If you like Christmas the way I do, you do not want to miss these holiday movies:
The Midnight Mass of Paul Revere, starring Harrison Ford as Paul Revere, originally aired in 1978. The story of a patriot’s ride from church to church to warn parishioners that “Christmas is coming, Christmas is coming,” and they should hurry off to mass before all the seats are taken by people they have never seen before.
The story also takes the viewer back to Mr. Revere’s school days where we see him dumping bales of tea into a pond to strongly encourage pastors to provide coffee and doughnuts in the church hall following masses. Ever the attention grabber, it becomes evident that this Paul Revere would one day be put in charge of his church’s annual tree lighting ceremony.
The most exciting part of the movie for me is a cameo by Tom Bosley who portrays Ben Franklin. It is Franklin who encourages Revere to print church calendars to remind parishioners when Christmas is coming, thus eliminating that dreadfully long horse ride every year.
I Have Not Yet Begun to Shop depicts every retailer’s worst nightmare. Parental discretion is advised because it contains vulgarity and scenes of mall violence when a large group of consumers cram their way into a tiny port the day before Christmas. Bruce Willis stars as Revolutionary War hero John Paul Jones who, after three hours of trying to find dry land, wants nothing more than to buy his gifts and go home.
Once inside the mall, Jones weaves in and out of crowds to avoid survey takers. He is having a miserable experience and viewers will be able to relate to what our protagonist is going through. But his mettle is put to the ultimate test when he is bombarded by a sea of cosmetic pushers in a trendy department store. He escapes only to be confronted by a group of thugs wearing “Long Live The King” shirts who attempt to steal his wallet. Sixty rounds of ammunition and 14 grenades later (this is a Bruce Willis movie) Mr. Jones tosses a silver coin on the counter and buys a round of slippers for the strangers around him, reminding everyone of the true meaning of Christmas. The movie ends with a close-up of our main character fixated on the port in front of him. “Where in the hell did I park my boat?”
The Declaration of Christmas is truly an award-winning musical. It opens with a mob of colonists holding shopping bags inside a mall. As the camera pans their faces, it is evident these people are in search of a better holiday. Their leader, Patrick Henry, played by Jason Alexander of Seinfeld fame, stands on a soap box and delivers an Oscar-worthy oration on retail tyranny, the wretched wait times to get a picture drawn with Santa, and unfair return policies. Despite the serious nature of the musical, fans of American history will catch a rare glimpse of Patrick Henry using the period’s most popular pick-up line when a beautiful woman walks by during his fiery speech. “Give me mistletoe or give me death!”
The Congress That Stole Christmas pits Christopher Walken’s Wally Fitzgerald (R) against Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Pete Stackhouse(D). It also features 533 extras who had nothing better to do because they were on furlough from their government jobs during filming.
It’s Christmas Eve and the nation’s biggest lawmakers are not any closer to reaching an agreement on the debt ceiling. Fitzgerald and Stackhouse haven’t uttered two kind words to each other in weeks. This stalemate leads to a partial government shutdown that closes all national parks to the public and sends “non-essential” government employees home. Hoffman does a splendid job portraying Stackhouse who favors large government spending and pork-barrel projects. Not because pork-barrel projects are vital to his policies. He just likes hearing people say pork-barrel. Walken will be up for an academy award for his role in the film as a tight-fisted Speaker of the House who wants to cut government spending by 75% through 2017.
The movie is set in a fictional snow-covered national park and was actually financed with both private and public funds. Because national parks are closed, the studio had to construct a makeshift national park using TARP money left over from the previous administration. Money that had been earmarked for such an arrangement in the event of a government shutdown. This way, Americans could remember with great fondness that national parks used to exist. If this sounds strangely familiar to you, wait until you see how the plot unfolds.
Let me begin by saying that this film offers up some breathtaking outdoor scenery, a Chris Walken dance scene and a holiday soundtrack that is second to none. But its similarity to another holiday favorite leaves this viewer with the impression that The Congress That Stole Christmas is nothing but a knockoff.
While a fresh coat of overnight snow blankets the national park, Fitzgerald and his dog, Austerity, slide down the fiscal cliff and steal the employee time cards. But while trying to drag the sack of time cards back up the fiscal cliff, the girth of the sack overpowers Austerity causing sack and dog to start slipping. Fitzgerald is trying with all his might to hold on when he hears singing below. Why are they singing, he thinks to himself. Don’t they know the park is closed? Is it possible that Americans do not need Congress to feel happiness? His heart grows to the size of an overripe melon. He slides back down the fiscal cliff and passes out the time cards. The workers will need them when they return to work after Christmas. Oh, and Fitzgerald and Stackhouse make up and promise America on C-Span there will not be a sequel.
