Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Mom on Christmas cookies

Recently talked with my Mom while she was making Christmas cookies. At 79 she still packs a good sense of humor. Towards the end she talks about her dog Chewie who likes to play tug of war with the shirt she's wearing.

Monday, November 08, 2010

The Boys of Summer

One of the real tragedies of life is that unlike Peter Pan boys grow to be men and boyhood memories fade into the twilight. We lost our cousin Doug to cancer just before Halloween reminding us of just how little time we have to enjoy our lives. I guess I’ll always remember him as one of a small group of boys who enjoyed their summers on Indian Lake in Manistique, Michigan.

My brother John, myself, neighbor Randy, and Doug and Dave both from Illinois were reunited each summer to fish and swim, and tell tall tales that boys on the fringe of teendom do. Occasionally we ventured into mischief, but nothing criminal although Randy sometimes pushed us into doing some things that bordered on being stupid. Like the time he suggested we take some apples from someone’s tree and we ended up scampering home with curses ringing in our ears.

The five of us weren’t always together during the adventures, but always enjoyed sharing reports and comparing notes when we got together. As we grew up our stories got exaggerated depending on how much beer we had around the table. As our teens grew into our 20s we began growing apart as life, jobs, and family took us to other parts of the country. However there was and always is the chance to get reacquainted sometime during the summer at Indian Lake.

Dave lives in Illinois, Randy and I both in Wisconsin. John lives on Indian Lake and until a couple of weeks ago so did Doug. Doug loved Indian Lake and Manistique so much he moved back. His folks decided to retire there. His niece Abby got married in Manistique and her wedding reception was held at a State Park on the lake in June. I saw Doug and Dave, and my brother John at the reception. I’ve seen Doug the last couple of summers, but it had been a few years since I’d seen Dave.

I always kind of hate to see each summer come to an end. Maybe more so now because one of those memories now is a frank discussion we had with Doug around a dinner table at my sister Kathy’s during Labor Day weekend of 2009. Doug told us that he’d been diagnosed with liver and pancreatic cancer and was given 6 to 8 months to live. Throughout his battle he kept his sense of humor, but as happens when you’re dealt that kind of hand occasionally he got bitter because of all that he would miss out on.

The last time I saw Doug cancer had robbed him of much of his energy and the disease was compromising him appearance. Still the few moments of time were still enjoyable because he was in the process of cleaning out an old car he intended to pass along to my nephew Derek. Derek turns 13-year-old next month and like Doug shares a love of cars. Like my cousin the car had seen better days and will need a lot of work, but was one of Doug’s last acts of kindness. We don’t always recognize the baton when it’s passed along to us or the form it comes in. We'll miss you Doug.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

RIP Lou Grant

Recently I discovered reruns of “Lou Grant” on a cable network. It was of course based on the “Lou Grant” character spun off from the Mary Tyler Moore show. However while “Mary” was a comedy, “Lou” was more of a drama about a fictional newsroom at a Los Angeles newspaper. The show ran from 1977 to 1982 and was eventually bumped out of the CBS lineup by “Cagney and Lacey.”

It occurred to me while I was watching some of those reruns how much the tools of the trade have evolved over those 30 years since the show was on the air. Typewriters have been replaced by keyboards and computers. Phones by smart phones and there were no newspapers on the Internet then. In fact there was no Internet.

Reporters no longer have to search for a pay phone to call in a story. In fact they can text it, if need be to their editors or plug them directly on a website if they have that authority. Dictating a story is becoming a lost art. Newspaper reporters no longer need a photographer to accompany them when they can snap a photo on their cell phone. Although photographers are still important to get photos that no cell phone can do justice to.

Of course reporting for a radio station is a little different, but I still take notes at meetings and events. Because we also have a website and dabble in the social media world of twitter and Facebook, I occasionally bring along a digital camera. The cassette tape recorders radio reporters used to carry along have been replaced by digital recorders, which take much less time to get sound off of.

One recent episode of “Lou Grant” I viewed dealt with how the characters were able to publish a newspaper during a power outage. They basically took everything they needed to another city and had it published there. These days several or more newspapers are published on the same printing presses as a matter of every day business and economy. But power outages are still a problem for everyone including the radio industry.

