Saturday, November 26, 2011

“The Search for Al Luccioni”

c. 2011 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

In this column, I have occasionally written about calling a fictional, neighborhood friend from the Pittsburgh area on my telephone. His name - Al Luccioni.

Al was a character featured in Iron City Beer advertisements during the 1970’s. His profile exuded rugged, yet friendly vibes. Once, I had a sign that carried his image in my own collection of brewery memorabilia. When reflecting on childhood years spent in that region, he seemed to be a proper focal point for personal reminiscing.
He literally looked like a blue-collar dad from down the street.

During each call, Al would typically mention having a plate of kielbasa spaghetti while watching NFL football on television. Our debates about Steelers versus Browns matches were loud and passionate. And he struggled with the idea that I was no longer a teenaged kid from New Kensington:

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

With each of these episodes, I included a beer coaster scan that appeared on the auction website eBay.

Long after this series of columns had run, I got a surprise, while searching through Internet links. A website mentioned Hogshead Gym, in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. It was managed by Phil Luccioni and boasted a young boxing star – his son, Alderico.

Apparently, they were the son and grandson of Al, himself.

Reading the report made me excited, yet embarrassed. For many years, I had believed that this burly figure was created as a promotional trick. To learn that he was a genuine professional athlete made me humble.

I wanted to learn more about his story.

First, I contacted Drew Stevenson, a Facebook friend from New York City. Because he was a native of Uniontown, it seemed likely that he could help. Sadly, Drew only remembered the Iron City campaign.

Feeling frustrated, I returned to my computer.

A second search for information revealed something new. Besides hawking blue-collar beer, Al had also promoted a brand of pizza during the 1970’s. It was available in grocery stores throughout the area, like Foodland.

I couldn’t help feeling a bit nostalgic for the era when NFL football was less about corporate business tactics, and more about serving as a vehicle to express the hopes and dreams of the everyman. When figures like our Brian Sipe adorned promotional glasses from Wendy’s. And when pro athletes, in some sense, still seemed to live in the same universe as those of us punching a time clock.

Sadly, my search yielded nothing more about big Al.

I considered connecting with the Sports Editor from Uniontown’s ‘Herald Standard’ newspaper. It was likely that he could enlighten me in some way about this lost icon of boxing and beer.

Yet quietly, I wondered if my inquiry might seem a bit strange. Across the vastness of cyberspace – comes a small town journalist from Geauga County, Ohio asking about someone from a brewery ad that ran almost forty years ago.

Was that a sane request?

My conclusion, of course, could not be denied. It was a chance I would have to take.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

“Andy Rooney, Remembered”

c. 2011 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

The recent passing of CBS commentator and beloved curmudgeon Andy Rooney caused many of us to pause and reflect. His career was long and productive.
Five years ago, I wrote a column about Rooney for this newspaper. What follows here are excerpts from my tribute:

An Andy Rooney Moment (March, 2006)

Andy Rooney is a classic media figure. He has enjoyed a prolific wordsmithing career as a newspaper columnist, published author, producer, and scriptwriter. His stay at CBS began in 1949, working on ‘Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts.’ Installments of his segment on the CBS program ‘60 Minutes’ have entertained viewers across America for many years. (They have appeared regularly since September, 1978.) He is admittedly liberal, agnostic, and crabby. Yet his witticisms are uniquely entertaining. And age has only intensified the grandfatherly charm he projects.

Recently, the moody power of a ‘Rooney’ moment took hold as I tried to make my newspaper deadline. I pondered how his oddball style might sound in a local context. What would he make of a column like ‘Thoughts At Large?’ Questions swirled in my brain… I tried to focus on the task of interpreting this network curmudgeon… everything faded into a netherworld of characteristically silly, rambling observations… and the following manuscript began to appear:


Did you ever wonder why so many 8-track tapes still show up at thrift stores and
flea markets across Geauga? I mean… really! Why are they still around? Such cumbersome audio-bricks haven’t been commercially popular in thirty years. But as artifacts go, they are ever present. Manufacturers must’ve cranked out millions of the plastic cartridges, because a wide selection of titles can still be found at 50 cents per item! This is in spite of the fact that almost no one still has a machine to play them! Major record labels had them out of retail stores by the early 80’s. Mail-order music clubs kept them available a bit longer. Yet they endure like the aftertaste of a bologna sandwich. Some people continue to treasure the clunky relics as a reminder of yonder days. A slew of alternative, ‘indie’ performers has even kept the format alive in 21st-Century terms. But ask yourself this question. "How crazy do you have to be… to still own a stash of 8-Track tapes?"

