Sunday, January 25, 2015

Olive Oil and Loyalty

Found my first-ever boss recently on FB, who commented after reading this blog post I penned a couple years back: “Keep your options open, you never know when I may need a professional busboy.”

“Will you be on time?” “Yes.”

“Will you work hard?” “I will.” 

With a two question interview, I was hired for a job that helped shape the way I think about loyalty, team playing and a work ethic.

The interviewer was Jack Fasciano, 30-something manager of Angelo's Italian Foods. It was 1974. I was 16 with long hair and a short attention span. Now, a busboy. Black pants, white shirt, white apron, and the pièce de résistance, a paper soda jerk-style hat with the distinctive Angelo's graphic script in red and green letters on either side.
Jack was first generation American, son of Angelo Fasciano, born in Caltinisetta, Sicily. Angelo moved his young family to Wichita in the ‘50s to take a job at Boeing. Neighbors and friends liked his cooking so much, he opened a restaurant, then two, then three.
Also the best Italian cuisine. Ever.
Jack’s Italian heritage was unmistakable. Olive skin, black hair, mustache. He wore these  yellow-tinted aviator glasses, leather jackets, alligator loafers and triple-knit polyester pants. To teenage busboys in Wichita, Kansas in 1974, Jack Fasciano was an Italian-American demigod.
Jack had a little Sonny Corleone in him. His brother, Lenny, was a cook and they’d engage in crescendo-ing conversations, which often ended with one of the brothers shouting, “Vaffanculo..!” (Look it up). 

Back in the Heights High hallways, when encountering a fellow Angelonian, we’d greet each other with “Vaffanculo..!” incomplete without the accompanying gesture often associated with 16-year old know-it-alls.

It was like our own little secret Sicilian society. With a patina of olive oil. 

Bussing tables is an under-appreciated art form. Glasses first, then silverware, followed by plates, cups, saucers. Swoop the paper placemats and napkins into the trash and wipe that table clean. I could do a four-top in 30 seconds.

Jack noticed. After three months he gave me a dime raise. Now earning $1.70 an hour. Jobs for Wichita high schoolers in the ‘70s were not hard to find. The new Furr’s Cafeteria down the street was offering $1.90 to wash dishes.

Seeya Jack.

Furr’s wouldn't give me a week off for a church youth group retreat, so I quit. Just walked away. Then I went back to Jack and asked for my old job back. I could start as soon as I got back from Colorado.

“I already hired a new busboy,” Jack was unapologetic. He had a business to run. I never even had a chance to remind him of my table bussing artistry. “But I could use a dishwasher.”


Washing dishes at Angelo’s was hot, greasy work. Lasagna tins with baked-on cheese remnants had to be spotless. I’d scrub those tins until 4 a.m. some weekends. Compared to dishwashing, busboying was glamorous. You stayed (relatively) clean, could engage with customers, flirt with waitresses, sneak the occasional zeppi.

Fed up with dishwashing, I hatched a plan to get back to busboying. Whispered in the new busboy’s ear that Furr’s was hiring at $1.90 per. If I bit, maybe this genius would too. Then I parallel-tracked Jack and encouraged him to think of me for the first busboy opening he had. Even if it meant a pay cut.

It worked. And he kept me at a buck-70.

Jack didn't have to hire me back. And he didn't have to move me back to busboying.  


I learned to appreciate what I had. The other man’s eggplant is not always purpler. I learned impulsive decisions were nearly always wrong. 

If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. My father tried to drill that one into me for 16 years and it never seemed to take.

Working for Jack Fasciano, I got it.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Supply and Demand

When they write the history of Kansas television, don’t be surprised if what’s happening right now with cable and broadcast stations in Wichita and Topeka ends up as a watershed moment.

Trace the word, “broadcasting” to early agrarian sowing of seeds by casting them in a broad, diverse pattern. When radio and later, television, came along, same principle. Invisible waves transmitted through the air, received by antennas. (Antennae?) On the roof or rabbit ears atop the set.  

Get up, walk across the room to change channels.
Chunka, chunka, chunk.

Along came a coaxial cable, and Easy Street for television broadcasters got a little bumpy. If all Carson offered was George Gobel, switch over to ESPN for some Australian Rules Football.

Local broadcasters got into bed with cable a generation ago. For the most part, it’s an amicable give-and-take. Today in Kansas, they’re like an old married couple who have lost the love and spend their days and nights maneuvering to one-up one another. 

