Friday, August 27, 2010

“The Big One Goes Homespun”

c. 2010 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

It was a busy morning at the Clear Channel offices in Independence.

Technicians, staff members, and on-air personalities filled the corridor between studios. At the front desk, a receptionist dutifully answered her phone while sorting listener mail. Sounds of interview conversation and pre-broadcast editing made the walls buzz with energy.

Suddenly, WTAM Program Director Ray Davis appeared from his office.

“Maggie! Where are you?” he exclaimed. Sweat beaded on his tanned forehead.

His secretary peered around the corner from her cubicle. “I’m right here. Why are you shouting?”

“It’s this letter,” he explained. “Come and have a look!”

The secretary wrinkled her nose. “I’m in the middle of a new contract with Mentor Mitsubishi. This has to be faxed today. Don’t you remember?”

Davis rubbed his eyes. “Yes, of course. Never mind…”

Maggie Strehlka turned her desk chair sideways. “What letter are you talking about?”

“It came today from a woman in Geauga County,” he said. “Her name is Carrie Hamglaze. She wants to do a weekend show like Art McKoy or Matt Patrick.”

“Okay,” the secretary smiled. “We get a few dozen of those every week. Lots of people think they want to be a media star.”

“But Hamglaze says she will work for free,” he cheered.

Maggie’s deep, brown eyes widened with amazement.

“Free?” she said.

“Free!” Davis repeated. “She even offers to bring Geauga County maple syrup to the studios.”

“Really?” the secretary mused.

“We’re talking free talent here, plus gratuities!” he proclaimed. “Apparently, Hamglaze is a former schoolteacher, athletic coach, and elected official.”

Maggie tapped her red nails on the desk. “Hmm… sounds interesting.”

“Now, she writes for a local newspaper,” he continued.

The secretary bit her lip. “It could be fun. But she has no professional radio experience?”

“Apparently not,” Davis admitted. “Still… neither did Mike Trivisonno when he started in the business. Let’s give her a call!”

One week later, Carrie Hamglaze made her first on-air appearance at the station.

Student intern Brent Spicko was her engineer. Carefully, he guided her through pre-broadcast preparations.

“Mrs. Hamglaze, we will be on the air in two minutes,” he said. “Do you have all your show materials ready?”

Carrie shrugged her shoulders. “Materials?”

“Your ‘stack of stuff’ as Rush Limbaugh would say,” he explained.

“Oh, yes!” she replied with embarrassment. “I have copies of my newspaper from the past few weeks. And more notes in my purse… along with coupons from Get Go if I need coffee.”

Brent nodded with acceptance. “Think of me as your tour guide through the world of big-time radio. This will be fun. Relax and enjoy yourself.”

“I’m ready!” she exclaimed.

The engineer chuckled softly. “Okay. Here we go. Three… two… one!”

A pre-recorded announcement boomed over her headphones.


Carrie fumbled her opening remarks. “Homespun?”

“Go on,” the engineer whispered. “We are live!”

“Homespun Hamglaze?” she said with disbelief.

“Mr. Davis thought it would be appropriate,” Brent wheezed. “Keep talking!”

“My name is Carrie, and I come from Geauga County,” she squawked.

The engineer was breathless. “Keep going!!”

“Every time I listen to the radio, I think that someone ought to put the spotlight on my neighborhood,” she said. “We hear a lot about LeBron James or the drama of Cleveland politics. But what about people like me?”

Brent nodded again. “That’s better. You’re on a roll!”

“The Big One spends a lot of time talking about baseball, basketball, and football,” Carrie observed. “But I am an award-winning tennis coach. Couldn’t this station spend five minutes talking about our local tennis heroes?”

Suddenly, a voice sounded in the engineer’s headset. It was Ray Davis.

“What is she doing?” he bellowed.

“Learning the craft,” Brent answered honestly.

“It sounds like she’s struggling!” Davis complained. “Our ratings will take a nose dive!”