Watching that show kind of drove home the struggle newspapers are encountering as more and more people rely on the Internet for their instantaneous news. Newspaper and for that matter radio staffs have been reduced over the years. People still tune in radio for news, weather and sports. It’s a matter of being local. Losing that local reporting is what is at stake as more people go to the Internet and newspapers, radio and television struggle to cope.

A colleague of mine once said the real danger is that some time in the future your local newspaper may become a couple page wrap around for a national newspaper. I think I just heard “Lou Grant” roll over in his grave.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Fourth Dimension

I believe in a fourth dimension. It exists and I’ve been there. You probably have too if you’ve ever been in a 24/7 convenience store between the hours of 2 and 4 a.m. in the morning. It’s frequented by those experiencing altered realities, usually self-induced through the likes of Jack Daniels, Captain and Cokes and a whole other manner of means.

Then there are those insomniac and night owls who think it’s okay to go to the store in your pajamas or use your outside voice inside. Gravity still applies, but mobility is an issue. Those who can walk do it in a slightly more exaggerated fashion. Don’t ask them to do the put one foot after another thing unless you want them to dive head long into the Doritos and cheese dip display.

That isn’t to say there isn’t some law and order in the fourth dimension. In fact I’ve seen some of the protect and serve crew there for late night coffee or a snack to tide them over. However it isn’t around bar time when you also see some of the more colorful characters keeping the clerks entertained at the Gas & Gulp. The tipsy and inebriated are like vampires and sunlight when they see the boys in blue or brown hovering around the late night watering hole.

In the midst of all this chaos in motion are the convenience store clerks. I do not envy them the overnight shift. There’s always the risk that someone will enter the establishment to rob it despite the video surveillance or in one memorable case come in dressed as a gorilla to steal the Styrofoam banana on display.

Of course it helps if the clerk is in a world unto themselves. One woman I know has a bipolar thing going. When I go into the store I don’t know if it’s going to be Dr. Jekyll or Mrs. Hyde. One time I went in and she was practically over the top with how well things are going. The other day she tried to run over my feet with a floor scrubber. She didn’t say a word as she left a watery path in her wake.

Fortunately trips to the fourth dimension are only minutes in duration and I’ve suffered no real ill effects. To be honest there’s nothing convenient about the experience.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Doggie Diplomacy

Want to solve the world's relationship problems use doggie diplomacy. I've seen it work. My mother and my sister Diana live together. They have a bit of an odd couple relationship and tend to get on each other's nerves from time to time. That's not to say they don't like each other, but do have their differences.

Enter Chewie, my mom's big Yorkie. You can't help, but like the little guy named after the Star Wars character. He's a bundle of energy and loves people. He never saw a thing he didn't want to chew. Good thing he wasn't given a tougher name to live up to. He's also a little thief. Anything he can reach is fair game and that includes cashola.

He has become the one thing both my mom and my sister have in common. They put his needs ahead of their own. That's why my mother gets up before 6 o'clock in the morning to take him for a walk and my sister puts him out before she goes to bed at night. He doesn't beg for food, but waits patiently for the right opening and usually gets some of that nummy human food.
Both of them love Chewie and that common thread I believe has improved how they get along. Chewie loves them back. He stays up with my sister, but sleeps with my mom. He's about a year old now and has been trained well. He can shake, rattle and roll!

Recently he scared the poop out of me and my mother. I was home on vacation and we took him for a ride with us. He was half out the passenger side window taking in air like dogs do when he saw a dog across the street and lunged. My mom had a grip on his leash and fortunate thing because he went all the way out of the window. I slowed down and she pulled him back in. Suffice it to say that since then she bought a new collar with more support in case he does his Superdog immitation again.

I found Chewie affecting my relationship with my mother recently. She was coming back from the UP for a visit with me. The plan was to have her stay the better part of two weeks. However she has never been away from Chewie for more than a couple of hours so we had a backup plan, if he missed her terribly my sister Diana would call and let my mom know if he was pining for her and her trip would be shortened. He survived the separation anxiety.

