Thursday, February 21, 2008

Dancing in the Stratosphere

It was a blustery weekend day in Geauga County. I had driven our family hauler to a big-box supercenter in Chardon, for household supplies. Bravely, Liz and Soccer Fairy ventured inside, to shop. (The parking lot was a mess.) Less ambitiously, Leigh and I waited in the truck. And then, I noted the rapid pace of a cloud system moving above our heads. Curiously, I leaned out the window with my low-buck digital camera, and snapped off some pictures:

The images were hastily produced, yet compelling. Nature, glorious nature - how impressive you are... even over the crest of a lowly Wal-Mart store!

“Ten Years, and More”

c. 2008 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Active writers have cluttered desks.

It seems to be a universal truth. Those involved in professional wordsmithing tend
to become overwhelmed with notes, letters, photographs, documents, souvenirs, and drawers full of archived material. Years of service seem to multiply the effect.

Years of this column have filled the Icehouse home office with many memorable artifacts. Each represents a useful part of the adventure. Yet authentic insight still comes from the printed page. Reading these yellowed manuscripts in a modern-day context is both informative, and humbling.

Recently, I pondered such things while considering the tenth anniversary of ‘Thoughts At Large.’ This series began with a letter to the Leaf editor. It came in response to a feature that described the woes of working for a local food retailer. My intent was simple – to provide balance with a positive slant on the subject:

February 1998 – ‘The Grocery Store’

“In the true spirit of democracy, all are welcome to this bustling, brawling place of business. There is no exclusion by reason of creed, color, or gender. One need only bring a basic level of humanity to be bid welcome. Could our forefathers have imagined a place more perfectly crafted to serve as a touchstone? Indeed, the Statue of Liberty might be calling to far-away shores with a new voice: ‘Give me your poor, tired masses, hungering for Pringles, Pizza Di Casa, and Miller Lite!’”

The submission produced favorable from local readers. When I was asked to compose more essays for the newspaper, my pulse quickened. Suddenly, a new personal tradition had begun. Creative ideas were plentiful. I took the challenge with journalistic zeal:

March 1999 – ‘The Columnist’

“The ritual of producing regular newspaper columns is popular, if convenient, for the professional writer. Syndicated pundits… are familiar to most who have ventured through printed journals across the nation… and numerous would-be clairvoyants populate the Internet. At the local level, such activity is also at a healthy state…
For this writer, an introduction to the world of published thought came at a local paper in Ithaca, New York…Here, I was first allowed to participate in the noble pursuit of journalistic endeavors. Having this opportunity to observe and learn has proved valuable in many ways since then. And it served to whet my appetite for greater things!”

January 2000 – ‘Y2K Blues’

“The arrival of Y2K was an event that seemed to provoke more anxiety than any in recent memory. Predictably, much media attention was focused on this dreaded moment. Fans of the ART BELL radio program (available locally on WTAM-1100) had been hearing about the subject for many months. Indeed, some citizens hoarded mass quantities of bottled water, canned foodstuffs, and paper goods for use on January 1st. Even the typically calm, conservative mood of Geauga was subject to fears of power failures and chaos. Those most immune to panic were moved to ask: ‘What if...?’

This uneasy situation kept us busy in the ICE household… (but) there were no computer woes, or blackouts in the neighborhood. Even our old camcorder registered the date correctly.

Soon after, Art B. appeared on the TODAY show… in answering for the hype of gloomy possibilities, he was brief. ‘We spent two-hundred and fifty billion dollars to comply with Y2K,’ he observed. ‘If you bought insurance and nothing happened, would you feel as though you had egg on your face?’”

February 2001 – ‘Chardon’s Finest’

“For this writer, the constables of Chardon Village have been a constant source of inspiration… the high honor that seems to guide these ‘special soldiers’ is a wonder to observe. An enormous reserve of patience makes them able to calm difficult situations. Their good nature and dignity are ever present. Regardless of our need, they act with care. No burden appears too great. Each challenge is met with confidence and conquered by determination! Because of this, the heart of our county is a safe home for its citizens.”

