Remembering Mom Huxley, five years later

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

No one would say she had died.

Nurses and doctors talked to us, but no one said the words. Even euphemistically.

We were all confused, even when we were taken into the room where she was.

I couldn’t feel my legs as a priest anointed her body, but the palpable feeling of the pain that radiated from my wife and her dad and her brother is the worst sensation I have ever felt.

Five years ago today, my mother-in-law died in a routine surgery. The pain from her loss and the way she left us still radiates and is really a part of our existence now.

I’m just going to say it— Pam could be a real pain in the ass. No one who knew her or loved her could deny that.

In so many different ways, life had broken her spirit and her mind and her body.

From that brokenness, came someone who could be difficult. But also from that place came the purest, most complete love. From that same place came someone who cared deeply about those who either didn’t have anyone to care about them… or someone who needed a little extra. And trying to make people laugh… even at her own expense.

All her emotions and feelings were always 100%. If it was bitterness or anger, watch out— but it was worth hanging through that for the uncompromised love and support and goodness and LAUGHTER that so often poured from her unbridled.

It’s easy— comfortable, even— to dwell on that terrible day, and to feel anger and sadness over what happened and the way it was handled and the loss it created in our lives.

Instead, though, I want to remember the woman who spent the whole time I knew her, fighting through what life had dealt her and trying her best to create the world she wished she lived in for the people around her.

On the anniversary of her death, we celebrated Pam’s memory in a way she would have loved– Ice Cream for dinner!! 🙂

We won’t know for sure about Coronavirus until its too late to do anything

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

The thing is— could be nothing, could be a nationwide tragedy.

You don’t know until you know, and then when it’s your grandma who dies, you want to know why nobody told you how bad this thing could be.

Or… you can suffer through overreaction and silly TP hoarding and prepare yourself.

Human nature only allows for one of these eventualities to be true— either we’re surprised and pissed, or warned ad naseum and either hoarding or laughing.

Whether you’re scared or a tough guy right now, most of us would rather be ready for what we might be facing.

Most of the scared folks and the tough guys will be making jokes about Coronavirus in five years… unless you love one of the 50 or 500 or 5000 who perish, and you spend the rest of your life wondering if as a society we did enough.

You don’t have to like it, but wash your hands and be a decent human being until this thing passes. And then continue to do those things after it passes, too.

The only thing worse than talking about mental health is not talking about it

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I just had a conversation with myself about how to share this (it’s ok, as you’ll read, I’m a bit crazy.)

Humor, especially self-deprecating humor, helps me get through the day.

None of this is anything to joke about, but it was through self-deprecating humor that I first spoke to other human beings about it all, and really got on the path to a much more comfortable place.

With divisive politics and instant hot takes on every stupid thing that crosses our social media newsfeed, it’s becoming more and more difficult to talk thoughtfully about the things are most important to us… but talk (or write) is how you share, and share begins a discussion, and discussions help you think, and thinking is how you grow.

Get outside your own head. Be good to others— Especially those in most need of your goodness. Realize everybody has their own stuff.

Mental health isn’t easy to talk about, in fact, it makes me sick to my stomach to do it.

The only thing worse than talking about it– is not talking about it. That’s why I sat down to talk with WBFO’s Nick Lippa. His tremendous radio report and a transcript of our chat appear after this 30 second PSA:

From wbfo.org:

Suicide Prevention Coalition campaign aims to normalize men talking about their mental health

  FEB 27, 2020

Western New York organizations like Crisis Services and the Suicide Prevention Coalition have launched a campaign that encourages men to speak up about their mental health. The campaign titled “Be A Man” features several local men sharing their stories of living with mental illness. WBFO’s Nick Lippa spoke with writer and former radio newsman Steve Cichon, who is one of the people who shared his story dealing with anxiety and depression. They discuss toxic masculinity, how to ask for help and more.

