Buffalo’s best remembered commercial jingles

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Knowing these five jingles is a bit like a Buffalo Baby-Boomer secret handshake. 

“Talking Proud” was Buffalo’s anthem at a time when many of us didn’t feel so great about Buffalo.

When the song and campaign were released 1980, Bethlehem Steel, where more than 20-thousand men once worked, was winding down and the furnaces would soon go cold.

There was a billboard behind City Hall asking the last person leaving Buffalo to turn out the light.

MORE: Buffalo in the 80’s: Talking Proud 

Our region had spent a lot of time in National headlines as the epicenter of environmental disaster at Love Canal and the home of snowy death with Blizzard of ’77.

We needed something to hang our hats on.

It was easy to feel down about Buffalo, and over the last 40 years, most of us have said, “We’re Talking Proud!” ironically…  but having something, anything to rally around made a difference and gave us Buffalonians a sense of identity—

Even if we giggled a little as Terry Licata did he leaned back arm-swinging march through the streets of Buffalo.

This is a later follow up to the original Talking Proud television spot. These continued to air through the 1980s. The video is courtesy of  retrontario.com, whose webmaster Ed Conroy has posted hundreds of great Buffalo (and, as you might guess, Southern Ontario) television clips from the 70s, 80s, and 90s.

More from the Retrontario YouTube Channel: youtube.com/user/Retrontario

 


Kaufman’s Rye Bread

This week we’ve been looking back at some of Buffalo’s favorite and best remembered commercial jingles.

So, do you remember where you’ll find the Jolly Little Baker?

That animated little baker spent time on Buffalo televisions from the 50s through the 70s.

As much as the unique, dense rye bread that still sparks life in the palates of Western New Yorkers, our yearning for Kaufman’s rye bread is tied to the fact that the taste is forever linked to that 18-second jingle, permanently implanted in the subconscious of generations of Buffalonians, which many of us could still sing on demand.

MORE: Torn-Down Tuesday: The Kaufman’s Rye Bread sign

Known of course for singing the “Jolly Little Baker” jingle, the pen-and-ink bread maker, wearing a bow tie and pleated chef’s toque was emblazoned on the cellophane wrappers of Kaufman’s various varieties of Rye, pumpernickel, and kaiser rolls.

1956.

The smiling chubby little guy would also appear on the pages of the Courier-Express and Buffalo Evening News offering recipes for “sandwiches of the week.”
These sandwiches of 60 years ago, featuring liverwurst, boiled tongue, and sardines aren’t all in line with most modern palettes, but show us what people were putting on their rye bread in 1957.


Sattler’s 998 Broadway

This week, we’re taking a look at some of Buffalo’s iconic jingles, and there aren’t many more iconic than the one that ends with “9-9-8 Broadway!”

Sattler’s closed 36 years ago, yet we still know the address by heart. While the jingle indeed helped Buffalo remember that now iconic address, more than that, without the jingle– we might not have known Sattler’s at all.

Sattler’s from a 1954 ad.

Despite decades of heavy print advertising and growing from a single store front to an entire block across from the Broadway Market, Sattler’s couldn’t seem to bust through as much more than a neighborhood Broadway/Fillmore store.

Ad for Lanny & Ginger Grey’s studio, 1947

In 1941, Lanny and Ginger Grey– singers in New York City– wrote the first advertising jingle ever for a department store for Sattler’s. There were different versions, but they all ended in those five syllables that are permanently etched into the memories of generations of Buffalonians, “nine-nine-eight Broad-WAY!”

The radio singing commercials did something that years of print ads just could do. People from all over Buffalo, especially more elusive wealthy customers, started shopping 998, where they were buying everything from canaries to thuringer sausage to mink coats at Sattler’s.

In 1948, the Sattler’s store was completely rebuilt, complete with escalators and air conditioning. Sattler’s executives called called it “the store that jingles built.”

Those iconic jingles were filled Buffalo’s airwaves in 1950, playing 102 times a week on WBEN, WGR, WKBW, WEBR and WBNY.

Sattler’s was at the cutting edge of over-the-top, cutting edge, marketing and self-promotion.

It was tough to listen to the radio for any extended period of time without being reminded to “shop and save at Sattler’s, 998 Broadway!”


Boost Buffalo!

If you were around in Buffalo in the 1960s, you can’t help but remember the “Boost Buffalo” jingle.