I’ll Be On Healthcare.Gov For the Holidays stars Amy Adams as Sara, a mother of 4, who wants to give her family the gift of health insurance this Christmas. Unfortunately, no one has seen or heard from her since she first went on the website two months ago.
Take a trip on a bizarre ride with Sara as she navigates the slushy streets of the healthcare.gov website for the 84th time. Will submitting all of her answers to the online application before the website crashes require a Christmas miracle? If you like epic dramatic miniseries that showcase adorable kids reuniting with long lost relatives, this movie’s for you. Fun for the whole family!
These movies are only available in certain states and territories. Check local listing for complete details.
Every now and then a book comes along that grants us the privilege of peering into the lives of people and seeing the good in everyone. A Secret Gift: How One Man’s Kindness – And A Trove of Letters – Revealed The Hidden History of the Great Depression is such a book. Written by Ted Gup and published in 2010 by Penguin, this work of non-fiction takes the reader to the poverty pocked streets of Canton, Ohio.
It begins Sunday, December 17, 1933. Canton, with an unemployment rate of 50%, is reeling in the Great Depression. People from every walk of life are bracing themselves for a rough Christmas. A mysterious benefactor places an ad in the Canton Repository that reads:
Suppose if I were confronted with an economic situation where the bread of tomorrow is the problem of today – there is a question in my mind if I would accept charity directly offered by welfare organizations. I know there are hundreds of men that are confronted with economic problems and think, feel and act the same way.
To men or families in such position the maker of this offer, who will remain unknown until the very end, will be glad if he is given an opportunity to help from 50-75 such families so they will be able to spend a merry and joyful Christmas.
To such men or families that will request such financial aid, the writer pledges that their identity will never be revealed. Please write:
In writing, please familiarize me with your true circumstances and financial aid will be promptly sent.
I have to admit that even though this book was published three years ago, I had not heard of it until last week. We were driving in Cleveland Heights when my wife noticed a sign in front of the library on Lee Road advertising a book sale. Stuff a bag for $3! Without hesitation, we parked our minivan and the six of us – me, my wife and our daughters swarmed this house of knowledge in pursuit of literature. You see, I am a patriarch in a family of avid readers. Even the eldest of us becomes a kid in a candy store in the presence of library book sales.
I mostly read fiction these days. But I’m always on the lookout for a great history book. In literature and in life I am drawn to narratives about self-made people, the little guys who did well and gave back. While reading excerpts of the book at the Cleveland City Club a few years ago, Ted Gup told listeners that he is drawn to extraordinary tales about ordinary people. The Great Depression meant “hard times without safety nets” like unemployment benefits, social security and FDIC. It tested the mettle of every American. A small gesture like the one the hero of this book gave to his neighbors changed the lives of many people.
The hero of this story knew firsthand what it was like to experience human misery. He had been bankrupt in 1929 and would be again in 1937. Business was good in 1933 at his clothing store, but for so many around him life was one obstacle after the next. People didn’t have enough money for food, rent and warm shoes. B. Virdot, a self-made man, did not turn a blind eye to what was going on around him. He realized how lucky he was. He had a few bucks he wanted to share.
When you read this book you will see that some of the letter writers were actively engaging in the art of networking. Some of them were prominent business people in Canton who had fallen on hard times. They wrote about their skills and were asking the unknown benefactor to let them know if he hears anything about available jobs. B. Virdot sent them a check for $5 to give them hope. Perhaps things might turn around for them soon. According to Gup, the benefactor had a soft spot in his heart for people who were like him. Hard working but vulnerable to the times.
One man sending 150 checks for $5 to needy families was more than a remarkable gift. This was before Roosevelt’s New Deal had fully materialized. What little public aid existed was scarce and laden with scrutiny for anyone who had asked for it. There was a great deal of shame attached to accepting charity. Most of the letter writers in the book did not ask for anything for themselves. On their last leg, they asked for something to help their loved ones, or neighbors down the street.
$5, according to Gup, is worth around $80 to $100 today. It’s amazing how much you could buy for five bucks in those days. When writing thank you letters to B. Virdot after receiving their gifts, many recipients wrote about buying coats for multiple children and having enough left over for meat and oranges on Christmas morning.
The hero knew many of the recipients and many of them would know him if he had revealed his true identity. But unlike most benefactors, B. Virdot (a fictitious name derived by the gift giver combining the names of his three daughters Barbara, Virginia and Dorothy) did not need to have his name attached to his good deed in order to feel good. How many celebrities and businesses remain nameless when passing out donations today?
