The Ol’man & Fruitcake

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

As I continue to evolve into my father, with great anticipation, I bought a fruitcake today.

My ol’man would excitedly exclaim, “Man, cut that up! I LOVE fruitcake!” to no one in particular, because no one else would eat what I assumed was rotten dreck.

He probably did share the fruitcake with the dog– especially if it was Casey.

Well just now, I ate a quarter of this thing between taking the photo and writing this. Dad would be proud of my broadened holiday palette… but if I ever get a taste for that shrinkwrapped Hickory Farms sausage he also loved— please just put me out of my misery.

Fruitcake is plenty tasty. I think my distrust for it stemmed from its resemblance to another of one of my dad’s favorite processed meat products– olive loaf.

 

A soup can is a ticket to a journey back in time

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

The best part of opening up an old newspaper to look for something specific… is taking your time to get there. Yesterday, in a 1979 edition of The Buffalo Evening News, I had a memory flashback as I quickly scanned a Tops ad.
Hy-Top Chicken Noodle Soup, 1979.
 
When I was at Holy Family grammar school, we went home for lunch… But a couple of days a week, when mom was working, I walked the extra block to my Great-Grandpa Wargo’s house with a can of Hy-Top chicken noodle soup in tow for Grandpa W to heat up for both of us.
 
In the side door and up a few steps to the kitchen, where everything was ancient– but pristine. The giant gleaming white stove with chrome accents was in newer shape than our stove at home, even though it was 30 years older. The same could be said of the also gleaming white counter tops, laminate with gold flecks, in full-1950s style.

The table where we ate the soup was even older, enamel but sturdy. My mother and grandmother likely ate soup for lunch in the same spot at the same table where I sat on those early 80s afternoons.

 
We had to be on our best behavior around Grandpa W, and there was certainly a “get-off-my-lawn” air about him, with his wiry gray hair, glasses like Dennis the Menace’s dad, and clothes that were a bit worn and a bit too big on the man after whom I was named.
 
He was a notorious curmudgeon, but I can’t conjure up an image of him without a smile on his lips and happiness in his eyes. I have another 40 years to work on it, but that’s the kind of curmudgeon I’m aiming to become.
 
I wish I knew how to describe the smell at Grandpa W’s house… I’ve asked and nobody knows what I’m talking about. It was slightly sweet, and maybe a bit like licorice, but not quite so pungent.
 
The thought of that smell makes me feel tucked in with a kiss on the forehead without a worry in the world.
 
Olfactory memories ignited by the grainy image of this can– the exact red-and-gold labeled can I remember from those special meals.
 
As a first grader, the soup produced from that can was enough for Gramps and me to have lunch– but then there was also enough left for him to have some soup for dinner, too.
 
I think ol’gramps would be happy with the nearly-threadbare shirt I’m wearing at the moment, but I’m afraid he might be disappointed if he thinks his namesake would eat a third of a can of soup for dinner.
 
Anyway, all of this swelled up in my eyes and my smile in a brief moment as I pushed forward flipping through the pages of that 40 year old newspaper. I eventually got the article I set out to find, but that’s not nearly as thrilling as finding what I didn’t know I was looking for.

Shining a light saves the next victim

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

It’s not the overtly disgusting cartoon-character dirtbags I’m most worried about.
 
It’s the upstanding All-American types for whom power and status is an intoxicant, who allow themselves to use their clout and that little bit of power buzz to mercilessly prey upon those around them.
 
Those preyed upon might not even realize they’ve punched a ticket to unveil some dark perverse corner in an All-American gutter until it’s too late.
 
When it stays in the shadows, this authoritative debaucher can simply go on pretending this behavior doesn’t exist– until that inebriation of power strikes again, and a blurry, out-of-focus green light means another victim.
 
We’re seeing flood lights blasted into corners we’ve either didn’t know existed or tried to ignore. It’s really, really uncomfortable either way– and there are plenty who’d prefer to say, “just please stop already.”
 
