Friday, July 30, 2010

“Courtroom Connection”

c. 2010 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Note to Readers: What follows here is a daydream fantasy. Do not be alarmed.

My friend Ezekiel Byler-Gregg is Editor-in-Chief of the revived Burton Daily Bugle.

As a small-town wordsmith, he has often displayed the ability to provoke thought and spur debate. This quality is one considered useful in his field. However, having the natural inclination to offer public dissent can sometimes yield unwanted results.

Recently, Ezekiel was required to appear in county court over a line of credit he had used to help bolster his local newspaper. As the following transcript reveals, his appearance proved to be unruly, but memorable:

MEDIATOR – “Clerk, please begin recording. We are here today to consider case number 515996: Mega Financial Services vs. Ezekiel Byler-Gregg of Burton. Present are Chandra Block, counsel for MFS, and Tony DiPlano, representing Mr. Byler-Gregg. Should the parties here today reach an agreement that is mutually acceptable, I will notify the court that all further legal actions are canceled. Do you understand?”

(Everyone signifies their affirmation.)

MEDIATOR – “Very good. Ms. Block, will you describe the intent of your lawsuit?”

CHANDRA BLOCK – “I am here on behalf of Mega Financial Services to recover funds owed to Stern-Fowler Bank of Delaware. Mr. Byler-Gregg is delinquent on his account and was sent to us for debt collection over a year ago.”

MEDIATOR – “Thank you. Mr. DiPlano, do you have a response?”

TONY DI PLANO – “I am here to represent my client.”

EZEKIEL BYLER-GREGG – “Ahem! That would be me!”

MEDIATOR – “Mr. Byler-Gregg, it is not necessary to speak. I was addressing your counsel.”

E. BYLER-GREGG – “Sorry, mam.”

MEDIATOR – “Would you describe your case, Ms. Block?”

C. BLOCK – “We entered into a credit agreement with Mr. Byler-Gregg in 2005. Beginning in 2008 he was unable to maintain his payments and incurred additional fees and overdraft daily interest charges which inflated his sequential average calculated balance percentage rate…”

E. BYLER-GREGG – “In other words, when I couldn’t pull the wagon, you added more hay!”

MEDIATOR – “Mr. DiPlano, can’t you control your client?”

T. DI PLANO – “Ezekiel, be quiet!”

C. BLOCK – “Our actions were in keeping with Federal banking guidelines.”

MEDIATOR - “Defendant, how do you plead to this charge?”

T. DI PLANO – “My client pleads guilty.”

(Gasps echo around the courtroom)

MEDIATOR – “Do you understand the consequences of this plea?”

T. DI PLANO – (Whispering to his client) “Are you sure about this, Zeke?”

MEDIATOR – “I say again – do you understand the consequences of your plea?”

E. BYLER-GREGG – “Indeed I do. I am guilty… guilty of trying to help my paper survive in touch economic times… and guilty of living in a nation where the government is willing to spend billions of taxpayer dollars to bail out wealthy bankers and industrialists while average people struggle to survive.”

(More gasps fill the air)

MEDIATOR – “Mr. DiPlano, control your client!”

C. BLOCK – “This is outrageous!”

E. BYLER-GREGG – “No, bailing out the criminals who wrecked our financial system was outrageous.”

C. BLOCK – “I demand that the defendant be removed, immediately.”

E. BYLER GREGG – “Allowing the politicians who supervised this mess to write laws that will supposedly cure the problem was even MORE outrageous!”

MEDIATOR – (Pounding her fist on the bench) “Bailiff! Where are you?”

BAILIFF O’MALLEY – (Looking puzzled) “Right here, mam!”

E. BYLER-GREGG – “Think about it, Ms. Block… without the government welfare your industry received, you would be unemployed right now. Instead of prosecuting me over a small, personal line of credit, you would be seeking an honest job for yourself.”

