Thank You For Serving: some vets who’ve had an impact in my life

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I knew what a veteran was from the earliest of ages.

I’m sure I started asking my dad about his tattoo as soon as I could talk. “STEVE,” it said on his forearm, in sloped writing, with a Celtic cross underneath. To say Celtic cross makes it sound better than it was. It was a stick figure cross with a circle where the horizontal and vertical parts of the cross met. It was actually a pretty horrible tattoo, which he said he gave himself when he was a Marine. I never heard the full story of the tattoo, or whether he actually remembered giving it to himself, or if a buddy told him he did it.

Dad always told us not to get a tattoo, but it was more like advice than an order. He didn’t like his tattoo, but I don’t think he considered it a mistake. He never hid it, either. I think in some ways that sums up the way he felt about his service in the Marine Corps. He was quietly proud of it, but didn’t like it.

I know he joined the Marines in 1969 as a way to “get out of the Valley,” the poor working class neighborhood he grew up in. He saw the world as a Marine, and had his education paid for by the GI Bill. But he was also struck with illness that initially almost killed him, but that also started downward progression in his health that culminated with his death at the age of 58.

My dad had few heroes and people he looked-up-to in his life, but one was his big sister Tricia. He was a Marine when her kidney disease came to the point of needing a transplant. Dad was on his way home to see if he could be a donor when she died. I don’t know that he ever loved anyone more than her. She took care of him and understood him. He didn’t get to say good bye to her because he was half a world away.

To make it worse, he had one of those awful Vietnam era welcomes. Walking down the street in his uniform, he was taunted and sneered at. Having heard this story dozens of times since I was very little, the image that pops into my head is my father walking down Seneca Street in front of what used to me Grandma’s Donuts (now Abbott Pizza, I think) with people throwing bottles and trash at him. That’s not what happened, but that’s the image my dad’s telling of the story put in my head.

He was proud of his service, but wasn’t about to join a club or line up for a parade. He was the most humble veteran at the VA Hospital, always thanking roommates, nurses and doctors for their service to our great land.

Dad’s instilling in me such a high level of respect for men and women who have served has made me keenly aware of those who’ve been a part of my life who have given of themselves for our common good.

Dad’s grandpa had two brothers die at sea during World War I. Grandma Cichon had pictures of Uncle George and Uncle Gordon and kept her uncle’s memories alive. Gordon was in the British Mercantile Marine on the SS Trocas when a German U-Boat torpedoed the tanker. George was a seaman aboard the SS Hazelwood went it hit a mine. The internet has helped fill in some of the details, but my dad knew these stories, and while was proud of his service, looked at his great uncles as heroes.

But Veterans Day is about remembering those who went through hell and came home. Or even put their time in in New Jersey or Kansas, saluted one last time, and never looked back.

As a kid growing up on Allegany Street in South Buffalo, we had a few proud veteran neighbors. Pops was an ancient, tiny liver-spotted old man who used to stand in the driveway, chew tobacco, and tell us about his service in World War I and his fear of “the gas,” which I now know to be mustard gas Germans used on American troops. It filled the trenches, and ruined the lungs of soldiers, painfully suffocating thousands.

Further up Allegany, on the other side of the street in the big light green house, Mr. Smith used to give us cookies and hard candy, a very kind old soul who was retired from the railroad. Occasionally, he’d proudly show us his perfectly preserved US Army uniform from World War II, or the box filled with medals and ribbons. I know I thought it was “cool,” but I hope i was properly respectful and reverent, too, as a 5 and 6 year old.

A few years later, when I was in third grade, my school bus driver, George, was finally awarded a bronze star, over 40 years after his heroism saved some of his fellow soldiers from Japanese attack. He cut out the photo of him holding the award that was in the local paper, and taped it up in the front of the bus. I was proud of him, and I wish I remember more about his story.

My Grandpa Cichon was one of 8 brothers and sisters who served in World War II and Korea. Even my twin great aunts, Olga and Mary, were nurses in the Navy and Army respectively. Gramps was an engineer in the Army at the end of World War II. He was in the Philippines, and likely saw some pretty terrible things there that he doesn’t talk about.

Great Grandpa Wargo was a plane mechanic in Guam during the Second World War. Indirectly, because of his service, I met one of my favorite vets ever. Grandpa W was in the VA Hospital, and my dad had little use for the rule that kept kids under 15 out of most hospitals. He’d take us to visit everyone, because who doesn’t love seeing a little kid, right?

Well, as recently as the early 80s, when this happened, there were smoking lounges on every floor right next to the elevator at the VA for the guys who were in there. Dad would ditch us in there, and bring great grandpa down to see us. One time, there was an ancient, ancient hunched-over man in there smoking. He was wearing a bright red bathrobe, had the darkest black skin you can imagine set off against his crazy sprouting bright white hair. Dad flippantly asked the guy to keep an eye on us, because he was going to get gramps. Well, apparently, this was just about the best damn thing that had ever happened to this guy.