For as uncomfortable that light pouring out of dark gutters is for most of us– for many upstanding powerful All-American types, there’s a mirror in that bright light, and every time a corner gets lit up, that intoxicating buzz starts to feel a bit more like a hang over.
 
And maybe someone doesn’t get harassed or assaulted today.

Remembering my first Bills game… and it hasn’t gotten much better

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

My ol’man took me to my first Bills game at Rich Stadium against the Baltimore Colts in 1982– the players’ strike shortened season.

Gramps was a ticket taker at the stadium, so we didn’t pay– we handed him a matchbook which he ripped and gave back to us in case the boss was watching. Aside from the free admission, Gramps letting us in also meant we could get in with the big bag of home-popped popcorn, which was our only snack for the game.

The fact that we didn’t pay to get in probably means we weren’t part of the 33,900 announced attendance that day, but it doesn’t matter anyway– we left early because I was five years old and cold.

That all sounds better than what happened today, when I turned the car radio on just in time to hear Murph say that first time rookie starter Nate Peterson threw two interceptions in the first four minutes of the game against the LA Chargers.

Tearing down not just buildings, but our soul

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

This isn’t anti- or pro- or anything specific … just what I thought about as I drove down Elmwood Avenue today.

They were shooting a movie in front of Voelker’s, because that is what attracts people to Buffalo. WNY is real, authentic, and lived in.

A few blocks away, a battle’s being lost to retain some of that authenticity to make way for a building that we might see in Tampa or Phoenix or anywhere else in the world.

Progress is good and we need it– but we also need to keep in mind what draws people here.

In a word, it’s our soul. The soul that lives in us and the soul that lives as part of our streetscape and buildings.

If something new is going to take away from that soul, it had better bring something tangibly more to the community.

Protecting soul can’t be written into a zoning plan. We have to be stewards of the essence that makes us who we are, and as a community, we need to continue to talk about all the Buffalo intangibles that money can’t buy– but sure as hell can ruin.

As my ol’man taught us, it’s not enough, but “thanks”

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

My ol’man taught us respect for everyone, and as a veteran, he made sure that we understood that veterans deserved extra respect.

We always gave a buck to the dusty, shriveled World War I vets who were selling poppies outside the grocery store and the bank.  In this increasingly cashless world, when I don’t have a dollar and wish I did, Dad’s lesson from these hundreds of times echoes in my mind. “You always you make sure you have a buck for something like this,” he’d tell us, giving one of us a crepe paper poppy with a green wire stem.

For as long as I can remember, we regularly spent time at the VA Hospital, whether to visit Dad, go to an appointment with him, or to visit one of our many relatives who received care there.

Now my ol’man really didn’t care much for rules, especially if they didn’t make sense to him. “No visitors under 14” was an edict he ignored with relish. “People who are sick need to be cheered up,” I know he thought, “and what have I got that will cheer people up? These little lemons!”

I’m not talking trying to slip in a 12 year old, either. I remember visiting the bedside of my dad’s Grandpa Scurr at South Buffalo Mercy Hospital. I had just turned three when he died, so dad looked at the age limit as plus or minus 11 years.

A couple years later, dad snuck us into the VA hospital to visit my mom’s grandfather. Grandpa Stephen J. Wargo spent the second half of World War II as a Navy mechanic fixing planes on Guam, and he and my dad got along great—which wasn’t always true for either one of these irascible men named Steve.

Getting over on Mercy Hospital to visit a sick grandpa was one thing—my ol’man had been gleefully giving nuns the business since the days when he was kicked out of St. Stephen’s Grammar school in the Valley on Elk Street.

He was a little more careful at the VA, though. While not quite the military, the Veterans Administration Hospital was really just about the only place I’d ever seen my father “behave” for a prolonged period of time. At any other hospital, the rule was stupid. Period. Same rule at the VA, but he’d employ the kind of protocol he learned in the Marine Corps—if we’re going to bend a rule, we’d better do it carefully and for good reason.

