Tidying up after Hurricane Kiley

Random notes in the aftermath of my granddaughter’s visit

Playing hide and seek in the pasture

Playing hide and seek in the pasture

§ Ringing in the New Year with a 4-year-old is a lot more fun than you might think. While the rest of the world was watching the ball fall — or the big walleye if you happened to be at Put-In-Bay — little Kiley and I were watching a vintage Disney cartoon. It was in black and white, which means it was even older than her grandpa.

Not much is. Especially in her world.

Kiley would much rather have been watching what she calls “princess” cartoons, a genre that would be foreign to me if it weren’t for her. Prior to New Year’s Eve, I had relented, allowing her to watch what I  call “snarky fluff chick cartoons.”

OK, I get it. They send messages about the values of working together and good triumphing over evil. However, at the risk of sounding prudish, these cartoons inevitably seem to drag our daughters and granddaughters through oceans of mud and sleaze to get there. The folks who produce them — Disney and (pre-dildo) Hasbro to name a few — argue that the ends justify the means.

I disagree. Kiley is pretty sharp, but I’d imagine the bitchy attitudes and the emphasis on being sexy, skinny and popular resonate just as strongly as the positive themes. Maybe more so.

On New Year’s Eve, we struck a compromise, watching “Brave Little Toaster” and classic Disney cartoons.

§ Kiley remained awake until 12:30 a.m. New Year’s Day. She probably would have fallen asleep before midnight had she not taken ill Tuesday. The ordeal threw her natural clock out of whack.

As I’d mentioned in previous posts, we had a great time during her five-day visit — feeding the birds, playing hide and seek in the pasture, camping in a tent in the basement and just being silly. However, on the day before New Year’s Eve, she grew listless and developed a high temperature. By early evening, she was down for the count, unable to sleep but unable to move — except to sit up and drink water.

I kept her mother posted via text messages, although I wasn’t overly concerned. I’d been through it before, with Kiley’s mother, my son and even my kid brother, who had bouts with pneumonia.

By New Year’s Day, Kiley was up and bouncing off the walls once again.

The resilience of children never ceases to amaze me.

I suppose she’ll also recover from the negative influences of her “snarky fluff chick cartoons.” I’m not sure I will.





When Wings Take Thought

Preface — From a piece I wrote in the fall of 2010 for the Greater Mohican Audubon Society newsletter:

Nature and Nurture

“Birds,” I said, repeating the word each time I saw her little eyes catch and follow the flight of goldfinches, nuthatches and downy woodpeckers coming and going at the feeders.

My 4-month-old granddaughter, Kiley, and I were exploring, just as I had done with her mother decades ago. I carried her from room to room, pausing to look at artwork on the walls, our reflection in the bathroom mirror, the dog sprawled across a rug in the kitchen. But none of it caught and held her attention more than the birds flitting around outside the living room window.

I thought about why I was doing this, other than the simple pleasure of interacting with a baby – or “portable human,” as I like to call them. I wondered about why I had done this with her mother and my son before that. It seems to be an intuitive process, imprinting language, building associations between words and objects. It’s not something I learned from books on parenting or magazine articles. No one told me to do it; I just did it.

But this time was different because I realized that the educational process was a two-way street. Watching Kiley’s eyes, I began to see that mankind’s fascination with birds is universal. It transcends generational and cultural boundaries. It touches us regardless of our level of development and sophistication.

Later that day, after Kiley had gone home and the shadows in the yard grew deep in the fading autumn sun, the lesson began to sink in even further. It occurred to me then that someday the cycle of life will have come full circle, that I could be lying there, as helpless as a baby. The world that was once mine to explore could be constrained to a view of the yard through the windowpane.

But there will still be birds.


Kiley is all smiles after releasing a cardinal

Fast-forward to December 30, 2014. Four-month-old Kiley is now four years old. She’s spending a few days in north central Ohio during the New Year’s holidays — spoiling her grandpa.

