Friday, December 23, 2005

Christmas, 1991

The holidays typically produce a reflective mood in everyone. Perhaps that is why I have lately slipped into a melancholy state - remembering the last Christmas at Kresse's Bi-Rite in Chardon, Ohio. Our store was a typical 'independent' business. We were completely geared toward consumer service and satisfaction. There was one unwritten rule at Kresse's: "Never, never, never fail to take care of your customer!"

The store was owned by Frank Tainer. Our boss was the late Bob Herron, a stout fellow who had come to the Northcoast from Pennsylvania. Both were steeped in traditions of an earlier age. They inspired us to serve the community with authentic affection. Shoppers were treated to an assortment of goods that were prepared on-site, using traditional methods. Our staff reflected the same kind of 'first rate' attitude toward patrons.

As the holiday season of 1991 unfolded, however, rumors began to circulate about our future. The market was shifting toward low-price, corporate operations that operated more efficiently. Notions of old-fashioned quality and value were becoming anachronistic. We began to wonder among ourselves. What would the New Year bring?

Kresse's closed on March 21st, 1992. The store was replaced by a Cleveland chain, Rini-Rego Supermarkets. (The building is now occupied by MARC'S) But echoes remain...

Happy Holidays to you!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

THOUGHTS AT LARGE Newspaper Column 12-15-05

Note To Readers: This column details my recent interaction with the news department of a Cleveland TV station. The experience made me wonder - how often is this kind of tactic used while reporting other local stories?

