Friday, January 21, 2011

“Credit Card Conflict”

c. 2011 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Note to Readers: What follows here is creative satire, not a literal depiction of past events.

Millions of Americans experienced a period of financial chaos during the year of 2008. In the midst of this social and political turbulence, my friend Ezekiel Byler-Gregg found himself unable to maintain his household budget. As a result, he fell behind on regular payments to his creditors.

Eventually, this homegrown mess was reorganized. But with a return to normalcy came something completely unexpected – irritatingly persistent solicitations from a bank that had earlier taken him to court.

What follows here is a transcript of his phone call to this financial institution:


Operator: “This is Kendra at Capital Continental Bank. We are the bank of choice – giving our customers a voice in the marketplace. How may I help you?”

Ezekiel: “This is Ezekiel Byler-Gregg from Burton, Ohio. I would like to request that you stop sending me credit card offers in the mail.”

Operator: “Umm… would you like to begin an application by phone?”

Ezekiel: “I don’t think you heard me. I want to request that you stop sending solicitations to my mailbox, immediately.”

Operator: “You don’t want to begin an application?”

Ezekiel: “Do you speak English, Kendra?”

Operator: “Of course I do, Mr. Byler-Gregg. That is a silly question.”

Ezekiel: “Then why are you ignoring me?”

Operator: “Mr. Byler-Gregg, we are the bank of choice – we give our customers a voice in the marketplace.”

Ezekiel: “Kendra, I am a newspaper editor who endured an extended period of financial difficulty in recent years. If you look at my account, it will show that I was delinquent on payments as a result. When I tried to negotiate with Capital Continental, your response was to sue me in a local court.”

Operator: “But according to our records, your account was paid off, Mr. Byler-Gregg.”

Ezekiel: “That’s right. I had to retain legal counsel, but a settlement was reached.”

Operator: “So… do you want to open a new account?”

Ezekiel: “Kendra, are you a robot?”

Operator: “Mr. Byler-Gregg, I can assure you that I am quite human!”

Ezekiel: “Very good. Then please stop sending me credit card offers, immediately.”

Operator: “I don’t understand…”

Ezekiel: “Kendra, I wouldn’t take out a new line of credit with your bank even if it meant sparing my soul from eternal punishment in the dark realm of Hades.”

Operator: “But… why? Don’t you want to rebuild your credit?”

Ezekiel: “Look, the nation’s banking system was exhausted in 2008. Our government, in its infinite wisdom, chose to spend billions so that none of you would have to endure the stress of working at a place like Walmart or Taco Bell. But for regular people like myself, there was no such protection. Instead, I faced intimidation and legal action.”

Operator: “That wasn’t our fault, Mr. Byler-Gregg.”

Ezekiel: “But I think it was, actually. Because you used the cover of being ‘too big to fail’ as a strategy to swindle taxpayers out of billions while the national economy suffered. Working people like myself were left out in the cold by politicians from both major political parties. The end result was that, like many other citizens, I had to seek legal counsel to keep from losing my home and everything I own.”

Operator: “I don’t understand what this has to do with a canceling credit card offers.”

Ezekiel: “You don’t? I think it is obvious. I am living within my means, now. Something our government ought to do.”

Operator: “But we want to extend you a new line of credit, Mr. Byler-Gregg…”

Ezekiel: “Your proposal is a demonstration of sheer hypocrisy.”

Operator: “What??”

Ezekiel: “Look, you were unwilling to show mercy when I was struggling. In spite of the fact that millions of Americans shared my plight. You ignored my longstanding financial history and previous good credit rating. So… to badger me with credit card offers in the New Year seems a bit strange, wouldn’t you say?”

Operator: “Not at all. We are Capital Continental Bank. We are the bank of choice…”

Ezekiel: “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ve heard your spiel.”

Operator: “Would you like to begin an application by phone?”

Ezekiel: “R2D2 is your cousin, isn’t he, Kendra?”