T. DI PLANO – “Zeke, shut up! You are wrecking our case!”

C. BLOCK – (Sounding out of breath) “He’s insane! Completely insane!”

E. BYLER-GREGG - “Stern-Folwer Bank took billions in bailout money when times were difficult. Now, it should be my turn. I became a victim of the same economic chaos that put your bank in jeopardy. Shouldn’t I receive the same respect from my own government?”

MEDIATOR – “Bailiff! Do you hear me?? Eject the defendant!”

BAILIFF O’MALLEY – (Looking dazed) “Yes mam!”

E. BYLER-GREGG – “As a journalist, I enjoy the freedom and liberty to speak truth to my readers without fear of recrimination. Did I somehow surrender that right at the courthouse door?”

MEDIATOR – “Mr. Byler-Gregg, the issue at hand here is your delinquent line of credit…”

E. BYLER-GREGG – “Not at all. The greater issue here is who actually controls this republic…down-home, average citizens, or members of the privileged ruling class?”

(Chandra Block faints in her chair)

T. DI PLANO – “I apologize most humbly for my client’s behavior…”

MEDIATOR – “This is no place for political speechmaking!”

E. BYLER-GREGG – “There is nothing political about this. The phrase ‘We The People’ should have real meaning in America. Today, tomorrow, and forever!”

MEDIATOR – “Bailiff, clear the courtroom! This session is hereby adjourned!”

Postscript – Ezekiel Byler-Gregg negotiated a payoff of his debt after readers of the Daily Bugle organized a grassroots effort to help satisfy his obligations.

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

“Roundtable Return”

c. 2010 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

The morning was hectic at McDonald’s on Water Street in Chardon.

I arrived before eight o’clock, carrying my laptop computer. It was time for the monthly gathering of our Geauga Writers’ Roundtable.

In attendance would be many noted wordsmiths from around the county. I felt a tingle of excitement while enjoying my first cup of coffee. Notepads were strewn over the tabletop. We chatted briefly about our Facebook accounts and cell-phone plans.

Then, the meeting commenced.

Carrie Hamglaze, a local figure of renown, was already at our table with a cup of mocha cappuccino. She was a vision of modern womanhood, dressed in Irish green and Hilltopper red.

“Dear friends,” she began. “Allow me to bring this event to order!”

Everyone stopped talking.

“First, let’s discuss the proposed school levies for November,” she said dramatically.

Martha Ann Reale of the Newbury Siren-Monitor spoke up quickly. “Great topic! I think it is so important to support education, no matter what the cost…”

Mack Prindl of the Parkman Register interrupted her statement, rudely.

“What about LeBron?” he half-shouted. “That’s the story everyone who reads my paper is talking about!”

Carrie was stunned. “What? In Parkman?”

Ezekiel Byler-Gregg of the Burton Daily Bugle agreed. “In my neck of the woods, too. And everywhere around the county.”

Our moderator huffed with disbelief.

“What do you think, Rodney?” she asked impatiently.

I took a deep breath. “Maybe it’s unfortunate, but they are right. Everyone is buzzing about the defection of LeBron James.”

Carrie nearly spilled her cappuccino.

“I fear we are losing our focus here!” she chirped.

Ezekiel pounded the tabletop. “Thunderation! It might just be the biggest story of 2010, locally or nationally.”

Martha Ann shuddered. “This is silly! You’ve become caught up in the hype.”

“Maybe,” Mack snorted. “But there’s a hometown slant on this. You can’t deny it. LBJ turned on his own family. That’s big news, anywhere.”

“Umm, like you being a Steeler fan from Geauga?” I observed with a grin.
Guffaws filled the air.

“Hold on, Mister Freeze!” Mack exploded. “My team has six Superbowl rings…”

“We hear about that every month,” Ezekiel yawned.

“Opinions vary,” I said. “But LeBron is definitely being talked about. In our county, around Ohio, and everywhere.”

Carrie gestured for attention. “Pro sports is entertainment at best. We have real issues to consider. What about our county budget woes? What about historic preservation? What about the fall election?”

