Ok Mr. Cunix. TAKE THREE.
CUT. That’s a rap.
No. No. No. There’s more to this than that. I can’t end a relationship of over five years with simply two words. It’s not right, and I’m far too verbose.
This is my third pass at writing this column. I hope that this is my final attempt and that it meets with your approval.
My first try was a disaster. Not only did I blame the end on artistic differences, but I took time to delineate some of them. I showed the article to three friends and all of them hated it.
Take two. My second attempt was even worse. After sixty columns of brutal honesty where I never pulled a punch (even though many were self-directed), I laid down my gloves and “wussed out”. Faithful readers know that I’m not a “turn the other cheek” kind of guy. I quickly tore it up.
So that leaves us with this attempt. I’m searching for the middle ground, the in-between.
The time has come to leave. There have been times when I have had two and three columns written in advance. There have been months where my deadline has felt as threatening as April 15th. All writers experience that, but lately I have been less and less comfortable with this venue.
I will miss this opportunity for us to talk each month. I will miss your phone calls and letters. So for those of you who remember the Sound Of Music, let us not say good-bye just….
Life is not stagnant. Change, for good or bad, is inevitable. And change occurs whether we are prepared or not.
My son Phillip is seventeen today. So much is different than it was twenty-three years ago when I reached that august age. It as taken awhile, but I am adjusting, or was.
I have answered the phone at 7AM and 11:30 PM to hear the voice of a young lady asking to speak to Phil. Girls, or at least nice girls, didn’t call boys when I was in school. I’m not saying that that was good, or that this change is necessarily bad. It did take time for me to appreciate the difference.
Now it is Jennifer’s turn. Fourteen and about to enter ninth grade, she is ready for all the benefits of high school. But is dad ready?
When I got home from work today, Jenny asked if she could go to the movies tonight. She said that her buddy Steve and his friend Felix were also going. Did she need money for dinner? No, Steve is paying. He owes her a few bucks.
Steve’s mom arrived promptly at 6PM. Out from the car popped a standard issue fourteen year old boy. With his baseball cap reversed on his head, thin, and wearing a Nirvana T-shirt, I hardly recognized Steve.
As Jenny ran to the door exclaimed, “I know you!” She opened the door and he gave her a hug.
She looked over her shoulder at me and by the way of introduction said, “Me dadoo.”
He looked up, took a half a step back and said, “Hi Dad.”
My first impulse was to say something on the order of “TAKE YOUR HANDS OFF MY DAUGHTER!” Instead, I opted for “HI.”
Jenny went to look for her key, while I confirmed that the kids had a ride home. Soon she was bounding down the front steps and getting into the back seat next to Steve.
So much is changing in our lives. I really appreciated that dozens of my readers called with suggestions for my new home. Every suburb from North Olmsted to Concord was recommended. Well, we found the house we really want, and it is in Shaker. We move in as soon as we can sell my house in South Euclid.
In January of 1994, Michelle Messina got tired of listening to her friend Alissa Kaleal bitch about being alone. She forced Alissa to place a personal ad. She forced her to answer the two people who responded. And Michelle made Alissa show up at the Arabica in Shaker Square to meet one of the guys.
Two weeks ago Alissa asked me to marry her. She didn’t need Michelle’s prompting this time. But Michelle will be at the ceremony otherwise limited to family. By the way, I said yes.
We are all in transition.
For the moment, nothing moved. Then Lissa turned and started running, and suddenly the enormous puma materialized as if from nowhere and came hurtling through the air. In two bounds she was on Lissa. Down they went, with Ruby’s mighty paws clutching Lissa around the body and her dagger-like eyeteeth very close to Lissa’s head. All this was accomplished in absolute silence.
The Tribe of Tiger by Elizabeth M. Thomas
The object? Please, there was only ONE object. ONE goal. The means? Stealth. Cunning. Flattery. Surprise. The time? NOW!
Howard caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror that paneled one of the elevator’s walls. Quick inventory. Height-five foot nine, tall for his family. Weight- about twenty over, maybe twenty-five. Hair-what was left had long since turned gray. No beard. No mustache. His nose betrayed his heritage. His dark suit pants matched his dark jacket. His paisley tie went nicely with his striped shirt. He appeared to be exactly what he was, a forty-seven year old accountant from the suburbs. He liked what he saw.