Yesterday we took time out from playing — camping in a tent set up in the basement, hiding from the monsters in the monster-proof closet, trekking through the pasture and forest — and we fed the birds. Later in the morning, we found a dazed cardinal on the doorstep, a window strike.

After the cardinal convalesced in “the recovery room,” a pet carrier set up for that purpose, Kiley helped let it go. She was apprehensive about putting her little hand too close to the skittish cardinal, but we finally managed to release it together. The look on her face and the gasp of delight were priceless.

Lessons from the first four years of her life seem to have taken wing. That includes what she’s learned from her mom and other adults in her life.

Over the years, she’s learned to identify other birds by sight and by their habits, such as nuthatches with their peculiar practice of landing upside-down. During one visit, I introduced 2-year-old Kiley to turkey vultures, which roosted near her apartment in west central Ohio.

It didn’t seem to bother Kiley when I told her that vultures eat dead things. Why would it? This is a girl who, at the age of three, announced to her mother, “Everybody’s going to die.” Asked why, Kiley responded, “Because they’re alive.”

Even children can think deep thoughts when the sky’s the limit.

Make Be-lieve

Grand parenting

The calm before the storm

The calm before the storm

A few posts ago, I mentioned something about resisting the urge to do … about just being.

Spending time with my granddaughter this week reminds me that children are accomplished at being in the moment. She seems to spend her days just the way they should be spent — bounding freely through an ever-changing world of imagination and new experiences.

Back when I was working, I’d occasionally stop at the Bellstores on U.S. 250 to run the car through the automatic wash bay. I would throw open the shade on the moonroof and delight in watching the torrents of water blasting the glass. Sometimes I’d actually laugh out loud, hoping no one would drive up and see me.

Carpe diem!

Carpe diem!

Last night, on the way home, I stopped at the Bellstores to gas up. It occurred to me that my granddaughter would also enjoy the experience. Even though the car didn’t need washing, I splurged and spent $9 for a wash for her benefit. She loved it.

Almost as much as I did.

Is This the Reel Life?

Remembering Cleveland’s Movie Houses

The Riverside Theater back in the day. This photo was taken a few years before I took my son there to see "Star Wars” — about five godzillion times!

The Riverside Theater back in the day. This photo was taken a few years before I took my son there to see “Star Wars” — about five godzillion times!

In the previous post, I mentioned a movie theater on the West Side of Cleveland where they were still showing serials well into the ’60s. This was the Garden Theater on Clark Avenue.

It’s gone now, as are most of the movie theaters I frequented as a kid and young adult. Multi-screen theaters and home theater gadgetry rendered them obsolete.

From time to time, I’ve toyed with the idea of writing my life story based on the cars I’ve owned or all the restaurants where I’d hang out and socialize with my extended family. Yes, there are times in your life when you prefer the company of cranky short-order cooks, bitchy waitresses and derelicts skilled at wearing out their welcome over a cup of coffee.

The movie houses also played a major role in my life. Please indulge me while I stumble down memory lane and revisit some of them — at least, as many as I can recall.

I went online to jog my memory and found a great source: Cleveland and Its Neighborhoods. It has a comprehensive list of old movie theaters complete with dates and, in some cases, a brief history.

The Garden Theater is among them. It opened in 1925 and closed in 1968. The Garden reopened briefly as the Pussycat Theater. I don’t suppose they named it that because they were showing “Tom and Jerry” cartoons.

That was a common scenario for a lot of theaters in town.

The Lyceum, which was at Fulton Road and W 41st Street, showed skin flicks in the 1970s. These were much milder than modern pornographic films, which have strayed far from the realm of subtle titillation. Apparently, sometime in the ’90s, pornography evolved into what could best be described as gynecology for laymen. Not that I’ve ever watched any of it, mind you.

