Wednesday, July 17, 2013

“Ghost Truck”

c. 2013 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

The financial collapse of 2008 left many Americans pondering how our nation could survive the modern era of bailouts and going ‘bust’ on a national scale.
In the Ice Household, this calamity brought chaos to a home governed by financial discipline. For the first time in my life, I struggled to maintain employment and the stream of bill payments expected of our brood.
Frightfully difficult among these responsibilities was remaining current on my loan for a brand-new Ford pickup. The 2005 F-150 was an STX model with 4x4 and a 4.6 liter V-8 motor. I had bought it at Classic in Chardon, which was Lawson Ford for so many years that I still called the dealership by that outdated name when signing the paperwork.
The truck was number six in a long succession of Ford loadhaulers. I had owned a 1972 Econoline van, then a 1979 F-150, 1978 F-150, 1985 Ranger, 1996 Ranger, and the 2005 STX.
My plan was to buy a factory-new vehicle which I reckoned would last ten, fifteen, even twenty years. But an unexpected employment interruption made that idea one lost to the unpredictable winds of change.
The company where I worked sold out in 2006.
Unemployment compensation covered household bills through the remainder of that year. A full-time journalistic adventure in 2007 proved to pay too little while consuming much of my personal life. In 2008, I dabbled with odd jobs and creative projects. Finally, in 2009, I worked as a part-time cashier for CVS. And promptly blew out my right knee while on the sales floor. I needed surgery and rehabilitation to recover.
Nationally, the government was busy rescuing wealthy bankers and corporate CEOs. So a plight like my own could hardly have registered on their radar. But I reckoned that people at home would be more responsive.
I sent messages to various elected officials in the state, along with copies of my ‘Thoughts At Large’ book. Most replied with words of encouragement and hope. Yet a real solution did not appear.
Bank notices began to pile up with frightening speed. The telephone rang from sunrise to sunset. I negotiated and renegotiated debts. Meanwhile, I sent resumes to every potential employer in the area. I even asked some of those threatening court action for a job with their financial institutions.
One day before my knee surgery, repossession agents appeared in our driveway. I met them on crutches. The more seasoned of the two demanded my truck keys with professional indifference. His partner, notably less-experienced, seemed embarrassed by their visit. He confessed that his uncle had endured a similar fate.
My wife was in shock. She began to clear our things out of the vehicle. Beach sandals for the girls. Various cheap sunglasses. Plastic cups from a Lake County Captains game. Poorly-folded maps. And a set of TV rabbit ears bought at a garage sale.
I handed over the keys without an argument.
Our neighbor, a Sunday School teacher and longtime member of the community, stood in her yard across the street. She was crying.
My own reaction was more subdued. I confessed to the family, “You know, I never expected to die with that truck. There’ll be another.”
The bank repossession agent asked about gas stations in the area. He fretted that the tank on my F-150 was so dry.
I told him that it would be an equal drive in any direction. Chardon, Madison, Hartsgrove, Geneva, Rock Creek. They were all about the same distance away.
The truck’s fuel tank was empty because I had spent every penny looking for work.
Not surprisingly, he was unsympathetic.
I had often heard it said that the authentic ‘Golden Rule’ should be “Those with the gold make the rules.” It seemed like a rant from people with little ambition and much self-pity. Yet standing in the driveway, watching my vehicle disappear, I suddenly had a change of heart.
The knee surgery went well. But I lost my meager employment. Several months would elapse before I had another job.
The bank auctioned off my Ford at a lowball price – about half of market value. Then, they demanded that I pay the difference. The request seemed amusingly ironic. I was bankrupt, of course, which was the cause of their repossession. So in real terms, it didn’t matter.
Seeing the ‘Ghost Truck’ at Mentor Kia, so many years later, brought all these memories back. I walked around the vehicle, resonating disbelief. Was this my lost mule? I could not be sure. It had begun to bubble rust under the paint on its front bumper. I looked for a cigarette burn on the back seat, something my wife had caused inadvertently, but it was folded up and out of view.
I reflected on trips with the family. Hauling away a tree we removed from the side yard. Navigating snowbound Geauga roads when getting to work was a must. Even my stepdaughter’s prom. But after a moment of silence, I concluded that the Ghost Truck was better left in the shadows. It was part of an era that had passed.
New memories were waiting to be made. My task was to find them before sunset.

