b-kwik, Tim Hortons, & And With Your Spirit: My brain is a mess.

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

Unlike many people, I don’t fear change. I thrive on it. It’s sad, of course, when something good changes, but you never know what good thing is going to come of it. Then you have two good things, the old one you remember, and the present one you can enjoy.

I don’t know what i would do if everything just always remained the same. And while I sometimes wonder why some people are just universally opposed to anything different; in many respects I get it.

Does our brain “harden” as we get older?  Am I ever going to be able to relearn things apparently more firmly implanted in my mind than I could have ever thought?

We all like to think we’re so smart, but I for one know I’m a mess. My mind is like the back room of some old office, with rusty file cabinets with papers hanging out and drawers that don’t close all the way.

It’s amazing to me how many things are hard-wired into who I am, and its only, apparently, conscious effort that allows me to do something different.

It’s never been more apparent to me than at mass. The new Catholic mass. Back in November, they changed the words around ever so slightly, to the prayers and responses I have been saying my entire life. Now I know all the new responses. I can say them to you right now. But if I don’t shut down all other programs in my brain, and am concentrating at any less than 90%, forget it. All the sudden, I’m the one guy dropping a “it is right and just to give him praise.”  (An old response that has been replaced with ‘It is right and just’ for you non-Catholics.)

I realize this is new, and it’s only been 4 months after 35 years the other way. But I can guarantee that should I still be counted among the living in 2030s, at least 5 times in that decade I will offer the wrong response at mass, and be angry with myself.

There’s a lot that is hardwired for me, and it frankly scares me. I drink a lot of coffee. Love Tim Hortons coffee, and I order lots of it. I’m fine to order my usual medium black coffee, and will get exactly what I want. The problem comes when I want something different, usually a size smaller.

Now about 15 years ago, US Tim Horton stores made the size shift that Canadian Tim Hortons stores made over the last few months. The smallest cup was discontinued, the medium became small, the large became medium and the extra large became large.

tim hortons sizes

When the picture of the cup that has been a small here for over 15 years pops in my head, I think of it as a medium. If there is time for me to have this rational discussion in my head, all is well. If I’m not paying attention, or am rushed, or change my mind quickly, I often get something different from what I ordered, and drop a “SONAVAB-” on myself.

Similarly at Mighty Taco, there was an order I used to make all the time, but can’t anymore. Every day, on my way home from work, I would stop at the Mighty Taco at Elmwood and Forest, (long gone!!) and order two super mightys, medium, no cheese. It cost $4.16. This was a ritual for maybe three years or so in the early 90s.

Fast forward to today, and I have been on a gluten free diet for 6 years, and eating a flour tortilla could potentially put me in the hospital. Still, if rushed or distracted, I will order two super mightys, medium no cheese, and  not even realize I’ve done wrong. My wife has stopped this from happening at least 4 or 5 times. I don’t think I’ve ever actually received that order, but i know I’d throw it out, disgusted with myself, and figure that at this point i just deserve to starve.

Is it really that hopeless to try to learn something new? I mean really learn it, make it the brain’s new default position? And is it a matter of a hardening brain, or it is that the brain is full and needs somehow to be defragged?

When I first learned how to read, I remember was reading everything and memorizing it. I knew the names of the side streets off McKinley Parkway in South Buffalo, because I’d read the signs and memorize them because I could. I can still go Como, Kenefick, Hubbell…. But I now have to think 3 or 4 seconds about the name of the street one block away from my house, which I have been able to see out my kitchen window for the last 12 years.

I have a hard time grocery shopping, because with maybe 70% of my attention, I’m looking for a box of something. After a minute or two, I’ll often realize that I’m looking right at it, and the box was changed in 1994.

With pretty good regularity, I go for the clutch when driving, even though I’ve had an automatic for 7 years.

bkwik logoWhile my specific examples might be unique, I know I’m not alone. I was in line at Dash’s not too long ago, when the woman blathering on her cell phone said, “I’ll call ya right back, I’m in line at b-Kwik.” After the woman left, I asked the young cashier  if she even remembered b-Kwik. “Yeah, from when I was in like second grade,” she said. Like a decade ago.

It’s also apparent in people’s voices. I spoke to Rick Azar at great length while researching my book on him, Tom Jolls, and Irv Weinstein. It was great to hear his voice get a taste of Spanish accent to it as he reminisced. 50 or 60 years of broadcasting with perfect diction can’t take away that beautiful espanol sound engrained in you as a kid.

I just marvel at the brain, and would love to know the mysteries of how and why it does what it does to each of us. I just wish it wouldn’t do whatever it is to me when I’m trying to order in the drive thru.

I’m a scofflaw. Don’t judge: Why you won’t see me leaving the library with books….

This is embarrassing, and I feel like I have to explain myself.

I love libraries. I mean, even for people who love libraries, I love libraries. I was a library aide at Orchard Park Middle School. On the off chance I had lunch or an off period in high school, I was in the library.

I can honestly say, in college, I probably spent more time wandering the stacks at the Lockwood Library– and learned more there– than I did in class.