I like books that give me a better understanding of what our nation’s parents and grandparents endured when they were children. We share a special bond with them because we are descendents of the Great Depression. I think of my daughters when reading about the mothers and fathers of the 1930s, who had little for themselves, writing to an anonymous benefactor about their wanting to give something, anything, to their children at Christmas. I think of the evictions, empty savings accounts, dislocated families and orphanages that forever changed the portfolios of families after the fallout of the Great Depression. You had to be a resourceful person to survive this period. It’s no wonder that historians label the survivors of the Great Depression the greatest generation.
As you can tell, I like The Secret Gift by Ted Gup. It will forever have a place on my bookshelf and I hope my daughters pick it up one day when they want to learn more about a time in history that is never far away from home, as similarities to our nation’s current recession can attest. When you read this book, you will discover that it is not only the author’s family history but a tale about generosity and second chances. It will show you that good deeds never go unnoticed. Even if you want them to.
A landscaper in northeast Ohio was relieved of his duties yesterday after management discovered that he had dressed like a clown during business hours. The employee, Earl, was taking part in the Kocic Landscaping Inaugural Halloween Costume Day at the time. Kocic Landscaping, in an effort to boost company morale, allowed employees this year to dress up in costumes since late hours on the job prevent them from trick-or-treating at home with their families.
“We thought it would be a nice gesture,” said Tony Kocic, owner of Kocic Landscaping. “We had no idea it would blow up in our faces.”
Kocic explained that every employee received a memo in advance which indicated what sorts of costumes were deemed appropriate and which ones were not. Being a clown was strongly prohibited. The company suggested male employees dress like Spiderman or their favorite football player. Spiderman is sleek and he doesn’t wear a lot of junk that gets in the way. As for the football get-up? Wearing a helmet this time of the year is wise because mowers go in and around wooded areas having low-hanging branches. Dressing like a football player is both fun and safe. Female employees were asked to dress like Raggedy Ann, Little Bo Peep, and Louisa May Alcott. Not for safety reasons, but because these characters rank high on Kocic’s list of favorite females in history.
When employees reported to work in the morning, Earl was dressed as Spiderman and seemed in good spirits. But his behavior became increasingly erratic. Two crew members reported that Earl stopped a company truck on their way to the first job and went into the woods carrying a large duffel bag. He told his crew that he had to “take a leak.” Earl emerged 5 minutes later in a clown suit. To make matters worse, the employee who was seated in the middle was forced to operate the pedals while Earl steered because his clown shoes were too big for him to sense where the accelerator and brake were.
When the crew finally arrived at its first stop, things got even more interesting. Earl, despite pleas from crew members, insisted on using the company’s upright stand-on mower even though his size 24 clown shoes made it impossible for him to stand on the mower’s 12” platform. After 15 minutes of trying to operate the mower without falling off, Earl rigged up a contraption from materials he had found in the truck. His ingenuity, regardless of how misdirected it was, allowed him to extend the size of the platform. But he failed to take into consideration that by extending the size of the platform to accommodate his large shoes, he now had to extend his arms further in order to reach the controls. He was able to achieve this for a short while before running into a row of thorny barberry bushes and getting hurt.
“Listen, it’s not like we’re a bank or retail establishment where you can go all willy-nilly,” explained Mr. Kocic. “Our workers operate dangerous equipment. We gave them strict orders to refrain from wearing costumes that would prevent them from doing their jobs safely. I mean, I wanted to be Batman for chrissakes. But you try operating a sit-down mower while wearing a cape. The blades could suck it from under you and choke you to death!”
Then there was the big red nose Earl was sporting that prevented him from wearing safety goggles. Kocic adheres to a no-nonsense safety goggles policy. Prior to enacting the policy, three employees had each lost an eye for failing to wear safety goggles. Luckily, they are still employed with the company and were granted permission to dress like pirates and wear eye patches for this occasion. Earl spent the day without safety goggles because he could not get them to fit on his fake nose.
Kocic workers are also required to carry in their pockets extra string trimming line for when they run out. Earl, when reaching for more line, kept pulling from his pocket a 40-foot string of colorful silk scarves. Crowds gathered around to see what Earl would pull out of his pocket next, which kept him from doing his job, making the other two members of his crew pull double-duty.
Earl even went so far as to attach an old bicycle horn to his mower and sound it every time he finished making a pass in a customer’s yard. But what irked Mr. Kocic the most was his phone ringing off the hook. “As you know, a lot of kids hate clowns. In one neighborhood in particular, we got at least 20 calls from parents wondering why their kids were having a hard time falling asleep last night.”
Kocic, who dressed like Freddy Krueger, is considering canceling next year’s costume day unless every one of his 52 employees cooperate and read their “damn memos!”