Have you ever actually seen anyone use a paperweight to hold down paper? Sure,
these trinkets make nifty ornaments for a desktop. But are they really functional in the 21st Century? And with everyone typing away on a computer, is there any lingering need for a decorated stone in your workspace? Or is it just a matter of Joe Paperweight not wanting to go out of business before he and Mrs. P Can retire? Isn’t it like making horseshoes after the ‘Model T’ was invented? Maybe we just feel better knowing the paperweight is there… in case someone left a window open, of the office fan gets stuck on ‘high.’

In America, you can get water almost anywhere. There is water in your kitchen,
bathroom, and maybe even in your garage. You can get water from a drinking fountain (‘bubbler’ for my friends in Wisconsin) or a garden hose. Any good restaurant will bring you water without an extra charge on the bill. So why do we buy bottled water? Is there something special about water in a plastic jug? Can one company say "Our water is better than your water!" with a straight face? Doesn’t all water ultimately come from the same source? Try placing some empty bottles on your picnic table during the next rainstorm, and you’ll have the best refreshment nature can provide, without a trip to the grocery store…

Why is it that newscasters on television love to show off newspaper stories? Isn’t this like a car dealership reviewing bicycles? Could it be an admission that the print media existed first? Or is it because text journalism still seems more credible? (Would they admit being second to written reporting, even if it were true?) Can you remember seeing a newspaper with screen captures from a video news program? I don’t think it has happened. But on CNN or C-SPAN, you can enjoy a review of ink-borne headlines from around the country. This seems particularly strange because there is ‘lag time’ involved with printed matter, while TV news is immediate. But in reality, most of us are probably on the computer, anyway. So it doesn’t really matter!

My ‘Rooney’ moment passed quickly, like one of his brief, spoken essays. It was a refreshing detour from the typical subject matter of my column. But most important of all, just like my television hero, I made my deadline!

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Friday, November 11, 2011

“Sidetracked by Frigidaire”

c. 2011 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Sometimes, research for a story can yield unintended consequences – and a new writing project on the desk.

I stumbled upon one such example recently, while reading through the wealth of newspaper archives available online. My intent was to find interesting stories about Geauga County in these yellowed pages. But instead, a vintage advertisement caught my attention.

It came from a copy of the Painesville Telegraph, dated June 15, 1935:

NO DOWN PAYMENT – 15 cents a day will buy it for you.

Our Meter-Ice plan makes down payments unnecessary. Just come in and select the model you want: It will be delivered to your home with a little bank-like device called Meter-Ice, attached. Then you simply drop into Meter-Ice the required number of nickels and dimes each day. Once each month our representative calls, collects money and credits your account. When the amount collected equals the purchase price, the Meter-Ice is removed and the Frigidaire is yours.


It was like an odd detail peeking out from the background of a photograph.
“Meter-Ice?” I wondered out loud.

I remembered relatives in West Virginia having a natural gas-powered refrigerator. It was a nod to the distant era when many rural homes did not have electricity. But the memory of a coin box in the kitchen was one I had never heard before.
It sounded undeniably strange – dropping coins in a vending device to keep milk, potato salad, and bologna cool throughout the day.

Yet further research yielded more information on this interesting idea. And, a price increase:

Deposit 25 cents in Meter-Ice and Frigidaire will start and operate for 24 hours. You may deposit 25 cents each day – or you may deposit 11 quarters at a time which will give you 11 days’ refrigeration – just as you prefer. When your Frigidaire has been paid for we remove Meter-Ice and issue you a bill of sale. This is the soundest, safest and most attractive electric refrigeration proposition ever offered. Come in and say ‘I want one of the new Frigidaires that uses less current than a lamp bulb.’ It’s all so simple and easy you’ll never have missed the money. That’s the new Frigidaire. It’s a marvel of convenience, too, with automatic defrosting – automatic ice tray releasing – cold storage space – ¼ more storage space in smaller cabinets.


Early in the 20th Century, appliances like a modern refrigerator were priced out of reach for many families. The 1930 Frigidaire price book lists a model AP-5 at $292, for example. A Ford sedan from the same era could be had for around $500. But this unique, home-based business plan helped entice many potential customers into the new era of kitchen living.

The success of Frigidaire was overwhelming. By 1937, four million units had been manufactured and sold to the public. By 1941, that figure had swelled to six million.
The company’s ‘Meter-Miser’ compressor powered all sorts of devices from room air conditioners to beverage coolers, ice-cream freezers and water coolers.
Eventually, Frigidaire developed a line of electric ranges for cooking, and water heaters for home and business use. After WW II, their production exploded with postwar demand in the marketplace.

Yet this one odd detail was seemingly lost to history: the coin-operated fridge.
I was glad to have been sidetracked. And I looked forward to other such journalistic detours, in the future.

