Friday, October 29, 2010

“Jefferson Jamboree”

c. 2010 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

It was a beautiful autumn day on the Chardon Square. Dutifully, I carried my digital camera, and reporter’s notebook.

Falling leaves filled the air with seasonal color. But I focused on the task at hand. A new political story was about to unfold.

Local residents had gathered for an event that would celebrate the life and philosophy of America’s third president – ‘The Jefferson Jamboree.’

With festive flair, the gazebo had been decorated in red, white and blue. Local celebrity Carrie Hamglaze served as the Master of Ceremonies. She bowed gracefully before the crowd, tipping her red hat with a sense of drama. Then she formally opened the proceedings.

“I would like to welcome you all!” she shouted. “Today, many of our neighbors and friends will honor Thomas Jefferson by speaking his words, aloud. Though he may not have been from Geauga County, I believe his outlook and wisdom reflected the sort of spirit we have here at home, today!”

Applause resounded across the square.

“With that in mind, let me offer the first quote.” she continued. “Ahem… A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned - this is the sum of good government.”

The crowd cheered enthusiastically!

Ezekiel Byler-Gregg was next on stage. He held a tattered Gadsden Flag in his hands.
“Every citizen should be a soldier,” he said. “This was the case with the Greeks and Romans, and must be that of every free state.”

More applause resounded. The crowd was transfixed by Jefferson’s words.

Performance artist Lodi Preen came next in the procession. He sang out like a nautical horn, offering courage to the group. “I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”

Raucous agreement echoed from one end of the square to the other.

Councilman Matt Di Silva followed the journalist. He wore the traditional uniform of a soldier from the revolutionary period.

“It is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes,” he observed. “A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world.”

Wild whoops reverberated from the crowd.

Local cheerleader Sarah Skaleski skipped forward without hesitation.

“My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government,” she squealed.

Thunderous applause filled the air.

In her wake, poet and author Christa Fleck approached the microphone with a smile. She adjusted her thick-rimmed glasses, then offered her bit of prose in a whisper.

“Determine never to be idle,” she said. “No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time who never loses any. It is wonderful how much may be done if we are always doing.”

The audience agreed with enthusiasm.

Next came floral designer Rhonda Reale. She clasped a bouquet of multicolored roses. “I do not take a single newspaper, nor read one a month, and I feel myself infinitely the happier for it,” she squawked.

Gasps cascaded into silence.

Hamglaze choked on her breath. She whispered in Reale’s ear. “This event is sponsored by a group of local newspapers. Couldn’t you think of something more appropriate?”

Reale trembled with embarrassment. “Ummm… sorry, friends. Could I have a do-over?”
Everyone on the gazebo struggled to regain their composure.

Following an unplanned interlude, local personality Roone Fern of the long-lost Geauga Times Leader appeared with a folder of vintage scribbling. After a polite pause to clear his throat, he intoned a bit of Jefferson wisdom that was familiar to everyone.

“I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves,” he said. “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.”

Feeling revived, the group applauded.

Retired constable Carl Bernardi was next. He cradled the microphone in his hands while speaking. “I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.”

A boisterous mood overtook the crowd. Everyone seemed ready for some sort of dramatic conclusion.

Without warning, Hamglaze looked in my direction.

“Well then, do you have a quote from our hero to finish this celebration, Rodney?” she asked.

“What?” I stammered. My notebook fell in the grass.

“Certainly you must have a favorite Jefferson saying to offer,” she said with a grin. “Step forward, and let us hear it!”

I felt stunned. “Well, as a matter of fact…”

“Come on!” she insisted.

The audience grew restless. “Rodney! Rodney! Rodney!!”

I took a deep breath. It was difficult to see.

“The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive!” I shouted.

Howls of joy filled the air.

“Amen!” Hamglaze proclaimed with glee.

“Amen!” everyone repeated. “Amen, amen, amen!”

Feeling shy, I returned to the crowd as Hamglaze concluded the event.

“Thank you for coming,” she said. “Now remember all of this on Election Day!”

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Friday, October 15, 2010

“Polka Pride Grows In Geauga”

c. 2010 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Where is polka music most beloved in America?

On the shores of Lake Erie? In Chicago? Or Pittsburgh?

Guess again. The polka-universe has shifted focus to a spot closer to home – Geauga County, USA.

Over Labor Day weekend, Jacob Kouwe’s Chardon Polka Band appeared at the Time Warner Cable Amphitheater at Tower City, as part of the ‘Taste of Cleveland’ celebration.