When word got out at the end of the day that Kocic was thinking about suspending next year’s dress up day, one angry employee jumped on a tractor and chased Earl around the shop. Earl was forced to hide behind an empty rain barrel. After the employee stopped giving chase, Earl picked up the rain barrel and threw it at him, striking the employee on the back. Management intervened and within minutes Earl was issued his walking papers.
A co-worker at Kocic Landscaping, who wished not to be identified, believes that Earl finally cracked. “Leaves that never stop flying and being away from Halloween candy does that to a person.”
Prior to dress up day, Earl was considered a model employee during a career that he claims spanned 16 years in the industry. He proudly displayed his Employee of the Month certificates in the company break room. After his termination, Earl had plenty to say.
“They haven’t heard the last of me. I’ll take this all the way to the Ohio Landscapers Association!”
Earl plans to file a grievance with the Fair Employment Agency “first chance he gets.”
The search is now on for someone to move into Earl’s role at Kocic Landscaping. Interested candidates are encouraged to contact the firm immediately. According to Earl, finding a replacement for him is not going to be easy.
“They have some big shoes to fill. Really big shoes.”
A while back I wrote an essay called Telling Stories About Garfield Heights. It was published in a local newspaper and online. At the time, the outlook of Garfield Heights (a suburb about 4 miles southeast of Cleveland, Ohio) was bleak. The city had not passed a school levy in 20 years, businesses were closing, housing vacancies were on the rise, and a highly publicized shopping plaza called City View had emerged as a ghost town reminiscent of the old west.
Since then, a levy passed and a few signs of recovery are evident. I know I’m excited about the new McDonald’s. It is one of only a handful of McDonalds in the country that uses energy efficient measures in its daily operations. http://www.bizjournals.com/chicago/news/2013/05/02/mcdonalds-in-oh-energy-efficient-model.html
But it will take more than a few Happy Meals before housing prices stabilize and it becomes attractive for home buyers to move to Garfield Heights and contribute to the city’s tax base. Even though Garfield Heights has its challenges, the schools beam with bright minds and top-notch educators. And the community’s elected officials are determined to bring the suburb back to a respectable level.
People are talking about Garfield Heights. Many of them live outside the community, and the things they are saying aren’t very nice.
Our surrounding cities have profound nicknames. University Heights is the City of Beautiful Homes. Our great ancestor, Cleveland, is often called the Comeback City. Unfortunately, we have been branded Garbage Heights. Maybe because of the old landfill. Maybe because we have an inferiority complex. For whatever reason we have accepted Garbage Heights as our moniker.
If people continue to talk and we do nothing to defend ourselves, we may as well resurrect the concept of Burma-Shave signs and place them along I-480: FINANCIAL MESS, SCHOOL DISTRESS, WANT NOTHING TO DO, COME TO CITY VIEW. That way we can buy into the theory that Garfield Heights is dead.
Or we can tell our story. We all have stories about growing up in Garfield Heights and this city can use a good story right now. It may not put money in our pockets but maybe it can bring neighbors together.
I’m not sure if my story qualifies as a good story but I can trace my family’s roots in Garfield Heights back to 1947. Our city, formerly known as South Newburgh, was just 28 years old, having officially been named so in 1919. My grandparents, a Slovenian and a Pole, moved themselves and their children from East 63rd and Fleet Avenue in Cleveland to Garfield Heights. My dad, who was 10 at the time, would finish his childhood on Rudolph Avenue in one of the 42 houses razed in recent years for Bridgeview.
Grandpa had 4 acres at that house on Rudolph and used every inch of it for growing fruits and vegetables, and raising chickens. His spent his days at Valley Mould in Cleveland as a coremaker, and his nights and weekends running a small landscaping business. Work was hard and chores were plenty for my dad, but there was an adventure around every corner waiting for him.
My dad’s name is Norman and his first job involved pulling a wagon and selling home-grown produce door to door. After work he would hop on his Schwinn and pedal down Granger hill for custard where the Cloverleaf drive-in was once located. Or Grandma would send him to the butcher shop, where the Sunoco on Granger now sits, for fresh cut meat still warm and wrapped in white paper. He also remembers going house to house after Christmas one year and collecting about 30 used trees because someone told him if he replanted them they would grow to twice the size the following Christmas.
Ever the victim of practical jokes, my dad would grow into a teenager and local businesses like Grove Lanes near Grace Avenue and Hilltop Hardware on Granger would hire him as a pin setter and sales clerk respectively. He attended Garfield Heights High School, and although he did not participate in sports he once ran a 4:52 mile in gym class. Even though his favorite class was American History, his fondest memory was graduation when his father gave him a 1947 Mercury sedan. And even though it was 1955, that old car had 8 cylinders and could roll with the best of them!
