Tuesday, March 18, 2014

“Cardio Zone”

c. 2014 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

A recent appointment with my heart doctor in Chardon meant one thing – traveling into the ‘Cardio Zone.’ A place of high technology and serious analysis.
During a past exam, my physician discovered a flaw in my central pump that could have proved fatal. Except, it had, inexplicably, not caused any ill effects. Thus, he concluded “If it has not killed you already, you are probably okay.”
It was a judgment I accepted with gratitude.
My new adventure seemed sure to produce a wealth of ideas for future writing projects. Carefully, I kept a diary of details as the morning unfolded:

MONDAY March 10th (Times approximate)

7:30 a.m. – With little sleep and no coffee, I still manage to arrive early for my appointment. It is unseasonably warm. I use the extra time to catch up on iPhone text messages.

7:45 a.m. – Attempting to enter the building, I find that their doors are locked. Briefly, I walk around in the cold. It feels good, like a bit of natural wake-up therapy. Eventually, a pair of ladies realize that I am waiting, outside. They open the door and attribute this snafu to the ‘spring ahead’ time change which occurred on Sunday.

8:00 a.m. – The waiting room is nearly empty.  I appear to be the second patient scheduled for care. Quietly, I wonder how they gained access.

8:10 a.m. – I select a magazine and begin to read about the new selection of pickup trucks available in America. A road test on the award-winning Ram 1500 sounds impressive, but does not sway me from wanting a new Ford F-150 4x4.

8:45 a.m. – After getting an IV installed in my arm, I assume the position of a Roman couch model, for my first set of nuclear test photos. The machine looks suspiciously like something Gerry Anderson would have created for Space: 1999. Or perhaps, a rejected construction from Star Wars.

9:00 a.m. – Back in the waiting room, it becomes apparent that at age 52, I am the youngest visitor of the day. Almost everyone else has a cane or a walker. I also note, with reluctance, that they are all in better physical condition. The experience reminds me of having breakfast at McDonald’s.

9:15 a.m. – I pick up an issue of Car and Driver. Inside is a review of the Cadillac concept car called ‘Elmiraj.’ At first, due to my sleep-deprived state of mind, I read this name as ‘Elmira’ which is a city in New York State, notably, the home of Tommy Hilfiger. I ponder that GM chose to honor this place with a vehicle. Then, my eyes focus more clearly. Later, I observe to car guy and fellow Maple Leaf writer Josh Echt that the company should put their Elmiraj into production, immediately.

10:00 a.m. – I return to the cardio lab for my treadmill run. The staff note my inability to walk normally and wonder out loud if I will be able to complete this part of my health assessment. I assure them that, despite arthritis, bad knees and a hip injury, my stamina is unaffected. Somehow, I manage to complete a five minute and thirty second run. They are astounded. After the exercise, I am out of breath and near collapse, but feel victorious!

10:45 a.m. – Once again, I assume the Roman couch model position. The scanning machinery completes an arc around my body. I note that everything in the room has the stamp of General Electric, a company notable for paying no federal taxes.

11:30 a.m. – At long last, I meet with the cardiologist. He concludes that my heart function has improved by four percent over results recorded in 2008. This places me just above the borderline of acceptable statistics. I conclude that his assessment means many more years to scribble new installments of ‘Thoughts At Large.’

12:00 noon – After a four-hour ordeal, I escape the cardio clinic. My first thought is to get coffee at McDonald’s, along with chicken sandwiches from the Dollar Menu. A lingering fear is that my company health insurance will not cover the tests I have just survived. But for the moment, I feel relieved.

1:00 p.m. – Having arrived home, I fall asleep in my clothes.

6:00 p.m. – I wake up and it is still daylight, outside. Amerigas has delivered a load of propane to our storage tank. My Black Lab and Pomeranian are growing restless. The ambient temperature is around fifty degrees. On the nightstand, my iPhone is chirping with text messages. Everyone is curious about my medical encounter.

7:00 p.m. – I use a promotional code to score a free pizza from Papa John’s. My day ends with a BBQ Chicken pie and thoughts of better health, going forward.