Operator: “I don’t get your point, Mr. Byler-Gregg.”

Ezekiel: “I really think you must be a robot.”

Operator: “Please Mr. Byler-Gregg, you are making no sense.”

Ezekiel: “I am asking you to stop mailing me credit card offers, immediately!”

Operator: “You are not interested in receiving these offers?”

Ezekiel: “No! No! No!”

Operator: “You don’t have to shout, Mr. Byler-Gregg.”

Ezekiel: “I’m trying to get through to your robotic ears!”

Operator: “Mr. Byler-Gregg, please!”

Ezekiel: “I’m the one who’s saying please. Please, Kendra. Stop mailing me credit card offers! I do not want your services.”

Operator: “Should I take your name off our list?”

Ezekiel: “Yes, damn it, yes!”

Operator: “Mr. Byler-Gregg, you need to control yourself.”

Ezekiel: “What I need is a cold adult beverage!”

Operator: “I am now removing your name from our list…”

Ezekiel: “There is a God in Heaven. Thank you!”

Operator: “We are Capital Continental Bank. We are the bank of choice…”

Ezekiel: “Goodbye, Kendra. The choice I am making now is to hang up my telephone.”

Operator: “Have a good day, Mr. Byler-Gregg…”

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

“Pittsburgh Calling”

c. 2011 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

It was a hazy morning in the Icehouse home office.

I was on my first cup of coffee. Riley and Quigley, the household Lab and Pomeranian duo, were snoozing on the floor.

Suddenly, the telephone began to ring.

I rubbed my eyes. In modern terms, our land-line phone rarely produced any noise. Typically, everyone made contact through my cellular device. But some quirk of fate had brought the outdated handset to life. Or, I had slipped back into a lingering dream.

“Hello?” I answered after a half-dozen rings.

The voice on my phone sounded vaguely familiar, like an echo from the realm of oblivion. I struggled to understand.

“Hey, dis is Al,” he boasted. “Al Luccioni. You remember me?”

“Who??” I asked.

“Al!” the caller said again. “Luccioni!”

It was my childhood neighbor from the Pittsburgh area.

“Ain’t you dat Buckeye kid who lived here in New Ken?” he huffed. “I’m callin’ you!”

“Yes,” I replied. “But… I’m forty-nine years old now. How did you find my number?”

“It was wrote down on a shopping bag from Giant Iggle,” he laughed. “You gave it to me once. Musta been during a summer visit.”

I scratched my head. “Hmm… can’t remember.”

“Anyway,” he continued, “I called ‘cause the Post-Gazette says Mangini got fired there in Cleveland. Heyy, that’s great. Another coach for yinz on the lake. Good job!”

I sighed loudly. “Yes, he’s gone.”

“He was a good Paisano,” Al chortled. “Yinz shoulda kept him.”

“Right, so we could lose more games, forty-one to nine?” I sputtered.

“The Stillers are goin’ to another Superbowl, that’s all I know,” he cheered.

“Well, not quite yet,” I said with caution. “You still have to advance through the playoffs.”

“Hah!” he grunted. “Did you see Polomola flyin’ through the air like Superman?”

“Troy Polamalu, you mean?” I said.

“Yeah, Polomola,” he repeated. “Yinz looked like statues out there. He caught everybody by surprise.”

“He’s really surprised me with those commercials for Head & Shoulders shampoo,” I groaned. “A bit strange, really. One step away from Joe Namath in pantyhose…”

“Heyy! Don’t mess with Superman!” he exploded. “Take that back, loser!”

“Okay, okay,” I surrendered. “Sorry.”

“This’ll be ring number seven for the Stillers,” he bragged.

“The Browns have eight league championships,” I said.

“Eight??” he stammered. “Eight in what?? Pee Wee football?”

“Four NFL titles,” I explained. “And four in the AAFC, where they began.”

“You talk crazy,” he growled. “Superbowls, I’m sayin’ – SUPER BOWLS!”

“Pro football has been around for a century,” I said. “The Superbowl is a more recent creation, that’s all.”

