Friday, November 27, 2009

“ATM Encounter, Part Two”

c. 2009 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

It was late on a Friday night in Chardon.

After a long day at work, I needed to deposit my paycheck through our bank ATM.
Normally, this after-hours chore was something I would approach without apprehension. But the shadowy figure of ‘Mr. X’ lingered with fearful potency.

Weeks ago, he had appeared as I made an off-schedule visit to the same terminal at our local financial institution. Seeing him had caused my stomach to quiver with uneasiness.

So tonight, I intended to pause at the cash machine with purposeful brevity. But as I inserted my debit card, a warning once again appeared on the screen. It made me wish for some sort of magic teleportation to escape the encounter.

“Big brother is in control,” it read.

I slumped over the steering wheel. “Okay, Comrade X. Show yourself…”

Squealing tires echoed from the darkness. A long, black limousine rolled into view, with wisps of scorched rubber trailing in its wake.

The passenger window rolled down, suddenly. Then, a face appeared from inside.

“It is good to see you,” a breathy voice intoned.

I felt sick at my stomach. The sinister visage before me was familiar, yet different. But undeniably spooky.

“Haven’t you gotten tired of playing ‘secret agent on patrol?’” I barked.

Mr. X peered through dark sunglasses that matched his pencil mustache. “Rodney, you are under government surveillance. Be careful.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “Should I hibernate until the coast is clear?”

Somehow, the clandestine operative had changed. He seemed more slender than before, and less frightening. Quietly, I wondered if his health was in decline.

Mr. X frowned while lighting a cigarette. “My warning is intended to shield you from harm. But I can see that it falls on deaf ears.”

“Not at all,” I protested.

“Then, you must retire from your post as a journalist!” he whispered forcefully.

I shook my head. “Are you serious?”

“Why did you come here tonight?” he muttered with irritation.

“To make a deposit,” I said. “This is my bank.”

Mr. X shook his head. “This was risky. Don’t you understand?”

The night air felt colder than before. “No, I don’t.”

He blew tobacco smoke through the open window. “You must be careful when moving from place to place. Take nothing for granted, Rodney.”

“You’re speaking in riddles,” I said. “How about some plain talk for a change?”

He stubbed out his cigarette. “Haven’t you noticed the decline in newspapers across America?”

“Of course,” I admitted. “The whole industry is in transition. We had a journalist conference about this recently, in Cleveland.”

“It is not a transition,” he disagreed. “More of a subjugation. A realignment within federal principles.”

I rubbed my eyes. “What??”

“As publishing moves to cyberspace, the ability for government control is increased,” he explained. “It would be difficult to regulate the printed output of daily newspapers across our nation. But electronic products may be controlled with ease…”

I was speechless. “Are you saying our leaders want newspapers to disappear?”

Mr. X laughed out loud.

“This is crazy,” I complained.

“No, it is quite sensible,” he rebutted. “By controlling the dialogue, you take charge of society itself. Citizens can’t believe what they aren’t allowed to hear.”

I shuddered. “Halloween is over. Shouldn’t you be at home watching football?”

His face tightened. “Rodney, I am disappointed. You have been very close to uncovering a variety of secrets. But today, your words are gibberish.”

“Okay,” I stammered. “What am I supposed to do?”

“End your career,” he said without emotion.

I was dumbfounded. “Just like that?”

“Yes,” he replied. “For your own safety.”

Curiously, I noted that his moustache had smeared. Almost like… makeup!

“So, are you feeling well, old friend?” I asked, with a smirk.

He snorted at the change in my tone. “Of course! But that is not the issue here.”

Boldly, I snatched the sunglasses from his face. As he struggled, a gray hairpiece flew from his head.

“Darn you, Rodney!” he shrieked. Suddenly his voice was higher, and intense.

My eyes went wide with amazement. More makeup peeled from the agent’s chin.

Suddenly, Mr. X was unraveling. What remained looked suspiciously like… my wife!

“Liz??” I shouted.