“That’ll sell papers in a slow week,” Mack groaned. “But right now, every letter to the editor is about LeBron!”

Martha Ann gasped out loud.

“It’s true,” Ezekiel nodded. “My readers think that if King James had grown up here, in our county, his mindset would be different. He would care more about his legacy as a favorite son.”

“Yes!” Mack yelped.

“But as a Steeler fan, you certainly don’t reflect that line of reasoning,” I said.

Ezekiel laughed. “Actually, he’s right, Mr. Roethlisberger!”

“SIX SUPERBOWL RINGS!” Mack bellowed.

“Everyone, please come to order!” Carrie shouted in protest.

Silence filled the room.

“None of this should have been a surprise,” I reflected. “From his Yankees hat at the Indians game, to hanging out on the Cowboys sideline during a contest with the Browns… he’s never really cared much about Ohio.”

Martha Ann frowned. “But is that fair, Rodney? Isn’t it really just a business decision on his part?”

“If he’d wanted to leave, that could’ve happened without all the hoopla,” Ezekiel said. “Instead, he squeezed out every bit of coddling and attention we were willing to give…”

“I’m moved to think of John Kennedy’s most famous quote,” I reflected. “‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.’ A guy like Bernie Kosar grew up here and put his heart and soul into giving back to the region. LeBron grew up here and has put his heart and soul into something less noble - achieving the full measure of self-gratification available to a league superstar. Different men, different paths toward success.”

“Amen!” Ezekiel agreed.

Carrie raised her hand. “Okay. We’ve resolved that even in Geauga County, people are fascinated by LeBron James. Now, can we discuss more serious matters?”

“Finally!” Martha Ann cheered. “In November, I feel citizens have a choice between…”

“Let’s talk about Chardon Pizza,” Ezekiel interjected. “Did you know they are a locally-owned business where the food is made with love?”

Mack rubbed his eyes. “Made with love?”

“Zeke is right,” I said. “Look on their website.”

“With love?” he repeated, louder than before.

“With love for the community,” I exclaimed. “With love for the culinary arts. With love for those who live and learn life lessons while working in their pizzeria.”

“Very creative,” Ezekiel chuckled. “I like that.”

Carrie spilled her cappuccino.

“Are you boys ever going to get serious?” Martha Ann whined.

Mack looked at his watch. “I’d seriously like to get some breakfast!”

Our chairs skidded backward, in unison.

“Meeting adjourned!” Carrie proclaimed. “I’m ready for a fresh McGriddle!”

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

TA Travelcenter, Kingsville

The Kingsville TA Travelcenter has always been a favorite destination of mine during late night hours spent on the road. In the glow of neon signage and wandering souls, this oasis makes me feel truly alive:

For details, go to:

Texas Pit Barbecue - Albion, Pennsylvania

This abandoned roadhouse exuded lots of charm when I discovered it on Route 6N in Pennsylvania. Moss was growing on the roof, but the requisite tavern furnishings were still inside. It seemed that only an influx of redneck patrons would be required to revive the watering hole for modern-day usefulness:

Homemade Doublewide

House trailers are a curious phenomenon of American living. They represent existing on a budget in the best tradition of our minimalist forefathers. Across the nation, these humble dwellings have been modified and adapted to suit the unique demands of everyday life. But in rural Pennsylvania, the trailer paradigm has ascended to a level of high art:

It's simple, really... one house on wheels, plus another house on wheels equals... a redneck abode worthy of renown!

Abandoned Stuckey's - Route 358, Pennsylvania

Once upon a time, blue-roofed Stuckey's locations were a familiar sight across America. They served as a welcome oasis for travelers from coast to coast.

Eventually, this national chain fell on hard times. But remnants of its former glory remain on the domestic landscape.