There was plenty for him to do at night. The Garfield, once located by Sts. Peter and Paul, showed the latest movies and catered to this particular young man’s compulsive need to see Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly on the big screen.
My dad left Garfield Heights to join the Marines after graduating high school in 1955 but would return to the area upon the completion of his military service. He married a Hungarian from Maple Heights in 1965, settled into the life insurance business, and moved back to Garfield Heights for good in 1978. Oh and by this time he and my mom had 6 kids, including me.
My dad has never been shy about sharing his Garfield Heights stories with us. Like his father, he is a proud man who enjoys hard work and embraces the opportunity to remain vested in his community. His home is his castle he says, and he still competes with his next door neighbor for greenest lawn on the street.
Tomato plants grow next to Black-eyed Susans and Hydrangeas out back. He attends mass every week with Mom at St. Therese Church. He is concerned about many things in Garfield Heights, but where is he going to go? He is 74 and still sells insurance every day and shows no signs of wanting to let up. He is adding new chapters to his tales about life in Garfield Heights even though there are less and less good things to say these days.
I, too, have fond memories of growing up in Garfield Heights in the 1980s. Playing little league baseball on diamonds where the high school now sits. Delivering the Plain Dealer every morning to customers on Willard Avenue. Spending some of that money I earned on my paper route on tee shirts at Daffy Dan’s.
I was a cross country runner, and I think I trained along every square inch of land in Garfield Heights. I loved running after 11 PM. There was nothing like the quiet solitude of running along Edgepark Drive, surrounded by neighbors I knew and past houses loaded with old-world charm and copper tubing right where the builder put them.
Things have changed a lot in our city since then. I walk down empty streets that have for sale signs and vacant houses everywhere I look. I hear stories about people breaking into homes and stealing that very copper which brings so much value to old houses. They don’t realize that what little we do have in our city has to stay in its rightful place.
I cannot lie to myself. I have never witnessed a mood as bleak as I now see it in Garfield Heights. The fiscal problems, the failed school levies, the City View and Bridgeview disasters. But I like to think that when a town hits rock bottom, there is no place left to go but up. If people from my dad’s generation have positive stories about growing up in Garfield Heights, then certainly this generation should one day reveal stories that speak volumes about experiences in Garfield Heights and feel proud.
Until then Garfield Heights remains an old dusty chair that we sit on but not too comfortably. Creaky and wobbly. Do we throw it to the curb? Or do we appreciate how long it has been in the family and preserve it like the heirloom it is. I say we polish it with better schools, businesses, and nice homes for our children. Wouldn’t that make for a great story.
Poetry flows like kayaks down mighty rivers. Songs possess words that are decent and can be heard over the music. Movies inspire you to become leading actors in your own stories. And sports take you back to a time when athletes weren’t bigger than the games they played – yet they changed the games forever.
When you run on all cylinders
Memories are sweetened with real sugar. Snapshots worth a thousand-and-one words become full length novels about the people who touch you. Every relationship that matters most is everlasting because love without strings is unconditional.
When you run on all cylinders
You want to savor every minute you have on earth. The minutes which are hard to swallow make the good times feel like you’re in heaven.
His words don’t taste like donuts.
They don’t smell like soap.
And I wouldn’t brush my teeth with them if I were you.
His words don’t hang on walls like photographs or paintings.
They are not murals, although I think they paint a picture about life.
Whose life – his I guess.
Who is he, I do not know.
He is just a speck -
a tiny particle moving from one sieve through another by bigger specks who pour him into little cups.
He sees them but I’m not sure if they see him because they are too busy pouring.
He observes and studies them.
He can turn them into characters in his stories if he wants too.
Or he can convert them into impassioned ideas and argue for their causes.
His words don’t repair broken windows or seal leaky roofs.
You cannot pay a premium for his words so they will offer you protection in this life or the next.
His words cannot be traded for Albert Pujols and a player to be named later.
He fears losing his mind and waking up tomorrow forgetting how to write words.
That is, if he knows how to write words in the first place.
In light of one employee’s recent attempt to lighten the mood around here, Management wishes to remind you that under no circumstances is an employee of ABC, Inc. permitted to:
1. possess an original thought
3. cause others to smile
Thank you. Now get back to work!
Joseph Schmo, Manager
Clarifying Shampoo and Concentrated Orange Juice could not be more different. One is always reminding you that she washes hair; the other always looks like he has something on his mind.
One day they ended up next to each other in the grocery cart.