I know the Grosvenor Room at the downtown library like the back of my hand. I can tell you almost to the shelf where many of the best books or collections of books are located in that glorious room. And though it was likely the vinegary smell of disintegrating turn of the century pulp paper that caused it, I wept for a moment when I stumbled upon my own book in those stacks. It really means that much to me, seeing my book there, I’ve never felt more like a legitimate author and historian. It meant so much more than having the finished books in my hand, or seeing them for sale at a book store.

I’ve even had the honor at speaking at the library. Downtown. Right between the escalators. About the book I wrote, available for borrowing from the library. Available to you, that is. But not me. You see, I don’t have a library card.

“WHA-A-A-A?,” you ask in a stunned voice. And it’s something that shames me; it really does. I can’t get a library card. Don’t hate me when I tell you that my library card was revoked when I was in middle school. A few hundred dollars in fines and lost books.

It wasn’t me. I know that no man in prison is guilty, but I’m really not. I hate to speak ill of the dead, but it was my scofflaw father who left me in this dire strait.

It was well known by the South Park High School Library, the Daemen College Library, the Niagara University Library, and, yes, the Buffalo and Erie County Library that my ol’man wasn’t too good at returning books. He would tense up at the thought of calling this theft, but that’s pretty much what it was.

I don’t know if he’d ever planned on returning volume after volume and it just got away from him, or whether he really thought one day he’d take them back when he was done with them. But suffice it to say, once when he was trying to write a book about world religions or something (It kept changing, and he rarely finished a project) he drove me to the library, and asked me to take out this big pile of big books. I was in 6th or 7th grade, and these were graduate level theology texts.

Somehow these books wound up in the same place where my parents kept my $120 in First Communion money for “safe keeping.” Neither the books nor the cash was ever seen again.

I had assumed the books were returned, until one day I tried to take out a book and sirens blared and an armed guard escorted me out of the library. Not really, but they said I owed hundreds in fines and loss charges. Dad promised to pay. Never did. I ribbed him about it for years, and always said he’d take care it. Didn’t.

There was always that thought, though, that if I really needed a library card, I’d go get a check from the ol’man and it’d be all set. Now I’ve got nothin’.

A few years ago, I applied again, but they bounced me. Its a shame I live with, but now feel a little better for having it out in the open.

Aside from good ol’books, one could go through a history lesson in audio/visual media in looking at what I’ve been barred from borrowing. I haven’t been able to take out record albums, VHS movies, CDs, movies on DVD, and now books for my NOOK.

So don’t tell me about how you can borrow e-books from the library. I’ve spent a lifetime (at least since I was 13) convincing myself that if a book is good enough to read, it’s good enough to own and put on the shelf.

And since I’m not shelling out that couple hundred bucks anytime soon, it’s something that I guess I’m going to have to continue to believe.

The Wiping Willow Winter: Muddy Dogs Make Prayers For Snow

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

willowsitsMaybe you hear it in my voice. As a journalist, I’m supposed to, and do, tackle my assignments without prejudice and with a willingness to hear both sides.I hope you haven’t heard it, but over the last few months, I just haven’t been able to hide my disgust. As I read the weather forecast.

I’m not a skier or a snowmobiler, so I really don’t mind the lack of snow. And since I don’t play pond hockey, the fact that the lake didn’t freeze causes me no real alarm (except that typical Buffalo expectation that we’ll all be under 37 feet of snow on April Fools Day.)

Really, I love the warmth and sunshine maybe even more than the average guy. But this year, nothing ruins my day like seeing a high temperature of 43 or 39. Above freezing. Well above freezing. There’s no snow to melt, but the ground does get soft. 

There really hasn’t been much of a winter at all, which is why the winter of 2011-12 will forever be remembered in the Cichon house as the “Winter of the Muddy Paws.”

If you are a dog owner, how can you be excited to hear that its 30 today, but tomorrow we could hit 38? Can you really feel the difference between 30 and 38? Even if you can, good luck enjoying those “warmer temperatures,” since in my house a quick 25 seconds outside in the backyard can equal up to 5 minutes of paw, leg, and belly cleaning.

Willow is good. She sits and will even hand you a paw to be cleaned; very regal for an SPCA mutt. But if you’ve just about finished wiping, and a squirrel pops his head over the fence…. forget it.

I really don’t want to be one of those people who finds something to complain about everything, and I’m generally not that way. Even about our usually mundane winter tasks like scraping of windshields and snowblowing the driveway. No problem. But these dirty paws, five, six or thirteen times a day, sometimes just to do the quick run out and come in for a treat.

It’s affecting my marriage and showing my flaws. So far deep into the spare bathroom towels, I’m not sure whether I’m about to pluck a “good towel” from the linen closet or not. And saints preserve us if there’s an unexpected muddy paw and I reach for the good dish towel.