WBFO’s Nick Lippa spoke with writer and former radio newsman Steve Cichon, who shared why he talks openly about his anxiety and depression.

So first off, let’s talk about the project itself and what’s happening with crisis services and this PSA. What is it exactly?

Steve Cichon: I’m more or less just a participant. Just a cog in this larger piece. I didn’t have a lot to do with planning it. But it sort of plays into something that very important to me. And really, it’s just talking about mental illness. It’s being transparent with something that more and more people are suffering from and don’t know how to talk about and are afraid to talk about. And I mean, I know that because I was that guy until I just got so angry at some of the misinformation. The way that that people thought that they understood what was going on inside of somebody else’s head when they clearly didn’t. So just talking about it, starting trying to start conversations for people getting shining light in the darkness is really what, for me why I’m involved with it every time you can turn on a light and bring a little more light to a corner that’s dark. You’re doing something, you’re helping somebody. That’s why I’m involved.

I know one of the big key components is talking about toxic masculinity. And you mentioned this was a little frustrating for you at times when addressing these issues at first. Can you go into a little bit more detail about that?

SC: You know, I’m a pretty emotional guy. Super Bowl commercials make me cry. Watch those 30 second commercials and the tears (start) forming in the corners of my eyes. So when I read the newspaper and just see the numbers of young people who have died suddenly, or they actually go into detail and you see their friends post these things on social media and they don’t have any idea what happened and they wish that they could have known or they wish done more than that, you can’t necessarily help that person. There’s nothing. There’s no life preserver you can throw that person, but the thing that you can do for everybody is just be kind, is just be nice, is just give people room. And it’s something that takes practice, especially when we’re surrounded by so much toxicity, not even necessarily toxic masculinity, just toxicity. Open up Facebook and Twitter and it’s just people being angry and having to top each other’s anger and just being nice, for me, that’s what this is about. It’s not just allowing people to see around them somebody you know.

SC: I know a lot of people who work here at WBFO. I just talked to five people out in the hallway who I’ve known for 20 years and (previously) none of them had any idea that I was suffering from depression and anxiety. Through the 20 years where I’ve known them very well and we’ve been very close. Why did they not know? A combination of maybe some kind of shame on my part, not knowing how to deal with that. Not wanting to put out into the world this notion that something about me was broken. Wondering how people would react to that idea. The same thing that I think anybody would have with anything that they perceive as a weakness in themselves that they don’t want to broadcast it. By broadcasting it, you’re putting your weakness, if that’s what it is out there, and just start dealing with it. And it’s just sort of one day at a time.

Why before did you not feel comfortable talking about it with peers and coworkers?

SC: I think part of it is understanding what’s going on inside of you. In this instance, understanding what’s going on inside of your head. It’s difficult to talk about something that doesn’t have a name. I have a huge South Buffalo family and depression and anxiety and just about any diagnosable mental illness is prevalent in my family. I can point to the person who suffers from it. So to me, it almost seemed kind of normal. Like okay, I’m just like aunt so and so or I’m just like cousin blank where I’m just like uncle or my grandpa or whatever. So we never talked about it as a family and I don’t think that’s unusual for any family. It’s the same way cancer was 50 years ago. He didn’t talk about cancer people just disappeared and died from it. But once you have the tools and the ability to know what it is you’re talking about, you have a word that you can say what this thing is– and I can almost, I can’t tell you the date, but I can tell you the day, when I figured out okay, boy, this has been going on for 30 years. And now I know what this is.

