There Goes My Radio Hero

jimchenotI sat in my Mercury Tracer, waiting to make the left out on to Kenmore Boulevard.  ‘97.5’ glistened on the car’s radio.  It was a Tuesday night, a little past 6 in the evening, and I was headed to the WONE studios.  After only a weekend show under my belt, Harve Alan had asked me if I could fill in for J.D. Kunes that night.  The Tom Petty song on the air was winding down, and that mellifluous voice that I’d admired for such a long time emerged.

“97.5, the home of rock ‘n roll and the one for Tom Petty on a Two-fer Tuesday.  Little Jimmy Chenot in the captain’s chair.  More two-fers on the way from Van Morrison and the Rolling Stones, and then, don’t forget, coming up at 8, the very affable Matt Anthony, filling in for J.D. this evening.”

Wow.  Jim Chenot had said my name on the radio.

After pulling in to the lot of the Bernard Building on south Hawkins, I made my way to the on-air studio.  Through the small square pane of glass in the studio door, I could see a man stacking cartridges and piles of compact discs.  Shorter than I envisioned, he looked like a mixture of Carlos Santana and Yanni.

“Jim Chenot, man, how are ya?” he bellowed, extending his hand.

Butterflies banged in to each other inside my abdomen.  He stacked several more compact discs on top of each other and started to put on the headphones that were draped around the back of his neck.

“You like the Tribe?”

I stammered that I did, trying to respond with the same power as the voice that I’d tried to emulate for such a long time.  He glanced at the digital clock on the front of the cd-deck.  “I need a name of an older Indians player.  Who should I use?”

For whatever reason, the first name that flooded into my head was shortstop Larry Brown, who donned a Tribe uniform in the late 60’s.  He placed the headphones around his ears, and I pointed to the door, motioning that I would leave the studio while he did his talk-break.  Outside in the hallway, nervously pacing, I listened as Jim’s voice reverberated throughout the mostly empty complex.

“Matt Anthony is up next, and I say to you, the people…and you know who you are…..peace, love, rock ‘n roll…and good night…Larry Brown…wherever…..you are!”

I’ve thought of that Tuesday night, almost 25 years ago, many times over the past 72 hours.  And since I received the news on Thursday of Jim’s death, I’m quite positive that no introductory meeting, no handshake, and no initial conversation has had more impact on me in my almost 30-year career that the one that occurred that Tuesday evening.

Many on Facebook have called him an ‘Akron radio legend’.  I could see him, right now, extending both hands out in front of him, shaking his head quickly, and rejecting that moniker with a chuckle and an emphatic, “No, man.”

But it’s true.

During his tenure at WONE, there was strict competition for that title.  Matt Patrick dominated mornings at WKDD.  Stan Piatt held his own at WNIR.  And since Cleveland stations easily penetrated Akron, there were additional claims, as well.  But I contend that none of them captured the loyalty of the 9-to-5 working class Akronite with the same fervor as that which was bestowed on Jim Chenot.

That Tuesday meeting, though, started an almost 25-year friendship that, in a strange way, I still, to this day, feel awed and humbled to have had the opportunity to experience.

From a professional standpoint, I didn’t hide the fact that I wanted to be like him, on-air.  I wanted to sound like him, but there was simply no way to replicate one of the most identifiable broadcast-voices ever in northeast Ohio.  (He had ‘the captain’s chair’, and I had started to say ‘Sir Matthew in the easy chair…”)  But I learned much from him.  There was an innate smooth-ness to his patter between songs, which gave some of his breaks an almost ‘rehearsed’ cadence.  But he was that good.  Before I eventually left WONE for Washington, DC, I felt, unequivocally, that some of the comfort that I was beginning to feel behind the microphone was due, in large part, to following his lead.

As we became better friends, Jim and I, for a short time, even did a Sunday evening show together on sister-station WAKR.  In a flagrant display of thievery, we called it ‘Radio K.A.O.S.’, after the Roger Waters album of the same name.  I saved a sample of one of those shows, which I still have on my iPod.

We felt a connection early on.  We are both from Canton.  Our favorite bands are both British.  We were both raised as Catholics, and often discussed our tribulations with our religious upbringing.  We were both huge baseball fans.