He offered to hide us in his bathrobe if the nurses got close, his face lively and excited at not only being able to play with a couple of kids for a few minutes, but also to be a party to this rule breaking. We sat down, and he stood up with his back to us. He spread open the robe, so that we couldn’t be seen from the door. He was laughing and giddy about it the whole time, til gramps walked in.

A few years ago, I interviewed a friend’s dad about his role in the D-Day invasion. Michael Accordino described in vivid, terrible detail, sitting in the water, and watching guys run ashore, and watching many of them be shot dead on the beach. And waiting for his turn to go. And watching his buddies die around him.

My friend Ed Little always spoke in a sort of blasé way about his service in the Army Air Corps during WWII, but what he did was nothing short of spectacular and heroic. He would flying along on bombing runs in the Pacific, and using 1940s technology, record play-by-play of the bombings that were taking place for playback on radio back home. Another broadcasting friend, Fran Lucca was radio man in the Navy. His ear saved thousands from U-boat attacks, and his incessant record keeping has made the war much more real for his dozens of grandchildren and great grandchildren. Letters between him and his mother, official documents, dozens of pages of wonderful material for his years at war have been collected and preserved, and I’m honored that he’s allowed me to learn from and make a copy.

Tom Kane was another friend in broadcasting. He was the security guard at the WBEN/Channel 4 building. One day, I noticed that he went from wearing sergeant stripes on his uniform to lieutenant bars. I congratulated him on the promotion, and he told me that after almost 50 years, he’d finally become an officer. He told me about his time in Korea, and how he’d never been so cold in his life. So wet and cold. For almost a year. Being freezing and afraid of freezing to death, but having to jump into the water or be killed. Tom earned the commission, for sure.

Once in a conversation with my friend and broadcaster Mark Leitner, something about the horror of Vietnam came up. He said nothing with his mouth, but in two seconds his eyes told a wretched story leaving detail unnecessary.

My friend Pat Kavanagh, talks about the fact that he and the men he went to war with were really just about children, and that they used to call their 25 year old Sarge “Pops” because he was so old, and really felt like a father figure. Pat turned his sense of unfinished business with the war into a project to honor those who never came home: He collected the obituaries of every Western New Yorker who was killed in Vietnam during the war. Dozens of visits to libraries, historical societies, and private homes later, Pat’s work is another step in insuring that their sacrifice will never be forgotten.

My dad’s big brother, Uncle Chuck, is also a Vietnam veteran, and also lives with the lasting effects of Agent Orange. I hold a lot about Uncle Chuck’s service in my heart, and knowing that he wouldn’t want it written about here, I won’t. Suffice it to say, he’s the best brother man could ask for, a great uncle, and hero.

I don’t know that Uncle Chuck or any of the men and women mentioned above are comfortable with that label “hero,” especially when each of them can clearly see the face and hear the voice of someone who didn’t make it back to the rest of their lives.

Many heroes are like my friend Len, who has told many great fun stories of his days in the Air Force. Clowning around, having fun, traveling to exotic locales for a day or two just ’cause he could. What Len doesn’t bring up is the weeks he spent in New York City following 9/11, and the problems that he and thousands of others are fighting because of it, whether our government admits it or not.

Len, Uncle Chuck, and all these folks are heroes. They were all willing to kill or be killed for not only the common good, but for every American alive while they served, and every American who’ll ever live free.

I know so many newer, younger veterans, too, and their close friends and family. Their sacrifices are much more present in our lives, and in some cases, still open and bleeding. Because the final chapter hasn’t been written in most of their cases, it’s hard to write about them in the same way as I do some of the sacrifices of the more distant past. For most of the older folks, I think while the wounds are forever tender, they’ve healed up a bit, and have, upon years and decades of reflection, become a part of who they are, and in some fragile way, accepted.

My prayers are most with our most recent vets, and really all of those, who are still coming to terms with the hell they’ve endured while proudly wearing our flag on their shoulder. I pray that the final chapter on your service is one of acceptance and an ability to move on with your life, with the memories and realizations of your time spent in harm’s way woven productively into the fabric of who you are.

I have many more friends and loved ones who have served our great nation who’ve I’ve failed to mention here. To each of you: I beg that you please know that while I don’t know firsthand what you have endured for our country, I am proud and humbled to carry some part of your pain and sacrifice on my own heart. You have done what I haven’t. You needn’t have served in war to have sacrificed; you needn’t have never come home to be a hero.

To all veterans, though it’s not enough, please accept my humble thanks this Veterans Day, and every day.

Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com
Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com

My Last 10 Minutes: Why I Need to Step Away from Facebook

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Note: The writing here is difficult to follow in spots. I realize this, but I left it that way because that’s the point. Sorry.

I am scatterbrained. The reason I thought to write about it, is because I thought to write about flu shots, and how I’m a big wuss when it comes to needles and getting blood drawn, but whatever part of my brain triggers fear with needles isn’t triggered with flu shots, because the needles are small, and for three straight years, including yesterday, I have had actual pain-free flu shots. Not even a pinch.

This thought popped into my head, because Howard Goldman put a photo of a flu shot sign on Facebook. I also thought of a funny post for this thread… I wanted to put a photo of one of those old-fashioned vaccine guns on his wall and say, “run if they bring this out!”