Doggie diplomacy. Have a strained relationship? It's nothing that a dog given a spoonful of peanut butter can't fix.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Native American

I've been thinking about a conversation I had a few weeks ago with a friend that's had me thinking about what's offensive to some, but not to others. Both of us spent some time in northern Wisconsin in the late 1980s when spearfishing was a real divisive issue. He was one of those that protested Native American spearing of walleyes. I worked at a radio station in Minocqua, which reported on that issue.

Now some 20 years later he still feels that spearfishing continues to have an unjust impact on bag limits on lakes across the state. He says for him it was never about Native American's ancient right to spearfish, but how it affects the fishery. He says at one point he wrote a letter to the editor to express that and was rewarded with comments from others that he was a racist.

I remember living in Minocqua and what it was like. I used to be part of a deejay service that played weddings and other gatherings. We did one in a bar one time and one of the first questions we were asked was what side of the spearfishing issue we were on. We had to do our own version of a little dance to get around that question and make it through the night.

I never had an objection to spearfishing even though I heard the stories about the bathtubs full of walleyes that were rotting out of spite. I also recall one day at the radio station when the two sides were debating the issue live and a bomb threat was called in.

Some things haven't changed much. Back in the early 2000s a friend who still lives in the Minocqua-Woodruff area considered pulling her teenage daughter out of Lakeland High School and sending her to live with her folks in the U.P. Her daughter was a serious student and there were problems at Lakeland High School where white girls were being beaten up by their Native American classmates. She wanted her daughter to attend school where she felt safe. In the end they stuck it out.

Recently the Governor signed into law a bill that allows the State Superintendent of Schools to make decisions about whether school nicknames or mascots are offensive to Native Americans. Many schools saw that coming years ago and shed offensive nicknames or symbols. I can understand why the Washington Redskins or Cleveland Indians might be offensive.
My brother John likes to fish for walleyes, but he lives in the U.P, which hasn't seen quite the same impact on fishing that spearfishing has had here. He and my other brothers and sisters like to take an occasional trip to the Native American casino in my hometown. That's something I won't do, but it has more to do with me not really liking to gamble than who owns and operates the casino. The only UP high school team I can think of with an Indian-type of nickname is the Gladstone Braves.

Now back to my friend. Here's a few questions he asked me that got me thinking. He asked, “Were you born in the U.S.?” I replied, “Yes.” He says, “Well then doesn't that make you Native American?”

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Ernie Harwell Farewell Address

One of the guys I admired in my early broadcasting days. Ernie Harwell passed away at 92 years of age. A real gentleman.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Phone Snob

I admit it I'm a snob. I didn't see it coming, but I'm ashamed to say that I've finally found something to be snobby about. Welcome to Snobby Bobby. I've never envied another person because they have it better than I do or felt superior to anyone because I possess a skill or trait that they don't.

However nothing alienates me faster than a person using a cell phone when there is absolutely no need to do so. I can't tell you how many times I've attended a meeting and the flow of conversation has been interrupted by a ring tone. In fact lately I don't think I've attended any kind of function that didn't feature someone's cell phone going off.

Recently I was sitting next to a friend who runs a local cemetery at a City Council meeting. Someone had locked themselves in the cemetery after hours. That was good for a laugh, but after the phone rang three times people started to look at me funny because the noise was coming from my general direction.

I've stopped counting the number of times I've been cut off by a driver who finds it absolutely necessary to be on the phone while driving. I understand there is sometimes a need to do so and in fact have used a cell phone while driving myself. Usually it was on radio station business while I was on my way to a breaking news story. So yes it was job related. I do remember one time coming up to a city intersection and four of the five drivers in front of me were carrying a conversation on over their cell phones.

People using their cell phones while shopping annoy me the most. I can see if you missed something on your shopping list and are calling home for a gentle reminder, but it's the “Hey look at me, I'm important” cell phone users that really get my goat.