"News for Sale"
c. 2005 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

A favorite subject for this writer is the regular dissemination of news by the commercial media. It is a topic full of anecdotes that might one day inspire writing projects. Having aggressive, talented reporters at work across America makes our nation truly unique. Our land is one of the few places on Earth where the government can be roundly criticized in public view, without any recriminations being taken.
Yet many readers, viewers, and listeners misunderstand the nature of news organizations. Nearly all papers, magazines, radio & television stations, and popular websites are funded by advertising dollars. They exist on a simple premise: sell product, and reap the rewards!
This system functions well to meet citizen needs for dependable fact dispersal. Yet it means that those who shepherd reporters are driven by the lure of ad money, circulation numbers, or ratings. One must ‘sell’ the output of reporters just like any other product. The work of promoting a regular news broadcast is no different than spinning a flashy, new comedy show. Sadly, sensationalism sells! Not many can resist the attraction of quick-strike journalism. Research and follow-up are left for bloggers and columnists to execute. In the real world, generating ‘more heat than light’ is a profitable enterprise.
As a freelance writer (and journalist) for the past 23 years, I have sometimes been embarrassed by the habits of those in my own profession. Recently, such emotions settled in my belly, as I ran afoul of a local television channel:
While serving one of my employers, I had to become instantly familiar with a situation involving local issues. As discussion about the event intensified during my workday, I discovered that the electronic media might be involved. This caused a grin because my own past (once an intern at a TV station in New York) meant that it was easy to imagine what might follow.
I tried to prepare mentally for an appearance by news cameras. Was it really possible that an urban powerhouse would invade the quiet of Geauga? The thought made me tremble. However, I silently reviewed details with the enthusiasm of a professional wordsmith. It became impossible to avoid speculation on the story. How would I tell the tale, if it was MY responsibility?
The moment of truth arrived at 10:50 PM. I was paged for a phone call, which happened to be someone from ‘Channel X’. I nearly laughed out loud because it was obvious that at such a late hour, he did not expect to find anyone from management on duty. (I guessed that he was hoping for some reckless observation from a junior associate.) He immediately asked about the incident, without any explanation of his intentions. My response was cordial, but professional. I told him that someone other than myself had taken care of this event. Also, that a member of the ownership team could provide ‘official’ analysis of the subject. But I was happy to offer three brief facts for his review: First, Those involved expressed confidence in our business, and a desire to continue their patronage; Second, Any sort of credible research would reveal that the event was not unusual or uncommon; Third, That all appropriate steps were taken immediately, exceeding those typically associated with our industry.
He was not happy with my response, and only then admitted that a report was going to appear on his channel. (A check of my watch revealed that it was about two minutes before air-time.) I gasped with complete surprise. Our conversation ended abruptly. My job duties fell by the wayside as I ran for a look at the broadcast!
While jogging to our television, I reviewed the evidence at hand. ‘Channel X’ had obviously prepared a complete report without ever contacting anyone from our group. The last-minute call was placed to cover this obvious disparity, and possibly stir up more confusion. It was likely that the inquisitor from Cleveland had not expected any clear answer to his inquiry. He probably hoped to set the stage for their sensational broadcast with an illusion of diligence. It constituted a ‘Tabloid Moment’ more worthy of Jerry Springer or Maury Povich than a local reporter.
The eventual Eleven O’clock feature was an entertaining bit of local ratings-hype. I cringed when the reporter stated in a matter-of-fact tone that "Management could not be reached for comment." His assertion was totally false. Just two minutes before, I had been engaged in polite talk with the station! Later, after my shift was over, I scanned the ‘Channel X’ website for further details. The story was repeated in e-form, with a new addition. In bold print, they had written: "Management Did Not Respond." I was astounded. It was another careless detour from the facts!
By now, my face had gone red with pique. The video blast was all too typical for a hungry, local news purveyor. Because everything in the information field is leveraged on being first – in depth reporting (like that of the heroic Edward R. Murrow) represents a forgotten concept. So the blitzkrieg tactics of ‘X’ were not surprising. Still, they certainly failed any test for media excellence.
The ‘Channel X’ story could easily have incorporated more research to broaden its usefulness. I imagined a more complete version: "Management assured us that action was taken immediately. Customer needs were met in a courteous and professional manner." Or, their feature might have stated: "Those involved expressed their confidence in the business." Perhaps even: "Research indicates this is not uncommon." Sadly, they made no effort to portray a second side of the story. It demonstrated the woeful state of electronic journalism.
* * * * *
Media bias added to mediocrity-for-profit = a kind of information gathering that America never knew in the golden age of news innovation.
* * * * *
It did not make me smile to behold such horseplay.
The result of this incident was predictable. After a day had passed, the incident was banished to yesterday. One side of the story was more than enough to earn ratings for the week. No further interest remained. I hoped that viewers were now busy watching segments about more serious concerns like GM layoffs, or the environmental health of Lake Erie. Still, my funk over the dubious reporting continued.
Sanity returned as I began to compose this column for The Maple Leaf. I wondered aloud in front of my computer: "What if…? What if I heard that the president of ‘Channel X’ was linked with a terrorist group? What if I penned a complete story for my paper, then called the station, just minutes before going to press, and spoke to a reporter? What if I then wrote that they were contacted, and would make no comment? Might anyone accuse me of artificially trying to make the poor fellow look evasive? Or guilty??"
Gentle readers, draw your own conclusion. And say a prayer for the immortal spirit of E. R. Murrow.


Sunday, December 11, 2005

John Lennon: 25 Years Gone


In 1980 I was still living in Ithaca, NY. It had been an eventful year. My period of study at WCIC-13 had ended abruptly in mid-year. Ronald Reagan was elected President. My artistic friend Mark Lebowitz committed suicide in July, after battling personal demons for many years. And then, just as he was enjoying a career-revival, John Lennon was taken from us...

It was only three years past the PUNK explosion of '77. We were still occupied with thoughts of the Cold War, yet hopeful because rock remained revelant to our lives. Everything seemed to center on the music. Culture, religion, politics, fashion... it was a total experience. It was part of our generational identity. This made John's passing even more difficult to accept. Our faith was strong. We still BELIEVED in Rock 'n Roll.

Lennon's importance can't be overstated. Writers more gifted than myself have written about this tragedy with emotion and insight. So I can offer little in the way of new prose on the subject. In personal terms, it was a stunning, yet strangely quiet moment. The end of an era, yes, but more. We had always been sure that rock would regenerate, self-renew, and endure over time. But this woeful crime seemed to herald something we could not imagine - the approach of a 'long goodbye' for Rock 'n Roll.

Remembering John evokes sorrow for his loss as an individual. But there is something more in the mix. I grieve for us. Not only because we are without him, but because we are on the edge of a wasteland... as the late FALCO once sang, "Neo-nothing, post of all." We have witnessed the age in its totality. Elvis, Little Richard, The Who, Hendrix, KISS, The Doors, Lou Reed, and The Ramones have come and gone. Now, in a time of techhnical marvels, we are spoon-fed Britney Spears or Shania Twain. Is it worth having an iPod just to hear NSYNC repeated ad infinitum?