When I did a google image search for polio vaccine gun, I found out that it wasn’t a polio shot, but a small pox innoculation that gave me the big welt on the back of my leg. I always thought it was polio. So I searched vaccine gun, and found the photo to post. Perfect. Hilarious.

Somehow I get notifications when some friends post things. ( I don’t know how this happened.)Libby Maeder put up a New York Times article about “defriending” people in the days before Facebook, and told the story of a woman who sounds like my late Grandma Cichon. Tell it like it is, great story.

Then I get a notification that Airborne Eddy has commented on the flu shot photo, and I see that big gun photo and feel a twinge of guilt. So I think that as a public service, I should really write about the fact that flu shots don’t hurt…. and I could talk about how I have panic attacks driving to Quest Diagnostics. They are weird sort of panic attacks, though, because I can remain cool and collected, and realize I will be fine, but there is still some part of my brain that wants to either curl up in the fetal position or get the hell out of there.

Then I’d say the flu shot is nothing like that at all for me. Get one, you’ll enjoy it, and you’ll enjoy not getting the flu… Especially since people don’t really know what the flu is. People think they get the flu, but don’t. It’s just a bad cold or infection. I had the flu a few years ago, and that’s when I started getting flu shots… because I felt like I was stapled to the bed for about a week. Couldn’t move. Couldn’t do anything. That’s the flu. Get the shot.

But after thinking of writing that, I decided that I’d better just shut up, because I have a presentation for a Buffalo Architecture Presentation that I have to put together by the end of the week, I have to get a Parish Council coffee and donuts session organized (because I just realized I can’t be there because of an out of town wedding the day before), I have a 15 page voice freelance job to mark up for recording tonight, and I have to get started on an upcoming presentation at Forest Lawn cemetery about Buffalo’s Great Broadcasters….

AND, I have about 15 half-written blog posts and ideas for pieces I’d like to write, which I really want to sitdown and finish, but i just don’t have the time.

I’ve been working on a piece about some of the old guys in my neighborhood growing up, men whose example really helped shape who I am today. Some day, you’ll be able to read about mr. Smith and Pops at length, and maybe even grumpy old Joe the retired cop, who provides a good retrospect lesson for me.

That’s also made me think about some of the other people who’ve shown upin relatively small ways in my life but who’ve made a lasting impact. I want you to meet some of them, too.

I’ve wanted to write at length about the fact that I’m gluten free-free, and how that’s scary, but the lousy doctor who screwed things up some how… Circuitously helped put me on the right track. And how after almost 6 years without it, plain ol’white Wonder Bread tastes like dessert. Melts in my mouth like something as opulent as butter or chocolate. And how I’ve put on 10 pounds (at least) reaquainting myself with glutenous good stuff.

I’ve also started to write about how sad I am that sports no longer interest me for the most part. I’ll watch, but it’s like eating a rice cake.

And there’s other stuff, too… For someday when I have the time. Well, I have to make the time. Where to cut? Facebook seems like a good place to start, mostly because I’m like a Facebook binge drinker.

I can stay away from Facebook pretty easily, but I can’t just enjoy a quick convo with a friend. I look at my page “for a quick sec,” and the next thing you know, I’m passed out in a bar I don’t remember walking into. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

Truth be told, I’m really scatterbrained enough without thousands of interesting posts and articles zipping my mind and enegry in every which direction.

And since I have some important stuff to do, so I’m stepping away from Facebook. I’ll still be on, and still post stuff, but I have to figure out how not to waste so much time there.

It’s not Facebook’s fault, it’s mine.

Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com
Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com

History’s Garbage Bin: Sharing the Garbage Picked Goodness… Again

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

To save everything because “it’s old” is just silly. To toss everything away because “it’s old” is just silly, too. Somewhere between those two extremes is where most of us try to live.I get both sides. I’m a saver, who wishes sometimes I could live more of a clutter-free life. But a healthy portion of my clutter comes from big piles of important stuff that otherwise would have no home.

Depending on how you look at it, I have been blessed or cursed with the ability to see the possibilities beyond a pile of garbage. My home is a great example. It’s taken over a decade of hard work for my wife and me to make it shine, taking it from a worn-down relic to a stop on the Parkside Home Tour.

Over the last two decades, I have garbage-picked, purchased, been asked to copy, or reluctantly accepted thousands of hours of audio and video, almost always locked away on some sort of format that made it impossible listen to or view. Or even know if there was anything there.

Basically, I’ve been collecting “potential.”

Twice I’ve garbage-picked boxes of old film reels. These boxes were in the garbage for good reason; the film was infected with “vinegar syndrome,” a decomposition of the materials in the film, which renders it unviewable. Worse, one “vinegared” film can jump start the degrading process in other nearby films as well.

The relatively small group of folks who had decided to chuck these boxes has literally thousands of reels of film to worry about. As a member of that group I agreed. But as an individual, I decided that I couldn’t see this film simply thrown away. I garbage picked the film, then spend lots of time and money picking out the few good bits from the mangled messes inside those decaying boxes and film canisters, cleaning those good bits, then properly storing them to avoid more vinegar problems and further degrading.