The Boost Buffalo campaign started hitting Buffalo radios, TVs, and with 10,000 bumper stickers in 1960, organized by the marketing men of Buffalo.

The decline of many of Buffalo’s major industries had already begun—but in 1960, Chamber of Commerce President Whitworth Ferguson told one luncheon that Buffalo was the ninth fastest growing city in the country, and it was important to Boost Buffalo because “with an enlarged spirit of cooperation, we can obtain for our citizens an even greater level of prosperity and well-being.”

1965 ad.

Buffalo’s Chamber of Commerce seemed to blame the massive hemorrhaging of industry from Western New York on the bad attitude of Buffalonians.

Clifford Furnas, Henry Comstock, and Mayor Frank Sedita kicking off “Boost Buffalo,” 1960.

Henry Comstock of Comstock Advertising which created the Boost Buffalo campaign and jingle.

“Buffalo’s record on almost every score is far above the average,” said Comstock, “yet our people seem prone to find fault and seem to delight in picking on small insignificant short comings.”

At the unveiling of the campaign, UB Chancellor Dr. Clifford C. Furnas declared that “the negative attitudes about the city expressed by many are entirely unjustified,” and added that “perhaps we have been resting on our laurels.”


MORE:

If you grew up in Buffalo in the 1960s, you can’t help but remember the “Boost Buffalo” jingle. But that was the idea behind the slogan, as it was explained in 1964 when the special Chamber of Commerce “Boost Buffalo” committee elected new leadership.

” ‘Boost Buffalo’ leader is named”

“ ‘Some people poke fun at the “Boost Buffalo, it’s good for you” slogan,’ a chamber official said, ‘but that only shows that it’s caught on, that everybody’s heard of it, and that it’s good.’ ”


WEBR’s The Sound of the City

Starting in 1962, The Sound of the City became WEBR Radio’s theme song, and it’s one of the sounds that makes Buffalo, Buffalo.

Chances are you’ve heard it enough times over the 56 years since it debuted that you might even know all the words, but get ready to hear it a bit differently from now on.

The Sound of the City, WEBR 970. 1962 ad.

“The Sound of the City” was rewritten and resung and for many radio stations and cities around the country– Buffalo wasn’t even first. The son was originally written for San Francisco radio station KSFO, which was owned by Gene Autry.

Johnny Mann, who was best known as the music director on the Joey Bishop Show, wrote “The Sound of the City,” and the track is credited to the Johnny Mann Singers.

Thurl Ravenscroft, 1983.

For the original San Francisco version, as well as the Buffalo version, among those nameless faceless Johnny Mann singers was Thurl Ravenscroft.

You might not know his name, but you know Ravenscroft’s work. While Boris Karloff did the speaking parts in the original “Grinch Who Stole Christmas” cartoon movie, it was the big voiced Thurl who did all the singing parts.

Ravenscroft’s bellowing voice is probably most recognizable as the voice of Tony the Tiger, the spokesman for Frosted Flakes.

Next time you listen to “The Sound of City,” make sure you listen for the deep throaty vibrato, and know that “it’s grrrrreat.”

Boost Buffalo– yelling at Buffalonians to love our city

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

If you were around in Buffalo in the 1960s, you can’t help but remember the “Boost Buffalo” jingle.

The Boost Buffalo campaign started hitting Buffalo radios, TVs, and with 10,000 bumper stickers in 1960, organized by the marketing men of Buffalo.

The decline of many of Buffalo’s major industries had already begun—but in 1960, Chamber of Commerce President Whitworth Ferguson told one luncheon that Buffalo was the ninth fastest growing city in the country, and it was important to Boost Buffalo because “with an enlarged spirit of cooperation, we can obtain for our citizens an even greater level of prosperity and well-being.”

1965 ad.

Buffalo’s Chamber of Commerce seemed to blame the massive hemorrhaging of industry from Western New York on the bad attitude of Buffalonians.

Clifford Furnas, Henry Comstock, and Mayor Frank Sedita kicking off “Boost Buffalo,” 1960.

Henry Comstock of Comstock Advertising which created the Boost Buffalo campaign and jingle.

“Buffalo’s record on almost every score is far above the average,” said Comstock, “yet our people seem prone to find fault and seem to delight in picking on small insignificant short comings.”