Even as a lifelong Buffalonian, I don’t know that the weather’s ever had such a lousy effect on me. Another month of snow? No problem. I have furry hats to keep me warm. There is no kind of head gear to get you through muddy paws.

willow in the mud

About now is the point in my rant when someone will mention that they saw these cute little booties for dogs’ paws, so that you can put them on when they go out, and take them off when they come back in. These were obviou sly designed either by someone who has never been around a dog, or by someone who hates dog owners. Willow would, and rightly so, go out in the muddiest part of the yard and roll around in it, covering herself in mud trying to get those booties off her paws. Her paws would stay clean, but the rest of her would be caked in mud.

At this point, if taking out the ice boom means spring is here, for the sake of my mental well-being, I hope the solid-ground-part of spring is around the corner really fast. To think it could be another two months of picking mud covered grass bits from between the toes of this animal could actually have me hoping for a blizzard. I’m losing grip with reality on this.

I really wish I could be one of the proud Buffalonians who can think only of Mr. Softee trucks and shorts when we hit 42 degrees in February, and most winters I’m with ya. But this year, that excitement is marred by the same mark as my kitchen floor: a big muddy paw print.

Rubbery Chicken & Canadian Puppets: being home sick takes me back to childhood & Mr. Dressup

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

There’s something about the old days. I know, news flash, right?

But really, upon examination, they really weren’t all that better than today. Unless you are a miserable Luddite, i.e., someone who hates or fears technology, living is easier now than ever before. Easier isn’t necessarily better, but when virtually everything (except ‘getting away from it all’) is easier, it’s got to be better on the whole.

Still, even the worn-in feeling and familiarity of even the most uncomfortable things of our past bring us some level of comfort, especially when the going gets a little rough.

Today, I had a type of day which has been rare for me in adulthood; a sick day where I wasn’t bed bound or just too nauseous or pained to really want to do anything.

It was supposed to be a vacation day, but I have a lousy cold. The kind of day that wouldn’t normally stop me from going to work, but not a day where I’d get much more than the bare minimum done, between filling up the tea cup, blowing my nose, and generally feeling a little beat up and a little run down.

But instead of putting in a solid ‘C+’ day down in the salt mine, I sat at home with all sorts of great plans for the day.

Those plans just weren’t to be. With my sinuses feeling like they’re filled silly putty and the rest of my head slogging around like wet cotton balls, well, the cold just took the sails out of my wind. I think. When you’re not sure, without deep thought whether you’re saying it right, or quoting former Bills Head Coach and King of the Malaprop Hank Bullough, it’s time for a rest.

Home alone, and too sick to do anything good, but well enough to want to do something. Just try to remember that euphoric feeling after the bus went by, and you were assured a day home from school.

That’s really about where I was this morning. Not being one to ‘bang in’ unless there is death, vomiting, or no voice (important for me!) in the forecast, I go to work, so I’m left to think about sick days as a little twerp, and immediately it’s a thought that brings comfort between anticipated sneezes that never come.

After a nice bath ( who has time for a bath anymore!), I made a can of soup on the stovetop. Normally, the thought of all that salt is enough to raise my blood pressure, but not today. It’s incredible to me, but even that awful processed single piece of ‘chicken meat’ in the can took me back to a simpler time.

And I used the stove top for the tea kettle, too. We didn’t have a microwave until my teen years. I can survive waiting more than exactly 2 minutes and 29 seconds (I stop it before the beeps) for water for my tea.

Not even really on purpose, and not even really thinking about it, I started my vacation day just like a good ol’sick day.

MrDressupCasey&Finnegan4While I hadn’t planned it to be like that, I was thinking about now, and how nice, how comforting it would be to run through the sick day staple TV lineup. For me, it started with Jerome and Rusty on ‘The Friendly Giant,’ and then Casey, Finnegan, and the Tickle trunk on Mr.Dressup on CBC.

Then Bob Barker, Johnny Olson, Janice, Dian, and the beautiful Holly on the ‘Price is Right’ on Channel 4, before a quick switch to Channel 2 at noon for the Flintstones.

Of course, the Price is Right remains, but to me in name only. When grandmas would wear homemade t-shirts because they’d been watching Bob since he was on Truth or Consequences, and then would jump for excitement when they win a new washing machine, that was real.

Hipsters wearing too-tight t-shirts they paid to have made at a kiosk in the mall, who feign excitement because it’s ironic that they win a washing machine because they don’t bathe; that just doesn’t do it for me.

But, then there’s YouTube. Technology of today, soothing my fever induced nostalgia.

I watched ‘The Friendly Giant,’ and didn’t have to fight with my brother over who was going to get to sit in the rocking chair if we ever went to visit the Friendly Giant.

I also got to watch Mr. Dressup make a pretend clarinet out of a paper towel tube, and I got to listen back a few times to my favorite Mr. Dressup sounds: his scissors and his markers. The only way I could have had a better childhood is if my scissors made that crisp a noise as they cut, and my markers that fantastic a whine as they whizzed across the paper.

I also got a good helping of the original ‘Come on Down!!’ man Johnny Olson, and Bob Barker with a mahogany colored head.

As always, the past is a nice place to visit, but one really shouldn’t live there. It’s dishonest to live there. It’s our amazing present, with YouTube on smart phones that helps make it happen.

