was usually a death sentence.

In a long gone, old tenement-looking building behind City Hall, Steven Patrick Cichon was delivered in a 4th floor apartment kitchen during a raging snow storm.

This was the fifth of eleven babies for Grandma Cichon. She put her newborn preemie in the oven to keep him warm until an ambulance could take him the few blocks up Niagara Street to Columbus Hospital.

Nurses quickly christened him right on the spot, not expecting the little oven-warmed baby to make it, but the fight was the first of many he’d win.

Although that first birthday was a rough one, Dad loved his birthday. It was his favorite day of the year.

Sometime around mid-September, he’d start reminding us that his birthday was coming up, and that he’d want a BIG PRESENT… the words said with his arms outstretched and his eyes opened wide.

By November, he’d be getting into specifics. Occasionally, he actually needed something, which was great. Otherwise, we’d have to come up with something on our own.

Despite what you might think about someone in your life, rest assured, that my father was indeed, the hardest person ever for whom to buy a present.

Until I turned 21.

The ol’man spent the last decade or so of his life barely ambulatory. He was a diabetic, and went through several unsuccessful surgeries to save his foot; the there were several surgeries to remove his leg right below the knee.

He was greatly weakened by all the surgeries, and laying in hospital beds, and never really got the hang of the prosthetic leg that he only rarely even tried on.

He would have disagreed, but he was wheelchair-bound.

Dad wasn’t a heavy drinker, but he did like the occasional, or slightly-more than occasional whiskey.

It was never straight— he’d mix it with just about anything. Iced tea, Diet 7-up, Diet Ginger Ale. His tastes changed often, but I think Ginger Ale was his favorite.

Even though he’d eat three doughnuts with impunity, he always drank diet pop because of his diabetes.

Ten years ago, at his last birthday dinner at his favorite Danny’s in Orchard Park, he tried to order a whiskey and diet ginger ale, but alas, like any other bar/restaurant in America, they didn’t have diet ginger ale.

He ordered something else, and when the waitress went away, he whispered to us, talking out of the side of his mouth, “No diet ginger ale? In a fancy place like this?!?”

The stuff he’d come up with, being a veritable shut in, is the stuff we remember him by.

Buying dad a bottle was great. He’d take a quick peek and put it right back in the bag… or maybe roll right down to his office and put it in the drawer so my mom wouldn’t know. (Yeah, right.)

Anyway, he couldn’t make it to the liquor store himself anymore to get a little booze. He was reliant on other people to bring him a taste every once in a while. And in what I now look at as my last great gift to my father, I was his hook up.

“Give me a big bottle of the cheap stuff, instead of that little bottle (of the good stuff),” he whisper to me.

I’d get grief for bringing him a little ‘Old Grandad,’ ‘Kesslers,’ ‘Philadelphia,’ or ‘Old Crow,’ because even a little too much would send his blood sugar out of whack. But it was his last joy in life, and I couldn’t deny him.

I’d get him the little bottle, though, with the hope that he’d only have one drink; try to stretch it out a little more. And that usually worked.

Father’s Day, birthday, Christmas. Dad knew what was coming from me, and part of the gift was giving him reason to devise some sort of ruse to make sure my mother “didn’t know” he’d just gotten some booze.

As he was executing said ruse, he’d quietly, but with the tone implying yelling, ask me why the hell I didn’t get him the big bottle.

Just like with most dads, my ol’man took more than his share of good-natured jibes from the family all year.

But none on his birthday. He loved that— it might have been his favorite part of the day.

He loved even more when someone would let one slip, and he was able to remind, “Not on my birthday!”

Though the polka classic reminds that in heaven there is no beer— on December 10, I know there’s cheap, crappy, blended whiskey in heaven.

And Dad’s drinking it by the gallon with plenty of diet ginger ale.

They must have it in a fancy place like heaven.

Playing Santa is a gift

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

P̶l̶a̶y̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶S̶a̶n̶t̶a̶ Being Santa this past weekend was more than I could have ever expected it to be.

I knew I’d enjoy the kids—and I did. But I make it a regular part of who I am to chat with little kids and look to find ways to help them smile and push them to ignite that sense of wonder always ready to pop out of their little brains and souls.