The event offered a chance for new fans to experience the power of homegrown, maple-country polka music. But for Kouwe, the performance was special for a more personal reason.

Headlining the show was Weird Al Yankovic, perhaps the best known of all modern polka performers.

Kouwe was ecstatic when describing the experience.

“Being asked to be part of the opening line-up for Weird Al was a dream come true!” he said. “I actually have Al to thank for picking up the accordion. I was always an Al fan when I was a kid and when I was 14 I saw a live show of his on VH1. After that, I convinced my parents to buy me an accordion and I started taking lessons. I would have never picked up an accordion if it hadn't been for seeing Weird Al play one on TV. It just looked like fun.”

In addition to Jake himself, the Chardon Polka Band lineup included his father, Phil Kouwe, plus Paul Coates, Mike Franklin, Emily Burke, and Paul ‘Pops’ Magooch.

Magooch, elder statesman of the group, has proved to be such an audience favorite that he boasts a fan page on the Facebook website.

Kouwe first encountered Yankovic backstage, as they were preparing for the show.
“As we're getting sound checked and tested and whatnot, who walks in?” he said with lingering excitement. “Weird Al! My dad says, you gotta talk to him. I wasn't sure. I didn't wanna sound like a geek or stalker.... but my dad said I had to go tell him that he was the reason I picked up an accordion. So, I went over to al who was working on his computer off to the side of the stage. I introduced myself and told him about how I started playing accordion. I said that although I don't really play the same type of music that he does and whatnot, it was his inspiration that originally got me playing the squeeze box. Al thanked me and the whole band got a photo with him. He was such a nice guy.”

When Kouwe and Yankovic finally appeared together on stage, it was a pairing of kindred souls.

“We were a little more than halfway through our first set when out of nowhere, Al comes strolling out with an accordion and starts playing behind me,” Kouwe said. “We were playing the old polka ‘I got a wife at home.’ I couldn't believe it!”
He who remade polka for the masses had joined those who were remaking the colorful ethnic genre - again.

“I can't even describe how it felt inside,” Kouwe explained. “The dude just smiled and jammed on his squeeze box. The crowd went nuts! I asked AL to stay one more song and the band went into our rendition of Twisted Sister's “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” Al just smiled and played along. He seems like such a humble dude. He just stood behind me backing me up on the accordion. He didn't come out front and center or nothing... he just joined in the fun.”

Kouwe felt transformed by the interaction with his mentor.

“Seeing one of my heroes on stage with the band I been working on for seven years - that's one of the best moments I've ever had. Definitely one of my most proud moments. Surely one of the coolest things to happen to me in my musical life.”
Afterward, Yankovic offered his own performance. The ‘Taste of Cleveland’ crowd received a dose of polka power like no other.

“Al's show was amazing,” Kouwe proclaimed. “It was a real cool multimedia event like nothing I had seen before. What an entertainer!

The Chardon Polka Band has been active for several years, after forming as an after-hours group at Chardon High School.

Recently, they recorded their first studio album ‘Pirates, Women and Beer’ at Kravos Productions. The audio document features several original compositions, and a roster of traditional favorites:

Free Beer Polka - (Jake Kouwe)
Two Sisters Polka - (Jake Kouwe)
I've Got A Wife at Home - (The Mark IV)
Polka Dancing Girl - (Jake Kouwe)
The Pirate Polka - (Jake Kouwe)
Old Style Beer - (George Kraynak, the Polkaholics)
Leia's Waltz - (Jake Kouwe)
Oh Marie Polka - (Frankie Yankovic, Joe Trollie, John Pecon)
Hymn Medley - (Lewis E. Jones/ Elisha A. Hoffman/ George Bennard)
Too Fat Polka - (Ross MacLean, Arthur Richardson)
Who Stole the Keeshka - (Walter Solek)
Deli Girl Polka - (Jake Kouwe)
Polka All Night - (Jake Kouwe)

Engineer for the album was Bob Kravos. It was mixed and mastered at Suma Studio by Paul Hamman. For ordering details, look at:

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Friday, October 01, 2010

“Campaign Season”

c. 2010 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

It was a cool, quiet morning in Thompson.

I had been working in my home office for about an hour when a commotion sounded from outside. Quigley and Riley, my Pomeranian and Black Lab duo, began to bark loudly.

“What’s got you so excited today?” I exclaimed. More barking followed my question. Then, sounds of hushed conversation ebbed through an open window.