The Lyceum was less than a mile and a half from home. In the early ’60s, my sister and I would walk there and watch movies — mostly of her choosing. This included the Tammy series, which featured a lot of corny love songs. My sister would make me stay and watch part of the movies when they replayed so she could listen to the songs again.

Ironically, the Lyceum, born-again porn theater that it had become, was razed and replaced with a branch of the Cleveland Public Library.

The Lorain Theater on the 4600 block of Lorain Avenue also resorted to screening skin flicks. The name was changed to reflect the transition to “art theater.” (I don’t recall what the new name was.)

This was common practice among porn-again theaters, claiming that the new fare was “art.” Theater owners did this, if you’ll forgive the pun, to cover their asses. They’d claim that their fare was protected free speech and not pornography under standards established in the Miller vs. California case. They had to demonstrate that their “artistic works” passed at least one of three prongs established by the ruling. The most notable prong was whether the work, taken as a whole, had literary, artistic, political or scientific value. Call it poetic licentiousness.

At any rate, the Lorain Theater, commonly known as the “Little Lorain” never drew much of a crowd. We didn’t go there even though it was only five blocks from home, mostly because of the horror stories about rats running across patrons’ feet during the movie. That would have been a real scream during the showing of “Willard.”

The Lorain opened in 1923 and closed in 1969.

Another reason we didn’t bother going to the Lorain was, for several years, we lived in the alley behind the Lorain-Fulton Theater. Built in 1921, it was another product of the golden age of movies. Unlike the Lorain, it was spacious and clean.

My parents took us there when we were very young. It was just around the corner, so we were allowed to go there on our own once we reached school age.

Like the Garden, the Lorain-Fulton was a holdout from a bygone era. It was one of the theaters in the late ’50s and early ’60s that still had “bank nights.” This was a franchised lottery game in which theatergoers could win a little cash. I still have a silver dollar my father won one night. I also recall that, as a grand prize, they had what looked like a go-cart without a motor. I think it was powered by pedals or a sail. I wanted so badly to win it.

I remember watching Tarzan movies there as well as “King Kong” and a bunch of ’50s horror films. Sometimes, when I didn’t have a quarter to get in, I’d go around back, press an ear against the steel exit doors and listen to the dialogue.

The Lorain-Fulton closed in 1963. A Pick ’N’ Pay supermarket replaced the theater and the house in the alley where we had lived. The supermarket later became a junk store.

In the mid to late ’60s, my sister and I occasionally ventured out to the Madison Theater. Our cousins, who lived on West 94th Street, would meet us there. We probably saw dozen films at the Madison including our first James Bond movie, “Goldfinger,” and the Beatles movies, “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help!”

The theater opened in 1915 and closed in 1969.

By the later part of the ’60s, my family had moved further out on the West Side. Our house was a short walk from the Variety Theater, which is on Lorain Avenue near West 118th Street.

Of all the movie theaters I went to as a youth or young man, only the Variety and one other movie house remain. The Variety closed in 1984. At last report, a group called Friends of the Historic Variety Theater  and Westown Community Development Corporation were in the process of restoring the 1927 vintage theater.

Interior of the Variety. Copyright 2014, Matthew Lambros & After the Final Curtain: http://afterthefinalcurtain.net/2012/07/06/the-variety-theatre/

Interior of the Variety. Photo copyright 2014, Matthew Lambros & After the Final Curtain: http://afterthefinalcurtain.net/2012/07/06/the-variety-theatre/

The times they were a-changin’ and so was I when started going to the Variety. During the years I lived in the neighborhood, I saw a few mainstream movies and several counterculture films, including the Beatles animated feature “Yellow Submarine.” One fellow became disgruntled because the projectionist decided to show something a little less to his liking before screening “Yellow Submarine.”

The dissatisfied patron shouted, “Put on the good movie; I came high!”

I believe the last thing I saw there was Frank Zappa’s “The Dub Room Special!” in the early ’80s.

