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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.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Making a difference and cleaning up a really big problem

I’ve learned a lot about Eva over the past eight weeks.

She reads a lot. She travels a lot. She loves her friend, who sits between us every Tuesday night at the Euclid Citizen Police Academy.

But, what I’ve come to know best about her is that she wants the world to be a heck of a lot different than it is.

Really, we all do.

Euclid Police wouldn’t be offering this class if they didn’t understand that.

They need our help to make some changes in what too many view from the outside as a crime-riddled inner-ring suburb with significant problems.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, the 11-week class we’re moving through allows us up-close encounters with personnel from many of the areas within the department.

We’ve met a patrolman; someone who works traffic enforcement; a member of the SWAT team; and two of the folks who work in the city’s jail.

The message is always the same — we need your help.

It’s one that makes sense.

To me.

My neighbor, on the other hand, isn’t too sure about that.

To her, we shouldn’t have to do anything.

Follow the law.

If you don’t, there should be punishment.

Strong punishment. She’ll tell anyone who’ll listen that she thinks most criminals should receive the ultimate punishment.

I’m definitely not alone in thinking that she doesn’t have a working relationship with the word leniency.

At the end of the Oct. 22 class, which featured a meeting with the head of the narcotics division, Lt. Scott Meyer, she asked what’s become a very Eva question.

“Do you ever think that you’re just wasting your time?”

Meyer laughed and said no, that in fact the narcotics officers know they’re making a difference.

Just how big a difference would become clear the next day.

First, let me take a step back.

During the narcotics talk, we discussed how big a problem heroin is in Northeast Ohio.

It’s a cheap drug that’s now easily accessible.

Just how accessible, though, falls a little too close to home.

Because home for me is Euclid.

And, as we learned last week, Euclid and its neighboring Collinwood neighborhood in Cleveland have become a sort of Ground Zero for heroin trafficking in Northeast Ohio.

You can blame Interstate 90.

When I was learning to drive, the easy-on and easy-off of the highway was convenient.

It’s far too convenient for those dealing heroin and those who, according to federal, Cuyahoga County and local police officials, are coming in from Lake, Geauga and other nearby counties to purchase their drugs.

One of the favorite spots is a large retail area at East 200th Street and Lakeland Boulevard. Exit the highway, into the store lot. When the exchange is complete, hop back on the highway — in either direction.

Quick and way too dirty.

But, just as popular, we heard in class Oct. 22, are neighborhood side streets that allow quick, easy-on, easy-off access to the freeway and just a few seconds for an exchange.

One of the other women in my class described to Meyer what she thinks might have been drug deals in her neighborhood.

He nodded and said she’s probably right. He also reminded her that calls to police with a description of a car, or a license plate number or even patterns of such traffic are helpful in their battle against trafficking.

No doubt such information proved invaluable in the raid and bust that netted 32 members of the so-called Lakeshore Boyz drug gang that patrols Euclid and Collinwood.

During a news conference held about 14 hours after Eva asked her question of Meyer, officials from the U.S Attorney’s Office, FBI, Cuyahoga County, Cleveland Police and Euclid Police stood up to announce the arrests and that they’re taking back their streets.

“To those people who think they can come into our neighborhoods and not be held accountable to try and purchase heroin and any other drugs and perpetuate violence, we’re coming for you, too,” said Euclid Mayor Bill Cervenik. “Stay in your own neighborhood. Stay out of our town. Find somewhere else to do your business. The next time it’s going to be you.”

Cervenik spoke after Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty, who’s becoming a bit of a legend for his refusal to hold back, calling those whom he’s indicted thugs or even worse as he details how their lives are about to change in the justice system.

“Nothing is lower than a heroin dealer,” said McGinty, who formerly served as a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas judge. “Heroin is going to cause more deaths in Cuyahoga County this year than gun-related homicides.”

Not long after McGinty spoke, Cervenik tackled Eva’s topic from the night before.

“To those who are indicted and arrested today, good riddance, don’t come back,” he said. “Our message to our residents that was sent today is that we do care. We will clean up your neighborhoods. But we need your help. When our residents see something that they don’t think is right in their neighborhoods, call the police department. We’ll take them out; we’ll chase them away.”

He’s not kidding, either.

Credit came at the news conference to a combined effort between the two cities’ police departments and their federal and county brethren.

I can only hope Eva got this message that no, they’re not just wasting their time.

They’re out there every day, working to clean up the streets we call home.

Editor’s note: Eva’s name was altered to protect her anonymity.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Pair of old friends offer a big-screen birthday salute

About a third of the way in, the enormity of my problem became clear.

George Clooney was talking to Sandra Bullock, who was diligently working on her repair project in space.

You could say he was flirting, but you might also say he was trying to help her relax.

After pointing out that she obviously thinks he’s attractive, he asks her about his beautiful blue eyes.