What didn’t show, what wasn’t reflected in the mirror, was Howard’s personality. Howard was a sexual predator. Exuding a confidence that was more felt than either seen or heard, Howard chose his conquests instinctively. He couldn’t define why a woman caught his attention. He just knew. And once a potential bed-partner had his attention, it was only a matter of time.
Neither Ruth, his first wife, nor Diane, his second, tolerated his womanizing. Of course, neither could believe it at first. Howard? Short, fat, balding Howard? Both Ruth and Diane forgave him countless times. Both thought that Howard was simply going through a phase or mid-life crisis. He wasn’t. Both were surprised when he divorced them.
The three signs of middle age on a man are a sports car (preferably red), an earring and a ponytail. Howard drove a late model Buick and wouldn’t have been caught dead with either an earring or a ‘tail. He wasn’t really that much different now than he was at thirty-seven or even twenty-seven. He was a hunter. He enjoyed the entire process from the moment he selected his prey till his first triumphant orgasm. It was the ultimate challenge.
Howard stole another look in the mirror. Through it he could see the woman to his left. Becky was the new in-house bookkeeper for the law firm Howard was visiting. The firm had been a client of his for years. Even though Becky couldn’t have been a day under fifty-one, she had to be described as cute. Thin, perky, just a bit over five-two, Becky had short, dark hair. She was wearing a red sweater and a black skort, one of those short/skirt things that were once called culottes.
Howard asked Becky how she liked the job so far. He quickly checked for rings. None. The hunt was on! They engaged in small talk as the elevator climbed to the fifteenth floor. Becky touched Howard’s arm as she made a point. Howard wondered briefly whether he was the hunter or the hunted. It didn’t matter now.
Nor did it matter later that night.
Connie eased the gray limousine onto the freeway. Alone now, the gray leather interior seemed to stretch out in front of me as far as the road itself. I had only been in a limo one time previously, and that was as part of a somber procession. This was far different. I stared out the tinted windows at buildings I passed daily, but as a driver could never appreciate and settled into the padded seat.
A month ago, give or take a day, I was on this same freeway driving to my 10 AM appointment. Channel surfing. I hot the third button on my car stereo for WMMS. Brian and Joe were having an auction. There were movie posters and sport tickets up for grabs. The proceeds were to go to Toys for Tots, a charity that I’ve worked with in the past. This is great radio.
The auction items started to get more valuable. A loge was up for bids. I began to think how I would have missed this a year ago when Don Imus was still on WWWE. Alissa was the big Brian and Joe fan. She listened to them when they were on WENZ and she followed them to MMS. I normally just channel surf for interesting music.
My musing was interrupted by Joe’s announcement of $125 bid for a special lunch with Brian and Joe. Joe often refers to Brian and Joe as if their partnership is a separate entity. Anyway, the lunch included being picked up in a chauffeured limousine. Liz Herman of WUAB would also attend.
I didn’t hesitate. It was the right charity and I knew Alissa would be thrilled. I got through on the second call. The next thing I knew I was on the air talking to Brian and Joe while cruising through the morning traffic. My winning bid of $225 helped them raise over $3000.
The limo carrying Joe and Brian (Yes, their names can be reversed) arrived promptly at 11 AM. We talked about radio and music on the way to Alissa’s job. Nugget, Alissa’s golden retriever, met us at the door. Both men seemed to relax as they played with her dog. Before we got back into the limo, we had Connie take the group photo we had promised our kids.
Lunch was at Cleveland PM. The two DJ’s are from greater Cleveland and the fifteen minute ride from Alissa’s job to the restaurant brought back numerous memories for both of them. We passed the church where Joe’s brother had been married and we passed the time talking about children and work.
Vivacious is probably the best way to describe Liz Herman. She and Cheryl Z., Brian and Joe’s production assistant, joined us at the restaurant. We had a leisurely lunch of salads, calamari and veal. We talked about television news, families and the difference between the East and West sides of town. We were given some lovely parting prizes before we left. There were T-shirts and tapes and an autographed picture for each of the kids.
Cheryl gave Brian and Joe a ride back to the station. Alissa and I had the limo to ourselves. I dropped her off at work and now had a half an hour alone in the car. Not always, but there are times when you do the right thing for the right reason and things work out great. This was one of those times.