I recently got behind a shopper in a super market in a 15 items or less checkout counter. I could tell by the mound of groceries in her cart that she had at least twice that many items, but she was on her cell phone and was talking away as she started unloading her cart. After she got most of her items on the conveyor belt and had wrapped up her clearly unimportant conversation she looked up and noticed what aisle she was in. She said to the clerk, “Why didn't you say something?” With just a hint of sarcasm and being as diplomatic as she could be the clerk responded, “You were on your cell phone and I didn't want to interrupt your conversation.” This pleased me and the two shoppers waiting in line behind me. Guess I'm not the only phone snob.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Trading An Old Friend

I felt like I had lost an old friend when I traded in my old Chevy Cavalier last week for a newer car. Although it was only worth dollars and cents to the dealership to me it was worth much more than the Blue Book price. I can remember the thrill of buying it new in July of 1999. It was still running well when I traded it in last Tuesday for a 2009 Ford Focus SE (pictured).

The night before that I went through the car and took out all the personal possessions I was carrying around in it. That was a strange treasurer trove to be sure. There were road maps of Wisconsin and Michigan. A paper weight, don’t ask me why. A number of CDs and cassettes (I hadn’t played the cassettes in years). More pens than I care to count. There was also a spare pair of glasses with an older prescription, a rain poncho, extra windshield wiper fluid, an ice scraper, folding knife, and of course being a good Yooper a snow shovel and extra blanket.

Over time like a child a car can acquire bumps and bruises. I remember the first, and not the last time, I spilled coffee in the car. When moving from Beaver Dam to Fond du Lac I used the Cavalier for at least half a dozen trips to move odds and ends. On one trip I was unpacking some free weights and dropped a 10 pounder on the back driver’s side of the car. It caused a small dimple about the size of the head of a pencil. Some time during my travels over the last year the mirror on the driver’s visor got cracked. And last winter the plastic that kept the fuel cap from falling off when you gassed up the car cracked off.

That car also provided a bond with family. It got me to eleven Christmas gatherings, a number of vacations and three weddings. In addition to family members over the years it also ushered dogs and parakeets to and from. It temporarily housed treasured purchases and groceries. But mostly it was just me and the car.

Out of curiosity I found myself browsing the dealership’s website late last week to see if my old friend (the 2000 Chevy Cavalier) had been listed yet. It was. It still had a lot of miles left on it so I’m hoping someone will get some good use out it. It’s their memory maker now. As for me I have a new friend and some new history to make.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Burying the Lead

Normally I don’t pick on fellow writers, but the lead for a press release I received this past week is just too tempting. I understand that a public relations job involves putting the best face you can on a company, but I don’t think there’s room for any more superlatives after this sentence:

“HGI Company, an award-winning, full-service, multi-faceted commercial printer, and Quad/Graphics, one of the world’s leading catalog, magazine, retail insert and direct mail printers, today announced that they have entered into a strategic partnership to provide clients with an enhanced product and service offering a global scale that is fast, flexible and meets rapidly evolving needs in a changing marketplace.”

My lead for the same story had a little less meat on it:

“Quad Graphics is purchasing a minority interest in a Burlington-based commercial printer.”

Okay my version is a little less sexy, but when I finally get around to selling my bucket of bolts I wouldn’t mind having that writer pen my ad.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Go Ahead, Make My Day!

Shaking hands with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is a little different than the usual grip and grin with a political candidate. He extends his right hand and rather than giving you a firm tight grip, you get a tentative almost passive grasp. It’s not by design, but rather by necessity.

If you haven’t followed the story of the Democratic candidate for Governor he was with his daughters, niece and sister outside State Fair Park last August when they heard a woman scream. The woman was being attacked by a 20-year-old Milwaukee man and Barrett tried to step in and help. Instead the man turned on him and beat him with a tire iron.

Barrett says when he woke up in the hospital he thought he’d broken the hand by hitting the man, which caused the hospital staff to chuckle. He learned later from one of his daughters that he’d swung at the man trying to protect himself and missed, but did land one blow before the man beat him down with the tire iron. He says one of his daughters called police and in a moment reminiscent of the character Elaine in Seinfeld she pushed the man and told him to get away.

Barrett says the man broke several of his teeth and he had to have staples put in his scalp. The teeth have since been replaced and he had surgery on his right hand. Wednesday there’s another surgery during which one of the fingers on his right hand will be re-broken so it can mend properly.