I quickly leaned over to whisper to my husband, knocking both of our 3-D glasses out of place as I bared the depth of the useless knowledge at my disposal.

“He has brown eyes.”

About two seconds later, Bullock responded by reminding Clooney that his eyes are brown.

No, I can’t tell you the license plate number for my car, but I know that Clooney is 6 feet tall and that his late pot-bellied pig was named Max.

But, that’ll happen to a gal when she’s been watching an actor since he first showed up with Elliott Gould in a little-remembered comedy series set in an emergency room.

Ahh, the good old days.

Thinking back like that reminds me of another series I loved back in 1980.

This time, it was a comedy that featured two guys who moved to New York City to pursue their advertising careers, only to find out how expensive apartments are. Their first place gets torn down by a wrecking ball as they’re sleeping, and they’re forced to take a room in a hotel that rents only to women.

Cross-dressing and its attendant hilarity ensue.

Oh, that Tom Hanks. He certainly looks good in a dress.

“Bosom Buddies” was only on the air for three seasons, but it’s the ship that launched, uhhhhh, a few Oscars.

Yes, it was silly. Sure, it was improbable.

But, it is to Hanks what “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” is to Sean Penn. It’s what Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch is to Mark Wahlberg.

It’s what “The Electric Company” is to Morgan Freeman, or “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse” is to Laurence Fishburne.

As they say, you have to start someplace.

In doing so, you always hope you’ll end up somewhere.

This pair, with their two Oscars apiece, ended up opening highly anticipated films on consecutive weekends.
I’ll accept it as a birthday present. Thank you, Hollywood.

“Gravity” opened on my birthday, Oct. 4. So, as my gift, I got George Clooney hurtling toward me on the big screen in 3-D.

When Bullock accidentally let a bolt drift off into space, Clooney reached out to retrieve it, and it’s quite possible my chin moved as his hand came out in the 3-D in a move that, to me, seemed as though he knew I was there in the darkness.

“Happy birthday, Laura,” he probably said to himself.

A week later, Hanks drove an entirely different vehicle into theaters.

He and his not-really-cheery band of sailors gathered for a trip around the Horn of Africa, which is home to about 100 million people and a slew of priates that terrorize ships transporting goods to countries such as Djibouti, Ethiopia and Somalia.

I won’t give away anything that you haven’t seen in the previews on TV and in theaters, but as thrilled as I was to have my two guys back-to-back on the big screen, I really struggled with their situations in the movies.

Clooney was flying through space, bouncing off of Bullock (not in that way!) and various pieces of NASA equipment. Hanks spent just about the entire movie with either guns or fists smashed into his face.

I struggled the most with “Captain Phillips,” and at one point almost walked out.

Most reviews I’ve seen have pointed out that there’s really no need for spoiler alerts here, because Hanks’ character in the true story wrote the book on which the movie is based.

But, even though I knew Hanks’ life wasn’t really being threatened, the attacks his character consistently underwent in the movie left me more uncomfortable than I’ve been at the movies in a long time.

In fact, I haven’t come that close to walking out since I saw “American History X” in 1998. Midway through, there’s a scene that even today gives me nightmares. Yes, that’s 15 years later.

There wasn’t any one moment in “Captain Phillips” that led me to that decision-making moment. No, it was thoughts of my buddy Kip in “Bosom Buddies,” and Josh in “Big,” or Joe Fox in “You’ve Got Mail” or, well, Forrest.

I’m glad I stayed, though, for near the end, there was that moment that I’ve had in a few Hanks movies, where I said to myself, “Oh, God, that’s Tom Hanks.”

I’ve done it in “Forrest Gump” and “Cast Away.”

And in his final moments as Capt. Rich Phillips, Hanks again takes us to places so many of today’s actors seem unable to go.

I have a feeling that come Oscar time, we’ll see both of my boys getting their just rewards for a job well done. (Clooney almost assuredly wasn’t in “Gravity” long enough for that honor, but he’s got some material coming down the road that seems really likely to get him there.)

In the meantime, though, I’m going to enjoy the fruits of this pretty special birthday gift from some special old friends.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Precious little funny about stowaway's vegas adventure

I’m trying hard not to treat this like a joke, but it’s really, really, really difficult.

In more than one way, the 9-year-old deserves a pat on the back.

I mean, come on — who among us wouldn’t want to accomplish what he did?

A 9-year-old Minneapolis boy got on a plane and flew to Las Vegas on Sunday without a ticket.
Think about the many breakdowns in this scenario.

He’s a runaway, so there’s the ability to sneak away from home undetected.

He was able to get to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

He got past security and through the X-ray machines.

Then, after he made it into the clear, he was able to put away his ID — oh wait ...

Finally, he got on an airplane by walking past a gate check that on the countless times I’ve flown has required a scan of a ticket and a beep of permission to proceed to the battle for the armrest.