At the unveiling of the campaign, UB Chancellor Dr. Clifford C. Furnas declared that “the negative attitudes about the city expressed by many are entirely unjustified,” and added that “perhaps we have been resting on our laurels.”


MORE:

If you grew up in Buffalo in the 1960s, you can’t help but remember the “Boost Buffalo” jingle. But that was the idea behind the slogan, as it was explained in 1964 when the special Chamber of Commerce “Boost Buffalo” committee elected new leadership.

” ‘Boost Buffalo’ leader is named”

“ ‘Some people poke fun at the “Boost Buffalo, it’s good for you” slogan,’ a chamber official said, ‘but that only shows that it’s caught on, that everybody’s heard of it, and that it’s good.’ ”

The every day is filled with memories of those who make us who we are

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

This Hertel Avenue litter triggered an instant memory flashback:

Hey Steve-o, here’s a couple bucks. Go to the store and get your ol’man a pack of smokes. Your grandmother, too. And get yourself a candy bar, ok?

Even at 6 years old, Dad didn’t have to tell me to get him Parliament 100s or Grandma Kools.

There was never a note that I remember… and never a problem so long as I went to the corner deli and got the right brand of smokes. ( I tried to buy Marlboro for an uncle once and they literally chased me out of the store. Hahahaha.)

That was Grandma Cichon with the Kools.

Grandma Coyle, like my dad, smoked Parliaments. But the only thing she’d send us to B-Kwik for regularly was rolls for dinner.

Sometimes we’d stay late at Grandma Coyle’s house, and we’d take our baths there.

Sometimes, Grandma Coyle would have a beer– in an old school pint glass just like this one– while reclining on the couch watching TV.

It fills my heart even now to think about walking into the living room on Hayden Street in our pajamas, and seeing Grandma smiling as we walked in, all freshly scrubbed.

She smiled every time we walked into a room… and if that isn’t the greatest thing ever.

I’m so glad I decided to have a beer tonight– and that it took me to this story.

Bob Koop sitting at the wheel of a 1985 Chevy Celebrity

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Bob Koop, sitting behind the wheel of photojournalist Dan Summerville’s 1985 Chevy Celebrity news cruiser.

I’m blessed that as a child of the 80s, my ol’man did a lot of channel changing during the local TV news– or should I say, since our TV didn’t have a remote for most of the 80s, that I did a lot of channel changing at dad’s command.

I’m glad I got to watch a lot of Bob Koop. His look and sound were perfect, but his sense for news and writing skills were even better. Even without knowing it, I think I started figuring out how I wanted to be on the news sitting next to my dad watching Bob and Carol most nights on News 4 at 6… Directed by Mike Cunningham, Produced by Vic Baker.

I was honored to work with him once– producing a radio show he was filling in on shortly before he died from Leukemia at the age of 48.

All that… and this is just a really cool super 80s photo.

Making Buffalo Buffalo: Bob Wells

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Among the things that make Buffalo… Buffalo is Bob Wells.

Bob Wells at the WEBR RCA-44, where his theme song was Gloria Wood’s “Teen Time.”

Bob Wells was the host of one of Buffalo’s most popular radio shows of the post-war era– the Hi Teen show ran on WEBR for 17 years, hosting as many of 2000 kids in the Dellwood Ballroom at Main and Utica every Saturday.

What kind of music did you hear on Hi-Teen?.

“I was probably the last disc jockey in America to play an Elvis Presley record,” Wells told Channel 2’s Rich Kellman during a late 70s interview.

Wells popularity with Buffalo’s youngest radio fans overlapped the rock ‘n’ roll era, but not by much.

Long after Hi-Teen was little more than a memory, Western New Yorkers continued to hear Bob Wells’ voice as the voice of Your Host restaurants.

WATCH: A Bob Wells-voiced Your Host commercial from 1977:

Bob Wells… and the Hi Teen Show.. just one of the things that makes Buffalo… Buffalo

Cichon testifies in “Important Conversation” on suicide and mental health awareness

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I was proud to bring my story to the floor of the Erie County Legislature yesterday.

Legislator Patrick Burke launched “Important Conversations,” a series of monthly meetings to provide a public forum for difficult issues confronting our community. The first topic was suicide awareness and prevention. Speakers included Erie County Mental Health Commissioner Michael R. Ranney, Cheektowaga Town Supervisor Diane Benczkowski, author Steve Cichon, Crisis Services CEO Jessica C. Pirro, LMSW, and Suicide Prevention Coalition Coordinator Celia Spacone, PhD.