We also lived close to the Memphis Drive-In. “2001: A Space Odyssey” was the best movie I never saw there. My date and I took a break from our mutual grooming ritual long enough to watch part of the movie. I had gone to the refreshment stand for popcorn and a drink. After I got back and settled into the car seat, I reached over for a handful of popcorn and dipped my hand into her drink by mistake.

Things went downhill from there. After the movie, we stopped for a snack at the Red Barn on West 117th Street. There was a sign saying “Bad Bills — $5.” Wow, I thought, for five bucks that must be a hell of a sandwich. So I ordered one. The girl behind the counter rolled her eyes at me and explained that the sign was meant as a warning to watch out for counterfeit bills.

The Memphis Drive-In once made headlines when a patron filed a lawsuit after being beat up by a railroad cop. Rather than walking to the concession stand to use the restroom, the patron slipped to the back of the lot and urinated off the edge of an embankment overlooking the railroad tracks. A railroad cop happened to be walking by and got doused. The cop scrambled up the embankment and throttled the pissing patron. As I recall, the lawsuit was tossed out of court.

I don’t know about him, but I think I would have cut my losses with the ass-kicking and left it at that.

The Memphis Drive-In closed for good in 2006. For many years, the owners managed to keep the theater open by hosting flea markets during the day on weekends.

My former father-in-law, rest his soul, was quite a horse trader and managed to make extra money selling things there — mostly stuff he’d scavenged. Keenly cognizant of the fact that, as a breadwinner I left much to be desired, he suggested that I try my hand at it. I gave it a go, but I wasn’t much of a wheeler and dealer. However, one weekend I salvaged about a dozen furnace blowers and motors from an apartment complex where I worked. They were replacing all the units and pitching the old ones. I jammed them into the back seat and trunk of my 1961 Comet, took them to the drive-in and instantly unloaded the whole lot for $150. That was more than my weekly wages at the time.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the downtown theaters in my life. I could probably count the number of downtown theaters I’ve been to on one hand and have a couple of fingers left over. To the best of my recollection, I went to two of the palatial downtown theaters when I was a kid and the infamous Roxy Theater when I was about 16 or 17 years old.

The Roxy was a burlesque house. According to information posted on the website Cinema Treasures, it originally opened in 1907 as the Family Theater. The name was later changed to the Orpheum, but it continued showing mainstream movies until 1929. It reopened in 1931 as the Roxy Theater and quickly became one of the country’s top burlesque venues, attracting big-name comedians and strippers.

By the ’60s, the Roxy was pretty run down — as were the strippers. When I went there with a couple of buddies, I felt more embarrassed than titillated. I felt sorry for the women on stage, who were older than my mother. Between acts, which included a lame old standup comic, they would show porn films — pretty much the same fare as the stuff I described in the account of the Lyceum Theater.

When we were elementary school age, my mother and maternal grandmother would take us to see movies downtown. I don’t recall which theaters we went to, but they were on Euclid Avenue and very large.

One time, when my maternal grandmother took us to a movie, we asked if we could sit in the balcony.

“No,” she responded. “That’s nigger heaven.”

Grandma wasn’t the most enlightened member of the family. Fortunately, the rest of the family — my father in particular — had very healthy attitudes about race relations. Dad made it a point to instill those values in us.

When my son was growing up, I had moved to the east side and took him to see “The Wiz” at the Colony Theater on Shaker Square. “The Wiz” was an African-American adaptation of “The Wizard of Oz.” starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson. People in the auditorium were settling in and waiting for the movie to begin. My son, who was four or five at the time, stood up on his seat, looked around the theater and announced, “Gee, dad, we’re the only white people in here.”

People were still laughing 10 minutes into the movie.

The theater, now called Shaker Square Cinemas, has been renovated and is showing first run, foreign and indie films.