Broadcasters pay cable to carry their signal. I’m not in the negotiating room, but this is like any business deal involving two sides with disparate perspectives.

Cable holds the cards. Let it go dark a few days and let’s see what happens. 

Cable’s betting on the law of supply and demand. If there’s no demand for the product, why on Earth should they offer it? Not sure what broadcast is betting on.

My money’s on cable.

Look, I make no bones about it, I’m a television elitist. As a former broadcast journalist (emphasis on ‘journalism,’) it's hard for me to abide what passes for news on local TV at 5, 6 and 10. (Why, back in MY day...) Pretty sure I’ve not watched an entire local news broadcast since the 20th century. 

Granted, I’m just one middle age precipice-approaching borderline curmudgeon, but likely a pretty mainstream television consumer, i.e., one who thinks about the DVR and on-demand long before he thinks about locally-produced programming. If I want a weather forecast, I’ll pull the phone outa my pocket and look at it. Ditto on sports scores.
I was privileged for a time to serve on a Kansas broadcasters trade group foundation board. We were tryna raise money to help old school broadcasters get their heads and hearts around a rapidly changing industry.”
The changes are so rapid, local broadcasters simply cannot re-invent themselves fast enough. Plus, there’s a little head-in-the-sand goin’ on here. It’s like newspapers. Had they put up a paywall when we were all still dialing up the Internet...

I suspect there’s an entire generation of Kansans who’ve not the foggiest notion this stalemate is even underway. Re-arrange my life, just to watch local TV at 10 p.m.?


I’ve seen or heard no hue and cry since the cable system dropped the local stations. Hardly a whimper on social media.


If a hue and/or cry does emerge, it may happen at about 3:40 p.m. Sunday afternoon when the Broncos host the Colts on CBS. 

Meantime, local broadcasters are urging me to go out and buy an antenna. 


In 2015. 

Which begs the question...  what would happen if a couple of local broadcast television stations were removed from the largest cable system in the state – and nobody noticed?

Thursday, January 1, 2015

It Happened New Years' Eve

December 31, 1976. Wichita, Kansas.
Only the names have been changed.

In regaling the story later, Wayne Smith would say the last thing he saw before careening into the storefront of Joe Vosburgh Wallpaper in downtown Wichita were the tail lights of Mark Pennington’s ' 71 MGB.  

In one instant, the tail lights were right in front of him, mindlessly guiding him around Washington Avenue west onto Douglas. The next instant, no tail lights, no street, a hard jolt over the curb, brakes useless on the ice, sliding, and the awful, deafening sound of plate glass shattering all around him.

“Well, this is a little embarrassing,” With glass still tinkling, Wayne attempted nonchalance, entirely for the benefit of his passenger, Tony Ramirez.  

Four 19-year old American males bringing in the New Year barhopping. 

Up ahead in the B, Stuart Walmsley was riding with Mark. At the moment of wallpaper storefront impact, the four were bound for Pogo’s, a brand new disco – the hottest, hippest place in town – where girls would do the Hustle, Bus Stop and their best not to look too available.

“Gebooey missed the turn! He smacked into the building!” Stu was not easily excited, and sought attention by intentional exaggeration. Initially, Mark was convinced it was just that, but when he glanced over and caught Stu’s face, he knew it was legit.

Wayne’s nickname was a vernacular derivation, which revealed that his friends did not buy his external glibness. Wayne was ‘Wayne the Man’ which inevitably became ‘Wayne the Boy’ and then Wayne Gebooey in that language-mangling shorthand lingo often found among close circles of 19-year old American males. 

When Gebooey plowed his ’74 Datsun 240Z into the storefront, Mark had a fleeting thought about his friends’ well-being, but mostly he felt relief.  

“Hope he’s all right,” Mark thought, piggybacked with the next thought, as real and true as got in the mind of Mark Pennington.  

“Better him than me.”  

Neither the B or the Z were the prototypical muscle car, but each sporty enough to be considered hip by their peers – and equally important – unique enough to do wonders for their self-esteem, no small consideration for 19-year old American males. Especially guys like Wayne Smith and Mark Pennington, not full-fledged dorks, but certainly not Travolta.  

With flashing lights entering his rear view, Mark tried hard to remember how many beers Wayne enjoyed at the bar they just hopped from.