Steve Cichon testifying in the Erie County Legislature chambers on June 27, 2018.

The Testimony of Steve Cichon, June 26, 2018

This is entirely new to me— bringing out into the light the darkness which has silently been an exhausting part of my life for as long as I can remember.

I’m not here to speak for the third of Americans who’ve dealt with depression or anxiety… or the 5 percent of Americans who’ll have severe depression or panic disorder symptoms this year.

I can only talk about my own experience– with the knowledge that the only way to defeat darkness is with light and with the hope that my story helps people who don’t suffer understand.. and the hope that it helps people who do suffer realize that they aren’t alone and there is a way out.

In the two weeks since I first published my brief memoir on Depression and Anxiety, on an immediate level, my hopes have been realized.

READ: A brief memoir in depression and anxiety

As one person telling my story, I’ve heard from family members of those suffering from or having succumbed to mood disorders that they better understand what might be going on in the mind of a loved one.

I’ve had perfect strangers and people I’ve known for decades approach me and ask how I started down the road to better mental health.

Knowing that I’ve been able to turn the wretched consternation which is never too far away into something positive– something that can help others– has been a great relief and comfort to me… And it’s why I’m here again today with those same hopes for telling my story… even though it’s really not easy.

It seemed to strike a chord with some people when I wrote about how living with depression is like trying to move under a heavy wet blanket. It’s possible— but it’s exhausting and miserable, and sometimes it feels like just too much.

I’m up at 4am to read the news at WECK– and while I love my job, it’s sheer misery every time that alarm clock goes off in the darkness. I know I can’t hit snooze… and it takes every bit of everything I have to throw myself out of bed and start my day.

It’s a perfect analogy for the mood disorders I suffer from…

Depending on the day or the hour or the minute… sometimes it takes everything I have to throw myself into whatever small task presents itself next.

The analytical smart-enough, public face and mind I present knows full well that stopping for a haircut or a car wash on the way home from work makes perfect sense… but sometimes it’s just too much. A lot of times.

And those little defeats build– and it can be a constant onslaught. All from inside my own head. It begins to be unbearable when those choices made in the grips of anxiety and depression start to effect other people.

None of it makes sense.. but its there and its a constant fight.

But it is a fight. And it’s one I take on… and millions of people take on every day.

READ: Taking the next step to better mental health

I’m not a depressed person. I’m a happy, sunny, hilarious, industrious hard working guy… who happens to suffer from Mood disorders.

It’s a chronic illness which I refuse to allow to define who I am. One way to do that is to not publicly acknowledge it– and in some ways that might have been easier… but I’m doing my part to chip away at the wall of stigma that exists with mental illness.

Light is the only way to defeat darkness… and the more light we shine, the more darkness disappears.

People ask, How can I help… Be more understanding. For many years, as a closeted mood disordered person, I’d remind people constantly that WE ALL HAVE OUR OWN STUFF, whether you realize your neighbor does or not.

Being understanding means just being a nicer person. Smiling more and meaning it. Making eye contact and human contact and meaning it. Whatever you’re dealing with– trying to make room for compassion for other people dealing with their things.

Bringing light to the world. In many cases, its all we can do. It’s not a cure… but when there’s more light in the world, there’s less chance that someone is going to slip into the darkness.

Be nicer… and be educated.

That’s one way this body can help… Education usually takes money– and for the number of people who are affected by mood disorders and mental illnesses, the funding is woefully short.

The way I told my story was unique, and the unique message touched some people. The more unique messages mental health professionals can put into the world, the more people who will see more light in their day… and that’s all just about any person suffering wants– its some way to realize that there’s a way to find light.

From County Legislator Pat Burke’s Facebook page: Thank you to the wonderful speakers at today’s suicide awareness conversation. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in America for those between the age of 10-34. There will be a summary report and information to follow! To simplify the conversation: practice kindness, connect with people, and know the warning signs of someone in crisis. Public humiliation, social rejection, major disappointments, a personal crisis, and often substance abuse can be triggers for suicide.