She began to unpin her long hair. “Yes, it’s me, you turkey!”

I laughed like a schoolboy. “Nice costume, honey. But the Hallows Eve party was a couple of weeks ago!”

“Why couldn’t you just listen?” she screeched.

“You mean, to retire?” I asked with a grin.

“Yes!” she hissed. “You’re always on assignment for the paper. Or off getting a story for one of your books. I’d like to see you myself now and then. Is that so wrong?”

I bowed my head. “No, not really. But couldn’t we have just talked this out at home?”

“Sure,” she said. “If you would listen. But that would require taking a day off.”

I sighed. “Oh… right.”

“I thought this would scare you into thinking,” she explained. “The car belongs to Bubba.”

“My brother?” I exclaimed. “He was in on this, too?”

“Yes,” she confessed.

My disbelief was obvious. “I didn’t know he had a limousine. That guy always owns a half-dozen cars at any given time.”

“I’m sorry,” she cried.

“Now everything makes sense,” I reflected. “A couple of weeks ago… when I was coming home from my newspaper seminar in Cleveland…that was your first try at freaking me out? When you said I was on a list with ‘Joe The Plumber?’”

Liz was puzzled. “No, the girls and I made school projects that night. Remember?”

I felt a chill run over my skin.

“Well then,” I wondered. “How did you get the warning to appear on this ATM screen?”

“What?” she sniffled.

“Ummm,” I said. “You haven’t tried this before?”

She wrinkled her nose. “No! Rodney, what are you saying?”

My stomach twisted into a knot.

“Nothing,” I lied. “Let’s get out of here. I’m ready for a quiet evening at home!”

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

“Dawg Pound Roundtable”

c. 2009 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

It was a busy morning at the McDonald’s on Water Street in Chardon.

I arrived before eight o’clock, with anticipation making me tingle. It was time for the monthly meeting of our Geauga Writers’ Roundtable. Yet today, the experience would be different. A notable guest had been invited to join our discussion.

Carrie Hamglaze, a local educator and public servant, was already at our table with a cup of Mocha Cappuccino. She exuded fashion confidence, dressed in Irish green and Hilltopper red.

As I took a seat, the fireplace behind us crackled with warmth.

“So, you actually called The Cleveland Browns?” I pondered.

Carrie was cheerfully defiant. “Yes!”

“And arranged a meeting with the owner,” I continued.

“Yes, yes!” she repeated. “He will be here any minute!”

I bowed my head. “That is just amazing…”

“Yes, yes, yes!” she laughed.

Before long, the table was full. Everyone had coffee, and a reporter’s notebook.

I looked at my watch. “Well, should we begin?”

Suddenly, a new face appeared in the doorway.

My pulse quickened. Our guest had appeared.

Randy Lerner was dressed in a long, tweed coat. Though he passed through the morning crowd without being recognized, an air of electricity followed in his wake.

Carrie bolted from our table. She took his hand with excitement. “Oh my! It is such a pleasure to have you here in Geauga County!”

Quietly, patrons in the fast-food emporium began to take notice of this unfamiliar guest.

The NFL owner nodded with appreciation. “Thank you for making this possible. I want opinions – real, honest opinions about my franchise.”

“Don’t worry,” Carrie smiled. “You’ll get them here!”

Our group was ready. Carrie cradled her notepad with care. Then, she called the meeting to order.

“Everyone, may I have your attention?” she beamed. “I’d like to introduce a special guest to The Geauga Writers’ Roundtable. This morning, we have the high honor of welcoming… Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner!”

A hush fell on the room.

Lerner took a seat by the fireplace. “Good morning!” he said. Above him, ESPN reports about his struggling NFL franchise flickered on the flat-screen television.
Groans sounded from every direction.

With diplomatic flair, Carrie gestured around the table.

“Mr. Lerner, Our participants today are all journalists in the county,” she said. “We have Ezekiel Byler-Gregg of The Burton Daily Bugle; Mack Prindl of The Parkman Register; Martha Ann Reale of The Newbury Siren-Monitor; and Rod Ice of The Geauga County Maple Leaf.”

