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Laura Kessel is managing editor of The News-Herald in Willoughby. She writes a weekly column and shares her thoughts here.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Hard to feel at home after break-in

It was a throwaway line. Over the years, I’ve thought about it many times.

A year before my father died, the movie “Grosse Pointe Blank” hit theaters. In it, John Cusack plays a professional killer who goes home to Michigan to attend his high school reunion because it coincides with a big job.

Yes, that kind of job.

We learn along the way that Cusack’s character, Martin, is in therapy because he’s having trouble dealing with what he does for a living.

As soon as he hits his hometown, he heads over to see his house. Only it’s not there anymore.

It’s been replaced by a convenience store, called Ultimart.

He walks around the store, wide-eyed, trying to figure out what to do. Because he doesn’t know, he calls his shrink, Dr. Oatman.

“I’m standing where my, uh, living room was and it’s not here because my house is gone and it’s an Ultimart! You can never go home again, Oatman... but I guess you can shop there.”

You hear that phrase a lot — you can’t go home again. It is based on a book of that name by Thomas Wolfe. The book details what happens when a guy writes a book and uses the name of his hometown as the setting.

It isn’t pretty, and needless to say, he can’t go home again.

In my case, I’m afraid to go “home” again. In this case, though, the home in question is my mom’s house.

I haven’t lived there in a long time, but the house where you grow up is always supposed to feel like home, isn’t it?
That feeling ended last week when someone broke into my mom’s house and ransacked the place.

It’s a strange feeling when you realize someone you don’t know has been walking around your house, digging through your belongings.

In most cases, they just tossed stuff around. Drawers, doors and cupboards were opened. Boxes and bags were opened. Beds were tossed, presumably because they hoped she’s the type of person who keeps her life savings under the mattress.

But they did more harm than they realize.

Many of my most precious belongings still reside at my mother’s house.

I found my favorite doll lying on the floor in the middle of an upstairs closet. I found my doll-sized wooden rocking chair lying underneath the door the thieves ripped off its hinges for reasons I have yet to figure out. Maybe it was just in the way as they ran through the house.

I found half of the cover of a book my uncle gave me when I was in elementary school lying on the floor of my brother’s old bedroom.

“The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle details the story of a caterpillar who makes his way through the week while eating various fruits and vegetables before pigging out on Saturday. He gets sick from his excess and only eats a single leaf on Sunday before he builds a cocoon and transforms into a beautiful butterfly.

If I attempted to remember how many times I read that book as a child, I’d probably fall a few thousand short. It was the subject of Show-and-Tell in school and stayed close by when I made my way through high school, simply because it was a gift from a beloved uncle.

When my nieces were born, I toyed with giving it to them but couldn’t bear to part with it because of all the good memories.

Then, last Saturday, I found its ripped cover lying in the middle of the floor.

Though I’d already been in the house for an hour or so, studying my mom’s belongings while trying to inventory what had been stolen, it wasn’t until I saw the cover that the tears began to flow.

I knew the thieves had been there, I knew they’d touched belongings in my childhood home. But it didn’t hurt until I realized they’d destroyed something I treasured.

And, in the days since, I’ve come to realize that what they really took was my peace of mind.

I guess you really can’t go home again, because it just doesn’t feel that safe anymore. My mom’s there and the comfort she offers is still very real.

From now on, if I want to go home again, I suppose I’ll have to go there in my mind, because her house doesn’t really feel like it anymore.

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Twitter: @Lauranh

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Brothers’ film the only way to remember

I’ve never been a big fan of disaster movies.

In most cases, you walk in knowing that something bad is going to happen. Then you spend a few minutes getting lulled into a story that is meaningless to the plot.

Then, BOOM — the disaster begins.

The rest of the movie deals with the disaster.

I developed this aversion back in the television days of shows such as “Ants!,” which was subtitled, “It happened at Lakewood Manor.” It starred Suzanne Somers and dealt with a pack of maniacal, poisonous black ants.

They were everywhere. For two hours. Then, magically, they were gone in time for the next show to start.

Every disaster movie has the same formula: Happy times. Disaster, disaster, disaster. Survival!

As you can probably guess, I wasn’t a big fan of movies such as “Armageddon,” “Independence Day” or “Titanic.”

I knew what was coming — disaster, disaster, disaster. I successfully skipped the first two, but peer pressure led me to think I had to see “Titanic.” It was exactly what I figured it would be — but add in a few subliminally suggested bathroom breaks because of all the water.

Since then, though, I’ve been strong and avoided the temptation.

Except for one instance nine years ago, when CBS debuted a program called “9/11,” a documentary that depicted the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

It was filmed by two French brothers, Jules and Gedeon Naudet, who were in town the experiences of a new firefighter in New York City.

This wasn’t Hollywood fiction, it was brutally real.

The horror of 9/11 was still so fresh when the show was broadcast on Sept. 11, 2002.

I had my doubts when the program began — with the back story of Anthony Benetatos, whom viewers came to know as “Probie.”

A probationary firefighter, Tony was the new guy in the firehouse. That meant that Tony did all the scut work that no one else wanted to do. He washed the dishes. He cleaned the windows. He emptied the trash.

The guys obviously liked him, because they worked hard to teach him as he went through his probationary period.

The Naudet brothers talked about picking the wrong summer to film a firefighter in New York, however, because there were no big blazes.

That meant they had nothing to show for their work, just a bunch of routine calls.

One September morning, while out on a report of a gas odor in the street, all that changed.

Jules Naudet suddenly wheeled around as the sound of an engine passed overhead and caught the impact of a jet into the side of the north tower of the World Trade Center.