Christ, with the snow and ice, it’s dangerous enough out here before you consider all the drinking. How many beers? Four? Five? Regardless of the quantity of Gebooey’s consumption, Mark harbored a raw, nagging fear.

He had had more. Mark Pennington always had more.

As a 19-year old American male, Mark Pennington lived in the moment. It was a trait that would cause no end of heartache and woe later in life.

And in the deep recesses of what passed for a soul, when on rare occasions he would allow himself to think about it, he worried that maybe he drank too much

At that very moment, Mark took great comfort in the fact that he was a 19-year old American male. His lifestyle was the way it was supposed to be. His behavior met societal expectations. He was normal. Wayne smashed his car into the plate glass window.

One more example. One more story. One more incident pushing him deeper into denial. Rationalizations became his friends, his constant companions, like Wayne, Stu and Tony. Always there. 

“Jesus, turn around and go back! Those guysre prolly sliced to ribbons by all that glass,” Stu hollered at Mark. More intentional exaggeration. Mark knew the serious injuries would be emotional, but also suspected his New Years’ Eve had come to a screeching halt. Which pissed him off

Recriminating cops. Half-drunk gawking onlookers. Wayne’s dad, in full-throated I told you so. It was a scene he’d just as soon avoid.

“If you don’t see any severed limbs, I’m gonna keep going.” All Mark needed was a hint from Stu that Pogo’s trumped this predicament and they’d drop Wayne and Tony like a hot rock.

It was the kind of decision that would never even be considered, had there been a conscience behind the wheel of the B.

With Mark, that was pushing it.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

I'm Easy, Within Reason

AN ACTUAL CONVERSATION is just that. Actual words spoken as a means of communication between my wife and I (my wife and me?) Verbal cross sections... snapshots of our existence. When shared via social media, they’ve sorta become a thing. Here are a few o’ my faves from 2014:

Mike (Punching up Classic Rewind on the car radio): “I waaant yooouu to want me...” 
Jackie (cranking knob clockwise): “If you are gonna listen to Cheap Trick, you need a little volume.” 

Mike: “So, ya think any of my Facebook friends will notice I was off Facebook for 40 days of moderation and spiritual discipline during Lent?” 
Jackie: “I think if that’s what you’re wondering, then perhaps you need more discipline.” 
Mike: “That goes without saying...” 

Mike (asking my wife to ‘splain it to me like I’m a 3rd grader): “Sometimes you gotta take me by the hand.” 
Jackie: “Sometimes I try, but you don‘t grab on.” 

Jackie: “What do you want to do for dinner?”
Mike: “I’m easy.” 
Jackie: “That is definitely not the case.” 
Mike: “I’m easy, within reason.” 

Mike (offering listening choices en route to KC): “You prefer an NFL game, the NASCAR race, music, or do you want me to hold forth on world affairs?” 
Jackie: “Anything but that last one.” 

Quick! To the Batcave!
Jackie: “Why’s your car parked backward in the garage?” 
Mike: “Because every now and then a guy just likes to imagine he’s driving the Batmobile outa the Batcave.” 

Mike (while Jackie flattens a “popped” collar on my Polo pullover): “I thought you liked popped collars.” 
Jackie: “I did... in 1985.” 

Mike (on the phone, car to car): “Your call came at the end of Lipps Inc.’s ‘Funkytown.’” Jackie: “I was listening to ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ by Guns 'n Roses.” 
Mike: “To each their own ‘coming of age’ era music.” 

Mike: “I can do a pretty good Obama.” 
Jackie: “Yeah, not so much.” 
Mike: “I need to work on it.” 
Jackie: “You really don’t.” 

(Arranging to pick up my wife in Wichita after traveling there separately from MHK on the same day.) 
Jackie: “I just hope it’s convenient for you.” 
Mike: “Anywhere you are... is convenient for me.” 

Mike (while walking dogs): “I guess we’re true Manhattanites if we’re using purple dogsh-- bags.” (PAUSE.) “That’s probably some kind of actual conversation.” 
Jackie: “...‘cept you’re just talking to yourself.” 

Jackie (bearing Italian sausage from Palluca's in Frontenac): “How about this for dinner?” 
Mike: “Yum.” 
Jackie: “Not sure how to prepare it, but I’ll figure it out.” 
Mike: “You grew up with Italians. Your middle name is Marie. I have confidence in you.” 