By the time this paper hits the streets or the internet I will have turned forty. The big Four O! Somewhere I read or somebody told me that we all mellow as we get older. Fat chance. Sometimes I think I’m still the same angry young man, fighting with the same “take no prisoners” mind-set, that I was at twenty-five.
This week was exceptionally trying. Our offices are being painted and the place is a mess. My files are scattered and only G-d and my office partner, Bill, know where half my stuff is. Neither one is talking.
Getting my house ready for sale is equally disruptive. Nothing major needs repaired or fixed, but it is amazing how many flaws can be stored in 2000 square feet.
Three totally unneeded sources of aggravation invaded my turbulent week. My first was a disagreement with the shop where Phillip had rented a tux. We had a quiet chat. I chatted. The manager was quiet. Case closed.
The second conflict was over my computer. It took two visits to their facility this week but I think (I hope) that my system is finally fixed. My 486SX is less than thirteen months old. It has had the motherboard replaced four times. A variety of other parts have either been repaired or replaced after gentle prodding on my part. With any kind of luck it will still be working the day you read this column.
My last source of aggravation was the most indefensible. Buying a house is the financial equivalent of driving to work naked. Totally exposed, you wait for complete strangers to grudgingly accept you.
My credit report came in the mail Thursday. I was sitting at my desk Friday morning, enjoying coffee and a cinnamon roll, when an entry caught my eye. There was a collection entry for $26 from University Dermatologists. I couldn’t believe it.
In the spring of 1992 I made an appointment to see Dr. Craig Elmets about a small growth on my left arm. He rescheduled our first appointment and then kept me waiting for an hour and a half the day we finally got together. Had we not shaken hands, Dr. Elmets would have never been within three feet of me during our brief encounter. He saw the growth, said that it was not cancerous and that insurance wouldn’t pay for its removal, and he left.
I received a statement from my insurance company a few weeks later. The usual, customary, and reasonable charge for the office visit was $39. That amount was credited to my deductible. Dr. Elmets’s charge was $65, nearly double the accepted rate. I copied the form and sent a note and a check for $39. That should have been the end of this story.
First came the threatening notes. Then came the harassing phone calls. The care given by University Dermatologists hadn’t been worth a dime. Elemets and crew certainly didn’t deserve $65.
Bill and I have done medical collections in the past. We followed the basic rules: no nasty calls, terminate any small claims (under $200) where service was questioned, and no legal pursuit of any claim under $500. I was staring at a $26 entry.
The mortgage banker was very understanding. He told me that my five pages of perfect credit meant nothing as long as this entry was unsettled. Pay the doctor or forget the house. I was lucky. Elmets overcharged me only $26. It could have been $126.
In essence, University Dermatologists was holding me hostage. I called the office. They referred me to a “billing office” located elsewhere in the building. I asked the billing office to justify the charges and they referred me back to the other office. Nobody’s accountable. They just do what they’re told. Responsibility diffused.
I gave up. Friday afternoon I went to Elmet’s office and gave them hell and $26. Yes, I could have simply sent the money and hoped that they eventually corrected my credit report, but how many more people would they rip off? The only way to protect ourselves in situations like this is to make the experience unpleasant for them, too. Maybe they will think twice before they pursue excess charges again.
The French know how to deal with people who take hostages. They shoot them. Here we pay them exorbitant fees and call them doctor.
The first threatening letter arrived in yesterday’s mail. It wasn’t unexpected. Dr. Mark Freeman, the Shaker Heights school superintendent, advised parents of the severe consequences of last month’s defeat. Yes, that is the same Mark Freeman that once taught shop class at Woodbury Junior High. And with all of the subtlety of an eighth grade boy fashioning a peg board, Dr. Mark hammered the tax-weary parents of Shaker.
I don’t usually monitor the school program termination threats in Shaker Heights. Phillip and Jennifer attend the South Euclid-Lyndhurst Schools; a district that has enjoyed a fair amount of success is passing reasonable property tax levies. But change, at least in my life, is inevitable.
Alissa and I are looking for a home. No we are not getting married. We are forming a domestic partnership. Regular readers are well aware of my limited success in marriage. (How’s that for charitable?) So we decided to try something different. My house in South Euclid would not be comfortable for the six of us and I really believe that Phil, Jen and I need a change of scenery. A good part of each week-end is now spent trekking through houses.