But still, its really amazing how rubbery chicken bits and decades old video of Canadian puppets, and the memories they rekindle can make a lousy day a little less so.

It’s too bad. I really would have enjoyed today if I wasn’t sick.

Greatly simplified Parliamentary rules of order

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Most people who’ve ever served on a board or been a member of a large club have heard of Robert’s Rules of Order, which calls itself “the most widely used reference for meeting procedure and business rules in the English-speaking world.” First written in 1896, there have been eleven editions, and the paperback is as long as 816 pages.

These rules are supposed to make meetings more orderly, more fair, more concise, and geared to help accomplish more in less time.

Many of the basic ideas of Robert’s Rules are often woven into a group’s governing bylaws—things like recognizing a chairperson, quorum, executive sessions, the preparation and availability of agendas and minutes, etc.

We follow Robert’s Rules and we don’t even know it. Fundamental principles found in the book include ideas like having one question discussed at a time; one person, one vote; and a vote being limited to members present.

It’s basic Parliamentary procedure, which considers the rights of the majority, the minority, individual members and all of these groups taken together.

The National Association of Parliamentarians writes:

Parliamentary procedure refers to the rules of democracy—the commonly accepted way in which a group of people come together, present and discuss possible courses of action, and make decisions.

The most recent edition says Robert’s Rules should “enable assemblies of any size, with due regard for every member’s opinion, to arrive at the general will on the maximum number of questions of varying complexity in a minimum amount of time and under all kinds of internal climate ranging from total harmony to hardened or impassioned division of opinion.”

The book is written like that: Most sentences have to be read a few times. Basically, that last one said, “Lots of people. Every opinion counts. General will be done. As little time as possible.”

Knowing that most groups follow Robert’s Rules to some degree or not, even if it isn’t expressed, I like to introduce a very simplified version of Robert’s Rules for the very basic rules of discussion and meeting.

These are a few basic ideas discussed in Robert’s Rules over dozens of pages, boiled down into a few simple sentences to help facilitate better discussion for everyone, to put us all on the same page.


These shall apply to all board discussions both in person and email:

  • All comments are addressed to the chair.

To facilitate easier and more orderly discussion, members do not address to one another and discussion goes through the chair.

  • In order for any discussion to ensue, there must be a motion before the board, and it must be seconded. Discussion is limited to the motion before the board.

During these discussions, offering personal opinions and experiences and advocating for causes and beliefs is encouraged. Personal attacks, abuse language, and disparaging the ideas of others will not be tolerated.

  • Call the question

At any point during a debate, if half those present agree to end debate and vote, debate is ended and there is a vote.

 

Having clear, concise, fair rules are important to maintain order and civility, and when simple rules are spelled out, it becomes much easier for everyone to play along– or understand why they are being called out for not doing so.

John Otto’s Love Rubs Off: The best ever never lost his fire and passion

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

johnottopicSometimes the way life lines a series of seemingly unrelated events like lights on an airport runway can make a guy pause and question his sanity, because the answer is almost too clear.

For the past three days, I’ve been filling in for John Zach on Buffalo’s Early News on WBEN. The four-hour news show starts at 5am, and John does most of the writing when he’s here. For me, that meant getting up at 2:45am, in order to give myself about 90 minutes to put the local news together. John gets here earlier than that, and has been doing it just about every day for most of the 50 years he’s worked in radio.

I question myself often, would I be able to do this; get up like this. I did early morning weekends for a few years, but in 19 years of broadcasting, never a regular Monday-Friday, in-to-get-the morning show ready gig. John, who has worked the morning shift in parts of 7 different decades has said, “You never get used to it.”

I’ve filled in on the shift before, even for just a week or two, and always walked around feeling like a two-hour old grilled cheese; still crusty and gooey, but crusty and gooey in the wrong places. I just didn’t feel right, and never felt like I sounded as good as I could or should. And it always bothers me that when I set my alarm for 2:45am, my wife is rattled awake, too.

But this week, in the midst of working this early morning shift, one of the guys at work was cleaning out some files and handed me an old envelope he thought I might be interested in labeled MASTER TAPES– JOHN OTTO HALL OF FAME. Aside from being a master of the English language, the father of talk radio in Buffalo, and one of the top 5 broadcasters to ever grace the airwaves in Buffalo, John is somewhat of a personal hero to me.

Needless to say, I snatched the envelope, and delved inside not only to find hours of reels, cassettes, and DATs (an early digital tape format), but I also found a paper-filled folder labelled “John Otto.”

On top were a couple dozen e-mails and cards sent to WGR in the days following John’s death. Touching memories from fans and friends far and wide. Beautiful and filled with raw emotion. Then came John’s handwritten professional biography, tracing his radio career from the early 50s to the late 90s, only a year or so before his passing.

johnottoautograph

But what I found most gratifying were the notes that had been sent back and forth over the years to a succession of 5 or 6 supervisors at WGR. And while even a John Otto note complaining about a co-worker’s tardiness or an equipment problem flows across the paper the way a ballerina glides across the stage, that’s still not the point.