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Friday, November 04, 2011

“Theatrical Thoughts”

c. 2011 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Readers of this column have heard many stories about my long-term friendship with Cleveland music icon Dennis Chandler.

We met while I was an editor for another newspaper, in Ashtabula County. Chandler had been scheduled to play at a local event, which was much like our beloved Maple Festival. I called to discuss his upcoming appearance, and a conversation about Rock & Roll history ensued.

It was my first encounter with the “Edu-tainer” – so dubbed by fans for his encyclopedic knowledge of the genre.

Over the years that followed, I wrote about our ongoing relationship. Chandler offered valuable insight into a surprising variety of subjects. He held strong opinions about pop culture, musical instruments, personal wellness, and the entertainment business. Eventually, he even provided advice on my career as a freelance writer.

I came to trust him as a teacher.

As summer drew to a close, he talked about a theatrical production that was in the works. With the skill of a composer, he had penned 22 songs for a musical play. Now, auditions were being held.

I tingled with excitement. The anticipation of a developing ‘good story’ was irresistible.

Chandler described the play as a family tale involving three generations. When the patriarch suffers a heart attack, everyone is brought together. Time, for that moment, stands still. And the whole is made greater by being tested.

It was the kind of happening that occurred in my own family, when my father battled cancer in the 1990’s.

Larry Brenner’s compelling story came to life at Tallmadge High School. As the curtain swept aside, I was immediately struck with the fact that his work comprised true ‘family’ entertainment in the classic sense. A performance for those of any age, to be enjoyed together.

With a grin, I remembered watching Ed Sullivan with my grandmother, parents, and siblings. It promised to be that kind of shared experience.


Joseph Goldberg is in a post-surgical coma. What unfolds around him are layers of familial drama that resonate with everyone. Wife Sarah frets while tending to her brood with maternal care. Son Norman remembers his youthful desire to be a writer, while grappling with marriage woes. Daughter Sandra hears the echoes of an unfulfilled love. Grandsons Stephen and Michael trade playground jabs while worrying about their elder.

Each songful reflection carries a good dose of Rock & Roll energy that keeps the audience greatly entertained, and focused.

Mysterious ‘Men in Black’ who wait outside the hospital add a sense of puzzlement and foreboding. Sarah paces back and forth, chattering and wondering, and waiting.
Finally, the stage clears with Joseph’s patient alarm sounding a note of dread.

What comes next? Everyone is left to wonder, on their own.
Throughout the intermission, I pondered Brenner’s story. Would the father survive and receive loving praise from his family? Or slip away into the afterlife?


We are returned to the hospital room. It is empty except for the ailing father, still and silent, in his bed.

Then, Brenner’s narrative takes an unexpected turn. Joseph sits up, and exclaims with joy about finally being alone!

There is much applause in the auditorium. I realize that I have been holding my breath.

From the edge of his bed, the old man has a colorful conversation with God. He admits to using the situation to ‘listen’ as his family works out their troubles.
It is a dramatic moment that leaves everyone breathless. In Act One, we were crying with concern. Now, our eyes are wet again, but from laughter.

At that point, we learn that the dark-suited men are FBI agents. Joseph Goldberg has operated a betting operation, to augment his meager income as a custodian. Now, he has become an informant to help snare organized criminals who have moved in on his shady business.

Sarah scolds her husband, upon finding him awake. Confusion and chatter fill the room. Yet the family is emotionally reunited in a way never possible before.

With confidence, Joseph proclaims from his bed: “Look at what I accomplished, by listening!”

The cast itself was delightful. Jeffrey D. Bachtel brought the character of Joseph alive with a sense of realism and humor that made the audience believe in his basic goodness and humanity. As Sarah, Julianne Protich effused an irresistible mood of maternal love. Mariah Nicole Queer played Sandra with the skill one would expect of a true Broadway actress. Tyler Mason brought us Doctor Tony as a humble, but lonely spirit. And Gordon Wall delivered the character of Norman with genuine vulnerability and soul searching.

Everything was tied together with a Rock & Roll ribbon provided by Dennis Chandler’s musical score. His compositions evoked the exuberance of classic, good-time music as it was in yonder days.

I left the Tallmadge High School auditorium with a sense that greater things were ahead for Brenner’s play. And, indeed, for those that helped bring it to life.

Just We Two (A Musical)
“For those who have laughed and cried with others and alone…”
Book and Lyrics by: Larry Brenner
Music by: Dennis Chandler
Choreographer: Danielle Shook
Directed by: Frank Chaff

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“Moving Day Cookbook”

c. 2011 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Cookbooks seem to be the sort of household manual that nearly everyone collects. Often, they are handed down through generations of a family, or traded through a network of friends. They may be borrowed and forgotten, of left to gather dust in the back of a kitchen library. Yet even a single unique recipe can make their existence worthy.