“Be patient,” the engineer advised. “This is genuine broadcast theater. Let it happen!”

On the air, Carrie was beginning to hit her stride.

“At pancake breakfasts and ice cream socials, I keep hearing the same sentiments,” she reflected. “Not only is our government out of touch, but our media is disconnected, as well. Professional politicians rule the land. And career pundits control the airwaves. We need to hear new voices. Authentic voices speaking about everyday lives…”

Brent Spicko smiled over his console.

“See what I mean?” he declared.

“I’m not so sure…” Davis frowned.

“Give her a chance,” the engineer pleaded. “This lady has the kind of realism we need in this business. It’s lightning in a bottle.”

“Or maybe nitroglycerine,” his boss growled.

On the air, Carrie was taking her first caller.

“Hello, Dick from Dayton,” she sang. “You are live on WTAM eee-leven hundred!”

“Nice job on saying eee-leven like Trivisonno,” he chortled.

“Thanks,” she said. “That was part of my orientation here.”

“So, welcome to the neighborhood!” he laughed. “I call into every program the station offers, eventually. You are a breath of fresh air. Much better than that French guy Simon who used to do weekends.”

“Umm, thanks Dick,” she chirped.

Davis was unconvinced. He paced around the control room. “Hamglaze really sounds like a small-town schoolteacher. In a crowd of guys like Trivisonno, Bob Frantz and Dave Ramos, she will be overwhelmed.”

Brent pointed his index finger in the air. “But don’t you get it, sir? That’s the beauty of having her here. She could end up being bigger than Dorothy Fuldheim!”

A silent moment passed as Carrie continued her show.

“While we’re talking,” she said, “let me tell you about the best 99 cent spaghetti dinner I’ve ever had…”

Finally, Davis relented.

“Okay, I’ll approve another episode of ‘The Homespun Hamglaze Hour’ on our station,” he said. “But only if she brings pancakes with the maple syrup next week!”

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Saturday, August 21, 2010

“American Splendor – The Geauga Years”

c. 2010 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

It was a quiet afternoon in Hambden.

I had decided to stop for a visit with my friend Archer, who lives in a small dwelling near Route 6. In moments of personal doubt, this street philosopher has always given me inspiration and hope. So while pondering my next writing project, I pulled into his driveway.

He was in the yard, looking like 60’s actor Adam Roarke with a weed eater.

“Heyy, Rod-man!” he cheered.

I flashed a ‘peace’ sign with my right hand.

He leaned the yard implement against his porch. Sweat beaded in his gray beard. “Want some coffee?”

“It must be a hundred degrees out here,” I said.

“Nahh!” he chided. “Let’s go inside. I was working on an obscure Steppenwolf tune this morning. Let me play it for you…”

After entering his colorful abode, I took a seat at the breakfast bar.

Archer busied himself with a stovetop percolator. “So, where have you been lately? I’ve bought two guitars since your last visit.”

“Two?” I exclaimed.

“A yard-sale Yamaha and another Guild,” he said, proudly.

“Impressive,” I declared.

A silent moment passed as coffee began to bubble on the stove.

Archer adjusted his spectacles. “Man, you seem rather quiet today…”

“No,” I disagreed.

“All these one-word answers,” he said. “That ain’t you.”

My angst must have been obvious. “Okay, I’ve been thinking a lot about Harvey Pekar, the Cleveland comic book hero. Did you know he passed away on July 12th?”

“Who??” my friend wondered out loud.

“Harvey Pekar,” I repeated. “Didn’t you ever see him on the tube with David Letterman?”

Archer frowned while strumming his Guild guitar. “No.”

“Really?” I exclaimed. “You never read an issue of American Splendor?”

He rubbed his eyes. “Read what?”

“C’mon, man,” I said. “You’re from Cleveland. Don’t tell me there was never a Harvey Pekar story in your collection?”

“Never mind. Listen to this tune,” he said, while reaching for his guitar.