So when the elevator dinged for the right floor on our way to visit Grandpa Wargo, Dad stuck his head out of the elevator looking both ways to make sure the coast was clear, before grabbing and jerking my hand and my brother’s hand with a very direct, “c’mon.”

In the early 80s, every floor at the VA still had a smoking lounge, usually right next to the elevators. With purpose, Dad threw open the door to the smoking room and threw us in. “Don’t move,” he told us as he left to go get Gramps.

There was a friendly elderly black man in a bathrobe in the lounge, probably just trying to enjoy a smoke. I can’t be sure of the exact words, but dad asked something along the lines of, “Can you keep an eye on these animals while I get their grandfather?”

Almost four decades later, I can’t forget that guy’s smile and his standing in front of us… Holding his bathrobe open to hide us in case someone looked in the room. It’s powerful when just your presence can make people smile, and we made quite a few people smile with a few bent rules and only a small dose of secondhand smoke.

Later, when dad was spending more time in the VA himself, we’d often get to know his bunkmates. Especially when it was clear they didn’t have visitors or family, dad would adopt them—meaning we’d adopt them. I’d call dad to see if he wanted anything before going to see him. I’d usually bring a paper and a good cup of coffee, but he usually wouldn’t ask for anything– unless his buddy needed something.

All this is to say I hope that I carry with me and share my ol’man’s respect and honor for those who have served. I don’t always have an extra buck in my pocket, but there aren’t a lot of folks selling poppies, anyway.

But on Veteran’s Day (and everyday), when I meet someone who has served or see someone who is outwardly representing their service with a hat or bumper sticker, I offer a firm handshake, a look in the eye, and a thank you.

It’s not enough, but nothing’s really enough. It’s my honoring my dad, my dad’s service, and the sacrifice of every man and woman to ever wear the uniform.

Thank you.

Election Day 2017: The best is yet to come!

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

A social media recap of the 48 hours after Election Day 2017, where I was defeated in the race for Erie County Clerk by a margin of 52% to 48%:

The one good thing about no longer running for office is…. I can be snarky whenever snarky is called for. Here’s an email I received tonight, and responded to appropriately. Thank you everyone for your amazing love and support!

 

I love this photo– captured by the great Derek Gee of The News– because it really says everything I want to say about running for office, the race Team Cichon ran, and even the results. Since jumping into this race in March, I’ve been enriched in friendships new and lifelong…and the process has pushed me to rededicate my intense desire to make the world a better place by serving the greater humanity and the marginalized who need help being heard. The results aren’t exactly what any of us wanted– But my head is held high and my heart is full today. We left it all out there, and are ready for whatever else good is coming down the way.

Erie County Clerk candidate Steve Cichon talks to members of the media at the Democratic Party’s election night celebration at Statler City, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

Breaking news– the election didn’t turn out the way we worked for… but the good news is, no matter what is to come, it comes with the best most supportive partner imaginable. Monica and I got to swing by the Channel 4 studios yesterday, and stop in the room that used to be WBEN Radio’s control room— the exact place where we met as co-workers 24 years ago. As I tell anyone who’ll listen, my wife is the brains of the operation, and the person who makes be better everyday. Thanks Sweetie Pie!!

Drove around today, filling my trunk with Cichon signs plucked from various places around town, including a few that were out in front of the former War Memorial Stadium… where Gramps was a ticket taker for 40 years and where my ol’man took us to Bisons games. My fondest five-year-old memories of the place are of the big metal troughs in the men’s room instead of urinals.

In perhaps my greatest “get off my lawn” moment ever, I was chatting with four friends who I worked with during this election season. I was wearing this ensemble from my “putting the outdoor furniture away” collection, and someone mentioned it was strange seeing me not wearing a bow tie. As I looked down at this plaid work shirt, I gloriously realized that it was purchased when I was in middle school in either 1989 or 1990 and was (quite a bit) older than all four of these friends. I proudly shared with them that bit of trivia, and enjoyed it way too much. Now stay off my lawn.

Asking for your vote!