The same is true of a pile of old video cassettes. The TV station I was working at was taking “the best” of some of the video that was on an old, dying format of videotapes, and dubbing them to the format they were then using. It made sense, as these dubs were being made on the station’s last working machine that played the old format tapes. The old tapes were being hauled to the dumpster. I grabbed as many as I could for “safe keeping.”

In both of these cases, I was holding onto what I knew was great video, but had no means to share it or even watch it. In some cases, this stuff had been in my possession for over a decade. Waiting.

Having been lucky enough to turn a bit of a profit from my book “Irv! Buffalo’s Anchorman: The Irv, Rick, and Tom Story,” I gathered up most of that film, and many of those video tapes, along with others that I’d copied or recorded myself over the years, and sent them off to be properly and professionally digitized. A painstaking and expensive process, but one that was the end result of saving them from the trash in the first place– whether I knew it at the time or not.

Being able to treat my relatively small collection with a great deal of care and respect has allowed me to begin sharing some interesting moments reported and recorded by Buffalo television journalists over the last 60 years. You’re seeing the fruits of it on YouTube.

A Stan Barron obituary piece was the first item from the hours of “new” old video I shared…


The second was a true Western New York treasure. Who among us in Buffalo hasn’t replied with a sarcastic “Fun? Wow!” when asked a question? The phrase, of course, comes from TV commercials for Fantasy Island, which ran over and over and over and… I can remember asking my parents to go to “Fun Wow,” not realizing the actual name of the place.

The iconic commercial forever ensconced the phrase “Fun… WOW!” in our collective lexicon. Type “Fantasy Island” into Google, and the term “fun wow” follows as a suggested search term. Some how the commercial has eluded the Internet, until uncovered in that pile of tapes that time had forgotten was remastered.

There are two wonderful memories supplied, and there’s plenty more to come as well. Literally hundreds more quick videos to come for all of us to pause and remember for a moment.

Video especially has a great power to transport us back to another time and place like no other medium. That’s why I can honestly say that I don;t think I’ve ever been so excited about a project as the one I’m embarking on here in putting this video online to share with the world.

What it comes down to for me is…. my stuff is useless unless it can be of some use to somebody. I’ve already seen the smiles from these small bits already released that proves the usefulness. I won’t make a million dollars on my finds… In fact, I’m in the red getting them ready to share. But it really hurts my brain to know that many of the wonderful archival videos you’ll see, in fact, much of what is posted at staffannouncer.com, could have just as easily made it’s way to the land fill.

No matter where you fall on the “saver/saves-nothing” scale, I ask you to join me in finding good use for your saved stuff, or finding a good home for the stuff you want to get rid of.

One man’s trash can become an entire community’s treasure.

Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com
Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com

The Grass is Greener With A Splendid Hat: My 80 Year Old Twin

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – Not to be a downer, but it’s true. There have been a number of heavy questions soggying down my brain lately. Some of those questions are being pondered and explored necessarily as part of life, some are likely just a part of some minor level (I hope) of insanity and mental disease.

white-fedora

I’m trying to be amusing, but physical health issues are always troublesome, and waiting months for tests starts to play with my mind.

As someone who has dealt with chronic pain in my joints and gastrointestinal tract for decades now, I can tell you that it’s been my experience that they can’t get rid of pain. Some medications can change the nature of pain, but filling my bloodstream with otherwise toxic chemicals to change a sharp, throbbing pain to a warm, intermittent pain just isn’t worth it. (I’ve probably been on 15 different arthritis meds since elementary school. More harm than good so far.)

There are also changes in diet which can help mitigate pain or terrible symptoms or potential outcomes. Depending on how much a part of your life this food you’re forced to abandon is, the physical pain that’s relieved by abstaining from it can lead to similarly toll-taking mental anguish. (I’m in the sixth year of eating gluten-free, and I’m just starting to accept it.)

Exercise is a great way to get rid of pain caused my not moving around as much as I should, and “knocking the rust off” actually feels pretty good. But it’s by nature, working out is accompanied by the “good pain” of exercising. “Good pain” is still pain. (I should exercise more, but I am lazy. When I do hit then gym, I don’t pussyfoot around. I get a good workout and hurt afterwards. Like ya should.)

Having dealt with and thought about these ideas most of my life, it shapes my thoughts on the other big issues also sloshing around in the stormy seas between my ears. I’ve learned through years of personal experience and shattered notions, that any measure of the “grass is greener” philosophy is a fairy tale.

Pain can’t be eliminated, but it can be changed. Sometimes for the better. So too can the nature of the grass be changed.

To stretch the metaphor too far, a different shade of green doesn’t make it any more green. To stretch the metaphor to the point where a reader might want to cause physical harm to the writer, you might have to mow that species of grass over there half as much, but you might not realize you have to water it twice as often.

Desired change always begets unanticipated change. And while sometimes overall change is needed, it kills me bracing for those unanticipated changes and deciding if those as-yet-unknown changes are worth it.

None of this is any kind of breaking news flash; it’s what most of us face on a daily basis. But it seems a little more weighty on this end lately. We all get bogged down from time to time. Maybe I just need to find some gluten-free fiber supplements.

