Sunday, December 30, 2012

“Happy iHolidays”

c. 2012 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Readers of this column know that sometimes, the subject matter contained herein can resonate with themes of outright fantasy, parody, or satire. Yet the most compelling stories seem to come from genuine events. Such was the case recently, when I received a surprising Christmas gift under our household tree – an Apple iPhone 5.
In personal terms, I have seemingly never been on the cutting edge of technology. My writing career began on a Royal KMM typewriter from the 1940’s. I was a late adopter of the Compact Disc, clinging to vinyl with passionate devotion. My last computer was ten years old before surrendering to electronic fatigue. And until the past weekend, I had never used a smartphone.
But that changed with a bit of Yuletide magic.
With the frenzy of holiday sales spreading across Geauga, one of our prosperous mega-retailers offered a deal on the most modern Apple iPhone that was insanely attractive. After months of pondering a replacement for my aging LG EnV2, I surrendered. Santa (in family form) insisted on giving this incredible wireless tool as a Christmas gift.
So with that single act of benevolence, I joined the modern age.
On Christmas Eve, I used the device to take photos at the Lutheran church where my niece is pastoral resident. It documented her service with technological proficiency.
Then, Christmas Day arrived with a kind of rapid connectivity that I had never known. Using the Facebook app, I sent posts about drinking coffee, cleaning the house, wrapping presents, taking a last-minute gift to my neighbors, and getting on the road.
I visited the Chardon post office, then roamed around the square taking pictures.
In Hambden, I gathered with family members to celebrate the birth of Christ, arrival of Santa Claus, and other beloved traditions. This was accomplished with due reverence to the late Steve Jobs, while facing Cupertino, California.
My sister was fascinated when I produced the new iPhone, after unwrapping presents. I demonstrated the various features it offered, including maps, weather conditions, text messaging, Internet access, photography, video functions, music downloads and sports scores.
She nodded her head in approval, while offering a gift of jowl bacon from an ethnic store in Cleveland, and a SPAM calendar bought from Amazon.
Then, it was time to roam. Savoring the quiet of this special day, I paused at the bank to check my account, before wandering.
A favored personal tradition has become, after celebrating the day, to drive around town while enjoying the holiday quiet. I took a tour of the city, listening to festive tunes on WMJI 105.7 FM. Up Court Street, around the square, and into a parking space.
Surrounded by peaceful vibes, I walked across this oasis. Seasonal lights flickered, meaningfully. Window displays shimmered in the distance. A Christmas train spun its colorful wheels with motionless energy. The Grinch stood guard on sidewalk duty. Santa’s mailbox beckoned for late submissions.
I checked weather alerts while standing across from the gazebo. With GPS authority, it noted my location and provided corresponding information. The iPhone intuitively sensed each move that I was making.
Finally, I retreated to my vehicle. Inspiration was arriving, rapidly. With the “notes” feature on my phone, I began to compose a faux country-music tune that seemed destined to become a YouTube video:

Android phones are like dog bones
You’ll find them everywhere
Windows 8 on a tablet slate
Nobody seems to care

Thank you, Mister Apple
For your technology
Virtual maps, a million apps
Pretty things to see

Got a pickup truck
I’m down on my luck
Yes, I’m stuck here in the dark
But I’ve got the only iPhone
In the trailer park

Blind dates with Bill Gates
Won’t get you far my friend
Blackberries in the trees
Mean nothing in the end

Typing on a Jitterbug
Like a senior texting fool
Will only leave you wishing
For a hotspot in the cool

Got a pickup truck
I’m down on my luck
Yes, I’m stuck here in the dark
But I’ve got the only iPhone
In the trailer park

Thank you Mister Apple
For bringing us the world
A wireless cornucopia
For every boy and girl
The finest Kyoceras
Don’t have a prayer today
Try LG and ZTE
You’ll be comin’ back to me

Got a pickup truck
I’m down on my luck
Yes, I’m stuck here in the dark
But I’ve got the only iPhone
In the trailer park

With my composition complete, I drove down the hill again to the local Get Go, for a cup of coffee. The beverage bolstered my stamina enough to make my final journey home to Thompson.
It had been a happy holiday. Now it was time to embrace the night.