This relic appeared during a recent adventure near Greenville, Pennsylvania:

Stuckey's ad from 1970

For more information on abandoned Stuckey's locations, look at:

Friday, July 16, 2010

“Feed My People – The Mission Continues”

c. 2010 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

When I was a retail manager in Chardon, my job involved not only providing basic customer service, but also maintaining good public relations.

I took the responsibility seriously. Whenever opportunities appeared to ‘connect’ with organizations in the community, I tried to open a line of dialogue.

It was a strategy that I believed would help benefit everyone.

During that time, I met an energetic woman named Chris Hrapko. She approached my store with an interesting proposal – to turn leftover goods into helpful donations for disadvantaged citizens. This was the foundation of her group ‘Feed My People.’

Chris called her volunteers ‘food angels.’ I was struck by the faith and persistence she displayed.

Eventually, I lobbied my employer to support her charitable efforts. As a result, we enjoyed a long period of cooperation on behalf of the poor in Geauga County.

Chris and I lost day-to-day contact when my career direction changed. Yet fond memories of her ‘total person’ approach to addressing poverty remained.

We shared the belief that simply dispensing food and monetary assistance was not enough. The root causes of poverty – family breakup, social alienation, and a lack of life skills – had not been ‘cured’ by traditional programs.

‘Love’ was the missing component. I took much inspiration from what we had achieved together.

For a few years, our conversations were limited to those enjoyed during chance encounters around the area. Then, I received a message that had me holding my breath:

“Hope this finds you well and happy. It has been a long journey of faith for Feed My People Inc. (We need) to get the word out about us to ask if any of the owners of rental space in the community would be willing to tax write off the rent for us to help us to remain in service for those in need. Please let me know if you can help.”

I remembered that FMP had been associated with two different churches in Chardon, at one time or another. It seemed likely that the prevailing economic downturn had made their situation more difficult than before. As donations have become more scarce, unemployment soared. The result has been challenging for benevolent groups across the nation. I guessed that it was no different right here at home.

Chris sent a brochure to refresh my memory about the project. I read it while trying to think of helpful ideas:

“Feed My People Inc. is a full and in good standing 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that has voluntarily and faithfully served the community for over a decade. This organization started as a grassroots effort by an individual in the 1990’s growing out of a desire not to waste Lenten fish fry foods.

Feed My People (FMP) is an outreach ministry of the community that is supported by many diversified faiths, civic organizations, businesses and individuals. Volunteers redistribute perishable, non-perishable and non-food items to those in need and to the other agencies that provide care for them.

FMP operates through the tradition of faith, offering comfort and aid for the total person. We satisfy family hunger through physical, emotional and spiritual support. The program provides consumable items, personal care products, floral gifts, friendship, poems and prayers. Clothing and furniture are also distributed when available.

We address needs on a case by case basis. FMP serves the community where other systems are unable to fully assist due to income guidelines or lack of funds. When (an) individual’s specific needs exceed our capacity, we link them to a network or other agencies and follow up on the situation at a later date.

We hope to obtain donated rental space that would allow us to continue to feed people in need that might otherwise have no where else to turn due to income guidelines or lack of funds. Since FMP deals with both perishable and non-perishable food sources we also need to obtain a donated restaurant quality freezer and refrigerator or if possible walk in coolers and freezers in the best case scenario… FMP desires to serve with all faiths in the combined effort to address homelessness.”

After revisiting the FMP story, I pondered their situation.

“What about the former Convenient Food Mart on Cherry Street?” I wondered out loud, while sitting at my desk. “Or one of the pizzerias that have closed?”

I imagined that an owner of vacant commercial property might welcome the opportunity to see their space used in such a beneficial way. Unused locations were everywhere.

The only question – how to make it happen?

My thoughts finally turned to a memorable quote from Pope John Paul II:

“Christian love is more than an act of charity. It is an encounter with Christ himself, in the poor.”

Postscript: Tax deductible cash contributions and inquiries can be mailed to Feed My People Inc. at 401 South St. #4B, P.O. Box 82, Chardon, OH 44024

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Kay & Ray's Potato Chips

I found these tasty, dark chips during a recent trip to Meadville, Pennsylvania. They were delectable and unique:

Kay & Ray's chips are made by Martin's Famous Pastry Shoppe, Incorporated.