“Hey, you sound jealous,” he said teasingly. “Make your excuses kid. Chuck Noll beat anything you had in Cleveland.”

“Noll was born here,” I said with a grin. “He went to Benedictine High School.”

“What???” my erstwhile neighbor yelped.

“He even played for us,” I said. “Being a Cleveland Brown made him what he was…”

“No, no no!” Al whined. “Take that back!”

“Now you have Big Ben Roethlisberger,” I observed. “Another Ohio native. He was born in Lima and grew up in Findlay."

“No, no, no!” he thundered.

“Heck, Bill Cowher played here during the ‘Kardiac Kids’ era, and coached here with Marty Schottenheimer,” I proclaimed. “Ohio made you guys.”

Al was speechless. He sputtered unintelligible curses and oaths.

“Take that stuff back,” he mumbled. “Take that back, take that back!”

“Hold on to your pierogies,” I laughed. “You’re spinning out of control, neighbor.”

“TAKE THAT BACK!” he shouted.

“Okay, okay,” I said at last. “Sorry.”

“You got a big mouth, kid!” he complained.

“So, did you go to the NHL Winter Classic at Heinz Field?” I asked, trying to change the subject.

“Heyy, it wasn’t like seein’ the Stillers but I liked it,” he said.

“Too bad the Penguins lost to Washington,” I reflected.

“If it’d been Stillers football, there’d be no losin’ there,” he pronounced.

“Of course not,” I agreed. “Not until you meet Belichick and the Patriots… another guy who learned his craft in Ohio…”


“Sorry, sorry, sorry,” I apologized.

“Oh well,” my friend said with finality. “Ma is makin’ kielasa spaghetti for supper. I’m getting’ hungry. Gotta go, kid. You argue too much. Be good!”

“I will. Thanks, Al,” I said.

“Stop by for my Superbowl party if your in the neighborhood. I’m getting’ a keg of Iron City. Ma will have her sourdough pizza baked up…”

“Sounds great,” I smiled.

“So long, kiddo!” he hollered. “Here we go Stillers, here we go!”

I sat motionless for a couple of minutes, still holding the phone.

Had my encounter-by-wire been a dream? Or was Al Luccioni really still out there, in New Kensington, Pennsylvania?

I needed time to drink more coffee, and ponder my morning.

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Friday, January 07, 2011

“More Greetings From A Local Writer”

c. 2010 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

One of the most important duties of a creative wordsmith is to encourage other like-minded individuals to express their inner passions with vigor and gusto. Yet this task can be fraught with destructive good intentions. Sometimes, the temptation exists for more seasoned scribes to revise a manuscript until it reflects their own writing style. But this habit often strips away the unique ‘voice’ of the original creator. So when engaging in this sort of mentoring, I have always been careful not to overshadow a kindred spirit as they develop.

Most recently, I pondered such thoughts while reading an essay by my long-time friend Cheryl Kelly.

Cheryl is a Chardon native, career woman, and mother. We have known each other since working together at Kresse’s Bi-Rite in the 1980’s. Her observations about new beginnings seemed perfect for reading as the New Year begins:

Starting Over

“The start of a New Year equates to a new beginning for some of us. In truth, I think everyone at some point reflects and sets goals for themselves moving forward, but for some of us, moving forward entails quite a bit more than just losing a few pounds or vowing to quit smoking. Some people are forced into making that new beginning and some do so by choice. No matter where you find yourself this upcoming year, starting over to whatever degree it might be, is never an easy task.

Decision making is a skill that not everyone does with ease. The ability to have confidence in your choices is a gift, and not one that everyone possesses. Constant second-guessing can be your worst enemy and learning to allow yourself the pleasure of making a mistake is the core to being able to start over. You can’t start over without first acknowledging that there is a need for it…a reason for it. It’s not always necessarily to fix a mistake; it could simply be a choice to try a different path. Change is an acquired taste, and one that not everyone handles with grace. It’s learning to accept that not all change is controllable, and not all change is bad.