Our first question was “Where?” R.J. and Meredith, Alissa’s two children attend the Shaker Schools. The system, minus the threats, is excellent. The houses are made of brick, stone, and plaster. We have friends in Shaker.
We have lived in South Euclid for nine years. I don’t want to “damn with faint praise”, but our schools, services and housing stock are good. In every category you can find someplace that is better and lots of cities that are much worse.
An up-and-coming area is Solon. Everybody hates Solon until they move there, then they become cheerleaders. It is a remarkable phenomenon. Our friends offer to show us around and call us every time a house comes on the market. The schools are very good. The problem is that the only houses we have seen in Solon that we like are over $300,000. It costs that much to make Solon look like Shaker.
But Shaker has its problems. The taxes appear to be about 50% higher. More importantly, after the last levy failed, School Board Member Marvin McMickle told the Plain Dealer that the culprits were “Republicans and people with axes to grind.” Somehow he felt that parents having to organize to rid their schools of ineffectual principals, a school board that refused to be held accountable for its actions and a district that budgeted nearly $10,000 for office donuts and gift baskets could all be overlooked. Now the threatening letters and bullying have begun. I know that it has given us second thoughts about Shaker.
So, we’re back to where we began. We want to move at the end of this school year. Shaker? South Euclid? Solon? I told Alissa that this would be a whole lot easier if it was ten years later and the kids were out of school. This isn’t something that I wish for. I’m in no rush to see the kids grow up any faster that they will. But once a month we’re allowed one wishful moment.
I never really cared for ghost stories. The idea of telling spooky stories while sitting around a campfire seemed silly to me. Either the story would be weak or badly told and, therefore, of little consequence, or the tale would scare the crap out of you. The former, a waste of time. The later, extremely unpleasant. So where was I? I was sitting on a log while R.J. told a ghost story.
R.J. is Alissa’s eight year old and this was his first Cub Scout overnight. He was given the opportunity to pick anyone to accompany him. Surprisingly, he chose me.
I hadn’t expected R.J. to ask me to go with him because, frankly, I’m not the camping type. My idea of roughing it is staying at a Holiday Inn. His father, however, had been an Eagle Scout. Alissa’s dad had been through this with both of her brothers. Both Alissa’s ex and her father were far more qualified. But, R.J. asked me and I had quickly accepted.
Though R.J. was amongst the youngest of the Cubs, he was the first to tell a story. R.J. then sat on my lap as one by one the rest of the Scouts took a turn. There wasn’t a shiver or even a cringe until Ben, one of the dads, took a turn. With a serious voice he spun a tale of snakes, dogs, abandoned houses and, well, you know, all the stuff that makes for a scary story. He managed to spook several of the boys and succeeded in proving my point.
As I reassured R.J. and another Cub that Ben had made up his story, I realized how many ghosts were sitting on these logs with our dozen scouts. They were the ghosts of missing fathers. Four of our boys had been accompanied by their mothers. R.J. and Louis were with neither birth parent. These boys had been holding back. Many of them could tell stories that could make grown men shake in broad daylight. And their stories would be true.
The boys were too tired to worry about ghosts. Thanks to a half a mile hike from the parking lot to the cabin, we had each walked over ten miles this day. Our basketball games also contributed to their exhaustion and two of the boys had had hockey earlier in the day. By 10:30 they were ready to climb into their cots.
Anyone who has children knows that just because the boys were ready to go to bed doesn’t mean that they were ready to go to sleep. It only took about a half an hour to get everyone’s teeth brushed and sleeping bags zipped up. We tucked our boys in and then escaped to the serenity of the campfire.
The sun and the boys all rose about two hours earlier than necessary. By 10:30 we had packed our cars, cleaned the cabin and were ready to leave. R.J. and his friend, Nicholas, were still discussing the ghost stories. By now they had decided that Ben’s story wasn’t real. But that was okay. Their only complaint was that we had stayed for just one night.
The elections are over. The hideous television ads have ended. Now, the hideous analysis and spin doctoring begins. Allow me to be one of the first.
The Beach Boys: The tsunami came in and white male Republicans from around the country mounted electoral surf boards and hung ten like champions. Watching the various networks, I observed that several candidates had campaigned in plaid flannel shirts. It is amazing how similar Mike DeWine, George Pataki, and Dan Quayle look. I’d hate to have to pick out one of them from a line up.