But today, as I took a quick walk to knock out the cobwebs and get refocused, my countenance improved greatly just by the sight of a guy walking my way.

Now my wife can probably just about picture the guy I’m talking about. When we’re people watching, I can’t help but make comments about happy-go-lucky, smiling little old guys. It’s really what I want to be when I grow up: a white-haired smiling man, walking a bit slowly, taking in and loving life.

From 100 yards away, looking at this guy today I knew he had it all going on. His gait was a bit slow, but cool. He was wearing a beige straw fedora; a dapper, perfectly fitting-yet 20 year old navy blue suit, a fresh flower on his lapel, and a handkerchief in his breast pocket. He was also carrying a leather briefcase.

As he got closer, it was obvious this gentleman was likely around 80, and I got the impression that this was an important day out, and that he was quite pleased with having the occasion to have an important day out. I’ll bet the briefcase hadn’t left the closet shelf in a few years, but was a necessary accessory today.

Just as I was about to say, “Good morning, sir,” as this fine fellow approached, his smiling face beat me to the punch with an identical “Good morning, sir.” Not only the same words I was about to use, but even the same cadence and inflection. I was like I was talking to myself 50 years into the future.

“Good morning to you, sir,” I responded, “and how are you?”

“Splendid,” said the man in the straw hat and lapel flower, as he strolled on to his day’s affairs.

I want that kind of splendor. To hope to be as splendid as this man appeared is like hoping to win the lottery. Or for me, like hoping to eat normal bread someday. It’s not a healthy thing to be fixated with, but it’s something nice to daydream about from time to time.

While I know the grass isn’t always greener, it’s all worth the effort to pay it forward; to aim to be splendid enough to have my splendidity spill over, to share with people who might need a little bit. Just like this gentleman did today.

Splendid thought, isn’t it?

Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com
Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com

It’s an internet column, not a blog

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – There are few things in life which give me more pleasure than translating into the written word the oddities which are constantly percolating through my brain.

I guess writing is now my hands-down top creative outlet, which is only pretty recently the case.

For many years, radio production was a creative outlet. As a producer of talk radio, you heard my audio fingerprints in the shows I helped put together. Small nuances helped set the mood of the show, made it a smidge more interesting. I did what I could with the limited role I played.

Back then, creativity was manifest in finding the right music beds, or sound bites, or editing together production pieces like show opens and station promos. The intent was to make it all a little more fun and interesting.

In my current job, that’s what I like to think my writing does for the news, as well. Make it a bit more fun and interesting. I’ve become more adept at writing in a style that’s all my own, be it for broadcast or print.

And in my world, writing is special. It’s something that’s all me; purely my voice, sharing my own thoughts in a way I’ve come up with myself.

No one ever showed me how to write, I never actively apprenticed myself to someone. That’s unique for me. I learned how to be a radio producer from John Demerle. Period. I took what I learned from him and made it my own, but it was him at the core of it.

Even way I sound on the radio, my delivery, is actually little pieces of other people. As I was learning to be an announcer, I’d like the way Ed Little or Mark Leitner or George Richert or Susan Rose or Van Miller or Dan Neaverth said something, and I copied that piece, and it became mine. It became part of who I am when my voice is coming out of your car’s dashboard.

Even after 20 years in radio, I listen to myself and know that I said something like George Richert. You wouldn’t know it. George wouldn’t know it. But I know it. And it’s why I think I am so proud of the written aspect of what I do. It’s more purely me.

People enjoy my “unique style” on the radio. And its often admittedly unique. But again, in a dangerous glimpse into my own mind, to me its little more than the sewn together pieces of my interpretation of what someone else has done before. It’s a quilt. There is beauty in a quilt, but there’s also that mutt, leftover scraps facet of a quilt, too.

True artistry isn’t about copying someone else’s style, it’s about reaching deep inside yourself to show the world something that is uniquely your own. That’s what writing is for me. I won’t call it artistry, but I am doing my best to give you a peek inside the chasm that is my brain.

So anyway, I’m writing. But what am I writing? There are certain things implied, I think, when one says, “I’m blogging.”

To me, most blogs, however literary and well constructed, feel like 30 years ago, they would have been written in beautiful long hand, probably in a nicely bound journal or diary.

Others would be lovingly crafted, mimeographed, and mailed out to the few hundred “subscribers” who read about the “newsletter” in the classified section of a magazine.

I imagine that 30 years ago, I would have been clanking away at a typewriter, maybe just putting what I’ve written in a box under my bed. Or trying to get the occasional piece printed in the newspaper’s Sunday magazine.

Its probably all the same thing. I don’t think what I write is any better than a blog, in my mind, it’s just different is all.

And at the end of the day, what I’ve got here is a blog. And I guess that makes me a blogger. I’d just kindly prefer you don’t remind me. Just remember, though, that its just that which is what this blog is about: The almost always different, and admittedly often stupid way my brain works, and the completely ridiculous things I waste my time thinking about. Self-introspection of my looney tune self.

Welcome.

Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com
Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com

I’m a hoarder, but it’s ok: I hoard cool stuff

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

There are two kinds of people: Those that save, and those that throw out. Me? Um, are you really asking? The problem is, I have bunches or really cool stuff that make other people jealous. Stuff that I don’t need, and would be happy to get rid of, until someone reminds me how great it is.

I really have a hard time watching TV shows like “Hoarders,” because I know I’m only a bad break in life away from being that way. Every piece of nonsense I own has a story, and a possible future use. Every once in a while, I get brave and do a little cleaning. I bring a few bags to the curb, a few bags to AMVETS, set aside another pile for future eBay sales.

As a junk collector of some renown, and having produced two books and millions of web hits to staffannouncer.com mostly through the efficacious use of my junk, I now not only find my own new junk, but have people bringing it to me. I’m like Oscar the Grouch… “I LOVE TRASH!!”

I use the pejorative junk, because that’s mostly what it is to most people. But just like some amazing people can turn utter refuse it amazing art, I can turn old magazines and newspapers and store receipts and slightly soiled napkins and other nonsense into memory joggers for people. I love it, but it’s dangerous. It’s like a heroin addict working in a methadone clinic.

I’m making light of it, but it really is a borderline problem. I have rules about what I allow myself to even look at, let alone buy. Paper stuff, as in two dimensional things are OK. And it has to be related to Buffalo. Local stuff only. These are all things that I can share with people on my website, and allow them to share in my love of my junk.

I’m slowly weeding out of my piles—err collection– anything that doesn’t fit into those categories. I have huge stamp, coin, and sports cards collections that someday I’ll get rid of… Doesn’t fit the profile, even though these collections date back to when I was 6 or 7 years old.

This was the stuff I wanted in 1st and 2nd grade. There was an antique store on Seneca Street near my Grandma Cichon’s house. Grandma Cichon, an unabashed garbage picker, junk collector, and total hoarder. Anyway, in the window of that antique shop, there was an Iroquois Beer light. It was $10, and I was saving up to buy it. I was 9 or 10. My grandmother bought me that light for Christmas that year. Major encouragement in junk collection. You losers were getting Transformers, GI Joes, and Barbie dolls. Me? Iroquois Beer lights. Old Buffalo stuff. I couldn’t have been more happy. Of course I still have it.

pepsimachineAll this came to mind as I thought about the old Pepsi machine in the back of my garage.

I was 12 or 13 years old, and had $20 or $25 burning a hole in my pocket. I wanted something cool to spend it on, and *the* place to look for cool stuff, aside from SuperFlea, was the SwapSheet. Should you not know, this was a weekly newspaper filled with classified ads from all over Western New York.

I remind you that we lived in Orchard Park, when I found the very sparse ad (they charged by the word) that said something like “PEPSI MACHINE. $25. (Wilson)” That’s the Town of Wilson, waay up north in Niagara County. I called, and made arrangements. He still had the Pepsi machine. It was soon to be mine.

I can very clearly remember sitting on the school bus on my way to Orchard Park Middle School thinking how cool it was going to be to have a Pepsi machine in my room. It was going to be like Silver Spoons, where Ricky Schroeder had all those video games in his living room. There were so many questions I forgot to ask. I was picturing a tall machine where the front was a light box, with some vintage illuminated Pepsi logo on it. He said there was a light. It’s all I thought about for days. Not that I did math homework anyway, but I’m sure I didn’t then.

What made me want to write about this was thinking about my dad in all this. He was generally an impatient man, didn’t know how to get anywhere, terrible with directions, and not very mechanically inclined. There weren’t many times in my childhood that all these obstacles were overcome solely for my benefit, but getting this Pepsi machine was certainly one of those times. I know my ol’man was probably just as excited as I was about getting this thing as I was; it was the only way it could have happened.

I know we had to pull the back seats out of our 1985 nightwatch blue Dodge Caravan. This almost certainly involved cursing by the ol’man. We then had to drive from Orchard Park to a farm in Wilson. I know we spent at least an hour getting there, and got lost at least once. More cursing. We pulled up to the garage, and the guy opened the door…

I was terribly disappointed by the short, ugly not all-that-lit-up 1965 Pepsi machine of which I was about to take delivery. But I really couldn’t say no, especially after the long ride— So somehow, this heavy, molding barn smelling, one-time automated purveyor of ice cold soft drinks was loaded into the Caravan, and was driven back home to OP with the back hatch open.

I tried to fill it with the then-available 16 oz glass bottles, but they were too long, wouldn’t fit. The way the slots were rigged, you can’t put cans in the machine. It was made for obsolete 8 oz glass bottles. I had an ugly pop machine which I couldn’t fill with pop. Neither the coin mechanism nor cooling system worked. I had fun yanking them out and taking them apart, and dropping the weight of the beast by a little bit, anyway. There wasn’t much else I could do it with it.

It was a cool enough thing to have in your room, a Pepsi machine, even if it was a dumb disappointing one. It was in my room until I moved out of my parents’ house. For the last dozen years, it’s sat in the back on garage, and I’ve given it very little thought.