I remember I had just started a new job, my first “professional” job as a working woman. My boss, an older man, very much set in his ways had given me a letter to type and I was taken aback by the address. The correspondence began with “Gentlemen”, not “To whom it may concern”, not “Sir or Madam” (which was the current appropriate address), but “Gentlemen”. I promptly got up from my desk and walked to his office. Knocking on his door and asking for a moment of his time, I inquired about the address. Now, being a fairly new employee, I very respectfully questioned the appropriateness of his opening address. The response I received was, “That’s how I was taught, and that’s how I want my letters addressed.” I was shocked. How could this man in this high position clearly not know that it was no longer proper to address blind letters with “Gentlemen”? For months I gently protested, and to no avail. I finally had to accept the fact that it was his signature at the bottom of those letters and not matter how hard it was for me to type and overlook. No, change was not in his vocabulary.

Change, like starting over is an acquired taste. Something some handle well and something others avoid at all cost. We go through life believing that at some point we will reach that ultimate goal of being able to sit back, relax and enjoy what we’ve worked so hard to achieve. As we go along, we ultimately discover that it doesn’t always work that way…that life is ever-changing and malleable, like a clay model that changes shape with every choice or decision we make and every person that we invite into or who touches our lives. And like clay models, life can be smoothed out and rolled and shaped into something new.

Starting over is like buying a new car. You pay and pay, month after month, year after year, thinking to yourself that eventually, it will be paid off and it will be mine, and I will have true ownership. But then what happens? The car gets paid off, sure, but now it’s falling apart and you need a new one, so, you start over. Again, sometimes by choice…sometimes by force. Life is full of constant start-overs…time to question and reflect…time to try again and see what it is that you’re going to do differently this time. Time to see what you’ve learned and time to apply different strategies in the hopes of finding the one that truly works…that allows you that opportunity to sit, relax and finally enjoy.

It can be a daunting task to start over…to begin again, a scary one at times, but a necessary one as well. No one ever said change was easy, but it doesn’t have to be debilitating. It can be exciting and refreshing and exactly what you need. The key is to open yourself up for whatever comes your way…either by choice or by necessity. Having faith in yourself that you will make the right choices, and if you get off track, you will find your way back, and be better for it. So, whether you find yourself making your own resolutions this year, or find yourself being pressed into making those changes…embrace it, because therein lies true ownership.”

Cheryl’s words rang true, like festive bells during the holiday season. Once again, I took comfort in knowing that another soul was hard at work pursuing the art of creative writing.

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Sunday, January 02, 2011

“Hamglaze Holiday”

c. 2010 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

It was a chilly day at the Get Go in Chardon.

Holiday decorations dangled from the counter. Local shoppers were busy buying gasoline, gift cards, and snacks. But I had come to meet an old friend.

She was waiting when I arrived.

Carrie Hamglaze was bundled up in layers of Hilltopper red and Irish green. She trundled across the store with melting snow dripping from her wool hat.

“Rodney!” she exclaimed. “I’m so glad you are here!”

I nodded with a grin.

“Of course,” I said. “We haven’t talked in months. But, why at a fuel depot? Wouldn’t you rather go to New York Deli or Joey’s Italian Grille?”

My friend offered a stern reply.

“It had to be here!” she insisted. “Get Go has the best coffee! And I had free coupons!”

“Right,” I agreed.

She took a seat by the window, then opened her purse.

“I’ve got one for a free hot beverage and a breakfast croissant,” she bragged. “It’s in my bag, somewhere…”

A helpful clerk gestured from the counter.

“Never mind, Carrie,” she laughed. “We know you here.”

I unzipped my leather jacket. Frost made my nose tingle.

“So, what have you been writing about lately?” Carrie asked.

“Well,” I explained, “A red shopping cart from Fisher’s Big Wheel appeared at a local flea market, over the summer. It was stashed behind their main building. Being used to move goods around, I reckon. Anyway, that put me in a nostalgic mood. I left my business card in case the item was for sale. But they never called back.”