“Hi, I’m shampoo! HELLOOOO?! I said, I’m shampoo.”
“I heard you,” replied Orange Juice. “If you don’t mind, I’m trying to concentrate, but thanks for clarifying who you are.”
I would like to nominate a friend for your Lifetime Achievement Award. I feel this person exemplifies what it means to be a special human, with highs and lows, attributes and faults, etc. Anyway, Lajos Virost, my friend is 57, a little young for a lifetime achievement award, but old enough if you ask me. Oh, and if he knew I was doing this, he would laugh in my face. To say that Lajos is modest and a private man is putting it mildly.
He was born in Cleveland, barely, in 1956 when his parents fled Budapest while he was still in his mother’s belly. He is married for 37 years now and has 7 children, all girls! He has never been apart from his family. They are practically joined together at the hip. He likes it this way.
Lajos started a company cleaning apartments with his wife a few years ago. They call their company Shiny Happy Peepholes. Their love of REM and fresh smelling living quarters inspired them in those early days. Their daughters, who range in ages from 16 to 35, help run the business.
I first met Lajos in 1973. He was 17 years old and I had just turned 19. Our fathers belonged to the Hungarian Business Club. Distance running, if you can believe that, is what brought us together. At the time, the US had a handful of elite distance runners from east to west who, on the international stage, had won some major races and ignited in this country a big running boom. People of every skill level began jogging and organizing running clubs and races. Running magazines and books hit the newsstands. Men, and women, were increasingly obsessed with improving themselves by going out on daily long distance runs. Not to be outdone, the Hungarian Business Club formed a cross country running club for young men. Lajos showed up for his first day of distance running wearing jeans and a pair of secondhand Chuck Taylor high tops. I remember his laces kept coming undone and when he tried to retie them they kept breaking. So he would tie one end to the other with a knot until he barely had enough room to make a loop. Then he would sprint back up to the lead pack and us older guys would be like, “who’s this little gnat and why won’t he shoo already!” After a few miles, he settled into a comfortable pace and finished the 8 mile run four minutes ahead of us. Even back then I could see the determination in Lajos’s eyes. If this first run with him was any indication of how competitive Lajos would be in anything he might do in life, the world was going to be in for a treat.
Lajos eventually scraped up enough money to buy a pair of Tiger running shoes and as the years went by he began to look like a real runner. Skinny but muscular, chiseled face, relaxed but never sitting still for too long. Always thinking of his next run, his next race. But not for a minute did he forget about us and where he came from. Lajos had a heart of gold. Something was always eating at him though. He would rack up wins at local cross country meets and road races. But it bothered him that he was in the shadow of elite runners like Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers. To make himself better, he started entering races that featured some of the country’s best runners to see how close he could come to them. He found it frustrating that he was 19 or 20 years old and still a couple minutes off the world class runners, but I knew he was closing the gap. I knew he could catch them one day!
He married Katarina on his 20th birthday and they honeymooned in Pittsburgh so he could compete in a 5-miler and she could take in all of Pittsburgh’s amazing bridges, oh, and they could spend time with each other! By now, Lajos had been running for nearly 3 years. He was very strong, almost like a machine. He and Katarina moved to Chardon, about 30 miles east of Cleveland to work on her uncle’s farm. He ran early in the morning before work and again right after work, about 15-17 miles each day. Except on Sundays when he ran 22 miles before going to mass at St. Margaret’s. Lajos was always doting on Katarina and telling me how lucky he was. His mind was sharp, his heart, lungs and legs were strong, and he was in love. And he was well on his way to becoming a father seven times over!
I should tell you right now that Lajos had more going for him than your average man. He was good looking, hard-working, and healthy. And he could grow a mustache with the best of them! Please note the picture I have enclosed. This photograph was taken by my wife, Barbara, at the 1981 Cleveland-Revco Marathon. I think it was at mile 18, which if you know anything about long-distance running is considered the part of a marathon that could either make you or break you. I remember Lajos telling me that this is when a runner either has a bear jump on his back or he hits a wall, I can never remember which. What the photograph doesn’t show you is that Lajos took a few minutes after mile 18 to stop and talk with a local high school cross country team that had gathered to cheer on this local celebrity. Then he gave his two-year old daughter a great big hug before getting back in the race.
To demonstrate just how intense Lajos Virost was when he ran, I have included an entry word for word dated September 7, 1980 from his running log…
I am the ultimate underdog. They say I am not fast enough. Some days I believe them, but I work at my shortcomings and my body feeds off my desire to prove them wrong. They say I possess a blue collar work ethic, whatever that means.
Just one more mile until I get there. Okay, I’m here. 4:51. Jeez! Let’s try this again.