And the phone calls.  Everyone knows about Jim’s fixation with the Beatles and especially with the movie A Hard Day’s Night.  I’d stopped counting long ago how many times he’s called me and immediately launched in to a Liverpool accent: “Are you mod or a rocker?” Um, no, I’m a mocker!” or “…and they’ve fists of matured hams for pounding poor defenseless lads like you!”

But we also shared a love for the movie Amadeus.  Some times Jim would call and leave a message like, “Hey, Matt, I listened to you last night and all I have to say is… it’s quality work but there are simply too many notes. Just cut a few and it will be perfect!”  Or he’d call and generate a long preamble like, “Hey, man, I liked the open you did for ‘Beatles Break’ for me, but your use of German there in the beginning? It’s…uh…too brutal!”  And then he’d explode in laughter, as if he’d just fired off that quote for the first time ever.  (This past year, he’d taken to ending his calls with that pre-recorded laugh-track from the old Big Chuck and Hoolihan Show!)

Our shared connection to Canton showed up in his calls and messages, too. “Hey, man, I just wanted to let you know that I just sucked down a coney-dog from the Arcade.  I was gonna have some burnt ends from Kennedy’s Bar-B-Q, but I opted for the coney. Figured you’d be proud of me.  Now, man, I’m about to line up behind the rest of the Harrison Paint White Sox Mitey-Mite team for a strawberry cone at Patrick’s!”  Jim peppered much of his syntax with the word ‘man’, left over, I guess, from teenage-years immersed in the counter-culture 60’s.  But he did so with the trained vocalic-technique that can only be honed with years behind the microphone.  The word seeped in to his dialogue with great emphasis, sometimes stretched out, seemingly, in to 2 or 3 syllables.

For years, when not in the best of moods or during a tremendously busy day, admittedly, I’d cringe a bit when he’d reel off lines from the same Beatles movie I’d been hearing from for the past two decades.  Now, I kick myself for not saving one of those voice-mails.

Jim was gracious.  He treated listeners like guests.  He treated servers at restaurants with dignity and friendliness.  He treated ushers at the ballpark and the food-service people who served him with outward respect.

I’ll miss our trips to Progressive Field to see the Indians.  We’d meet at The Summit and drive up from there.  We’d always park in the same $5.00 lot, across from the Wolstein Center.  Unless he had been given tickets, Jim liked to buy them at the box office, and not from a scalper.  And once inside, we’d head directly to the stand near the first-base line.  For him, all of The Jake’s exquisite new culinary options were no match for two all-beef kosher dogs and a Dortmunder Gold from Great Lakes Brewing.

Jim was also a very spiritual person.  We routinely talked about meditation and prayer, both Eastern and Catholic approaches.  Those chats, though, would almost always be punctuated with a ,”Wow, man, what would Monsignor Kotheimer think about this discussion?  We might have to say 10 fucking Hail Marys for this one!”

I also sensed loneliness.  And he was a loner.  He went to a dozen or more games by himself.  He was also a regular at the Cedar-Lee theatre in Cleveland Heights.  One day this past summer, I was waiting for Donna to buy bird-seed at a store near Chapel Hill and I spotted Jim walking down Howe Avenue by himself with a bag from Target.  The traffic noise and the distance made it impossible for me to get his attention, but he walked with head bowed, each step measured.  Akron’s radio legend dodging unsuspecting drivers en route to his apartment.  It was a poignant moment.

I’ve told my wife over the years that there are few people who remain in your life once you move on to something else, especially if that change is geographical.  But wherever we’ve been, whether in Washington, DC (twice), Knoxville, Pittsburgh, or St. Louis, Jim Chenot was always there.  He’s always stayed in touch.  He’s always called me, and he’s always dropped notes via email.  And in the past several years, he’s always used text to reach out and make a comment about the Tribe or the Cavs, reel off a quip about communion wafers or the Rosary, or poke fun because I almost went to Lehman High School.

Last fall, while returning from an Indians game, we drove that dark, solitary stretch of I-77 between the turnpike and Ghent Road.  We were sort of talked out, and I glanced over at him momentarily while driving.  He was looking out the window, and I realized that I still hadn’t full comprehended how someone who I’d regarded as an idol had still managed to be my friend after all these years.  I was grateful for that, and I still am.