September 2001 – ‘Life During Wartime’

“Everyone has their own perspective on historic events… for this writer, September 11th, 2001 awakened without special concern. (But) a strong mug of java couldn’t prepare me for the video feed from ABC news… scenes of destruction and tragedy filled the screen. My eyes were burning. I could not escape feeling that it was a second coming of the attack that predicated our entry into World War II. Thoughts of the movie ‘Independence Day’ were unavoidable. Also echoing were the notes of ‘Life During Wartime,’ from the Talking Heads album ‘Fear Of Music.’ There, David Byrne sang ‘This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no foolin’ around…’ It was an eerie moment.”

November 2003 – ‘Why?’

“In the classic British television program ‘The Prisoner’ Patrick McGoohan (as Number Six) defeats a super-computer with the overwhelming question: ‘Why?’ It is a woeful riddle that can not be completely answered by mankind, or any of our creations. ‘Why, indeed?’ Why are we here? Why does our planet dance among the stars? Why does the breath of life inhabit our fragile bodies? Why does the sweet dew of morning inspire us to achieve and excel? Why does each sunrise bring hope, in spite of yesterday? Why, why why???

In more humble terms, the puzzle of ‘why’ can be witnessed in simple questions that fill us with wonder. Why can’t the Cleveland Browns win a Superbowl? (And) why does Chardon have to be legendary for its winter precipitation?”

April 2004 – ‘Pork Rind Fever’

“The crispy, flavorful pork rind is a distinctly American snack. It is both odd, and inviting. One may ponder the wisdom of consuming fried pig strips with abandon. Yet the very sight of these treats can evoke hunger and awe. To eat them gleefully is a repudiation of political correctness and dietary discipline. Still, brave souls will rip open each bag with gusto!”

August 2005 – ‘The Final Frontier’

“Exploration of outer space has been a tempting goal for mankind since primitive souls lifted their gaze toward the heavenly grandeur of night… throughout the 1960’s, American culture was ripe with such images. We saw John Glenn in orbit, and Captain Kirk aboard the Starship Enterprise. The Apollo Missions took flight, as did the Jupiter II with Will Robinson. Neil Armstrong entered our history, while Commander Ed Straker appeared in the British series ‘UFO.’ By the time that first step was taken on lunar soil, we were very comfortable with the idea of traveling into space.”

March 2006 – ‘Think Pink’

“A beige package lay in the midst of everything. It looked woefully out of place in the standard ration of bills and solicitations…it was a novelty T-shirt, sized 2XL. The garment boasted a design that mimicked the generic portrayal of men and women on restroom signage. It was captioned with an unlikely phrase that matched the bright fabric perfectly. “GUYS IN PINK GET ALL THE CHICKS.”

The present came with a handwritten note from a woman named Liz. ‘Dear Rod, I love reading Thoughts At Large and wanted to show my appreciation for your work.’ I was dumbfounded. A pink T-shirt? It had to be some sort of prank.”

Looking backward is a tempting habit. Much can be learned through personal introspection. Yet the best part of this adventure is not carried in the newsprint of yesterday. It lives in the hopeful scribble of a new idea… for tomorrow.

Visit us at:

Saturday, February 09, 2008

“The Secret Life of Mona Arizona”

c. 2008 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Winter winds were relentless as I sat at the household computer. Around the room, framed photographs rattled on their nails. Window seals hissed and howled. A chill seemed to permeate the house, despite the best efforts of our furnace. My coffee had long since surrendered its warmth. Yet a pale, electric glow kept me comfortable – from the monitor screen.

I had logged on to eBay, just before sunrise.

In brilliant white, a guitar hung in the midst of that lighted square. It was a revived Burns of London ‘Bison’ model. Festooned with a deeply contoured body, and a pop-art, multi-piece black pickguard. The instrument carried three ‘Rez-o-matic’ pickups, and a four-way rotary selector with the hallowed ‘Wild Dog’ sound position.

I grinned while contemplating the Burns. Its ‘canine’ setting had become legendary during the turbulent 1960’s. Musicians who played the buffalophonic axe reckoned it had been cursed with a restless soul, wandering in search of tonal redemption.

With anticipation, my hand reached for the computer mouse. Bidding was still open for an entire day. Only a few members had taken notice of the oddball guitar. I took a deep breath, while lifting my index finger…

“Mommy!!” a voice screeched, from across the hallway.

I gasped. My concentration was broken.