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Thursday, July 04, 2013


c. 2013 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

One of the most curious things about having an iPhone is that I notice it has caused me to nearly abandon my home office. I used to spend leisure hours doing research or catching up on messages from friends around the country. But having a top-of-the-line mobile device seems to have altered my perceptions. Communication comes in real time, instead of through moments devoted to reflection. I tend to leave traditional correspondence for later.
Still, the habit of pausing to read e-mail has its place.
Recently, I sorted through a few pages of leftover messages in my Yahoo! mailbox. There amid the clutter of news, guitar ads, record offerings and political posts was a solicitation from Radio Wonderland, the ongoing music project headed by my old friend Joshua Fried.
Joshua and I first crossed paths in Ithaca, New York, in 1979. I was studying television broadcasting, and he was a young college student with incredible artistic visions. He performed live while mixing audio from tape loops on reel-to-reel recorders. The rest of us were busy recycling ideas offered by the ‘Punk Rock’ explosion. But he had a creative viewpoint unlike anyone in our circle of friends. Only later, after moving back to Ohio, would I comprehend that his work was literally ‘the music of tomorrow.’
Joshua’s message was on behalf of a crowdfunding effort through USA Projects. The idea was simple, to raise funds by having fans donate financial support. In this case, the result would be a vinyl recording of Radio Wonderland material:

“Two years ago I set aside performing to figure out how to share RADIO WONDERLAND in recorded form. DVD? Web video? Interactive game? The answer: all of the above—but a music album comes first. Because at the heart of this mashup of performance, props, theory, media and tech is the MUSIC.”

The crowdfunding idea to achieve this goal was revolutionary, yet not completely new. Indeed, the tradition has roots in antiquity. Authors from centuries ago used a similar method to finance the publication of books. More recently, music groups like Marillion and Rhino Bucket have used the strategy to fund new recordings.
A mutual friend who still lives in Ithaca sent his own message about the project. With excitement, he observed that Joshua’s work was more ambitious than anything we could have imagined in those yonder days. So it was appropriate to produce a recording through a process that transcended the stale business model of old-style, record label releases.
I contacted Joshua and pledged my support. On the USA Projects website, I chose a donation level that would yield not only a digital download of the album, but also a signed, vinyl copy as well, with complete cover graphics. As a lifelong record collector, I could do no less.
But along with my note, in typical ‘Thoughts At Large’ style, I added a question about the boom box he used in live performances. It looked very similar to my own, a vintage Sanyo M9935K. Was it possible, I wondered, that we both had the same retro device?
My Sanyo was an artifact from the era when such large, multi-speaker units were popular. Most consumers desired these excessive creations because of their ability to blast high-volume sound from radio sources, or cassette tapes. In personal terms, I chose that particular model because it had shortwave radio bands in addition to AM and FM reception.
Joshua responded to my question with a perceptible hint of amusement. He revealed that his own device was a close relative, the M9927K.
In order to help promote his crowdfunding campaign, I sent a link for his page to friends including those at Davie Allan’s ‘King of the Fuzz’ fan forum.
A bit of research clarified the nature of the crowdfunding group Joshua was using:

“USA Projects is a program created by United States Artists (USA), a nonprofit grantmaking and artist advocacy organization that has awarded over $17 million to America’s finest artists in the last six years. USA Projects hosts an online community where artists can post projects for funding and connect with those who love and support artists. At USA Projects, our goal is to help artists successfully navigate the challenging world of online fundraising for their projects. Our expert team provides educational services, from fundraising 101 to case studies and best practices to project development and outreach support. A total of 75% of all artists who have turned to USA Projects have succeeded in funding their projects. USA Projects offers a patent-pending matching fund program, the only one of its kind, which encourages and leverages contributions to help artists succeed faster. All donations are tax deductible because they simultaneously support artists’ projects and the nonprofit mission of United States Artists: to invest in America's finest artists and to illuminate the value of artists to society.”  