“Star Wars” was huge when my son was growing up. He insisted on going to the theater to see reruns of the first “Star Wars” movie every chance we got. For a while, it was running pretty much constantly at the Riverside Theater on Lorain Avenue near Riverside Drive. By then, the theater had been split into a duplex and the Star Wars audience continued to dwindle. It had come to the point that, on one occasion, my son and I had a private screening of the movie.

Like most neighborhood theaters, the Riverside succumbed to market pressures from multiplexes and home video rentals. The theater was razed in 1994 and replaced with a Walgreens store. Wonder if there’s a Redbox kiosk in front of it.


On Jan., 8, 2015, I received the following update — and welcome news — from the Friends of the Variety Theater:

We (The Friends of The Historic Variety Theatre) are working on a long-range plan for the building (which includes the attached apartments and storefronts along Lorain Avenue to W. 119th). The intention is to bring the entire building back to productive use. Plans for the theatre space, while not finalized, we are looking to utilize the space as a combination (ie Variety) entertainment/restaurant space. More information to come here as plans for the building begin to “gel”. The best news is that we intend to save the entire building for use by future audiences. 

Projects — A Rite of Passage for Retirees

When you retire, you’ll find yourself taking on projects. Otherwise you’ll end up engaging in criminal activity — like golfing, fishing or just doing nothing.

Your typical mid-range garden tractor trailer

Your typical mid-range garden tractor trailer

My first post-retirement project chose me. While I was bringing firewood into the house a few weeks ago, the tongue on the garden tractor trailer buckled under the strain of a heavy load. This was inevitable. It had been sagging more and more ever since someone loaded the trailer to the top with large rocks (or small boulders, depending on who was stuck unloading them).

So, last week I set out to rebuild the trailer. The project involves replacing the sheet metal tongue with two-inch square tube (3/16-inch thick), fabricating a new support bracket, reinforcing the floor then sanding and painting the whole thing. To add a personal touch, I plan to add an old Mack truck insignia on the tailgate. I found the insignia along the road. Honest.

Some people would question the wisdom of spending in excess of $100 for parts and countless man hours on a trailer you could buy new for $150 to $500. But what price can you put on something that prevents you from squandering your retirement on criminal activity?

Besides, you can’t load down those store-bought garden tractor trailers with a ton of rocks without buckling the tongue.

I’m making good progress so far. The new tongue is finished and most the paint and hardware purchased. Once I fabricate a new improved front support bracket, I’ll have to wait till spring so it will be warm enough to paint and reassemble the trailer.

Meanwhile, I think I’ll dabble in some criminal activity.

Out with the old ... Tweaked sheet metal tongue and my new square tube replacement, complete with a real hitch in lieu of the cheesy stock setup.

Out with the old … Tweaked sheet metal tongue (top) and my new square tube replacement, complete with a real hitch in lieu of the cheesy stock setup.

Reprising the Winter of My Discount Tent

People who tell you they troll the thrift shops for bargains are delusional. I suspect that most of them, present company included, are closet gambling addicts.

Kiley, sleeping during one or our camping trips in the office.

Kiley, sleeping during one or our camping trips in the office.

The only difference between this and the real thing is — with thrift store shopping — you’re not setting yourself up to lose your shirt. Even if you strike out, the only thing it costs you is the time invested. And a little gas money.

As with gambling, most of the time you come up empty. It’s the prospect of hitting the jackpot that keeps you coming back.

I recently had one of those Eureka! moments while looking for a tent at the Ashland Goodwill store. Actually, it wasn’t a Eureka! tent. Nothing quite that high-end. It was a Northwest Territory square dome tent made by the Jinwoong Company of China. (I’m sure you’ve heard of them.) It was the exact model and color of one I bought in the mid 1990s at Kmart.

Back then, I bought it because I needed a cheap standalone tent. I used it for base camp for canoe camping trips. Like all cheap imported tents, it leaked at the slightest provocation,  so I used it only when the weather forecast was favorable. It was easy to set up and kept the mosquitoes, the wind and dew at bay. A lot of times, on the first night of those trips, we’d meet at a campground, set up our shuttle and stay the night. I’d leave the cheap tent in whatever car happened to be left behind at our base camp.