So last evening, I opened a Great Lakes Christmas Ale and I thought of Jim and how fortunate I was to know him as a mentor, as a cohort, as an associate, a buddy, a pal, a struggling spiritual person, and as a friend.  I drank and I wept.  And then I toasted ‘peace’.  I toasted ‘love’.  I toasted ‘rock ‘n roll’.  And said ‘good night, Jim Chenot….wherever you are’.

-30-

Pockets of Beauty

20160318_184352 I’d been to Cleveland dozens of times, but never in this section, the Detroit-Shoreway area.  We hop-scotched through alleys and numbered streets.  Occasional Puerto Rican flags fluttered outside of dilapidated, worn-down houses.  People on porches stared, while children danced in the stone driveways.  It was cold, but many wore no coats.

We arrived at a large, brick building.  It contained 40 or more art galleries.  On display, inside one of them, was some of the work of Donna’s teacher, Mark Giangaspero.  The exhibit was called ‘Face the Facts’, and we were there for the final week of it.

Mark is extremely talented.  His portraits document everything from his artist-friends to his wife’s battle with cancer.  In fact, he even included Donna in this particular exhibit. And these pieces were big.  They had to take an incredible amount of time to finish.

We grabbed some Belgian frites at the food truck that was parked outside of one of the entrances.  Strolling through the various floors of galleries and demonstrations, we munched and gawked.  It was very crowded.  Either this area of Cleveland has a large contingent of art fans, or they’re tired of Ohio City and Tremont and decided to get a jump on the next ‘hot’ section of Cleveland.  Up on the 2nd floor, Donna introduced me to the owner of the gallery who hosted Mark’s work.  Very affable person, and a champion of the Detroit-Shoreway section.  While he and Donna chatted, I gazed out one of his many windows.  Re-purposing spaces intrigues me.

But my eyes settled on some houses across the street.  Houses that hadn’t yet been re-purposed.  I wondered if they even wanted to be so.  Did those residents gaze across the street at a once-thriving factory, long abandoned before the art-crowd got to it, and mutter, “When is someone gonna fix up our side of the street?”20160318_194922

Where is our pocket of beauty?

Growth inside decay.  It mesmerizes me.  Rust-belt cities can be defined by it.  Lamenting the demise of a city or neighborhood is easy.  Re-constructing the de-construction isn’t.

We left to go back towards downtown to find a beer.  The numbered streets all looked the same, except when the numbers changed.  Block after block of crumbling structures and dis-repair, with small, sometimes hardly-noticeable fragments of architectural birth.  It helps reaffirm my lust for cities and their stories.

Once downtown at Great Lakes Brewing Company and perched in front of another work of art, their delicious Grand Cru, I allowed the glow of malted barley, orange, and coriander to wash over me.  Re-surfaced brick walls surrounded us, newly-imagined for a different use other than what their intention was over a century before.  Outside, across the street, two patrol-cars had pulled someone over, 20160318_184050not far from where we were parked.  I sipped, and then breathed in the air and the memories of over 100 years of a city.  There’s loss and abandonment out there.  And bad things.  But here, in this place, there are small pockets of beauty.  And that feels good.

-30-

 

 

 

Just Orange Juice, Hon

IMG_20160305_085934Aside from uncovering the meaning of Life, everything I need can be found within a mile from my home.

North of me, I can win the lottery at the Speedway gas station.  I can also find competitive gas prices, cigarettes (if I still smoked), and an entire convenience store.  Behind it, K-Mart can provide me new Joe Boxer briefs and several bottles of that stuff you spray in the shower after you finish so that you don’t have to physically clean it.  There’s a Planet Fitness next to it, where you can work off the double-cheese burger you had earlier at Sammie’s Bar and Grille across the street.

Next to Sammie’s, an Advance Auto Parts store, which sits next to a Burger King, which sits next to a CVS Drug Store.  Behind it, I can get breakfast at Wally Waffle, lunch at Subway, and spend more than I probably should for quality craft ale and skim milk at the ACME supermarket.  In fact, at this intersection of state route 91 and Eastwood, where the city of Akron butts up against the city of Tallmadge, I can rent a video, grab a pizza, and top it off with a Oreo Cookie ‘Hurricane’ at Handel’s Ice Cream.