Grandma Cichon didn’t tell you you were special– she cultivated what made you special

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

It’s been 22 years now– and sad for me to think about the fact that I’ve been without Grandma Cichon longer than the time we were here together. But there’s happiness, too, of course…

She’s so much a part of who I am, what I do, and the way I do it… She’s very much here with me. She never said goodbye when someone would leave, it was always “Toodaloo,” with a smile and the knowledge we’d be seeing each other again soon.

After helping raise her six brothers and sisters, ten kids and a million nieces, nephews, and random kids from the neighborhood by the time she got to me– she had an incredible way of finding the thing she could help develop in a person and quietly make an impact.

When I was 6 or 7, she saw something in me that displayed a love of Buffalo History– and gave me a wonderful Buffalo historical photo-filled magazine (which of course I still have– I’m a pack rat just like her.)

More than just a love of history and the past, Grandma loved what was new and exciting, too. She took us kids on the bus from South Buffalo to Hertel Avenue for the first year of the Italian Festival in its new location there.

She took us (again on the bus) to the “new show” when the new downtown movie theaters opened. Of course, her handbag was filled with cans of Faygo pop and that cheap waxy candy from D&K.

When I was 8 or 9 and started sneaking up to watch Johnny Carson’s monologue, she was the only person I knew who also watched Carson, so she was the only one I could talk to about all the great jokes. It was Grandma Cichon who suggested that I might like David Letterman, too… Even though I was in fifth grade and his show started at 12:30am.

Uncovering Buffalo’s history and trying to make people smile are the very foundation of who I am– in no small part thanks to Grandma Cichon. But it’s not just me, it’s dozens of people, and the people they’ve since touched.

She was really tough, and definitely not the type to tell you that you were a special snowflake. But even better, she saw what was special in you, and without pomp, circumstance, or self-congratulation, she helped you cultivate it, whether you realized it or not.

What would have been her 90th birthday comes up on July 4th. She remains a definitive example of The Greatest Generation and a definitive example of a wonderful grandma.

Diners, road trips, and sunbleached maps in the glove compartment

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I first stumbled on this diner driving the back roads to Washington DC as a high school kid, and I have the same feeling for the Miss Worcester Diner in Worcester MA— which I found on my way to Boston as a teenager.
The Diner in Wellsboro, PA is my all-time favorite diner. I am genuinely excited, but I think Monica is mocking me. Hahaha
In both cases, I pulled out my giant road atlas, and created my own routes with little more to go on than little numbers pasted on top of colored lines criss-crossing the wide open country between where I was and where I was heading.
The place is on Route 6, and to stay on the route, you have to make a left hand turn which puts you right in front of the diner. It’s about 3 hours out of Buffalo, and the perfect spot for a break.
I was so excited to find an actual diner car diner– but then was just beside myself when the food was great, too.
My preference was always for state roads and US highways over interstates. I’d the back roads with the hopes of finding great places like this one in those dark pre-Internet days, but there was never a guarantee, which made turning a seven hour trip into an 11 hour one tough when you wound up eating at McDonald’s anyway a lot of the time.
But that really was part of the fun for me. There’s no more serendipity in road trips, mostly because it’s so much easier to plan a trip that’s as fast as possible and hits plenty of neat stuff along the way, too.
Planning a road trip 2018 style, with Google searches for “Pennsylvia diners” and “Donut shops near Harrisburg,” and then having perfect turn-by-turn directions spit out by a smart phone app is wonderful, and I wouldn’t give it up.
But it just can’t replace the wonderful feeling of hitting the open road, and hoping to stumble into some great place to grab breakfast or a meatloaf dinner along the way, and spreading open that map as the waitress fills your second cup of coffee, and maybe gives you an idea about a good place to stop a few hours down the road.
You can do all that now, but it feels antiquated and forced with so many better options. I liked when it was the best option.
And my 25 year love affair with the Wellsboro Diner is a reminder of my discovery of how amazing a road trip– and life–can be, when you leave room for magic.

A brief memoir in depression and anxiety

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Most of us hear about the lurid details of a suicide and can’t even fathom hanging ourselves by a belt from a door knob like Robin Williams did. Seems impossible that he would, either. He was always the life of the party, always smiling and trying making people laugh.

Most of us can’t rectify being so despondent that, like Kate Spade, you can coherently write a note to your 13 year old daughter and explain why you’re about to end your own life. Beyond that, it seems incongruous with the bright, sunny fashionable mark she made in the world.