SC: After I felt like my brain was falling out of my ear one day, having a panic attack, having lived with constant anxiety, and not even realizing that I was suffering from constant anxiety, but being on a nine on the anxiety scale and all of a sudden having that cranked up to a 17 one day, and literally thinking I was dying. And doing what everybody does type it into old Web MD to see what’s going on. And like wow, that was a panic attack. Okay, boy, I need to figure out how to start getting some help. And that was a seven or eight year journey from there. In order to get to a spot where I was sitting in front of somebody who was able to help me get through it. And even from there was another year before I talked about it. What made me want to talk about it was, well, Robin Williams’ suicide shook me. I was a radio news person when Robin Williams died. And I was there all day, we found out that he had passed away and then we found out that it was probably a suicide. Then we found out some more of the things that that went into it. And that really shook me, knowing at this point what I knew about myself. (It) helped me along on my journey to get to a point where I was able to talk about it.

SC: I was a radio news person when Anthony Bourdain died. And I was a news guy on a morning show with people having happy talk. They were doing happy talk but talking about Anthony Bourdain, and neither one of them had any idea what was going on in his head. And it just it made me mad. Not mad at them. They just had no idea. And at that point right then and there, I realized, if they don’t know that the guy sitting 10 feet away from them is having the same sorts of issues that Anthony Bourdain did. Who was going to tell them about that? Well, I guess that’s got to be me. And I sat and wrote a very long blog post piece on just what’s going on in my life. And that was a very freeing moment when you hit send on something like that. Very graphic and very detailed. You don’t know what’s going to happen. You have no idea. Did I just ruin my life? Did I just tell everybody this thing that was going on? The response was resoundingly amazing. Support from friends. People that I hadn’t talked to in years calling and going, this is amazing what you did. People I hadn’t talked to in years going, I got the same thing going on. I’m really glad to know that I’m not alone. I’ll be honest, there were a couple of friends who said how dare you have this thing going on? And not tell me? Which is kind of a weird response. And those people aren’t necessarily my friends anymore.

SC: I don’t know. Your original question was, why didn’t I talk about it? I think it had to be the right instance. It had to be the right spot. And just sitting there and having read to read this news of somebody having taken his own life. And having two people who I considered friends, not having any idea and just having all the wrong notions about this. And me having the facility to sit there and bang it out with my thumbs on my iPhone, my thoughts and feelings about it. And realizing that, you know that there are a lot of people who are suffering from kind of the same thing, to varying degrees. The loneliness of it all is terrifying. And to not be so lonely because somebody has written down the same feelings that you have to be able to provide that to people is a gift to me to be able to do that for people.

You can read ‘A brief memoir in depression and anxiety’ by Cichon here.

One of the things which you mentioned, perceived weakness before. If there’s a perceived weakness to be open about having feelings. When you talk about toxic masculinity, it’s the idea that, ‘Oh, well you cry Super Bowl commercials. That’s a weakness. You cry during movies, right? Suck it up. It’s not okay to show your emotions like that.’ But you’re openly like, ‘Hey, this is okay. I’m an emotional person and that’s fine.’

At times you didn’t feel comfortable talking about some of these issues, but is it fair to say you’ve always been an emotional person?

SC: Sure. I would say so.

Have you felt throughout your life there were times where you weren’t able to be around certain people or groups of people where you couldn’t be that emotional person? You felt like they would be negative towards you potentially crying at a Super Bowl commercial or having those kind of moments to be able to emotionally share yourself with your environment?

SC: Yeah. I teach boys at an all-boys is high school now. I am just as likely to bust their chops for crying at a Super Bowl commercial. Maybe I am part of the toxic masculinity problem (he laughs).

SC: Maybe this is me taking it to the ‘nth’ degree. If I am with a group of guys and they see me crying at a Super Bowl commercial, I fully expect them to hammer me on it. When I wear pink pants to school, and I have. They’re salmon, but let’s be honest, they’re pink. When I wear pink pants to school, I will mock myself before someone else has the chance to say something about it. A lot of those tricks are the same thing that come into dealing with having these feelings. Having these emotions. Having this mental illness. People who are very close to me had no idea because I was good at masking it or good at being able to flip the switch.