Until today. Trying to be droll in explaining on Facebook that I have too much junk, I mentioned I even have an old Pepsi machine sitting in my garage. This was meant to leave people with a sense of, “My goodness! What massive amounts of total crap this guy has!”

Instead, it was met with, “How cool! Can I be you friend because you have a Pepsi Machine? I will buy it from you for millions of dollars!”

First of all, where were you people when I was in middle and high school and needed Pepsi machine friends. But second, it made me think, maybe for the first time ever, as this clunker as something more than a boat anchor and a net negative and drag on my life.

Yesterday, I probably would have given it to someone to take it out of my garage, which would have made my wife immeasurably happy.

But just like that, today, it’s a very nostalgic piece intertwined with my relationship with my dad, my relationship with junk collecting, and something I’m trying to figure out how to get restored to at least look (and smell) good.

It’s the problem with being someone who keeps things. When you want to get rid of something, you have to strike while the iron is hot. Because it doesn’t take much to decide that something you were just ready to get rid of has all the sudden become a treasured heirloom.

Cichon on the Corasanti Jury: There but for the grace of God go I….

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

People base their opinions on any given subject on the amount of information they know about that subject. Sometimes the knowledge is vast; sometimes not so much.

cichonoffice2012Over the last few days, I have found myself correcting factual or legal errors in people’s angry conversations and Facebook posts about the James Corasanti trial and verdict. In doing so, I’ve been accused of trying to stand up for Corasanti, of trying to encourage people to physically go after Corasanti, of making excuses for the jury, and of trying to encourage hatred towards jurors. A reporter is usually satisfied that he’s doing his job when he gets criticism from all sides.

At the end of one such volley on Facebook, I wrote something along the lines of “that I’m merely offering facts I know to be true from the courtroom, to try to make what some people are having a hard time understanding a little more understandable.”

Someone then asked if I understand. “Understand what,” I asked. Understand, he said, why the jury voted the way it did.

I don’t understand, but I think I might have a better insight than most. Over the last year and a half, I’ve sat through two big trials gavel-to-gavel (Muzzammil Hassan’s beheading trial and Riccardo McCray’s City Grill murder rampage), and sat through good portions of the Corasanti hearings and trial as well.

Covering and listening to a trial as a reporter isn’t all that different from listening to a trial as a juror.

I can tell you that sitting through a trial, you’re trying to keep track of dozens of different lines of questioning and trails of evidence, much of it presented and described in terminology and verbiage that is completely foreign. For legal reasons, it’s often presented in a way that is often painfully tedious.

It’s not Law and Order. Most testimony is boring and can quite often be confusing; especially when something refers back to something that happened days before, or uses unfamiliar jargon.

But that’s where it gets much easier for the media. Kinda like a jury gets to do at the end, we get to go into the hallway during the breaks, and discuss among ourselves what we just heard, and how to understand it. Quite often, we grab a lawyer walking by and ask him or her what this word means, or whether we understand something right.

On one occasion during the Corasanti trial, two defense lawyers whose names you’d recognize, gave us reporters completely different versions of what a single legal term meant. Even the lawyers can get a little confused.

I personally reported on the radio at least 3 times in the days and hours leading up to the Corasanti verdict that I was confused by something that went on in the court room. I ran right out of the courtroom to report on something said in “legalese” that was difficult to follow and synthesize, even with the help of my fellow reporters.

Jurors have it worse. At least journalists can talk it through with one another several times a day. Jurors have to suffer through their misunderstanding or desire to clarify a point or even just seek reassurance that they heard something properly. Jurors are not allowed to talk about a case to anyone, period, until deliberations begin.

Most of us can’t even get through an episode of Law and Order without asking our spouses if “that was the guy from earlier who did that…”

So after a month, with all the questions you might have swimming in your head, you are given two hours worth of legal instructions with so many parsed words and phrases put together in a way that satisfies the law, but not necessarily satisfies the understanding of every day people. In fact, for me, the explanations of the laws often obfuscate my understanding the law.

Having sat through a few trials, I know how the process is going to work, and I have my seatbelt fastened, and I still have a hard time keeping up with understanding the laws as the judge reads them. If you get caught on a bit and try to think it through, you miss the next bit. I can ask Claudine Ewing or Pete Gallivan in the hall. A juror adds it to a list of dozens of things he’s not clear on.

My point is, I can see how every day people who are jurors can walk into a deliberation completely dazed. All this incredible and contradictory information that your been hearing for a month. Where do you begin? I think for most people, you begin by listening to the guy with the biggest mouth, and see where that takes you. There was one juror who seemed more agitated that the rest, and I’ll bet he was among the first to do some talking.

Until you’ve sat through a month long trial, you can’t understand what it’s like. I’ve sat through a couple of humdingers, and I won’t pretend to understand what its like to be a juror on a case like this one.

And of course, if the defense has a pulse, there is always doubt. The difference between some doubt and a reasonable doubt is explained by the judge, but its legal language that isn’t in every day soeak, and it’s a few paragraphs in a few hours of legal explanations.

Every time the judge lets the jury off for lunch or a 5 minute break or to go home for the night, the instruction is always “don’t talk to anyone about the case; keep an open mind.” It’s not “use your gut, and don’t forget your common sense.”