Luckily, the flight crew realized the problem when the young man didn’t show up on its “unattended fliers” list.

Thank goodness for paperwork.

The problems in this boy’s life seemingly go very deep.

His father told a Minneapolis radio station that he doesn’t understand how the boy was able to accomplish what he did.

“How can you let a 9-year-old sneak past security, get on the plane without anyone stopping him, questioning him or anything?” asked the father, who wished to remain anonymous.

He told the station that the boy left to take the trash out on Oct. 2 and never returned. His flight occurred Oct. 6.

Apparently, he disappears a lot, according to an interview with the father. He said the boy usually goes to stay at a friend’s house.

According to The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the boy has had numerous run-ins with the law, including an incident in which he stole a car and went on a highway joyride.

“We didn’t know our son went up to the airport, got past security check, got on that plane — we didn’t know,” the father said. “We’re not mind readers.”

You’re not supposed to be, sir. You’re simply supposed to know where your minor child is.

In another interview, the boy’s father responded to one of the concerns a lot of those who heard about the story have expressed.

Count me among this group.

“My son is not a terrorist — he’s a 9-year-old,” the dad told WCCO-TV in Minneapolis.

Yes, what the father says is true. He’s not a terrorist. He’s a pain in the rump who obviously gets to do what he wants, and that apparently includes running around the country.

But, this little guy proved something very serious — completely by accident.

If you’re traveling through Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, you might not be able to really trust those security screeners and that gate check personnel.

As we’ve seen numerous times around the world, actual terrorists aren’t above using children to complete their dastardly deeds. Thus, it’s important that they get at least a cursory scan to ensure nothing untoward is happening.

My first thought in hearing about this little scoundrel’s trip to Vegas was to laugh and give him credit for being so creative.

But, the more I thought about it, the more the weaknesses became clear and then painful.

This story teaches a lesson to both parents and the travel industry.

It’s important to learn what we can from this youngster.

In this case, what happens in Vegas shouldn’t stay in Vegas.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

This little piece of piggy went to Laura's plate

I guess you can say I’m making my way through the animal.

During a trip last November to Ann Arbor, I sampled goat jowl.

On Sunday, I devoured a pork cheek confit.

These aren’t cuts that normally find their way onto a plate. At least not in my house.

The two examples above are way, way, way out there for me.

I had the jowl at Grange Kitchen and Bar, a restaurant whose owner is devoted to serving up the entire animal. Brandon Johns wasn’t kidding over coffee in the morning when he said that he hoped our group was in the mood for goat later that night.

Silly me, I first thought of a gyro. I was quickly reminded that gyro meat usually involves lamb.


Johns’ menu has had what I’d call an exotic staple on the appetizer list since Grange opened — fried pigs head. Yes, it’s what you think.

During my visit, Johns lamented the fact that he’d love to take it off the menu when he does routine changes, but it’s so popular he wouldn’t dare.

While I admire his insistence on using the majority of the animals he purchases, he could have skipped the jowl.

What showed up on our plates amounted to a big pile of greasy goo.

But, I can say I tried it. I guess I wear it as a badge.

I added another last weekend with the cheek.

The fact that I knew pigs had cheeks before Sunday was based on the way they’re drawn in comic strips, with big round bumps that show up when they smile.

Who knew those bumps were a delicious cut of meat?

OK, the delicious part is probably due in part to a restaurant in Vermilion called The Blind Perch.

The restaurant, which just opened to the public this week, was the “critic’s choice” winner at Sunday’s Generous Helpings fundraiser for Second Harvest Food Bank, which covers four northwest Ohio counties.

I’m proud to say that as one of those “critics,” I gave them a perfect score for their dish, which featured a fork-tender pork medallion atop a roasted cauliflower risotto.

Those who know me should be rather surprised I dug into either of the dishes I just mentioned.

Especially when you consider the fact that there are so many foods whose presence I just try to ignore.

Like onions.

Like peppers.

Like garlic.

The childhood “no” moved into young adult “no, thank you” and has merged easily into “oh, no way.”

I like to explain it thusly:

“I can pick out a tiny sliver of an (insert onion, pepper, garlic) in any dish.”

When I’m done eating, you’ll often see little piles on the edges of the plate, ready for the trash can.

Yes, at 47 years old, I still spit out onions and make a little disapproving face.

At this point in life, it’s just not worth the fight.

“It adds so much to the flavor.”

That might be, but it also tastes disgusting and has an odd texture.

Luckily for me, Blind Perch’s dish on Sunday wasn’t laden with onions or peppers.

I’m sure it would have vastly cut down on the joy.

But, for now, I’ll just be happy to sit back and wait for the next chance to venture in to uncharted animal territory.

Who knows, maybe there’s some marrow someplace with my name on it.