SC: We talk a lot about chirping at school. I’m on the school climate committee. I’m on the anti-bullying committee. I’m on all these things. We talk a lot about chirping that is just the way of life at an all boys school you put 200 teenage boys together in a building and they’re just going to— know, it’s just a constant. Everybody is going to be whatever it is. And people expect it. I just said this last week to my class. I think chirping is okay. I think it’s okay to say to somebody, what are you crying at the Super Bowl? What’s the matter with you? I think what matters most is what’s in your heart when you’re chirping. We’re friends. I can chirp you all day and I hope you understand that I’m doing what I love because I love you, brother. And I’m not afraid to tell you that I love you brother. Right? But when somebody else walks in and I’m saying the same thing, but I’m not chirping them out of kindness.

SC: I see less of that today probably than I did when I was in I’m 42 years old. I think we’re in a better place now. When I was watching the Bills’ Super Bowls, I don’t know if it would have been okay for me to react emotionally to a commercial during the game. Now, I might get chip for it, but I don’t think it’s unacceptable or at least as unacceptable as it would have been years ago. I think we’ve progressed in that. Then I can come out and say, I suffer from anxiety and depression. I talked about that with my students too. I think that’s a huge step and, and an essential step. To be a man 50 years ago or 60 years ago, to go and work in an awful job, work at the plant. And work in a job where you’re risking your life every day, and you’re going to provide for your family. You’re going to come home. You’re going to read the paper and leave me alone. And maybe you’re going to drink too. Alleviate some of that stress. Maybe you’re going to gamble to alleviate some of the stress. There’s probably some stress reliever involved. Because for damn sure you’re not going to cry. You’re not going to show any weakness. But a huge number of them didn’t make it out. They died of alcoholism or they had a heart attack at the age of 52. Or, you know, whatever that the case is. There’s always room for improvement, but I think we’ve made leaps and bounds of improvement over the decades.

You can look at one side where somebody says, well any kind of chirping to that extent, it’s going to lead to some bad behaviors or open the door to some things getting out of hand. But there’s another side to that. And you mentioned it. You’re looking at a history where you may be the son of somebody who wasn’t as open to talking about things and was raised in that type of environment. It’s part of a history that comes with developed habits. In the meanwhile, you are also learning and recognizing how to be more open with yourself and others.

It leads into a larger talking point. When we talk about making ourselves vulnerable in those kind of positions, it goes back to that weakness idea. The idea femininity is negative or a weakness. You talking about the salmon pants that are pink. It’s that association. That kind of mindset can potentially lead to some those other problems. It could be unhealthy, right?

SC: Yeah. You know, it’s just difficult to wrap my mind around just because it’s so absurd. I don’t go into my closet and go, I’m feeling a bit feminine today. I think I’m going to grab the salmon pants. I don’t. I think they’re sharp looking. I like them. Honestly. You know, as a ‘manly man’ the ladies like when I wear the pink pants (laughing).

SC: So to me, the whole that whole notion is absurd. And you know, even showing feelings being labeled a sign of femininity, to me it’s just absurd. We have the right to say anything in America. You could say whatever you want but there are always consequences to the free speech. I remember kind of struggling with a friend whose wife passed away in a work environment. This is maybe 15 years ago and saying to that guy who clearly needed a friend– I love you, buddy. I do. I love you. To look into a man’s eye and say that is probably the first time that I have ever done it. It made sense to me. It wasn’t– how will this be perceived by the outside world? Maybe that’s what the whole discussion of toxic masculinity is. But I have since said that dozens of times, hundreds of times and never had a problem with it. I’ve never had somebody go, ‘what you love me? (in macho voice)’ I’ve never had that that happened.

SC: For me in my head in my space, it’s just so absurd. I think that’s where something like what we’re doing with this public service announcement becomes very powerful. I had that conversation with myself in order to be able to say to my friend, I love you buddy. And it’s just absurd that you would have to think about that or I would want to, but once I did, the floodgates were open. Maybe more people will have a conversation with themselves about saying it’s okay to get help. I have to imagine that a lot of people my age, our age, post-baby boomer folks– clearly feel that that this is an okay thing to do. It’s just that we don’t have the skills or the ability to do it. How do you eliminate toxic masculinity? Start being a less toxic guy. And it’s really that simple. And all of a sudden, you see it start to melt away.

