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.

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.