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Friday, December 14, 2012

“Bifocal Holidays”

c. 2012 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

With the holiday season approaching this year, one personal need waited in the background – new eyeglasses. I had been compensating for a lack of visual clarity by holding printed materials at arm’s length. Another tactic involved sliding my wire frames forward when reading. It was a habit developed instinctively, over time. But after the passage of years, I had reached the end of my nose. And it was impossible to find a proper distance for the Motorola handheld device I used at work.
The remedy was one I expected, with dread – bifocal lenses.
Stories about such glasses were everywhere. One coworker said his first pair ended up in a drawer for two years as he kept going back to his old spectacles. Another struggled to travel up and down stairs without falling on her face.
While pondering my need to see better, another note of puzzlement resounded. Since the age of twelve, I had owned plain, wire-framed eyewear. A stylistic nod to the age of John Lennon and Roger McGuinn. But at the age of fifty-one, this personal inclination seemed a bit stale.
Was it time for a change?
While watching ‘Heroes’ on NBC, a few years ago, the character of Noah Bennett provided a stylistic echo of bygone days. His glasses were the kind worn by my own father when I was a child. They were called ‘combination frames’ or ‘browline frames.’ A postwar curiosity reflecting the kind of space-age experimentation that would produce tailfins and Rock & Roll. I knew that Shuron had introduced the original ‘Ronsir’ in 1947, designed by Jack Rohrbach. So, while considering my options, I researched these vision-enhancing relics in detail. The Totally Optical website provided more information:

“As with many eyewear trends, combination frames are making a big comeback—but with a modern flair. And we’re not just talking about materials, but about combinations using patterns and designs. Here’s the inside story on the resurgence of this popular trend from the 1950s.You might say that combination frames are all mixed up. That’s because they don’t use the same frame material for the whole frame. For example, the frame front might be metal while the temples use zyl, leather, crystals, or wood. This type of application leads to some very interesting creations. The mixing of colors, patterns, and materials all help combination frames capture the attention - and pocketbooks - of patients. For those who remember the Ronsir ZYL and Nusir Bouquet by Shuron, Ltd., you’ll recall that these styles were perhaps the most popular combination frames of the 20th century. For those who came after, you may recognize them in nearly every major motion picture set in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. More recently, you’ve seen them on Kevin Costner in ‘The Untouchables’ and ‘JFK,’ Matt Damon in ‘The Good Shepherd,’ and Denzel Washington in ‘Malcolm X’. These frames have a metal eyewire with a plastic overlay (known as ‘trim’) on the top and plastic temples that match. Believe it or not, these frames (and others like them) are still available from Shuron for those who want a major ‘retro look.’”

By the time I visited my optometrist, courage to make a bold choice had faded. It seemed safer to simply choose a pair of frames much like those I was already wearing, But as I shopped the selection of styles his business offered, suddenly, a series of designer creations appeared.
There, amid bland offerings in wire and plastic was a pair that looked a lot like my dad’s long-lost spectacles.
They were called ‘Emery’ by the company Lucky Brand.
I remembered a family photo from Christmas of 1969. We lived in Owingsville, Kentucky. All five members of the Ice household squeezed into our kitchen for a group portrait. I was eight years old.
The memory gave me renewed confidence. When an assistant asked if I had seen anything of interest in their selection, I replied loudly. “Yes!” The reinterpreted browline glasses looked right, even to her.  
Later, I conducted more research. The Bill Gregory Optician website offered promotional prose about my new glasses:

“Shiny with dark, hard with soft, retro with modern, old with young. Combination frames that unite a metal rim with zyl tops and temples are some of the hottest frame styles around. The shiny silver rim is tempered by the black top; the hard metal by the soft curves of the rim; the retro 50’s and 60’s styling modern again after a resurrection from styling purgatory; and the old, vintage style made contemporary once more by young people who give fashion a bit of a wink and a nod. This style used to epitomize the white-shirt, pocket-protector-with-a-slide-rule company man. Who wears it now? The hip, urban espresso-fueled guy who has an idea for a web-based start-up in his back pocket, and will draw it out for you on a napkin over cocktails...”

I picked up the new glasses about a week later. They fit well, and my initial reaction to seeing the world through bifocal lenses was amazingly calm. Briefly, the vision technician explained related issues associated with such lenses. Then, my appointment was over.
I left the clinic and walked out into a wide open space for the first time – and nearly toppled over. It felt like I was falling forward. A man and his children stared with concern, as if I were drunk.
With a bit of effort, I made it to my truck. Behind the wheel, balance seemed to return. I sat there for a few minutes, and read text messages on my cellphone. It was odd not to scoot my glasses forward to see the words.
Finally, I peeked in the rearview mirror. What I saw looked a lot like that stout fellow offering Christmas greetings in 1969.