Where do you think you would be if you didn’t seek help?

SC: Bad things grow in darkness, mental illness grows in darkness. I probably wouldn’t be sitting here. If I would have figured out how to talk to a therapist 10 years ago, 20 years ago, or 30 years ago, I wouldn’t be sitting here. Things just fester in that darkness. Your brain can be a dark place. My brain was a dark place for a very long time. It’s a lot lighter now. And you need to bring other people in. You need to be able to say, even if you’re not saying I don’t feel so hot, something ain’t right with the way I’m thinking. Even if you’re not saying that, just to see that other people are kind of in the same area and you happen to go to your health care website if you’re lucky enough to have health care and you look up the name of a therapist and you click that button. All right, you know, that wasn’t too hard. Now I’ll go and talk to this person. If this conversation helps that to happen, then that’s just amazing. Like, why isn’t there a line of 20 people in here waiting to talk to you to tell this story? It’s not comfortable. I don’t want to be known as the crazy guy, the guy is going to come in and talk to you about his mental health problems. But that’s not what I’m known as. I’m still known as everything else. But now I have this other extra thing that I talk about that really, really, really helps people.

To those people who may be in an environment where they’re not sure they can be open with how they feel, what would your advice be to them?

SC: Especially if it has changed for you, the way that you receive somebody saying something different hits you harder lately. I can say from my personal experience, there was a bit of a downhill. If you’re looking around yourself and things that didn’t bug you a week ago are all of a sudden bugging you, then you know, there’s probably something going on inside of your head that you really have very little control over. And you know, if not, talk to a friend. There’s a phone number and crisis services calls it a suicide hotline or at least they did for a long time. It is a suicide hotline, but it’s also a– hey you know what? My brain isn’t working so good. Can we talk for a second? And they do and they talk to you and they help get you in a better place. And hopefully, from there, you figure out at some point, you finally make a call where you can get the mental help that you need from your doctor, from a social worker, from somebody who’s really going to help. And it’s a lot of work. And it’s something you deal with for the rest of your life.

SC: I always kind of envisioned that going and talking to a therapist would be like having a broken arm. I had a broken wrist once. I’m going to go get my wrist reset and it’s going to be in a cast for three months. I’m going to walk out and my wrist is going to be pretty much be okay. It’s not that. It’s more like, ‘Well, sir, your wrist didn’t heal exactly the way that it used to be. So you’re going to have to figure out how to continue your life with maybe a limited mobility in your wrist.’ That’s something that’s terrible, but it’s something that you deal with every day. I would say do whatever it takes if you feel it. Especially if you notice a change in yourself. Reach out to somebody if you don’t have a friend that you can reach out to make a phone call. If you don’t want to make a phone call, go to a website. There are enough resources now that you can get on the right path. So use them. It’s easier said than done. I think that’s the thing that made me the most angry, which forced me into writing that missive that I wrote a couple of years ago, was people saying, ‘Gosh. Why didn’t he just get help?’ It’s not that easy. There’s so many different things that go into it. But man the alternative is pretty dark. So figure out a place where you can where you can go get some help.

You went and got help and it doesn’t sound like you were judged too harshly for the most part it sounds like.

SC: My dad was a diabetic. And we all knew that if dad started acting a little loopy, that he probably needed some sugar. He didn’t take his insulin properly. And that happened a lot with my dad. But it was important to know that because if we didn’t know that, it could lead to really bad things. I’m glad that the people around me know that. That I suffer from anxiety and depression and if they see something that isn’t quite right, they can say something to me or try and help me get on the right track. Or say something to my wife or just be concerned and know exactly what’s going on. For me it was a very difficult thing to admit. Not just that I need help and I need to go to a therapist, but I need help from my community. I need everybody like, ‘Hey, everybody, keep your eye out for me, would you?’ For me, that was a difficult thing to do. And it may or may not be difficult for other people, but it’s just essential.