It started to strike me when I saw the note he wrote in 1995 asking to work Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Years Eve, and New Years Day. He was begging to work those days. Days most of us would curse the boss who forced us to work, but here, 43 years into his broadcasting career, and John’s tone was nearly inconsolable, worried that some other program might pre-empt his conference call of all interested parties.

In case the point be lost, John writes it quite plainly in one note. “The very principle on which I’ve always conducted myself, to wit, if one is in radio, you want to be on radio at every opportunity.”

After an illness took him off the air for a spell, he wrote in another missive that he’s ready to come back “if you’ll have me,” adding, ” My appetite is restored, miracle of all, my taste buds are a-bloom once more. You’ve got no idea what life is like without the ability to taste… ’til you’ve not got it.”

John Otto, almost 50 years into his career had such a fire in his belly for it. Not a soul better, universally lauded; but still fearful that it could be taken away. Would that we all felt that way about anything in our lives, let alone our job.

It made me think of my friend Ed Little, who was that way, too. He worked a tremendous 62 years in radio, starting as a child actor. I was with him in 2000 when he delivered his last newscast on WBEN, also the last program to originate from the studios on Elmwood Avenue.

Septuagenarian Ed couldn’t get a handle on the new computers, despite going through extra training on his own. Within a few months, he passed away. His heart was bad, but I know it was a broken heart, too.

Twenty years ago, my fire was inexhaustible. I can remember going to work as an 18 year old within hours of my grandma’s cancer death.

Thinking back on it, it makes me sad that I went in to board op Buffalo’s Evening News that night, and didn’t spend the time with my family. But that’s what I was and what I did. I think I’ve learned a little about life and about work since then.

Family’s much more important. I write books. I have a website. I’m on Boards of Directors, and I give talks about Buffalo History. I also work a pretty much 9-5 job these days. It’s not often I’m challenged to see how hot that fire burns.

I know it there, because it has to be there to be working in radio, or in any number of jobs similar in that there really isn’t much money. And its not the fame or the notoriety,either. Its having the blessing of doing a job that thousands would line up behind you to do for free. And just having that job, and being blessed with the gift of it, and being able to live a dream. And not wanting to give it up for the world.

So I’ve been thinking about whether or not I could work the morning shift, and the answer is of course. And though I sometimes play the curmudgeon, and complain about getting up early on those days when the job calls for it, the fact of the matter is, I’d do just about whatever they told me to do to keep it going. And this week, I even loved the early mornings. Loved every minute of hosting that show with Susan Rose. Loved it with that John Otto fire.

Just today, I read a Forbes Magazine article, which talks about the only three questions employers need to ask perspective employees. I say, you only need to ask one of those three. Will you love this job?

If the answer is no, go find something else. When I say love, I mean LOVE. Not ‘like the hours,’ or the pay, or the doors it might open. Love the job. Put your heart into it. Life is just too short.

“You know me,” John Otto closes one note with, “I just want to be on the radio.” Me too.

Jack Anthony’s Legacies: Squeezing out Every Last Opportunity to Give

jackanthonyJack Anthony is larger than life in many ways.

His physical presence is commanding. At first it’s the tall frame and broad shoulders of a man you wouldn’t want to tangle with that you notice, but then it’s the smirk and gleam in his eye that capture your attention and leave you to wonder what fun this guy’s about to get into.

And while most of us hope to leave a legacy of some sort, Jack lives among legacies too many to count. He’s hoping to add one more big one.

Having grown up in the Parkside neighborhood, Jack has been a civic leader here for parts of seven decades. A lifelong member and leader at Central Presbyterian Church, he was also a co-founder of the Parkside Community Association 49 years ago. The reason for that first meeting in his parents living room was the invasion of unethical real estate people whispering that ‘blacks are moving in and it’s time to sell.’

Jack stood up to say ‘yes they are, and welcome.’ It wasn’t a popular notion in 1963, but it gained steam, and helped save the neighborhood we love today from being overrun by those sales people only looking to make a fast buck by buying low and selling high at any cost.

His most recent neighborhood effort was at the forefront of getting The People’s Park up and running, where dozens enjoy a nice break next to the TriMain Building on Main Street.

JackAnthonyBuffaloNewsJack’s also a family man, with second and third generations of his big mixed clan involved in the affairs of the neighborhood. Spending decades as a Buffalo school teacher, he spread a message of being good to one another to a couple generations of kids.

But even with all those accomplishments and legacies, the biggest impact came as the Director of Cradle Beach camp. Jack gave his summers for decades so thousands of kids who may not have had much else to look forward to had not only some fun, but maybe walked or wheeled away with a slightly different outlook.

After a life of service to others, Jack is spending more time this days trying to keep his own brain going properly. He suffers from Lewy Body Dementia, as you may have seen when his photo (right) was featured in the Buffalo News a little bit ago.