Soccer Fairy, our nine-year old daughter, repeated the cry for help. “Mommy! Make her stop!”

Leigh, who was thirteen and rowdy, giggled with satisfaction. She waved and kicked like a girly mule. “Nick is such a hottie! Nick, Nick, Nick!”

They were in the midst of a pillow fight. Both sisters looked like blonde mop-heads in need of a rinse.

“Boo-hoo! Everybody likes him!” The Fairy pleaded. “I think Joe is more hunky! Joe, Joe, Jooooe!”

I got up from the computer. “What are you girls arguing about?”

Liz, my wife, appeared in the doorway. “Get with the times, Rodney! They’re members of the Jonas Brothers!”

I shrugged. “Uhm… who?”

My spouse wrinkled her nose. “Joe, Nick, and Kevin. They are the biggest act since Hannah Montana!”

I nodded. “Okay, right. Hannah’s father is Billy Earl Fumblesack, right? Who gave us the Jonas Brothers, Ida Mae Cornstalk??”

She squawked like a wounded hen. “Stop talking like that!”

I walked into the girls’ bedroom, and immediately had to shield my eyes.

There were boy-posters everywhere! Riley, our Lab puppy, was stuck in the middle of piled blankets and scattered popcorn. He didn’t look happy. A red silk bow was tied around his tail.

“Yowf!” he pleaded. “Rrrrowf!”

Leigh patted him on the nose. “Quit whining. You look cute!”

I groaned in disbelief. The air felt thick with perfume. “Make it stop! Make it stop!”

Liz folded her arms. “I helped them decorate today. Isn’t it girly-riffic?”

My stomach felt queasy. “Couldn’t you put up at least one monster truck or fighter jet??”

She sighed. “Quit complaining! These are nice, clean-cut young fellows.”

Leigh cheered. “I’m going to write Nick a letter!”

Soccer Fairy pretended to gag. “Well I’m going to record a song for Joe! A beautiful song. So there!”

I felt dizzy. “Must have… pork rinds… and a dose of AC/DC… help… me…” Like a wounded deer, I staggered to the kitchen.

Our puppy was close behind. “Yowwwwl!”

Liz followed my retreat. “Wait, Rodney! We need your help!”

I pulled the bow off of Riley’s tail. “Help?”

My wife nodded. “The Fairy wants to write her song. But she needs an idea to get started. You’re the musician, after all.”

I opened a fresh bag of ‘Porkies’ from the Montville Country Store. “Gotta snack first. I’m feeling weak…”

She tapped her heel. “Must you be so dramatic?”

I crunched down a mouthful of rinds. “Is there any beer left in the fridge?”
Her face reddened with impatience.

“Anyway,” I continued. “Writing love songs for a teen idol isn’t my area of expertise. Call Billy Earl if you want a proper kiddie melody…”

Liz fumed. “Joe Jonas is just a nice young boy from Casa Grande, Arizona. Why can’t you let The Fairy have her fun?”

She stomped out of the room before I could answer.

Silently, I returned to the household office. Riley took refuge under my chair. Leigh and Soccer Fairy resumed their pillow fight, across the hall. But we were safe in our isolated spot.

I logged on to eBay once again, but the Burns guitar had sold during my absence. It was too late to ‘shop victoriously.’ Someone else would be enjoying the reckless aural characteristics of ‘Wild Dog Sound.’

After a reflective pause, I clicked on Google. The search engine revealed many ‘hits’ for the Jonas Brothers. Then, I searched for items about Miley Cyrus – the poppy performer also known as Miss Montana. Images of youthful stardom flooded our computer. Yet I kept hearing my wife’s voice, pleading for attention.

“Just a nice young boy from Casa Grande, Arizona,” she repeated. “From Casa Grande, Arizona… from Casa Grande, Arizona… Arizona… Arizona… Arizona…”

Miley’s perky face filled the computer screen. And suddenly, I had a vision!

“Girls!” I shouted. “Get Mommy! Come here, quick!”

* * * * * *

Liz held our video camera like a true professional. “Places, everyone!”

Leigh aimed her spotlight. “Mom, do I have to help with this?”

My wife chirped like a director. “For the last time, yes!”

I strummed my Fender Stratocaster. “Ladies and gentlemen. Let’s give a big round of applause for the one… the only… MONA ARIZONA!”