“The whole world knows about Harvey’s life,” I complained. “His tales were illustrated by a group of talented artists including the heroic Robert Crumb.”

He snorted like a bull. “What is it with you? Always digging on the weird stuff.”

“Harvey was like the Lou Reed of graphic novelists,” I observed.

“Huh?” Archer wheezed.

“Comic books,” I explained.

He plucked out a blues progression on his guitar. “Okay, cool. Like whatever you want.”

“Anyway,” I continued, “Since Harvey passed away, I’ve been in a funk. I keep musing over the idea that my own life would make a great illustrated series. Call it Geaugan Splendor. The series would be like a tribute to him…”

Suddenly, Archer quit playing.

“Are you nuts, bro?” he laughed.

“No, really!” I repeated. “Wouldn’t that be great?”

“Sure,” he lied. “Get me some autographed copies and I’ll sell ‘em on eBay.”

“Harvey was a file clerk for the Veteran’s Administration Hospital,” I said. “A completely regular guy. American Splendor issues used to say ‘From off the streets of Cleveland.’ That was it. People talk about life imitating art but his work was art imitating life.”

Archer grinned. “Have you been drinkin’ today?”

“No, darn it,” I shouted. “No!”

“You sound like a man in a Pabst Blue Ribbon haze,” he proclaimed.

“Think of this,” I said. “Geaugan Splendor, Issue One: Tales of Bologna, UFOs and Local Journalism.”

He snorted once more. “Yeah sure, buddy. We’re on eBay again…”

“The first issue could talk about my crash-landing in Chardon,” I reflected. “After studying television in New York, I came here and worked as a department store janitor. It was a real contrast to writing motorcycle fiction.”

Archer shook his head. “A janitor?”

“For Fisher’s Big Wheel,” I said.

“And, umm… cycle stories?” he added.

“Bob Lipkin was my editor,” I recalled. “He had a magazine in California. We first connected when I was still in the Empire State.”

My friend returned to playing his guitar. But instead of lyrics from John Kay, he began to improvise something new:

“Hey everybody, take a look,
Rod-man has a comic book,
He’s livin’ large,
Gonna be a cartoon star!
Fifty cents is the cover price
Pay the money,
Look inside,
A bologna sandwich to go,
Ridin’ on a UFO.”

I was speechless.

“You write the storyline, and I’ll provide the soundtrack,” he boasted.

I sighed. “You aren’t taking this seriously…”

Archer tilted his head to one side. “You wanted serious? Let me play that Steppenwolf tune.”

“No, I mean the idea of continuing Harvey’s legacy,” I said. “That doesn’t work for you?”

He thought for a moment. “I think you got your own legacy to work on. Don’t get obsessed with somebody else’s trip. Take your own.”

I bowed my head. “Guess I can’t argue with that.”

“Okay,” he agreed. “Now let’s get some coffee!”

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Friday, August 13, 2010

“CARS: Getting Recharged”

c. 2010 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Note to Readers: What follows here is a one-act play about the evolving state of automobile manufacturing. The participants have chosen to meet far away from the glare of media attention in Washington, D.C. or Detroit. In another venue, the group would face much scrutiny from the public. But in northeastern Ohio, they remain anonymous, and safe.

THE SETTING – A conference room at the Perry Nuclear Power Plant.

THE PLAYERS – Lee Iacocca, former chairman of Chrysler Corporation; General Motors; Henry Ford XVI; Antonio Chrysler.

LEE IACOCCA- “I’d like to welcome all of you to Ohio! Today, we are considering a new direction for our industry. One that will finally bring us to a zero-emissions future.”

GENERAL MOTORS – “Ten hut! That’ll make the tree huggers happy!”

HENRY FORD XVI – “Is that why we are meeting at a nuke plant?”

L. IACOCCA – “An increase in our capability to generate electric power will be needed to support the switch from gasoline. So we are here to look at expanding the industry while celebrating America’s smartest new electric car… the Chevrolet Volt!”