Even as dementia slowly steals away the mind of the man who has spent a lifetime giving so much, he’s working on the biggest plan yet, and hoping to raise $125,000 to build the Jack Anthony pavilion at Cradle Beach Camp, so that he might continue to help future generations of campers once he’s no longer able to be there physically.

Many of you know Jack, and will want to help. Even if you don’t know Jack, and have enjoyed a Parkside Tour of Homes, Chili Cookoff, Halloween Party, or even a nice walk through our beautiful neighborhood, you owe Jack. Please consider a donation to help this great man and man of the people fulfill another selfless wish–

https://www.cradlebeach.org/donation

My Cardiac Adventure: What I learned on a trip to the hospital

Its with mixed emotions I find myself morphing into my dad more and more on a daily basis.

stevehospitalI’m really amused by some of the small things, and, in the way that slowly seeped into my being after spending so much time with my ol’man, I just don’t give a shit (pardon my language, but it’s Dad’s way) about some things, and just find it a waste of time to think about it.

Over the years, and especially since he died, I’ve stopped resisting, and actually started enjoying being more like my father. That is, in every way but one.

A big part of the reason Dad’s looking down on us now is because he didn’t take care of himself.

To be certain, he had a load of health problems, from a bad back, to Diabetes, to leg amputation, to heart disease; the last of which actually killed him.

And while those are all serious, Dad treated them less than seriously. He’d ask me to bring him donuts in the hospital while he was in the ICU recovering from diabetic coma. It’s not that he didn’t care; I just think he was a little overwhelmed by it all, and donuts seemed to help.

I’ve been acknowledging to myself for a while that I really need to get on blood pressure and cholesterol meds; that cleaning up my diet hasn’t done enough. The problem is, there’s always a good excuse to not go to the doctor- starting a new job, new book coming out, whatever.

Until it comes to a head at 3:30 one morning, and what the hell.

It felt kind of like heartburn, but a little more intense with a slightly different sensation. As I normally do when I get heartburn, I chugged a little Pepto Bismol. Didnt do a damn thing. The dog was looking to go out, so we went downstairs. The walk up left me feeling worse. My arms started to hurt. I really didn’t think I was having a heart attack, but I really didn’t know what was going on. I just knew it was different than anything I’d felt before, and also that my dad never felt any of the heart attacks he had, even the big one that weakened his heart to the point it stopped pumping a week later.

I tried to go back to sleep, but the combination of pain and anxiety lead me to think, “if this doesn’t stop by 4:30, I’m waking up Monica to take me to the hospital.”

That’s what happened. Ridiculously high blood pressure and family history had them run a battery of tests, including a stress test. That stress test is why I spent the night, because they couldn’t do one until the next day.

All the tests were fine, and they were making fun of how well I did on the stress test (they stopped at 13 minutes. I would have kept on going.)

So I have “heart like bull,” and all is well. I will be going on blood pressure, cholesterol, and GERD meds, like I probably should have a year or two ago. And I will take them. Like dad, I put it off. Unlike dad, I will take them, like the cardiologist said.

I do have to admit, though, given that the hospital was a setting dad did so well in– both mentally and physically, I can see why he liked it in here. He really did, for all his complaining, enjoy his stays in the hospital.

I really do feel bad that people feel bad that I’m in here (I’m writing this as I await discharge), and feel even worse that people feel the need to come visit. I feel and know I am extraordinarily blessed for both, but now have a better understanding of why dad used to say, “Why don’t you guys go home?”

I used to wait until he asked me to go home three times before I’d leave. I always broke my heart when I’d have to leave before he told me to “get outta here.”

monicahospitalI was in here one night, and had 7 visitors, including Fr. Duke Zajac, who was visiting people anyway, but I feel blessed to have had his company, and the company of all my family who were here. I resisted the urge to tell them to go home; except for Monica. She wasn’t very happy with me when I told her she could go home, but I think she understands. Or maybe not. I never fully understood dad until now.

Just like dad, I got in trouble a couple of times for being too respectful to nurses. “Ma’am?,” said one today. “I have your chart here. We’re the same age.” My response was, that anyone who has my life in their hands gets all the respect I can muster.

Although I respect everyone I encounter, and calling a person sir or ma’am is part of that respect my ol’man instilled in me. If you can’t handle respect, thats your problem, not mine.

Also, like dad, surprisingly, I enjoyed the food. I’ve been visiting people in hospitals my whole life, thinking that the meals look and smell like dog food.

But it was with a combination of hunger and excitement that I welcomed last night’s dinner of gluten free pasta with meat sauce. It was really amazing. I laughed thinking of my dad, as just like him, I stopped just short of licking the plate… Though I might have had there not been people watching.

I kicked it up on the dadometer when today’s lunch came. Now I was starving, having not eaten breakfast because of the stress test. When the tray showed up with an egg salad sandwich on gluten free bread, I told Monica (who didn’t go home), ” I’m not eating that.”