Somewhere along the line, my cheap tent got “lost in the shuttle.” The poles and rainfly made it home with me, but the tent itself didn’t. It probably ended up going home with one of my canoeing buddies, who decided it had been abandoned and would make a good shower curtain.

Meanwhile, I replaced it with an MSR Hubba tent, which is lightweight, simple to pitch and has withstood monsoon rains without leaking a drop.

Regardless, I missed having my discount tent. Not for my own sake, but for Kiley, my 3-year-old granddaughter. When she stays overnight, we camp in the office. We spread our bedrolls on the floor — camping mattresses and blankets — and camp under the imaginary stars. As we lie there looking at the ceiling, we talk about the animal shapes in clouds passing overhead in the moonlight.

After Kiley’s last visit, I decided to look for a cheap, freestanding tent to enhance our office camping experiences.

That lead to my Eureka! moment at the Ashland Goodwill store. The tent set me back $12, which was $3 less than my original Jinwoong tent.

There’s a back-story here, one that bears repeating.

In the mid 1990s, when I started doing winter canoe camping, I was looking for a cheap base camp tent. In the Sunday edition of the Columbus Dispatch, Kmart was advertising tents for $15. I drove to the nearest Kmart and was the first person through the door when it opened. I went straight to the sports department, but there were no $15 tents to be found.

I tracked down the manager who told me they were out of them. I uttered the magic words “bait and switch.” So he offered me a $40 tent for $15.

That made owning the tent all the sweeter … and my recent Goodwill find sweeter still.

None of that will matter to Kiley. But it’s a safe bet she’ll get as much joy out of it as I have.

Northwest Territory tent from Jinwoong. Some assembly required. Children sold separately.

Northwest Territory tent from Jinwoong. Some assembly required. Children sold separately.

The joys of eavesdropping

‘Freqing’ Out with Bill & Jack

Deluxe mobile radio setup

Deluxe mobile radio setup

I listen to the Bill & Jack Show every morning. They can pretty entertaining at times. Don’t look for them on your FM dial. Or AM, or satellite, or Internet radio either.

I listen to the Bill & Jack Show because I don’t have a choice. Between 6 and 7 o’clock every morning, they drop in uninvited on my police scanner frequency.

It annoyed me at first. I’d turn the volume way down until they signed off and I could once again listen to police and fire calls uninterrupted.

Yes, I’m an ambulance chaser. Not the highly paid variety. I’m not an attorney, just a journalist. I go to crashes, fires, crime scenes, and nuisance animal calls. In the county where I work we have more of the latter than all the other calls combined. Cows in the road are a huge problem here.

Eventually, I found myself keeping the volume turned up when Bill & Jack were on the air. They don’t talk about anything exciting — mostly the weather, their ailments, their families, the dog next door.

It didn’t take much “listening between the lines” to realize that Bill secretly wants that dog. He talks about how her owners don’t seem to have time for her and how much he enjoys playing fetch with the dog.

Judging from their labored breathing, the ambient sound of bones creaking and the topics of conversation, I have them pegged as retirees in their 70s.

Their banter is pleasant and comforting, kind of like listening to your own parents or grandparents talking with their friends. But, one morning, I sensed a little tension in their voices. They found themselves embroiled in a game of “ailment poker.”

It went something like this:

Bill: “Yeah, I don’t get around like I used to, not after my heart attack.”

Jack: “I know what you mean. I’ve had two heart attacks.”

Bill: “Well, I’ll see your two heart attacks and raise you knee replacement.”

And on it went till they had covered pretty much every joint and organ on their bodies. I think it ended in a draw because Bill changed the subject.

“I think I’ll go out and play with that mutt next door,” he said before signing off.

So ends another fun-filled morning on the Bill & Jack Show.