But south of me, just at the bottom of the hill, sits the IGA, a franchisee of the Independent Grocers Alliance.  I realize this might sound odd, but sometimes during an exceedingly long workday, I announce to Donna that I’m ‘taking a walk down to the Eye-guh to get orange juice’.  And on my walk there, which takes all of 7 minutes, I encounter the archetype of the Ellet section of Akron in all its provincial glory.

There are no fancy displays or kiosks at the IGA.  There are no clerks with hair-nets offering food samples.  No craft-beer growler-filling stations.  No separate ‘gluten-free’ area.  The IGA consists of 6 aisles of foodstuffs, including a produce section, dairy aisle, butcher-shop and deli-case, frozen-food and ice cream freezers, and, of course, beer.

The shopping carts are small.  The check-out area is even smaller. The IGA has 4 registers, but I’ve never seen more than two humming along at any one time. (I’m not sure register #4 is even operational.) Register #1 functions as the place for checking out groceries, selling cigarettes, buying lottery tickets, and acting as the ‘customer service’ area. (you can even get your county dog tags purchased at register #1.)

I wipe my snowy feet on the rug near the carts, a rug that looks like it hasn’t been cleaned since the store opened in the 60’s.  My boots make small, wet impressions in the black rug.  I make a bee-line for the orange juice, which, as the tag on the shelf below states, is ‘WIC approved’.  Donna doesn’t like pulp in her juice, so I’m careful to choose the correct half-gallon.  I turn east and march up the aisle, past the dairy and eggs and back towards the deli-counter.  Two women behind the counter talk loudly about Donald Trump, while slicing a half-pound of chipped-chopped ham.  “Here,” one counter-clerk says to her customer, shoving a small portion of the ham at her with plastic-gloved hand.  “That the kind you wanted, sweetie?”

I nod to the person whom I presume to be the butcher, as I turn left and walk north to the other side of the store, craning my neck left in order to quickly scan the signs at the top of the aisles.  ‘Soups’.  ‘Cleaners’.  ‘Bread’.  Nothing jumps out at me as I get to the end of the store, so I swing west down in to the aisle marked ‘Snacks’, which also houses the beer-case and wine section.  Not a bad selection of beer, really.  Donna’s cousin, Sandy, manages the IGA.  She knows I like craft-beer, so she has her guy keep the section filled with a varied assortment.  I stare in to the ‘customer service’ section at the end of the beer-aisle to see if I spot Sandy, but she’s nowhere to be found.

The line at the lottery machine is 4-people deep.  I scoot past them and wait in line behind several others.  Register #1 is the only one open.  Almost everyone in the lottery-ticket line buys cigarettes, as well.  I silently express gratitude at no longer choosing to smoke.  A pack of Marlboro Lights are $5.85.

It’s finally my turn.  “Just orange juice, hon?”  I don’t know the names of the clerks who work the registers.  They’re all women, and the one ringing out my order calls everyone ‘hon’.  In fact, she ends nearly every sentence with it.

“No fancy beer today, hon?”

I attempt to answer, but she’s already announced my total-bill and tossed the pulp-less orange juice in to a plastic bag.  The top of the black Formica counter is worn white in the middle from years of cans of green beans and gallon-milk jugs scraping across it.  More people line up behind me, to my right.  To the left, cold, slow-moving customers burst through the door to enter the store and grab a cart.  The air smells of the outside cold, body odor, beer, and inexpensive cologne.

“Thanks, hon,” she says, and I jam my change in to my wallet.  Not waiting for me, she’s already scanning items for the person behind me.  I turn right, through the revolving door.  The flurries outside are falling more quickly.  I walk across the parking lot, pausing briefly and wondering if a stop at the Circle-K next door is required.  But I swing towards home, instead.  In this overcast, frigid area of Ellet, I have everything I need.

-30-

Looking Down on Pebbles and Rust

IMG_20150930_232641I can’t say it was enough of a mental inquiry to switch my allegiances from ‘arts’ to ‘science’, but I was intrigued by the circles of rust on pavement.  Piper Court was pock-marked with them, especially on hot summer afternoons.