Impatiently, I rushed to the front door. Both dogs followed attentively. We saw that a line of vehicles had begun to form at the edge of our yard.

In the driveway, a television reporter was beginning his morning news segment.

“This is Stitch Ferez, from WKYC Channel 3,” he announced dramatically. “We are at the home of Geauga County journalist Rod Ice, who is running as a third-party candidate for governor…”

I stood on the porch, battling a sense of disbelief.

“Local experts we have interviewed believe that Mr. Ice will draw a large number of independent voters,” the reporter continued. “With the public feeling restless, it seems possible that he might pull off an upset like we’ve never seen before…”

I leaned over the railing. “Hey, is this some kind of prank?”

A stampede of correspondents began. Suddenly, I was surrounded.

“Mr. Ice!” Ferez shouted. “Would you care to describe your political philosophy for our audience?”

I stammered weakly. “Umm… what?”

A young woman waved her pen. “Mr. Ice, I’m Kristi Krale from The Cleveland Plain Dealer. Would you call yourself a Tea Party candidate?”

Another journalist interrupted before I could answer.

“Mr. Ice, I am Joel Creach from The News-Herald,” he said. “Are you actually a Republican or a Democrat?”

I waved my hands in the air. “I think you’ve made some kind of mistake here!”
Ferez pointed his microphone in my face. “Are you trying to deny your candidacy for governor?”

Krale jumped up and down on the sidewalk. “Mr. Ice, is this part of a stealth strategy for campaigning? Are you trying to stay out of the spotlight while Governor Strickland and John Kasich pummel each other with attack ads and campaign literature?”

My jaw dropped. “Who said I was running for governor?”

“YOU DID!” the crowd cheered, in unison.

I rubbed my eyes. “Okay… and when was that?”

Copies of The Maple Leaf filled the air.

“It’s all in black and white,” Krale said. “Right here!”

I bowed my head. “Right… now I understand.”

Ferez raised his microphone. “Understand? You understand public interest in your campaign?”

“Listen, everyone,” I explained. “The column about running for governor was a personal fantasy. A bit of wordsmithing whimsy. Okay?”

Creach scribbled notes while arguing the point. “Come on, Mr. Ice. We want to print your story. Let’s be honest about all of this…”

“It was a column for my newspaper,” I protested. “Nothing more. Haven’t you ever read ‘Thoughts At Large’ before?”

A silent pause elapsed.

“Well, no,” Ferez admitted at last.

“My column is often a work of fiction,” I said. “Ezekiel Byler-Gregg, Martha Ann Reale, Carrie Hamglaze, Archer, and Mr. X are all made-up characters.”

“Please!” Krale insisted. “Your manifesto is all over the Internet!”

“Manifesto??” I babbled.

Creach waved his copy for emphasis. “It’s great stuff, Mr. Ice! Better than anything we got from H. Ross Perot!”

I sighed loudly. “That was another column for The Maple Leaf. Didn’t you read the disclaimer?”

Ferez shook his head. “I found it posted on There was no disclaimer there.”

“Get on your soapbox!” Krale pleaded. We want to tell the story of a future governor from Geauga County!”

“And tell us how your background in retail management would affect your term as the state’s chief executive,” Ferez added.

I folded my hands. “Okay, if I give you something… everyone will leave?”

Their heads nodded furiously.

“Ahem!” I began, clearing my throat. “Well then, as a business manager, I have learned to provide service to my customers while making a profit to sustain the company. That is the basis for every sound enterprise. If our government followed that level of discipline, partisanship and gridlock would disappear…”

Ferez reached forward with his microphone. “Great stuff. Mr. Ice. Keep talking!”
“As a writer, my task has been to convey information in an impartial context,” I said. “That remains my standard. Truth doesn’t have a political angle. Or at least, it shouldn’t…”

“So, you are a Democrat after all?” Creach smiled.

“No, no!” Krale argued. “He sounds purely Republican!”

I covered my eyes. “None of the above! I’m a Libertarian. The two-party system is broken. Don’t you get that?”

Another wordless moment passed.

“So, are you going to debate Strickland and Kasich?” Ferez inquired at last.

“Sure,” I agreed. “If they meet me on the square in Chardon.”

The television reporter turned to face his cameraman. “There you have it! A challenge by upstart gubernatorial candidate Rod Ice, to the two major-party contestants - meet him in Geauga County, and discuss the issues of this campaign! For WKYC, I’m Stitch Ferenz!”

I shut my door with a sense of satisfaction.

Now, it was time to work on my next newspaper column!

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