Comments about Thoughts At Large may be sent to: icewritesforyou@gmail.com
Write us via the US Post Office: P.O. Box 365 Chardon, OH 44024


c. 2014 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

In past installments of this column, I have often written about the enduring and energetic Chardon Polka Band.
This group began at the local high school, where my nephew, Justin, was a student. He performed with the troupe at a variety of venues around Geauga County, in bygone years. Frontman and friend Jake Kouwe provided inspiration. Their vision was clear – to revive the legacy of polka music with a new-age sense of realism.
For this writer, their raucous style was similar in spirit to Chicago’s venerable ‘Polkaholics’ without the emphasis on Rock guitar.
The CPB even offered a rousing version of their ‘Old Style Beer Polka’ along the way.
After graduating from Chardon High School, my nephew took a detour into the realm of higher education to hone his intellectual skills. But Jake chose the polka path to enlightenment.
Over ten years later, this magic-accordion-ride has proved to be a profitable endeavor. Kouwe and the band have played gigs all over the United States, including an opening date for legendary performer ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic.
Their CD releases have included ‘Pirates, Women and Beer’ along with ‘A Fistful of Polka’ and the live recording ‘This is Oktoberfest.’
After a decade of polka-delic abandon, perhaps the most difficult question for Kouwe and his gang was “What do we do next?”
The answer came when they were tapped to appear in a reality television series on the Reelz cable channel. The CPB newsletter offered details:

“That’s right, Jake, Paul, Mike, Emily and Pops are headed to television. ‘We’re excited to give viewers a hilarious, insightful and surprising look at the world of polka that has never been seen before,’ said Stan E. Hubbard, CEO of Reelz Channel. ‘Polka Kings brings a fully relatable story of the American spirit through the experiences of a band that’s as close as family and absolutely determined to achieve their dreams.’ The half-hour reality series about your favorite polka band will start filming this spring and is slated to premiere on TV sometime this fall.”

A quick view of their website revealed that they had also been busy creating new merchandise. Listed for sale, in addition to CDs, were bumper stickers, beer koozies and an extensive selection of T-shirts. Included was my favorite from their early days. It read ‘I’m Into Polka Music To Impress The Girls...’
My nephew had worn that shirt for several years. Possibly even to his high school graduation ceremony. I remembered that when he walked across the stage to receive his diploma, I loudly shouted two words in celebration.
“Polka Band!”
A closer look at the website uncovered their extensive 2014 performing schedule:

March 19th – Mentor Senior Center, 8484 Munson Road, Mentor (6-8 p.m.)
March 22nd – Sterles Country House, 1401 E. 55th Street, Cleveland (6-10 p.m.)
March 28th – Bier Haus, 17692 Pearl Road, Strongsville (8-10 p.m.)
March 29th – The Nash, Slovenian National Home, 3563 E. 80th Street, Cleveland (7 p.m. – 12 a.m.)
April 18th – Bier Haus, 17692 Pearl Road, Strongsville (8-10 p.m.)
April 19th - Sterles Country House, 1401 E. 55th Street, Cleveland (6-10 p.m.)
April 21st – Dyngus Day, Cleveland
April 25th – Westlake Village Senior Center, 28550 Westlake Village Drive, Westlake (7-10 p.m.)
April 26th – Westlake United Methodist Church, 27650 Center Ridge Road, Westlake (7-10 p.m.)
June 7th – St. Anthony’s Pierogi Festival, St. Peter’s Pavilion, 3655 Oberlin Avenue, Lorain (5-10 p.m.)
June 11th – Painesville Square (6-8 p.m.)
June 13th – Chardon Square (7-9 p.m.) 
June 15th – Victory Park Gazebo, 51211 North Ridge Road, Vermillion (6:30-8 p.m.)
June 26th – Madison Square (7-9 p.m.)
July 1st – Breckenridge Village, 36855 Ridge Road, Willoughby (7:30-8:30 p.m.)
July 2nd – Brunswick Summer Celebration, 3553 Center Road, Brunswick (6:30-9:30 p.m.)
July 3rd – Wes Point Park Gazebo, Willoughby (7-9 p.m.)
July 4th – Holiday Campland, 4273 Pymatuning Lake Road, Andover (6-8 p.m.)
July 6th – Westlake Recreation Center, 28955 Hilliard Boulevard, Westlake (6:30-8 p.m.)
July 10th – Rocky River Senior Center, 21014 Hilliard Boulevard, Rocky River (1:30-2:30 p.m.)
July 10th – Stinchcomb Summer Concert Series, Rocky River Reservation, Cleveland (6-8 p.m.)
July 12th – Tallmadge Circle (7-9 p.m.)
July 13th – Lakefront Lodge, 30525 Lakeshore Boulevard, Willowick (6;30-8;30 p.m.)
July 15th – Burton Public Library (6:30-8 p.m.)
July 17th – Oakwood Village (7-9 p.m.)
August 6th – General Chaffee Memorial Park, N. Maple Street, Orwell (6;30-8;30 p.m.)
August 7th – Concord Gazebo, 7229 Ravenna Road, Concord (7-9 p.m.)
August 30 & 31st – Cleveland Oktoberfest

With so many performances on the schedule it seemed likely that I would be able to see the band in action. Our last encounter had been at a summer gig on the Chardon Square.
In attendance at that show was local celebrity Mary Malloy Bramstedt. As I finished researching the CPB website, a thought came to mind – would it be possible to write a polka tune for someone descended from the Emerald Isle?
It was a challenge I felt ready to accept.