Lerner folded his hands. “It is a pleasure to meet all of you.”

“I can vouch for everyone’s fandom here,” said Carrie. “We’d all like to write about better days for your team, when they come…”

“Except for me,” Mack snorted. “I’m happy to be part of Steeler Nation!”

Ezekiel slapped the table. “Pipe down, Pringle!”

“That’s Prindl!” the wordsmith fumed.

“Mack doesn’t even like potato chips,” I observed.

“No, he likes Iron City Beer…and Benedict Arnold!” cackled Martha Ann.

“Six Superbowl Rings for Pittsburgh!” he taunted.

“Right!” Ezekiel growled. “We’ve been hearing that since February. The Browns have eight league championships. So shut up!”

“Please!” Carrie said. “Can we stay on track this morning?”

Lerner was focused on his task. “I’d like to thank you for letting me join the group this morning,” he said, humbly. “As you know, The Browns are struggling. Going forward, there will be re-evaluations of the entire staff. But I need help with one nagging question: What can I do to restore your faith in the team?”

Silence returned. No one seemed eager to speak first.

“Two words: Bernie Kosar!” Martha Ann said, after a long pause.

Lerner smiled. “Yes, he’s still very popular.”

Ezekiel stroked his beard. “How about bringing back Marty Schottenheimer?”

“An interesting idea,” the team owner agreed.

“What you need is Bill Cowher,” said Mack. “But I hope you never get him!”

“Another name I hear often,” Lerner said.

“Hah! Let ‘The Chin’ coach pee-wee football in Pittsburgh,” Ezekiel retorted. “We can live without him in Cleveland!”

“Yeah,” Mack squawked. “Just like you can live without any Superbowl rings!”

I tried to speak. But the roundtable was spinning out of control.

“Otto Graham! Jim Brown!” shouted Ezekiel.

“Terry Bradshaw! Jerome Bettis!” Mack responded, gruffly.

“Please!” Carrie interrupted. “Get back to our topic!”

Martha Ann pointed her finger for emphasis. “You need a ‘football person’ at the top. Someone who has lived and loved the game like nothing else!”

“Bill Cowher!” Mack insisted.

“Marty Schottenheimer!” Ezekiel growled.

Mr. Lerner raised his hands. “Everyone! I appreciate your passion for the game. That’s why I’ve come here, to your county. Now… what can we do to recapture that spirit for Cleveland?”

I cradled my coffee cup while thinking. “With respect, there is one undeniable point to be made here. The Browns are still alive on Lake Erie because of us. Because of the fans. You may hold the keys to this NFL franchise, but it is the people of northeastern Ohio who really own the team. Whatever you do… proceed with them in your heart.”

Carrie nodded. “Amen.”

Lerner took a deep breath. “Thank you. This was very refreshing.”

“It has been a pleasure,” I replied.

After our distinguished visitor had left, there was little energy for continuing the discussion.

“Any new business to consider?” Carrie prodded. “Or old business?”

As a group, we were emotionally exhausted.

“I move that we adjourn for the morning,” Martha Ann sighed with fatigue.

Ezekiel brightened. “I’ll second that!”

There was no dissent. Our agenda for the day had been completed.

Afterward, I lingered with my coffee. The morning rush faded, leaving only a handful of local residents in the restaurant.

I scribbled notes while the images remained fresh. This week, there would be no difficulty in finding material for my column.

Hopeful hues streaked the horizon. Tomorrow would truly be a new day on the northcoast.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

“Nobel Prize, Geauga Style”

c. 2009 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

When President Barack Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009, supporters and skeptics sparred over his suitability for the award.

Some said that the honor was bestowed with an eye toward the future. Others complained that it was premature to bless a leader with so much of his ambitious agenda in progress.

For this writer, the debate provided inspiration. What if citizens of our county were eligible for the glory of Nobel Prize recognition?