4:48. Nope, not good enough. I’ll stay here all night if I have to!
4:44. That’s better, but surely I can run faster than this.
Ears pop, chest cries uncle, lactic acid runs like lava down the slope of my quads and puddles in my calves. Lesser men die out here. Trust my training. Live to tell my kids about this.
Cross the line and look down at my watch. 4:37. My lungs burn so much I can feel them bent over and gasping for air in my throat. Big strong blue collar lungs that just went the distance with Dave Wottle. My heart beats 160 times a minute. Now I’m ready to win a 5K, 10K, and a marathon.
I am an underdog. I will always work harder than the guy who finishes second. I will become a highlight reel.
After the accident on the farm, he stopped running. He had no choice. His running life would become a dusty box of race numbers, trophies and old photos. By now a father of three, eventually to be seven girls, he closed this chapter in his life and set out to reinvent himself. He washed dishes, he worked at a car dealership, he studied business part-time at Lakeland Community College. He and Katarina left the farm in the hands of her capable uncle and moved back to Cleveland. The babies kept coming and Lajos kept working. And he put on weight. But through it all he never complained. Why should he? He always told me that he was right where he wanted to be. And though I believed him, I knew there was one ingredient missing in his life. His need to feel the wind in his hair, which by this time was growing thinner. His desire to race up and down hills, which would have required a miracle. He moved around slower, but like I said before, he didn’t dwell on it.
As the years slipped by he moved further and further away from his identity as a runner. But he was there for his daughters when they took up the sport in high school and in college. He loved taking them to practice and challenging himself to “walk quickly” from his car as they set out with their teammates on a run to the closest trail so he could surprise them and yell words of encouragement. But he stopped doing this after noticing how embarrassed they would get. One time he overheard some of the other girls teasing his youngest daughter about getting a ride to and from practice from “that fat, homeless guy.” He didn’t argue with his daughter when she informed him that she’s a big girl now and can get to practice on her own. That she no longer needed him in the way that he wanted to be needed.
So another chapter in his life was closed. What he liked best about his daughters running in their early days was watching them run and being amazed how these young athletes made everything look so easy. They stretched without uttering the slightest groan. They moved their limber bodies this way and that without tearing muscles. They warmed up, worked out and cooled down without reaching for their hamstrings. He stood there and wondered where all of the time had gone. He thought of his PRs. He thought of his wins and losses. He thought of how sad he was.
Every serious runner remembers every single PR they set during their youth. It is emblazoned in their mind, if not scribbled on a piece of paper or typed neatly and tucked away as a permanent record. A PR is a runner’s social security number. It is time standing still along a continuum in space. Lajos Virost knows exactly what he was doing between 8 AM and 8:25 AM on November 22nd, 1979. He was running his best 8000 meters ever.
The prime of his life took place between 1973-1981. These were his club years and let me tell you, he logged some serious miles back then. A year-round training program kept him primed and ready to run with the front pack in many races in our neck of the woods. Wins and losses defined him. Numbers nagged at him. At 22 he averaged 4:50 miles in 5000 meter races on 100 mile weeks while consuming 3000 carb-laden calories and possessing a 28” waist on a 5’ 9” and 125 lb. frame. Fast-forward 35 years and he is an old man still controlled by numbers. Only he’s traded in his splits, PRs and miles logged for a fixed-rate mortgage and college tuition costs for his daughters.
Thanks to a training log full of injuries he is an ex-runner whose 15 minutes were used up during his final 5K three decades ago. But lately, he started watching his girls run again. Some are in their 30s and compete regularly in road races. Some compete in cross country in college. And his high schooler may make all-state this year! The sights, sounds and smells of cross country running make it darn near impossible for anyone with a past in the sport not to get misty-eyed when fall rolls around. But perhaps the best news he has received in recent days was when his youngest daughter told him that he will always be Lajos Virost, the man who would have caught Bill Rodgers. But more than this, the man that has always, and will always be her father.
Still, I can’t help but wonder what kind of runner he might have become if it weren’t for that one time he acted so silly, and so drunk, at the wheel of that tractor so many years ago. If his leg hadn’t been crushed when it flipped over and it fell on him.
For not running from his responsibilities and for seizing the opportunity for a second chance in life, I nominate Lajos Virost for a Lifetime Achievement Award. Just don’t tell him I put you up to this!
Theodore P. Nagy
Illustration by Audrey Sajovie
It’s us against nobody else in the world.
We are in a seat that smells like leather because it is leather, cradled inside newly waxed cherry red steel with chrome bumpers and running boards.
On the dashboard sits Saint Anthony and the grass skirt girl.