Now if you’ve made it this far, you might be saying, what, was Cichon’s mother on the jury? No. I’m not making excuses for the jury, and I would guess that some jurors on the Corasanti trial or any of the others that I’ve covered might be angry with me for calling them confused. I’m not calling any juror confused.

I’m merely saying that it’s not an easy job being a juror, and I’m not really sure how fair it is to ask someone to be a juror in a month long trial like this one.

In my heart, having sat through some of the trial as a reporter, I know how I would have voted. However, if my seat was moved 10 feet to the left into the jury box, I know I wouldn’t have had the same grasp of the material presented. And given that, I certainly can’t say for sure how I would have voted.

This originally appeared at WBEN.com.

A Friend & Brother at 40

Hopefully this is better than a lightbox sign with the message “LORDY, LORDY, LOOK WHO’S 40!” on your lawn

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

To call this guy one of my best friends just doesn’t feel strong enough. For months, as his 40th birthday has approached, I’ve tried to think of some fun or funny or nice or meaningful way to let him know that I love him… or at the very least, make him laugh and remind him of his own mortality on this day that he enters his fifth decade on this planet.It’s been tough coming up with something that has just the right feeling to it. Forty pink flamingos on his lawn would be perfect, but this is a guy who’d actually like that a little too much.  I had some ideas for “stuff” or “events” that we’d both probably think great, but our wives not so much.

steveandmartyHowever, like many things in my life, I was filled with intentions, but it only got that far. “Marty’s Birthday” appeared on at least a dozen to-do lists, and wound up like many other things on those lists– undone.

So here I sit, the day before that big day, with nothing to show for it, except for what I am about to write.  Now I fully realize that a blog post as a birthday present is really about the grown-up equivalent of a homemade card with macaroni and glitter glued on,  but it’s the best I’ve got right now.

I was a 16 or 17 year old board operator at  WBEN when we met; he was just finishing up college, and had joined the weekend news staff at WBEN.  We both thought we were pretty freaking cool, living the dream working at W-freaking-BEN.

There’s really no doubt that providence brought us together.

We share a love for news and politics, and seem to come at it from the same perspective.

We both shared a love for Buffalo and its history, especially it’s broadcasting history. We both had the same 1959 WKBW aircheck memorized when we met. Just ask him what happened at “the fire at the George Root, Jr. farm in the Cattaraugus County Village  of Randolph” the next time you see him.

We’re both Polish-Americans, interested in learning more about and celebrating our roots. We’re both garage sale shoppers, garbage pickers, and packrats, which has now helped up both celebrate Buffalo’s pop culture history on our websites. We both shared an interest in hearing the stories of people like our friend and co-worker Ed Little.

The kicker was, we both wore bow ties, at a time when Irving R. Levine and Pee Wee Herman were the only other two people in America doing so (even Charles Osgood was mixing in the occasional necktie then.)

I remember thinking then, “Wow! Radio’s great! A few months in, and I’m already meeting people who are just like me,” thinking that dorks like us grew on trees, and that I’d be meeting similar people left and right. Luckily for society, the day I met Marty almost 20 years ago, was the last time anyone has even come close.

Marty is like a brother to me, really the big brother I never had; a mentor and someone I have really looked up to since those weekend days we worked together at 2077 Elmwood Avenue.

He introduced me to many of my Buffalo radio and TV heroes for the first time. I’d met Danny Neaverth at Bells as a tiny kid, but Marty introduced me to him broadcaster to broadcaster. That same night, I met Irv Weinstein, John Zach, and Taylor & Moore, too. My head was spinning. He took me to tag along at great broadcasting events he’d been invited to, or to stop by Stan Jasinski’s show on a Sunday morning. Or over to Jack Mahl’s house.

Marty’d give me a call, and ask if I wanted to go to Cleveland or Hamilton to take some photos or check out the sites. We’d climb into his Honda Civic, and I couldn’t have thought of any better way to spend my time. Not as great, but still there for me; Marty also drove me home the first time I ever got drunk in that Civic. I was about 17 and it was at a WBEN Christmas Party.

He gave me an autographed picture of Ed Little as a high school graduation present. “JUDAS PRIEST,” says the inscription. I  laugh every time I think about what Ed must has said when Marty asked him to sign that.

It might not sound like much, but these were some of the great experiences of my young life. Discovering a friend with the same strange interests in the same weird stuff.

I wouldn’t be who I am today were it not for my brother Marty Biniasz, who continues to blaze the trail, inspire me with his passion and hard work, and nudge me when I need it. The guy has done more before 40 than most do in a lifetime.

So, this is a really crappy birthday present… a rambling essay just to let you know that I love you, brother. But it was either this, or a YouTube video featuring some really embarrassing audio that was at the end of a tape you dubbed for me once… I think it’s a 15 year-old Marty pretending to be Danny Neaverth introducing Perry Como records. You have to be pleased I chose this.  And of course, there’s always hope that Eddy Dobosiewicz will do something with flamingos.

So “sto lat,” and Happy 40th Birthday to my mentor, my friend, my brother.

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.