ANTONIO CHRYSLER – “Hah! That’s a laugh. You want smart? Have I got a Fiat for you!”

G. MOTORS – “At ease, soldier. My Volt has already won the battle.”

FORD XVI – “Don’t be so quick to declare ‘Mission Accomplished’ – my family has been working on electric cars all the way back to the days of Thomas Edison!”

A. CHRYSLER – “Yeah and you still don’t have one on the road. What does that say? Your brains are unplugged. Bada bing!”

FORD XVI – “Shut up, Tony!”

L. IACOCCA – “Gentlemen, please!”

FORD XVI – “My EV vehicles will rule the market. Just wait!”

A. CHRYSLER – “C’mon, Henry. We’ve waited almost a hundred years! Whatta you talkin’ about?”

G. MOTORS – “Read ‘em and weep, Pilgrim. I hold the winning hand.”

FORD XVI – “What, with a car that goes 40 miles before it needs a charge?”

L. IACOCCA – “Let’s be fair, Henry. The Volt has a gasoline-powered generator that kicks in after the batteries get tired.”

FORD XVI – “So it’s basically just another hybrid car…”

G. MOTORS – “Pay attention, soldier. That’s THE FUTURE you’re looking at!”

A. CHRYSLER – “Nah, Henry is right. You want economy? I got that. A Fiat in every color!”

G. MOTORS – “Nobody wants your surplus scrap, Tony. Time to raise the white flag.”

L. IACOCCA – “Gentlemen! We need to draft a plan to lobby for more nuclear power in America. That’s the only way there’ll be enough juice to go around for our new electric cars. Going ‘green’ is our path to the future.”

FORD XVI – “Okay, Lee. I agree with you on getting away from foreign oil. But the tree huggers stalled nuclear power in this country. How do they turn around and support it now in the name of zero-emission vehicles?”

L. IACOCCA – “It’s the way of politics. Making strange bedfellows…”

A. CHRYSLER – “Hey, I ain’t getting’ in bed with any of you guys!”

G. MOTORS – “Ten hut, I’ll second that. There’s no time for sleep. My Volt will be leading the parade.”

FORD XVI – “For the first forty miles, at least.”

G. MOTORS – “Private, watch your mouth!”

L. IACOCCA - (Exasperated) “Gentlemen! That is enough!”

(Everyone bows their head)

FORD XVI – “Sorry, Lee.”

L. IACOCCA – “Okay. Let’s work on a group effort to promote our new electric cars. How about an ad campaign that says ‘Clean Wheels/Great Deals’ – what do you think?”

FORD XVI – “Buy an EV and the extension cord is free!”

L. IACOCCA – “How about an all-electric series of NASCAR? That would get us a lot of publicity with potential customers.”

G. MOTORS – “I’d salute that banner!”

FORD XVI – “Sure, race for forty miles, then run a halftime show while you get recharged for the second heat…”

G. MOTORS – “Shut up, soldier!”

A. CHRYSLER - “Bada bing! My Fiats don’t need a recharge to keep going.”

FORD XVI – “No, just a good mechanic to keep them from falling apart.”

A. CHRYSLER – “You talk too much, loser!”

G. MOTORS – “I don’t need to talk. My Volt says it all.”

FORD XVI – “Yeah, it says that people will probably buy the Nissan Leaf instead.”

L. IACOCCA – “That’s it! I have had enough!”

(The room goes quiet)

G. MOTORS – “Sorry, commander. We were out of line.”

L. IACOCCA – “The future is here. Oil is dirty and expensive. Plus, it carries geo-political baggage. People want an alternative. If we give them a clean choice, our industry will be strong for generations to come.”

G. MOTORS – (Raising his hand in a salute) “Ten hut. Give the order, and I’ll follow.”

FORD XVI – “I agree.”

A. CHRYSLER – “Hoo boy, you drive a hard bargain.”

FORD XVI – “Well, that’s better than having to drive one of your cars!”