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Friday, July 09, 2010

“Conch Shell Conversation”

(Revised version)
c. 2010 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Note to Readers: None of the following is literally true. But don’t let that curb your reading enjoyment.

My friend Ezekiel Byler-Gregg is a true wordsmith at heart. As Editor-In-Chief of The Burton Daily Bugle, this craggy fellow represents the best of Geauga County journalistic traditions. But like many public figures, he has a sibling with different habits.

Lemuel is his brother, and opposite soul.

This wandering spirit once shared the writing passion of his better-known brother. But he became lazy, and disinterested. Eventually, he responded to the siren call of faraway vistas.

I remembered him recently, while searching through material in the Icehouse home office. Yellowed copies of ‘The Bugle’ came crashing to the floor as I moved a stack of boxes from behind one of my four-drawer file cabinets.

Along with these old newspapers was a wrinkled envelope. When I opened it, a crude business card appeared. Scribbled on the bottom was a contact number in the U. S. Virgin Islands.

Lemuel Byler-Gregg had ditched his promising newspaper career for a ticket to sunny skies and warm sand. He left Ohio, and The Daily Bugle, over a decade ago.

I fumbled with my glasses to see the tiny print on his card. Seconds later, I dialed the long-distance number.

The telephone line reacted with electronic squeaks, popping, and static. Then, I heard a ring tone. And another. And another… then at last, there was an answer.

“Hello?” my old friend intoned.

“Lem?” I said with excitement. “This is Rod from Geauga County. Remember me?”

A short pause elapsed.

“Geauga County, Ohio?” he laughed.

“That’s right,” I answered. “I’m Zeke’s friend from Thompson.”

“Wow, is my margarita too strong?” he mused.

“No, it’s really me!” I said.

Another pause filled the line.

“How did you find my number?” he wondered out loud.

“You gave us a card at the airport,” I said. “Remember? Right before boarding your flight out of Cleveland…that was a long time ago!”

“Yeah,” he agreed. “Many, many years…”

My thoughts drifted over the time that had passed. “I read your work online. You seem to be very happy.”

“Of course!” he bubbled. “My office is right by the beach. I can watch the sunset over white sand and the ocean. It sure beats shoveling snow in Burton!”

I cleared my throat. “That sounds great…”

“It’s peaceful,” he said.

“But what about the thrill of chasing stories?” I interjected. “The rough-and-tumble world of local politics? The intrigue of back-room business deals?”

“We have all that here,” he insisted. “Last week, Mayor Nobota broke his big toe after tripping on a conch shell. He had to transfer authority to his wife while the doctor applied a splint. That was headline news for us…”

I held my breath to keep from giggling.

“So how are you these days?” he asked, before I could speak.

“Still in the business,” I explained. “Twenty-eight years now. I’ve written three books.”

“Really?” he exclaimed. “Did you sell any of those?”

“A few,” I confessed, while turning red. “The second one has moved best of all. It’s a kid-friendly book about music. Last year it even became available in India.”

Lem muttered with amusement. “Well, what are you writing about these days?”

“Umm… The same stuff,” I said.

“UFO sightings?” he chortled. “Flea market escapades?”

“Sometimes,” I replied. “But I also try to produce serious articles as well.”

“Serious?” he said with wonder.

“C’mon, don’t be so sarcastic,” I complained.

“Sorry,” he chuckled. “What kind of features are you doing?”

My mood brightened. “Well, last week I wrote about the use of bologna as a staple recipe item…”

Suddenly, Lem seemed to awaken.

“BOLOGNA??” he shouted.

“Yeah,” I said. “My thought was to offer an alternative view of modern cuisine.”

“You call that serious?” he babbled.