I’ve never eaten an egg salad sandwich. Ever. It looks gross. I was an extremely picky eater as a kid, and some of those things I’ve held onto, like egg salad. So I’m not eating it. But I did eat the green beans, and pudding. And then I unwrapped and inspected the egg salad sandwich. Took bite. By the time Monica looked up, the sandwich was just about gone. Best egg salad sandwich I’ve ever had. That’s something my dad would have said, even if it wasn’t the ONLY egg salad sandwich he’d ever had.

So, I really don’t mind being like my ol’man in most ways, but I think my quick stop in the cardiac wing of the hospital will wind up being a lot like that egg salad sandwich.

They were both interesting, in many ways probably necessary, and even a little enjoyable , but from here on out, I’ll be doing everything necessary to make sure that this is my last trip to the hospital, and to make sure that’s the last egg salad sandwich I’ll eat for a long, long time.

Lightning Does Strike Twice: Running into Friends Halfway Around the World

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

When you travel, there’s always a Buffalo connection; some reminder of home abroad. Whether you run into someone wearing a Bills hat in Mumbai or a hot dog cart selling Sahlen’s in Dallas, chance encounters with vestiges of home while on the road are really so commonplace, it’s almost to a point where they’re expected.

Those “six degrees of separation” stories are a little more unusual. On our most recent cruise, a woman who worked for a big national corporation wound up sitting next to the parents of a man who worked for the same company, only half way around the country. But a minute into the conversation, the woman realized she worked very closely with their son, and knew him quite well, if only over the phone and e-mail.

When stories like these would arise, I’d always tell the story of how Monica and I randomly ran into my friend, one time co-worker, and Channel 4 news anchor Jacquie Walker at Epcot Center. Neither of us knew the other would be in Orlando, over one thousand miles from the TV studios where we both worked. To think of how many cosmic events must have lined up to run into a fellow Buffalonian just outside the Hall of Presidents floors me every time I think of it.

Once in a lifetime occurrence, right? Well, not quite.

Fast forward about 12 years, and Monica and I are shivering our way through a hop-on/hop-off tour of the Canadian city of Halifax. It was the final port of call on the New England/Maritime Canada cruise we were taking in celebration of our tenth wedding anniversary.

As the classic double-decker London bus we were riding came up to a stop, I looked out the window to see a gentleman who looked very much like our neighbor David Lampe. A lot like David, in fact.

But truth be told, David is a retired English professor with a penchant for tweed caps. In other words, a historical tour of one of North America’s oldest cities is exactly the type of place one might expect to see a David look-a-like, if not multiple David looks-a-like.

So as the bus was coming to that stop, and as I was about to point out the David look-a-like to Monica, the woman next to the David look-a-like turns around to reveal herself as a Ruth Lampe look-a-like.

Quite flabbergasted, I very plainly said to Monica, “That’s Ruth and David Lampe,” as if I’d seen them on the yogurt aisle at Wegmans.

She saw immediately who I was pointing to, but despite my incredulous tone, thought I was playing a game we often play, pointing out people who remind us of other people.

It sounded nonsensical, seeing couple who live 2 blocks away back home, here in a different country and a different time zone, but there they were. “No, seriously, that’s David and Ruth.”

The next bus stop was actually around the corner, so we hurriedly hopped off, and had to run a bit to catch up with them.

Ruth and Dave were just as delighted and flabbergasted as we were.

Unbeknownst to us, while we had taken a Carnival cruise, they had taken a Princess cruise with a very similar itinerary.

We chatted for a few minutes, and then went our separate ways in Nova Scotia, although I think we were all a little stunned, and the whole conversation was every bit like we were on the produce aisle at Dash’s Market.

A few dozen times over the last few days of our vacation, Monica and I laughed and shook our head in disbelief, running into our friends and neighbors so far from home; and thinking about how it was amazing that this had happened to us twice.

See you in Sheboygan?

Taking 9/11 Out of it’s Box: September 11th, Ten Years Later

I’ve been writing this for a while, but felt moved to finish it this 10th anniversary morning. It’s really about my struggle with coming to grips with 9/11. I really can’t bear to think what the struggle’s been like for those who lost someone, or had their lives directly altered forever.

My feelings on the September 11th attacks on America are really a lot like the box of recordings I made that day; preserving for posterity the radio coverage which I was a part of on our country’s worst day.

When the first plane hit, I was sitting in a cubicle with some radio and TV equipment, listening back to Bills Head Coach Gregg Williams talk about the Bills season opening loss to the Saints.

I looked at a TV monitor (they were everywhere… I was working at Empire Sports Network and 107.7 WNSA), saw the smoking tower, and remember seeing some television reporter standing on the top of another building with the smoke as a backdrop.

Terrible accident, I thought. Didn’t that happen to the Empire State Building during World War II?

Interesting, but my job was to get sound bites ready for the day’s sportscasts. I was wearing headphones and was engrossed in listening about Rob Johnson’s paltry performance as quarterback.

I know I sat there even after the second plane, wanting to keep busy, not wanting to be a part of the wild speculation and fear that was going on in front of those TVs. My friend Ricky Jay, a sportscaster at WNSA, seemed almost crazed when he came over to talk me, saying we’re at war now. He was ready to take up arms.