My friend sat upright in her chair.

“So, did you ever buy it?” she chirped.

I nodded again. “Yeah, in the fall. An offer of twenty dollars sealed the bargain. They must’ve thought I was crazy. But Big Wheel was where my retail career began.”

I took out my cell phone and showed her a photo of the cart.

“There were two sizes used by the company,” I recalled. “This is the smaller version.”

Carrie crinkled up an outdated coupon.

“Blast it!” she complained. “That was for a free fountain drink and bagel sandwich! But I waited too long.”

I was slightly embarrassed. My face reddened in the pale sunlight.

“Sorry,” she coughed. “So, you worked at Big Wheel?”

“Beginning in 1984,” I said. “They were doing a remodel at the time...”

“I don’t remember much about that store,” she confessed.

I took a folded sheet of paper from my pocket. “There is so little information left about the company. But I found a couple of paragraphs on Wikipedia.”

Quietly, I began to read the page out loud:

“Fisher's Big Wheel was a discount department store chain based in New Castle, Pennsylvania, United States. The company operated stores under the Fisher's Big Wheel and Buy Smart names. At its peak, the chain comprised more than 100 stores in the Northeastern and Midwestern United States. The chain declared bankruptcy in 1993, selling some stores to Pamida and closing others. The chain closed in 1994. Fisher's Big Wheel consolidated in 1939 following the consolidation of the Fisher Dry Goods company of New Castle, Pennsylvania and a hardware store called Big Wheel. While based in the New Castle area, its headquarters were actually in Neshannock Township just north of the city. The company's flagship store was located next door, and was used as a prototype store. After the company's liquidation, the headquarters became various medical offices, while supermarket chain Giant Eagle consolidated two nearby locations and moved into the former flagship store. The company also had a store in Shenango Township east of the city, which has since been subdivided into a Big Lots, Family Dollar, and a Goodwill thrift store. Fisher's Big Wheel primarily located in smaller towns which were not already served by other discount retailers, while in other markets, it competed directly with such discounters as Zayre, Kmart, Wal-Mart and Hills Department Store.”

“It was a fun place to work,” I remembered fondly.

Carrie tilted her head to one side. “Do you see any of the crew around town?”

“Not very often,” I answered. “But my old boss is a manager at Junction Auto. He’s been there for years.”

“Selling cars?” she stammered with disbelief.

“Yes,” I said. “Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep.”

My friend shook her head. “Well, anyway, I wanted to exchange gifts with you!”

I nodded once more. “Of course!”

She slid a small package wrapped in festive colors across the table. I produced my own present and placed it next to her stack of coupons.

“Merry Christmas!” we cheered, together.

Carrie opened her box first. It was a CD of Irish folk tunes recorded at the Great Geauga County Fair by the Huntsburg Kazoo Ensemble.

“A splendid gift!” she bubbled. “Wait a minute… KAZOOS?”

“Give it a listen,” I promised. “You’ll be amazed.”

She gestured with a coffee stirrer. “Okay, your turn!”

I tore my box open to reveal a copy of the ‘Pledge of Allegiance’ rendered on a giant maple leaf.

“Wow!” I exclaimed.

“Done by a friend of mine from the library,” she boasted. “The leaf was coated with lacquer, to preserve it forever.”

“Thank you, friend!” I said.

Finally, Carrie had reached the end of her coupon stack. She looked at the store clock impatiently. “Well, I have a meeting at nine. Be well, Rodney!”

I had barely begun to sip my coffee.

“You’re leaving already?” I stammered.

She whipped her scarf in the air. It nearly covered her chin.

“Happy Holidays!” she shouted. Her hat glistened with tinsel strands. A trail of melted snow dripped from her boots. In only a moment, she was gone.

I had shared a bit of Yuletide cheer with one of the county’s most unique personalities.

Now, my holiday experience was complete!

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