And now Anthony Bourdain has taken his own life in a hotel room in arguably the most beautiful city in the world. This was a man who could seemingly find common ground and connect with anyone, in any place, and be comfortable any place in the world.

We talk about and make social media posts about the tragedy and the incongruity of it all, with the lamentation, “had they only gotten help.”

Not me. I painfully understand the struggle to overcome depression and anxiety.

It’s not easy to publicly say, “I’m crazy,” but it’s true, and I might as well put it that way right here– because that’s what society will say once this is published. And that’s a big part of the problem.

Actually, for me right now, it’s a wonderful point to come to– being able to share all this regret-free and without reservation. It’s been a very long time coming. Though I didn’t always know what it was,  I have been suffering from depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember.

We don’t talk about mental health, because despite what anyone says, the stigma is still too great. You will read this and never think of me the same way again.

The massive outpouring of people trying to understand their feelings about the usually tragic newsworthy manifestations of mental illness means the willingness is there, but there doesn’t seem to be much movement beyond the mental health version of “thoughts and prayers,” which is asking our universe generically to “get help” if they need it.

Just like offering “thoughts and prayers,” a general “get help” plea is well-intentioned and from the heart, but it can’t be the final word if this is going to get any better.

I’m sharing my story so you might have some insight into how my brain works, but also how you might be able to help.

Please know it’s very difficult for me to talk about any of these things without humor to deaden the reality, because the last thing I want you to do is feel like I do. But you need to know.

I didn’t know what that hell was wrong with me, as far back as middle school.

Even though people close to me were (now) clearly suffering the same way I was, I didn’t know because no one ever talked about it.

As far as I knew, mental illness was like Daffy Duck, bouncing on his head, yanking on his tongue, screaming, “HOO- HOO, HOO-HOO, HOO-HOO.”

I couldn’t have known that I was suffering from something routine and curable. More than Daffy Duck head bouncing, I felt a great weight on me, both metaphorically and physically sometimes. My arms and legs and chest feel heavy.

Sometimes it felt like going through life was like trying to walk through deep mud.

Sometimes it felt like my body was being weighed down by a soaking wet, heavy  woolen blanket, sometimes with bricks on top of those blankets.

Depression and sadness, I thought, were kind of the same thing, right?

I’m a happy guy, not sad. What I felt was more like the heart and soul of any given moment in life could be ripped out– still bleeding– and leaving me with a heavy, aching pain and an inward sucking emptiness vacuum which swallows up everything in sight that isn’t tied down. I could fight through that devastation and have some part of me still feel happy. Sadness wasn’t a part of it.

I thought anxiousness is just what makes you sweat before a test.

I don’t need a test or any other reason. Without warning or provocation, my heart races and energy shoots through my arms and legs, which at the same time are rendered tingly and unstable while also in need of fidgety motion, trying to nervously vibrate the physical feeling away,  as my mind feels like it is physically unraveling. This is a run on sentence, but it’s a run on sensation.

All of these things have been a part of who I am, in varying degrees, literally as long as I can remember.

But that didn’t mean I knew what I was dealing with. At one point, I didn’t know I needed help because I didn’t know what was wrong.

It was a lonely shameful feeling that I was some how damaged in a way that no one could possibly understand.

I’d heard about and even written papers about mental illness and dealt with family members with mental illness, and none of it sounded even vaguely familiar.

There wasn’t a single person who ever spoke personally about their struggle in a way that could help me understand my own. All I knew was there was help for bat shit crazy people who were ready to kill themselves (and those people should get help.)

I saw those people portrayed on episodes of Matlock. I wasn’t wearing a black t-shirt while listening to Nirvana, so I was OK. Crazy? Suicidal? That wasn’t me.

Even after a student in my high school hanged herself, I didn’t know that it’s very likely she was going through the same sorts of things I was– but there was never a discussion other than “get help.”

I had no idea that I was one of those people that should be getting help.

I can remember with sparkling clarity the moment that all the sudden I had a diagnosis for what was going on inside of me.

At a particularly low point, I was sitting alone in the ICU waiting room at the VA hospital, with my ol’man’s life hanging by a thread just inside the double swinging doors to my right.

In that moment, from the pages of a crumpled, coffee-stained magazine I’d been mindlessly flipping through, I unexpectedly received all my answers in three or four quick pages.