What I hadn’t pondered ahead of time is the reaction of adults.

Standing on the street waving to passing cars, a full 80% waved back. 20% honked.

In most of our lives, even long after the expectation that he leaves us something under the tree is gone, there’s something about Santa that touches a place in our hearts that melts away the old and grouchy, and puts us back in touch with the sense of awe and wonderment that spends most of our adult lives walled in and cordoned off.

Seeing the grown-up smiles, hearing the horn honks, and feeling the warmth and love melt the ice from hardened hearts was invigorating.

Even the three 9-year-old girls, who were clearly far too cool for some guy wearing an obviously fake beard in a tiny North Buffalo coffee shop– even they were hoping that the answers to the gotcha questions they asked would conjure up a swirl of enchanted sparkles to squash their fears about the big man.

Those girls suspect part of the truth—the part about who puts what in whose stockings. But they are also starting to learn the bigger truth… the better truth.

The truth of Santa is… it’s not even a matter of believing—Santa is real. Like actually real.

It wasn’t $33.02’s worth of red felt and synthetic polyester hair that conjured up so much joy… It was Santa Claus. The big man himself did all that.

And if any of this even remotely makes you want to smile, good ol’Santa has struck again.

It’s just about impossible to ignore the magic and miracle that is Santa Claus.

May Santa live in your heart this Christmas and always.

Malone misses the mark one last time

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Bishop Richard Malone retired/resigned/left today, but he still seems wholly incapable of showing contrition.

Malone spends four paragraphs defending himself (again) before starting a final paragraph with what’s written below in his resignation letter.

Imagine if at Mass, we all abandoned the penitential prayer and just blathered about the good we’ve done instead of begging for the forgiveness of our community and our God.

Imagine the healing this arrogant man could have promoted if he just shared the penitential prayer as his resignation letter.

I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned
through my fault,
through my most grievous fault; therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin, all the Angels and Saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.

I pray that the light of Christ enters Malone’s heart and he comes to truly understand the horror he continues to purvey over, and that’s what makes this so difficult. That he is not allowing the prayers of his flock to break through his arrogance.

Still, prayfully, I continue.

Nine years after his death, the world needs Jim Kelley more now than ever

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Nine years ago today, I wrote:

My good friend and Hockey Hall of Famer Jim Kelley died today. When we last spoke a few weeks ago, he knew it wouldn’t be long. I told him I love him, and he said it back. I’m glad we had that conversation. I wish more friends could/would. God bless you Jimmy, and your family.

Jim Kelley, October 26, 1949 – November 30, 2010

I started out in the “real world,” with an adult job in an adult environment at the age of 15, surrounded by an amazing cast of people who made me think the world was made of great men like them.

There were many, but none was better than Jim Kelley.

He was a hockey writer, but more than that he firmly believed and professed that there was truth and falsehood. Further, he believed that anyone who tried to make gray out of black-and-white was probably up to something and as a citizen and a journalist, it was his job to figure out what.

I miss him personally as a friend, and more broadly as the kind of guy this world needs more of… now more than ever.

Grateful is not always joyful

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

This print used to hang in Grandma Cichon’s kitchen. I was mesmerized by it as a toddler, and am still enchanted to this day.

A print of Bradford Boobis’ “Silent Prayer” hang on the wall of Grandma Cichon’s kitchen.

Part of what it shows is… Grateful is not always joyful.

Gratitude is a beginning, not an end. It‘s about having a profound understanding of a path that was laid out for you, about the things other people have done to lighten your load or create space for you to flourish.

Reflecting on and feeling true gratitude inspires appreciation— but not necessarily joy.

Sometimes acknowledging gratitude for things of long ago conjures up pain for the way things are now, as much as thanks for what once was.

Allowing yourself to be truly grateful for all that you’ve been given and by all who have given of themselves for you isn’t all sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows, but I think understanding and owning the complicated and uncomfortable feelings of thanks are just as important as the warm, good feeling ones we acknowledge with relish and smiles.

The first step in gratitude is allowing light into your life, even if darkness feels more comfortable.

My prayer for you today is that you can bring the light of gratitude in some dark place in your life, while still celebrating with smiles and warm hearts all the unbridled joy that makes your life worth living.