Jackie (At Target, scrupulously eyeballing/contemplating a wide variety of snacks for a weeklong gathering of like-minded chronies): “This might take me awhile.” 
Mike: “Take your time. ‘Patience’ is my middle name.” 
Jackie: (literally laughing out loud.) 

Jackie: “You kept me awake talking in your sleep.” 
Mike: “Did I offer up anything profound?” 
Jackie: “Not that I recall, though I did not get up and take notes.”

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Noir and Tear Jerkers

To this day, I’ll scroll ahead on Turner Classic Movies or American Movie Classics looking for them. Double Indemnity, Mildred Pierce, Dark Victory.

Traces of my first professional career job.

Fresh from a year in a broadcasting technical school in the Twin Cities, I stuck my foot in the door of the Broadcasting Industry (Marshall McLuhan’s caps) by watching old movies.

In the middle of the night.

At KAKE-TV in my hometown of Wichita. My first brush with noir and I connected with its innate cynicism.

Fred McMurray plunges hard for Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity:

“Yes, I killed him. I killed him for money... and a woman... and I didn't get the money and I didn't get the woman. Pretty, isn't it?” 

My job was the epitome of behind the scenes. It was 1979, smack in the middle of a technological transition. The movies were on actual 16-millimeter celluloid film and I’d thread them through behemoth film projectors, projecting into a video camera through a series of mirrors to be received by the Sony Trinitrons in the basements and bedrooms of insomniacs throughout Greater Doodah and the central Great Plains.

The commercials were on 2-inch videotape cartridges, roughly the size of a pint milk carton, which I’d load into a state-of-the-art (then – today, it’s an antique) wall-covering conveyor belt carousel.

Then I’d settle in at Master Control (exactly what the name implies), a Wurlitzer organ-esque array of flashing buttons, knobs, faders and levers. I felt like Lt. Sulu at the helm of the Enterprise.

I was 21.

Foot in the door, because I had no intention of remaining behind the scenes. My overnight shift was bookended by lunch pail-carrying lifer technicians and there I sat in my polyester and platform heels and can remember thinking, my God, I don’t want to be like these guys when I’m that age.

Ann Blyth as daughter, Veda, to Joan Crawford’s Mildred Pierce: 

“With this money I can get away from you. From you and your chickens and your pies and your kitchens and everything that smells of grease. I can get away from this shack with its cheap furniture. And this town and its dollar days, and its women that wear uniforms and its men that wear overalls.” 

For “lunch,” I dined either on a vended Tuna Salad on Soggy or ordered up a cheeseburger from the Denny’s across West Street, waited for a lengthy segment of the movie, propped a book in the front door of the TV station and hoofed it across the street and back.  

Ambition infused with arrogance.

Bette Davis jerks tears as a young socialite who overcomes hedonism as she dies from an inoperable brain tumor:

“Nothing can hurt us now. What we have can't be destroyed. That's our victory... our victory over the dark. It is a victory because we're not afraid.” 

Immediately, I started working the system and within a year parlayed a job downstairs in the same building as the overnight deejay on KAKE Radio 1240-AM.

Adult Contemporary.

England Dan and John Ford Coley told me love is the answer when I was still tryna figure out the questions.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Different Plane of Existence

“Laws control the lesser man. Right conduct controls the greater.” 
                                             --Mark Twain  

“Man, this view almost makes up for the Cats going 1 and 2.” High above the palm trees and sandy beaches at the pinnacle of the Haleakala Volcano [holly-AWK-uh-luh] (Sorry, old radio news writing habits die hard), I was decompressing from the 10-thousand foot switchback journey up.

“Not really.” We’re above the clouds, looking down on rainbows and she’s leaning over cliffs, trying to capture it on film. through digital photography.

“Guess not.” I pondered. “It’s a different plane of existence.” 

The respite to Hawaii was my idea. K-State men’s basketball in the Maui Invitational was the hook to convince her to spend Thanksgiving away from her family. The woman bleeds purple and will, we have now proven, follow her beloved Cats to the ends of the Earth.

Jackie. Somewhere over the rainbow.
Or at least to the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

The road to the top of the volcano was hairy, even by flatlander standards. Half-ass guardrails, road snaking precipitously uphill. Upcountry, the locals call it on Maui. The sphincter puckered up a bit when we passed a road sign reading, “Turn on lights in clouds.” 

I must have missed that sign on the drive between MHK and Doodah. 