An article about Mike Wallace and his mental health battles moved from quickly scanning it to suddenly hanging on every word.

This was me.

All at once, everything that I’d been feeling  made sense, and things fit together and lined up now. It was (finally) a personal story where he spelled out what he was getting help for– and it was as if he was telling my story.

It was a tremendous relief, but it was also in that same moment I was instantly awash in the fear and stigma of what this was.

I was no longer alone, but now even lonelier. My suffering was nothing special– but I didn’t know where to turn.

Alone, without seeking any help, I spent the next 10 or 15 years trying to handle it on my own. Handle this depression, which was becoming more entrenched and sedentary, and handle this anxiety, which was becoming more volatile and unwieldy.

Opposing urges making for deeper anguish.

–Editor’s note–Please don’t do this.

Despite the barrage of constantly generic pleas from media for people like me to get help, I now realized those calls were for me– I just didn’t have a road map to make it happen.

There’s a suicide hotline, but couldn’t find a “I’m getting worse and just need some guidance and explain how to get started in the process of getting better” hotline.

I was fearful that I was going to be locked up. I was fearful that I was going to be pumped with medication that would change the good parts as well as the parts that needed changing.

I was fearful of being judged by people who despite saying all the right words, didn’t really seem to get it.

I knew I needed to do something, but didn’t have the energy to start from scratch to figure out what the hell to do.

I lied in every mental health screen I’d ever been given. Maybe I wouldn’t have, if it didn’t feel like the people offering the exam didn’t seem to be going through a wrote exercise every time. I guess I don’t present as “in need or psychiatric services,” but I’m here to say there is no typical presentation.  Maybe if there was some feeling that the questioner really cared or somehow wanted to help, or even actually could really help, not just flip to the next page in the manual and urge me to “get help.”

Keep in mind, until this point, this is all inside of me. Never told a soul. How do you tell someone you love that you’re legitimately losing your shit, without having them lose their shit? I wasn’t about to find out, especially having still never met anyone ready or able to talk about the things that were going on with me.

I’d also spent a lifetime conditioning myself to “act normal,” no matter what was going on inside.

But just as I’d read with ol’Mike Wallace, things gradually got worse. Keeping the facade became more difficult.

I was trying to figure out how to “get help.” I knew I needed it, but my head wasn’t in a noose at this moment, so what do I do?

The commercials used to say something like, if you feel like your life is in jeopardy, if you are in crisis, call us before you do anything else.

I didn’t want to wait for that point, but there didn’t seem to be anything aimed at people not in the midst of imminent crisis.

Even web resources offered little other than “hey, call a suicide hotline.”

It’s difficult for me to imagine every cancer resource aimed at people with Stage 5 cancer, and telling everyone else, “wait around… you’ll get there eventually!”

That’s what it felt like.

Probably in the wake of Robin Williams or some similar jarring public awareness of mental illness, public conversations I was having on Facebook became private conversations which became my coming out party.

It was two separate on-going conversations with two people I’d have called “fond acquaintances” more than “friends,” at least until that moment. These were two people who were suffering in the same way I was, but were further along on the path to help. And my struggle became their struggle. It was a great rest and a break from decades of growing weariness.

Being able to talk about what had been inside of me for three decades was amazing, and really among the greatest gift anyone has ever given me.

Around that time, I also began making jokes and comments to my wife about some of these things going on in my head, using clinical names and getting her used to the idea that I would need to get to work on some of these things, and that it would make our life together better for both of us.

I didn’t have it in me to just spill it all out in one swoop. I knew I was playing with fire– not finding legitimate, professional help NOW– but I still felt a need to do this at my own pace.

–Editor’s note again–Please don’t do this.

It was still another three years of calling insurance companies, trying to find a doctor, all kinds of nonsense and excuses until when, earlier this year, I finally sat on a couch with someone across the room who had the training and skills to help me.

I wish I had found the proper help I needed sooner. I wish there was a better framework for people who are struggling with mental illness and the societal and social stigmas attached to have non-judgmental interactions with someone who can just be a friend to help guide through the process.

I wish I could have asked people conversationally about how their mental illness feels, where they go for help, but that just doesn’t happen.

I wish that my life wasn’t going to completely change when I hit send on this… but it will. And I’m ok with that, because carrying it around with me is just too much.

That’s what I feel, by the way, when I see the news of a suicide.

I feel the weight that they must have been carrying.