Recently, a family left my rural neighborhood, and decided to perform some cupboard cleaning as they moved. Offered up to those of us who stayed behind was a considerable stack of these culinary publications, at no charge.

Most of their castaway collection looked like standard household fare. But one volume caught my notice immediately. It was titled “Morning Fires, Evening Lights – The Marlboro Country Cookbook.”

This work was published in 1998 by tobacco giant Phillip Morris, as a promotional tool to promote dwindling cigarette sales.

With obvious cowboy flair, the book carried recipes inspired by life in the American southwest. I almost felt nostalgic when leafing through its glossy, colorful pages. Not for the taste of tar and nicotine, of course, but for the kind of vittles one might imagine around a campfire, many miles from civilization:

Iron Skillet Breakfast


4 cups water
½ lb. homemade sausage
1 Tbsp. minced onion
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. dried thyme
Dash (of) cayenne pepper
1 cup yellow cornmeal
½ cup cold water
1 cup cooked black beans, optional
All-purpose flour
Butter or bacon fat


Bring water to boil in a large, heavy saucepan; add sausage, onion, salt, thyme and cayenne pepper. If extra-spicy sausage is used, omit seasonings, if desired. Cook, stirring to break up sausage, for 15 minutes. Mix cornmeal with cold water; stir into sausage mixture gradually. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and cornmeal softens, about 30 minutes. Rinse beans under running water; stir into cornmeal. Rinse a loaf pan with cold water; pour hot mixture into pan, smoothing surface. Cover and chill until firm. Cut into ½-inch thick slices; dip in flour. In a large skillet, fry in butter over medium heat until crisp and brown, about 2 minutes on each side. Serve with scrambled eggs and maple syrup.

Coffee Can Bread


1 cup graham or whole wheat flour
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 tsp. baking powder
1 ½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 ½ cups buttermilk
¾ cup molasses
1 cup raisins and/or chopped walnuts


Combine the two flours, cornmeal, baking powder, soda and salt in a mixing bowl. Mix buttermilk and molasses; add to dry ingredients and mix well. Stir in raisins and nuts. Pour into well-greased 13-ounce coffee cans filling 2 inches from top. Bread may also be baked in 2 greased 8-inch loaf pans. Cover cans or loaf pans with aluminum foil. Bake in a 350 degree oven, 45 to 60 minutes. Cool slightly before turning out of cans.

Firemouth Pizza


12-inch homemade pizza crust
½ cup roasted pepper salsa or thick and chunky salsa
1 cup rinsed and drained canned black beans
5 each, thin green and red bell pepper rings
½ cup thinly sliced red or green onions
1 or 2 jalapeno chili peppers, sliced, seeds and stems removed
2 cups shredded cheddar or Jack cheese
2 tsp. Tex-Mex spice


Place crust on large baking sheet. Spread salsa evenly over crust. Top with beans, bell pepper rings, onions, chili peppers and cheese. Sprinkle Tex-Mex spice evenly over cheese. Bake in a 450 degree oven for about 12 minutes or until crust is golden brown and cheese is melted. Cut into slices and serve immediately.

Sweet-Hot Glazed Bacon


½ lb. thick-sliced smoked bacon
½ cup packed light brown sugar
2 tsp. Tabasco sauce


Line a 15 x 10-inch baking pan with aluminum foil. Place a wire cooling rack in pan and coat lightly with nonstick cooking spray or vegetable oil. Cut each slice (of) bacon in half. Arrange bacon in single layer on oiled rack. Combine brown sugar and Tabasco sauce, mixing well with a fork. Sprinkle mixture evenly over bacon. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes or until bacon is browned, but not burned. Cool completely on rack. Serve at room temperature.

Lonesome Man Chili


4 lbs. Round steak
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. cracked black pepper
5 Tbsp. Olive oil, divided
40 cloves garlic, peeled
1 cup beef broth or water
½ cup whiskey
6 to 10 dried small red chili peppers


Trim steak and cut into large chunks, about 1 ½ inches square. Combine flour, salt and pepper; roll beef in mixture. Heat 4 Tbsp. oil in a deep, heavy skillet; brown meat on all sides. Remove meat from skillet. Reduce heat and add 1 Tbsp. oil and garlic; cook until garlic is golden. Add broth, whiskey and chili peppers to garlic. Put browned meat on top of garlic; cover and cook slowly until beef is tender, about 1 hour.

I had to read the last recipe over again. It called for – 40 cloves of garlic?
One might observe that this could be a cause for the cook being lonely. Yet it sounded like a flavorful dish, indeed.

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