Today, I am truly grateful in every way imaginable. Happy Thanksgiving. Go Bills.

Sabres Goalie Andrei Trefilov offers Russian greeting

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

When he was the Sabres primary back-up goalie, Andrei Trefilov was a funny guy.

One day, I was covering the morning skate and a bunch of us reporters and media types were waiting for all the guys to leave the ice.

Not too long after Dominik Hasek roughed up Buffalo News reporter Jim Kelley, Trefilov came pounding off the ice with an angry look on his face, scowling at the assembled media.

He stopped, narrowed his eyes as he looked at us reporters and growled, “F**K YOU ALL!”

He then waited a moment, smiled, and said, “That means ‘Good Morning’ in Russian!” and walked away laughing. Hahaha.

Thirty years goes by in a flash…

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

“Wanna feel old? My bar-mitzvah was 30 years ago today.”

My oldest friend JJ sent me this text tonight.

We’ve been brothers, more or less, since third grade.

Two idiots, a few years before the bar mitzvah.

As brothers, he shared his special night with me. This Catholic kid even helped him practice the prayer he had to read in Hebrew at the big event.

Prayers aside, I was excited because since this was the ceremony where a Jewish boy becomes a man— that night, in this spectacular ballroom with a giant crystal chandelier, we were going to be able to drink rum and Cokes.

With bartenders holding back giggles, we hammered down “drinks” one after another,  as the mixologist made splashing as little rum as possible look as dramatic as possible to a pair of 13 year old eyes.

Our friendship has endured mostly because we were a couple of old souls, a fourth-grade Statler and Waldorf. Our mutual weirdness and sense of humor was forged together.

In our case, very specifically, even early in grammar school, it meant we both loved the boom of 40s, 50s, and 60s nostalgia which seemed to be everywhere in the 80s.

We just about wore out a VHS tape of A Christmas Story, which we watched some part of almost every day, while eating peanut butter Kudos bars and drinking Coca-Cola Classic (none of that New Coke crap for us) out of ceramic mugs with radio station call letters on them.

The Wonder Years was another seminal element for us in understanding our friendship, but by the time the show had debuted, our families lived a couple hundred miles apart. Still, together we watched and loved the show— talking about it briefly over long distance phone calls.

In different ways we were each equal parts Kevin and Paul. While living in the lousy 80s didn’t seem to capture our imaginations like the 60s might have, I think we both knew we were living out The Wonder Years in so many ways— even if we couldn’t fully understand what that meant.

All that seemed to be cemented when only weeks before JJ’s Bar Mitzvah, Paul had a Bar Mitzvah on The Wonder Years.

I don’t think there are any photos of JJ and I together at his Bar Mitzvah that night, but the screen-grab of Paul and Kevin is just as much us as an actual photo would be.

A few years later, JJ and I took a teenaged road trip tour of the Adirondacks, Quebec, and New England.

Of the dozens of great memories of that trip, one stands out tonight— visiting and spending the night at JJ’s grandparents near Lake Winnipesaukee, NH.

A night of free lodging was great for a couple of 16 year-olds on the road for a week, but it came with some weirdness.

Such characters were JJ’s grandparents, they could have walked out of a sitcom.  Well, except that his grandmother was wound half-a-turn too tight to get laughs.

Every word she spoke was saturated with anxiety and disappointment, whether it was the excessive use of ranch salad dressing or the accommodations in the guest bedroom.

“Oh Irv,” she said in her breathy and unmistakable voice, “it’s too bad we still don’t have those long beds that we had for (JJ’s dad) for these tall boys. They were beautiful beds.”

Sitting in his barcalounger, barely looking up from the TV stocks crawl on Financial News Network, JJ’s grandfather said with a smile and a solid New England accent, “Maaahgo, that was FAAHTY YEAAAHS AGO!”

“Forty years ago” seemed like an impossible concept that night almost 30 years ago, when we piled into Irv and Margo’s white Lincoln Town Car for an early bird dinner at Hart’s Turkey Farm.

But it all happened in a blink.

At the time, I thought that Grandpa Irv was smiling because his batty wife was almost making a scene over pining and longing for furniture that had been thrown away four decades earlier.

But now I know, some part of that smile had to be just how fast those “faahty yeaahs” had gone.