What caused them?  Science can explain it, I’m sure.  But I admired their artistic imagery.  Just like these pebbles casting shadows as dusk approached during this past Autumn.  Vehicles whizzed past us on busy Canton Road as we walked the dogs back in October.  But I stopped to look at these stones, much the same way as I stopped en route to Cottage Market on those sizzling days, giving much credence to my walking-companion’s puzzled look.  “What the hell are you looking at?” he smirked.

I had no idea.  But their copper hues captivated me.  I touched them with the sole of my shoe and I imagined them burning through the cheap rubber and torching my foot.

Perhaps they were there lying underneath the snow and ice in Winter, too.  I know these pebbles will be, too.  Scattered soon by snow-plows and by walkers who can’t afford bus-tokens.

We’re told to ‘keep our heads up and our eyes peeled’.  That you’ll miss the beauty.  “All that Heavenly glory,” said Bruce Lee.  Perhaps you occasionally have to bow your head to spot it, as well.

-30-

 

Tiny Dancer

IMG_20141114_231003We look out on to the world from the top of our hill.  From this perch, I can see traffic movement.  Further in the distance, I can see the beacon that illuminates the top of the blimp-hangar.  (As Autumn dissipates, I actually see it more clearly through the canopy of tree-branches and foliage that normally shields us from such activity during the Summer months.  Those days have long since evaporated.)

At least once a day during the tremors of my weekday obligations, I stop and look at this scene, a sort of several-second meditative trance that I place myself into, usually in the afternoon.  And to this scene, I added this small plant that we brought back from my uncle’s house in West Virginia.

“Go ahead, Matt, taste the leaves,” said my Aunt Darlene, as we prepared to leave their house a couple of weeks ago during our visit.  I did.  Incredibly sweet, like a mini-sugar-rush!  I chuckled out loud, and so did everyone else.  And as Donna and Uncle Spanky talked about this plant’s more minute details, I glanced out over the Tucker County mountains in the distance beyond their back deck, the sweetness still dancing on my tongue.  Like us, they’re on a hill, too.  The wind whipped furiously on that brilliantly-sunny day, making the various sets of chimes bash together assertively.  Winter is harsh in the West Virginia hills.

Now, that small plant occupies the foreground of my daily vista.  I’m not sure why it’s captivated me, but I liken it to a fortress, too, in and of itself.  Beyond the dirty screen, sleet-stained window, and the graying splatter in the distance, I amass inspiration from it’s tiny beauty.

But I know that not even our prime location on this ridge can offer protection from the season.  It’s inevitable blunt-force trauma is inescapable.  Nor can this small, sweet, innocent-looking vine do much about it.  If its strange, intoxicating leaves could soften the depression associated with the bone-chilling cold and wind, I’d figure out how to whip up a casserole of some sort.

But this is all there is as of now.  So here it will sit.  And during my daily momentary catatonic state, I’ll stare at it, instead of the storm brewing beyond the blimp-hangar.

-30-

Tripping Over One’s Weltanschauung

IMG_1894If we all see the world in our own peculiar way, is our view of it wrong or right?  It seems I’ve run in to a string of brief occurrences over the past couple of weeks that would lead me to believe that I am both a genius and an imbecile.

I’ll spare the details, because formulating a preface to understanding all of the events leading up to these occurrences would steal your whole weekend.  I’ll simply say that sometimes it’s best to just keep one’s mouth shut.

Or is it?

Over this past year, I’ve lashed out when I probably should have used restraint.  And I’ve been silent when it might have been best for me to speak up.  But it’s the dance that occurs in the middle, where an altered phrase or a misconstrued line or a copy/pasted excerpt thrown in to the body of an email can change the tone.  Change the message.  Change everything.

No, these are not earth-shattering events.  They involve working with other people.  Posts on Facebook.  Returning a phone call to a brother or sister.  Dealing with a vendor.  Or figuring out exactly how to respond to a 9-word text-message.

I’m convinced that people who end up doing great things (or perhaps really bad things) are usually people who not only recognize their unique view of the world but also are unfazed with others’ opinion of it.  “Oh, you don’t agree with that?  So what.  Blow me”.

That sounds harsh.  But I understand it, even if I don’t always follow that schemata.  My mother used to say, “You’re just too nice.”  She was probably right, but I now find the thought of that conversation amusing, since my mother is as shy as anyone on the planet.