I didn’t want to be crazed. A.) I wanted to process this all, eventually, but B.) I had to be able to perform my job. I had learned from the age of 15, working in the WBEN newsroom, that you often had to buckle sown and suspend reality to get through covering news. Couldn’t worry during snow storms, or cheer during Bills games. The pressure was greater this day, but it was the same matrix for me.

Howard Simon was on the air, and really having a hard time of it. I remember hugging him as he sobbed, watching his hometown of New York, looking like a war zone; worrying about his parents. This wasn’t a football game or a snow storm, but I pushed it out of the way to get the job done.

My main job then was producer. I helped put talk shows together, then technically ran the radio station while the shows were on. My fellow producer Neil McManus left early that day to go get his kids; and I can remember spending most of the rest of the day… From mid-morning to evening, mostly alone in the radio studio, running CNN’s audio, with the occasional legal ID, and just recording.

There alone, of course, was a lot to think about. But I used all the will I had, however, to not think about it.

I had that job to do, and getting emotionally involved in this would prevent me from doing my job. So I stoically blocked it out. I’m really still paying for it to this day.

Suppressing my worry for our nation was one thing; but I was also dealing with some pretty big personal questions relative to the day.

Were my fiancée and I going to have to cancel our wedding two weeks away?

I’m sure I fielded calls from Monica that day, but I don’t really remember. I know we were worried about our wedding, and our European honeymoon, complete with transatlantic flights already long booked.

But at my station, behind the controls I stayed, until it was time to go, around 6pm. The ride home was perhaps the longest I’ve ever taken.

It was 9 hours after it all began before I’d allow myself to even consider what the hell had happened in New York, to our country, to our world.

What had spread over the course of the work day for most people was hitting me like a rainstorm of bricks; but I also felt the guilt of not expressing any emotion during the day. I was a mess.

At home, I remember our couch was in our dining room as we remodeled our 100 year old house.

I’m sure I was happy to see my fiancee, and sure we talked about our wedding, but all I can remember is laying on that couch in the dining room in the fetal position, weeping, watching TV coverage, and letting the day’s emotions catch up with and wash over me.

It was back to work the next day in a different world. We talked about sports on the sports talk station, But only insofar as a Bills game being cancelled for the first time since the JFK assassination. I recorded it all. I can also remember recording WBEN that day.

Mike Schopp had the idea that he’d give a dollar to the Red Cross for everyone who called the show and just talked about what was on their mind. I liked it and also pledged a buck per call. In the end, dozens of pledges and hundreds of calls meant thousands of dollars for the Red Cross relief efforts. I recorded these shows.

Mike also had the idea to start playing Ray Charles’ America the Beautiful to end every show.

I know a bunch of us from the station went to a noon mass on September 12th. For a few, it was the first trip inside a church for a long time.

My then fiancée and I joined Chris Parker and the then very pregnant Kirsten Parker on a MetroRail trip from our Parkside homes downtown on the metro rail for the big candlelight vigil in Niagara square.

We all felt a need to come together and be a part of something larger, something that meant something.

As the days, months, and years passed, the new normal that we all have become used to took hold.

Some have even watched TV shows and read books about that horrific day, many so that ‘they don’t forget.’

I guess that’s part of the reason I spent the hours and days following the attacks on America recording what was going out over Buffalo’s airwaves– I did it so I wouldn’t forget. But the little box with all those tapes from that day… Remains taped shut, with the same tape I applied in mid-September 2001.

But now, it’s a decade later, and even with all that’s changed, I haven’t come close to forgetting.

Today, my wife and I have a little trip planned to celebrate our 10th anniversary. I watch The Parkers’ son, a big 9 year old, grow up and enjoy life on Facebook. The conversations about life and beyond I have Ricky Jay these days are some of the most fulfilling and meaningful, soulful conversations that any two men might have with each other. I’m also back on 107.7, as WBEN now simulcasts on the station where I worked then.

In my world, relationships and feelings have grown and changed since that date, September 11, 2001.

Perhaps the only relationship that is exactly the same, still as stark and vivid as it was that day, is my relationship with that day’s events themselves. I don’t need to open that box.

I haven’t watched any documentaries; I’ve avoided any prolonged exposure to people talking about that day. I see the footage, I change the channel.

When I say I want that box kept closed, I mean it. I too easily feel that same pit in my stomach that I felt laying on the couch 10 years ago. It’s just as strong. I wept as I edited a story for WBEN about this 10th anniversary. I felt moved to vomit as I looked at photos from that day to put on our website.

I don’t want to open that box, but today I am, letting audio clips and feelings see their first light of day in a decade.

Not because I want to, and not because I think anyone’s forgotten. How could you forget? I’m opening the box for the other reason I rolled all these tapes on that day: For the sake of history. It’s history now.

Some college kids, certainly high school kids and younger, have no good direct memories of that day.

I don’t think any of us that were around will ever forget, but now, a decade later, we’re all charged with making sure the next generation knows.

It’s quite painful to open the box, but we all owe it to the thousands who lost their lives that day.