Soccer Fairy danced around the living room with a Barbie microphone. Her garb was an 80’s - inspired mismatch of glamour and back-of-the-closet leftovers. But it worked. She began to sing her song while I played the tune on guitar:

“I ride in Mom’s four-door Ford
But it feels like a limousine
And I’m famous at school, well - sort of
But keep it quiet now, that’s the rule
I might be rockin’ like a TV queen
But my stage is a Mickey D’s…

I’ve got the best of both worlds
See the Rock Hall of Fame
And the bowling lanes
Then it’s back to Thompson
For this Geauga girl
You know I’ve got the best of both worlds!

Now my sister is a pill
But together we’ve had some thrills
My dog’s a mini-Scooby Doo
And Mommy says Dad is a poo
I just hope this hayride never ends
With all my grade school friends…

I’ve got the best of both worlds
Grocery shopping with Gram
Buying Cheez-its and Spam
Then it’s back to Thompson
For this hometown girl
You know I’ve got the best of both worlds!”

Later, neighborhood kids gathered at our home to watch the performance. We played the homemade recording over and over again. Soccer Fairy passed out her autograph, rendered in pink crayon. Hominy and Minda, two bubbly sisters from down the street, pledged to be Mona’s backup singers in the next video.

Afterward, the carpet was covered with corn chips, pop tart wrappers, and empty plastic cups. But it had been a successful night.

“You made our girl very happy,” Liz purred. “Thank you, Rodney.”

My grin grew wide. “Glad to help, sweetie. Just make sure I get a cut of those royalties. I want a Cadillac like Billy Earl Fumblesack!”

Visit us at:

“Reasons to Smile”

c. 2008 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Recently, Liz and I were invited to a special mid-week service at the Montville Reformed Greater Holiness Faith Partnership & Congregation. Their note arrived as I was busy working in the Icehouse home office. My wife was immediately taken with the professed focus on addressing community needs in a spiritual context. She began to read the announcement as I researched a newspaper feature on frontier edibles.

“Listen to this,” she said. “Come join our conversation about the future! Pastor Lemuel Claypool will open the conference, with a message on ‘Reasons to Smile.’ A group discussion will follow, to address needs and opportunities in the community. The resulting consensus will be forwarded to our governor in Columbus.”

Undeniably, the event sounded uplifting. But my thought-train had been broken by her interjection. “I was just reading about hardtack and coffee during the Civil War…”
“Reading about what?” she said with puzzlement.

My grin went wide. “Did you know they made ‘skillygalee’ by crumbling hardtack into water, then frying the result in meat drippings?”

Her response was a wordless frown. I let the subject drop.

Liz marked the Montville event on our calendar as I poured a fresh cup of Java. Other items in our stack of mail had soon diverted her attention. But the title of Pastor Claypool’s address continued to reverberate inside of my head.

“Reasons… to smile…” I whispered. “Reasons to… smile.”

I went blank while attempting to continue the article on primitive cooking. Yet new inspiration swirled from the creative cosmos. Suddenly, a list appeared on the computer screen. My fingers were tapping away, on their own:


ONE: Traffic on the Chardon Square was finally re-directed last year, to allow for easier travel without driving around in circles. Not surprisingly, diagnosed cases of vertigo dropped across the county as a result.

TWO: The Cleveland Browns managed to win ten games, and end a season without firing their head coach. In franchise terms, this made it a Superbowl season.

THREE: Recent water woes in Burton were unfortunate, and agonizing. Yet they offered cause to discuss the village supply tower without wondering whether or not the giant utility should be painted like a stack of pancakes. Those on both sides of the ‘Flapjack Flap’ agreed that this was a positive development.

FOUR: The spirited conflict between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama has provided much fodder for the mainstream press. But these two potential Democratic Party presidential nominees have helped detour media organizations from stories about Brittany Spears. For that reason, most observers were grateful for their feud.

FIVE: A Middlefield instrument purveyor helped to diversify our cultural tone in recent years, by offering Banjo Lessons to eager students. As a result, kids hooked on MTV and the i-Tunes Store were given a new perspective on music. The result was immediate: this pastoral village has now given birth to a Rap/Country musical hybrid called SNOOPGRASS. In anticipation of the phenomenon’s development, lessons in break-clogging and how-to-do stunts with lowrider buggies have both been proposed as part of an alternative summer festival.

