Thursday, January 17, 2008

It's what's in the cupboard, not in the bank

Published Jan. 14, 2008

Know how to tell if someone is really well off?
You can’t tell by the house she lives in or the car she drives. There is a good chance the bank owns both of those things, and she can just barely make the monthly payments.
You can’t tell by the clothes she wears or the vacations she takes. Those expenses could be piled up on a Visa card or two or three.
No, the only way to truly gauge the wealth of a person is by snooping in her cupboards.
For financial well-being is measured in rolls of toilet paper and paper towels and Scotch tape.
Or cans of chicken stock and tomato sauce.
Or jars of peanut butter and mayonnaise, bottles of ketchup and vegetable oil.
Yes, wealthy people have healthy cupboards.
It’s true.
One time a lot of years ago, we were overnight guests of one of my college friends.
She and I both got journalism degrees from Ohio State, but I used mine to get into newspapers and she used hers to get into corporate America.
While my career path may have been nobler, it certainly appeared hers was more lucrative.
And I figured that out by what I found under her bathroom sink. There was not one extra roll of toilet paper — like the cupboard in my bathroom — there were several packages of toilet tissue.
There was not one extra bar of soap, there were a dozen.
And there were extra tubes of toothpaste and shampoo and even toothbrushes.
Wow. I felt as if I was in a store.
How luxurious it was, I thought, to run out of something and find more in the cupboard.
I’m going to be like that someday, I thought.
Someday, I’m not going to have to run to the store every time I’m out of tissue or peanut butter or ketchup. Someday, I’m going to have extra.
And, for the most part, I have achieved that goal.
Now, if I run out of pancake syrup, I can go to the pantry and find a full bottle.
Or when my son dumps the last of the A1 sauce on his steak, there is often another bottle up in the cupboard.
Ahh, it’s great to find things in the cupboard.
I’ve been on a hunt for matzo meal for a couple of weeks. Matzo meal is that stuff that you use to make matzo balls to put in chicken soup.
I looked for it at the local grocery stores. I looked for it at the West Side Market. I couldn’t find it anywhere.
I stopped over at my parents’ house the other day. My mom’s got a larder that could feed the town of Amherst in a natural disaster.
But it wasn’t always like that. There were five kids in the family. We were almost always out of one thing or another.
I told her about my futile search for matzo meal.
“I have some in the cupboard,” she said. “If you want it, take it.”
Hmmm. I scoured Northeast Ohio for the stuff and my mother has some in her cupboard.
“It’s been in there for a while but it’s not open. It should still be good,” she said.
As I took the box of matzo meal down from the shelf, I couldn’t help but think that the only thing better than having a full cupboard is knowing that your mother has one, too.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