Coat Tails: A week before the election I had an interesting conversation with James Foster, the executive director of the City Club. He asked my opinion about the Kucinich-Sinagra race. I mentioned that Governor Voinovich was campaigning hard for Tony Sinagra, but that it would be for naught. George Voinovich is not a leader, he’s a manager. Strong leaders have coat tails. Managers don’t. Voinovich appeared daily in television and radio commercials for John Fink and Jeff Ambruster. He made the Sinagra election a personal crusade. All three lost.
The End of an Era: The Republicans control the House of Representatives for the first time in forty years. There will be some who see this as a change of biblical proportions. There are pundits (George Will, for one) who view this as a permanent shift to the right. I don’t think so.
History has taught us that societies shift their priorities in cycles. These cycles form a well-defined pattern. It was time. In fact, this change began fourteen years ago. Some time ten, fifteen, twenty years from now, we will shift back. It won’t happen tomorrow and no, the right wing, or for that matter even the Republicans as a whole, won’t be in control forever.
There are issues that have not been addressed. There are constituencies that feel that they have been ignored. These perceptions drive political activity. Well, they’re in and two years from now they will probably elect a president. How long the Republicans govern will be directly attributable to how few groups of constituencies they alienate. This is how our government works.
I’ve never hidden my political beliefs. I am an unashamed Democrat. I was thrilled with Oliver North’s defeat. I cheered Diane Feinstein’s’ victory in California. I was saddened by Eric Fingerhut’s loss. But life, and the Republic, go on.
“This is Peter. What’s your problem Mr. Cooonix?”
My problem, Peter, is that I’m lonely. Its 11:30 Wednesday morning and I’m all alone. YOUR REPAIRMAN’S NOT HERE.
“You’re scheduled for service some time today.”
No, Peter. After your guys failed to show up last Saturday, I was scheduled to be the first one seen today. There’s no one here. I don’t mind Peter. I’d much rather stay home and do laundry that go to my office and run my business.
“Well, there’s nothing I can do about it.”
You could get someone over here. NOW.
“I can’t do that. It’s not my job.”
I called the repair number and asked for the person responsible and they gave me you. Did they screw up Peter?
“I have it right here. You were to be serviced first thing Wednesday morning.”
Gee Peter, when the technician called ten minutes ago he said that he didn’t know I was to be first.
“Well, I don’t know who your technician is.”
Larry. Larry P.
“Oh yeah. I’ll call him.”
Right. He’s going to leave in the middle of a job. Get someone here now!
“Why are you yelling at me?”
Because my business is closed while I’m waiting for your guy. This is your fourth scheduled visit.
“I’ll call the technician, then I’ll call you back.”
It has been forty-five minutes. Obviously, my mistake was in calling Sears to repair one of their refrigerators.
This all started in July. I noticed a problem with my twelve year old refrigerator. There was water dripping on to the shelves and my “no-frost” freezer was filled with frost. I called Sears.
The first repairman came on Saturday, July 9th. He diagnosed a problem with the door and gasket. Ten minutes and $84 later, he told me that the freezer will be fine in time or I can defrost it and it will be back to normal immediately. Empting a filled freezer and watching the meat thaw and the ice cream melt was more than I cared to do. So we let mature take its course.
My mid-September, it became apparent that the fridge was still a problem. There were little puddles inside and outside the machine. I defrosted the freezer and things got worse. A second visit was scheduled for September 24th, another Saturday morning.
We got another repairman on the 24th. Larry diagnosed the problem in seconds. We needed a new divider. The part was only $30 but he didn’t have one with him. He would have to order it. Someone would be out in three weeks. An appointment was made for Saturday, October 15. The machine would have to be off, empty and defrosted before the technician arrived
The call came at 9 a.m. “This is Sears. We can’t come out today. We had some emergencies come up today. We’ll call back later.” Alissa answered the phone and told them that we expected the refrigerator repaired today. The dispatcher called three hours later. Even if one of the repairmen finished early, my machine could not be fixed today. They had already returned the divider.
I’ll admit that I lost my temper. A house full of people and no refrigerator! The dispatcher promised that a technician would be at my house first thing Wednesday morning to repair my refrigerator. I was assured that the problem would be handled and that I would only be charged for the part. We plugged it back in and resumed our lives.