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Saturday, December 08, 2012

“Hangover Days”

c. 2012 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

It was a cold evening at the Get Go on Water Street in Chardon.
Three figures huddled by the window, all residents of Geauga County. Carrie Hamglaze, a former elected official and schoolteacher; Mack Prindl, editor of the Parkman Register newspaper; and Rhonda Ronk, a bubbly, young employee who was on her break.
I had stopped for fuel and a cup of coffee, plus a copy of the Maple Leaf, before driving home to Thompson. But the sight of this trio drew me toward their table.
“Well,” I cheered. “Is this an informal meeting of our writers’ group?”
Carrie stirred her Irish tea. “Pull up a chair! We’re having an informal confab.”
“This is more like a wake,” Mack groaned.
Rhonda sipped her soda. “That sounds depressing!”
“No, he’s right,” Carrie agreed. “I still have a hangover.”
“Hangover?” I stammered. “From what?”
“The election,” she answered.
“No,” Mack disagreed. “From Pittsburgh losing to Cleveland.”
I shook my head. “What??”
“They’ve been like this all night,” Rhonda giggled, while tapping her nails on the table.
“Obama won a second term!” Carrie squawked. “I didn’t think it was possible.”
“The Browns won, 20-14,” Mack echoed. “I didn’t think that could happen!”
“Slow down,” I begged. “You are both talking at the same time.”
“America is doomed,” Carrie choked with caution. “We are on a slippery slope to full-blown socialism!”
“NFL football is doomed,” Mack moaned. “If a scrub team like the Browns can win over the ‘Burghers, the league is finished.”
“Friends, please!” I said, intently.
“They’ve both got a terrible hangover,” Rhonda sighed.
“America is a resilient nation,” I observed. “Regardless of the political winds that blow, we move ever onward.”
“Onward without scoring,” Mack whined.
“Not true,” I disagreed. “The same can be said of pro football. It will endure.”
“I knew the party should have chosen Rick Santorum!” Carrie said.
“If only Roethlisberger could have started against Cleveland!” Mack wished out loud.
“Stop complaining!” Rhonda frowned.
“Indeed!” I said in agreement. “Stop complaining and start planning... for tomorrow.”
“The mainstream media was against us,” Carrie declared.
“The referees were against us,” Mack echoed, sadly.
“Really now,” I laughed. “Isn’t it pathetic to hear fans of a team with six Superbowl rings crying about bad penalty calls?”
“The bias was clear!” Carrie exclaimed.
“The bias was clear!” Mack repeated.
Rhonda shook her head. “This is getting old!”
“Personally, it seems obvious that the GOP shouldn’t have brushed off Ron Paul so easily,” I said. “They could have used the energy of his supporters at election time.”
Carrie rubbed her eyes with disbelief.
“And I think the Steelers should have come to Cleveland with a greater sense of respect,” I continued. “The Browns are a better team than their record would indicate. Things are moving in the right direction.”
“Hah!” Mack huffed indifferently.
Rhonda played with her jewelry. “I think Rod is making a lot of sense!”
“Our future as a republic is in peril!” Carrie exploded.
“The future of the league is in doubt!” Mack predicted.
“No, no, no!” I shouted.
“No!” Rhonda agreed.
“America would have been wise to listen to the Tea Party!” Carrie insisted.
“The NFL referees should have listened to Coach Tomlin!” Mack roared.
“Look,” I said. “Active involvement in the political process is something I endorse. By anyone, of any persuasion. That is how democracy functions. But it seems clear that voters desire something other than the bland choices offered by Republicans.”
Mack held his breath.
“The same could be said for Pittsburgh,” I concluded. “Rhetoric about championship rings doesn’t carry the team forward. Instead of talk, working harder will produce genuine results.”
Rhonda giggled to herself.
“I can’t stand that guy!” Carrie complained.
“I can’t stand those guys!” Mack echoed, painfully.
“Are you listening to me?” I wondered.
“The failures just keep piling up,” Carrie said.
“The losses just keep piling up,” Mack warbled.
I had begun to feel tired. But my friends weren’t done just yet.
“Obama didn’t win a mandate!” Carrie taunted.
“The Browns didn’t win a Superbowl!” Mack teased.
I closed my eyes. “This conversation is going nowhere.”
Rhonda nodded in agreement.
“We have lost to a fellow who has us sixteen trillion dollars in debt!” Carrie whispered.
“We have lost to a team worse than the Buffalo Bills!” Mack hissed.
My coffee was cold. I looked longingly at the front door.
“Joe Biden is nothing more than a rodeo clown,” Carrie shrieked.
“Brandon Weeden can’t buy his team a first down,” Mack squeaked.
“Words mean nothing,” I said. “Deeds mean everything.”
“We need Ronald Reagan to come back,” Carrie moaned.
“We need Big Ben to come back,” Mack groaned.
I bowed my head. “Okay, wallow in self-pity if you must. History has been written. But the future is still a blank page. What you do today will chart the course of tomorrow...”
Rhonda gestured frantically. “Oh, no! My break is over! It’s time to get back to work.”
“That applies to the GOP, and to the Steelers,” I pronounced. “It is time to get back to work.”

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