Now they are waiting to see what happens with his attacker who is going through the legal system. Apparently the man tried to cop an insanity plea, but no one bought it. Barrett says his attacker may reach a plea agreement, but if he doesn’t there would be a jury trial in May.

Barrett says for in his run for governor it would have been a better story if his attack had a “Clint Eastwood” ending, but instead he became just another victim of a violent crime. He jokes that the one thing he’s learned about the incident is he’s no longer 25-years-old in his “fighting ability” or “healing ability.”

Barrett related most of this story to me after we taped an interview that aired today on KFIZ. He had a lot to say about the incident. Most crime victims have stories too if people will just take the time to listen to them. It’s another form of healing. Bones mend, teeth can be replaced, but some scars go deeper.

Monday, January 25, 2010

When Grown Men Cry

I’m sure sometime when I was growing up I probably wanted to be a policeman or a fireman, although I can’t remember for sure if that was the case. Still I’ve had a very healthy respect for the job that they do.

Last week’s “pinning ceremony,” as someone aptly put it, was probably a first for Fond du Lac. The first time the City held a joint “pinning ceremony” for the police and fire departments. In this particular case it involved the new assistant chiefs for each department.

Fond du Lac Assistant Police Chief Kevin Lemke, and Assistant Fire Chiefs Steve Beer, Randy Cunzenheim and Todd Janquart earned that promotion through their experience and devotion to the job. If you live in a community long enough you’re lucky to get to know a few of them.

Kevin Lemke I’ve known since moving to Fond du Lac. I know he likes piloting, biking, and is a whiz at computers. Steve Beer has had some hard luck on the job with injuries, but always mends and comes back for more. Randy Cunzenheim has been able to secure nearly $1 million in grants for the department and I recall one incident off-duty where he even helped a neighbor out who met with some tough times. Todd I don’t really know that well, but Fire Chief Peter O’Leary and fellow department members speak highly of him.

One thing that was very apparent at the ceremony was how important family and friends are to each. Kevin’s father, a veteran of 29 years on the Fond du Lac Police Department, pinned his badge on him and made a joke at his son’s expense. Todd’s sons and wife took part in his pinning and their pride was obvious. The same could be said for Steve’s family. Randy had friend and mentor, former Fire Battalion Chief, Toby Leeds do the pinning for him.

Less than a hundred people were on hand to see a ceremony, the likes of which the City may never see again. It was one occasion when grown men were allowed to cry. For men who don’t flinch in the line of duty only being in the company of family and close friends can move them to tears. That’s not a weakness when you are willing to put your life on the line for the protection of others.

Pictured from L-R; Kevin Lemke, Steve Beer, Randy Cunzenheim, Todd Janquart, and Fond du Lac City Council President Tim Lakin. Photo by Terry Lemke.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Elway Ending

Will Brett Favre get the Elway Ending he's seeking, retirement after a second Super Bowl win? I'm not as big a Favre fan as when he played with the Packers, but it's an interesting story line.

The NFL would probably like a Vikings-Colts Super Bowl matchup because then you can tout two starting quarterbacks with 7 MVP trophies between them.

It's also ironic that to get to the Super Bowl Favre will have to win at the Super Dome, the scene of his Super Bowl triumph with the Green Bay Packers.

Win or lose it should be an interesting NFC Championship Game this weekend and as a Packer's fan I'm torn. As a green and gold fan I'm almost obligated to root against the Vikings. It also would be really nice to see the Saints go to their first Super Bowl.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Special Delivery

Specialist Melvin Ortiz of the Wisconsin Army National Guard had barely arrived at Volk Field Wednesday afternoon when he was rushed off the plane. His wife Johana had gone into labor before making a trip from Milwaukee to greet her husband who was returning from deployment to Iraq with other members of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team. Ortiz signed special paperwork that allowed him to be with his wife when she gave birth to a 7 pound, 8 ounce baby boy at West Allis Memorial Hospital. Ortiz will have another reunion with his wife and new son Eduardo after he completes the demobilization process at Fort McCoy.