 

Jimmy, the six-year-old swinging smoker at Mulroy Park

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

My friend Samantha shared this photo this morning, and it made me think of a kid I kinda knew.

South Buffalo’s Mulroy Playground was around the corner from my house. During the summer of 1983, there were always dozens and dozens of kids— and zero adults.

Everyone was there mid-morning, when the city would drop off free lunches off the back of big yellow Pep Dairy trucks everyday.

Wrapped on a small styrofoam tray about the size for a pound of hamburger, came rock hard peaches, sour orange juice in a sealed plastic cup, and a sandwich— either thick-sliced low-grade bologna or a “choke sandwich,” which was wrapped to look like an ice cream sandwich, but instead was peanut butter and jelly between graham crackers. There was milk, too, but unless it was chocolate milk, I don’t remember anyone drinking it.

There was a 1950s concrete wading pool, which normally was filled with broken glass, but no water. After a heavy rain, we’d carefully wade in the rainwater, brown glass bits, and floating gold foil Genesee Beer labels.

Next to that, there was a monkey bar castle to climb on, but the older boys commandeered what was another worn-out 1950s structure. That was actually fine with us, because who ever had been throwing the beer bottles in the wading pool had been using the castle turrets as urinals. On hot sunny days the smell was unbearable.

Over on the swings, where everyone was doing their best to try to swing over the bar, Jimmy was usually on the last swing, barely swinging, his feet making noise with the gravel and dirt with every pass. He was obese in a way that most of us had never seen in another kid. He was big. He was also my age—around 7— but I didn’t know him. He went to a public school a couple of blocks away, I went to Holy Family school right behind the playground.

I’m not even entirely sure that his name was Jimmy, but it’s hard to forget this kid. As the early summer morning sun turned up the swampy heat and the smell of piss coming from the castle turrets, seven-year-old Jimmy laconically sat swinging all day, chain smoking.

Even among this group of vagabond, hobo, street-urchin children, something felt terribly wrong about Jimmy puffing away non-stop; inhaling even.

It wasn’t even the fear that he’d get in trouble— it just didn’t seem right. And sometimes, often even, other kids would say something.

Like a 12 or 13 year old would take a drag off a Marlboro and ask, “Aren’t you too young to smoke?”

With the same amount of detached interest he showed in swinging, he’d answer, “Nah, I’ve been smoking since I was 6.”

He told a lot of stories that seemed unbelievable, but there he was– a seven-year-old chainsmoker. It really made anything seem possible.

Garbage Pail Kids came out a few years after I knew Jimmy on the playground. I’m sure this one made me think of him, while the hard gum fell out as I ripped open the 25-cent pack.

I don’t remember talking about Jimmy with my parents, but since it bothers me this very moment almost 40 years later in the same way it did back then, I imagine I might have said something. Probably to my ol’man, who probably half-listened, and probably responded with a Parliament dangling out of the corner of his lip as he growled.

“Don’t let me find out that you’ve been smoking over in that goddamn park,” he would have said. “I’ll put my boot so far up your goddamn ass you won’t sit for a week.”

We moved and I never saw Jimmy again. I hope someone put a boot up his ass and he’s doing ok today.

No, there wasn’t a secret tunnel. There just wasn’t.

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I get questions about purported secret tunnels around Buffalo constantly, like from the well-intentioned person who sent this email.

People are obsessed with tunnels. Tunnels from Prohibition. Tunnels from the Underground Railroad. Tunnels between neighbors houses.

No one has ever been in any of the tunnels they email about—or even seen evidence of their existence— but the rumors are hot and people want to believe them so bad. But we are humans, not moles.