We have a new perspective on the news

Published Jan. 7, 2008

Until last week, the newsroom had not been affected by the $11 million expansion and renovation project going on at The Chronicle.
Oh, sure, we've been a little inconvenienced.
Most of the parking lot was off-limits for a while, leaving us scrambling for parking spots.
And the back door, our main entrance, was closed off.
Pounding and jack-hammering have been made it difficult to talk on the phone.
And then there was the time we had no phones because water leaked through the roof into the phone control room.
Most everything has been coated with a thin layer of construction dust for a while but it has hardly been noticed by reporters and editors quite at home in years-old dusty piles of notes and notebooks.
At least we all had our own little familiar spots, dusty and noisy as they were.
Until last week.
We had to empty the newsroom so the workers can come in and build us a brand new one.
Do you have any idea how much stuff is in a newsroom?
It's not just desks and bodies, it's file cabinet after file cabinet and drawer after drawer of information gathered before a lot of us were even born.
What do you do with box scores from a 1950 Elyria High baseball game, photos from a 1970 car accident, results from the 1982 Lorain County Fair?
Will they ever be used again? Probably not. But can we bring ourselves to throw them away? It's tough.
And in the midst of all this priceless stuff are people, people who had to relocate until the newsroom construction is done.
"Get your stuff packed up," I started telling them a couple months ago.
But you see, there is a reason most of us got in the news business -- we can only do something when a deadline is imminent.
So there wasn't a lot of packing done until we got word a couple weeks ago that we had to be completely out of the newsroom by Jan. 4.
We hurriedly packed up our stuff and carried it to our temporary surroundings, a spot on the first floor that has already been remodeled.
We are a little crowded. The desks are arranged in three rows of back-to-back desks stretching from one side of the room to the other. Wires run across the floor to connect our computers.
But everyone seems to be working on rebuilding his or her own little area.
One reporter uses as a privacy screen a bulletin board onto which pictures of her children are tacked.
Other reporters have squeezed bookcases between their chairs and the wall and put on them essential reporter things -- like phone books and dictionaries and city directories and coffee mugs.
One wall is lined with more than a dozen file cabinets filled with things too precious to leave behind.
As exasperating as it was to get the staff to move -- and throw some things away -- it also made me remember why I like them all so much.
The newspaper isn't just a job to them. It's who they are.
In the piles of things that were headed for storage, I spotted a magazine holder, its metal sides carved into a word.
I picked it up, carried it down to our temporary quarters and perched it on top of a tall bookcase.
NEWS is the word carved into its sides.
And as it stands there, its metal shining out over us like a beacon, it feels as if we are home again.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Celluloid heroes have nothing on skunk man

Published Dec. 31, 2007

It was the final minutes of the triple-feature.
We had watched the "The Bourne Identity" and "The Bourne Supremacy."
And now we were watching the end of "The Bourne Ultimatum."
The boys were sprawled across the sectional pit.
I was on the floor in front of the TV.
And Jason Bourne was floating in New York’s East River.
Could he survive a 10-story fall and the shots fired at him as he fell?
In the midst of the suspense, I realized something menacing was in our own house.
I smelled it.
And suddenly, being face down in the East River didn’t seem so bad.

I got up the next morning and the smell of the menace from the night before still lingered.
A skunk.
My husband had found the source of the odor: The critter was hunkered down in a shoebox-size hole that allowed access to the plumbing under the pool house.
"Come see," my husband said.
We bent at the waist, squinting down into the hole while keeping our distance, ready to run if need be.
The skunk wasn’t moving but it looked as if it was watching us. Its teeth were clenching a stick like a dog clenches a bone.
"Let’s get something and poke him," I said to my husband.
"Poke him?"
"Maybe he’ll run away," I said.
My husband got the handle of a shovel and poked. I stood back.
"I think he’s dead," my husband said.
"We need to call someone," I said as I walked toward the house.
I went inside, pulled out the phone book and opened the yellow pages to Pest Control.
As I was dialing the phone, I looked out the window and saw my husband walking deliberately across the back yard.
He was carrying a handful of spear-like objects -- a spade, a tree trimmer and a couple other sticks. Draped over his other arm was a coiled orange extension cord.
He looked as if he was going to harpoon a seal.
A woman answered the phone.
"We don’t do skunks," she told me. "We only do bugs. You need critter control."
And then she rattled off some phone numbers of people who might be able to help.
I dialed one of the numbers.
"How much would you charge to get a dead skunk out from a hole in our yard?" I asked the man who answered.
"Are you sure he’s dead? $65."
Shoot, a bargain at twice the price.
I asked him how soon he could be here and went to tell the mighty hunter in the backyard that he was off the hook.
As we stood looking at the critter, we heard a car pull into the driveway.
The skunk man.
"That’s not a stick in its mouth," he said as he peered into the hole. "That’s an electrical wire. He must have been chewing on it and got zapped," he said, contorting his face into that of an electrocuted skunk.
My husband cut the electricity to the house so the critter control man didn’t end up like the critter. Then the skunk man went to work.
He thrust a grabber tool into the hole and yanked on the skunk’s head.
Whoa. That was it for me. I jumped back as the first try was unsuccessful and the critter’s head popped out of the tool.
But, a couple more yanks and it was out and safely deposited in a garbage bag.
Now, if only that grabber is strong enough to pull a body out of the East River …