A. CHRYSLER – “You gotta big mouth, turkey!”

G. MOTORS – “I got big batteries. That’ll get me to the finish line.”

FORD XVI – “Or at least close enough to push it home…”

L. IACOCCA – (Out of patience at last) “This meeting is adjourned!”

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Saturday, August 07, 2010

“Bumper Sticker”

c. 2010 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

The Icehouse Books mailbox has always been a dependable conduit for reader comments, county correspondence, and advertising literature. But recently, material of a different sort appeared in that postal slot.

It came from the Media Research Center. Enclosed was a free gift, and an attached fundraising letter:

“Dear Rod… Displaying this bumper sticker on your car or in your office tells your friends, coworkers, and neighbors you know better than to believe the liberal media’s lies and distortions. Your effort to help spread the word about the liberal media’s blatant bias is vital to the future of our nation… We’re providing tens of thousands of free ‘I don’t believe the liberal media’ bumper stickers to Americans across the country. We’re sending them at no charge because we realize how important it is to spread the word. But in truth, these stickers aren’t free. Please consider supporting this effort with a tax-deductible gift today using the enclosed reply card.”

There was no mention of where the gift item had been manufactured. I took a long breath, then finished the plea for cash:

“Your support is especially important at this critical time as the media have become even more brazen in their liberal bias. A $25 gift will help us put these bumper stickers on forty more vehicles. $100 will spread this message to over 150 vehicles. We’d like every member of the liberal media to see these every day on roads and highways across the nation!”

The letter was signed by Brent Bozell, Founder and President of MRC.

At first I thought of passing the sticker to Carrie Hamglaze, a local friend who typically has a dozen or more colorful, conservative messages on the back of her car.

But then, a burst of inspiration appeared. Again, I opened the letter. And words began to flow:

Dear Mr. Bozell,

Please accept my thanks for your gift. However, I am not in the habit of putting stickers of any kind on the bumper of my vehicle. In addition, were I to display your message in my home office, no one but my dogs and a few neighbors would notice its presence. Therefore, I humbly decline.

While I am sympathetic to the idea that corporate media outlets provide a version of the news that is not necessarily accurate or useful, I doubt that a bumper sticker campaign will rectify that situation. Indeed, one might argue that the rise of Internet technology has made traditional sources of information nearly beside the point.

YouTube has a much bigger audience than any of the ‘dinosaur’ news organizations. Think of it as C-SPAN with a sense of humor and a pulse. If the old adage that ‘content is king’ still holds true, then their website is golden.

The idea of putting political slogans on automobile hindquarters seems terribly 1970’s in outlook… too dated for most people to follow in an age when news travels instantaneously on cell phone networks and across television screens at McDonald’s.

People like myself live paycheck-to-paycheck in an economy that is shrinking. For many years, we’ve watched manufacturing jobs go overseas while our elected officials bickered amongst themselves about partisan responsibility. We felt disgust as the government spent billions of dollars to bail out wealthy bankers and insurance moguls after the consequences of their own mismanagement pushed our financial system to the brink of collapse. And we have become indifferent to political action committees that raise lots of money for people who, in the end, enrich themselves and their friends while peddling books on CNN or Fox News.

To be sure, part of the problem is us – most Americans are much more likely to watch President Obama when he appears on television with Jay Leno than when he holds a formal conference with the press. Perhaps our chief executive should host a variety program like ‘Halo Presidente’ by Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez. Discussing national issues while singing, telling jokes, and dancing with Hooters waitresses might raise the level of citizen interest in government. But… I digress.

I am a Libertarian who believes that Thomas Jefferson was right when he said ‘I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their discretion.’

Put that on a bumper sticker and I just might affix it to my vehicle, after all.

Yours Sincerely, Rod Ice

I also enclosed a subscription form to The Maple Leaf with my reply. It seemed proper to trade one request for citizen attention with another.

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