Above the tree line, nothing but lava rocks. Lava rock craters bigger than the island of Manhattan (the one in New York). Lava rock cliffs so sheer they put up 'watch that first step' warning signs.

Y’see, I have this thing about heights.  

The Highway to Hana (HAH-nuh) we took the very next day was different and worse. If the road to the volcano was the shortest distance, bottom to top, the Highway to Hana was the shortest route around the northeast coast of the island.

Two lanes with 5-mile per hour 180-degree hairpins. Still high enough up, that one wrong move and my purple-blooded wife, our 2014 Jeep Compass rental and Puckered Sphincter Boy would plummet Earthward.

In a big damn hurry.

Toward waves crashing into the jagged rocks.
And it was raining. (WTF did I expect? It’s a tropical rain forest...) 

It’s not the end result that scares me. I believe if I do the right thing in this life, my consciousness will continue. In a different plane of existence. Life everlasting. The mystery of faith. I’m not supposed to know why or how. Just believe.

It’s the last few seconds immediately preceding my death as I plummet from a high place that freak me out. 

Like from a quiet but still active volcano. Or plunging the rental into the drink.

I am taking steps, mind you, to conquer, or at least, manage, (seems like a lotta comma's) the acrophobia. I mean a lesser man woulda stayed on terra firma and not even ventured up... or around... the volcano, right? 

Which reminded me of the Twain quote above. If my right conduct today will get me where I want to go after dying, laws don’t really matter.

Even the law of gravity.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Flinty Yankee To Be Named Later

Click on the states you’ve visited and see where you’ve been. Or where you have not been.

Eyeballing a dozen or 15 maps of my Facebook friends, two things struck me.

We get around, but we’ve never been to Maine.

What data can be gathered by cursory glances at a dozen or 15 Kansans’ Maps of States I’ve Visited and none of us have been to Maine? What conclusions drawn? Assumptions made?

My first (assumption) for the sake of this discussion, is this data pool is indicative of the larger Kansas universe. I suspect many, if not most Kansans, have never been to Maine. 

If it looks like a duck... 

Why not? First, Maine is a long ways off. Way the hell and gone up there by Canada in the North Atlantic, it’s the furthest state away from Kansas in the lower 48. It’s halfway to Iceland.

If Kansas is Flyover Country to them, chalk up Maine as Out of Sight, Out of Mind Country to us.

Then there are the strange sounding place names. Mattawamkeag? Caratunk? The name, “Maine,” is probably a nautical term which refers to the region being a mainland, separate from the many surrounding islands. I read that on the Internet, so it must be true.

Legit, but not as romantic as the People of the South Wind.

Maybe Kansans need a specific reason to go there and we just haven’t stumbled across it yet.

The closest I’ve been (in physical proximity) to Maine is Boston. But I’ve traveled there in my head and heart through fiction and popular culture.

Andy DuFresne redeeming at Shawshank. Ramius and Ryan sailing the Red October up the Penobscot River. Hawkeye Pierce pining away for Crabapple Cove. Frannie Goldsmith and Harold Lauder, sole survivors of Ogunquit, bound for the Stovington Plague Center (Stephen King’s caps.) Tim McGraw crooning, “Portland, Maine, I don’t know where that is.”

Don’t sweat it, Tim. Neither do many of us Kansans.

I’ve never been to Maine. But I’ve been to Oklahoma (apologies to 3 Dog Night.)
Which leads me to ponder whether the opposite is true? Is there a balance to the universe? A yin-yang of Internet time wasters? When Mainers click on the states they’ve visited, do they have a rectangular  hole smack in the middle of the country?

Somewhere in a college town in Maine, is there a blogger approaching the precipice of middle age, discerning similar patterns within the maps of a dozen or 15 of his or her Facebook friends?

Maybe an enterprising CVB can work up some organized reciprocity. Send a dozen or 15 rugged individualist bootstrappers from God’s Country to Maine for a week in exchange for an equal number of Downeasters. (With cash considerations and a flinty Yankee to be named later.)

The official song of the state of Maine is called, “State of Maine Song.” While one can offer a compelling argument that the songwriters could have extended the song title brainstorm session another half hour or 45 minutes, the lyrics are poetry:

“Should fate unkind send us to roam, the scent of fragrant pines, the tang of salty sea will call us home.”

Seldom is heard a discouraging word and the skies are not cloudy all day.