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

A social media recap of the 24 hours run-up to Election Day 2017, where I was the endorsed Democrat running for Erie County Clerk:

Thank you for eight months of love and support– I have two last favors to ask. First, if you believe that I would bring common sense and integrity to government, I humbly ask that you share this video with a personal message about why you’re voting for me with your Facebook friends.

Second, please, PLEASE vote tomorrow. Having a great message, having a heart in the right place, having the drive and determination to make our county and our world a better place doesn’t matter unless we get one more vote than the other guy. Thanks and love!

A Trusted Voice

Vote for the candidate with real world experience and a new voice: Vote Steve Cichon for Erie County Clerk on November 7th.

Posted by Steve Cichon for Erie County Clerk on Sunday, October 22, 2017

 

Somewhere, Grandpa Cichon was smiling…. as I interrupted people trying to make urgent last minute, get-out-the-vote phone calls with Paula’s Donuts.

In case you were wondering how I was voting in the clerk’s race…

It’s been eight long months on the campaign trail and hundreds of people have lent their time and talents (and maybe a spot on their lawn) to share the word: I would consider it an honor to bring common sense, humility, and public service to the clerk’s office. There are two final steps in that process. The first is done– I have my lucky bow tie socks on. The second is in your hands… Thank you for all your love, support and vote!!

You look for signs on a day like today, and these are the winter cups unveiled at Tim Hortons this morning…

The family that votes together… WINS!

 

hashtag ME TOO resonates

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

For most women, it has to be an awful combination of shattering and (hopefully, in some way) freeing to write “me too” in social media.

I know it’s shattering for me reading them. It’s shattering for me that people I love have been victims. It’s shattering that people I love have been aggressors.

Just like every other social justice issue that’s come to the forefront recently, it’s horrifically discomforting to the core. And it needs to stay that way.

Our natural human reaction is to somehow find a comfortable place to exist within something terrible, but men– you can’t do that with this. You just can’t. We can’t.

This isn’t going to change unless we all keep with us the pain, fear, disgust, and shame that every woman has ever felt with us.

Not being a dirtbag yourself isn’t enough. You’re being a dirtbag every time you smile at a story instead of saying it makes you sick.

You’re being a dirtbag when you agree that she’s a bitch and he was just kidding— when you know he wasn’t kidding, because you’ve watched him push to see how far he could go so many times before.

You’re a dirtbag if you still think of “that one friend” as some kind of undefeated, virile sexual conquistador hero– especially in light of reading stories in social media over the last week. You have to now know, without question, that he’s either a liar or a sexual predator (and probably both.)

Guys, if you imagine that your disapproval of some guy’s perverse story is met with him calling you “a pussy,” doesn’t that prove the point? Be someone who stands up when it isn’t easy.

I don’t have an answer, but being “sorry” and being “a good guy” yourself won’t end this.

Refuse to be comfortable with it. Don’t give a fist bump and laugh, even if it means you become the object of that sexual predator’s fury yourself.

Don’t “turn in your man card;” UPGRADE IT.

Being a man does not mean demeaning a woman or making a woman feel small through the exercise of your masculinity.

Be the person you hope would be there for your loved ones. Every time. No excuses.

With a little help from my friends….

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I was interviewed by The Buffalo News Editorial Board today. It’s difficult to know what to expect walking into such a meeting–so it was great to see two of my great friends and mentors staring at me from the wall behind the six questioners.

Two amazing writers, amazing men, amazing Buffalonians. Renaissance men who wrote about sports but wrote about community and life.

I learned so much from Larry Felser and Jim Kelley– and several times have wished to have their counsel as this race has gone on, and here they are–unexpected and unexpectedly together– on a day where I probably would have called for advice, chitchat, and some idea of what to expect.

Brilliant guys both. Both looking at me from photos on the wall of The News and from the heavens today… the same way they used to look at me through the glass in our radio days together.

In the chaos and uncertainty of a political campaign, unexpected moments of reflection and reminders of the incredible people who’ve helped put me where I am in life are spirtually gratifying and calming.

Thanks guys.