“Yes,” I proclaimed. “Zeke ran my story in ‘The Bugle’ as well…”

“Zeke, schmieke!” he grunted.

“It was written from the standpoint of enhancing culinary diversity,” I said.

“You’re off the rails!” he exploded.

I had to collect my thoughts. “Not at all. Just expressing freedom on the dinner plate… ”

He snorted like a bull. “Now that’s crazy!”

“Your brother doesn’t think so,” I observed.

“Blast him!” Lemuel roared.

“We’ve become too predictable as a nation,” I reflected. “Our dining habits are stale. Remember the rebellious eats of our forefathers? Now we teach our citizens to gnaw on carrot sticks and drink fruit juice.”

“Here’s a tip,” he growled. “Stick to real journalism!”

“Your brother thinks that is real journalism,” I said.

“Stop bringing up my brother!” he huffed.

“Good reporting requires courage,” I said. “You told me that a dozen years ago. Did something change since then?”

“And don’t twist my words!” he grunted.

“Our mission has always been to enlighten readers about their alternatives… another bit of Byler-Gregg wisdom,” I said. “Did that change, too?”

“You win, Rodney,” he wheezed. “You sound as nutty as my brother.”

My face tingled. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”

Silence filled the telephone line.

“Each slice of bologna carries the taste of liberty,” I said.

Lem was out of breath.

“You’re going out on a limb with this,” he said.

“Maybe,” I half-agreed. “But my job is to convey ideas. Not just follow the current paradigm.”

“Okay,” he snapped. “Good luck with that. I’m gonna go get myself another margarita.”

“Wait!” I protested. “There’s a lot more to talk about…”

He didn’t wait for me to finish the sentence.

“Good luck, Rodney!” he cheered. “Bye-bye!”

I spent the rest of my afternoon browsing through old issues of ‘The Bugle’ and working on a column for next week.

Many miles away, I knew Lemuel Byler-Gregg was laughing over a colorful beverage.

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Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Sgt. Spammer

Spam messages about helping to bring money into the USA are ever-present thanks to the Internet. Until now, those I have received were from Nigerian scammers or Malaysian hucksters. But recently, I got a unique message from someone claiming to be an American soldier:

Date: Mon, Jul 5, 2010 at 9:32 PM
Subject: From Sgt David

"My name is Sgt.David Smith, I am an American soldier with Swiss background,serving in Iraq,i found $5,000,000.00 USD near one of Saddam's old palaces in Tikrit-Iraq,i need you to help me to keep the money in safe place pending my arrival,20% will be giving to you for your assistant. I will provide details of the project if and when I receive your response.

Sgt David Smith.

I couldn't help wondering... why was it necessary to specify that he had Swiss ancestry? Because of the proverbial notion of having a 'Swiss bank account' with money tucked away?

Friday, July 02, 2010

“Hamglaze & Coffee”

c. 2010 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Note to Readers: What follows here is truth with a twist of artistic license. Read it as you would a good comic book or cereal box.

It was a quiet Monday evening at the grocery store in Chardon.

After visiting with my sister and her family, I had intended to do a bit of shopping before returning to the Geauga hinterland.

But after selecting two kinds of Gatorade and some vegetables, a familiar voice sang out from one of the register lanes.

“I’ve got coupons here somewhere,” the frugal woman said. “Just a minute…”

My eyes narrowed from the bright glow of her crimson headwear. It was Carrie Hamglaze, my long-time journalistic cohort.

“Let’s see,” she huffed, while digging through her oversized purse. “Pocket Constitution, Kleenex, aspirin, fundraising letter from John Kasich…”

The cashier on duty exuded patience. She waited courteously as my friend rattled off a personal inventory of miscellaneous stuff.

“Forget the coupons,” I exclaimed at last. “They’ll only save you a few pennies.”

She stopped digging in her handbag. “Bite your tongue! How else can we expect to survive in post-bailout America?”

“Sorry,” I grinned. “So, how have you been?”

“Frazzled!” she admitted.