I was surprised to note that the roster of ‘disciplines’ cited by the group included architecture & design, crafts & traditional arts, dance, literature, media, music, theater arts and visual arts.

Note: As of this writing, the Radio Wonderland project was successful.

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“Snack Bag Wordsmith”

c. 2013 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

There is a saying in the Davie Allan music forum. That looking at an album cover while listening to a vinyl platter was very much like eating breakfast cereal as a kid, while reading special offers on the box. This connection between images, record-jacket text and sound was powerful indeed. It carried us through the generation between black & white broadcasts and MTV.
Downloaded files stored on an iPod have eliminated that part of music culture in favor of convenience. But for those of us old enough to remember, the tangible nature of collecting music remains strong.  
A recent detour into the realm of snack foods provided a similar, if unexpected thrill. While enjoying a gift of salty morsels from my family, I began to read the promotional prose that was included on the vacuum-sealed bag, labeled “Deep River Snacks.”
Surprise enhanced the crisp flavors delivered by this unknown, Connecticut treat. As I ate, each word seemed to burst with a genuine passion for food on the go:

Deep River Snacks Aged Cheddar Horseradish Kettle Cooked Potato Chips 2 oz. (57 g.)

“All natural. Gluten free, certified kosher, 100% sunflower oil, non-GMO potatoes, non-GMO sunflower oil, no preservatives, no trans-fat, no MSG. Our charitable commitment – we enthusiastically support various non-profit organizations by highlighting a different charity on every flavor of Deep River Snacks. If this charity resonates with you, please consider helping their cause! (The) Chris Klug Foundation – CKF is dedicated to promoting lifesaving organ & tissue donation and improving the quality of life for those touched by donation. Scan with your smartphone (QR code) to learn more about this charity with free snacks and fun prizes.”

After finishing the package, I began to ponder. What about other snacks in the family cupboard? A quick look produced more of these informative, yet anonymous paragraphs:

Utz Kettle Classics Gourmet Dark Russets 8 oz. (226.8 g)

“This special variety of Russet results in a robust flavored dark potato chip... dark not from burning or over frying, but from the natural caramelizing of the sugars present in our precision controlled slices. As with other products in the Kettle Classics family, our small batch cooking ensures that the appearance, flavor and crunch merit the Utz name. Enjoy!”

I remembered advice from Dennis Chandler, Cleveland Rock icon and business advisor. A few years ago, as I was seeking to expand my career, he advised looking into the world of commercial writing. The kind of text provided in catalogs, brochures, ads and on the Internet. It was a field that I had never considered. My friend said with certainty that it would be an area worth investigation.
Again, I returned to our kitchen:

McCann’s Imported Quick & Easy Steel Cut Irish Oatmeal 16 oz. (454 g)

“Steel Cut Oats are a long standing tradition in Ireland where the rich soil and moist climate produce some of the finest oats in the world. One look tells you that Steel Cut Oats are different. The outer husk is removed from the oat kernel which is then cut into pieces using steel discs. That's it! (No steaming and rolling like conventional oats.) The result is a truly distinct flavor and texture that delivers the goodness of unprocessed 100% whole grain oats. We know you are in a hurry, so these oats blend state of the art technology with time honored tradition and need only 5 minutes to cook!”

Considering Chandler’s advice, I imagined writing such text for a living. The possibilities truly seemed endless. Descriptive prose could be created for bratwurst, hamburgers, even charcoal... the entire summer grilling experience. Or wander through the winter magic of hot cocoa, vegetable soup, and baked delights. Better still, I could go into the field of cars and motorcycles, always an area of interest. It seemed like a profession perfectly made for a wandering wordsmith.
I took one last package from the cupboard, and began to read:

Pop-Tarts Gone Nutty! Peanut Butter 10.5 oz. (300 g)

“BAMmmmmm! A toasty slow motion explosion of delicious real peanut butter. Go ever nuttier TRY Pop-Tarts Gone Nutty! Chocolate Peanut Butter. Naturally & artificially flavored.”