Comments about Thoughts At Large may be sent to: icewritesforyou@gmail.com
Write us and help the U.S. Postal Service: P.O. Box 365, Chardon, OH 44024

Saturday, March 08, 2014

“Cancer Conundrum, Part Two”

c. 2014 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Politics – Not for the faint of heart.

In November of last year, I wrote a column about my family history of colon cancer.
Specifically, this personal document described a conflict with the UFCW over receiving coverage for a cancer screening which was requested by my doctor.
My father and a cousin had both battled mightily to survive the affliction. I was 52 years old, and had all the risk factors indicated. But my insurance provider balked. After having lobbied to get the Affordable Care Act passed, they reversed course and began to act very much like the companies their elected officials said we could not trust.
The test was denied. And denied again.
My doctor expressed genuine outrage. But coverage did not appear.
As a writer, I reacted with an obvious strategy – to write my representatives in Washington, D.C. with a personal protest.
I expected a variety of reactions. Wordy apologies, perhaps. Promises to investigate. Even an offer of prayers. But what transpired was something entirely different.
From Rob Portman and David Joyce, nothing arrived in response.
My plea was simply ignored.
But from Sherrod Brown, the communication I received was old-fashioned campaign material.
I had long ago entered a contest to cover presidential candidate Barack Obama. Though that opportunity never developed, his party got my e-mail address from the attempt.
So as I pondered the silence echoing about my own cancer fears, these messages appeared on a daily basis:

“Rodney – My friend Ted Strickland experienced it in 2010. I experienced it in 2012. And Ed will experience it in 2014. A flood of attack ads and smear campaigns will take over our TVs, computers and mailboxes. Anytime you sit down to one of your favorite TV shows, you’ll see some ad from some group you’ve never heard of, attacking Ed Fitzgerald.”

I was more concerned about surviving to see my family grow, than the upcoming race for governor. More concerned about potential chemotherapy and radiation treatments. More concerned about the plight of my cousin Rob, battling stage-four cancer in Gallia County, by the Ohio River.
Yet the messages continued to arrive:

“Dear Rodney – The power of a grassroots network doesn’t come from big anonymous donors, writing million-dollar checks, buying attack ads in media markets. That’s the Koch Brothers game.”

I wanted to tell Senator Brown that his pleas for support were wasted. I was a registered Libertarian. And one with a high risk factor for colon cancer. Indeed, I wished it were possible to share my self-concern with him, directly. I reckoned that a face-to-face conversation would resonate with him, as a citizen of Ohio and a family man. As a human being interested in helping others.
But our only contact was through these crude fundraising messages:

“We’re about 2 days from our deadline to reach $25,000  - can you give $5 or more right now to help us reach it?”

I thought of my father’s struggle in 1997. Complications developed after surgery to remove cancerous parts of his intestinal tract. He nearly bled to death. We huddled with members of a local church and prayed through the night for his survival.
The experience completely changed my idea of what it meant to be alive.
Every day afterward I considered to be a gift from God.
No time existed for the cheap rhetoric of political combat. Democrat? Republican? Those words held no meaning. I was focused on having a clean bill of health. On those who would carry the family name into future generations.
My cancer column carried this concern.
But from those in office, there was only silence and self-promotion:

“Super PACs and special interest groups spend millions of dollars to influence elections. We often don’t know where they get the money. We don’t know what their true motivation is. Yet they spend enough cash to put their agenda front and center, while middle-class families in Ohio – the ones that don’t have a million dollars to spend on campaigns – get drowned out.”

I knew that Sherrod Brown was factually correct. I also knew that his party was a participant in the authoritarian rule of money in American politics, not a combatant for change.
Yet that did not matter.
I was afraid of malignant polyps in my body, more than the Koch Brothers, or their opposite counterpart, George Soros.
Afraid of losing my job because I needed time off for treatment that wasn’t covered by our union insurance. Afraid of losing my hair while being blasted by medical radiation. Afraid of going to sleep in a hospital bed and never waking, again.
Afraid of being forgotten by my family.
I had written both senators and my congressman. None replied. Not even with a generic letter of acknowledgement for the citizen contact.
Still, Sherrod Brown kept in touch with entreaties for donated funds:

“Give $5 or more today...”