“We need to have a cup of coffee sometime,” I said.

Carrie reacted like she had been bitten by a mosquito. “Coffee! Yes! Meet me at Get Go after you’re done shopping.”

“What, now?” I babbled with surprise.

“See you in a couple of minutes!” she cheered.

Suddenly, I was alone with my grocery cart.

After a breezy jog through the aisles, I made a quick purchase. Then, it was time to run across town for some genuine conversation!

Carrie had already gotten a cup of Bergamot tea when I arrived. She was at a table by the front windows.

“Come and sit with me,” she said. “This is my place. Everyone knows me here.”

I nodded submissively. A first cup of fresh coffee helped clear my thoughts.

“So, what have you been writing about lately?” she asked, while sorting more coupons.
My beverage offered quick relief. “A couple of weeks ago, I finally interviewed the staff at Thompson Center Market. It was a project I’d been trying to finish since March… then, I stopped at The Next Level in Chardon. That was another story idea I’d been tripping over for a long time.”

She smiled with approval. “And in between, UFO sightings, continued harassment from Mr. X, and more bologna recipes?”

I was stunned. “Well, yes…”

She laughed out loud.

“But, what about you?” I asked.

Carrie breathed a sigh. “My older brother, Flatt, had heart bypass surgery,” she confessed. “That’s had me thinking more about the importance of proper eating.”

I shuddered. “Let me guess… lots of fruit?”

“If it has eyes or a mouth, you don’t put it on your dinner plate,” she proclaimed.

I tried to change the subject. “Well anyway, what have you been writing?”

She brightened while thinking. “I’ve had a book proposal in mind lately. ‘Trees If You Please’ or something like that…”

“Trees?” I stammered.

“Yes!” she declared. “A collection of tree tales and poetry. Stories of the Trouble Tree, Christmas Tree, and maybe an old oak tied with a yellow ribbon.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Well, that’s an original idea, for sure…”

Carrie took out a scrap of paper, and began to read lyrics penned by Thomas Paine in 1775:

“In a chariot of light from the regions of day,
The Goddess of Liberty came;
Ten thousand celestials directed the way,
And hither conducted the dame.
A fair budding branch from the gardens above,
Where millions with millions agree,
She brought in her hand as a pledge of her love,
And the plant she named Liberty Tree.”

I was nearly speechless as she finished.

“The book would contain references like that,” she promised. “I envision a sort of anthology based on tree history and culture.”

“Sounds like a great read,” I said breathlessly.

“Flatt is living near the University of Virginia,” she boasted. “He has so many creative influences at the moment. We talk of doing other volumes about art, music, and pop icons. Every time he calls, it’s something new.”

I pondered having so much creative energy.

“Don’t you have any book projects in the works?” she asked.

I shook my head. “Not right now.”

Carrie squawked with disbelief. “Nothing?”

“No,” I said. “Life has become about survival. There is no time for anything else.”

She snorted impatiently. “Rod, writing is survival! It keeps your spirit strong.”

I shrugged my shoulders. “True enough. But lately, I’ve been searching for my ‘voice’ once again. I write columns, and then almost feel glad when they don’t run.”

She was puzzled.

“Is that a shocking admission?” I said.

“No,” she answered politely. “Every wordsmith strikes a stone with his plow now and then. It’s just a matter of persistence. You should know that already.”

“Yes,” I agreed.

“So, how about a bologna cookbook?” she chirped. “Add short vignettes and poems in between.”

I nearly spilled my coffee.

“Maybe you could get the CEO of Oscar Mayer to write an introduction,” she suggested.

I slumped in my chair, laughing.

“No, really!” she said emphatically.

My cup was empty. And it was long after dark.

“Gotta run, my friend,” I apologized. “Thanks for the ideas. Will I see you at the Geauga Writer’s Roundtable next month?”

“Of course!” she promised.

I bowed gracefully, and headed for the door.

“Keep writing!” she shouted from behind. “Write, write, write everything you can!”

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