There are very few tunnels— statically NO tunnels compared to the numbers of rumors.

Of course, there are tunnels. Lots and lots of tunnels. But SECRET tunnels? There are secret tunnels only on Scooby-Doo.

But people will still email me about tunnels, and I will still gently try to tell these emailers that there probably wasn’t a tunnel, and they won’t believe me, and the beat goes on.

Remembering Grandma’s special love on her birthday

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

It’s hard to put into words, that warm, strong, unquestioned grandmotherly heart.

And working in a high school, with plenty of boys who clearly don’t have anything close to a Grandma Coyle in their lives, I love and appreciate all that she was— and continues to be for me, my brother and sister, my mom and her brothers and sisters, and just our whole family.

From the time I was born, Grandma called me “her little sugar booger,” but later I found out she stopped when she thought it might embarrass me (like in front of a girlfriend.) Just writing this makes me tear up.

She wasn’t some perfect saintly woman, but that makes what she gave so much more special.

She swore, drank beer, smoked Parliaments, and she’d crack ya if you needed it. But she also loved all of us fully, completely, and deeply every moment. Just as important as the love, she constantly let us know how much she loved us.

She’s been gone a long time, but the love she built in my heart lasts and grows as her example shows me how to love the people in my life without compromise.

Even if someone doesn’t deserve it or if someone needs a crack or if someone isn’t wearing an undershirt (the crime of which I was most often guilty in Grandma’s court) love never wavers.

Happy birthday in heaven, Grandma. (And I am wearing an undershirt.)

All-time Buffalonian Mark D. Croce, Jan. 24, 1961 – Jan. 9, 2020

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Rest In Peace Mark Croce, who died in a helicopter crash last night.

Aside from being one of Buffalo’s leading restaurateurs and club owners, without him, the Statler Hotel property would be a parking lot right now. He literally saved it from the wrecking ball. I was also privy to many of the really great things he quietly did for people just because he could.

The world has lost a good man who cared about this city and it’s people.

I ran across this Joe Cascio photo today of Mark Croce holding court with me and the rest of the media on the steps of the Statler Ballroom in 2011.

He didn’t have to buy the Statler. After years of crazy schemes and a handful of less-than-ideal out-of-town owners, the city was pricing out demolition.

His commitment to Buffalo by saving one of our storied landmarks was one of the small handful of events which helped Buffalonians see light coming from around the corner. I don’t know if we’d be wearing “Keep Buffalo A Secret” t-shirts without Howard Goldman’s having worked on Mark to buy the old hotel.

Ironically, it was on this same day that Mark and Mayor Brown were making a big announcement about the future of the Statler, that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg answered a question about a lack of classrooms, road maintenance, and housing in New York City by throwing a shot at Buffalo.

“There’s an awful lot of free space in Buffalo, New York, if you want to go there. I don’t think you do,” Bloomberg said.

Mayor Brown, who can be seen all the way to the right over Mark’s shoulder answered Bloomberg’s comments– right there in the Statler lobby– with the most tenacity I’ve ever seen from him in 15 years as mayor. “I’m pissed,” he said, several times, before demanding an apology.

Standing there, in this saved building, with our usually even-keeled mayor boldly standing up for our city’s honor– it was tough to not stand a bit taller as a Buffalonian.

And all that, because Mark Croce believed in Buffalo and put his business and his reputation on the line to make the Statler into an admittedly wobbly investment in Buffalo which acted as the basis and foundation for so many others…

Instead of a parking lot for City Hall workers.

 

Friends: The TV show reminds of the real thing

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

On this New Year’s Eve, my wife decided that we should watch hours and hours of Friends since they are taking off of Hulu tonight. (And she’s not feeling well and looking for something easy to take in.)

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There are so many things to say about this torment, but several hours into the TV marathon, more than anything, I’m struck by the charity and goodness of a friend who had my back at a very young age.