Sing along with me: "Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away..."

Monday, December 05, 2005

Where Is My 1957 RCA??

Growing up in the Ice Household was an exercise in minimalism. We were limited in disposable cash and resources. In other words - "We wuz broke!" But the creative ability of Mom & Dad meant that we did not identify ouselves as being poor. They were able to distill maximum results from a small investment.

Mom fed us on hamburger gravy and biscuits (or rice)when funds were especially limited. But Dad possessed a special ability to revive broken, or worn-out things. thus, we were able to enjoy technological comforts without spending much on sophisticated devices.

While in my early teens, I watched TV programs on a Philco console set from the 1950's. (At the time, it was a 20-year old castaway.) Later, we inherited a red RCA as I progressed through High School. If only I had known that the relic was a period-piece of consequence, I might have tried to preserve it for future days! But this was not the case. We inherited the unit from a friend at church, Jack Murphy. (He had a collection of such used junk in his barn.)

If my memory is correct, this is the device I was watching when word was announced that John Lennon had been killed in New York City. (December, 1980.) The RCA served us well, until Dad's repair work could no longer sustain its useful nature. Once the TV died for good, it was discarded with the trash. In that yonder time, we did not understand how valuable it would become.

Now, Internet research has images of the red RCA fresh in my mind. I yearn to gaze into that murky screen again... but the set, like my childhood, is gone forever. Still, I can remember, and reflect. Once upon a time, life was simple, and we were happy with the patched-together rubbish of an earlier age!


A Postscript: I later bought my first real typewriter from Mr. Murphy, a 1950's Royal office typewriter. Fully manual, the machine was a beast! But it got me started as a professional writer, in 1982. The antique sold for $10.00 and it remains in my personal collection.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Version 1.0

R. D. Ice/Version 1.0
I started writing because of HIM.

He was (and is) my source of inspiration. Everything that I am came in some form from this intellectual, and genetic, starting point.

Our styles have a mystic similarity. I attribute this to the common blood of our ancestor, Frederick Iaac. Of course, we speak from differing generational viewpoints. Dad was 21 in 1950; I was 21 in 1982. So we compose thoughts with the inflections of our own experience. But an undeniable connection remains between his world, and mine. We are wordsmiths. Curiosity makes us hungry for new vistas. Restlesness is in our bones. It drives our spirits to seek out culture and opinion beyond the realm of Midwestern America. Yet we ourselves are humble folk. Not given to extremes of thought or behavior. Like him, I have settled in the center. It is entertaining to observe the habits of distant lands. Yet I reserve unto myself a conventional, quiet existence. To state the outlook in more Cen-21 terms: "May I have a hunger for tomorrow, a reverence for life, tolerance for my neighbors, and humility for myself."

It is easy to draw a connection between the last four generations of ICE descendants. K. C. (Kromer Columbus Ice, my Great-Grandfather), M. C. (McGarvey Ice, my Grandfather), and R. D. (Dad) seem to have passed on certain traits that I find in myself. A passion for career achievement binds us together. Each gave a unique belief in self-worth through service to the next. An outlook of 'macro' scale has slipped from one to the other in succession. We are happy only in 'doing.' Without purpose, there is nothing. We must be intellectually and spiritually active to live. (I speak of 'us' as a group of four because in the sense of a bloodline, 'we' are truly one. In the sense of an educated consciousness, the same is true.)

Recently, I saw a starter disc for AOL at a thrift store in Ashtabula Harbor. It was a 'floppy' intended for Windows v 3.1. I was amused by the dated look of this relic. Though only from the 90's it seemed connected to an era long passed.

Dad's photo struck me in similar fashion. (It is on his MSN blog.) It gave evidence of something so familiar, but intangibly different. Me, but not me... part of the physical DNA that is my own, but also, part of the artistic molecule-chain that makes this bit of blogging possible. I am here, because of the version before myself. What comes afterward, I do not know.

For now, let me simply say: Thank you, Version 1.0