So I’ve wondered this past week if ‘tact’ is the best formula.  And if it’s not, then when does one employ the bull-in-a-china-shop mentality?  Further, if that method ‘gets the job done’, can one be satisfied with the end-result, knowing that the fall-out may be irreparable?

When I’m hesitant….when I start nervously dancing within my Weltanschauung and I’m uncertain, I hearken back to the screen version of Glengarry Glen Ross.  This film is saturated with some of the finest performances in cinema.  But the one that gets overlooked amidst the Lemmons and Pacinos is the one given by Alec Baldwin, as ‘Blake‘.  “They’re sitting out there waiting to give you their money.  Are you gonna take it?  Are you man enough to take it?

Coincidentally, my ‘Blake’ was a priest.  Fr. James Korda.  He taught me a very valuable lesson one night while in the rectory sipping single-malt Scotch.  He had been appointed the Director of Communications for the diocese of Youngstown.  I asked him how he was able to secure a post that seemed out of the grasp of a younger, less-experienced cleric.  He swallowed from his glass and said, “Because I told them what I wanted.”

He put the glass down and leaned forward.  “Matthew, most people are fucking cattle.  They want to be told what to do.  They’re content.  They think of doing something different or being something different, but they almost never do it.  And the problem is that they never tell anyone what it is they want.  But I did.  And then I went and got it.”

It was a bit terrifying, this Blake-like speech coming from a priest.  But why was I surprised.  The hierarchy of the Church, like most financially exorbitant organizations, is populated with people who feel no after-effects of stepping over corpses to get what they want.

So, is that ‘world-view’ right or wrong?

I’m under the impression that it is not.  And I also know that a survey of the various instances that caused these feelings to simmer over these past weeks would prompt others to disagree. So, as you might expect, I’m tempted.  Tempted to counter, confident in my Weltanschauung, with an “Oh, you don’t agree with that?  So what.  Blow me”.

-30-

Reality is Buying

20140806_103402While taking photographs at the seminary one afternoon, Fr. Ovid asked me, “Good man, do you really think that you can capture Reality with a machine?

The problem with this question, as I saw it, is that he actually appeared to be waiting for an answer.  Being that Fr. Ovid was a philosophy professor, this frightened me.  Should I respond as a philosophy student, or should I reveal my lack of academic prowess, as I normally did, by standing there with my mouth agape.

While involuntarily choosing the latter, Ovid immediately grabbed another nearby student and posed.  “Take my photo.  I am very photogenic!”

These tomatoes reminded me of that afternoon in Columbus long ago.  I was cleaning up the kitchen after breakfast, avoiding descending into the basement to continue another frustrating workday.  While I hung up the towel, I peered through the small windows on the back-door and spotted them.  Donna sat them outside to ripen, after pulling them from her plants.  It had rained the night before.

The way the morning sun was bouncing off the water-droplets stunned me with its quiet beauty.  I saw it as an invitation.  So I grabbed both cameras.

I’ve been looking at the results for the past two days, and in my head I can hear Ovid laughing.  That Dracula-style laugh.  As far as ‘capturing Reality’, I had done a horrible job.  The nuances of what I’d seen had evaporated.  The same texture that had stolen my glance while standing there in the kitchen was nowhere to be found.

It bothered me.  Later in the day, during a moment of down-time, I brought a couple of the pictures into Photoshop and tried to toy with them.  But now my manipulation of Reality made things even worse.  And I believe in the manipulation of Reality, at least as it pertains to photography, video, and music.  Hell, even with food.  ‘Doctoring’, as Donna likes to call it.

But even my belief of it as an art-form in itself had no effect on the indisputable fact that, at least this time around, Reality had won.  It just wasn’t happening.

I sat on the deck last evening and watched the sun go down.  It tossed out its usual end-of-day reflections on to the porch, Donna’s plants, and the various knick-knacks that clutter a perfectly fine space.  And it occurred to me that Reality didn’t have to put up much of a fight to win this round.  I spotted at least 10 varied and different possible opportunities within that short period of time to run and grab my camera.

But the effects of the ale had partially immobilized me.  This time, it was better for me to leave the machines in the bag and just soak it in.  Let my brain snap the photo.  Which was fine by me.  It was as if Reality was buying me a drink, taking a swig from its own glass, and saying, “Your eyes are doing a fine job, son.  Enjoy.”

-30-