What follows is the finest depiction of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, that I’ve ever seen.

A few minutes after the first plane hit, Gedeon Naudet captured the second plane’s impact with the south tower as he walked down the street from the firehouse toward Tower One.

Later in the broadcast, Jules Naudet caught the fall of the south tower from inside the north tower.

The firehouse’s detailed description of the day’s events, and their feelings of fear and sadness made me forget that I normally don’t enjoy this type of programming.

Over the years since its first broadcast, I’ve told friends that this program is my personal way of marking the anniversary of the attacks. I sit down every year and solemnly watch what unfolded that day and honor the memory of those who were lost.

If schools are looking for a vehicle to teach future generations about the attacks, this is the only choice.

Every aspect of that day is covered: the gorgeous morning, the shocking impact, the fear, the damage, the towers’ jumpers, firefighters’ climb and then retreat as the buildings were set to fall and the concern over the loss of loved ones.

They even somehow managed to capture the death of beloved NYFD chaplain Rev. Mychal Judge, and the moving transfer of his body out of the rubble.

It’s gripping and emotional. And, it’s real life.

This year, in honor of the 10th anniversary, the brothers updated their story by visiting with those who were featured in the first film.

I can’t wait to catch up with them when it airs at 8 p.m. Sunday on WOIO-TV 19.

I can only hope they left the ending intact. In any other setting, “Danny Boy” might seem a little over the top. But when it’s played over a rollcall of the firefighters who died on Sept. 11, 2011, it just feels right.
Twitter: @Lauranh

Friday, September 2, 2011

Nothing really taxing about Dunlap's tax suggestion

Shopping isn’t as fun as it used to be.

Probably because it’s more expensive.

The gas to drive there is expensive. The clothes and other goods I’m there to purchase are more expensive.

It’s a real drag.

Yet, I still go.

And each time I get to the checkout, I remember a time long ago, and far, far away.

OK, it wasn’t really that far. Pittsburgh is only about 140 miles away.

But when I’d drive back and forth to Ohio during the three years I lived there, it seemed like forever.

When I left Ohio and my news desk job for the greener pastures of a sports department in Pittsburgh, I remember thinking that I could kill my time between waking up and heading to work at 9 p.m. (don’t ask ... it’s a bad memory) by checking out all the stores in the city’s many neighborhoods.

I used a lot of gas in those days, because I’d get lost everywhere I went. A 15-minute drive to the mall ended up taking a half-hour because I’d inevitably get lost on the way.

I couldn’t help it. All the streets were curvy, and all the curves looked the same.

Too bad GPS wasn’t available until years after I left Pittsburgh.

Once I got to the store, though, it was blissful. I’d hunt around for clothes or — even better — shoes. When I got to the checkout, I’d hear those magical words that indicated that what I owed matched the price tag on the item.


The first time it happened, I asked the clerk if the item was on sale. She laughed, and said no, that there’s no sales tax on clothing and shoes in Pennsylvania. She shot down my excitement at stocking up on diamond-studded evening gowns by revealing the only catch — there’s tax on goods the state doesn’t consider “necessities.”

It broke down like this:

No tax on stuff like pants, skirts, tops, underwear and normal shoes. There was tax, however, on “luxury” items such as bathing suits or fur coats.

Still, though, for a woman who wore a lot of jeans and casual tops to work and in her off time, it was heaven.
Then, I moved back to Ohio and got reacquainted with my nemesis.

But those who live around these parts know how to beat the system — shop in Lake County.

As a resident of Cuyahoga County, I’m painfully aware that everything will cost just a little bit more near home. I escape it by doing most of my buying over the border.

While food purchased at the supermarket isn’t taxed, everything else is. So, cleaning supplies and other household goods come from Giant Eagle in Willowick. Clothes are purchased at Great Lakes Mall or other stores that dot the landscape in Mentor or Willoughby. Restaurant meals generally are consumed in the land of Lake as well.

There’s no escaping the big whopper of a tax, though, because when you buy a car, you’re taxed where you live. So even though Classic has a lot of pretty cars on its many lots, it doesn’t save me any tax money to do my bargaining there.

That 7.5 percent hit will be felt as soon as the address hits the form.

Because I know the difference between a high sales tax and a 6.25 percent tax, I was intrigued by Sheriff Dan Dunlap’s pitch to raise Lake County’s rate by 0.25 percent as a means to increase the county’s budget.

Dunlap readily admits that he knows that even if the county does raise its tax, there’s no guarantee he’d get an extra dime.

I must admit that I didn’t mind Dunlap’s suggestion one little bit.

I, for one, would still come to Lake County to do pretty much all my shopping and dining out.

For me, it would still be a savings of 1 percent. When you calculate it over a year, it won’t make me rich, but neither will cutting out a few coupons and cashing them in at Giant Eagle. And I still do that every week.

It might make those in Geauga County a little less likely to run to the mall, because Lake’s tax rate would be higher than theirs. But, even they know their choices are a little slim — Great Lakes Mall, Beachwood Place or Legacy Village.

The latter two are in Cuyahoga County.

I know my opinion differs from most of those who left web comments on our stories this week. Those anonymous folks said they’d do their shopping elsewhere if the county raises its tax rate.

Good luck finding what you need at a lower tax rate.

For now it looks like we won’t have to worry about it, because Commissioners Dan Troy and Ray Sines have said there’s no way they’ll raise the sales tax rate.

But, just remember, there aren’t many ways to make money off those who live out of town. Take advantage of us if you can. We’re obviously willing to give.

Twitter: @LauraNH