That brings you up to speed. The fourth load is about to come out of the dryer. I’ve talked to a couple of clients, made a tape for my car and gotten thoroughly aggravated.
A Sears technician arrived at 12:30. Not Larry. He walked in with the divider and while in the middle of my kitchen asked me where the refrigerator was! I left the room quickly.
It took an hour and a half to install the divider. I walked in to the kitchen and nearly slipped on the wet floor and debris. The repairman tried to add insult to injury by handing me a bill for over $170. I told him that I was to only pay for the part. He didn’t know anything about that. I had had enough. I told him to send me a corrected statement and showed him the door.
I’ll still shop for refrigerators, washers, and dryers from Sears. I’ll just never call them again for service.
I remember the last time I saw my grandfather. He was lying in a hospital bed. Cold and hot simultaneously. The flimsy hospital gown betrayed him. He was too weak to cover his nakedness as his family entered the room. I was shocked at how frail he appeared. He was about to die and this terrible secret was not a secret to anyone-not his daughters, not his son-in-law, not even his eight year old grandchild. How painful it has been to retain that vision of that once strong man defeated by cancer as my most dominant picture of my grandfather. It is a memory that I cannot shake.
My father is sixty-eight years old; about the same age as my grandfather was when he died. Dad is also in the final lap of a race that he cannot win. His cancer has overtaken him and the checkered flag is about to be waved. Alissa and I will fly in this Friday, July 22nd, for one final visit.
This isn’t our first final visit. A week before Jenny’s Bat Mitzvah in April we made the long drive to the east coast. Not only was it doubtful that he would be able to attend the service, there was a question as to whether he would even be alive. Somehow he recovered and flew in with my mother and brother, Rob.
I guess the first final visit was in March of 1989. The doctors had found lung cancer. Surgery was required. They rushed him in and removed one of his ribs on the way to taking the top third of his right lung. Over the years I have been there for the removal of his spleen, his duels with Chemo and Radiation, and other assorted hospital pit stops. Each time the doctors are successful at keeping my father alive. Each time the doctors fail more miserably at retaining my father’s life.
My father completely understood his role as provider/head of household. He went to work. He came home. There were no stops in between. His job was to earn a living. His perks were dinner when he returned each evening, a clean home, and a minimal amount of hassle. His duties included cooking breakfast on Sundays, occasionally disciplining the children, and one week of vacation each summer whether he needed it or not.
My father led an orderly life. He wore crisply starched long-sleeve white shirts under his suit jacket each day to work. On Sundays he wore crisply starched short sleeve white shirts around the house. I must have been ten or twelve before I ever saw him wear a sport shirt. For years he ate the same breakfast (coffee and Special K), sent out daily for a sandwich from the same restaurant, and in every way imaginable repeated the same patterns at work and at home.
It was always a special treat for me to visit my father at work. Because it was at work, behind a diamond counter, that Jerry Cunix came alive. He was a delight to watch. Joking, smoking his little unfiltered Pall-Malls, slowly taking the couple in front of him to the sale he wanted to make. He once sold one of his customers a refrigerator. After the sale was completed, he ran down the street to a wholesaler, ordered the unit and arranged for its delivery! Every day was a new performance.
The performance stopped suddenly after the lung surgery. The man who expected to be carried out of his store was too weak to work. He was unable to spend thirty to thirty-five hours per week in a retail store, much less the fort-eight to fifty-five hours he was so accustomed to.
Each surgery, each succeeding discovery of another cancer, followed by another treatment, robbed him further of his strength. For a while he could work twenty-five hours and then it was only twenty. Soon he was limited to sixteen. There were weeks when he could not leave the house or hospital. The economy intervened. Jerry Cunix became a luxury that no retailer could afford. Yes, he could sell, but he couldn’t put in enough time to make a difference.
Now there are no more performances. There is just an old man who used to be 5’11 ½” but now appears to be no taller than 5’8”. A thin man whose body has served as the battlefield in the war between cancer and modern medicine. In a short while a new battlefield will be found and this one will be laid to rest.
I am not bringing my children with me this Friday. The picture that they will carry in their minds for years to come will not be of a frail old man moments from death. It is not fair to them to do that. It would no be fair to do that to my father.