What follows here is a short list of potential candidates who might be considered:

NOBEL PRIZE FOR LOYALTY – To the ‘Browns Backers’ of Chesterland. Their ability to remain dedicated in the face of miscues, controversy, lost players, fired executives, and yet another squandered NFL season has been truly inspirational. Team owner Randy Lerner might look to them for a glimpse of how beloved his franchise remains, despite years of incompetent management.

NOBEL PRIZE FOR LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT – To Edna L. Davis, of Middlefield. This long-time public servant has enriched the county by representing voters with patience and integrity.

NOBEL PRIZE FOR BANKING – To Chardon, for becoming the ‘Fort Knox’ of northeastern Ohio. This city has amassed more financial establishments per square mile than any other small municipality in the state.

NOBEL PRIZE FOR STORYTELLING – To Robin Echols Cooper, a gifted Geauga County writer, musician, and master of folk theater. After graduating from The Ohio State University in Columbus, she developed a unique style of performing that drew on childhood experiences, and family tales. Through weaving character studies and musical improvisations together, her appearances have become much more than a simple recitation of stories.

NOBEL PRIZE FOR TRANSPORTATION – To Junction Auto Family, a dealership originally founded in 1931. While the industry has suffered from unpredictable fuel prices and economic turmoil, this family-owned business has prospered.

NOBEL PRIZE FOR CANINE HEROISM – To Midge, the Geauga County Sheriff’s Department police dog and goodwill ambassador. She has skillfully uncovered various criminal substances, foiled lawbreakers, and inspired local citizens, while attracting attention from media organizations across the world.

NOBEL PRIZE FOR HOLIDAY SPIRIT – To ‘Christmas Tree Lady’ Paula Horbay. Residents of the county have long depended on her seasonal business to locate an evergreen centerpiece for their Yuletide celebrations. Additionally, her cheerful demeanor and charm have brightened the holiday season for generations of customers. A Bonus Prize goes to anyone able to solve one persistent riddle about Paula: Is she actually a North Pole elf who got stuck living in Ohio?

NOBEL PRIZE FOR IRONY – To local fans of the Cleveland Indians who watched Cliff Lee face off with C.C. Sabathia in World Series competition between Philadelphia and New York. Both of these talented pitchers thrilled us with their exploits as members of ‘The Tribe.’ But by moving on to other, more well-heeled franchises, they achieved a level of greatness that has eluded our hometown team.

NOBEL PRIZE FOR MECHANICAL PROWESS – To Thompson Raceway Park for being Ohio’s oldest continuously operating dragstrip. The venue first opened in 1958 and has hosted hopped-up, customized, fire-breathing vehicles of all sorts - including cars, trucks, motorcycles, minibikes, and yes… snowmobiles.

NOBEL PRIZE FOR POLITICS – To Chardon City Council for spending $25,000 on an inconclusive report about the possible leaking of details during contract negotiations that took place this year. Despite an incredible expenditure of taxpayer funds, the document failed to catalog even one shred of physical evidence.

NOBEL PRIZE FOR CITIZENSHIP – To those in charge of the Geauga County Fairgrounds, for quietly providing a venue where residents of the area could hold their ‘Tea Party’ event in October. Despite the prevailing media distaste for such grassroots activities, local citizens came, expressed their conservative opinions, and left without incident. A Bonus Prize goes to supporters of Lyndon LaRouche, for making it clear that their eccentric hero has not yet succumbed to political decorum, old age, or intellectual futility.

NOBEL PRIZE FOR ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT – To Rollin Cooke III for bucking current trends of economic chaos with a new car care facility. His expanded repair depot is located at the former Classic Ford-Mercury site in Chardon. By moving the automotive service operation from Water Street, Cooke was able to expand the business while adding jobs.

NOBEL PRIZE FOR CULTURAL INTEGRITY – To Amish residents who remain in the county. While the advent of cyberspace has worked its spell on our social habits, those who have decided to continue the discipline of ‘plain’ living provide a needed contrast. While different from the mainstream, their endurance proves that not everyone has been overwhelmed by the creeping sameness of modern life.