We are in the memory-making business and business is good.
We race in and out of movies and we go to ballgames to catch home runs.
We eat buttery foods that we shouldn’t because today could be our last.
We crank up the radio and dance like Men Without Hats.
For six days straight we build up steam and our caps overheat and blow salty human sweat, a reservoir that puddles until we punch our cards and go home.
On the seventh day we check our fluids and rotate our tires.
We watch for potholes and fix our eyes on the road ahead.
When I was a boy, nothing beat a night at Grandma’s house. It was free, the rooms were nice and cozy, and the award-winning food was, well, worthy of winning lots of awards. Even though she lived in Cleveland, Ohio her kitchen was sautéed in southern hospitality and smothered with goodness. One whiff of her chicken and dumplings soaked my taste buds with mouth-watering delight and turned my knees into sacks of Jello.
Grandma’s house was filled with things bought at garage sales, craft fairs and fabric stores. Grandma loved collecting treasure and making things. There was always something to do and see. I remember down in the basement digging inside freezers the size of coffins for ice cream. She had every flavor in the book! Butter pecan was my favorite. I also remember my older brother locking me in the cellar, surrounded by shelves of canned fruit and vegetables, and all sorts of creaks and strange noises. There was something both soothing and unnerving about Grandma’s basement. She had this giant furnace that shook and rumbled any time a child under the age of 10 was around.
I will never forget Grandma’s attic. My brother and I hung out up there and spun 45’s on an old turntable. Bobby Darin and Bill Haley splish-splashed and rocked around the clock while we scoured the sports pages of the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Cleveland Press in search of batting averages and golden statistics. The attic was a great place to play hide-n-seek and other games with my brother. But I dared not venture there alone because of the sword-toting knight in the corner who I could swear on a stack of bibles moved his eyes once. “It’s only a statue!” Grandma explained. “Grandma, it’s alive,” I cried. To make matters worse, it seemed like Grandma was always asking me to run boxes up there.
“Mickey, take these boxes up to the attic and I’ll make you some hot cocoa.”
“Uh, Grandma, wouldn’t you rather send Nick up there? After all, he is older!”
After pleading my case without success, I’d run up, toss the boxes into darkness, and sprint like Jessie Owens back to the warmth and serenity of Grandma’s kitchen. Waiting for me was a meal of grand proportions. Mouth-watering meat and potatoes with buttermilk biscuits. Or city chicken and stuffing with homemade apple pie for dessert. And how could I forget those tiny wieners wrapped in flaky croissants. We’d gobble the food up faster than Grandpa could say, “more pie, Eunice!” Then off to bed we went. The sheets were soft and cool, the blankets tight and snug – like the beds in five-star hotels. My mind wandered ahead to morning when the aroma of Grandma’s waffles, bacon, and scrambled eggs tickled my nose and carried me on cartoon clouds to the kitchen table. My brother and I competed to see who could eat the most waffles. Leftovers meant having to answer to Bo (a dog of unusually large size and appetite) who lived in Grandma’s garage.
“Mickey, take these leftovers to Bo and I’ll make you some hot cocoa…”
Years have passed. When I think of Grandma, she is wearing an apron and mixing pancake batter as I sit at the kitchen table reading the sports pages. Grandpa’s coffee is brewing. My brother is still upstairs getting dressed. My baseball glove is on my lap, a grass-scuffed hardball tucked inside. If she was still with us, I would ask her if she wanted to play catch.
He was here. He made an impact on this world. He was a common, everyday man with a few bucks in his pocket. That’s what people told him. Count your blessings. Thank God for the man you turned out to be. You matter. And people are lucky for having known you. The little things. A slice of pizza for someone who was hungry instead of throwing a few coins at him. Listening while the crazy old lady recounted in complete detail her life story. Leaving a 30% tip to the waitress who was having a bad day because he felt she could use the money for a new smile.
It’s crazy how life turned out. He worked harder the older he got. Or maybe it just felt that way because he got older and things feel differently when you age. Accomplishments that happened when he was young distanced the years that took place since, making him barely recognizable to anyone who had known him back then. A pitfall, a setback, a trickle of water instead of a gushing stream. Someone always had it worse off than him. Persevere and be humble he told himself.
A lovely wife and beautiful daughters cannot be found in a wallet. Fifty years are golden but fly by like Blue Angels. Missing her heavies his heart and swells his eyelids even if there are no tears shed in Heaven. He was rich because he went to bed and woke up with her in his arms. She was his queen and he lived like a king since the days of Eisenhower. And his daughters, the sound of their footsteps on Christmas morning haunt him in a good way. Live, live, live and take a look around you. This is your story now.