My doctor was hopeful about the letters I had sent. But her head bowed when I confessed that there had been no response of any kind, in return.
Our representatives seemed to show lots of concern for the upcoming election cycle.  And a generous amount of worry over the balance of power on Capitol Hill.
But not a word of response for one quiet, non-partisan voice from Geauga County, Ohio.

Comments about Thoughts At Large may be sent to: icewritesforyou@gmail.com
Send letters to: P.O. Box 365 Chardon, OH 44024


c. 2014 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

A persistent childhood memory – my little, blue typewriter.
We had moved to central Virginia in the summer of 1970. The device came as a Christmas gift, later that year, or perhaps the next. It offered inspiration of a lasting kind. Because my father was a professional writer, in addition to being a minister, the intent seemed clear.
I was destined to follow his footsteps as a theologian and scribe.
in our basement, I took an old steel trash barrel and topped it with a square of plywood. This was my first desk.
The blue-and-white word machine used a matching blue ink ribbon. Documents produced by the device were easily identified.
Years later, I felt unsure of what the high-end toy was actually called. An online photo of the 1967 ‘Supertouch 80’ looked closest to what I remembered. Research yielded a sketchy portrait of this device. It had been produced by a company in England. Or perhaps under license from that enterprise.
Finally, a European website provided insight into something similar to what I must have owned:

Schreibmaschinen – Byron Jardine Limited / Von der Barlock zur Petite

“Die hier gezeigte Kinderschreibmaschine wurde von einem Unternehmen hergestellt, das auf beruhmte historische Wurzein in der Schreibmaschinenherstellung...”

My high school German lessons failed here, although it was apparent that the term ‘kinderschreibmaschine’ in fact meant ‘child’s typewriter.’
The blog post referred to a ‘Petite’ model with ‘Deutsch adaptiert’ for use where umlauts were needed. The company address was Chelsea Street, New Basford, Nottingham, England.
A Google feature translated the page into English. This made it more informative, but less dramatic:

“The children typewriter shown here was manufactured by a company that can refer to famous historical roots in the typewriter manufacture in Nottingham, England. Inextricably linked to this is the name of the Jardine family. The central figure was herein Ernest Jardine (1859-1947). His father John Jardine (+1895), a trained watchmaker, founded in Nottingham a top machine factory... Sir Ernest invested in the flagging Barlock Typewriter Company as (it) was reorganized... in 1953 the company (was renamed) Byron Business Machines. (Byron was a popular brand in Great Britain.) “Petite Typewriters made in Nottingham... was probably the first... children’s typewriter... the ‘Petite’ design was also adopted by the American Western Stamping Co. but (sold) under the name of their traditional brand Tom Thumb.”
My parents did not remember the device with any greater clarity. Its fate largely remained unknown. We moved many times during my childhood, so it could literally have been left anywhere, in a number of different states.
Still, the blue machine had an enormous impact on my life.
I used it to compose poems, inspired by my maternal grandmother. It also helped prepare assignments for Sunday School, at church.
Summer months were cool in our basement. Yet I weathered hot days with an electric motor and a model-airplane propeller, for a personal fan.
My office setup may have been crude. But it set a template followed into modern times.
With the advent of Internet technology, I continued to hunt for useful information about my kinderschreibmaschine. Results were slim. A blog called ‘Machines of Loving Grace’ offered a tidbit of information that confirmed my earlier findings:

“Western Stamping Co. in the USA, which made the aforementioned Tom Thumb machines eventually stopped making its own design and imported the Petite instead – but by special arrangement it carried the Tom Thumb name... identifying features of this family are the T-type or T-cross section keys... the long, thin key stems go through holes in a flat cover.”

These were the kind of white, plastic keys that I remembered.
Examples of the ‘Supertouch 80’ appeared on eBay and other online marketplaces. Prices ranged wildly from a few dollars to a great deal more. Still, for being so common, none of the descriptions offered many details. I could not find any blog posts about having the machine as a kid. Or anything about how these toys helped create sales of genuine typewriters. This seemed amazing because I was certain that thousands, perhaps millions of other kids must have used these budget devices, as did I, in days of yore.
It seemed that the Jardine product had been largely forgotten.
But in my own world, the ‘Blue Machine’ was undeniably iconic. It literally introduced me to the craft of creative writing.
For that, I would be eternally grateful.

Comments about Thoughts At Large may be sent to: icewritesforyou@gmail.com
Write us with classic mail: P.O. Box 365 Chardon, OH 44024