SIX: After returning to Cleveland, colorful Representative Dennis Kucinich announced his withdrawal from the U. S. presidential race. News organizations around the area were glad to have their most prolific headline-generator back on his native soil. Meanwhile, The Chardon High Polka Band released a commemorative tune in honor of the Congressman, titled ‘Kielbasa for Denny K.’

SEVEN: Erie, Pennsylvania resident John Kanzius became a hero on the Northcoast by inventing a process to use water as a fuel source. The retired broadcast engineer and former TV station owner made this discovery while searching for a cancer cure. When proven by further scientific study, his idea might turn the region around Lake Erie into a wealthy paradise like the oil-rich kingdoms of Arabia.

EIGHT: Release of John Gorman’s book ‘The Buzzard’ evoked fond memories for those who grew to adulthood during the golden age of WMMS. As program director from 1973 to 1986, he helped develop the station from a hippie-era FM outpost into the glorious ‘Buzzard Radio’ we knew and trusted. Less successful as an author was Margo Breckla, who wrote ‘Eggs and Toast – Coast to Coast.’ Her story began in California, where the potential starlet worked as a carhop for A & W. She appeared in several B-movie classics like ‘Hot Rod Haymaker’ and ‘The Devil Wears Red Underwear.’ After traveling cross-country in a Volkswagen microbus, she landed at the Woolworth’s snack bar in Chardon Plaza. Her stint as a waitress and fry cook lasted there until 1990.

NINE: A pair of local sisters was reprimanded by the Geauga County Fair leadership for using their cattle as living billboards for protest. Christen and Lindsey Ferguson brought two animals to a December weigh-in with the message ‘DRUG FREE’ brightly painted across their flanks. The action seemed to come in response to last year’s champion steer being disqualified for steroids. The board reacted with an immediate suspension until the girls apologize. However, former Senator George Mitchell noted the story after it was picked up by United Press International, and issued a statement of support. He challenged Major League Baseball owners to implement the same sort of labeling for their non-enhanced players, to restore public confidence in the national pastime.

TEN: Those ‘shopping victoriously’ on eBay have been treated to a generous portion of Geauga items during the past few months. These included postcards, newspapers, ceramics, and historic photographs from early in the twentieth century. Also seen was a stash of plastic bags left over from Fisher’s Big Wheel, the long-departed chain of discount stores that once operated in our county.

Liz smirked after reading my list. “Are you really going to submit that to the newspaper?”

“Of course,” I said. “What’s the problem?”

“I think you took some liberties with the truth!” she giggled.

“Maybe the details were embellished just a bit,” I agreed. “But the message still rings true.”

She shook her head. “What’s next? The Geauga County Commissioners honor Olden Moore for his UFO encounter in 1957?”

I was stunned. “Hmmmm…”

“Or maybe Bigfoot meets Midge to fight crime in the county?” she chirped.

“Hey,” I exclaimed. “That’s a great idea, sweetie!”

She stomped her heel. “Rrrrrrodney!”

“Let me quote Foghorn Leghorn,” I said. “It – I say - It’s a joke, son! Don’t get all worked up!”

Liz left in a huff. But it didn’t matter. The feature was done.

My reasons to smile did indeed differ in substance from those offered by Pastor Claypool. Yet we shared belief in the hopeful nature of personal joy. That common ground provided a strong enough foundation for the writing project.

I felt confident that my column would connect with local readers. Tomorrow… I could begin the process again!

Visit us at:

Monday, February 04, 2008


In Cleveland, we remember him well.

Bill Belichoke, author of the offensive philosophy called 'Metcalfe up the middle.'

For those who don't remember, Eric Metcalfe was 145 pounds. When run between the tackles, he was typically slapped aside by defenders like an unruly youngster at a church picnic.

On the Northcoast of America, we've always wondered. How?? How could Belichoke be so inept in Cleveland and then go on to infamy as the NFL's Darth Vader?

Thankfully, Eli Manning was a Jedi master on Sunday. There were no spy-cameras for Lord Belichick. This time, it was a real contest between The Empire and rebel raiders.

The outcome - Giants 17; Patriots 14.

May the force be with you.