NOBEL PRIZE FOR CLOSE ENCOUNTERS – To the mysterious Olden Moore, for seeing a descending UFO near Montville in 1957. His story was reported in the Geauga Times-Leader and eventually attracted attention from Washington, D.C. officials. It remains a staple of alien lore on the Internet, with versions repeated on websites around the globe.

NOBEL PRIZE FOR ENDURANCE – To the venerable Chardon Laundromat. While other businesses have been revamped, revised, or eliminated by competition, this Geauga retail landmark has continued to prosper. Along with tidy clothes, it offers a bit of old-style culture for those seasoned enough to remember life before the iPod.

NOBEL PRIZE FOR VOLUNTEERISM – To Carole Brazis, founder of ‘Tim’s House.’ After the suicide of her only son in 2006, this Geauga County mother took it upon herself to create a spiritual oasis for those who have been affected by such tragedies. The result has been to turn her personal anguish into something positive and uplifting. Volunteers of all kinds have passed through the house, making it a genuine local phenomenon.

Nobel Prizes typically serve to spotlight outstanding accomplishments or abilities. Their value has transcended national borders for many generations. While some may doubt the correctness of various selections, one truism remains upon which everyone may agree: There are many in this county who are worthy of the honor.

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Monday, November 09, 2009

US CONGRESS – The Best Government Money Can Buy


US House of Representatives – 435

US Senate – 100

Total – 535

Millionaires in Congress 2009 – 237 (44%)

US Population – 304,000,000 (2008)

US Millionaires – 6,700,000

Millionaires in Population – 2.2%

Incumbent Re-election Rate, US House - 94% (2008)

Incumbent Re-election Rate, US Senate - 83% (2008)

Using figures found on the Internet, I came up with these statistics. Several News organizations like CBS figure the amount of US millionaires at 1% but agree on the 44% figure for those in Congress.

In fascist or communist nations, the leaders acquire wealth and power not seen by their populations. But in America, where democracy reigns, our leaders... also hold the wealth and power for themselves. Very interesting...

Yet according to The Center for Responsive Politics, incumbents are overwhelmingly re-elected in the House and Senate.

So... what's the solution? Get out the vote!

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Sunrise At The County Line

While driving to Geneva on Thursday morning, I got an unexpected treat. The sky was like a coloring book page smeared with melted crayons. It expressed a prevailing mood of change to come, and lifted my spirits:

Thursday, November 05, 2009

“Tea Party”

c. 2009 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

“An association of men who will not quarrel with one another is a thing which has never yet existed, from the greatest confederacy of nations down to a town meeting.”

- Thomas Jefferson

Local residents were treated to a unique political experience recently, when the Geauga County Fairgrounds hosted a boisterous ‘Tea Party’ event.

The rally was organized by Tammy Roesch of Kingsville, who operates The Narrow Way Ministries with her husband, Al.

Featured at the event were a full slate of notable speakers, including Matt Patrick of WHLO in Akron; Joe ‘The Plumber’ Wurzelbacher; Tim Cox of G.O.O.O.H.; and Doc Thompson, a radio personality from WRVA in Richmond, Virginia.

Roesch was glad to have the venue available.

“Some churches have declined to host these events, fearing the loss of their tax-exempt status,” she said.

Media reports have typically marginalized such events. Or, ignored them altogether. But those who gathered in Burton were enthusiastic about having the chance to express their political views.

Patrick, a professional broadcaster for thirty years, hosted the ‘party.’

“I’m lucky enough to work at a radio station that believes in what you believe in,” he told the crowd.

A local minister provided an invocation for the event, with hopeful reverence. Then, a young singer from Parkman offered her earnest interpretation of The Star Spangled Banner. Yet the blue-collar persona of Joe Wurzelbacher was best received by those who attended.