I take measure of my own weight, and hope and pray that the scale never tips and it’s too much.

“Get help,” sure, but you’ve no doubt seen the sky go from sunny and delightful to dark and stormy– seemingly in an instant. It’s unnerving to live in that kind of weather pattern every moment of every day, but it’s all you can do.

So,yes, please get help. But “get help” is a tiny seven letter phrase which can’t even begin to describe the totality of trying to untangle the frozen knots of all-consuming wretched darkness and hopelessness inside some of us.

None of us should think of it as just “get help.”

Again, it’s like telling someone who has cancer, “get help.”

Sometimes medicine and vigilance makes everything better for cancer and mental illness. Sometimes all kinds of medicines and procedures and fighting like hell still won’t do the trick.

The big difference is, of course, every suicide death is 100% preventable.

Sure, there’s a number to call, and I’ll paste it in here in just a moment… but more than anything else, the one thing we can all do— each one of us– to make suicide less likely in our individual corners of the universe, is to more regularly and more thoroughly practice human decency, compassion, and love.

Especially when it’s not easy. Especially when the person standing in front of you is an asshole.

The only way to stop the anger and sadness in the world is to be less angry and sad yourself.

No one knows that more than a depressed person.

Some part of me knows that’s why Robin Williams worked so hard to make people laugh, why Kate Spade worked to bring vibrant color to the world, why Anthony Bourdain worked to bring people together through food.

I am not a depressed person. I’m a happy, loving, compassionate, optimistic person who deals with depression and anxiety. I’m also working very hard to make sure that I’m remembered for the first half of that sentence and not the second.

It’s been my experience that people who suffer from depression and anxiety feel mostly the same things that everyone else feels, I think it’s just we’ve lost the throttle control on those feelings. Every feeling is just so rich and vibrant.  It’s like the instagram filter that makes the colors pop out vividly. There’s no little bit of feeling. It’s full blast and it’s truly wonderful– but it’s also exhausting.

It’s surely great to see your all-time favorite rock band live in concert, feeling the pulse of the music in your chest with smoke and lasers all around.  Sometimes, though, you’d just like to listen to that song on your iPod quietly while you’re sitting on a plane, trying to take a nap.

Tapping play on my emotional iPod brings the smoke and lasers every time. It’s all the feels all the time. Sometimes it’s exhilarating, sometimes it’s defeating, it’s always draining. It makes me a more compassionate and loving person– and I don’t think I’d want to change it–but a lot of times, it’s just too much.

So, I’m writing this because it exhausts me to pretend like it’s not there.

I’m writing this because you need to know that there are so many people suffering– but at the same time putting every ounce of their humanity into not suffering and trying to reduce the suffering of others.

I’m writing this because the weight of all these things hasn’t become too much for me, but it’s really impossible to know when that last straw might come.

I’m writing this because someone has to speak from the perspective of those who say there but for the grace of God go I.

Social media and dinner conversations are filled with people who don’t understand, because we who do understand don’t always have have the emotional strength or bandwidth to put the dark and ugly on public display.

I’m writing this so you might understand a little bit, and that understanding might make you want to be part of the answer.

The only answer I see is that all of us use up every bit of capacity for love and compassion that we have. We leave nothing in the tank. With family. With friends. With strangers. With that asshole in the grocery store.

It’s not a cure, but it’s what we can each do.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Call 1-800-273-8255
Available 24 hours everyday

Stan Jasinski’s Polish American Program

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

It was 18 years ago this weekend, on June 3, 2000, that a 60 year Buffalo radio career came to an end.

Stan Jasinski hung up his headphones and walked away from the weekly Polish American program he’d been hosting on Buffalo radio stations up and down the dial for more than half a century.

Maybe Stan’s broadcasts were something you enjoyed, or maybe you’re like me– I’d listen with my grandfather and only understand one or two words a sentence.

Stan Jasinski, WMMJ

Aside from a beloved host, Stan was also a businessman– having started a radio station and Channel 29 through the years.

Read & Hear More:

Stan Jasinski on WKBW, Christmas Day 1954

April 15, 1950: “Buffalo’s Polka King” starts daily radio show

If you’ve got the hankering for polkas now, make sure you tune in to Ronnie D’s Drive Time Polkas, Sunday mornings on WECK.

Steve and Stan Jasinski, mid 90s.