The guy’s 12 years older than me— which is no big deal now that I’m 42, but meant much more when I was 17.

Especially since while I was a smart kid, I still had a lot to learn about just about everything.

He looked out for me— and I’m sure he did so in ways I’ll never know about… but did so in a “cool big brother” sort of way where it never felt that way to me.

I never felt like “the kid,” I was “one of the guys,” which was true up to a point.

Knowing his ball-busting skills, Chris Parker could have crushed the life out of me in half-a-second the time showed up at the radio station dressed to go out, and I said he “looked like he stepped out of an episode of Friends.”

It wasn’t meant as a compliment, and wasn’t received as such. Hahaha.

Anyway, the torrent of terrible, scathing things he could have unleashed on my little suburban punk ass would have left me broken like a mini liquor bottle-filled Rickey Henderson piñata.

Those comebacks are filling my mind even at this moment… but my man let this pup have his day… whenever that was— maybe 26 or 27 years ago.

Now as I sit here rubbing my own nose in it, thinking about the kindness showed to me that day, I know the reason he didn’t bust me into a pile of dust is mostly because he was a good guy who was watching out for the kid.

So mostly because he’s a good guy, but maybe… just maybe… he also knew there was also a smidge of truth in what I said.

Hahaha. Even as I’m subjected to this torturous binge watching penance I still can’t help myself.

And still, I imagine, the worst I’ll raise our of my old pal is an under-his-breath “asshole,” which— even though deserved— will be abated with a chuckle.

So thanks for looking out for me all those years ago, and thanks for always being one of the good guys. Happy New Year.

Cocktail sauce is for shrimps and other supermarket truths

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

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I’d say I’m pretty harmless looking, and I know I’m tall.

Nearly everywhere I go, the confluence of those two facts leads to diminutive women asking me to get things off of high shelves for them.

It’s always women. A guy— especially a short guy— would never ask for that kind of help.

Anyway, at the grocery store today, twice in less than five minutes, tiny women asked me to reach up to the back of the top shelf.

One was the typical transaction— I was standing nearby and a grandmotherly type asked me to grab a bag of coffee.

Done and done with a smile.

The other instance was a little more strange. I was walking past an aisle when this miniature Edie Falco sounding woman yelled “HEY!”

I looked up, making eye contact.

“COM’ERE!”

Now, I’m always willing to help anyone, anytime, especially with something so silly and easy as grabbing something off a shelf, but I’m getting the vibe here like this woman did me a favor by calling me over to be her stock boy.

She continued to yammer as I reached way back to get the thing she needed— cocktail sauce.

As I handed it to her, the word SHRIMP jumped off the label at me in giant glowing letters.

“I wouldn’t dare mention the irony,” I said, after what felt like an hour of internal deliberation— but it couldn’t have been more than a second.

“What,” she said, curt and dismissive, clearly annoyed and certainly not sure what I meant— maybe not even sure what irony is.

“Just that you couldn’t reach shrimp sauce,” I said.

“Ohh, yeah,” she said, trailing off too absorbed in her own thought to say anything else, and off to find her next victim.

I’m not sure she even realized I called her a shrimp, and I’m not necessarily proud that I did, but sometimes you have to step outside of your comfort zone for the sake of humanity.

The challenges of the holidays

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I share this because I know it’s true for so many of us: Some of life’s challenges made parts of this Christmas holiday muddled and painful in my heart.

The good news is, it just makes me extra thankful for all the great friends, family, and loved ones who keep me going whether they realize it or not.

Most of life’s lessons are impossibly simple (but often feel simply impossible.) I was thinking specifically about: Let it unfold one day at a time, be your brother’s keeper, and allow your brother to be your keeper.

May we all continue to focus on life’s blessings and pray they counterbalance the challenges.

“Maybe Christmas, he thought…doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps…means a little bit more!”