“All I did was as a question of someone running for president,” the erstwhile tradesman reflected. “Then look what happened!”

Cheers echoed wildly as he addressed the crowd.

“Republican, Democrat, it doesn’t matter,” he observed. “It’s up to us.”

The audience seemed to agree. Pledges of support were shouted as he concluded his remarks with a non-partisan call to arms.

“The most important thing you can do be active at home,” he said. “If you come here today, then do nothing else, that’s a waste. I don’t have time for that!”

Doc Thompson, an occasional guest host for Glenn Beck on his radio program, was the afternoon’s most animated speaker. He echoed the tone of citizen responsibility.

“You can’t just pop open a beer, and sit in your easy chair,” he proclaimed.

Several conservative organizations participated in the Geauga ‘Tea Party.’ Included were:

G.O.O.O.H. – Literally, their name (pronounced ‘go’) means ‘Get Out Of Our House.’ Founded by Texas computer expert Tim Cox, its stated aim is clear and simple: The organization intends to evict all 435 current members of the U. S. House of Representatives, eliminating the existing power structure. This grassroots idea is predicated on attracting 500,000 participants, who will then yield a national slate of candidates from their own ranks. G.O.O.O.H. does not associate itself with either of the dominant American political parties.

GEAUGA CONSTITUTIONAL COUNCIL – Founded locally, in 2008. The group’s mission is to “protect our great county by promoting constitutional rights, freedom, and personal responsibility.” They aspire to elect and support “GOD fearing people… who will serve the public with the same core values as originally intended by our founding fathers, who believe in and uphold the Constitution, who will be truthful, who will respect the people’s will, who will work for the people and not ‘The Party’ or big money interests.” Notably, this organization is supported by State Senator Tim Grendell. It is also a sponsor of The 2nd Amendment Forum.

NE OHIO VALUES VOTERS – Diane Stover is Executive Director of this group, based in Parma. Their ‘Guiding Principles’ include religious faith, a pro-life outlook, belief in traditional marriage and family structure, plus honor for the First Amendment, along with school choice as a sacred right. They also reject affiliation with any political party or religious organization.

THE 9.12 PROJECT – Created by media personality Glenn Beck; famously founded on nine principles and twelve values. The Nine: 1. America is good. 2. I believe in God and He is the Center of my Life. 3. I must always try to be a more honest person than I was yesterday. 4. The family is sacred. My spouse and I are the ultimate authority, not the government. 5. If you break the law you pay the penalty. Justice is blind and no one is above it. 6. I have a right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, but there is no guarantee of equal results. 7. I work hard for what I have and I will share it with who I want to. Government cannot force me to be charitable. 8. It is not un-American for me to disagree with authority or to share my personal opinion. 9. The government works for me. I do not answer to them, they answer to me. The Twelve: Honesty, Reverence, Hope, Thrift, Humility, Charity, Sincerity, Moderation, Hard Work, Courage, Personal Responsibility, and Gratitude.

Also present was a familiar, if unusual group, long known for offering dissenting views of all kinds:

LA ROUCHE PAC – Founded by perennial fringe philosopher and cryptic soothsayer Lyndon LaRouche. He has run for president eight times, beginning in 1976. Currently, his group seems to be focused on opposing President Obama’s push for healthcare reform which he likens to the ‘T4’ euthanasia program of Nazi Germany. He also has a plan for rescuing the world’s economy to avoid “an early onset of a prolonged, planetary new Dark Age of all peoples and nations.”

Local dignitaries in the audience included State Senator Tim Grendell, Judge Diane Grendell, and Chardon City Councilperson Mary M. Bramstedt. The happening was covered by Ken Robinson from WTAM 1100.

Chardon hosted its own ‘Tea Party’ event at the City Square on October 11th.

Grassroots gatherings like these are a phenomenon largely created by Democrat victories in the 2008 election cycle. Opinions differ widely about their legitimacy, and focus.

Yet one can be sure that they are here to stay as part of the American political landscape.

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