My snack-bag adventure proved that any venue can provide inspiration for a creative writer – even the humble, household kitchen.

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“Geauga Newsroom”

c. 2013 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

One of the fascinating things about researching Geauga newspaper history is having the opportunity to peer into the lost world of yesterday. The pace of life was slower and the importance of print reporting, undeniably greater.
Journalists typically wrote about themes that would resonate with modern readers. Often, they spoke with clarity and discipline. Yet the breezy nature of those learning-on-the-job could sometimes be detected.
A report from the era of World War II makes this clear. Incredibly, the writer draws his summation by admitting little factual basis for what he has composed. With sheer speculation, he wanders toward the point:

DOGS FOR WAR EFFORT – Youngstown Vindicator, April 12, 1942

“Since it was announced that the U. S. Army would accept dogs for training as guards during the war, this department has received many requests for information as to the kind of dogs wanted. Obviously there are many dogs in this section that may find their way into the armed forces – but dog fanciers will be obliged to wait until some exact specifications are announced. According to an announcement by the American Kennel Club, regional directors have been named to look after the ‘enlistment’ of dogs for war training. For northern Ohio... Dan Hanna of Chardon, O., has been selected as regional director... It must be made perfectly clear that Uncle Sam’s army trainers are not interested in just any old dog. It is not likely that this war training is going to be wasted on a lot of nondescript dogs that have never known discipline, or that are being shunted off because they are a bother at home. Dogs to be trained for the war effort must be pretty fair specimens... Although we have no authority for the statement, it would seem from a fairly ripe experience with dogs that the first call would include only those dogs which have perhaps been started in obedience training.”

Geauga in the 1940’s was in a wartime mood. Everyone was part of the Allied effort to secure victory against the Axis powers. However, the nation is not what it was in that yonder age. One can only wonder what our modern Supreme Court would do with the rules mentioned here:

PUPILS MUST SALUTE FLAG - Painesville Telegraph, May 14, 1942

“CHARDON – Children attending school here from Chardon and sections of Claridon, Munson and Hambden townships henceforth will be required without exception to participate weekly in a patriotic exercise which includes a salute to the flag and a recitation of the oath of allegiance, according to a ruling unanimously adopted Wednesday night by the Chardon Community Village board of education. The ruling will be enforced with the beginning of the school term next fall. Only two weeks remain before the 1941-42 school year is concluded. According to the terms of the resolution, introduced by County Treasurer C.R. Truman, who is clerk and a member of the board, every child in school will be required, at least once a week, to stand at attention at the command of the teacher, face the front of the room where an American flag shall be displayed, give the regular military salute, and while saluting repeat the oath of allegiance to the flag. Refusal to participate will result in expulsion of the recalcitrant child. the resolution was adopted unanimously after being seconded by Howard Thwing.”

It is popular to opine that modern journalism has fallen from bygone standards of discipline and genuine worth. But a closer look reveals that the truth is more complicated. In olden days, a great deal of ‘fluff’ and ‘filler’ was offered to readers who were weary of wartime reports:

RABBITS FOR RENT – Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, April 1, 1947

“CHARDON, O – Want a rabbit for your youngster at Easter – one that you can return later? Richard Burt, a war veteran of nearby Newbury Township, is renting rabbits this year. ‘A lot of people want rabbits for Easter and then the novelty wears off,’ Burt says. ‘This way the children have a happy Easter, the parents don’t have to worry about getting rid of an unwanted rabbit and the pet is sure of a home to which it can return.’ Burt charges $5 a rabbit and gives a $3 refund if the bunny is returned in good condition after the Easter weekend.” 

An editor from my past used to observe that journalists were privileged to be writing history for citizens of the future. As such, taking a glimpse into the world of newspaper archives is not only informative, but offers a useful sense of perspective for the wordsmiths of today.

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